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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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The Painful Story Of A Reluctant Social Entrepreneur

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

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

Kelli Kelley is a reluctant social entrepreneur.

She was 24 weeks pregnant–16 weeks before her due date–when a sharp pain in her abdomen signaled something was wrong. She called her mother and mother-in-law for guidance and they told her to call 911.

It was a good thing she did. In the ambulance, they confirmed she was in labor and that they wouldn’t be able to stop it. At the time, 24 weeks was the medical limit for delivering a baby that could survive.

She says that limit has now edged a week or two lower in the 16 years since her son Jackson was born.

He is now a healthy 16-year-old boy, who is thriving in school, learning to drive and wanting to date. But it wasn’t always easy.

“There were lots of setbacks,” she says. “We thought we might lose him.”

Not even three years later, Kelley found herself with a baby in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) once again. Her daughter was born at 34 weeks. She had a set of challenging, scary issues as well. She is now a healthy young teen.

The issues associated with raising children born prematurely never really end. To this day, Jackson is required to take meds that keep him healthy.

While premature children qualify automatically for Medicare or Medicaid, completing the paperwork required became a half-time job for her. Once a family leaves the hospital, she says, many of the benefits run out.

Some of the medicines the kids have needed over the years cost thousands of dollars per dose, Kelly says.

Overall, the experience is anxiety inducing. About 70 percent of parents experience some form of anxiety disorder; many are diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD after having a child spend time in the NICU.

After experiencing so much of this herself, Kelley began advocating for others to do more to support parents of premature babies. The typical response she got was, “Why don’t you do it?

So she did.

Kelley organized Hand to Hold, a national, peer-to-peer based counseling service that provides trained volunteers who have been where NICU parents are now. So, if you have a child in the NICU suffering from a particular set of issues, the organization will look to match you up with a parent who has been through the same thing and trained to help you through it.

Kelli Kelley, Hand to Hold

“I’m glad I didn’t know what I didn’t know,” Kelley says about how hard it has been.

The nonprofit generated revenue of $578,000 in its last fiscal year, has nine full-time staff and a 13-member board. Hand to Hold provides in-person peer-to-peer support in three Texas hospitals in addition to the national on-line service. Recently, Kelley launched a podcast called NICU Now that is quickly gaining a following.

Revenue for Hand to Hold comes from individual donations (14%), corporate funding (28%), events (48%) and foundation grants (10%).

Amy Popp, senior brand manager, Huggies Brand, Kimberly-Clark, who supports Hand to Hold, says,Hand to Hold is a wonderful organization that provides services and support to parents of premature babies who may feel anxious, lost or alone. My favorite aspect of Hand to Hold is the peer-to-peer support system it offers outside of the hospital.”

Popp notes that the partnership is a good fit for the Huggies brand and gives the company a way to fulfill its mission to help babies thrive.

Hand to Hold is also working to change the treatment approach for NICU babies. “We are proposing that providers adopt a more radical approach, a truly Family Friendly model. This would recognize that the health of the NICU infant is affected by the mental and emotional health of the family,” Kelley says.

“By pioneering and championing fundamental changes in the delivery of mental and emotional health during the antepartum period, throughout a NICU stay and after hospital discharge, I hope to improve outcomes for medically fragile babies and their families,” she adds.

“I’m confident Hand to Hold will continue to grow and bridge the service gap that currently exists for families who have a child in the NICU or for those families who have experienced an unimaginable loss. The passionate people at Hand to Hold are key to their future success and expansion across the country,” Popp says.

Commenting on her difficult journey, Kelley said, “I never thought of myself as a social entrepreneur. But after years of struggling to find support following my son’s traumatic early birth, I knew I had to take on this role.”


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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!

 

Impact Measurement: How Much Is Too Much? How Much Is Not Enough?

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

This is a third and final piece in my series on impact measurement.

