2012's Top Innovations for Social Entrepreneurs

Powerful tools to make the world a better place

With millions of people around the world struggling under war and economic hardship, there has never been a more challenging task or a greater need for social entrepreneurs. Fortunately, we live in a time of explosive innovation, empowering today’s small businesses and social ventures in ways that were impossible even five years ago. Here are a few of the top innovations that can make you more effective with your funding, provide global reach, and allow you to concentrate on the real work of social change.

1. Cheap tablets

This may not seem particularly connected with social enterprise, but the plummeting price of tablets has profound implications for anyone involved in education or microfinance. The ability to provide an infinite library of textbooks and literature on a single device is making it easier to equip schools with the tools they need; and an inexpensive tablet can be a powerful organizational, productivity, and marketing tool for small business owners. It can also make a huge difference with angel investors to be able to make a quick fundraising pitch with a tactile, interactive presentation from a tablet.

2. Multi-party teleconferencing

In past years, getting your investors face-to-face with your work involved the logistical nightmare of transoceanic plane tickets and pricey accommodations. Now, you can sit your investor down in front of a computer, and introduce them to an entrepreneur in India, or a student in Paraguay. This personal connection makes fundraising much simpler—and the fact that you can connect with volunteers and employees around the world will make your enterprise much more smooth and efficient.

3. Thin client technology

This is another amazing tool for any social entrepreneur involved in microfinance or education. Virtual Desktop Interface is a fantastic way to bring powerful computing tools to remote or low-income regions, even those who might ask "what is cloud computing", without a large hardware investment. Essentially, it works by connecting a very simple interface (or “thin client”) to a server located elsewhere, so that most of the actual computing takes place in the cloud. This makes it much more economical and environmentally-friendly to equip an entire classroom or small business team with computers.

4. Cloud storage and project management

Efficient information-sharing is essential for any enterprise with remote workers or offices, and if your enterprise crosses borders or oceans, sending attachments back and forth can be a source of miscommunication, duplicated effort, and wasted time. Check out a cloud storage service like Dropbox or Google Drive to allow your employees or volunteers to share synced documents in real-time.

5. Mobile credit card processing

For fundraising events, the inability to process credit and debit cards can be a major obstacle to impressing investors and demonstrating professionalism. Services like Square, PayPal, and Intuit allow you to accept cards online or from a mobile device. Most credit card processing services provide the mobile app and card reader free, and you can get a discounted swipe fee by paying a flat rate monthly. If your enterprise is cash-only, this is a must-have.


Aimee Watts is a staff writer for Going Cellular. She has spent ten years telecommuting full-time, and loves answering questions about what cloud computing is, and how it works for fellow work-at-home parents. She loves gadgets, new ideas, and skiing with her two favorite people: her husband and teenage son. They live in Evergreen, Colorado.

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