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 The mission of the "Your Mark on the World Center" is to solve the world's biggest problems before 2045 by identifying and championing the work of experts who have created credible plans and programs to end them once and for all.
Crowdfunding for Social Good
Devin D. Thorpe
Devin Thorpe

Monthly Archives: August 2016

Impact Investing Expert Proposes ‘Impact Classes’ To Parallel ‘Asset Classes’

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

To paraphrase the great philosopher Forest Gump, impact investing is like a box of chocolates; you never know what impact you’re going to get.

One of the foremost experts on impact investing, Cathy Clark, Director of CASE i3 at Duke University, is working on that problem. She is focusing on labeling impact into categories that will be recognized by investors and issuers alike.

Sasha Dichter, Chief Innovation Officer at Acumen, sits on the advisory board for CASE i3. Of Clark, he says, “She understands where the field is and where it is going, and her thinking and writing consistently push the field forward.”

Clark says, “Impact Investing is hard to navigate. It covers a lot of activity in different areas done by different people. Yet the interest has never been higher. How can we simplify the field and make it easier for newcomers and experts to find the partners they need and help new investors find the products they want, more efficiently?”

“Getting the terms and categories right for people to customize their own portfolios is an essential building block that seems to be missing right now,” she says.

In light of the challenge, Clark has been working with Tideline to define the problem and start the work on a solution.

Dichter notes that Clark is an effective collaborator. “Cathy has a unique knack for partnership, bringing together practitioners and academics to created grounded, thoughtful pieces of work that address gaps in the underlying infrastructure of impact investing – whether market segmentation, impact measurement or new product development.’

Cathy Clark, courtesy of CASE i3

Cathy Clark, courtesy of CASE i3

Of the collaboration with Tideline, Clark says, “Together we interviewed experts across the field to hone in on what makes the field confusing. From this, I’ve developed an analogy that explains the issue a bit more clearly, and we’re started to float a possible solution: the idea of creating ‘impact classes’ to go alongside ‘asset classes’ to help people label and track the kind of impact they expect to achieve with their investment dollars.”

It looks like she’s on to something. “Over 80% of respondents to a recent survey thought it was a good idea,” she reports.

Ben Thornley, Managing Partner of Tideline, says of his work with Clark, “Cathy’s work has been catalytic for the fields of social entrepreneurship and impact investing – and, importantly, translating between the two. Cathy has that unique blend of intense intellectual curiosity and passion for sharing and collaborating on ideas that make her the ideal guide. She dives deep — delivering case studies and other analyses of the highest order — but is also able to communicate complicated findings with tremendous clarity, at multiple levels – for students, CEOs, funders, investors, and policymakers, which is why she is so sought after.”

The collaboration with Tideline yielded a report, which you can download here.

There are two distinct challenges that make the creation of impact classes difficult.

First, she says, “If everyone knew the kind of impact they wanted to achieve, we wouldn’t need a new labeling system.”

Second, she says, “Some providers are doing very well and actually financially benefiting from the lack of clarity as they talk to potential investors.”

This dual set of issues results in both “confusion and real resistance,” Clark explains.

“On the other hand, when you ask some considering a new impact investing,” she continues, “would you want a simple label that communicates the kind of impact you can expect, and allows you to diversify those impact expectations across a portfolio, nearly everyone says yes.”

This suggests a need to address the problem despite the challenges and implies that the key to success may to be to work with the investors to create demand or impact class labeling, she says.

Clark, who co-authored with Thornley and Jed Emerson the definitive book on impact investing–The Impact Investor–acknowledges that creating a simple classification system from the nearly infinite number of ways that people define impact today will be difficult.

She says, “I helped create the B Corp standards and have been a huge supporter of the IRIS metrics. This would not replace those, but would work to simplify them into some common categories. Almost like archetypes. Getting to consensus on this level of simplification will take a lot of time and interaction.”

Clark believes that her vision of providing a classification system would increase impact investing by making it easier.

“If everyone puts a portion their investment dollars to work toward impact and they come away satisfied with the impact–and financial return–they achieve, we will have changed the expectations of the financial system forever. Because if you could make things happen that you believe in and get a financial return, why would you ever want just financial returns again?”

On Thursday, September 1, 2016 at 1:00 Eastern, Clark will join me here for a live discussion to talk about impact classes and the implications for the impact investing industry. Tune in here then to watch the interview live. Post questions in the comments below or tweet questions before the interview to @devindthorpe.

Virtual Summit to Explore ‘Investing in Human Solutions’


You can download an audio podcast here or subscribe via iTunes.

Andrea Barnes has spent her entire career doing nonprofit fundraising. She now runs AB Funding, a consulting practice focused on helping nonprofits raise money. She’s worked the past year to prepare “The Giving Principles Global Nonprofit Telesummit | Investing in Human Solutions” September 12 – 30, 2016.

The conference will bring together 15 nonprofit leaders to share insights into sustainable impact and the fundraising strategies that support them. “Our speakers represent proven, world-class organizations,” Andrea says. “They are thought leaders in support of social good. Their charities are tested and their results are proven. Each has a vital story to share.”

Some of the themes that will be developed by the speakers include:

  • Taking a local charity and scaling it to operate throughout the country
  • Asking the provocative question — How do we eliminate chronic hunger? And then evolving your charity to do just that.
  • Taking a stand for the greatness of women and girls
  • Challenging corporations to thrive while doing good
  • Developing future leaders for sustainable change
  • Changing the way we understand and use money
  • Engaging your entire team in raising money for your cause

The speakers include Lynne Twist, author of the Soul of Money; Michael Nebeker, SVP, Operation Smile; Leah Barker, CEO, CHOICE Humanitarian; Jean Oelwang, CEO, Virgin Unite; and, yours truly, Devin Thorpe.

Andrea says, “Participants will learn strategies to support fundraising success; hear best practices for impact and accountability, leave inspired to raise sustainable funds, and will learn about a mindset that will allow ease in raise more money for great causes.”

You can sign up to participate in the Summit at no charge here.

On Thursday, September 1, 2016 at 4:00 Eastern, Andrea will join me here for a live discussion about the Summit and what you can hope to learn from it. Tune in here then to watch the interview live. Post questions in the comments below or tweet questions before the interview to @devindthorpe.