First Part Link: How Social Entrepreneurs Begin To Measure Impact

Second Part Link: Impact Measurement: Finding Your Way Through The Maze

One of the great challenges of impact investing is knowing how much impact reporting to require from the ventures you invest in, remembering that startups face plenty of challenges without layering on needless reporting. On the other hand, impact investors want to know about the good that comes from their investments.

To find answers to these questions, I reached out to nearly two dozen impact investing experts to learn how they think about this dilemma.

Bake in the Impact

There were several themes that developed in the answers. One consistent message was voiced by Morgan Simon, Managing Director of Pi Investments, who suggested entrepreneurs and investors should “structure fairness into the business from day one, such that counting specifics become less critical . For instance, Pi investee Uncommon Cacao set a 49% margin cap to ensure cacao farmers always retain the majority of the value in a transaction.”

Morgan Simon

Matthew Davis, CEO of Renew, which makes investments in Africa, made the same point, but added the caveat that it “depends on the type of business and how it and its shareholders define impact.” He adds, that for his portfolio, just seeing an ethical business in Africa prosper is sufficient.

Laurie Lane-Zucker, founder and CEO of Impact Entrepreneur Center for Social and Environmental Innovation, agreed. “Another reason why it is important to bake impact values into a company’s DNA at the earliest stage possible is because impact measurement becomes engrained in daily activities and is less of an ‘add-on’ to what each person already has on his or her plate.”

Right Size the Reporting to the Company

The need to match the reporting obligations to the size and stage of development of the company was another theme that came from the experts.

Daniel Jean-Louis, CEO of Bridge Capital, which invests exclusively in his native Haiti, argues that while avoiding bureaucracy is important, a certain amount of administration is required in all businesses. “So, it’s important not to confuse red tape with administration. “

Uma Sekar, impact and ESG Manager for Capria Ventures, agrees. ” Impact metrics that tie directly with business operations are most useful. Right-sizing the framework with a lean and adaptive set of metrics that take the stage of the company into consideration, reduces the burden of measurement. Early stage companies do not create deeper levels of impact as yet, therefore shouldn’t build a system requiring such data collection.”

Daniel Jean-Louis, courtesy of Bridge Capital

Nell Derick-Debevoise, founder and CEO of Inspiring Capital, encourages investors to “Be realistic.” She notes, “I’ve never heard from a fellow B Corp (from Susty Party to Ben & Jerry’s) that they gained a customer because of B Corp status.” She notes that institutional investment could be years in the future for startups. She concludes, “Be smart about getting prepared for GIIRS or IRIS, but don’t worry about getting it exactly right in the first three years.”

“Impact measures should be carefully considered upfront, fundamental to founding the business, and bite-size as well as dream goals should be established,” says Carrie Endries, senior portfolio manager for Reynders, McVeigh Capital Management, LLC. “In this way, collecting impact data can be as natural as collecting financial data metrics. They can be expanded and broadened along the way as a company grows, but just as you don’t have extensive financial reporting as a very small company, neither should you expect expansive impact reporting.”

Stephanie Gripne, founder and director of the Impact Finance Center and CO Impact Days and Initiative, cautions against trying to do too much. “The entrepreneur needs to be strategic in measuring the few key indicators that will demonstrate success and capture that information, not gathering every piece of info imaginable and then seeing what shows results.”

Stephanie Gripne, courtesy of the Impact Finance Center

“I think it’s important to tell your investors when it simply isn’t possible to get a firm number,” says entrepreneur Lisa Curtis, founder and CEO of Kuli Kuli. “At the beginning, we had quite a few impact investors asking us for more quantitative data about how many people in the communities where we source were eating moringa as a result of our work. We got a lot of qualitative data from our suppliers but found that without the resources to do a full-fledged survey in far-away countries it was impossible to collect hard data.”

She adds, “We’re now at a point where we have the resources to embark on those types of surveys.”

Find Alignment Between Investors and Entrepreneurs

When investors and entrepreneurs are well aligned in goals and objectives, it is easier to settle on appropriate measurement metrics, the experts say.

