Today on Ideas Hoist, we’re profiling sinophile, management consultant, wanderer, and recent uncle, Prashan Paramanathan. In his day job, he has worked with a host of great organisations in the non-profit world (Teach for Australia, Vision Australia, One Laptop Per Child Australia, Alzheimer’s Australia – really any organisation that ends in ‘Australia’) to help them do what they do even better. He loves seeing corporates working with non-profits and has worked with some of the most innovative to help them figure out how they can do good and make money too.
Making money and doing good used to be two very separate things. But it’s becoming increasingly clear that there are plenty of business opportunities opening up in the middle that do both.”
His other full-time ‘job’ is building Chip In, an online community of Australians who pitch in to get non-profit projects off the ground.
In his prior life, Prashan worked with the World Bank Group building microfinance banks in rural China and before that learnt his craft in the world of corporate management consulting.
What are you working on right now?
Ever since my family first came to Australia in the 80s, I’ve always been struck by how generous Australians are.”
The thing that I’m most excited about now is Chip In – a new way to support great people doing extraordinary things in our community and track the impact you’ve made. Ever since my family first came to Australia in the 80s, I’ve always been struck by how generous Australians are – there were so many cool people and not-for-profits that helped us settle in, and so many more that helped me get a step up the ladder. But while I know that Australians will give to a worthwhile cause, the whole process of giving is often pretty crap. We all know what it’s like to be stopped on the street by a chugger (charity mugger)! Even for the people who actually give to these guys, they leave wandering where their money is actually going to go. I don’t like where it’s leading – donor-fatigue and a general cynicism towards not-for-profits.
The flip side working in the sector though is that I see some awesome organisations doing extraordinary work that need and deserve support. So we decided to come up with a new way to support them, in a way that was more rewarding for donors – what we’ve built is Chip In.
We’ll be releasing more details shortly.
The other thing I’m working on is an article on not-for-profit strategy called ‘if focus is so important for not-for-profits, why do so few of us do it?’ – it’ll hopefully be ready for the November edition of the SVA Consulting Quarterly.
How do you make ideas happen?
Three things: talk, distractions, stealing
I think a lot of really cool ideas have come when someone has stolen an idea from a completely different industry and applied it in theirs.”
Talk: Regardless of how poorly thought through my idea is. I find just talking about it really helps in testing out whether my idea makes sense or not. There’ll be internal contradictions, bits that don’t make sense, and general fluff, but talking about it will help sort it out, particularly if you watch people’s reactions. It’ll certainly be better next time you talk about it with someone else.
Distractions: I never seem to be able to think about something by thinking about it. I always seem to get distracted and have wonderful ideas about completely unrelated things. So instead of fighting it, I just feed myself a steady diet of great distractions, like TED talks, random articles, presentations, and a good stream of non-fiction books.
Stealing: I think the correct word is ‘appropriation’. But if someone else has a good idea, why wouldn’t you use it? The challenge really is in the execution, so I’m happy to share, steal, borrow ideas with anyone. I think a lot of really cool ideas have come when someone has stolen an idea from a completely different industry and applied it in theirs.
What does your typical day look like?
Basically in summary, my life is somewhere between Powerpoint and a meeting.”
I have a day job at Social Ventures Australia where I get to do awesome things with people I admire all day. Most of it is advising not-for-profits, foundations and the occasional corporate on their strategy or how to do ‘more good stuff’. My average day is filled with some combination of client meetings, internal meetings, Powerpoint, Powerpoint, Powerpoint. The even more fun stuff happens in the early mornings, evenings and weekends where I get to work on Chip In, which at this stage is a lot of phone calls and meetings with the team, corporate and not-for-profit partners, developers, designers and random people I meet on twitter.
Basically in summary, my life is somewhere between Powerpoint and a meeting. I’ve also just started dance and yoga classes, so I’m hopefully trying to tuck them into my schedule too.
What challenges have you faced when starting or growing an idea in Australia?
…getting the right team together is the make or break thing for starting up an idea.”
I’m not sure it’s Australia-specific, but like most things, it’s about finding the right people that you like working with. It’s not a particularly new challenge, but getting the right team together is the make or break thing for starting up an idea. We’ve had plenty of false starts but we’ve now got a core team of fantastic people that can come up with great ideas and get stuff done. There’s still one critical role in our team that I’m looking to fill but I’d rather go empty than get the wrong person at this stage.