Andrea Barnes, courtesy of AB Funding

Andrea Barnes, courtesy of AB Funding

More about AB Funding Solutions:

Twitter: @giving_andrea

Andrea Barnes founded AB Funding Solutions after having spent her entire career raising money for worthy non-profit organizations. Our company exists because we believe in the nobility of raising money for great charitable causes and facilitating the growth and development of the people who do this work – board members, executive directors, development staff, volunteers and social entrepreneurs. Our programs develop fundraising and advocacy competencies, strengthen the individual’s personal conviction and resolve to do the work and help to develop institutional cultures that respect, support and nurture the fundraising role to ensure the highest possibility of success. Only when the development role is competently and passionately staffed can the vital work of the life-changing, life-saving charity be realized.

Andrea’s bio:

Twitter: @andreahbarnes

Andrea Barnes has been active in the fundraising arena since 1985 and is the CEO of a fundraising, marketing and educational consulting company, AB Funding Solutions. She is the creator of the fundamentals course, The Giving Principles | Learn to Raise Money for the Cause You Love. She has served as the Executive Director of The MORE Project, Sr. Vice President for Globus Rlief, Director of Development for the Waterford School and Pioneer Theatre Company and was the General Manager of the Gina Bachauer International Piano Foundation. Ms. Barnes graduated from the University of Utah with a BA in Germany Studies and an MFA in Arts Administration. She has served on various boards and councils including Kingsbury Hall, Utah Society of Fundraisers, the Children’s Center, Gina Bachauer International Piano Foundation, University of Utah College of Fine Arts Alumni among others.

Never miss another interview! Join Devin here!

Devin is a journalist, author and corporate social responsibility speaker who calls himself a champion of social good. With a goal to help solve some of the world’s biggest problems by 2045, he focuses on telling the stories of those who are leading the way! Learn more at DevinThorpe.com!

 

Women’s Bean Project – Where a Woman Earns Her Future

This is a guest post from Tamra Ryan, the CEO of Women’s Bean Project and the author of The Third Law.

Women’s Bean Project is a place where chronically unemployed and impoverished women come for a second chance in life. Most of the women who arrive at the Bean Project have never held a job longer than a year. They are convicted felons, recovering addicts, victims of domestic violence. Many were teenage mothers and high school drop outs. They come to the Bean Project for a chance to create new lives out of the rubble theirs have become.

Founded in 1989, Women’s bean Project is an anomaly in the business world. It is a business, one that packages and sells bean soup mixes and other dry food products to stores across the US and online. But tucked inside this business is a human services organization designed to provide a safe and accepting work environment where impoverished women can learn the skills required for gainful employment. Over a period of six to nine months women work for the Bean Project and learn the basic life skills and job readiness skills needed to get and succeed in a career entry-level job.

That we train women to become great workers only so they can leave us and become great workers for other employers is remarkable and challenging. That the women transform their lives in just nine months is inspiring and incredible to witness.

Initially I was attracted to Women’s Bean Project because I thought the business was intriguing. The notion that the better the business performed, the more women could be helped enhanced my interest. I couldn’t have been more naïve. I didn’t realize the human challenges involved in running a business whose employees are the neediest among us. I hadn’t thought about why our employees might not have held a job longer than a year.

As someone who grew up with a lot of opportunity, I thought anything was possible in America. I believed that if we worked hard, society worked with us to help us succeed. It was easy for me to think this way because I had never met felons or addicts or welfare recipients. While I believed that life is the manifestation of our choices, conveniently all of my choices were condoned by my community.

Over time I have learned that the circumstance faced by our employees are not merely because they have chosen incorrectly, but because they had not role models for employment, no one pushing them to stay in school, no one discouraging them from getting pregnant as teens. They are disenfranchised from the community in every sense.

I have also learned about the resiliency of the human spirit. I have met countless women at the Bean Project who have faced seemingly insurmountable odds of fear and shame and lack of self-worth. And yet, they have come to Women’s Bean Project and reinvented themselves as great employees and mothers and community members. They’ve made me realize that with the right opportunity, any woman can learn the skills to earn her future.

Tamra at work

Tamra at work

About Tamra Ryan:

Tamra Ryan is the CEO of Women’s Bean Project and is the author of The Third Law, a book which highlights the societal obstacles and internal demons that must be overcome for these marginalized women to change their lives.

Microsoft: No Single Organization Can Close Skills Gap

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

Microsoft reported doing over $1 billion of corporate giving, mostly in-kind, for fiscal year 2015. The software giant is making giving a more integral part of its strategy, as I explored here. One current initiative is a drive to encourage more STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education, a three-year, $75 million program called YouthSpark. [Full disclosure: I own an embarrassingly small number of shares in Microsoft.]

Here’s the thing, Microsoft Philanthropies President, Mary Snapp (the first female lawyer at the company back in 1988), says, “No single organization or company can close the global computer science education gap. ” This may be the best lesson social entrepreneurs can take from Microsoft’s massive giving budget. When entrepreneurs set out to solve big problems, they need to partner with organizations who can help.

Microsoft has partnered with the Boys and Girls Clubs of America to expose a broader range of kids to computer science careers. The program provides a “Computer Science Pathway” with four modules, each one building on skills taught in the prior module. This builds upon Microsoft’s longstanding support of BCGA which includes more than $100 Million in cash and software donations.

Collectively, the BGCA Clubs operate with a budget of about $1.4 billion annually, according to Julie Teer, BGCA’s Chief Development and Public Affairs Officer. She explains, “BGCA has been around for more than 150 years with the same goal: to enable all young people the opportunity to achieve a great future. Over the years, and in particular in the last decade, BGCA has taken a focused approach concentrating on making sure kids and teens have the tools they need to achieve academic success, mental and health wellness and good character and citizenship.”

Julie Tier, courtesy of Boys and Girls Clubs of America

Julie Tier, courtesy of Boys and Girls Clubs of America

She notes that over 11 million kids have no where to go after school and over the summer some 43 million are at risk of being unsupervised. Crime rates spike during these periods.