Matthew Weatherley-White, co-founder and managing director of the Caprock Group, cautions, “Too often, grantors and investors want to see metrics that reflect their values rather than the operations of the entity.”

“Social entrepreneurs, particularly in those critical start-up years, should foreswear the kind of broad, catch-all ‘values based’ expectations that our community tends to place on an enterprise,” Weatherley-White continues. “An example might be a retail-focused franchise-model water purification business in highly urbanized areas of Africa. Their metrics could be simple: liters of water purified, liters sold, number of unique customers, perhaps something about gender diversification in their franchisee base, etc.”

Matthew Weatherley-White

This alignment should be an ongoing process, says Lisa Hagerman, director of programs at DBL Partners. “The fund manager and the social entrepreneur’s interests must continually be aligned. As such, the metrics should be applicable to the entrepreneur’s business, with the option of omitting information requested if not applicable. Metrics and social impact efforts should have a positive, and strategic, impact potential for the company as a way of keeping all interests aligned and metrics valuable, and relevant, to all stakeholders.”

Lauryn Agnew, president, Seal Cove Financial and founder, Bay Area Impact Investing Initiative, says entrepreneurs should seek that alignment when finding investors by “communicating appropriate and reasonable expectations for impact, outputs and long-term outcomes over the life of the investment” and then matching those to an investor with consistent risk, return and impact targets.

Lauryn Agnew

Topher Wilkins, CEO of Opportunity Collaboration, says the responsibility for preventing burdensome reporting rests with the investors. He suggests the entrepreneurs build trust with the investors or funders so “everyone involved knows impact is being achieved.”

“The social entrepreneur is running a business first and foremost,” says Laura Callanan, founding partner of Upstart Co-Lab. “All measurement — customer feedback, employee turnover, net revenue, social impact — needs to be useful for running the business. Investors who care about impact need to back entrepreneurs who care about impact and then let those entrepreneurs do their job. “

Remember Impact Reporting Is a Cost of Doing Business

The experts also noted that impact reporting is a reality that entrepreneurs need to keep in mind; this may require them to strike a balance between reporting too much and too little.

“It’s a cost of doing business in modern times like getting organic certification if you are a food product,” says Joel Solomon, chair of Renewal Funds. “The substitute is having a clear mission and purpose articulation, with products or services that take sustainability and fair, safe work conditions, as well as environmental and community practices into account.”

Gary White, CEO of Water.org, says, “This is always a balance that social entrepreneurs must strike. I think it is helpful to look at existing frameworks like IRIS. We have been very rigorous in our process to adopt what we feel are important impact parameters to measure. We engaged a firm, IOD Parc, to advise us on this process. While this has required some upfront investment of time, it is paying off in terms of only measuring what is most important.”

Gary White, courtesy of Water.org

Tune Your Reporting According to Your Theory of Change

The experts also agreed that reporting requirements are, at least in part, a function of the theory of change driving the investment.

“Measuring impact should be the result of an impact plan,” says Cecile Blilious, founder and managing partner at Impact First Investments. “This frames the impact that the company is trying to achieve, and can then be measured. It should not be regarded as a burden, but rather as a working tool very similar to a business plan.”

Cecile Blilious

Gripne, from Colorado, explains, “A social entrepreneur needs to first be clear about his or her own hypothesis for impact, the research and reasoning behind it and the methods for continually testing and re-adjusting the hypothesis and measures. Those basics go a long way in gaining and maintaining investors’ trust, and in buying time (and their patience) for developing and refining more sophisticated measures.”

Cathy Clark, director at CASE i3 at Duke University, says, “If your theory has to do with employees, you can survey them at almost no cost. If it has to do with customer incomes after they’ve used your product, again, you can survey them but it will cost you something. Services like Acumen’s Lean Data program can help entrepreneurs learn a great deal about their customers in a very short time for very little money.”

“We think of data as a conversation, not an endpoint,” she adds. “What can you ask that you or others can act on? What choices do you face that information from a stakeholder can help you answer? How do you start to find data to compare yourself to that is relevant? These are where impact makes progress.”

