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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

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10 Problems. 10 Solutions. 10 Awards. Classy.

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

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

A lesson all successful entrepreneurs seem to learn quickly is that they must solve a problem. For social entrepreneurs, this is even more important. If people are literally dying as they wait for a solution, the ones who show up to help have a greater obligation to do so something that will solve the problem—at least for some of those experiencing it.

Classy, which operates a crowdfunding platform for nonprofits and social entrepreneurs, has created an award the company calls the Classy Award to recognize social enterprises that “are tackling some of the world’s most complex problems,” according to a company press release. The awards were presented on June 16, 2017, in Boston.

For this article, the ten winners and Classy co-founder Pat Walsh, the company’s chief impact officer, came together to record a discussion about the problems they solve and the work they are doing to solve them. You can watch the entire discussion with the winners in the video player at the top of this article.

Classy Award Winners

In no particular order, this article will identify each of the winners, the problems they seek to solve and the work they are doing to solve them.

Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team

Rebecca Firth, the community partnerships manager for Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team, said, “In many places in the developing world, good quality digital maps do not exist, leaving millions of people uncounted. Without free, up-to-date maps it is hard to deliver health care and services, making places more vulnerable to disasters and epidemics.”

Imagine trying to find the source of an Ebola outbreak in a rural area where no reliable maps exist. How do you find a village that is at risk if it isn’t even on the map?

“What we do is we help anyone anywhere in the world create those maps,” says Firth. Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team uses a crowdsourcing model to create maps using the company’s simple online tool.

“This week we passed 30000 volunteers. We’ve mapped 45 million people who haven’t been on the map before.” Firth explains that these folks can now receive services that were difficult or even impossible to deliver before the map was created.

“One example of this is last year when there was a yellow fever outbreak in Kinshasa, the Missing Maps community activated to map the area using OpenStreetMap tools activated to map the area,” Firth says. “And then what followed was the largest and fastest vaccination campaign ever by Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors without Borders) who used the map to vaccinate 720,000 people in 10 days.”

Mission Asset Fund

Jose Quiñonez, 45, CEO of Mission Asset Fund, explains the person and societal problems that come from excluding some people from the traditional financial system. “People would be left in the shadows of our economy.” He notes that we all lose when certain individuals are not allowed to access basic financial instruments and therefore can’t buy a home, can’t start a business and can’t even invest in their own education. Those without a credit score are “economically invisible,” he says. About 45 million people in the United States fall into this group, he says. Globally, about 2 billion people fall into this category.

Mission Asset Fund is helping to formalize and legitimize an informal practice that is common around the world. The practice of lending circles, which go by a variety of names with varying protocols, all revolve around small communities creating tiny savings banks where members contribute periodically and occasionally get a turn at borrowing from the fund. By formalizing lending circles, Mission Asset Fund provides a connection to the formal economy and reveals the invisible people.

Days for Girls

Celeste Mergens, 55, founder and CEO for Days for Girls notes that there are 300 million women and girls of reproductive age counted among those who are living on less than $1.95 per day, the World Bank standard for extreme poverty. “Meeting basic needs such as food, water, shelter, and hygiene is a constant challenge for many of these women and girls,” she says. One of the challenges women face is the shame and stigma associated with menstruation.

Days for Girls has engaged 60,000 “Health Ambassadors” in the developing world to teach men and women about menstruation to remove the stigma. She notes, “Without periods there would be no people.” These ambassadors sell reusable feminine hygiene kits, increasing their own incomes at the same time they share their passion for the dignity of women.

Sustainable Health Enterprises (SHE)

Elizabeth Scharpf, founder and CEO of SHE, identified and tackled much the same problem with a different strategy. She notes that women without access to proper feminine hygiene use rags or even leaves to manage their menstruation. She confirms that some young women are victims of sexual predation or are forced into prostitution to fund feminine hygiene products so they can stay in school.

Scharpf says, “Eighteen percent of women and girls in Rwanda missed out on work or school because they could not afford to buy menstrual pads. Quite apart from the personal injustice, and the larger issues of health and dignity, we’re also talking about a potential GDP loss of $215 per woman per year – a total of $115,000,000 in Rwanda. It’s bad business.”

She invented a feminine hygiene pad that can be produced locally in Rwanda, made from the fiber of a banana tree. SHE helps women launch businesses to manufacture and distribute affordable pads.

Because International

Kenton Lee, 32, founder of Because International, identified the problem that many children who are growing up in poverty lack good shoes. One of the contributing factors is that kids outgrow their shows quickly and the parents and caregivers can’t afford to buy new shoes every time the kids outgrow a pair.

Lee says, “Shoes are a big deal.” There are three problems he highlights from a lack of shoes: 1) health is at risk, especially in communities without adequate sanitation, 2) shoes are often a required part of a school uniform so a lack of shoes keeps kids out of school, and 3) the dignity and self confidence that are missing without shoes.

Because International markets the “Shoe That Grows” primarily to faith-based organizations and other NGOs, that donate the shoes to children who need them. The durable shoes come in only two sizes but are both adjustable for five full shoe sizes so kids can wear them for years. He acknowledges that, “It doesn’t solve every problem for the kids.” The program really took off two years ago and they have been able to provide 100,000 shoes to kids in 89 countries and are now beginning to manufacture the shoes in some of the places where they are being most used.

