Vice President of Consulting Services for Vital Wave Consulting, which provides research and strategic consulting services to enable high-tech multi-national firms to accelerate growth in emerging markets.
The interview with Karen began in October 2006. At that time Karen was Director of Industry Collaboration for the Reuters Digital Vision Program at Stanford University and Senior Advisor to the Global Social Benefit Incubator at Santa Clara University. At the beginning of the interview we discussed Karen’s work at the Stanford program and in April 2007 we began discussing the new challenges she’s facing building up a consulting practice for a women owned and run business, Vital Wave Consulting.
Vital Wave Consulting
Vital Wave Consulting provides strategic consulting and customized market and business intelligence to assist multinational technology firms with accelerating growth in emerging markets. The company applies proprietary market modelling tools, research and business management experience to give clients a credible assessment of business growth opportunities and market dynamics and a plan to realize these opportunities.
Vital Wave Consulting provides clients with Advice from the inside out. Our team has Fortune 50 experience, On-the-ground knowledge, and Cross-sector expertise. Our proprietary Market Model tool provides hard-to-find, reliable data for 182 countries that business managers can use to make informed decisions. Our team has lived and worked in emerging markets spanning the globe and has managed initiatives for in large high-tech MNCs, government agencies, relief organizations, university departments, social enterprises, and small businesses. We understand the distinct vocabularies, missions and dynamics of these diverse organizations and how they interplay in emerging markets and influence technology decision making processes, market segments and distribution.
Reuters Digital Vision Program
Stanford and Santa Clara Universities are located between San Francisco and San Jose in the heart of California’s Silicon Valley. Karen was involved with two social entrepreneurship programs in this area. She was the Director of Industry Collaboration to the Stanford Digital Vision Program and a Senior Advisor for Santa Clara University’s Global Social Benefit Incubator.
As published on the Reuters Digital Vision Program (RDVP) homepage – the Digital Vision Program is Technology for the social enterprise:
“The Digital Vision Program provides social entrepreneurs with a creative environment and platform to design and implement innovative and scalable technology-based solutions for untapped markets around the world. DV entrepreneurs spend nine months in residence at Stanford to developing information technology based solutions in the areas of health, education, and financial services for emerging markets.
We are an independent center located at Stanford University, in the heart of Silicon Valley, itself the epicenter of innovation and entrepreneurship. This location uniquely positions us to provide social entrepreneurs with a creative environment to incubate their ideas, platforms to prototype their innovative solutions, and opportunities to cultivate and leverage a rich set of relationships spanning academia, industry, and the public and non-profit sectors.”
As published on the Global Social Benefit Incubator’s (GSBI) homepage – the Global Social Benefit Incubator was an intensive two-week business boot camp for social entrepreneurs:
“The Global Social Benefit Incubator (GSBI) provides an intensive two-week residential program at Santa Clara University that enables successful technology innovators to scale their endeavors and achieve sustainability. Presented by the University’s Center for Science, Technology, and Society and the Lea
vey School of Business Administration, the GSBI offers the unique context of a Jesuit university dedicated to social justice combined with leading resources of Silicon Valley. The invited social benefit entrepreneurs have demonstrated their commitment to applying technology to address urgent human needs throughout the world and have achieved recognition through the rigorous selection process of the prestigious Tech Museum’s Awards: Technology Benefiting Humanity, the World Bank’s Development Marketplace, the City of Rome’s Global Junior Challenge competitions, or as Schwab Fellows.
Living and learning together, participants develop common conceptual skills and the sense of community that is essential for peer-to-peer collaboration and access to mentor support following the residential program. Participants develop know-how in critical areas of business planning, including technology and service innovation, target marketing, business models, finance and organizational capacity building. The GSBI combines classroom instruction, case studies, and best practices with carefully matched mentoring on the specific scaling and sustainability challenges of each participating organization. This ongoing collaboration is supported by a distance-learning platform that also enables the Center for Science, Technology, and Society to track the progress of participants once they return to their home locations. This platform also provides venture access to MBA consulting teams. Through the access to world-class partnerships and resources, participating social benefit entrepreneurs are empowered to accelerate their technological innovations. This is a transformational program to people with the power and vision to change the world.
