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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.

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Monthly Archives: May 2017

Expert: Now is the Time to Get Solar on Your Business

Clean Energy Advisors is a sponsor of the Your Mark on the World Center.



Erik Melang, 52, the CEO and co-founder of Distributive Solar, says now is the time for business owners to put solar panels on their facilities. He should know; in under one year since he launched the business, his team has 75 megawatts of solar projects in the pipeline.
Erik recently made the case for investing in solar now in a post on Linkedin and joined me for a quick conversation (watch it at the top of this article) to talk about the reasons.
He offers four primary reasons for considering solar now:

  1. The investment tax credit on solar installations will begin to expire in 2020. Given the time required to evaluate, design and install solar, there isn’t much cushion in the calendar to take advantage of the tax benefits.
  2. Even before the solar investment tax credit begins to expire, the accelerated depreciation provisions of the tax code will begin to be phased out. In 2018, the first year depreciation on new equipment will drop from 50 percent to 40 percent.
  3. Interest rates continue to be low, allowing a business with good credit to finance most if not all of the cost using ten-year financing that will allow the business to save more in electricity than it pays in total financing costs each year, thus providing instant positive cash flow and leaving the business with a free source of electricity after only ten years.
  4. The pre-tax cost of solar is lower today than many in the industry thought possible by 2017. Commercial-scale projects can be completed under $1.70 per watt installed before any tax considerations.

There are lots of solar calculators that can help you get a more exact number, but according to one, the average number of KWH produced by each watt of installed solar is 1.44 per year. If you pay, say, $0.20 per KWH to your utility, you avoid $0.288 per installed watt per year. In this hypothetical example, you would achieve savings of 16.9 percent.

Of course, every situation is different. The further south your business sits, the more sun you tend to get. Utility rates vary, having a lot to do with your community’s proximity to coal.

Erik says utility rates are likely to rise more or less with inflation as the cost of coal, oil and gas production will tend to rise with inflation. This suggests that your future savings could be even greater than your current savings.

Because the sun is likely to shine consistently year after year and the panels are guaranteed for 25 years, according to Erik, the risks are low. With double-digit returns possible–even before tax considerations–and when those returns are highly probable, it makes sense to give serious consideration to these opportunities.

Given that many utilities are making net metering difficult if not impossible, Erik recommends installing only enough solar panels to provide for your peak daytime load (or less) so that you never have to sell power back to the utility. This approach is called staying “behind the meter.” Like conservation tactics like LED light bulbs, you reduce your power bill and keep all of the savings. No need, he says, to get mired in the bureaucracy of selling power back to the utility.

Scott Hill, President of Clean Energy Advisors, a Your Mark on the World Center sponsors and investor in Distributive Solar, says, “The cost of solar is coming down to the point where it makes sense for businesses to consider taking some control over their energy needs. Plus, more and more customers are demanding the businesses they purchase products and services from are being responsible about their carbon footprint.”

One day soon, he notes, power storage technology will allow businesses to produce all of their own power reliably and affordably, but that day hasn’t arrived, yet.
Today, he says, is the day to put solar power to work for your business to reduce but not fully eliminate your power bill.

Erik Melang, courtesy of Distributive Solar

Erik Melang, courtesy of Distributive Solar

More about Distributive Solar:

Twitter: @distrsolar

Commercial Solar Origination. Recruiting, training and supporting commercial solar consultants to present the economic, branding and environmental benefits of going solar to commercial business owners.

Erik’s bio:

Twitter: @espmel

Erik Melang is a Co-Founder of Distributive Solar and oversees the firms Recruiting, training and support of Independent Sales Representatives. Erik previously served as Managing Director of Impact Partners, where he led impact strategies initiatives and renewable energy private equity investments. It is in this role that Erik was drawn to the amazing business opportunity around Commercial Solar Origination. The industry is in the early stages of mass adoption and Commercial Business Owners are realizing the tremendous economic benefits of deploying solar panels on their rooftops. Erik is an Appalachian State MBA with strong desire to learn and teach and is an avid follower of everything solar and all things “Impact.” Erik’s interest include Clean Energy, Fishing, Snow Skiing, Travel , Guitar Pickin’ and is a child adoption advocate.

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!

How Impact Investors Are ‘Starting In The Wrong Place’

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

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

“We’re starting in the wrong place,” Mara Bolis, 45, senior advisor for market systems at Oxfam America, says of the approach most impact investors are using today.