Reporting is Important to the Movement

Bobby Turner, the CEO of Turner Impact Capital, noted that reporting is important for the impact investing movement. “Measuring impact will not always have the effect of improving impact as many impact models are untested and therefore there is no guarantee that the measurements will be positive. Notwithstanding, measuring impact (social or environmental) is critical to the social impact movement as without a proven correlation between profits and purpose, the movement will not be able to raise meaningful amounts of market rate capital.”

In contrast, Peter Fusaro, Chairman of Global Change Associates, cautions, “If they go deep in the weeds, they will be buried with reporting and not focusing on impact. I feel the most important measurement is actually being successful in an ethical way.”

#impmeas


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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 Seeing The Nonprofit As A Business Helps Smile Train Grow

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

Susannah Schaefer, CEO of the International nonprofit Smile Train, says, “It is a nonprofit, but it is a business.” This attitude for leading the enterprise guides much of what it does.

Consistent with the vision of the founder and Chairman, Charles B. Wang, the business started with a teach-a-man-to-fish model for providing free cleft-correcting surgeries to children in the developing world.

That approach has led to impressive scale since the enterprise was launched in 1999. Last year, 120,000 children were treated by Smile Train trained surgeons. Schaefer is quick to point out that about 170,000 cleft births occur each year in the developing world, possibly leaving 50,000 new children every year without needed treatment.

Still, 12 out of every 17 children–or more than 70%–who need treatment are receiving it from a Smile Train affiliated doctor or hospital. Schaefer says, “Smile Train works with more than 2,100 partner surgeons in more than 1,100 partner hospitals throughout 85+ countries around the world.”

With her business approach to service, she also notes that annual revenue for fiscal year 2015 was $156 million. The nonprofit employs just 65 people.

Schaefer says that the organization’s training empowers local doctors to treat their patients to the same standard of care used in the U.S.

Susannah Schaefer

“We have developed an innovative model to scale impact in a sustainable way and provide a response to more cleft children around the world. Smile Train leverages technology, such as our Virtual Surgery Simulator, an interactive, 3D simulation tool, to help train local surgeons in developing countries with information on cleft anatomy and surgical cleft repair techniques,” she says.

The approach also makes the organization more efficient and strengthens local communities. “Our teach-a-man-to-fish approach empowers communities to become less dependent on outside aid and provides a sustainable response to cleft treatment,” Schaefer says.

“A smile is universal,” she says, in an effort to explain the importance of the work they do. “A smile is the first communication with a parent.”

Clefts are more severe than has been communicated, she emphasizes. “A child sometimes can’t speak properly, can’t breathe properly, can’t eat properly.”

“Cleft repair is much more than a cosmetic issue. Many of these children are also socially isolated and unable to attend school. Treating a child’s cleft is a relatively simple procedure that has a life-changing impact on the child’s quality of life, as well as on their family and community in which they live.”

Malnutrition is a problem in the developing world that is exacerbated by clefts because children with clefts often struggle to eat.

Thomas Cronin, a Physical Education teacher at Pleasant Hill Elementary School in Lexington, South Carolina, was born with a cleft lip and palate, which were treated. As an adult, his parents introduced him to Smile Train. He has become a big fan, organizing the “Miles for Smiles mini marathon at his school to serve as a fundraiser.

After visiting Indonesia with the organization, he said, “I think that Smile Train needs to continue on the same path going forward. Their model is working. I was able to see it first hand.”

Christine Monahan, Laurie James-Katz with a rural Vietnamese patient

Laurie James-Katz is a speech language pathologist at Sylvan Avenue Elementary School in Bayport, New York, is also a supporter. She organized a fundraiser at her school that garnered $3,703. She says, “I think a major key to Smile Train’s success is that they put a clear amount on how much money it takes to complete one surgery. I think it is an attainable amount for many who are interested in fundraising. It is very special to know how many children’s lives were changed as a result of your contribution and fundraising effort. Knowing that each surgery costs $250 provided my students with the knowledge that they changed 14 children’s lives forever.”