- In her roles as Director Industry Collaboration and Senior Advisor, Karen utilized her strategy, partnership development, relationship management, and program development skills to improve the performance of social enterprises.
- Karen created specialized training courses, identified and connected entrepreneurs to critical resources, and provided one-on-one advice and mentoring to more than one hundred social entrepreneurs from around the world.
- As she lived in Latin America for almost a decade, Karen is fluent in Spanish. She served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Guatemala and Uruguay from 1991-1994.
- In 2005, Karen completed her doctoral research at Tufts University’s Fletcher School on cross-sector partnerships designed to increase Internet usage in Mexico.
- Prior to her doctorate, Karen spent four years with Telcordia, most recently as Assistant Vice President of Strategic Accounts, Latin America. Before joining Telcordia, Karen launched and headed the Latin American regional sales office for Williams Communications. Karen has also held positions with INTELSAT, Pacific Bell, AT&T and Harvard’s Center for International Development (Information Technology Group).
- Karen is an Affiliate of Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, and was a member of the Graduate Student Committee for Stanford’s Social Innovation Review. She has published in leading academic journals and books.
- Karen received her Doctoral and Master’s Degrees in international relations from the Fletcher School, Tufts University. She graduated cum laude in business administration and modern languages (Spanish) from California State University at Chico. During her undergraduate studies, she spent an academic year at The University of Madrid in Spain and while studying for her master’s degree, she spent a quarter at the Pan-American Institute for Business Administration (IPADE) in Mexico City, Mexico.
No such thing as a typical week
Karen, again, many thanks for agreeing to talk to us about your journey into New Media and social enterprise.
To start with, can you describe a typical week in your role as Director of Industry Collaboration for the Stanford Digital Vision Program?
One of the things I liked best about my roles in the Digital Vision Program and GSBI was that there was no such thing as a typical week. Throughout the year, the needs and demands of the social entrepreneurs, the program cycles, partnership and curriculum development activities ebbed and flowed.
The GSBI and RDVP were similar in that they supported entrepreneurs who were harnessing the power of new media – videoblogs, wikis, cell phones, etc – for social benefit. The programs differed in two key areas: target audience and length of the in-residence program. The RDVP assisted entrepreneurs with launching new ventures whereas the GSBI focused on aiding award winning social enterprises with scaling up their impact and reach. The GSBI social entrepreneurs spent two-weeks in residence while RDVP entrepreneurs spent nine-months in-residence. Both programs drew upon the academic resources of their institutions as well as seasoned professionals from Silicon Valley as mentors and lecturers. In addition, both the GSBI and RDVP used an online collaboration platform (wikis) to facilitate ongoing support and networking.
August and September were the most intense months of the year. I spent the first two weeks of August in residence at Santa Clara with the GSBI social entrepreneurs. The latter two weeks of August were devoted to finalizing the orientation schedule and preparing for the arrival of the Digital Vision social entrepreneurs. The objective of the RDVP orientation was twofold: begin to establish social ties between the social entrepreneurs and learn about the 15 projects to be developed during the nine-month period.
Aside from exposure to the inner workings of world-class universities and the Silicon Valley innovation-machine, an objective of the in-residence component of the RDVP and GSBI is to construct a global network of technology oriented social entrepreneurs.
Social entrepreneurship is a lonely endeavour. One of the most common comments voiced by participants in both the GSBI and RDVP was isolation: the entrepreneurs felt like lone warriors in the war against poverty and injustice. They battled endlessly and tirelessly to expedite social change yet were seldom lauded for their efforts and were sometimes even criticized for the noble work they were doing. The social entrepreneurs selected to attend the GSBI and RDVP have intense drive, passion, and an incredible knack for mobilizing scarce resources. These individuals could have achieved great wealth and influence if they had pursued more traditional career paths, but they have elected to devote their talents to society at large.
From September through July, I devoted most of my time to the RDVP.
In 2006/early 2007 my time was divided between two main activities: advising and mentoring the social entrepreneurs and developing and executing the program curriculum.