Habitat for Humanity International

“About one in five people or one 1.6 billion people across the globe lack adequate housing,” says Jyoti Patel, director of capital markets for Habitat for Humanity. One of the key reasons for this is a lack of access to affordable mortgage financing for low-income families. As a result, many low-income families live in makeshift shelters even though they have income and could afford to support a small mortgage. Instead, they slowly build and upgrade their homes slowly over time.

Much of the microfinance industry that some think of as a solution to poverty focuses on short-term loans to support entrepreneurship. This creates a cash-flow mismatch when someone uses short-term microfinance loans to make permanent housing upgrades—think roof or a water tank–that will last for years or decades.

Habitat has created a $100 million “MicroBuild Fund” to finance longer-term loans to people without access to traditional credit sources so they can afford to upgrade their housing. The fund “is comprised of $10 million in equity and $90 million as a line of credit received from the Overseas Private Investment Corporation,” Patel says. Habitat is the largest equity holder. Omidyar Network and MetLife have also invested. Triple Jump, based in the Netherlands, is also an investor and also manages the fund. The money is invested with an eye toward capital preservation and a focus on both social and environmental impact.

International Justice Mission

There is a new form of sex trafficking of children in the Philippines that sends shivers down the spine of every parent. Victims are taken from the street and presented via the internet to customers who direct the sexual abuse of the child in real time.

Blair Burns, 43, the senior vice president of Justice Operations for International Justice Mission, says that this is part of a broader problem, the general failure of the rule of law.

Burns reports:

International Justice Mission (IJM) is the world’s largest international anti-slavery organization working to combat modern day slavery, human trafficking, and other forms of violence against the poor in 17 communities across the developing world. IJM does this by partnering with local authorities and partners to rescue victims, restore survivors, convict perpetrators, and transform broken public justice systems. To date, IJM has helped to rescue over 34,000 people from slavery and other forms of violent oppression.

Grassroot Soccer

As global health improves, one group is being left behind, according to Molly McHugh, 44, communications director for Grassroot Soccer, a nonprofit that has created an innovative way to reach young people. “In the last decade HIV related deaths have decreased for every age group except adolescents,” she says. There is a gap in the delivery of healthcare for this cohort.

The gap exists for a variety of reasons, from the focus on infant mortality to the lack of a trusted, competent person to talk to about sex and reproductive health. No teenager wants to talk to their parents about sex.

To empower young people to be the delivery system for accurate information about sexual and reproductive health, Grassroots Soccer uses the sport of soccer to engage them. The organization focuses on HIV/AIDS, gender-based violence and malaria. “Our solution is to reach adolescents through a combination of 3 C’s: Curriculum using soccer-based activities and lively discussions; Coaches who are young community leaders, trained to be health educators, who connect personally with participants and become trusted mentors; and a Culture of safe spaces for youth to ask questions, share opinions, and support each other,” Molly says.

Samasource

Poverty is primarily a lack of money result from deficient economic opportunities, according to Samasource’s Wendy Gonzalez, its senior vice president and managing director. “Poverty is at the root of all social ills. We’re really trying to solve poverty.”

Samasource begins by providing training to “marginalized women and youth” to teach them to complete “dignified” internet-based work. Gonzalez says, “We work in the slums of Nairobi. We work in extremely poor, rural Uganda. We also work in India.” After providing digital skills training, Samasource either places them into full-time work or hires them directly.

“Our goal is really to be the bridge employer.” The idea is that once a person is employable and can work for a company without a subsidy, they are likely to be successful.

So far, Samasource has moved 36,000 people out of poverty and has paid out $10 million in wages. Gonzalez reports that 80 percent of them stay employed or go on to get university education.

OpenBiome

To say that OpenBiome fits a unique niche in the social good space is a gross understatement. The nonprofit stool bank is all about helping people get healthy poop. Yes, that kind of stool.

About 500,000 people get and 30,000 people die each year in the U.S. from a bowel infection called Clostridium Difficile or C-diff. It is a hospital acquired disease that results from antibiotic use that kills that healthy fecal microbiota. James Burgess, 30, executive director, said that he and his colleagues started OpenBiome after a friend suffered through a long-lasting C-diff infection.

“Today, we provide carefully-screened, clinical-grade stool to 900 hospitals across the country, enabling thousands of treatments and supporting dozens of ground-breaking clinical trials in the microbiome,” he says. The treatment is a fecal transplant. The material is traditionally administered via a colonoscopy. A new pill—a “poop pill”—is being developed, he says.

OpenBiome is now testing the use of fecal transplants to treat a wide variety of gut treatments.

The Award

The Classy Award selection process is rigorous, according to co-founder Pat Walsh. There is a four-phase process that begins with a lengthy nomination form. Each year, Classy works to improve the process. A selection committee determines who all the winners are.

The nomination process begins this fall for next year’s awards. If you know someone who is solving a problem worth solving, consider nominating them.

Over 1 million people have read my books; have you? Learn more about my courses on entrepreneurship, crowdfunding and corporate social responsibility here.


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!

Imagine Dragons Lead Dan Reynolds Hosts Festival For LGBTQ Youth With Blessing Of LDS Church

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

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

Imagine Dragons lead singer Dan Reynolds is hosting the LoveLoud music Festival in Orem, Utah on August 26 to benefit LGBTQ youth with the explicit blessing of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The singer, acknowledging that his life as a musician requires him to be an entrepreneur, says he avoids the business side as much as possible to focus on the creative side, adding that the mission of bringing people together influences his work.

