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In a 5 x 7 foot cubicle, I sat and contemplated doing laps around the office to stay awake.   I look around and wonder at what point I went from a Peace Corps volunteer, helping people at the “BoP” in Togo, to corporate paper shuffling.  Abruptly, a phone call brings me to attention:

“Brrrring…”

“Hello?”

“Bonjour mon frère! How is America?” says the voice, the last bit in choppy rural Ghanaian English, sprinkled with a heavy francophone inflection.  I know this voice: many a meal, calabashes of millet beer, and market days were passed with this former co-worker.

“Salut grand frère! I’m great how are you?” I respond, surprised at how quickly the French sprung to my lips.   We speak about his day and quickly get into the adventures of a microfinance loan agent in rural Togo.  Soon, the conversation begins to focus upon me and what I am doing.  I tell him I am bored out of my mind, and ask him if he gets bored in work.

“Oui, Oui” he responds “But only when I farm.  I work for the community at the microfinance, so I love that job.  When I work on the farm, I can only think about my work with the microfinance.  Because of this my attention is divided and I am not a very good farmer.   Whenever I’m farming, I just can’t wait to get back to helping the community.”

Afterwards, as I sat and thought about our conversation, questions surfaced in my mind.   Fundamentally, we all must make sacrifices in life, especially when what we would like to do does not pay the bills.  This bothers me. I’d like to know what type of world would we live in if we were free to pursue social goals just as easily as we pursue financial ones. What if we could develop a network of professionals, volunteers, philanthropists, VC’s, and the disadvantaged (socially, economically, physically), who were focused on supporting and sustaining an individuals’ social passion?  Having more questions than answers, I knew this was something that had to be shared.

From that phone call, SOLVE was born.  The concept was a system which would free employees to do what they are most passionate about.   A company where reciprocity, profit, and the creation of social value are not casually tossed together, but intrinsically linked.   While the idea appeared to be a good one, it wasn’t yet a business model.   Thinking of some of the basic systems I learned in Togo, I began putting 2 & 2 together.

The “tontine” is a system of savings or simple banking for a group of 10 – 30 individuals.  Each person must contribute a previously decided amount of money into a communal pot each week. Through the drawing of straws an order is created among all individuals in the group.  Each individual takes the total contributed from the group on their scheduled week of the entire cycle.  In this manner, every person benefits from the savings of their peers.  In a similar labor-based system, farmers rotate from farm to farm during the harvest season to help their neighbors work their land, knowing that they will receive equal treatment when their time to harvest arrives.

Based on this concept, the SOLVE Venture Fund model or “equal dream opportunity” (EDO) business model allows disadvantaged social entrepreneurs, or social businesses targeting them, to invest small amounts of time to help consult a social business within the SOLVE community.  These time investments are given at an agreed upon value of “sweat equity.” Once an individual has completed the time required, their passion will be entered into the pool to be vetted.  If the social business shows it can be profitable, socially and financially, the organization will be given access to venture and human capital on a predetermined schedule.  Since all the capital given is valued, an equity stake is generated within the new venture.  As the new social venture grows, it pays back the SOLVE Venture Fund a percentage of its profits or a determined SROI.  These payments will bolster the SOLVE Fund, which will also help it secure financing from foundations, thereby allowing it to launch additional social businesses increasing the SOLVE “social portfolio.”

When we harness time, creativity, and varied expertise to cultivate innovative ideas, what change can we bring about in our societies? Could we reinvision the value of incarcerated persons?  Could we challenge the youth to change their world? Could we finally break free from the paternalism of charity?  It is time for all people with social passions to unite, and leverage our collective knowledge towards our greater common goal: developing the infrastructure to improve the quality of life for everyone on the planet.

The next step in this series – “The Cooperative of the Minds” – looks at how systematic partnership will construct a working framework for the social enterprise sector. Throughout the series, we will also attempt to carefully analyze the obstacles to creating this project.  We strongly encourage your comments, questions, and criticisms as we develop this series: we need your insight to give this model wings