The 2006 – 2007 class is comprised of social entrepreneurs that represent 11 countries (Brazil, Colombia, India, Jamaica, Kenya, Nigeria, Philippines, Romania, South Africa, the United Kingdom and the United States), speak at least 15 languages, and have an average of 12 years work experience and two university degrees.
An advisor and mentor
Please can you give some more details about your work as an advisor and mentor?
At least three or four times a day, I had spontaneous advising sessions with one of our social entrepreneurs. Some of our entrepreneurs were shy and lingered by my door waiting for an invitation to talk while others were bolder and confidently strolled right into my office. Questions ranged from input on business models, to partnership strategies, to needs assessment techniques and often, funding sources and approaches. Often times the entrepreneur simply wants to announce an achievement or share news of the completion of a milestone. Given that these entrepreneurs hail from more than 15 emerging markets, are developing solutions based on diverse technological platforms and for a variety of social challenges, the conversations were rarely dull.
These entrepreneurs have also left their home countries, social networks and comfort zone. Cognizant of this, I kept my door open so that I was always available to provide them with the support, kudos, advice, or encouragement they needed to be successful. Although it was sometimes difficult to concentrate or finish everything on my to-do list with constant interruptions, these interactions were by far the most rewarding part of my job and they were the primary reason I joined the DV Program.
With my background in marketing and business development, I focused a great deal of my time assisting these social entrepreneurs with crafting their elevator pitches, value propositions, and fund raising presentations and strategies. The concept of an elevator pitch was foreign to most of our entrepreneurs, many of which are technologists or engineers. When asked to deliver an elevator pitch, one participant in the GSBI noted that they do not have elevators in their home city in India and he had no idea what this phrase meant. Almost all of the RDVP and GSBI entrepreneurs are seeking partners, funds, and resources from Silicon Valley- an area where elevators are plentiful and attention spans are limited. Elevator pitches, therefore, are key. During the RDVP orientation, I led a workshop on crafting elevator pitches, or a one minute description of the value proposition behind the social enterprise. This workshop was reinforced by an incredible half-day workshop organized by one of our strategic partners, SAP, which focused on clearly, concisely and effectively communicating your message in Silicon Valley.
During the first half dozen or so RDVP seminars, I asked the entrepreneurs to practice their elevator pitches. We also required the entrepreneurs to put their pitches in 60 words or less for the 2006-7 RDVP brochure.
All of this work seems to have paid off. Shashank Garg – one of the RDVP’s social entrepreneurs – noted that the discipline of describing his venture and solution in 60 or less words greatly assisted with a proposal he submitted for a World Bank Development Marketplace Award . Shashank, and his wife Isha, are working on a very exciting mobile integrated disease surveillance system project 1.
Shashank is an incredibly talented technologist from India and was one of the initial developers of the Simputer. Isha is a medical doctor on sabbatical from St. John’s Medical College in India. Shashank recently submitted a proposal for a global competition. He commented that the proposal required him to explain his project in only 700 characters – punctuation included! He said that the elevator pitch training was essential in enabling him to concisely explain his project and write a compelling proposal for the World Bank.
Development of the Digital Vision Program
Please can you give some more details about the development of the program curriculum?
2006/2007 was an exciting time at the DV Program. After five years of continuous activity and rapid change, we decided to step back, reflect on, and refine the program curriculum. During this process, I met with our alumni, mentors, and partner network to determine which set of resources and activities would be most effective in accelerating the development of our social enterprises. I first defined a successful fellowship and the set of deliverables that the program would expect from the social entrepreneur at the end of their fellowship. I then developed a curriculum, which was structured, yet not overbearing.
I complimented the traditional weekly seminar speaker series with weekly workshops. In addition, I added twice quarterly specialized training courses developed and delivered by our partners, established project teams, and enhanced the mentoring program. After the curriculum was developed, I worked on scheduling the speakers and workshops.
Making it happen
This work is providing breakthroughs at many levels. What makes it happen?
The DV’s valued partners make this unique program possible. The partners’ technical, intellectual, and financial resources greatly strengthen the DV Program and improve the viability of individual social entrepreneurs’ projects. We specifically sought partners that shared our vision, culture, and creativity.