Schaefer relishes the role of CEO and the issues that come with running the nonprofit business. She says, “I love this team. I love what we do. I love the challenges.”


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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 This Entrepreneur Seeks Scale To Help People Get Clean Water After Disasters

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

While working on her master’s degree in Civil and Environmental Engineering at California Polytechnic State University, Tricia Compas-Markman, 32, helped to invent the Waterbag, a “water treatment plant in a backpack.” Having distributed 20,000 units around the world following disasters, she is focusing now on scaling DayOne Response by at least one order of magnitude.

Kellee Joost invested in the business and joined the board of directors after hearing Compas-Markman’s pitch. There were two reasons she invested, she says. First, DayOne Response set out to solve a big, hairy problem.” Second, “the co-founders of DayOneResponse had a good balance of experience and background, but even more important for me was that they were fearless.”

The Waterbag works by filling the bag with fresh water from a river or stream, adding a chemical water purification pack produced by P&G and then pouring the water through a filter. The bag holds about ten liters, enough for a family to survive. The bag is reusable for about a year so long as the supply of water purification packets lasts.

The Waterbag is particularly well suited for disaster relief because the relief agencies don’t have to ship water, just the relatively light weight bags and packets. These can be stored for lengthy periods of time where disasters are more likely to occur or are more likely to have devastating impact on the community due to a lack of clean water infrastructure.

Compas-Markman has led pilot distribution efforts following several disasters, including Hurricane Matthew’s tragic impact, which left more than 1300 people dead.

What she’s learned is that the bags can’t be sitting in the United States when a disaster strikes in Africa or Asia. The bags need to be much closer, optimally in country.

The company is expanding its distribution channels to include commercial distributors who will sell the bags to NGOs when they are needed. At present, Compas-Markman says DayOne Response is focused on developing its distribution network in Kenya and Ethiopia in East Africa. The company is also working a partnership in the UAE.

Rod Jackson was working for World Vision’s global WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) initiative in Nairobi, Kenya when he was first approached by DayOne Response for help and feedback on the initial product design. That relationship continued after he returned to his native Australia. Today, he serves on the board. He says he was impressed by the company’s desire to help and willingness to learn.

Joost says the company has already built a supply chain capable of delivering at higher scale. It also has developed “solid NGO connections” so that the market is familiar with the product.

Tricia Compas-Markman

To grow the company from its current scale selling thousands of bags each year to selling hundreds of thousands, Joost says the company needs to build out the local distribution agreements. She believes building on the efforts in the UAE and East Africa will accelerate the path to “global scale.”

Jackson adds that developing new products–some of which are already in the pipeline–will also be key to increasing the company’s scale.

Compas Markman points out that scaling the business isn’t all about the business, rather it is about the impact. For every Waterbag sold, the company knows the amount of clean water than can be produced and how many people that can serve. “The more revenue DayOne can generate the larger the social impact we can make,” she says.

She notes that the Company is a finalist in the 2017 Chivas Regal global search for social startups where the prize is $250,000. That’s capital she hopes will accelerate her efforts to scale.

The need is critical, she says. “Each year, 255+ million people are affected by natural disasters, and without access to clean water, they face potentially life-threatening waterborne illnesses.”

Quoting The American Red Cross, she says, “Providing clean drinking water is our #1 challenge in disaster zones.”

Here’s hoping that her efforts to scale quickly are successful.


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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!

New Site Is ‘Like Match.com For Lawyers’

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

Felicity Conrad only worked for Skadden, one of the world’s most prominent law firms, for about two years but while she was there she had the opportunity to litigate a pro bono asylum case. She won. And in the bargain, she changed the lives of the family she represented–and her own. She left the firm to launch a site she says is “like Match.com for lawyers” and their pro bono clients.