In a face-to-face conversation you can watch in the video player at the top of the article, Reynolds says the mission of the music festival is “to provide a platform–a place–where the community can all come together from all different political climates–religion, non-religion, whatever it is–where everyone from all different cultures come together and agree on one thing.”

The one thing, he says, is to acknowledge that LGBTQ youth have a difficult time, especially in the context of “raising a family of faith.”

“The goal,” he continues, “is to provide a safe place where we can all agree on one thing: love.”

Orem is located in Utah County. Over 93 percent of people in Orem are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Mormons have a complex relationship with the LGBTQ community, at once advocating for loving and respecting LGBTQ people while at the same time pronouncing homosexual sex a sin, even within the context of marriage.

In a prepared statement, Reynolds noted that suicide is the leading cause of death in teens in Utah and that LGBTQ+ youth who come from a home or community where they are not accepted are eight times more likely to commit suicide.

The LDS Church issued a formal statement regarding the LoveLoud Festival:

We applaud the LoveLoud Festival for LGBT youth’s aim to bring people together to address teen safety and to express respect and love for all of God’s children. We join our voice with all who come together to foster a community of inclusion in which no one is mistreated because of who they are or what they believe.

We share common beliefs, among them the pricelessness of our youth and the value of families. We earnestly hope this festival and other related efforts can build respectful communication, better understanding and civility as we all learn from each other.

Reynolds was raised a Mormon, was a Boy Scout who earned his Eagle rank and also served a two-year proselyting mission to Nebraska. He acknowledges that these experiences helped shape his life and influence his music.

Dan Reynolds, Imagine Dragons

Speaking of his mission, he says, “It was powerful for me so I’m sure it finds its way into my music.”

“As for Boy Scouts, I don’t know if necessarily, you know, lighting fires informs my music,” he says, laughing. He notes more soberly that his character probably was shaped in part by his experiences in Scouting.

For Reynolds, the Church’s support is a big deal that he personally worked to earn. “It’s incredible! Today marks a moment of great healing.”

This is important to Reynolds because it will help attract people who are “a little more conservative.” He wants the event to be a safe space for everyone, not just progressives.

Reynolds will perform with Imagine Dragons at LoveLoud, along with Neon Trees, Krewella, Nicholas Petricca of Walk the Moon, Joshua James and Aja Volkman.

The festival will also feature commentary from young LGBTQ people and their parents. “The dialogue can be powerful towards opening hearts and minds and creating, hopefully, a more loving environment,” Reynolds says.

The proceeds from the event will go to support nonprofits that support LGBTQ youth, including Encircle, Stand4Kind, The Trevor Project and GLAAD.

Encircle founder and executive director, Stephenie Larsen, says, “Dan is a beautiful person with a huge heart and an important mission. He is selflessly giving his heart and soul to help the LGBTQ community see the incredible individuals that they are. He spent a day at Encircle a few months ago. All day he took photos with the youth and had conversations with them. I watched him looking these kids in the eyes trying to communicate to them the love and support he has for them. It was if he was doing all that he could to take away any pain they may be feeling.”

Reynolds, the musician and reluctant entrepreneur on a mission to bring people together, may have been in a unique position to do so. Because of his support for the LGBTQ community and his LDS roots, providing support from both sides, he may bring the community together. We’ll see on August 26 if his vision for healing, unity and love for LGBTQ youth is realized.

Over 1 million people have read my books; have you? Learn more about my courses on entrepreneurship, crowdfunding and corporate social responsibility here.


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!

Knowing No App Alone Will Solve Hunger Didn’t Stop This Teen From Making A Difference

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

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

Sometimes it takes the perspective of a kid to see problems that impact children and find a solution.

When Jack Griffin, then 16 years old, saw a news story about two kids living out of a truck in Florida who were homeless as a result of their late mother’s medical bills, he recognized a problem he hadn’t seen before.

He began researching and watching. He discovered that “there are so many kids across the nation that are, you know, getting ready for school in the bathrooms of libraries and gas stations. I realized that it’s so prevalent and yet still so hard to see if you’re not directly impacted by it.”

“I was just a student in high school I had to face none of the day-to-day struggles that these kids had,” the teen, now 19, told me in an interview. Watch the full interview in the video player at the top of this article.

When Griffin learned that 1,000 of the 3,000 kids in his high school qualified for free or reduced lunch, he decided he had to do something to help.

As he began to research, he identified a problem he thought he could help solve. An online search revealed low-quality results that weren’t always geographically relevant for a hungry kid without access to a car.

Asking an adult wasn’t a great solution either, he observes. “That’s so hard and such a massive absolute obstacle to overcome because it’s so difficult to reveal your circumstances to someone like that because there’s such a stigma around being in need of assistance and being in these dire circumstances.”

As an aside, Griffin interjects, “We have a lot of work left to be done with making sure that people know that it’s OK to just ask for help.”

Jack Griffin

So, Griffin created a website now called FoodFinder that would help students find free food resources. The site was school-centric so it worked by having the user enter the name of the school. The site would generate a Google map displaying the school as a blue pin and five or ten nearby red pins would be the nearest free food resources.

He launched the site near the end of the school year, coincidentally a high-demand time of year. When students leave school, those who rely on school for free or affordable meals now find themselves hungry.

Working with what Griffin calls the “first responders to hunger,” the teachers, counselors and administrators, the site immediately got some traction.

