It's an unlikely romance, fit for Hollywood: social change meets corporate marketing. Now, one of Tinseltown's most successful inventions is about to join the cast.
Enter the first social-entrepreneurship talent agent.
Meet Sharon Chang, founder of Yoxi.tv. The former chief creative director of 19 Entertainment, the company that produces American Idol and So You Think You Can Dance, Chang has jumped into nonprofit entrepreneurship with a totally original business model.
Yoxi, her startup, is a pro bono talent development agency for "social innovation rockstars" … sponsored by corporations looking to market themselves as do-gooders … that happens to be shooting its own "reality" show … in Liberia.
It's so complicated it just might work. A company like IBM, for example, might ask to sponsor a social innovator working on putting "big data" to use in the education sector. Yoxi might sift through their roster of promising entrepreneurs and suggest Heather Hiles of Rrripple, whose project is aligned with IBM’s brand interests. Yoxi would then use its media savvy to help Hiles and her ideas hit the big time—with IBM attaching its brand to reap marketing benefits and tap fresh ideas.
Last month, Chang explained to a Forbes columnist that she'd once toyed with a more conventional TV show along these lines, presumably an Apprentice-like contest for social innovators. But she concluded that the for-profit mass media model wasn't right for her mission:
I wanted to find fresh approaches to distribution. ...Even when you have a powerful story, it’s difficult to find an equally powerful channel. I don’t think employing celebrities should be the default and/or the only answer.
Yoxi's answer, at least for now, is to design a rigorous selection process for "social innovation rockstars"—their word for the sort of ambassadors who can catch the imagination of the public and push new ideas into the mainstream. People with great ideas and the charisma to match. Here's Yoxi spokeswoman Kasia Reterska, in an email to Global Envision:
Selection of SIRs [social innovation rockstars] happens via our research process where we rate about 14 metrics around a social entrepreneur. We measure typical attributes like the success of their organization, etc., but also focus on things like a person's charisma and media savvy. Like the notion of casting a TV show or play, we feel it's essential to find entrepreneurs who, along with a great idea, are passionate and effective communicators. These are the people who will stand out in the crowd and expedite their work in the social innovation space.
Brands can sponsor specific Rockstars. … We're just as focused on finding SIRs to help a brand via shared-value ideals as we are to harness influencers around a specific topic/entrepreneur.
In other words, Yoxi's goal is to recruit, package and promote a stable of fresh-faced innovators with useful ideas, then match each with a corporation that'd fund it in exchange for the marketing benefits. If it works, this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.