Posts tagged social impact
Travelogue | My journey to Moscow by Matthew Manos

By Matthew Manos, Founder and Managing Director

Moscow, Russia  

As a media-skeptical American who has spent way to much time watching spy movies, I wasn't sure where I landed on the whole concept of flying to Russia by myself to speak, essentially, about how awesome capitalism is. I'm excited to say that my recent trip to Moscow to teach business-design and social entrepreneurship to local students and leaders, was among the most incredible experiences of my life.

Why I do what I do. 

My greatest passions in life fall under two categories: providing access to education and empowering others to create sustainable impact. It's no surprise, then, that my favorite thing that I get to do at verynice is facilitate workshops with communities and clients around the world. Over the course of my career, I have been able to work with thousands of students, entrepreneurs, community leaders, and organizations in order to build their capacity on topics that include branding, product design, and social entrepreneurship. With the launch of Models of Impact, the majority of my focus in the workshops I have lead more recently has been on impact-driven business-design.

I define "impact" quite broadly. Of course my roots are in social impact and social entrepreneurship, but we often experience that people have aspirations that may include environmental and personal impact as well. How can I help people? How can I help the planet? How can I help myself? These are the questions people that come to our Models of Impact workshop hope to find answers to. 

After helping to launch and grow hundreds of businesses and organizations over the past decade, I've spent a lot of time reflecting on what made the most successful get that way. What I learned was that the most successful of our clients got that way because they managed to strike a perfect balance between defining their impact and revenue strategy. As a result, our methodology teaches that a business model is the marriage of an impact model (how will I make social/environmental/personal impact?) and a revenue model (how will I make money and sustain myself?). 

Getting to Russia.

Over the course of a given month, I travel to 3-5 countries.... via Skype. This tends to look like me sitting in a dark office in the middle of the night, chatting with people around the world who want to learn more about pro-bono service, or impact-driven business. 

One of my personal goals for 2016 was to do more public speaking and workshop facilitation outside of the United States. The convenient thing is that shortly after making that resolution, I got an email from Maria Polyak of the Strelka Institute for Art and Design in Moscow, Russia. She invited me to come to their school in order to share our Models of Impact methodology with the Moscow community and film an online course for entrepreneurs across Russia. Obviously, it only took me a day to say "yes".

To prepare, I held regular meetings with Maria to gain a more clear understanding of the country's social/economic/political landscape. In addition, we developed scripts and web-friendly workshop activities for the online course, which is set to go live on Vector in April 2016. The school was kind enough to fly me out, and get my visa in order. However, because I embarrassingly haven't left the country since I was 11 years old, I had to scramble a bit to get an updated passport. That said, everything went as smooth as possible.

Day 01. 

The first day I was a bit jetlag, but I had a public lecture with 200 registrants just hours after landing in Moscow, so I had to pretend like sleep was not a necessity in life (it wouldn't be the first time I did that). The talk was about our Models of Impact research as well as my book and business model, "How to Give Half of Your Work Away for Free". Nothing new there, as I talk about those things at least 3 times per week, but what was thrilling was the fact that the majority of the audience did not speak English. As a result, I worked with a live translator to deliver my talk and to answer questions. This was the first time I had ever delivered a speech with a translator - super interesting. After the talk we hashed out a plan for the big day, tomorrow, where we were to film our online course.

Day 02. 

The entire second day was dedicated toward filming our online course for the Vector platform. This was an incredible journey which took months to plan in terms of content, and then was filmed over the course of about 6 hours on campus and around the city center of Moscow.

At verynice, we've taught hundreds of workshops, but one of the privileges of a workshop is that we are actually there, in-person, to provide clarity in moments of confusion. When you are teaching an online course, however, this privilege does not exist. As a result, we took the content very seriously and would play out every single scenario in which a student might be confused by our content in order to film answers to any perceivable question. Because the course was to be presented in Russian, we also had to make sure my statements would translate clearly. This resulted in a series of re-shoots to get it just right.