Looking to create an app, Giffin reached out to the Wireless Technology Forum in Atlanta and found stable|kernal, a mobile technology firm that helped them design and then build the mobile app.

Sarah Woodward, Director of Business Development for stable|kernal says, “The stable|kernel team was so moved by Jack’s story and by what FoodFinder wanted to solve that we felt strongly we should get involved. We love serving FoodFinder as their product team. They are a truly collaborative group that wants to do what’s best for the product, which makes our jobs easy. We love solving the technology challenges they have so that FoodFinder can focus on its’ real business of bringing more food resources to the people that need them most.”

About a year later, in the summer of 2016, Griffin launched the Food Finder app, available both in the Apple App Store and Google Play.

He’s proud of the app’s simplicity. There is no login and no data entry required. Open the app and it immediately starts looking for free food in your vicinity.

The website has been upgraded to operate much like the app. Users no longer have to enter a location. There is no friction whatsoever between a hungry person and the information about free food resources. Within two or three seconds, without any data entry, the information is presented.

FoodFinder website screenshot showing free food resources in downtown Salt Lake City

When I tested the website and the app, both identified ten free food resources within about two miles of my location but omitted the largest free food distribution center in the valley, the Bishop’s Storehouse operated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the St. Vincent de Paul Dining Hall at the Weigand Homeless Resource Center operated by Catholic Community Services. Griffin explains that outside the Southeast, the app relies entirely on the USDA’s Summer Feeding Site location database; within the region, additional sites are added to the app’s database.

Griffin has financed the operation of the 501(c)(3) nonprofit with grants and donations so far totaling nearly $100,000. He’s looking to partner with corporations to make the operation more sustainable in some way.

One early partner is the Arby’s Foundation. Christopher Fuller, senior vice president of communications and executive director, said, “As an organization that has been involved with ending childhood hunger for years but is also expanding our focus to include empowering youth, a partnership with Jack was right up our alley.”

Fuller praises Griffin’s FoodFinder, “Before FoodFinder there was not a year-round national database for meal programs so finding a program near you was a challenge. Unfortunately, many families struggling with food insecurity don’t even know where to start looking when they find themselves in need. FoodFinder offers a comprehensive solution to this issue for families by delivering this information in an easy to use app.”

According to Feeding America, there are 42 million people in the U.S., including 13 million children, who struggle with food insecurity. The nonprofit notes that “households with children were more likely to be food insecure than those without children.”

These numbers motivate Griffin to keep working.

As Griffin built the website and then the app, he saw two sides to social entrepreneurship. “With social entrepreneurs, people are quick to loudly support your idea.”

On the other hand, he faced criticism from people asking if an app is really the best way to solve hunger. He notes that a “surprising number of kids and their families do have smartphones or access to one.”

What kept him going was the feedback. He acknowledges that it is difficult to track the conversion from app and website usage to people actually getting the food they need.

He loves hearing from volunteers at food pantries and churches that the people they serve say they found them using the app. He adds, “a couple of times a month we’ll either get an e-mail or a phone call sometimes with people actually in tears just whether they are directly impacted by the issue or not say you know this is such great work you’re doing. We really appreciate it.”

Over 1 million people have read my books; have you? Learn more about my courses on entrepreneurship, crowdfunding and corporate social responsibility here.


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!

Social Entrepreneur Seeks To Make CSR Easier For Everyone

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

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

Ryan Scott, 48, CEO and founder of Causecast, is working to make corporate social responsibility easier for everyone involved, from the corporation and the employees to the nonprofits they support.

Causecast, a Certified B Corporation, operates a web service that matches corporate volunteers to nonprofit projects. The system provides a comprehensive reporting and management system.

Causecast allows both management and rank-and-file employees to put projects into the system to garner volunteer support.

Alicia Quinn, Director of Programs for Mission Edge, a nonprofit based in San Diego, uses the Causecast platform to match skills-based volunteers to specific needs in the nonprofit community there.

“It truly is a ‘one stop shop’ for corporate social responsibility and employee engagement,” Quinn says.

“When I first began designing the program, I didn’t have an effective method of sharing opportunities for nonprofit engagement with volunteers. I feared having to resort to email and an Excel spreadsheet to source organizations’ needs, and volunteers’ interests and skills. Causecast offers an efficient and effective solution for matching the supply with the demand.” Quinn says Mission Edge chose Causecast instead.

Ryan Scott, Causecast

“By offering an efficient and affordable product, Causecast allows nonprofits to access talent and harness the passions of the corporate community to impact the social sector,” she concluded.

Scott, an early investor in Tesla and other Silicon Valley startups, brought him into contact with the co-founders of AutoLotto, an app that lets users play the Powerball lottery right from their phones. (Disclosure: my wife owns 60 shares of Tesla.)

Mel Brue, head of marketing communications for AutoLotto explains that the lottery was originally started to fund social projects. Building on that idea, AutoLotto has created “social impact pools” that work like office pools to benefit charities. She says that social impact is especially important to millennials.

“Causecast has the infrastructure already in place to help us fulfill our philanthropic strategy domestically as well as abroad,” Brue says. “Causecast has been particularly effective in developing programs that are tailored to a specific region or country. Their diligent vetting of charities, as well as the infrastructure to facilitate giving, will allow us to launch impactful programs quickly as we scale both in the US and internationally.”

One feature of the program is modeled on crowdfunding sites. It allows employees to fundraise for a cause or charity in competition with other employees working to support the same cause. Employee engagement is one of the big benefits of the system, Scott says.

