How many times per day do you hear “be mindful” or “be present”?
Frankly, as a social entrepreneur, I’m sick and tired of it. Here’s why.
Yes, there are demonstrable health benefits to being present in the moment, especially for good moments. And frankly, for most of us with time to read an article of this sort, most moments are pretty good. Enjoying them more makes us all healthier and happier.
But I’m not very good at that.
Right now, in Somalia 6.5 million people are at risk of starving to death, largely as a result of climate change. The entire country is experiencing extreme drought and children—the most vulnerable to famine—are beginning to die. More than 100 people died in two days from starvation-related causes. (The British Red Cross is on the scene working to alleviate suffering and prevent massive death—donate here.)
About six million women and children will die this year from the smoke of cooking fires inside their homes. That is about 11 people every minute. For some reason, I don’t feel the need to be present while I warm up my left overs in the microwave. (Learn more about clean cookstoves from the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves).
When I’m out for my run in the morning, I can’t focus on my stride length, cadence or breathing because right here at home in the United States, 28.5 million people lack health insurance and another 14 million are threatened with losing theirs if Trumpcare is adopted. A study published by the Harvard Gazette reported that as of 2009, 45,000 people in the United States die from a lack of health insurance every year. While that number likely dropped in recent years due to the Affordable Care Act, the numbers could quickly spike again. (Write your congressional representatives to encourage them to expand coverage under the ACA rather than shrinking it.)
Not everything that distracts me is terrible. The number of polio cases is the world has dropped by 99.99 percent since the mid-1980s when there were almost 400,000 cases every year. Last year there were 37. This year could be the last year that anyone on the planet gets polio. Yes, I’ve said that for the past three years. No, I’m not giving up hope that this year will be the one. (Donate to Rotary’s “End Polio” efforts here.)
And let’s be clear, when I’m walking the streets of Salt Lake City thinking about my next article, my strategy for increasing my impact or reducing my carbon output, I’m not present. I’m not thinking about my feet in my shoes, the wind on my face or the beauty around me. I’ve seen it before. Hundreds of times over more decades than I care to count. Frankly, I’m thinking and worrying about something much more important than how much I’m enjoying my day.
Years ago, I learned that taking a few deep breaths when I’m stressed can have a big impact on my stress and my health. I do employ that technique consciously on most days because something gets me worked up. I’m ashamed that the things that really get me worked up are stupid, first-world sorts of problems. I should be getting more worked up about people starving in Somalia for starters.
You are probably more like me than you think. Perhaps you don’t worry or think about any of the things I’ve listed above. Maybe you are more focused on caring for your aging parents, or for your own young children, or keeping the job you absolutely need to keep your family fed and sheltered. Being mindful is a luxury for the wealthy and the world would be better off if they weren’t so mindful.
Someone is sure to point out that being truly mindful means contemplating the very things I’m talking about. Wonderful! Let’s all be mindful in that sense. But let’s not pretend we can be present in the moment appreciating the world around us and simultaneously be aware of others removed from us by great distances or dire circumstances. To be mindful of others is anathema to a focus on oneself.
Life is not supposed to be one continuous amusement. Your life has meaning, purpose and real joy when your attention is focused more on the wellbeing of others.
So, the next time you start to feel a bit guilty because you are not “present” or “mindful” enough, just say to yourself, “I’m not mindful because I’m not a narcissist.”
Clean Energy Advisors is a sponsor.
Lauren Sullivan and her husband Adam Gardner, a touring musician, wanted to make the concert scene more environmentally friendly. They’ve created Reverb, a nonprofit, to help the industry get its green on.
Adam explains, “The live music industry has historically been highly disposable, creating large amounts of landfill, energy and water waste. Think of all the plastic cups on the ground at the end of a concert or a weekend long festival, for example. Tour busses and trucks guzzle fuel carrying large crews, and large amounts of equipment across long distances every day on a tour. Tens of thousands of fans commute to a venue typically located 40 miles outside of major city centers, contributing to over 80 percent of a concert’s carbon footprint.”
Adam recognized that other nonprofits face that Reverb could overcome. “Local and national enviro nonprofit organizations have had variable experiences ‘tabling’ at concerts because they aren’t directly connected to the band or they don’t have the capacity to compete against all the other attractions at a show to get concertgoers’ attention.”