Some kids don’t have enough to eat. Teri Jensen, a BCGA volunteer in Salt Lake City, says her Salt Lake Rotary Club provides volunteers and a $1,000 grant to help provide food for the kids at the Lied Boys and Girls Club. She says, “The Lied Club is located in one of the most economically disadvantaged neighborhoods in the city. Many BGCA Club members to not have enough to eat at home and rely on food provided at the Kid’s Café. For the past several years the SL Rotary Foundation has contribution $1000 each year towards offering hot meals and healthy snacks. “

Salt Lake Rotary Club prepared a holiday feast for 250 people at the Lied Boys and Girls Club, courtesy of Teri Jensen

Salt Lake Rotary Club prepared a holiday feast for 250 people at the Lied Boys and Girls Club, courtesy of Teri Jensen

The Microsoft effort has the potential to provide life-changing impact for millions of kids. The partnership between Microsoft and BGCA can be instructional for social entrepreneurs.

While Microsoft’s Snapp acknowledges that Microsoft Philanthropies is not a social enterprise, she says, “we share core values that social enterprises possess, as well as support many organizations and initiatives aimed at making the world a better place. Our organization was created to harness the culture and dedication that comes from Microsoft’s 30-year legacy of giving, and creating social impact in a sustainable and scalable way. Microsoft’s mission – to empower every person and organization on the planet to achieve more – cannot be accomplished as long as individuals and communities are excluded from access to technology and the knowledge needed to use and create with it.”

Social entrepreneurs often begin by developing an understanding a problem they wish to address. For the Microsoft-BGCA partnership, the problems revolve around the lack of computer literacy and the central nature of that skill set to our current and future economy. Snapp says, “We use technology in almost every aspect of our lives, but far too few people understand how technology works or have the knowledge to create with it. As a result, many people won’t be able to qualify for jobs in the not-so-distant future.”

Snapp adds that America’s educational system is partly to blame. “Lack of access to computer science education is a significant contributor to this problem. In the U.S., less than 25 percent of high schools offer computer science classes.”

As a result, she says, “Only 2.5 percent of U.S. high school graduates go on to study computer science in college, and of this small percentage, only 1 in 5 computer science graduates is female.”

Teer agrees. “Today’s kids and teens are chief consumers of technology and many – especially those in underserved communities – do not get the opportunity to learn computer science either in or out of school. BGCA wants to grow our young people from mere consumers of technology to creators of it.”

Snapp shares Teer’s goal of making computer science more appealing to more kids. She says she’s hoping “to break down barriers and stereotypes that are keeping large populations of youth out of computer science education — even when the opportunities are available.”

Certainly, part of Microsoft’s motivation is to provide a quality workforce. While BGCA doesn’t face the same issue, many social entrepreneurs reading this will.

Teer describes the progress of the partnership to date. “Through our partnership with Microsoft, we’re creating a computer science pathway made up of four levels that are designed to build upon one another so that kids and teens can attain coding skills. The program encourages youth to develop proficiencies in coding over time and at many levels. We’re recently finished a pilot in 25 Clubs across the country where more than 1,000 Club members learned about Hour of Code and CS Unplugged, the first two levels in the pathway.”

Mary Snapp, courtesy of Microsoft

Mary Snapp, courtesy of Microsoft

Snapp identified one of the key challenges the program faces: expert staff shortages. “One significant challenge is the fact that today, there just aren’t enough adults who are educated in computer science and trained to teach the next generation. In our partnership with BGCA, we are working closely with them to design their computer science program, as well as provide staff training.”

While this isn’t a problem social entrepreneurs are likely to face initially, it is the sort of challenge they will face as they scale their efforts.

Teer sees challenges in bringing the program to scale from her side as well. “A challenge that we face with this program (and others) is making it marketable and exciting, so that Clubs will want to utilize it and kids will see the value in the program. When creating a program we understand this challenge and we work tirelessly to demonstrate in the curriculum and through trainings how it activates that value. We’ll continue to face these challenges as we expand the program model beyond the pilot to different communities across our footprint.”

Snapp recognizes that the partnership with BGCA will not itself be sufficient to solve the problem. Other efforts will be required as well. Because most schools don’t teach computer science, most students don’t get the opportunity to gain programming skills. She says, “ To truly make computer science education universal, there needs to be policy change. We continue to work with policymakers around the world to support the policy and funding necessary to bring computer science into the public education system. In the U.S., we’re proud to support Computer Science for All, a national effort created by President Barack Obama to give all American students the opportunity to learn computer science in school.”

This is another key consideration for social entrepreneurs, Snapp says. “I think one of the biggest questions for social entrepreneurs is understanding how to make big systemic change when the tools in their toolbox might seem limited to business-based solutions. Understanding the levers that need to be pulled to make change, and then figuring out the partnerships that are necessary to pull them is really key.”

Similarly, Teer sees limitations in the program’s potential reach. “Our programs do not reach all kids and teens. We currently serve around 4 million each year. It’s important that other organizations and schools also offer these types of opportunities to fill the impending gaps in knowledge and preparedness for 21st century jobs.”

She sees potential for mission-driven innovators to play a role here. “Especially in computer science, there could be many ways that social entrepreneurs innovate this type of programming to more audiences.”

Snapp’s vision for the future includes training a generation of social entrepreneurs. “Ultimately, we want every student to have the opportunity to study computer science, which includes computational thinking, problem solving and programming skills. This will empower students to achieve more – whether their goal is to become a computer scientist or not. All fields are becoming increasingly tech-infused, and having computer science knowledge is now as fundamental as learning reading, writing and arithmetic. Tech has the potential to help solve so many of the world’s problems, and it’s important that people from all backgrounds bring their point of view to tomorrow’s innovations.”

On Thursday, August 25, 2016 at 4:00 Eastern, Snapp and Teer will join me here for a live discussion about the partnership and the lessons social entrepreneurs can take from their experiences. Tune in here then to watch the interview live. Post questions in the comments below or tweet questions before the interview to @devindthorpe.

Loftii Enables You To Give Without Giving

You can download an audio podcast here or subscribe via iTunes.

What if there were a way that you could give without giving? That is, what if you could make a donation to charity without actually giving any of your own money? Many people have tried to create meaningful ways to accomplish this, especially since the internet became a ubiquitous part of our lives. Loftii is one of the latest entrants into this field.

Most people give to charity. In fact, most people give a lot. On average, about $3,000 per year per household. Many people would like to give even more. Loftii has created a way for you to give without giving by taking a slice of your online purchases from the merchants and giving that to charity. You pay nothing and your charity gets real cash. It’s almost like magic.