In one case, Scott reports, a corporation engaged 1,000 employees in a crowdfunding campaign, ultimately reaching broadly outside the company connecting with the social networks of the employees.

Scott, who had a successful exit in the 90s after creating an early opt-in email marketing platform, says he gained the ability to focus more of his energy on giving back after the deal.

“I tried doing some fundraising and things like that,” Scott says. “I found it to be not quite as satisfying as I would like. I didn’t really feel like I was being engaged at all levels.”

He began looking at corporations to see how they were giving and realized that they were not being offered tools that would make corporate social responsibility programs effective both in engaging employees and tracking impact.

So, Scott created Causecast.

He boasts that the system works. When companies have an existing CSR program and then adopt the Causecast platform for managing, they see an increase in participation. “All of a sudden they have 50 percent more participation because of all the transparency, because of the social, because of all of the technologies and products that we built around this.”

Over 1 million people have read my books; have you? Learn more about my courses on entrepreneurship, crowdfunding and corporate social responsibility here.


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!

New Player In Living Walls Brings Outside Inside

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

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

Sagegreenlife is bringing living walls to a growing market with new technologies that allow people to bring the outside inside.

The company builds its living, green plant walls on a patented hydroponic system without any soil. The “Biotile” stone was developed by UK-based Biotecture, Ltd.

Sagegreenlife’s founder, Richard Kincaid, 55, explains that LED plant lights provide an enabling technology by allowing plants to grow without direct sunlight.

Kincaid estimates the 2015 market for living walls at about $100 million. He hopes to see Sagegreenlife achieve revenue of $3 to $5 million for 2017. The business generates gross margins of about 60% but is not yet profitable.

The Luxottica living wall by Sagegreenlife

Watch my full interview with Kincaid in the video player at the top of the article.

Coming from a long career with Sam Zell at Equity Office Properties where he ultimately served as CEO and led the $39 billion (including debt) sale of the business, he began learning about the business of sustainable real estate, focusing on creating LEED-certified projects.

Kincaid is optimistic about the growth of a global market for green walls driven by the real benefits of the walls. “We help create more productive, healthier environments by making it easy to place living walls everywhere.”

In addition to LEED credits, he notes that companies get wellness credits for living walls. He explains that the walls absorb sound while purifying the air and increasing natural humidity.

Sheryl Schulze, senior project director at Gensler, a global design firm that sells Sagegreenlife walls, notes, “For years, the design industry has tried to solve for the successful engagement of diverse plant life in interiors. For people who experience living walls – and, the design teams creating environments to support the expectations – Sagegreenlife has made the entire process easier to implement.”

The Verdanta living wall by Sagegreenlife

The walls can be designed to display advertising as well. Schulze explains, “Brand messaging is key to successful organizations. Gensler understands that organizations attract and retain talent by the strength of their brand. When clients engage us, our mission is to build that message in the spaces we deliver. Sensory experience plays a large role in building that culture within organizations. The integration of live plants aid in that sensory storytelling.”

The collaboration between Sagegreenlife and Gensler has led to a new, smaller, portable wall that completely changes what a cubicle is. “Verdanta, the Next-Gen green wall, allows for the ability to easily reconfigure space to support various work modes while offering visual and acoustic privacy.”

Aaron Moulton, vice president of creative design for Treehouse, a sustainable home improvement company, found Sagegreenlife while conducting a search for sustainable products.

Moulton says his goal is to make spaces naturally more beautiful and healthier. “Humans need the psychological and physical health benefits of being near plant life and Sagegreenlife creates products that bring this ‘greenergy’ into homes and into commercial spaces to make them more productive and more importantly, happier!”

Moulton has what he calls a “technology positive” view of the world. He believes we can make a more sustainable world by using technologies, especially solar and batteries rather than by depriving ourselves of showers or electricity.

“We were in the design process for designing our flagship energy positive (produces more energy than it consumes) store and wanted a striking green wall that would both draw the eye, surround the doorway to our outdoor sales area and also be in line with our mission through the air scrubbing qualities of having plants in the space,” Moulton says.

By employing the Biotile technology, Moulton and Schulze agree that Kincaid and Sagegreenlife will capitalize on a global trend toward sustainability by helping people and companies bring the outside inside.

Over 1 million people have read my books; have you? Learn more about my courses on entrepreneurship, crowdfunding and corporate social responsibility here.


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 A Costume Party For 120,000 Really Makes A Difference In The Community

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

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

Twice a year, the streets of downtown Salt Lake City are overrun by princesses, storm troopers and superheroes of every variety. Salt Lake ComicCon reports that 120,000 people attended the last event. That it is profitable is surprise enough. That it serves the community may be the real surprise.

Precisely because of its success in Utah, organizers have faced a legal challenge from the organizers of the San Diego ComicCon events.

Controversy aside, Bryan Brandenburg, 58, co-founder and chief marketing officer of Salt Lake ComicCon, has strategically sought to use the event to build the community. Since its founding, the event has donated about $2 million of cash and in-kind donations–mostly in the form of tickets, but also including celebrity photos, signatures and experiences.

A family of “Incredibles” at Salt Lake ComicCon.

Watch my full interview with Brandenburg and Founder Dan Farr in the video player at the top of the article.

The hordes of aliens circulating with equally out of place residents of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros suggest an economic success. Brandenberg confirms that 2016 results included a $3 million gross profit on $7.5 million of revenue.