The problem she highlights is that investors are starting with an analysis of their own requirements, which are primarily financial rather than with a deep understanding of a problem they wish to solve.

“Impact is a pretty diluted term at this point,” she adds. “We’re not doing the important upfront work to diagnose the problem.”

Watch my interview with Bolis at the top of this article.

Bolis says that Oxfam has used a different approach, beginning with a clear diagnosis leading to a specific prescription for a particular financial treatment.

Oxfam, a 70-year-old NGO that works internationally to alleviate poverty, diagnosed a problem for female entrepreneurs in Guatemala. They were being asked to put up almost twice as much collateral as men, she says. So, Oxfam and its partners developed a financial product to provide capital to female small business owners in Guatemala on appropriate terms. The loans average $17,000 and have maturities up to four years. The investment was designed for the diagnosis.

Mara Bolis, Oxfam America

Bolis authored a discussion paper for Oxfam and Sumerian Partners on impact investing. In a blog post summarizing the findings of the paper, she wrote, ” We have no problem with financial returns, but let’s not pretend that investors seeking a pure market return can tackle the most complex global challenges in high-risk markets. They cannot. Not in education. Not in health. Not in reducing child labor and forced marriage. Not in water and sanitation. “

Andrea Armeni, executive director of Transform Finance, agrees with the sentiment. “It’s fundamental in the impact space to put the primacy on the needs of whoever will be affected by the investments. If that’s not the case – if we are focusing primarily on the needs of the investors – it’s a bit disingenuous to say that we are investing in order to achieve a certain social impact.”

Bolis, who has worked in international development for 20 years, says, “Poverty alleviation should be a guiding principle” for impact investors.

It wasn’t long ago, she points out, that the only sort of philanthropic capital was a grant. As the market has evolved in recent years, a variety of forms of impact capital have been developed along with a diverse range of approaches to solving social problems, including for-profit social entrepreneurship.

Bolis worries that as impact investing goes mainstream investors who have traditionally accepted lower returns on their investments in order to achieve desired social outcomes will follow the herd toward investments with market returns offering weak social benefits. The irony of seeing the field of impact investing grow while the impact actually shrinks concerns her.

Armeni agrees that a focus on return on investment or ROI can allow for problems to flourish that impact investors seek to eliminate. “If we want a teachers’ pension fund to invest for impact, we must be mindful of its return requirements so that the pension liabilities are met. But if in order to achieve a certain ROI, other stakeholders suffer–especially those who have historically not benefited from finance–then we are not moving toward real impact, and may, in fact, be contributing to the growing wealth and opportunity gap.”

Armeni sees three “transformative finance principles” that investors should observe:

  1. deep engagement with the communities, an idea that parallels Bolis’s suggestion for a real diagnosis,
  2. “non-extractiveness,” that is, being thoughtful about “for whom value is being created”, and
  3. fair allocation of risks and returns.

Bolis has made six recommendations to correct what worries her about impact investing:

  1. Shift from focusing on the needs of investors to the needs of those combatting poverty
  2. Increase transparency of reporting both for impact and financial returns
  3. Philanthropists should continue to deploy patient capital that seeks only to achieve a return of capital rather than a return on it
  4. The industry needs more independent research to identify the investment structures that best maintain impact intentions
  5. Investors should adopt a “voluntary code of practice that enshrines” intentionality
  6. “Impact investors should adopt incentives for optimizing, measure and reporting impact”

Bolis sees these ideas critical to focusing the impact investing sector on what she sees as its core mission of helping people lift themselves out of poverty. In other words, this is how you start in the right place.

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!

This ‘Tornado Of Energy’ Is Revamping Education In Liberia

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

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

Time’s 2014 Person of the Year was “The Ebola Fighters.” Among the front line people profiled was the aptly described “tornado of energy” Katie Meyler, now 34 and the founder of the educational NGO More Than Me.

Meyler, who says empathy is her superpower, founded the organization while visiting Liberia years before the Ebola epidemic swept the country. She was there doing volunteer work and came across an 11-year-old girl named Abigail who was prostituting herself for school fees. Meyler began paying her fees so Abigail could attend school.

Abigail had some friends that needed help, too. Soon, the number of girls she was helping outstripped Meyler’s meager resources so she began fundraising via social media to help more girls.

Watch my interview with Meyler at the top of this article.