Amy Larson, Chief Marketing Officer, explains, “Loftii is helping people who want to do more. Today’s consumer is more active in their desire to make a positive impact on the world, however, they often lack the means. Loftii enables them to support their favorite cause regardless of their current financial situation.”

Having tried it, I can attest that the process is really as easy as it sounds.

Amy says, “We enable people to select their cause, then have up to 10% of their online purchases through over 700 retailers donated to that cause. We make it simple through the use of our browser extension – just a click of a button to tell the retailer what charity to support.”

Download the browser extension from Loftii’s website here.

Amy admits that there are challenges to getting adoption. “We are a vitamin, not a Band-aid. People and charities are incredibly excited about what we are doing, but because it isn’t an immediate need, it can be a challenge to get people to take immediate action.”

Adoption, however, is key. The donations are relatively small, typically a few percentage points of a purchase. Because every shopper/donor gets to choose their own charity, the only way to amass significant donations will be to get enormous adoption–and it is the only way the company can survive in the long term.

The effort faces a key limitation. The system only works for online purchases. Amy notes, “Only about 8% of consumer spend is online and our current solution is limited to online only. This represents a significant opportunity to expand into retail stores so every dollar a consumer spends will help support their cause and make the world a better place.”

Notwithstanding the challenges and limitations, Amy is enthusiastic about the future and Loftii’s ability to help people make a difference. “We are on a mission of empowerment. Regardless of what cause people are passionate about – saving animals, cancer research, eradicating extreme poverty – we want to empower them to do more. We don’t want to tell people what to believe in, rather, we want to empower them to support the causes they care most about,” she concludes.

On Thursday, August 25, 2016 at 3:00 Eastern, Amy will join me here for a live discussion about Loftii’s efforts to make giving automatic. Tune in here then to watch the interview live. Post questions in the comments below or tweet questions before the interview to @devindthorpe.

Amy Larson, courtesy of Loftii

Amy Larson, courtesy of Loftii

More about Loftii:

Twitter: @beloftii

Loftii helps consumers donate to charity through their everyday online shopping without spending an extra dime. Consumers select their charity, install our browser extension, then shop with over 700 top retailers such as Target, Nordstrom, Groupon, and Marriott.

Amy’s bio:

Amy has worked in marketing and ecommerce for over 15 years. She’s been honored to receive the Internet Retailer Hot 100 four times and was named one of Utah Business Magazine’s Women to Watch in 2013. This past year, she was also given the Most Influential Women in Optical award by Vision Monday. Amy has held management positions in several industries and across several brands. Most recently, Amy was the Vice President of Marketing & Ecommerce at Luxottica Retail North America. She graduated cum laude from Utah State University. When she’s not working, she enjoys riding her baby-blue Harley and traveling with her family.

Never miss another interview! Join Devin here!

Devin is a journalist, author and corporate social responsibility speaker who calls himself a champion of social good. With a goal to help solve some of the world’s biggest problems by 2045, he focuses on telling the stories of those who are leading the way! Learn more at DevinThorpe.com!

 

Solar Site Design To Unveil New Features At Solar Power International

You can download an audio podcast here or subscribe via iTunes.

Solar Site Design, winner of the U.S. Department of Energy’s 2015 Sunshot Catalyst Award, will unveil its Solar Commercial Marketplace for its industrial solar power site planning software at Solar Power International in Las Vegas on September 12 through 15th, 2016. The trade show is the largest solar industry event of the year.

Jason Loyet, President and Founder of Solar Site Design or SSD, says, “We are excited to introduce this enhancement to our platform that will revolutionize the cost of solar energy across the United States.” Jason adds, “Our mission is to drive down the cost of solar and keep all coal in the ground. We are excited to be a part of the solution for driving down the cost of solar across the world.”

Solar energy isn’t just good for the environment. It is good business. Jason Says, “Solar energy is expected to grow to a $155 billion dollar global market by 2018. The solar industry is on track to install 100 GW worldwide by 2015. That is doubling the capacity in two-and-a-half years.” Because virtually the entire cost of solar power is in the form of up front capital costs, the only way to bring down the

Jason Loyet, President and Founder of Solar Site Design or SSD, says, “We are excited to introduce this enhancement to our platform that will revolutionize the cost of solar energy across the United States.” Jason adds, “Our mission is to drive down the cost of solar and keep all coal in the ground. We are excited to be a part of the solution for driving down the cost of solar across the world.” Solar energy isn’t just good for the environment. It is good business. Jason Says, “Solar energy is expected to grow to a $155 billion dollar global market by 2018. The solar industry is on track to install 100 GW worldwide by 2015. That is doubling the capacity in two-and-a-half years.” Because virtually the entire cost of solar power is in the form of up front capital costs, the only way to bring down the long term cost of energy is to reduce the total capital cost of the installation. While solar panels are falling in price, the proportion of total cost represented by panels is also falling, meaning that reducing costs further will have to come from other aspects of the business. Erik Melang, Senior Managing Director for

Jason Loyet, President and Founder of Solar Site Design or SSD, says, “We are excited to introduce this enhancement to our platform that will revolutionize the cost of solar energy across the United States.” Jason adds, “Our mission is to drive down the cost of solar and keep all coal in the ground. We are excited to be a part of the solution for driving down the cost of solar across the world.” Solar energy isn’t just good for the environment. It is good business. Jason Says, “Solar energy is expected to grow to a $155 billion dollar global market by 2018. The solar industry is on track to install 100 GW worldwide by 2015. That is doubling the capacity in two-and-a-half years.” Because virtually the entire cost of solar power is in the form of up front capital costs, the only way to bring down the long term cost of energy is to reduce the total capital cost of the installation. While solar panels are falling in price, the proportion of total cost represented by panels is also falling, meaning that reducing costs further will have to come from other aspects of the business. Erik Melang, Senior Managing Director for Clean Energy Advisors [one of our sponsors], explains, “One of the biggest impediments to solar adoption is the soft cost of the installation. Large developers are paying over $.50 watt to find projects. Distributive generation requires distributive origination at the local level. SSD provides the platform to make that happen. SSD’s collaborative model is an impact capital model that is disrupting how the sales process is generally carried out.  SSD is bringing down the cost of solar installations and making it easier for developers to find the projects that best fit their project profile.” Erik adds, “CEA and other financiers will provide funding solutions by filtering and portfolio investment projects that fit their respective models.” Jason continues, “Impact assessment and efficiency are the keys to transitioning to a world powered by solar and other renewable energies. SSD is positioned to help the transition, and has developed a more efficient way to acquire solar projects. Developing this tool to expedite the customer acquisition and business development process for our fulfillment partners increases their profitability on solar installations.” The transition to solar power isn’t just happening in the U.S., but indeed is happening around the world. SSD is looking to expand. “SSD is currently only servicing the United States, but expanding internationally is part of the long-term plan. SSD already has several registrants from companies in Australia, Europe, Japan, India, Mexico, Spain, the Middle East and Canada. These registrants will remain in the database until international expansion occurs,” Jason concludes. On Thursday, August 25, 2016 at noon Eastern, Jason will join me here for a live discussion about the solar energy business and how SSD’s new marketplace will reduce costs and accelerate solar adoption.