Bryan Brandenburg

A love of the arts led Brandenburg to donate tickets to Ballet West so every employee there could attend.

Allison Tilton, a first soloist with Ballet West confirmed the gift, adding, “I think it speaks to how he wants to use the event as a community building environment.”

Superheroes and princesses create the potential for a partnership with Make-A-Wish Utah. CEO Jared Perry says, “Salt Lake Comic Con and the cosplay community have been very generous to Make-A-Wish Utah. We grant the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions to enrich the human experience with hope, strength and joy. Salt Lake Comic Con supports our mission through fundraising, event ticket donations and by providing special moments and one-of-a-kind experiences for our wish kids and their families.”

Bryan Brandenburg, Chris Evans and Dan Farr

“To a child, there is nothing more magical than being surrounded by super heroes and princesses,” he adds.

Brandenburg, himself a veteran, has a passion for helping veterans, current members of the armed forces and first responders of all sorts. ComicCon provides a number of free and discounted tickets to these communities.

Fearing that first responders are only appreciated when they respond and thus become a hero to someone, Brandenburg says, “My heart goes out because it’s really, you know, in many cases, it’s a job that doesn’t get enough recognition for the contribution it makes to society.”

The breadth of organizations receiving support from ComicCon is extensive. The Utah Support Advocates for Recovery Awareness, commonly known by its acronym, USARA, is another example.

Executive Director Mary Jo McMillen, says that the organization, which supports people and families impacted by alcohol and drug addiction, has received 100 free tickets to each of the events for the past two years. ComicCon also sponsored the annual Recovery Day attended by 2,000 people.

“There is tremendous value to our non-profit organization when a business like SL Comic Con contributes to supporting our efforts to address the critical impact of substance use and addiction in our community. Bryan Brandenburg has personally extended the generosity of SL Comic Con to help support the people we serve so they can experience fun and entertainment on their road to recovery from addiction,” McMillan says.

Farr, the founder of ComicCon, says he proud of the way the event itself has helped bring the community together. He’s observed multi-generational families attending the event together. He sees it as a “huge benefit of connecting people in a way that they were not necessarily connected before.”

Dan Farr, Mark Hamill and Bryan Brandenburg

“It allows people to find common interests and common interests of people who gather in a big way,” he adds.

ComicCon’s addition to the greater Salt Lake City community does not solve or even salve all of its social problems, but it is not hard to see the benefits of bringing 120,000 people together for some wholesome fun that includes everyone from recovering addicts to first responders as special, honored guests.

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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!

20 Years In The Making, A Personal Quest Led To A New Venture

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

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

Eric McCallum says he likes to invest in “simple and elegant business models that have multiple impacts.” A startup called Himalayan Wild Fibers fit the bill and he led a round of financing.

Founder and CEO, Ellie Skeele, 64, has been working in Nepal for nearly two decades to commercialize her idea.

Himalayan Wild Fibers is a company that is commercializing a textile fiber that’s extracted from a wild growing plant, a form of stinging nettle that grows in the forests of the Himalayas. It is wild harvested. We extract from that a fiber, we refine it and then we sell into existing developed supply chains,” she explains.

Watch the full interview in the player at the top of the article.

Himalayan Wild Fibers, HWF, sells the fibers in a refined state, but not as thread or yarn. Her clients use the fibers to create yarns, fabrics and ultimately finished products.

Her goal is to help subsistence farmers who have virtually no cash income. She sees significant environmental benefits in the bargain.

Ellie Skeele

Early during her time in Nepal, she came across the fiber being used for a variety of rudimentary handicrafts, ropes and other rough purposes. Then she encountered someone who had created a blend of cotton and the nettle fiber and her mind began to race.

She and her team determined that the best way to enhance “economic justice” for her Nepali friends was to focus on sourcing the fiber from the farmers, paying them a “really good price for it.”

“HWF creates jobs for some of the poorest people in the world,” he says. “In six to eight weeks they can double their yearly income harvesting giant nettle without interfering with their seasonal subsistence farming,” McCallum boasts.

The fiber, because it grows in the wild, far from any industrial agriculture, has not been exposed to any fertilizers or pesticides. Skeele says, “This is the most sustainable fiber and the cleanest, purest fiber on the market.” She says “emphatically” that the product is not toxic.

She hastens to add that the nettle grows wild on land that cannot be used for farming, so doesn’t compete with food or other crops important to the Nepali farmers she hopes to help. No irrigation is required to grow it and only a fraction of the water required for processing organic cotton is used to refine it.

The nettle is a rhizome. It actually benefits from the harvesting. The stalks are cut off, but the rhizome and roots remain in the ground and flourish season after season.

“The nettle grows wild under the high elevation forest canopy, is very leafy so converts CO2 to oxygen,” notes McCallum. “The Gov. of Nepal is eager to find non-timber forest products to stimulate the local economy in these high elevation forest areas. The nettle needs the forest canopy to thrive. By creating these jobs HWF is protecting the forest.”

For Skeele, the quest to help the Nepali subsistence farmers is personal. “I have two children adopted from Nepal and the came to me from poverty. They come from mountain families.” She felt this was a gift she should repay.

She went to Nepal about 20 years ago after working in Silicon Valley and finding herself unfulfilled. She says she called her sister and said, “I’m going to sell my house and I’m going to stay in Nepal for a while to get my head screwed on straight and see if I can’t do something more meaningful with my life.”

