Ayllu: Delivering Much Needed Infrastructure to Social Enterprise

Ayllu (pronounced “eye-you”) is a Brazillian organization named after the beautifully communal, Incan term for the basic political and family unit. It is also an Echoing Green semifinalist. Helmed by social entrepreneur Melissa Richer, Ayllu is dedicated to lashing together the famously fragmented social venture space with much needed infrastructure.

The social enterprise sector has mushroomed over the past decade, transforming from the strange younger cousin of philanthropy into the primary lightening rod of social transformation—attracting intellectual, monetary and sweat equity from all over the world. Passionate agents, mid-career switches as well as a burgeoning number of university students, are flocking into the field, dedicated to harnessing business principles to achieve social victories.

Developing and scaling a social business model successfully requires solving a series of intractable problems. As explained by Peter Eliassen of VisionSpring in a NextBillion article on Ayllu, “Too often we have our heads down to the ground trying to determine our optimal operational strategy, and that creates a silo environment. Maybe someone else has already discovered a way to execute a similar strategy and we don’t know about it.” This means that although the sector has achieved a thrilling critical mass of participants, sophisticated infrastructure is now required to ensure less redundancy, more synergy, and continuing success.

This sentiment is shared by Jonathan Jenkins in an article written for the Guardian’s Social Enterprise Network in December: “infrastructure is the key to solving the sector’s spectacularly inefficient and fragmented marketplace of supply and demand.” In many ways, this challenge comes down to scaling the social enterprise sector as a whole, instead of just one particular business model. The solution needs to be as “glocal” as social entrepreneurship to be successful.

One of Ayllu’s primary initiatives, the iuMap, is the world’s largest directory of market solutions to poverty, with over 450 enterprises in 65+ developing countries. iuMap was built in partnership with OpenAction, a technology startup that has worked with heavyweights such as Acumen Fund and Ashoka Foundation in the past to make it simpler for social enterprises to visualize information for their stake holders.

Since its launch in July  2010, iuMap has voraciously grown its database of social enterprises, and also unveiled greater functionality in January 2011. Users can search for social enterprises by name or by tags. Searches can even be filtered by location, issue area, legal structure and “supporters.” This last filter, to search ventures by supporters such as Skoll Foundation or Echoing Green fellow shows incredible foresight by Ayllu and is a great step towards pulling all the important players in the ecosystem together. In the coming months you can expect better curation of Ayllu’s massive database with the unveiling of maps dedicated to the energy sector, as well as Indian social enterprises.

The road to transforming what is little more than a database into a set of intelligent tools is long and vulnerable to hungry new players entering this critical niche. I feel that Ayllu has done a great job so far of dredging up cloistered social market information on to the internet, although I do question their decision to focus on tactical, issue-specific maps instead of plugging away at the broader, strategic organizational challenge.

Nonetheless, founder Melissa Richer has an Ashoka pedigree and a wealth of on-the-ground experience working with the communities she wants to benefit. She also has exciting ideas about hyper charging “microfranchises” by tacking synergistic franchises together to offer a portfolio of solutions to interested communities: essentially a PowerMundo for services instead of products.

I wish Melissa and her team the best of luck for advancing into the next round of the Echoing Green fellowship.

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Photo via iuMap

19 comments

Bernadette P.
berny p8 years ago

thanks for the info

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Melissa R.
Melissa R.8 years ago

Abeer, Thanks for writing up Ayllu. We are very excited to provide the global directory, which now includes over 500 enterprises! I wanted to give a bit more information about what we do in response to your comment about unlocking deeper information.

Ayllu surveys entrepreneurs for 2-3 hours, and is currently mapping 110 enterprises in India and global Energy. These surveys collect much deeper information about the team, business and financial model, product/service, customers, and regulatory environment. By aggregating information we can surface trends, insights, and data that will help entrepreneurs understand the market and make better decisions. Stay tuned for April, when the initial trends will be released. Cheers!

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Melissa R.
Melissa R.8 years ago

Abeer, Thanks for writing up Ayllu. We are very excited to provide the global directory, which now includes over 500 enterprises! I wanted to give a bit more information about what we do in response to your comment about unlocking deeper information.

Ayllu surveys entrepreneurs for 2-3 hours, and is currently mapping 110 enterprises in India and global Energy. These surveys collect much deeper information about the team, business and financial model, product/service, customers, and regulatory environment. By aggregating information we can surface trends, insights, and data that will help entrepreneurs understand the market and make better decisions. Stay tuned for April, when the initial findings will be released. Cheers!

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Ann P.
A P8 years ago

Collaboration and coalitions in advancing a new model of non-greed-based companies and other solutions (for example health care and energy in this country) are critical and possibly the only way to make headway in the greed-based systems which currently make all the rules.

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Barbara Erdman
Barbara Erdman8 years ago

thanx for info

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Bon L.
Bon L8 years ago

Thanks for the info.

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Jacobo V.
jacobo Van8 years ago

Truely a pleasure to get a feel for Melissa's thrust on the planet. Perhaps she is already microfranchising Medicinal M. to maybe jump start some of her projects.

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Rani L.
Rani Lyons8 years ago

inspiring...people helping people to help themselves.

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Kaye S.
Kaye S8 years ago

OK

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Elizabeth M.
Elizabeth M8 years ago

Thanks for this interesting post Abeer. This could work out to be really great and is very innovative.

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