Eventually, a lawyer friend volunteered to help Meyler set up a nonprofit and More Than Me was born.

Chid Liberty, originally from Liberia and now CEO of Liberty & Justice, says of Katie, “We met as she was starting her organization and she was a ball of energy and excitement. You couldn’t help but want to help her achieve her mission.” He eventually joined the More Than Me board of directors and served for several years.

After a time, she learned that just getting girls to school wasn’t enough. The schools were so poorly funded that physical facilities were grossly inadequate–unsafe and lacking even basic educational tools like chalkboards. Teachers, she says, were frequently unpaid and many, as a result, were illiterate themselves.

Katie Meyler

Meyler says she is not creative. There is nothing remarkable about what she did. The problems were obvious and she addressed them.

Under Meyler’s enthusiastic leadership, the organization built a school for girls. Supporters flew in from the U.S., parents, teachers and students came. The President of Liberia even attended the inauguration.

Then Ebola struck. Meyler recognized that her mission had just shifted from ensuring her girls got an education to ensuring that her girls survived so they could get an education.

Initially, Meyler looked to support the front-lines organizations doing the most good in the local communities. What she quickly realized was that those organizations were stretched too thin. She says a call for an ambulance might bring one three days later simply because there were too few in the country to serve the overwhelming demand. During the interim, one sick person would become one sick family.

Eventually, she organized a team of 500 people. The team received training from the World Health Organization and Médecins Sans Frontières. They did whatever they could to help. “When we could do nothing else, we sang and prayed with them.”

The first safety protocol to prevent the spread of the disease, which was fatal in nearly 90% of cases, was simply not to touch anyone. Meyler shared the gut-wrenching story of comforting eight-year-old Charlie as he died. More than anything, he wanted to be hugged. Meyler says she offered every comfort she could imagine, including offering a lie that his mother had sent her to care for him. His last words were, “God will bless you.”

Meyler says she learned from the experience. “We were waiting for the heroes until we realized we are the heroes.” She said she found out what she was made of when it really counted.

Her Ebola work and the attention it brought have helped More Than Me grow to a 2016 budget of $1.7 million. The organization operates seven schools and has asked the government to open 30 more in the partnership program. The partnership model she helped created, pairs public schools with private partners like More Than Me to operate and support each school. More Than Me hopes ultimately to support 500 of the 2,750 primary schools in Liberia, helping them reach 125,000 students.

Liberty says, “It’s an organization that’s really passionate about their work, so teachers are in class, students are part of something bigger, and school actually functions as an institution. Many Americans probably take that for granted, but for schools serving poor Liberians, teachers showing up and knowing how to teach is basically a miracle.”

The Liberian Government will provide funding to More Than Me for the public schools it helps to run. The NGO will break even, Meyler says, once they reach 105 schools.

Tragically, only a few people in Liberia have had access to a good education. Liberty says, “Liberia is a beautiful country and her people are her greatest asset. Unfortunately, what we would consider to be a great education has only been available to a small minority of citizens.”

He adds that poor education holds back the people and institutions there, but what has been accomplished is impressive at times. “Still, these people are filled with ingenuity and help to build great roads, buildings and entire companies. Sometimes these folks lift the living standard of an entire village.”

Liberty shares Meyler’s vision for the potential for education to improve things in Liberia. He says, “Not only will education help us unlock more genius in Liberia, it will help Liberia’s most ingenious women and men find the support they need to build a great society.”

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!

 

Enabling Active Citizenship – One School At A Time

This is a guest post from Partners for Possibility, a social enterprise that works with under-resourced schools in South Africa.

Of the approximately 25 000 schools in South Africa, 20 000 are grossly under-resourced and in need of assistance.

Many of these schools look like Nyavana Primary School (pictured) in the Xihoko Village in the Limpopo Province of South Africa. Here, child-headed households, crippling poverty and high levels of adult illiteracy are common.

Children at schools like Nyavana are at risk of graduating from those deprived schools with an inferior education that does not prepare them for meaningful work and the ability to further their education. This is happening despite the South African government and the private sector spending inordinate amounts of money every year on education.

Educational reforms are not working and research has shown the lack of effective leadership in schools to be the main reason for this.

Against this background, and recognizing the wealth of leadership skills present in South Africa’s business sector, Partners for Possibility (PfP) was born. This innovative programme partners business leaders with the principals of struggling schools with the aim of capacitating the principals to turn their schools around.

