GUEST POST #5: "Creating social enterprise" by Sheryl and Hannah

Guest post #5 comes from my close friend from Cambridge undergrad, Sheryl Shah and her school buddy Hannah Leach. Please support them as they aim to win the Dell Social Innovation Challenge!

At the start of this academic year, the two of us met in the ladies loos (where all great partnerships are formed of course), mutually excited by the sound of an English accent at a largely foreign-dominated institution (ironically, the LONDON School of Economics). This proved enough to spark a great friendship and what we hope will turn out to be a meaningful business partnership!

Striking up conversation at our first LSE meet ‘n’ greet was AWKWARD; Sheryl trying to hide her investment banking background amongst a room full of lefty international development kids and Hannah trying to create some coherence out of her rather ‘varied’ work experience and globe-trotting. As we talked more, we discovered an area of mutual interest and intrigue - the nebulous world of social enterprise. 

We founded ‘se4D’ - a student-run initiative aimed at increasing students’ exposure to issues relating to private sector/ business approaches to development. We have been lucky enough to host some incredible speakers, many of whom have expounded the virtues of social enterprise in creating positive change in the developing world. Whilst we recognise it’s not a ‘panacea for all ills’, we’ve been impressed by how social enterprises have torn apart the traditional ‘black and white’ approach towards development. Instead, they adopt innovative and integrated solutions, drawing on the best elements across different disciplines depending on the specific nature of the problem.

Hungry to have a go at building something ourselves, we started to make plans for our venture: Sound Safari (SoSa) 

SoSa’s mission is to enhance the English proficiency of Kenyan children and enable them to make the most of their educational opportunities. The idea was triggered by Sheryl’s experience (obsession?) of listening to The Economist on audio and making the most of ‘lost time’ (walking, ironing, sitting on the Metropolitan line etc.) We set about to provide learning opportunities for children as they walk long distances to school, do chores and take care of siblings. We also wanted to allow learning to continue in the evening once poor lighting makes reading difficult. 

Sound Safari delivers fun, audio-based storybooks through a portable MP3 device. The main stars are Swara the Friendly Gazelle and Duma the Lonely Leopard. Their adventures will be contextual and relevant to the daily lives of children in Kenya and we are teaming up with local universities and communities to create the content. 

I’m sure by now you are wondering who pays for this? The revenue model is based on a cross-subsidisation strategy across different income groups. When a relatively affluent Rosetta Stone/Pimsleur customer purchases their product online or in-store, they can choose to contribute (directly or through a matching scheme) to a SoSa program for a Kenyan child. We think it is really important that the Kenyan parents pay a portion of the price to demonstrate that a) they are supportive of their child being educated through SoSa and b) the device will be well looked after. 

We have submitted our idea into a few Social Innovation competitions such as the Dell Social Innovation Challenge and have made it into the Grand Prize Award. In the last few days we have seen our rank rise from 156th (out of 691) to 33rd and counting. WITH YOUR VOTE, we hope to rise even further! Who knows, maybe we could make it all the way....much to the fear of our families who thought LSE would lead us into a more lucrative and secure career path!

For more details and to vote, we would be grateful if you could visit us at http://www.dellchallenge.org/projects/sound-safari-sosa

THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU for your time. We hope you share our enthusiasm for the potential of SoSa. Parin’s blog seems to have a pretty diverse readership so who better to ask for some kind feedback and support :-)

Hannah and Sheryl xx

PS: Its a slightly bizarre voting process, so please shout if you come across problems or want to find out more!
Sheryl Shah - sheryl@cantab.net
Hannah Leach - H.Leach@lse.ac.uk