Jason Loyet, courtesy of Solar Site Design

Jason Loyet, courtesy of Solar Site Design

More about Solar Site Design:

Twitter: @solarsitedesign Since winning the U.S. Department of Energy’s SunShot Catalyst Award in 2015, Solar Site Design has focused on solving the next chapter of driving down customer acquisition costs for Commercial and Industrial solar energy projects. After a year of software development, we are proud to announce the newest enhancement to our platform: Solar Site Design Commercial Marketplace. For three years, Solar Site Design has become a leading recruiter and trainer of Nationwide Commercial Originators. Our Originators have deep relationships in their local market and are able to open doors wide open on highly qualified C&I projects. In addition, our Originators are trained on collecting extensive data at the site through our innovative platform available on Android and IOS. SSD aggregates the project data entered by service professionals (referral agent), connects the projects to networks of contracted fulfillment partners, thereby reducing customer acquisition costs by up to 50%

Jason’s bio:

Twitter: @jasonloyet Jason Loyet is an accomplished solar industry entrepreneur, having founded and built three solar companies since 2005. His first company solved bottlenecks in importing solar equipment and streamlined mainline distribution to solar installers. In 2009, he founded and built a $3 million company that provided wholesale solar supply, sales and marketing services to electrical and roofing contractors throughout the United States. In 2013, Mr. Loyet leveraged the powerful capabilities of mobile phones to build an easy way for traditional contractors to add a revenue source to their bottom line by playing an active role in the solar industry. Hence, Solar Site Design was born. Solar Site Design is a collaborative, cloud-based platform that connects highly-qualified solar project referrals to leading solar companies to drive down customer acquisition costs. Our proprietary business process is designed to reduce the solar industry’s customer acquisition costs by up to 50%. Solar Site Design was chosen as a winner of the U.S. Department of Energy’s SunShot Catalyst Program in May of 2015. Prior to entering the solar industry, Mr. Loyet founded, developed and sold two software companies; a video-streaming service and a photo-sharing platform. Jason is a member of the Social Venture Network.

Never miss another interview! Join Devin here! Devin is a journalist, author and corporate social responsibility speaker who calls himself a champion of social good. With a goal to help solve some of the world’s biggest problems by 2045, he focuses on telling the stories of those who are leading the way! Learn more at DevinThorpe.com!

Eclat Impact Building The Future Of Impact Investing

Eclat Impact is a sponsor of the Your Mark on the World Center.

You can download an audio podcast here or subscribe via iTunes.

Eclat Impact is building the global platform for impact investing. In order to bring institutional scale to the impact marketplace, there needs to be a marketplace that operates within the international regulatory framework. Eclat Impact is working to be that platform.

Brace Young, the recently appointed CEO of Eclat Impact, explains, “We are solving for the need for a financial institution with the standing to allow both institutions and individuals to have the confidence to make investments in both private debt and Equity with a focus not only on risk and return but impact as well.”

Creating that confidence will require more than a flashy website, Brace notes. “We are building an internet based sourcing, due diligence and distribution platform for private impact investments to connect individuals and institutions around the world that is approved by the major financial regulators.”

Eclat Impact faces challenges, Brace acknowledges. “The major challenges are establishing a cost effective, collaborative process for sourcing and due diligence and getting global approval from the major financial regulators. We will need to help clients to be willing to execute away from the historical Brokerage and fund model.”

Brace also acknowledges limitations in the firm’s path. “The major impediment is establishing the Global Brand that will enable investors to feel comfortable sourcing and executing private investment opportunities. We also will not have a large capital base to be a principal for secondary trades.”

Challenges and limitations aside, Brace has a bold vision for what the firm can accomplish. “We hope to drastically increase the amount of global, private capital available for private impact investment opportunities. We know the demand for these opportunities far exceeds that amount that is currently being invested.”

On Thursday, August 25, 2016 at 2:00 Eastern, Brace will join me here for a live discussion about the impact investing marketplace Eclat Impact is creating. Tune in here then to watch the interview live. Post questions in the comments below or tweet questions before the interview to @devindthorpe.

Brace Young, courtesy of Eclat Impact

Brace Young, courtesy of Eclat Impact

More about Eclat Impact:

Twitter: @gateimpact

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Bracebridge H. Young Jr. is the Chief Executive Officer of Éclat Impact, a regulatory compliant global impact investing marketplace dedicated to building the impact ecosystem in the primary and secondary markets. Prior to joining Éclat Impact in 2016, Mr. Young was Chief Executive Officer and a Partner at Mariner Investment group from 2000-2015. He joined Mariner directly from Goldman Sachs, where he retired as a Partner, after a 20 year career in Fixed Income in New York, Tokyo, and London. He serves as Board Chair of GWAVE, a wave based renewable energy company and serves on the Advisory Board for Greentech Capital Advisors. He is the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Buckingham Browne & Nichols, a coeducational day school in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He is also the Chairman of the Board of Directors of Social Finance, Inc., a Boston-based nonprofit organization dedicated to mobilizing investment capital to drive social change.

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14 Noteworthy Social Ventures Looking To Scale

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

The Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship at Santa Clara University runs the GSBI Accelerator for social entrepreneurs from around the world. The ten-month program culminates in a few weeks on campus in Silicon Valley, ending with a traditional entrepreneurial demo day. The Center hosted me so I could meet their 14 entrepreneurs.