When discussing the program curriculum you mentioned: “After five years of continuous activity and rapid change, we decided to step back, reflect on, and refine the program curriculum“ Your answer clearly outlines the direction that DV is taking to support social enterprise in the future. It may also be helpful for the reader to understand how DV actually started.
“We wanted to create an initiative which both reflected the Company’s reputation for innovation in the use of new technology and delivered practical solutions to people in the developing world.”
– Tom Glocer, Reuters Chief Executive Officer in 2001
The Reuters Foundation, and Stanford University’s Center for the Study of Language and Information (CSLI), co-created the Reuters Digital Vision Program at Stanford in the Fall of 2001. Professor Byron Reeves, the Director of the CSLI, met the Reuters Foundation’s Executive Director during her fist visit to Stanford. In this meeting, they discovered synergies between CSLI’s core competencies in technology development and the Reuters Foundation’s vision for the RDVP. Both the Reuters Foundation and Profess Byron Reeves, the Director of CSLI were excited about leveraging CSLI’s expertise in basic technological research and technology transfer, for humanitarian ends. The RDVP was born.
The founding Director of the RDVP is Stuart Gannes. Through his use of viral marketing, The RDVP rapidly became a magnet for social entrepreneurs who were passionate about an idea or social problem they believed could be solved using technology. I joined the team in 2004. What began as a partnership development role quickly metamorphosized into something much more dynamic and exciting position. Over the past year, I have secured two new industry partnerships, redesigned the program curriculum, conducted an analysis of the results of the program (status of our alumni’s projects) and provided one-on-one advising to more than 50 social entrepreneurs from countries as diverse as India, Brazil, Kenya, Sri Lanka, Mexico, and South Africa.
Since 2001, DV Fellows have probed the boundaries of information technology services. Of the 79 Digital Vision Fellowships awarded since 2002, some 53 new media projects have been prototyped, 37 were pilot-tested or implemented, 18 were handed off, 11 were incorporated, and more than $12 million has been invested for their development. DV solutions have created jobs, educated children and improved health outcomes in 22 countries including India, Brazil, South Africa, the Philippines, Mexico, Kenya, and Bangladesh.
Several DVP projects have received international recognition and awards including: Stockholm Challenge (3 finalists), the World Bank’s Development Marketplace Award, Manathan Award for quality e-Content in India, the Tech Museum’s Awards for Technology for Humanity (Tech Laureate), and Ranier Arnhold and Ashoka Fellowships.
Revolutionary workshops and seminars
Returning to the 2006/2007 DV program curriculum, you also mentioned the weekly workshops. From the examples that you’ve provided about Jon Duggan and Scott Heiferman- can you please explain a little more about workshop content and where the workshops take place?
Each week we covered a specific topic, first with a workshop and then a seminar. These sessions were traditionally held in the meeting rooms downstairs from the offices at Cordura Hall at Stanford University . Sometimes one of our partner organizations hosts a workshop at their facilities, such as the case of the half-day effective communications workshop hosted at SAP Labs in October.
In the Fall quarter of 2006, we spent a week on community building. Our first event was a Tuesday afternoon workshop led by Jon Dugan, CEO of Matson Systems and an expert in community building. Jon’s four-hour workshop began with a discussion of the five elements of an effective off-line community. He then explained how these elements applied to the online world and outlined the new media tools, which were particularly appropriate for building effective online communities. His session, like most of RDVP activities, was highly interactive.
In the last two hours of Jon’s session, the group jointly outlined the elements of an effective community for RDVP entrepreneur, Steve Vosloo’s Digital Hero project.
Two days later, Scott Heiferman, Founder of MeetUp, came to Cordua Hall as one of our seminar speakers. As with many of our seminar speakers, during Scott’s ninety minute seminar, he spoke both about his personal voyage and a specific area of content. Scott led the social entrepreneurs through his journey from revolutionizing campaign fundraising as a part of Howard Dean’s online donation campaign to co-founding MeetUp . He also shared with the entrepreneurs tips on building effective communities and how he has connected more than 2 million people across the United States.