To date, she acknowledges, the impact has been modest. “When we scale it will be, by Nepal’s standards, huge,” she adds. She says she doesn’t expect the business to ever grow to $500 million. There isn’t enough of the fiber to harvest to create a business of that scale. But the benefits to Nepal will be meaningful even at a much smaller scale.

Led by McCallum, HWF has raised money from 19 investors. The company has 14 employees and is just now beginning to generate revenue.

Of his investment in HWF, McCallum says, “For me personally, it’s a test to see if one can invest in the third world, get a modest return and have an impact. Because if this works, it could potentially attract more impact capital from more people who desire to get more than just a financial return but also a social ROI.”

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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 Miss America Is Working To Thank Veterans For Their Service

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

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

As Americans head to the beach or the mountains to celebrate Independence Day they may give some thought to the freedoms they enjoy. With a bit of prompting from some patriotic music accompanying fireworks tonight, they may even give some thought to the soldiers who have fought and died to make those freedoms possible.

Former Miss America Sharlene Hawkes, 53, never forgets. In 2005, she helped found the Remember My Service Military Production division of StoryRock. Remember My Service, RMS, produces videos and books about the service of America’s armed forces.

Watch my full interview with Hawkes in the player at the top of this article.

The division got started “kind of accidentally,” Hawkes says. StoryRock produces a variety of personal and group history products, using a digital approach. The products include video yearbooks and scrapbooks that include video. The profitable division employs six people full time and another five on a part-time basis.

The 96th Regional Readiness Command of the Army Reserve approached her to ask for help organizing their growing treasure trove of digital historical assets. “It was hiding on computers everywhere because nobody knew really what to do with it all,” she says.

She didn’t begin to appreciate the scale of the problem initially, thinking that this was limited to the local Army Reserve unit. “Come to find out, it was military-wide where they needed help.”

The records, videos and books RMS helps to organize serve multiple functions. Initially, she was focused on the value of the historical records being kept for each unit. Quickly, she learned that commanders were interested more in building esprit de corps and also in helping to recruit.

The commanders see the potential for younger sisters and brothers to see the records and say, “Wait a minute, that’s what you guys do. Wow. I want to be part of that.”

One of the challenges that RMS faces is that the military doesn’t have a line item for yearbooks in the budget. One of Hawkes’s innovations was to find private sponsors who would pay to produce the materials for the people serving. In 2006, she helped the National Guard unit in Utah to complete a project using that model. It worked so well, she says, “The National Guard has now done four major projects over the last eight years.”

Private sponsors have made it possible for all the guardsmen to receive records of their service. The model has proven successful, but Hawkes acknowledges that it is a lot of work. Essentially, one project has two sales cycles: one for the project and one for the financing.

In honor of the 50th anniversary of the service of America’s Vietnam vets, RMS is now working on its biggest project to date. Hawkes notes that these vets got a “double whammy.” They served, risked their lives, saw their friends die and then came home to a country that “didn’t care about them.”

Sharlene Hawkes

“America has grown up,” she says. “We never ever should treat our troops like that again.”

The 50th-anniversary commemoration began in 2012 and will continue through 2025 perhaps as we mark the 50th anniversary of the return of the final Vietnam era veterans.

The book is called A Time to Honor: Stories of Service Duty and Sacrifice. The book is not available for individual purchase. Instead, RMS is working on a state-by-state basis using its sponsorship model to produce copies for each and every veteran in that state. so far, only a handful of the states have gone to print.

The sponsors who support the book don’t get traditional advertisements in the book. Instead, they are invited to provide a tribute to the veterans that are included from a spokesperson for the sponsor.

Utah’s book was financed 50% by the state with the balance coming from three sponsors: the Miller Family Foundation, Merit Medical and Questar.

Born in Paraguay, Hawkes is listed here as the fifth most famous person born there. She lived in neighboring Argentina as a teenager before returning to her family’s traditional home in the United States, so she was rather well known in Argentina as well.

But this Miss America is all about the red, white and blue.

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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!

It Shouldn’t Be Easier To Find Your Mate Than To Find A Co-Investor Online

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

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

Last summer, at a meeting of Seattle impact investors, one of the members said she didn’t have need for additional deal flow–investment opportunities–what she needed, she said, according to Nancy Reid, director of the Seattle Impact Investing Group, is a way to build an investor syndicate. “What we need is investor flow.”

Michael ‘Luni’ Libes, 47, and Matt Eldridge, 48, who heard that need and set out to create a nonprofit, online platform called Investorflow.org to address the concern.

Matt Eldridge, co-founder and COO of Investorflow.org

“Impact investors are spread around the world, investing all around the globe. This makes it incredibly difficult for those seeking funding to find these investors. It also means that investors tend not to know each other,” Libes said, framing the discussion.

Watch the full interview with Libes and Eldridge at the top of this article.

He points out the investors typically have specific areas of focus, so even if you have dozens of impact investors in a room, chances are there still isn’t a critical mass of interest for any particular deal.

There is a wide range of possible interests for impact investing, he notes. “The UN has organized 17 distinct sustainability goals, but number 1, No Poverty, includes everything from the poorest billion people to affordable housing in New York City.”

“Meanwhile, in reality, most impact investments come from investors talking to other investors, not from companies pitching investors. The problem isn’t a lack of dealflow, nor a lack of crowd. The problem is efficiently matching the right deal to the right investor, one investor to another. Or more simply… the problem isn’t dealflow but investorflow,” Libes says.