This is an impressive crop from almost every corner of the globe working around the developing world. From selling water in Mexico to selling weather reports in Ghana, the enterprises came not with business plans but with history and data to support their impact.

The ventures come in a variety of forms, some structured as nonprofits, others as for-profit ventures while some have set up hybrid structures. All have achieved sufficient scale to suggest the potential to impact a lot of people. Typically, they have a vision of reaching at least ten million within ten years.

Here is a quick run down of all 14 ventures based on their presentations and my interviews with each one of them.

All Across Africa

We imagine artisans in the developing world toiling away at their trade to earn a living selling one basket at a time. The trouble is, that is a crummy way to earn a living. All Across Africa, a for-profit social enterprise, uses US-based designers to conjure products that major corporations buy by the thousands. The company sources the products in Africa using artisans producing exactly to the design standards who then receive consistent work and income. Now, that’s a great way to earn a living.

Koe Koe Tech

Myanmar doesn’t fit all of the stereotypes of the developing world. The country had virtually no functional cell phone network before 2014. As a result, when one was introduced, virtually everyone bought a smart phone. Unlike other markets in the developing world where most people are limited to feature phones or have smart phones but can’t afford data plans, people in Myanmar use their smartphones. In part, this results from the Facebook “Free Basics” program that gives low income people access to free data and a set of apps pre-installed on the phones. Michael Lwin, a Myanmar American lawyer, saw the situation and paired it to a national travesty, an infant mortality rate that was the worst in the region, about ten-times worse than the U.S. (which, by the way, isn’t the gold standard for infant mortality). He created Koe Koe Tech to help mothers track their pregnancies and care for their children for the first two years of life. Just launched less than three months ago, the app already has 40,000 users, representing about 5 percent of the pregnancies in Myanmar.

Pollinate Energy

Unbelievably, some people in India are considered by aid organizations to be too poor to help. While millions of Indians live in slums with poor infrastructure, questionable title to their tin-roofed homes and jobs that fail to provide for basic incomes, millions more aspire to such a lifestyle. The poorest live in slums where the residents live in tents, have no access to electricity and no prospect for getting title to the land where they are squatting. No one, it seems, would help them until two young women from Australia created Pollinate Energy to sell them solar powered lamps–on credit. It turns out, these people no one would help, pay their bills 99 percent of the time and the business is thriving. This powerful lesson could be a boon to millions of people, but it certainly is good for Emma Colenbrander and Alexie Seller, the founders of Pollinate Energy.

The LivelyHoods management team and sales agents, courtesy of LivelyHoods

The LivelyHoods management team and sales agents, courtesy of LivelyHoods

LivelyHoods

Tania Laden, a Stanford grad working in Kenya, realized there was a problem in Kenya when 75 percent of those engaged in post-election violence were deemed to be unemployed youth. She knew that young people their age in Silicon Velley were doing things like launching businesses while young people in Kenya had no prospects. Initially, they tried teaching youth entrepreneurship and even financed startups. Ultimately, they learned that most of them didn’t want to entrepreneurs; they just wanted jobs. She’d committed to stay in Kenya for three months; five years later she’s still there helping to run LivelyHoods, a nonprofit that now hires youth to sell solar products in slums, providing employment opportunities for young people and enhancing the lives of the consumers who buy their products. With twelve branches in two cities, they have created over 900 jobs with plans to triple that by 2020.

Vava Coffee

Vava Angwenyi loves coffee. She is especially proud of the coffee in her native Kenya. She launched Vava Coffee to buy and export some of the country’s finest coffee from small-holder farmers who have traditionally lacked access to fair markets. These vulnerable people have been victims of the market as much as particpants in it. Vava works with them to assure them a fair price for their coffee and proudly exports it.

Inside the NUCAFE factory, courtesy of NUCAFE

Inside the NUCAFE factory, courtesy of NUCAFE

NUCAFE (National Union of Coffee Agribusinesses and Farm Enterprises)

Joseph Nkandu was born on a coffee farm in Uganda and grew up watching his parents struggle to keep the family fed and him in school. Now a university graduate, he leads a national effort to give small-holder farmers the ability to earn a fair living from growing coffee. Small farmers are often forced to sell their crops at deep discounts while still on the plant. Joseph’s NUCAFE is a national association of farmers who now own a processing plant that may completely change their lives, The plant could allow them to pay fair fees for preparing their coffee for export. Soon they will be able sell a finished product at the top of the value chain, capturing most of the difference.

engageSPARK

What does a serial entrepreneur do after he’s made a fortune? Ravi Agarwal, who was born and made his fortune in Boston, spent time volunteering in Africa before deciding to create a global technology business to serve the base of the pyramid, the world’s poor. Without access to the internet, no one had an effective or affordable way to reach 5 billion people. NGOs and others wanting to communicate with the people they serve can’t. At least they couldn’t until Ravi created engageSpark to allow everyone affordable access to effective ways to engage with people whose only way to communicate is talking or texting via old style feature phones with no internet access. The new low-cost interactive voice response and texting service allows NGOs to help people more effectively.

Awaaz.De

Imagine running an NGO that serves rural people living in low income villages in the developing world. How would you communicate with your customers? Most do not have any access to the Internet. While a few have smart phones, they can scarcely afford the data plans to use them. Awaaz.de, meaning to “give voice” offers a low-cost communications platform that enables SMS and interactive voice response system that enables nonprofits to reach the people they serve effectively. Now, an nonprofit providing maternal healthcare services can send appointment reminders, nutritional coaching and get health data in response from the women it serves.

Cantaro Azul

What if there were a way to deliver clean drinking water to more people who lack it while creating a business opportunity for disadvantaged women at the same time? Cantaro Azul asked this question and found the answer was “yes.” By producing the clean water in small facilities closer to the people they serve in rural and suburban Mexico, and employing women to sell it, they can undercut market prices by 20 to 40 percent. The lower price allows the company to reach more people. As they do so, the sales force earns a living at the same time communities benefit from improved health.