The Move to Vital Wave Consulting
On 15 April 2007, Karen sent me an email advising that she had become Vice President of Consulting Services for Vital Wave Consulting, which provides research and strategic consulting services to enable high-tech multi-national firms to accelerate growth in emerging markets. Vital Wave was a partner of the Stanford Digital Vision program and also assists social entrepreneurs and non-profit organizations with strategy setting and business plan development. Vital Wave Consulting’s headquarters is also located in the heart of Silicon Valley, in Palo Alto, California, USA.
Karen, you are a truly energetic and proactive lady. Firstly congratulations on your new role, this sounds very exciting. What motivated you to join Vital Wave Consulting?
I was extremely impressed with the Vital Wave Consulting’s founder – Brooke Partridge -, team and market niche. They were one of the few organizations that we worked with at Stanford, that truly understood the local environments in countries such as India, Brazil, Nigeria and the Philippines. They were also adamant about applying traditional business rigor to the social enterprises’ business plans, which strengthened them immensely.
During Stanford’s winter break, Brooke invited me to work on a short-term project in the telecom industry. Intrigued, I accepted and was quickly hooked. The work was fascinating. I managed a team from around the world – India, Brazil, Costa Rica and Seattle – that designed a comprehensive emerging market strategy for a Fortune 50 firm. The elements of this strategy included developing a product roadmap, business model, go-to-market strategy, and integrated implementation plan for SE Asia, China, India and Latin America. The time frames were aggressive, the client demanding, the intellectual challenge immense and I thrived on the experience.
This short-term project blossomed into a full-time, executive-level position with Vital Wave Consulting and I am extremely excited about this new shift in my career.
Can you please provide an insight into the work you will be involved with?
My activities at Vital Wave Consulting will be twofold: build the consulting practice and deliver strategic consulting services to Fortune 500 and non-profit clients.
My first task is to build the infrastructure and team to deliver consulting services. And a stable of qualitative consultants from Vital Wave Consulting offers services in the areas of market intelligence (e.g. – market sizing and forecasting, segmentation modelling and profiling), Business intelligence (e.g. – value chain analysis, business modelling, competitive landscape) and Strategic analysis and business planning (e.g. – business case development and analysis and detailed business planning). For each of our primary offerings, I will develop toolkits – templates, lists of resources and an example of a high-quality deliverable – which the consultants and analysts will use to facilitate consistency in client deliverables and quality levels.
I will also be assembling a global team of consultants and analysts, each of which will have a particular functional (e.g – finance, marketing), industry (e.g. – information technology, telecom, public sector) and/or geographic expertise. Through the Stanford and Santa Clara programs, I have a wealth of contacts in emerging markets and have already brought a Stanford Digital Vision alumnus on board to head our Indian operations.
In addition to building out our consulting services infrastructure and team, I will be focusing on delivering consulting services to our clients. As the Vice President in charge of consulting, I have oversight of all of our client engagements and am ultimately responsible for an on-time, on-budget, satisfactory delivery of consulting services. In my first month on board with Vital Wave Consulting, I visited Hong Kong, Singapore and Mexico and managed the delivery of three client engagements with input from consultants and analysts across the globe. Late night and early morning phone calls have become the norm and sleep a luxury.
Will this new role be very different from your work at Stanford?
The primary distinction between my current role and my work at Stanford is the nature of the client. At Stanford and Santa Clara, I advised technology-oriented social enterprises. At Vital Wave Consulting, the vast majority of our client base is Fortune 500 companies. That said, the basic work, assisting organizations with accelerating technology usage in emerging markets, remains the same. In both cases, an effective strategy must be based on a solid understanding of the social, cultural, political and economic context of the particular market along with business rigor to be successful. I believe that high-tech multi-nationals can learn a great deal from social entrepreneurs and visa versa and luckily, I am in a unique position to be able to facilitate these learnings for everyone’s benefit.
Again, many thanks for providing some space in your very busy days to take part in the Digital Eves interviews and for the final closing questions it would be interesting to hear any words of inspiration you have for others.
Role Models and Personal Inspiration
Who were/are your role models?