As a first year associate, Conrad says she was afraid to take on the asylum case. It was her first time in a court room. After winning the case, to celebrate, the family took her out to dinner at McDonalds. “The children–the whole family was there. You can see the fruits of your labor in a way that most lawyers never see,” she said of the experience.

A vegetarian, Conrad describes eating french fries and being thankful “I had said ‘yes’ to something outside my comfort zone. Now I get to go through life knowing that somewhere out there something is a little bit better because I was able to be a part of it.”

Felicity Conrad, Paladin

Watch the full interview with Conrad in the video player at the top of this article.

The experience inspired her to start Paladin, a platform for matching lawyers to pro bono projects, which launched in February.

According to Conrad’s research, 80 percent of people who need free legal help don’t get it. The National Bar Association recommends that lawyers do 50 hours of pro bono work each year. If all of them did, it would close what Conrad calls the “justice gap”–the unmet need for pro bono legal services.

Todd Leishman, a shareholder at Durham Jones Pinegar in Salt Lake City who practices corporate law, says he thinks the site could increase the amount of pro bono work being done if it makes it easier to find cases that are interesting and that match a lawyer’s specialty.

He cautions, however, “The truth is few corporate lawyers do pro bono work because most pro bono work involves criminal, domestic, landlord/tenant, Social Security benefits, and immigration law, and particularly litigation matters related to those areas.”

He hastens to add that corporate lawyers find other ways to give back, serving on nonprofit boards and donating to programs like the Utah State Bar’s “And Justice For All” project.

Similarly, Marty Tate, a partner at Carman Lehnhof Isrealsen, says he thinks the site can increase the amount of pro bono work being done. “Anything that facilitates or makes something easier should result in increased participation.”

He notes that lawyers are often on their own to find pro bono work. “Unless a lawyer is part of a firm with an active pro-bono program which encourages and rewards their attorneys for such work, most attorneys must actively seek out such opportunities through their state or local bar.”

“Personally, I do not see many opportunities for pro-bono work outside of the State Bar. This type of platform would provide increased exposure to opportunities and the ability to target specific opportunities of interest and expertise,” he concludes.

Conrad notes what she calls a “binary” situation. Some lawyers have never done pro bono work while others do it regularly. Her goal is to turn as many people who haven’t done pro bono work into people who do it regularly as possible.

With Paladin, she’s invented a whole new type of matchmaking and there are a lot of people hoping she is successful.


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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!

Woman Tallies 1.5M Births And 5M Prevented

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

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

Leslie Heyer, the founder and president of Cycle Technologies, reports that women using her CycleBeads to count the days since their menstrual cycle began have successfully delivered about 1.5 million babies and have avoided about 5 million unwanted pregnancies. Her latest product is an app that she hopes will help even more than the 6 million who have used her beads.

Heyer, a Harvard-educated social entrepreneur, recently launched a new app called Dot that helps women understand when pregnancy is most–and least–likely to occur during the month, based principally on the date a woman starts her monthly cycle.

Cycle Technologies, with revenues of $1 million annually from product sales and consulting, has been producing its CycleBeads for nearly a decade. The beads are distributed through partnerships with NGOs to women around the developing world.

Leslie Heyer, Cycle Technologies

Be sure to watch my interview with Heyer in the player at the top of the article.

“There are approximately 225 million women worldwide who have an unmet need for contraception and annually there are over 85 million unplanned pregnancies,” she says. About half of unplanned pregnancies result in abortion, she adds.

Other problems associated with unplanned pregnancies, she notes, include worse health outcomes for both the mother and the child as well as lower educational attainment for both.

“The number one reason that women globally cite for not using contraception is concerns about side effects.”

Both the new Dot app and the CycleBeads address this number one concern by using a woman’s natural cycle.

John Skibiak, director of the Reproductive Health Supplies Coalition, a global network of NGOs and others working to improve access to family planning in the developing world says, many in the community are skeptical about using the “rhythm method” and sometimes talk about the CycleBeads with “derision.”

