A mashup of corporate social opportunities and charities

I was recently in the House of Lords with Lord Andrew Mawson and a representative of the Australian Government discussing approaches to ‘social enterprise’ and the need to stop cultures of dependancy and entitlement. We spoke about the concept of corporate social opportunities where the line between traditional CSR activities of big businesses, social enterprises and charitable activities is blurring.

It was therefore interesting to reflect upon this discussion after spending some time this weekend watching Dan Pallotta’s TED presentation about how the way society views charities as being completely wrong, particularly how we confuse morality (why charities exist) with frugality (the widely held views about why charities should not spend much money on their overheads).

I’ve been fortunate to have some involvement with some great social enterprises, and there are a couple of charities that I massively rate. The one of most interest to me is the St Paul’s Way Transformation Project which explores a range of new business models by creating innovative partnerships – public sector, private sector, non-profits and so on; that being said, I’ve never really given traditional charities a great deal of thought until this video of Dan’s. I really value visibility around what charities are spending money on (and I am a trustee of a charity also) – and I particularly like how Kiva adds the operational costs on top of the underlying donation. But that doesn’t go far enough – we all need recognise that in the same way that successful, profitable businesses need to remunerate their teams sufficiently, invest in marketing etc, charities (or whatever the right term should be) must do the same – so thanks Dan for highlighting this very important issue!

Why maths is cool (and very relevant in creating sustainable cities)

One of the team sent me a video from TED in which Kevin Slavin talks about the importance of algorithms in everyday life. Here it is!

 

An interesting aspect of our business is around the reality is that it is very inefficient industry – there is fragmented and disparate demand and supply, vehicles are empty, there are relatively low asset utilisation rates and pricing can be quite all over the place.We did quite a lot of work around urban freight which helped us to highlightsome of these disconnects – the graph below is part of a study that we did into understanding the baseline impact of freight deliveries to multi-tenancy commercial properties in London (you will need to click on the picture to see the detail). Ultimately what it shows is that each day there are hundreds of journeys to deliver a single item or set of items to one company – all via a single, very congested road in London. A more collaborative approach would allow different businesses to get delivery journeys shared quite easily, thus reduce cost, congestion and carbon. While many people may not care too much about carbon, these heavily congested situations will be very problematic during the Olympics in a few short months.

 

To address this, we use maths to find ways to create some logic in this whole situation, and in doing so, start to find a way of ordering a range of very random ‘events’. In many respects, this start with coming up with certain hypothesis that allow us to consider the situation in which a user might be in and then try and construct a mathematical way of capturing that and solving the pain point. While I am not going to really discuss the core of what we do, I thought this graph below might be interesting which was done for me by an awesome intern doing Mathematics at Berkeley. In this example, we were trying to look at a standardised per mile pricing structure so we used a polynomial equation to come up with a potential answer.

X-axis is distance in miles; Y-axis is pricing