Aside from the intensive sessions where we filmed the meat of the course, we also developed a trailer to help promote the course. The trailer included footage of me hanging out at a local bar...., but also included several scenes where I was skateboarding (yes) around the snowy (yes) streets of the city center of Moscow (yes). Those are three things I never thought I would do, all in one scene. 

Apparently the filming went much smoother than anticipated. This means we ended the day about 3 hours ahead of schedule. To take advantage of this free time, I went on a 5km walk around the city center. We explored the Kremlin and the Red Square, and took the long way to avoid the wind. The beauty of taking the long way is you see things you might not have expected. For example, because of the cold weather (extra cold for a fragile Angeleno) their are tons of underground walkways to stay warm. It reminded me of a NYC Subway, but it was packed with small businesses where entrepreneurs were selling their goods and services to the community. We also were very close to the Cathedral where Pussy Riot was taken into custody. Awesome. 

After the stroll around Moscow, we head back to Strelka just in time for me to do a one-on-one session with their students. I was thoroughly impressed by the projects, and am excited to see how they further develop!

Day 03.

After hitting the hotel buffet once again for smoked salmon, canned peaches, and scrambled eggs, I head to Strelka to host an all-day Models of Impact workshop with local entrepreneurs and students. With over 1,000 people interested in signing up for the workshop BUT only 24 available seats, there was a lot of buzz, and expectations were high. The audience consisted of a balance of individuals who were already in the midst of launching their own business as well as individuals who have not quite come to an idea for their venture yet. As a result, we designed the workshop experience to best fit the needs of both participant profiles.

Workshop Part 01: During the first half of the workshop, students worked in 8 groups of 3-4 strangers in order to start a new business concept from scratch. They did this by leveraging our Models of Impact methodology. Through our process, students were tasked with the challenge of inventing business concepts from scratch that could benefit their community, or fulfill a personal passion.

Participants went through this process three times, and as a result, generated three separate business concepts. Over lunch the small groups collaborated to select their favorite concept, and upon returning from lunch, they delivered a pitch to the group as a whole.

Workshop Part 02: During the second half of the workshop, participants learned how to write a business plan using the models of impact framework. With the time remaining, each participant was given the option to leverage this framework for their existing concept OR to continue working with their small group in order to further develop their plan and concepts. The day ended with a series of amazing pitches. 

Social Enterprise and Pro-Bono as a Movement

Meeting with local entrepreneurs from Moscow and St. Petersburg, I learned that the startup movement is growing strongly. With the current economic crisis in Russia, many individuals are seeing an equal risk in starting a business of their own vs. applying for a full-time job. As a result, a wave of entrepreneurs are hitting the scene. In particular, there is a strong emphasis on the idea of Urban Futures and Urban Entrepreneurship among the local social enterprise scene. In addition, our approaches to pro-bono were well received. While there are many new entrepreneurs hitting the market, many of them do not have the necessary funds to launch their business. Pro-bono, as a result, is an attractive system to inject in the local entrepreneur community as a means of developing an ecosystem around helping one another. 

Personally, the experience was incredibly validating for me. The need for tools and resources that can lower the barrier-to-entry in social enterprise is urgent. I'm proud that Models of Impact can be a leader in this space. Where to next?

For more information on Models of Impact training and consulting, contact:

Vélosophy | The Swedish bicycle company that gives a bike for every sold.

By Marlon Fuentes | Design Strategist, verynice 

Designing ways to make a great product while paying it forward is core to our work here at verynice. We see it as a way to give both organizations and customers a way to participate in making the world a better place. One of the latest companies to announce a one-for-one model is Swedish bicycle company, Vélosophy. In partnership with UNICEF, the bike manufacturer will embark on a three year project to empower young women by donating a bike to a girl in Ghana for every sold. But why bikes?

According to UNICEF, many girls in Ghana are unable to get to school or are forced to leave early due to the long distances and safety concerns of having to return late. A bicycle suddenly becomes a lot more than just a means of transportation, it's health, knowledge, and empowerment. And for those interested in quantifiable impact, the organization calculates that attendance can jump up to 60% when girls have a bike of their own. 