Working directly with the bands, Adam says, they can make a big difference. “Because I’m a touring musician myself, I’m able to speak to artists and their managers directly about how we can help make their tours more green while mobilizing and inspiring their fans to take action that adds up to real change.”
As a musician, Adam has an advantage. “I understand the challenges and opportunities live music events and tours create. We make it easy for bands to bridge the gap between their intentions and actions, as we embed our staff into their tours as part of their touring crew to handle tour greening behind the scenes while setting up a fan-facing interactive Eco-Village.”
Reverb has a crew that works the concerts. “Just like they have staff to handle setting up their lights and sound, we provide expert staff to set up biodiesel fuelings for tour vehicles, local farm food for catering, compost and recycling, etc. Out front at the Eco-Village in the concourse of each venue, fans can connect with issues and organizations that are near and dear to their favorite musicians. We also incentivize fans to participate by offering them ticket upgrades, meet and greets with the band and prizes. We want to make this fun and meaningful for fans in a way that only enhances their concert experience,” Adam says.
It is still a hard sell at times, Adam says. “The challenge is sometimes a general resistance to change, and lack of prioritizing or recognizing the negative impacts of live music. I get it–it’s hard enough to pull off a major production every night in a different city–everyone out on the road has their plates full and don’t have the know-how or capacity to take on new territory.”
There are challenges in trying to scale, too, he says. “We try to ‘teach a band to fish’ as much as we can, but ultimately the best programs have our staff onsite handling them–so there’s a limitation as to how much we can do directly to green tours. That said, the biggest impacts are with the millions of fans these major musicians have and their actions adding up to something truly significant. Impacting fans to take action is getting more and more powerful as social media and large concert events grow.”
Chris Warren, CEO of Clean Energy Advisors, says, “The work Adam and his team do is awesome. They spend countless hours on tour with musicians and make a difference one recycled bottle or locally sourced dinner for the crew at a time. Everyone I have met at Reverb is committed to the mission. It’s thought leaders like Adam who see an opportunity to make a positive impact and do something about it that give us great hope for future generations. We’re proud to walk hand in hand with Reverb to spread the word about climate change and to take actions that make the world a better place.”
Adam’s vision to leverage the bands’ fans to make a real impact in the world.
He says, “We are called REVERB because the message of sustainability starts with the musicians and reverberates out to their fans, which then take that passion and inspiration home to their families, workplaces, schools, and communities. We’ve been able to make a pretty good dent in changing the public’s hearts, minds and actions through the incredible reach and connection of music. It has taken many forms–fans have volunteered thousands of hours, given thousands of dollars to causes, taken thousands of actions in their own lives as simple as ditching disposable water bottles and using reusable ones.”
On Tuesday, February 28, 2017 at noon Eastern, Adam will join me here for a live discussion about the work of Reverb, making the live music industry greener. Tune in here (at the top of this article) then to watch the interview live. Post questions in the comments below or tweet questions before the interview to @devindthorpe.
More about Reverb:
REVERB is a community of music makers and lovers harnessing the power of live music to tackle today’s most urgent environmental issues. We partner with major musicians, festivals and venues to green live music events behind the scenes while mobilizing millions of concertgoers to take actions that add up to real change. Leading the music community since 2004, REVERB is a 501c3 environmental non-profit founded by activist Lauren Sullivan and her musician husband, Adam Gardner of Guster.
Adam wears two “hats”— Guster frontman and Co-Director of REVERB, a non-profit environmental organization dedicated to educating and engaging musicians and their fans to take action toward a more sustainable future. Gardner co-founded REVERB with his environmentalist wife, Lauren Sullivan in 2004. Since then REVERB has greened over 200 major music tours and festivals and over 5,000 concert events, kept over 117,000 tons of CO2 from the air, fueled touring fleets with over 900,000 gallons of biodiesel, partnered with over 4,000 environmental groups and have reached over 27 million music fans.