I am lucky to come from a family of very strong and accomplished women. My grandmother, mother and aunts have been, and continue to be, excellent role models for me.
When I was fifteen, I wanted to go to Washington DC with my high school political science class. The trip was organized by a non-profit organization and donations made to cover our travel expenses were tax deductible. My Mother, therefore, said I could attend if I could raise the funds to cover my expenses. It cost some $1,000 for the week long trip – a fortune for me at the time. I confided to my Grandmother that I couldn’t go to Washington DC as it was impossible to raise so much money. My Grandmother frowned, told me I was foolish to let such an incredible opportunity pass me by, and said we would figure out a strategy for raising these funds. My Grandma, mother and I brainstormed and came up with a thermometer which showed how much money I needed and how much I had raised to date. My Grandmother then went with me while I went door to door soliciting donations at companies in my hometown. It was extremely intimidating to walk into an office building, present my thermometer and ask for funds, but Grandma was waiting, so I had no choice.
In one office, the receptionist sent me in to talk to her boss – he was a gruff looking man in a suit. He never once looked up as I introduced myself, held up my thermometer and gave my one minute pitch. Without looking at me he threw a dollar bill on the floor. I looked at the dollar and fled his office in tears. When I told my Grandma what had happened, she was appalled that I had been so disrespectful as to walk away from a donation. Having grown up in the depression, she was not one to ever turn her nose up at a donation, no matter how small the amount. She demanded that I return to the office and apologize for my rude behaviour. I told her no, I couldn’t possibly do that. She looked me square in the eyes and said “you can do it Karen, I know you can” I had no choice – Grandma was more intimidating than the mean boss. I returned to the bosses office, apologized for my rudeness, thanked him for his donation and picked the dollar off of the floor. As I was walking out of the door, the man called me back, asked me to show him the thermometer and tell him why I wanted to go to DC. He then took out his checkbook and wrote a check for $100. I went to DC that year…..a few years later I raised triple the amount and went to Spain for a school trip. Now anytime I am dreading entering into a difficult situation, I take a deep breath, think back to my Grandma saying, “you can do it Karen, I know you can” and push open the door and conquer.
One of my favourite books is Oh, the Places You’ll Go by Dr. Seuss. A good friend of mine gave this to me when I joined the Peace Corps and I have read it hundreds of times. Dr. Seuss so accurately captures the fact that you shape your own destiny, that the road is filled with ups and downs, and that you will fail and get into a slump, and it is hard, but you will pull yourself up and move forward as he concludes, “Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting. So….get on your way!”
Can you define any pivotal moments? – i.e. moments that told you that you were on the right track in terms of the work you’ve undertaken and the choices you’ve made during your career.
In mid-2000, just months after winning Telcordia Technologies’ highly competitive CEO Award in recognition of significant business success and exemplary teamwork, I handed in my resignation. My boss was astounded; I had just made one of the largest sales in my region to an extremely difficult customer and had been selected to participate in Telcordia’s leadership development program designed for high-potential, succession candidates. Although I loved the challenge and intensity of my role as Associate Vice President, Strategic Accounts, I was craving a new adventure. Just months later, I was enrolled in a doctoral program at Tufts University. I had finally found a way to merge my unique background in grassroots economic development and the high-tech industry: my research was based upon the intersection of development, technology and business. In late 2001, my old boss called me – he said that he didn’t think I was crazy anymore as he had just laid off the last member of his team and was likely to leave the company himself in a few months. The timing of my departure had actually been excellent as I was sheltered from the fall out associated with the dot com bust. Furthermore, my doctoral research had focused on developing the high-tech market in developing countries, a major area of emphasis for high tech companies – including the RDVP’s partners and Vital Wave Consulting’s clients.
Karen, your enthusiasm and drive shines through your words – your energy is truly contagious. Thank s again for providing an insight into the positive and proactive work of RDVP, discussing the exciting days you will have building up your consulting practice with Vital Wave Consulting and your own personal inspiration. It is a great privilege to share these thoughts and words with you.
1Shashank Garg, Mobile, Integrated Disease Surveillance System: http://shashankgarg.blogspot.com/
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