Developing apps with mutuality

I came across this article regarding the experience and unexpected challenges of building apps for low income Americans, written by a developer from Significance Labs. Significance Labs makes "middle of the diamond" products for developed world, and I found many points from her experience that are relevant to the work we are doing at the Mutuality Lab. Key takeaways include:

  • The challenges faced by low income communities in the developed world can be very similar to that of the low income communities in developing world -- "Living on a low income translates into other forms of scarcity: of power, information, respect, opportunity, time, health, security, and even of sleep”
  • Building a mutual business model would require very clear motives and steer determination -- "It’s much easier to feel good by giving away meals to starving kids in Sudan, but you are not going to solve any systemic problem in the world by doing that. This is business, and business is messy and you have to make hard decisions."
    • Sometimes even the poor communities may think that “we were a company… trying to take advantage of them”
    • Building a business model for the poor will need a lot of hard work, to win the trust of many stakeholders operating in the hybrid value chain we have set up (in the case of Project Maua / Project Bloom).
  • Intuitive knowledge is very important when trying to develop something for the low income groups
    • In Significance Labs, all six fellows are “zero or first-generation immigrants”, and “their families know what it was like to live a very different life”.
    • “Maybe the best long-term solution is to train a new generation of developers and designers from a low-income background to build their own solutions”

--Jia Yan Toh


Solving yesterday's solutions: A history of management theory

The idea that management practices can be studied, with lessons learned and distilled into theories, has been with us for decades. Short vignettes such as A Message For Garcia by Elbert Hubbard (1899) and The Go Getter by Peter B. Kyne (1921) have extolled employee virtues, and Alfred P. Sloan's "Organizational Study" memo to GM (1920) is considered a foundational work of corporate management theory.

Of course the business environment changes over time, with corresponding shifts in the theories of what management practices work best -- often based on the (reported) recipes used by the success stories of the day. It would be useful to chart these theories and their changes over time in order to ask: Are there consistencies across eras? Can we observe, and perhaps predict, cycles of in best practices? Do certain practices have a "shelf life," beyond which we can expect them to become obsolete?

We enjoyed Nicholas Lemann's recent piece in the New Yorker,When G.M. Was Google” precisely because he takes this long view and

addresses these questions. Among the changes Lemann notes is the decline in the social vision of the corporation, as well as the shift from viewing “bureaucracy” as a solution to attacking it as a problem.  Indeed, on the later point he notes:

What managers consider a problem is typically what their predecessor considered a solution.”

He also finds enduring similarities in the recipes for success over time, notably an attention to consumer/user needs, and corporate cultures that don’t just foster innovation inside the company—they attract the brightest and most innovative minds from outside and draw them in.

Image source: The New Yorker

--Clara Shen


Social captital key to success in workplace: data analyst

An expert in network analysis and human capital states that social capital now trumps other skills in today's workspace.  Valdis Krebs, founder of Orgnet LLC, says that workers must distinquish themselves by their ability to connect, mix, and resolve data and content.

The new competitive advantage is social context – how internal and external content/information is interpreted, combined, made sense of, and converted to new products and services via diverse inputs, opinions, viewpoints, and know-how.

Krebs sees social capital stemming from the personal and professional networks of employees, and he defines social captigtal as the ability to find, utilize and combine the diverse skills, knowledge and experience of others, inside and outside an organization.

--Clara Shen


Statistician with a mission

Hans Rosling’s Gapminder Foundation has a mission is to fight devastating ignorance with a fact-based worldview that everyone can understand using powerful visualizations of statistics. Choosing among his many TED talks and videos is not easy, but this introductory video can be a nice gateway to his many videos on different global matters: 200 Years That Changed The World.

I teach global health, and I know having the data is not enough.”


Image source:

--Sorin Patilinet


Stephen Badger, Mars Board Member, on Mutuality

Last week the Global Action Platform named Mars, Incorporated as the recipient of the first-of-its-kind “Global Shared Value Award” at the third annual Global Action Summit in Nashville, TN. Mars Board Member Stephen Badger received the award on behalf of the company, and he took the opportunity to talk about the Five Principles that guide the coporation, particularly Mutuality. The full text of his remarks are below.

My great grandfather had a powerful vision. The family today and Mars itself shares that vision and the conviction that Mutuality is the best way to do business.  And we’re looking for others who share this vision with whom we can partner to explore how to best to bring it to life.