Michael ‘Luni’ Libes, Investorflow.org

The investing community is ready for a new solution, Reid suggests. “Fundraising is still awkward.” That is true even for investors. “It can be an uncomfortable dynamic,” she adds.

“Fundraising is also still unbelievably slow and difficult! It’s way easier to find the right babysitter or landscaper or date than it is to find the right co-investors, which is bizarre,” Reid concludes.

Janine Firpo, the impact investor Reid mentioned who coined the phrase investor flow, emphasizes that impact investing is best done in teams. “What I believed we needed was an ‘investor flow’ solution that could put trusted investors together to share deals. Aside from a few very wealthy and committed individuals, this type of investing is not a solo activity. It takes a community. Luni made the idea of an investor flow a reality.”

“The solution is investorflow.org, an online network where impact investors can hear about deals that fit their particular interests, vetted by fellow investors. All the deals are posted by investors seeking co-investors, not by entrepreneurs or fund managers,” Libes explains.

Libes says the site already has 157 investors signed up with 14 deals in the review pipeline. As yet, no deals have closed. Deals are coming in at a rate of about one per week. Still, there aren’t enough investors. “We think at somewhere between here and 1,000 we’ll have a critical mass where when there’s deal posted there will always be someone interested,” Libes says.

This idea represents some fresh thinking in the impact investing world. It will be interesting to see if the site reaches the “critical mass” needed to start funding deals regularly.


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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 Addressing ‘Eco-Genocide’ Is Almost Like Spinning Straw Into Gold For This Entrepreneur

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

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

Plastic pollution in our oceans represents an “Eco-genocide” according to Bonnie Monteleone, Executive Director and Director of Science Research and Academic Partnerships at Plastic Ocean Project, Inc.

Priyanka Bakaya, 34, founder and CEO of PK Clean, invented a scalable process to convert plastics back into the diesel fuel they came from, not quite spinning straw into gold but exciting nonetheless.

When Monteleone had learned that plastics could be converted back into oil. She saw that as a way to emulate nature by creating a circular system where plastics removed from the oceans could be converted back into fuel. When she looked for partners, she was worried about the contaminants in the plastics extracted from the oceans.

PK Clean invited us to send them two pounds of our ocean plastics to turn into oil. They sent the oil back with their analysis that quelled our concerns,” Monteleone said.

PK Clean’s operations generate no toxic emissions and require no special permitting, Bakaya says. The company operates northwest of downtown Salt Lake City, well within city limits. The primary output from the system is diesel fuel.

The process costs $25 to $30 per barrel of diesel produced. With market prices in the range of $60 to $70 per barrel, the operation currently enjoys tremendous margins.

Monteleone now a customer, says, “PK Clean provides both economic and environmental hope to help mitigate the negative impacts caused by plastic pollution.”

Judson Bledsoe uses the benchtop plastic to fuel unit from PK Clean

PK Clean sold a benchtop demonstration unit to the University of North Carolina at Wilmington to perform tests. Monteleone appreciated the transparency and says, “They have earned our confidence as a viable solution.”

PK Clean is a fast-growing start-up already operating at a breakeven that will generate $2 to $5 million in revenue in 2017, Bakaya says. “We have a strong customer pipeline for the coming years.”

The start-up is also raising a $50 million project finance fund to provide capital for the customers’ projects deploying the company’s units.

The pricing model for the units involves an upfront fee for the plastic-to-fuel units plus PK Clean takes a royalty on the production so they get an ongoing revenue stream from the installed units.

Priyanka Bakaya, PK Clean

Bakaya, who earned degrees at Stanford and MIT, says the best customers for PK Clean are folks who are already handling large amounts of plastic waste, some of which may be going into the landfill. She sees the biggest opportunities on the East Coast where high landfill tipping fees create an even bigger incentive to convert waste plastic into diesel fuel.

She notes that the units and the fuel take up relatively little space when compared to the mountains of plastic typically associated with recycling centers, making it optimal to co-locate the PK Clean conversion units.

The opportunity for recycling remains huge, despite global efforts to increase recycling. Bakaya says only 9% of plastic is recycled. Plastics vary in quality as indicated by the numbers stamped on the bottom of plastic packaging. Those that are high scoring are more likely to be recycled using traditional processes, but all plastics–even those horrible shopping bags–can be converted using the PK Clean processing units.

PK Clean’s innovation was to identify a process that was reasonably well understood but that had only been done in small scale, unprofitable operations and to make it scalable, efficient and profitable.

PK Clean is committed to the environment. This fall, the company will launch its “Zero Waste” campaign in Salt Lake City with a goal of getting people to reduce their waste to the size of a mason jar per month. Getting people to recycle all of their plastic will be key to that initiative.

Scaling PK Clean will be its own challenge. Bakaya says they already have hundreds of inquiries coming in from people wanting to build units on their sites.

“We don’t want to promise that we can make a hundred of these in the next year. You know we’re sort of gradually scaling up and picking which sites make the most sense to begin with,” Bakaya says.

Each full-scale unit converts ten tons of plastic per day into about 60 barrels of fuel. Recyclers can install as many units as they may need to process their volume of plastic.

Monteleone is excited about the potential for PK Clean to help mitigate plastic pollution in the oceans. “Plastic consumption increases at roughly 4% annually, according to the World Economic Forum, by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in our oceans. We need PK Clean technology to help mitigate the eco-genocide caused by plastic pollution.”


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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!

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