What is one idea you are willing to give away for free?
The best way to kill an idea is to never talk about it. The second best way is to pay attention to people who like to poke holes in ideas. Keep talking, make sure you listen pretty carefully to the feedback, and then figure out which bits to pay attention to, and which bits you can ignore.
What people/companies do you think are doing really cool stuff in your industry, in Australia at the moment?
Everyone is talking about collective impact, shared value and social enterprise in my sector at the moment – if you can combine all three, and throw in a social impact bond, even better. I actually get off on seeing not-for-profits embracing online/tech solutions. One Laptop Per Child Australia is creating an amazing, transparent distribution platform for its laptop that will let you track where the laptop you helped fund went, Hello Sunday Morning is revamping its online platform to create something that will eventually be relevant to a mass of health issues outside of alcoholism, and Alzheimer’s Australia has come up with this cool iPhone app to help you fight off dementia.
What about internationally?
I love what’s happening in the US with equity-based crowdfunding platforms and online peer-to-peer lending (like Prosper). I’d love to see both ideas combine into a lending-based crowdfunding platforms for social enterprises and not-for-profits in Australia. We’re a while off on the legislation side yet though.
What role do you think non-profits/ businesses should play in affecting social change?
Yes, your social change activities should make you money, improve your brand or do something else for your business.”
It’s funny. Making money and doing good used to be two very separate things. But it’s becoming increasingly clear that there are plenty of business opportunities opening up in the middle that do both. It was initially led by the non-profit side creating social enterprises, but increasingly businesses are getting into the game, which I think is where the exciting stuff will happen. I think the important part for businesses to remember is that they shouldn’t be shy of aligning their social change activities with their business outcomes. Yes, your social change activities should make you money, improve your brand or do something else for your business. If that’s aligned all of a sudden your business will start demanding you do more social stuff. Cue virtuous cycle.
Name 3 books worth reading?
- How to change the world by David Bornstein – for the budding social entrepreneur
- Whatever it takes by Paul Tough – for the inspirational story about what it takes to solve really entrenched social problems
- The power of unreasonable people by John Elkington and Pamela Hartigan – just in case you had any doubts about what social entrepreneurs can do
Name 3 Australian’s we should follow on Twitter?
- Senator Ursula Stephens (@UrsulaStephens) – because it’s awesome to see a politician who gets the NFP sector
- Mashable Social Good (@socialgood) – ok so they’re not Australian, but so many awesome ideas about NFP tech
- CSI Social Impact (@CSISocialimpact) – for the academic research into all this NFP in Australia
Are there opportunities for people to get involved with your idea (e.g. are you looking for funding, interns, marketing help)?
Definitely! If you’re a not-for-profit, social enterprise, or just an awesome person with a great project that you want to crowdfund, we’d love to hear from you – just facebook, email or tweet us. We’re also looking for bloggers who are just as keen as us to see the NFP/social enterprise sector in Australia get us much air time as any other – if you’ve got your own blog or some mad writing skills, shoot us an email.
Our readers are smart, creative, talented and good looking. Here’s your chance to ask them anything.
If anyone has any answers to these things that I’ve been thinking about this the last week, I’ll love them forever:
- Does anyone get ‘shared value’? Is it just a fancy word for win-win situations or am I missing something?
- I’ve done exercise + meeting (the running meeting), but is it ok to combine exercise and a date? Do you have any (good) suggestions for what to do?
- How did Gangnam style get so popular (a serious question, expressed with slight confusion)?
What’s your favourite bar/café/restaurant?
For a bacon and egg roll that’ll blow your mind, go to Bean Temple Café on Goulburn St in Surry Hills. I know it’s a chain, but I’ve eaten too many burgers at Grill’d on Crown St to let it go without a mention. And for an ethnic twist with dodgy décor, head over to Sydney Uyghur Cuisine on Cleveland St.
We thought it would be cool to crowdsource an annual prize to award to the interviewee’s choice (each person interviewed gets one vote) winner for the year’s best interview. Are you willing to kick in a prize?
Yeah definitely. If you’re a not-for-profit/social enterprise or something social, we’ll help you run an entirely free crowdfunding campaign on Chip In – you’ll get 100% of the funds raised – and I’ll work with you for to sort out how you keep track of the social impact you’re making – a key for anyone doing work in this sector.