"Thank you, Dr. Zakaria, and thank you to our hosts here at the Global Action Summit for this honor. I’m humbled and grateful for this recognition.  I’m grateful because it reinforces and affirms what Mars and our 70K associates are trying to do around the world, and I’m humbled because while we’ve been in business for over 100 years, I feel like we’re still getting started when it comes to bringing Mutuality to life.

"Our associates and the Mars family believe deeply in 5 Principles that guide us in how we run our business, and even our lives.  Mutuality is one of those 5: and mutuality speaks to Mars’ desire to benefit to all who come into contact with us…whether through employment, through supplying products or services, through the communities in which we operate, or through the purchase and use of our products. 

"The other 4 Principles are Quality, Responsibility, Efficiency and Freedom (and by Freedom we mean financial freedom to chart our own course and make long term decisions).  These 5 Principles are both static and evolutionary, and we seek to live up to them and bring them to life in all we do.

"Almost 70 years ago, in 1947, my grandfather, Forrest Mars Sr. penned a letter that spoke to his vision for Mars, Incorporated. It was nothing remarkable to look at – just a few short sentences of typewriter ink on a piece of paper that’s long-since grown yellowed and faded.

"It stated that Mars, Incorporated and all of its associates should promote a “mutuality of service and benefits” with every stakeholder that comes into contact with the business: from consumers to distributors, competitors to direct suppliers, governmental bodies to all employees and finally to its shareholders-who were called out last in the list. 

"In essence this was his attempt to answer the most fundamental questions that all institutions face. Why do we exist and what is our purpose?  He believed that his business was about more than generating profits. He laid out his belief that Mutuality was the purpose: that long term ‘win-win’ relationships were the key to success.  And we still believe that deeply whether it relates to, for example, supplier negotiations, the supply chain itself in a broader sense, the pricing and promotion of our products, the tax payments duly levied by governments, or the environment at large. 

"But how can we know when we’re really living up to our principle of Mutuality?  I’m certain that we don’t always.  And what is the right level of profit after all? What are in fact the metrics of Mutuality?

"Since our inception, Mars, Incorporated has grown to become one of the largest and most successful food manufacturers in the world.  We have operations in 74 countries, across almost 400 sites, where we manufacture confections, drinks and food for people and pets, and we have 11 brands with over 1 billion dollars in sales.  But size and scale are not an end in themselves.  And they certainly aren’t a reason in themselves for the family to want to keep the business privately held.

"Generating  Mutuality in all we do is, however, a rallying cry: for the family and the associates.  And today we have a 25-year vision that states, among other things, “Our belief that principled business can make the world a better place. Our ambition is to achieve Mutuality with our Associates, all stakeholders whom we touch, as well as for the planet. Our behavior demonstrates principled leadership and builds stakeholder trust.”

"And we’ve embarked upon bringing Mutuality to life both qualitatively and quantitatively.  In fact, we have a formal relationship with Oxford’s Said Business School at the highest levels to do just this: to quantify what Mutuality really is….to define the metrics for it across the entirety of our business.

"Furthermore, if I may, some examples of how we’re bringing Mutuality to life include: our sequencing and publishing of, without restriction, the cocoa genome so that we and others can work to improve the yield and disease resistance of this important global crop; our commitment to 100% of the key ingredients we use: cocoa, fish, tea, coffee and palm oil, with others to follow, as coming from certified sources by 2020 (and that includes economic, social and environmental components to that certification); our commitment to strengthening the whole cocoa supply chain for all farmers (including their access to nutrition through the African Orphan Crops Consortium); our precedent setting and industry leading global commitment to all our confectionery products having portion sizes of no more than 250 calories;  and the grand challenges that we’ve set for ourselves to create a range of nutritionally concentrated foods to address the needs of those whose children in many parts of the world face systemic malnutrition and stunting.

"My great grandfather had a powerful vision. The family today and Mars itself shares that vision and the conviction that Mutuality is the best way to do business.  And we’re looking for others who share this vision with whom we can partner to explore how to best to bring it to life.  It’s our belief that world truly needs it and that in fact it is the best way to do business-for all concerned.

"So I’m grateful and humbled to accept this award on behalf of all at Mars.

"Thank you very much."

--Bruno Roche