The two leaders connect in an authentic way as they, together, strive to put the school at the center of its community. And, as the executives get their hands dirty in a world far removed from their comfort zones, they develop the skills and compassion required to manage in the volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world.

And so it was that Juliet Shilubane, Principal of Nyavana Primary, was partnered with Jan-Louis Pretorius, Director of agricultural company Groep 91. Jan-Louis became Juliet’s thinking partner and initially, it felt strange for Juliet to “have a white partner”. But as their relationship grew to deep mutual trust, Juliet felt empowered and learned to apply strategic planning, conflict management principles and many other skills in her school.

Reflecting on her initial expectation of receiving funding, she stresses that what she’s gained is much more valuable: “nobody will take those skills away from me”.Jan-Louis has also been transformed: “It has put my own privilege and responsibility into perspective and given me a purpose.”

Partners for Possibility is not a charity exercise but a service to the school and its community. The corporations that allow their executives to be involved are making a social investment of a special kind. It’s about shared value and about serving your stakeholders according to the tenets of good corporate citizenship and conscious capitalism.

It is also about impact: Over the last six years, close to 600 school communities have been touched, like Nyavana, by the re-ignited passion of their school principal. Participating schools report improved academic outcomes, greater cohesion among staff and management and greater community involvement, to name but a few.

The possible application of the principle in other areas is exciting. If it works in education, why shouldn’t it be effective in healthcare and local government, for example, too?

The programme crosses the traditional boundaries of race and culture in a nation-building exercise that tackles a major obstacle to growth and prosperity in the country. Above all, it provides an opportunity for active citizenship, for people to stand up and do something instead of staying on the stands and criticizing.

And as, one by one, those 20 000 schools become more functional and those children go into the world with a better chance of success, the rebuilding of the nation becomes possible.

For more information on Partners for Possibility, please visit pfp4sa.org.

Feel Rich Founders To Hip Hop Community: Health Is The New Wealth

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

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

Feel Rich, started with the question, “What if we create a brand that makes health sexy?”

Feel Rich, a “culturally relevant” health and wellness brand for the multicultural, urban community, is a led by Shawn Ullman and Quincy D. Jones, III, son of the multi-Grammy-award-winning artist. Ullman has worked for Jones for years, helping to produce documentary films. Jones has left his father’s shadow but not his legacy and has produced several gold, platinum and multi-platinum albums.

Watch my interview with Ullman and Jones in the video at the top of this article.

Quincy D. Jones, III

Their latest collaboration, Feel Rich, was Ullman’s idea and he is the CEO. The name was partially inspired by Ullman’s parents, Phyllis and Richard Ullman.

Ullman says, “We leverage our relationships with hip-hop artists, celebrities, and athletes to promote health as the new wealth. From our branded content, live events, products, and social media community; we are re-defining what it means to be rich.”

Shawn Ullman

Both entrepreneurs had observed the importance of health and wellness in their own lives and in the lives of many of the big name hip hop artists, including Fat Joe, Paul Wall and Styles P.

Jones says Eminem realized he was making more money after getting into better health.

The mission is important to Jones for several reasons. Of his father, he says, “He raised me to always have an underlying mission with all my work. So in my doc and music, I always insert a message that empowers the viewer, even if it’s subliminal there is always a message. With my Tupac doc, I covered how well read he was and put his reading list in the DVD cover and tons of kids went out to buy those books as they wanted to be like Tupac. So you put the medicine inside the dessert and they don’t realize it’s medicine.”

“I have a social mission behind everything I do, it’s lifestyle,” he adds.

Ullman highlights the problem he sees with health information in general. “There is a ton of health and wellness information available but it is not authentic or relatable to the multicultural community.”

Jones echoes that. “We want to bring information to them in a cool way via social and traditional media that is compelling and connective. It does not currently exist.”

That drives the Feel Rich strategy, Ullman says, to make the information feel more relevant to their urban audience. “We remix health information into engaging, empowering, and authentic content and events that connect with the community and help individuals live richer lives.”

Feel Rich also partners with brands that want to connect with their audience to deliver a health-positive message. “We also work with brands and agencies to help them craft campaigns that will resonate with the community and help them take positive actions,” Ullman says.

The message is resonating with their audience. JessicaRios-Almanza, the Designer and Brand Strategist for Crystal Wall Fitness, is a big fan of the Feel Rich brand and wears it proudly. She says, “I represent the brand because it represents me.”