Thanks to the cooperation with UNICEF Vélosophy can extend support to vulnerable girls in Ghana and the struggle to get them to start, and complete, his schooling. – Per Westberg, UNICEF Sweden


In addition to the bike donations, Vélosophy will work with UNICEF to promote entrepreneurship and innovation through the "Bamboo Bikes" initiative that aims to create job opportunities as well as sustainable and environmentally friendly manufacturing processes for the creation of our beloved two wheelers. 

A very handsome bike!

The bike itself features a clean minimalist brushed aluminum body and comes in two variations, one for comfort, and one for sport.  Each comes equipped with alloy fenders, anti-rust chain and a smooth-shifting 3-speed integrated hub from Sram. The variety of color options is also a great draw, allowing each rider to travel in style while feeling good about the impact their purchase made. Giving back, looking good, and staying fit. Sounds good, doesn't it? And according to a recent study by Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, the percentage of people with a driver’s license decreased between 2011 and 2014, across all age groups giving way to alternative forms of transportation and the emergence of integrated mobility hubs.

How do I start or develop my own One for One Business Model?

Even if you haven't shipped your first product, designing a business model that gives back can not only help you wake up feeling great about your work but also make a positive impact on your bottom line. verynice has developed a fun way to help organizations small and large, do this through business model design. Models of Impact is a strategic business-design toolkit. Our mission is to promote legacy and entrepreneurship in the social impact community by developing tools and resources that make it easy (and fun!) to design disruptive business models.   Click here to download!


Why Up-cycling is One of My Favorite Models of Impact
Image via  PopSugar

Image via PopSugar

This is the first in a series of posts written by verynice staff, volunteers, friends, and family to share stories and details behind their favorite models of impact. 

Let’s be honest for a moment— many of us know the term, up-cycle, from those clever DIY Pinterest boards urging readers to turn an old pair of jeans into a tote bag or an empty wine bottle into a pendant lamp (“all you need is a bottle cutter and a butane torch!”). Don’t get me wrong, I love Pinterest, but the thought of acquiring the materials, the dexterity, and the emotional maturity I would need to bounce back from a potential #pinterestfail after it’s all over just doesn’t seem like it’s worth it.

However, I recently learned there’s more to up-cycling than Pinterest would have us understand. More than ever, companies and organizations are making up-cycling a core part of their business model. For example, the athletic wear company, Atayne, makes its gear out of 100% recycled polyester. The company, TerraCycle, has customers send in difficult-to-recycle waste items, which they convert into products like backpacks and even recycled park benches.

Companies like Atayne and TerraCycle aren’t just admirable from a sustainability perspective, although they are making a positive difference in that sphere as well. By proving that they can make a high quality product with preexisting materials, they are also contributing to an important shift away from a pervasive belief in our culture that new is always superior.

In a sense, up-cycling is almost the answer to another movement that is simultaneously (and quickly) gaining more traction—fast fashion. By empowering consumers to achieve constant turnover in their wardrobes with low-quality, low-cost merchandise, fast fashion companies effectively teach consumers that quantity is better than quality and new is better than old.

The constant turnover of material items certainly isn’t a new or trendy belief in our culture— but I do notice a stark difference between my age group (the older side of Gen Y) and my grandparent’s generation in our attitudes toward our possessions. For instance, my grandmother will repurpose an old dress by altering it and dyeing it a different color. My grandparents also recently got a “new” couch by reupholstering and re-stuffing the cushions in their old one.

I suppose what I really learned is that up-cycling isn’t a recent trend— it’s just a new word for a lost art. At a time when many companies are manufacturing low quality and easy-to-obtain merchandise that we are encouraged to use and replace quickly, we should take a good look at what companies like TerraCycle and Atayane are doing. When more companies embrace this model, we might just see a positive shift away from constantly wanting more and toward valuing what we already have. 

—Renae Getlin, verynice Marketing Coordinator


Models of Impact is a strategic business-design consultancy for social entrepreneurs & non-profit executives. Click here to see a comprehensive map of every existing impact-driven model.