Hacking social business: reverse engineering Bienestar’s business plan

CC da Flickr.comMy students at the Design for Social Business Master made me very proud last week with a clever reverse engineering of a (social) business plan based on nothing more than a set of slides intended as a brief for the graphic design of a website – and a whole lot of online investigation. The business plan in question is that of Bienestar, a health care initiative in the region of Caldas (Colombia) just being rolled out by the provincial authority and Grameen Creative Lab. This is supposed to be the focus of a forthcoming field visit of the students to Colombia; apparently Bienestar has no business plan (we asked), and the brief was all we had to work with.

With no business planning background at all — save for my own lecture — Alessandra, Barbara, Chiara, Mandy, Oscar, Simona and Tiago showed a remarkable ability to stake the territory. They combed the web for data like minimum salary in rural Colombia; the structure of health care, including recent changes in legislation; and the state of the road networks in the Caldas region, to get a feel for the logistics of traveling to Villa Maria to get treated. All of these data were used to generate a critical appraisal of the business plan as they reconstructed it from the brief. This appraisal was put in a document that visualizes cleverly GCL’s approach and the students’ own questions and critique. Besides being clever in itself, this document was written by a very advanced process of online collaboration; the students made the most of my lecture about it, and have become power users of the new Google Docs (it now embeds very cool features from Google Wave — and man, do they use them all).

Armed with that, we figured out what the economic engine that makes Bienestar sustainable is: treatment of new patients, that now are completely outside the system; moreover, these patients have to be fundamentally healthy, like pregnant women and children — it can’t work with patients with chronic diseaes. Now the students are putting figures to that, and have thus found a new mission: when they go to Colombia, they can be the business planning experts of Bienestar. They are already way ahead of GCL on this project!

If you are interested in social business and social innovation, I would really encourage to check out the course’s blog, and maybe drop a comment to say hello: they are really cool people, well worth knowing, and very friendly. The blog is in English, but they are a pretty international crowd and welcome comments in Spanish, Portuguese, Romanian, Arabic and Italian as well.

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