She explains, “From the well-designed logo to the rhythmic heart beat of the tribe, my wellness is my richness, one choice at a time. My loyalty is to the message.”

Feel Rich fan Maliek Trimmer with his son

Maliek Trimmer, another fan, describes himself as “just a normal guy trying to live a healthy life one day at a time.” He says he first heard about Feel Rich at an event with Slim Thug. After doing some online research, he decided he could really get behind it.

He said, “I felt it was a brand that I could relate to. I also see how they are getting music artists and TV actors on board with incorporating health into their everyday lives. The logo stood out and caught my eye so much to the point that I got it tattooed on my arm.”

Maliek Trimmer’s Feel Rich tattoo

Trimmer says the brand and the tattoo help remind him to live healthier.

Rios agrees. She says, “I feel like I am on a huge ‘stay well squad’…and well, I am. I feel committed to a sense of social responsibility because I know that I inspire people just as much as my lifestyle is inspiring. I think that’s how the movement works. You feel it and thereby become it and pass it on–sort of like music.”

Feel Rich seems to be living up to its goal to make health sexy.

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!

This Entrepreneur Works To Infuse Travel With Purpose And Impact



Kathryn Pisco’s world changed when with her husband she circumnavigated the globe, volunteering along the way.

She realized, “Life was too short to fit back into what I was doing before.” So, rather than go back to work in a regular job, she launched a social enterprise called Unearth the World to help volunteers travel and have real impact.

She notes that there are three big problems in the voluntourism industry that she hoped to fix.

  1. Cost and transparency: First, she notes that some volunteer trips are unaffordable for many people. Most organizations arranging volunteer trips are not transparent about where the fees go and who is getting the money. At Unearth the World, Kathryn says they charge a small fee for their work in arranging the trip and are completely transparent about the where the money goes.
  2. Preparation: Second, she says that many volunteers arrive in the field without adequate preparation, not knowing what to expect, sometimes leading to poor outcomes. Unearth the World works to match volunteers’ skills to the needs of an on-the-ground organization abroad and then to prepare the volunteers for the rigors of the work they are expected to complete.
  3. Traveler-focus: Much of the volunteerism world is built around the traveler rather than the service and the impact. The result is that projects are often of the make-work variety so the traveler feels good about having done something when in fact the impact was marginal. Unearth the World works to get find real projects that need volunteers to that they have meaningful impact.

Kathryn visited with me first almost three years ago. You can see that interview and read that write-up here. My latest visit with Kathryn can be seen at the top of this article.

Her world changed when she traveled the world making a difference. Now you can experience what she did with her help.

Kathryn Pisco, courtesy of Unearth the World

Kathryn Pisco, courtesy of Unearth the World

More about Unearth the World:

Twitter: @unearththeworld

Unearth the World is a social enterprise that plans personalized and meaningful international exchange opportunities for professionals, students, groups, and families. Our unique model improves the volunteer travel industry by promoting cross-cultural learning, fostering reciprocal partnerships and elevating social consciousness through these responsible volunteer exchange programs. Unearth the World pair travelers with our vetted international nonprofit partners to solve real issues in global communities. Our focus on pre and post-trip training, financial transparency and social impact sets us apart. Since 2015, more than 200 global citizens have donated over 3,500 hours of their time. Unearth the World alums have started their own nonprofits, continued to volunteer in their own communities and become more civically engaged to multiply their tremendous impact!

Kathryn’s bio:

Kathryn Pisco is a social entrepreneur with a passion for travel and giving back. She grew up in Columbus, Ohio and attended Cornell University where she received a Bachelor’s of Science in Communications and Business. After years of working in sales for large corporations, she took a career break with her husband in 2013 and traveled the world doing a mix of personal travel and volunteer work. While she took part in some phenomenal volunteer projects, she also discovered some of the negative aspects about the international volunteering industry: lack of financial transparency, and absence of meaningful volunteer training, and a shortage of community driven projects. So, she returned from the trip inspired to create her own social venture –Unearth the World- that strives to improve the volunteer travel industry by promoting cross-cultural learning, fostering reciprocal partnerships and elevating social consciousness through responsible volunteer exchange programs. She lives in Chicago with her husband and twin daughters.

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!

 

Never miss another interview! Join Devin here!
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