social entrepreneur


Young biz entrepreneurs compete for social good | 

Tom Paulson

Cynthia Koenig and her Wello

If you walked into the dimly lit, wood-paneled room and listened to the fast-paced talk by Cynthia Koenig, you might be forgiven for thinking she just sounded like another one of those young, profit-oriented entrepreneurs looking for money from venture capitalists or other kinds of investors.

Koenig is, actually, one of those money-seeking young business types, except that the primary goal of her proposal is to make life a lot easier and safer for millions of poor women around the world.

Hence the Wello, a kind of goofy looking water-carrying wheel-barrel (no, that’s not a typo) that she and her colleague, Colm Fay, at the University of Michigan’s business school want to sell to poor people.

Saving time and money, for $25

Water collection and storage, it turns out, takes up a lot of time and resources for people (usually women) in poor communities around the world. The Wello is aimed at saving both, as well as providing a handy storage unit.

“We’ve identified India as the first market we’re going to enter,” she said during a pitch Thursday at the University of Washington.”We think this is rapidly scalable … with a social return on investment of $178.65.”

Okay, I admit I didn’t always follow everything being said. I know vaguely what is meant by a social return on investment, but I didn’t have time to ask Koenig how the Wello, which she estimates will initially sell for about $25, is calculated to have a social benefit of nearly $180 to an individual.

I didn’t have time because Koenig was just one of an amazing array of social entrepreneurs at the UW’s Foster School of Business’ Global Social Entrepreneurship Competition (GSEC). The event ran all week and ended Thursday.

Koenig’s Wello won the “global health” prize of $10,000 from the UW Global Health Department.

“Grand prize” for perhaps the most unpleasant presentation

Continue reading