He points out, however, that the CycleBeads have been successful at opening doors, particularly in faith-based, mission-led health clinics run by both Catholics and protestants. In Zambia, he says, the natural approach to family planning allowed the coalition members to bring contraceptives into a health clinic where they hadn’t been allowed previously.

He also noted that the beads gave older, illiterate women in the community a tool to help them educate young women about their cycles and fertility. Overall, he is glad to have the tools to help build grassroots support for contraception.

Skibiak says that the CycleBeads, and by implication, the Dot app, don’t work well in situations where the couple doesn’t communicate well. He hastened to add that no contraceptive method works well in all situations and that CycleBeads are no different.

“I think the new app provides a real opportunity to expand,” he concluded.

Heyer says that the Institute for Reproductive Health at Georgetown University is conducting a study to determine the effectiveness of the app, both in the perfect use the typical use cases.

In computer modeling, she says the perfect use case should show about 97 to 99 percent efficacy, acknowledging that the typical use case would be lower.

“Research shows that these methods [CycleBeads and the Dot app] are highly attractive to women,” Hyer says, “and are reaching women who have unmet contraceptive need and are at risk for unplanned pregnancies.”

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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!

Report Asks Investors To Respect Human Rights On Clean Energy Projects

This post was originally produced for Forbes

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

Renewable energy projects are the primary weapon in the war on climate change, but that shouldn’t exempt these projects in the developing world from United Nations’ standards on human rights, argues a new briefing report.

As I explored the briefing, “Renewable Energy: Managing Investors’ Risks and Responsibilities,” with two of the co-authors, Andrea Armeni of Transform Finance and Meredith Benton (see my interview with them at the top of this article), I began to see clean energy projects through a new lens.

Armeni points out that when a wind or solar project is built to provide power to an aluminum smelter there is no question that powering the smelter with clean energy is better than powering it with fossil fuels, but there may still be a negative impact on a local community–which may or may not benefit much from the project.

He says that to ensure that the local community benefits from its participation in the project, the investors need to insist that the community be represented at the table from start to finish.

Andrea Armeni, Executive Director of Transform Finance

Benton adds that oftentimes communities being engaged in clean energy projects today, have been isolated in the past, perhaps because of what makes their land appealing today–lots of sun or wind. Without a history of making deals in the past, the community may not have the capacity to negotiate a fair and equitable arrangement. Investors should help ensure that this capacity is developed for the sake of the renewable energy project.

Mary Robinson, President, Mary Robinson Foundation, is quoted in the executive summary of the briefing saying, “It is not acceptable for any business to ignore their impacts on peoples’ land rights, security or livelihoods – the renewable energy sector is no different.”

Benton notes, however, that it is a wise strategy to engage with the community to create a fair transaction. Disenfranchised communities who may come to feel that a project in the community is a bad deal, could create a volatile situation that could be expensive to resolve. That is a risk that can be managed by engaging constructively with the affected community.

Meredith Benton

The briefing notes that the extractives industry has had to write off $379 million in assets due to “company-community conflicts.”

With global renewable energy projects totaling $$287 billion in 2016, there are a lot of projects happening. Falling prices for renewable energy technology and increasing demand for energy are likely to continue the trend of increasing investments in clean energy in the coming years.

Eventually, the report notes, the world will need to shift entirely to clean, renewable energy. To avoid having adverse impacts on the communities where the projects are built, the report recommends three specific steps for investors:

  1. Prior to investment, ensure human rights due diligence is undertaken according to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.
  2. During the investment, monitor human rights performance and engage with companies to encourage them to comply with the UN standards. If companies fail to comply, the briefing suggests the investors divest.
  3. Both prior to and during investment, engage not only with the companies but also with community representatives such as local governments, trade unions, nonprofits and others in the community to ensure that human rights are respected.

While there is little argument that renewable energy projects provide a meaningful social benefit that accrues disproportionately to low-wealth communities being adversely impacted by climate change, the briefing makes a compelling argument that the communities impacted directly by them should be considered and consulted actively throughout their development and operation.

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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.

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“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.

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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.”

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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.

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