The artists that have partnered with REVERB to help them go green and mobilize their fans include Dave Matthews Band, Maroon 5, Linkin Park, Jack Johnson, Drake, FUN., Sheryl Crow, Phish, Jason Mraz and many more. REVERB also works with the music industry to improve business practices including record labels, concert venues and radio stations. While Adam is often on tour with his own band playing to sold-out audiences from Radio City Music Hall in New York to the Warfield in San Francisco, he is busy work-ing for REVERB in the back of his biodiesel-powered tour bus. REVERB and Guster launched the annual Campus Consciousness Tour in 2006, bringing daytime environmental programming to students and a green concert event onto college campuses across the country. Past headliners include Grammy Award-winning artists, Ben Harper and FUN., hip-hop sensations, Drake and J. Cole, and indy rockers Passion Pit, Walk the Moon and X Ambassadors. Adam has had the honor of testifying to Congress twice: in 2010 about the benefits and need to support sustainably produced and community-based biodiesel and again in 2012 in support of keeping wood products such as musical instruments free of illegally sourced wood.
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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!
Today, 13 social enterprises from across Africa put their best feet forward in Nairobi, hoping to attract investor and donor money to help them scale their enterprises and their work in improving health outcomes for women and children.
The entrepreneurs presented at the GE healthymagination & Miller Center Mother and Child Program Investor Showcase. The program largely replicates the Miller Center’s Global Social Benefit Institute program, which it has been conducting in Silicon Valley for 15 years. GE provided funding to make the program possible in Kenya. It has been so successful that GE has committed to fund the program again.
The month’s long program features a focused curriculum to help the entrepreneurs generate more self-sustaining revenue sources and includes counsel from accomplished mentors. The program culminates in today’s investor presentations, with each entrepreneur getting six minutes on stage to hook the investors’ interest.
United Nations Coordinator for Kenya, Siddarth Chatterjee, spoke about collaboration between the public and private sectors to create a leapfrogging of maternal and child healthcare. Sid highlighted women’s issues, including female genital mutilation, child marriage and gender-based violence. He noted, “Kenya’s economy will grow when the woman is allowed to achieve her full potential and can plan her own family.” He congratulated the Miller Center and GE for assembling such an impressive cohort of entrepreneurs.
The following is a summary of each of the 14 social enterprises who pitched from the day’s program:
Access Afya, Melissa Menke, Founder and CEO:
Access Afya creates a model for comprehensive primary care in wellness in Nairobi’s informal settlements. Our tiered approach includes fixed community microclinics as anchors that have authentic medication, emergency response capacity point-of-care lab capabilities, immunization family planning, and qualified clinicians with novel field programs that provide care through field-based programs to community institutions like schools, factories and churches.
Ayzh, Zubaida Bai, Founder and CEO:
Ayzh is transforming access to products through carefully designed kit-styled interventions around reproductive, maternal, pediatric, and adolescent health needs. These products help the care providers and beneficiaries with improved health outcomes.
Health Builders International, Tyler Nelson, Executive Director:
Health Builders (HB) is dedicated to addressing the fundamental challenges that prevent universal access to quality primary health care services in Rwanda: inefficient management systems, inadequate or nonexistent health infrastructure, and outdated technology. Through partnerships with local and national governments, HB mentors health care providers to build strong management systems; constructs comprehensive primary health centers where access is limited; and equips health centers system strengthening technology that supports efficient and sustainable operations. This approach results in health centers with the knowledge, resources, and capacity to thrive as independent enterprises, ensuring more people receive higher quality care in Rwanda.
Health-E-Net Limited, Pratap Kumar, CEO:
Health-E-Net is a social enterprise in Kenya providing innovative solutions to support healthcare delivery in low resource settings. PaperEMR is a unique system to generate electronic medical records directly from paper. It allows clinicians to document cases easily on paper, while interacting with the patient. Data entered on paper can be automatically extracted in digital form, analyzed, and used to improve quality of care. The Gabriel application is an innovative, low-cost tele-consultations platform that allows local healthcare providers to easily create and share digital medical information. Experts from a global volunteer network engage with local healthcare providers, supporting healthcare in the community and improving the efficiency of referral when needed.
Hewa Tele Ltd., Dr. Bernard Olayo, Executive Chairman:
Hewa Tele provides medical oxygen that is needed in medical and surgical situations. Medical oxygen has been listed as an essential drug for the last three decades by the World Health Organization. Unfortunately, many patients still do not receive this vital drug. Oxygen can reduce the chances of a child dying from pneumonia by at least 35 percent when given with antibiotics.
