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Doing well by doing good? It's not easy.

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"We believe that it's possible to create value in these underserved areas and markets," says James Koch, director of the GSBI. "Large multinational companies have a tremendous myopia to these unmet needs. And they have standard ways of operating ... that would preclude them from the kind of patient, diligent, discovery-based learning that needs to happen."

Social entrepreneurs may need to spend "many, many years," he says, figuring out how to design products and services that work in places like Haiti.

Some past participants of the GSBI program have found that sweet spot. The founders of Thamel.com noticed that 18 percent of Nepal's GDP was coming from remittances, but intermediaries were taking a large cut of that. Their website set up a new way for expatriates to send money back home. Within five years it will be a $100 million social business in revenues, says Mr. Koch.

Another venture named Drishtee, which offers e-health and e-government service across India, successfully scaled up from 1,000 to 10,000 kiosks.

Stehl is the coordinator of operations for Meds & Food For Kids (MFK), which also wants to scale up.

In Haiti, MFK buys peanuts from local farmers, manufactures it into "Medika Mamba," and sells it to healthcare providers there – mainly international NGOs and visiting medical missions. But it wants to make more to bring the cost per unit down.

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