CareNX

What do you do when saving lives becomes more important than finishing your PhD. Shantanu Pathak started his PhD in Public Health shortly after a friend, Shilpa Munda, almost died from pregnancy-related hypertension. He realized that something must be done to improve maternal health outcomes. He created a kit that could be used at the doorstep to monitor basic maternity metrics using a smart phone. His kit, which fits in a small briefcase, can be carried door to door and allows a modestly trainer user to check vital signs, measure the fetal heart rate and even do a spot check with a urine sample to help doctors screen for high-risk pregnancies. In a pilot with just 20 door-to-door health workers, over 1500 pregnancies were tracked–including 700 high risk ones–with an increase of high-risk pregancies identified of 23 percent, suggesting that some lives may already have been saved. Pathak hasn’t officially ended his studies, but told me, “My prof is like, I know you’re not going to do it, but see if you can.”

AYB ASD

“You can’t get anything out of frustrated young people but revolution,” says Mohamed El-Kamal, managing director of Alashanek ya Balady (roughly translated as “For you, my beloved country”). The nonprofit organization survived the revolution in Egypt, giving the organization an even greater sense of purpose as the country struggles to recover. The organization works with young people ages 21 to 35 to help them become more self-reliant. Over the years, 35,000 people have been trained, 8,000 have obtained jobs and 22,000 have started businesses with help from AYB. El-Kamal says that he is working to create systemic change. El-Kamal says that when young people find employment, they contribute more to their families, their communities and their country.

Noora Health

There is a proud professor at Stanford, I suspect. Katy Ashe was taking a design course there that included a class project in India. She and a few classmates went to Bangalore and spent time in a hospital observing and talking to patients and staff. They observed an interesting dichotomy. Hallways and grounds were overrun with family members of patients waiting for short visitation windows and then to take their loved ones home. At the same time, the hospitals were understaffed. To add insult to injury, patients were often sent home with limited–if any–home-care instructions, resulting in lots of complications, return visits to the hospital and some deaths. Ashe and her colleagues conceived that during the hospital stay, the family members could be effectively trained to provide required home care. The executed a low-budget proof of concept. After a dangerous stint in South America, Ashe returned to Palo Alto only to learn that her project had proven so effective that the hospital was clamouring for her to return. She did, creating Noora Health to formalize and extend the training provided to family members. They have now trained over 50,000 family members, reducing 30-day complication rates by 71% and saving countless lives in the process. Let’s just say, I hope Ashe got an A on her project.

Farmerline customer receiving tropical weather forecast via voice in his local language, courtesy of Farmerline

Farmerline customer receiving tropical weather forecast via voice in his local language, courtesy of Farmerline

Farmerline

Will illiterate small holder farmers living in Ghana pay for access to weather information, agricultural tips and market pricing data? Alloysius Attah thought they would, provided that the information were provided in an accessible manner. Because they can receive calls for free, Attah created a system that would call the farmers with the information they need. At just $7 per year, Farmerline can provide its full three-tiered service with weather, tips and market data. Farmers report increasing their profits by 50 percent, easily justifying the annual fee.

Attah, it turns out, was raised on a farm but hates farming. He taught himself to code in college while studying natural resource management. He’s always wanted to get away from farming. Perhaps it was that fundamental desire that enabled him to create a tool that will make farming easier and more productive for his fellow Ghanaians.

Solubrite

If you can read this article, it is likely hard to imagine life without electricity. We completely take it for granted. Despite its importance in our lives, Marc Henrich was surprised when he had the opportunity to introduce solar lamps to off-grid villages in Central America. He quickly learned from the villagers what should not shock any of us: having access to electricity was life changing. Before long, Henrich abandoned his crowdfunding website and created Solubrite to distribute solar powered lamps and other products to people without access to power. Partnering with microfinance institutions, he sells everything from individual lamps up to commercial freezers (that double a store’s profits, he says) in Nicaragua and Panama, already reaching almost 50,000 people.

Social Entrepreneur’s 5 Insights On Corporate Volunteering–You Will Love Number 5

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

Angela Parker, co-founder and President of Realized Worth, has built a profitable, $1 million revenue consulting practice helping companies like Apple, TD Bank, and even the UN with volunteering programs. She will share five guidelines for corporate volunteering below.

The firm designs custom volunteer programs for its clients and then works with them to implement them successfully.

Parker earned an MBA, but that may be where her typical corporate consulting background ends. She worked in a variety of social services efforts, including disaster relief, managing volunteers for nonprofits and helping at-risk kids, she says. While not the typical path for corporate work, it was perfect for the firm she launched with her business partner Chris Jarvis. Both she and Jarvis have written respected pieces on corporate volunteering and giving.

Parker approaches volunteering programs more as a corporate training function to develop leaders than as a corporate social responsibility program to meet those standards.

She builds the volunteer experiences based on “Transformative Learning Theory,” which, she says, “translates to an affect that empowered those employees to make decisions based on empathy and compassion.”

The theory was initially advanced in the seventies by Jack Mizirow and has been advanced since. The concepts are used to help adults learn and grow. Experiences such as volunteering are a key part of Parker’s implementation of these concepts.

Coming from her corporate experience, Parker provides the following five tips for volunteering as a “means to become a better version of you.”

  1. Don’t volunteer because you should – volunteer because you need to.
    There is a concept the Celtics refer to as “thin space.” This is a place – maybe a sweeping vista or a striking sunset, the moment you fall in love or the moment your child is born – where there seems to be a tear in the fabric of space and time. In that space, we become clear on what really matters and why we exists. Thin spaces are few and far between but they typically take place outside our comfort zones. Volunteering can be that space. Not all the time and not for every person, but without question, the greatest value of giving time for free to another person or cause is the affect it has on the giver. When we encounter thin space we can never go back. We are transformed. Volunteering is a safe, non-threatening space where we can open up to becoming better versions of ourselves.
  2. Posture yourself as ready to receive from the person you are serving. They are not objects to fix; they are your reminder of what it means to be human.
    The poor are not a problem to be solved. The marginalized are not an object through whom we might address our privileged guilt. When we posture ourselves as expectant to receive the gifts “the other” has to offer, we demonstrate respect for their equal value. And when we do, in fact, receive from them, we remember our own humanity. We remember that we are all inherently valuable and worthy of equal rights and respect. It is this humble posture that leads to greater impact through the practice of transformative volunteering.
  3. Make yourself vulnerable – meaning, open yourself up to attack.
    True humility requires vulnerability. It requires the assumption that others may know something or have something to offer that we need. The definition of vulnerability is “to open oneself up to attack.” When you volunteer, make the decision to be as open as you can. Maybe all that means for you is you’ll step back from the constant “doing” of volunteering and have a conversation with the beneficiaries of your work. Maybe all that means for you is you’ll stop and take a look around and consider “What am I experiencing right now? Is this what I expected?” Challenge the experience of volunteering to affect you in a way it never has before.
  4. For a real development opportunity, aim to connect with a people group or issue that makes you uncomfortable.
    If you’re ready, go beyond the volunteering that makes sense to you and look for a little bit of trauma. Trauma is a “deeply distressing or disturbing experience.” Obviously, you don’t want to put yourself in a position that is dangerous or beyond what you can handle, but if you’ve always volunteered at the food bank, try volunteering directly with men and women who live on the street. If you’ve always volunteered in the US, try volunteering overseas (although be cautious about “voluntourism”). The point is, do something that makes you a little it afraid. Challenge your prejudices. Make sense of something that has no place in your experience of life so far.
  5. Go easy.
    Having said all that, volunteering can be a strange thing. Sometimes the feeling that you “should” volunteer induces guilt because you just can’t make the time at this stage of life. Sometimes the requests at work to be part of corporate volunteering initiatives feel like too much on top of personal and professional responsibilities. And sometimes you’re just trying to make it at all and “giving” to someone else feels absurd. That’s okay. Go easy on yourself. We’re all just trying to become a little bit better than the generations before us – and maybe, for once, leave an earth behind filled with greater compassion, more empathy, and less violence. We are not each responsible to change the world; we are only responsible to do that one tiny thing within our reach. Just do that one tiny thing – whatever that means for you. The rest will follow.

On Thursday, August 11, 2016 at 11:00 AM Eastern, Parker will join me here for a live discussion about her five insights into volunteering. Tune in here then to watch the interview live. Post questions in the comments below or tweet questions before the interview to @devindthorpe.

 

When Boundless Optimism Meets Medtech Anything Seems Possible

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

Howard Leonhardt is the co-inventor of the TALENT stent acquired by Medtronic and used to treat over 200,000 patients. With boundless optimism, 20 patents issued and more pending, he has launched Leonhardt Ventures to form and incubate dozens of companies intended to collectively extend human life expectancy by 30 years. [While I have no business relationship with Leonhardt at present, he has invited me to join his advisory board.]

Most of the technologies in the portfolio are at the intersection of electrical stimulation and stem cells. Jeremy Koff, an entrepreneur with a deep background in medical devices himself has signed on as an advisor to Leonhardt’s California Stock Exchange, an early stage effort at creating a stock market for socially conscious companies.

Koff calls Leonhardt’s work “pioneering.” The two became acquainted over the music scene Koff helped to create, but bonded over medical devices when Koff learned that Leonhardt was inspired for the former’s uncle Alfred Mann, a giant in the medical device industry.

Koff notes that Leonhardt is “combining two approaches that haven’t been combined before.” He adds, “Using electrical stimulation with stem cells is quite a novel approach.”

When I asked what Leonhard would ultimately need to do to be successful, Koff harked back to his uncle, explaining that Mann needed twenty years and $100 million to develop Second Sight, which won approval for the first artificial retina in 2013. In other words, Leonhardt needs time and money to bring his advanced technologies to market.

Leonhardt’s business model is to build small companies until they are commercially viable and then to sell them to strategic buyers. He’s hoping to reprise his success with the TALENT Stent over and over again, each time retaining a small piece of future revenues.

Leonhardt says the business is profitable with an 88 percent gross margin. It isn’t clear how much of that is realized in cash, however, as much seems to be tied to increasing the valuations of portfolio companies. He claims to have grown the value of his companies from $3 million in 2013 to $224 million this year.

Asked what makes him a social entrepreneur, he responded, “Both what we do and how we do it. We potentially are on a path to save more lives than any other firm before. We have a goal to extend life by 30 years for all people and to reduce aging by 30 years, making 80 the new 50.”

Additionally, he says, “We treat our employees, communities, suppliers, customers and investors with respect and genuine care.”

With his enterprises, Leonhardt is hoping to solve or at least address three independent problems.

First, he’s working to help people live longer, healthier lives. He notes, “Drugs and current devices are often toxic. Our products regenerate organs and whole bodies with natural stem cells driven by bioelectric energy signals.”

He sees problems with the current stock market, failing to “support the good investment potential of firms that have a sense of purpose in their work and that treat their communities well.”

Leonhardt describes the core technology underlying his medtech ventures. “We have invented the first programmable bioelectric regeneration stimulator and stem cell micro pump. Our stimulator causes cells and tissues to release 10 key regeneration promoting proteins including SDF-1 a stem cell homing signal.”

The applications of the technology are as wide ranging as his optimism, including heart, pancreas and kidney regeneration, along with eye and ear regeneration. He’s also working on brain regeneration technologies to treat stroke, concussion, Parkinson’s and Alzheimers, among other brain injuries and illnesses. There are also cosmetic applications in the portfolio.

While Leonhardt has set aggressive time goals for moving the technologies toward commercialization, he agrees with Koff’s assessment that he needs capital. That is top on his list of challenges he faces. He adds “managing team members spread across the globe,” “getting our message heard,” and “convincing people to believe in totally new, innovative concepts” as top challenges for the medtech side of the business. For his socially conscious stock market, he worries about the “daunting financial SEC regulations.”

Leonhardt admits that the combination of the ”10 regeneration proteins” stimulated by the regeneration stimulator and the ”15 component regeneration compositions to be delivered by our micro infusion pump are untested in combination.” He sees this as a next step for the development of the technologies.

Leonhardt created a portfolio of socially responsible companies to serve as a model for the California Stock Exchange. Results were not what he’d hoped. “The Cal-X 30 Social Good Impact fund is performing slightly under the Dow 30 due to a heavy weight on biotech. We need to correct this.”

With his optimism in full bloom, Leonhard says the success of his work can lead to extending the life of “most humans by 30 years and will reverse aging 30 years. We will save 5 billion lives.”

Of his efforts with the stock market, he says, it “may lead the way in making ‘doing well by doing good’ the norm rather than the exception.”

On Thursday, August 11, 2016 at 4:00 Eastern, Leonhard will join me here for a live discussion about his work to extend and improve life even as he works to create a market for companies with a conscience. Tune in here then to watch the interview live. Post questions in the comments below or tweet questions before the interview to @devindthorpe.

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