LifeNet International, Stefanie Weiland, Executive Director:
LifeNet International provides a bundle of services for primarily rural and faith-based health centers that improves the quality of clinical care and sustainability as businesses. This includes dedicated mentors to train all staff on-site in updated, life-saving techniques and efficient financial and operational management practices, door-to-door medicine delivery, and access to resources and equipment. In addition, LifeNet provides monitoring of health center performance with regular evaluation and quality assurance. By strengthening local capacity in every link of the healthcare delivery chain, LN is transforming primary care for Africa’s poor.
Lwala Community Alliance, Julius Mbeya, Managing Director:
Lwala Community Alliance is a community-led innovator, tackling the multidimensional drivers of poor health. Founded by Kenyans, Lwala ensures that beneficiaries plan, implement, and evaluate all programs. At the core of our model is a cadre of former traditional midwives whom we train, pay, and supervise to track, support, and refer every pregnant women and child under five. Simultaneously, Lwala works with primary care facilities and the communities they serve to provide quality, patient-centered care. Through bringing communities closer to health providers, Lwala has a driven a 97 percent facility delivery rate and 300 percent increase in contraceptive uptake.
Nurture Africa, Brian Iredale, Co-founder and CEO:
After 17 years of operation, our holistic and community-centered model, providing healthcare, vocational education, and sustainable livelihood loans has proven that offering these services under “one roof” successfully empowers vulnerable families to increase their standard of living. Our new enhanced model shifts from the traditional philanthropic approach to a self-sustainable paradigm. Accessing multiple community services locally benefits affluent residents who will support and subsidize the operations to more vulnerable families.
Outreach Medical Services, Nigeria Ltd., Dr. Efunbo Dosekun, CEO:
Outreach Medical Services is a health service acute care provider for babies and children and professional development company, leapfrogging and leveraging on technology in clinical applications, training and health service operation management. Solutions provided are integrated, high impact and scalable, strengthening our acute care system horizontally and having its influence on saving lives of ill babies and children and preventing chronic disability together with increasing the human capacity of healthcare workers in Nigeria. In our bid to deliver affordable, quality and safe care, there has been need for continuous refinement and modification in our product creation and service deliver responding to the multiple challenges in our internal and external environment in Nigeria.
PurpleSource Healthcare, Femi Sunmonu, Co-founder and CEO:
PurpleSource Healthcare strengthens clinical processes through evidence-based approaches to care and provide quality certification in partnership with standard setting bodies. The enterprise aggregates its primary healthcare centers into one integrated network, centralize management functions and share scarce resources across the network. PurpleSource Healthcare leverages technology for healthcare analytics, population management and to aid responsive performance management of the network.
The Shanti Uganda Society, Natalie Angell-Besseling, Founder and Executive Director:
Shanti Uganda provides a unique model of care where skilled midwives incorporate traditional knowledge and modern best practices. Shanti Uganda’s Birth House is a collaborative-care maternity center staffed by Ugandan midwives and traditional birth attendants that provide mother-centered care throughout pregnancy, birth and the postnatal period. Shanti Uganda’s expansion plans include the development of a Midwifery Training School, which will offer a 2.5 year certification program to students throughout East Africa with both local & international faculty.
Telemed Medical Services/helloDoctor, Dr. Yohans Wodaje Emiru, Founder & CEO:
Telemed’s helloDoctor platform provides reliable and affordable access to health care. Through teleconsultations, we provide chronic disease follow-up and support to underserved people living in emerging markets by leveraging proven technologies and its unique partnerships.
Village HopeCore International, Dr. Kajira K. Mugambi, CEO and Founder:
Village HopeCore International (HopeCore) is dedicated to fostering integrated social and economic development in rural communities in Kenya and Africa. HopeCore enables and empowers members of rural Kenyan communities by providing health education and interventions, and microloans, business education and skills based training. We offer clinical curative services, preventative health information, and educational lectures to women and children to improve health outcomes in the community.
Jason Spindler, Managing Director of I-Dev International, an investment banking firm serving the developing world with an office in Nairobi, attended the event and reflected on what he saw. He said, “A majority [of the for-profit companies that presented] are ready for angel investment. Thirty to 50 percent are ready for later seed investment. Two or three could be acquisition targets.”
He noted that the capital markets in Africa are spotty, flush in some spots and thin in others. “Clean energy has a lot of capital going into it. Hundreds of millions more will be going in over the next few years.” On the other hand, tech ventures are struggling to access startup capital.
He is excited about Kenya’s prospects. “Nairobi is one of the best start up ecosystems in the world, including San Francisco. We’re building a car and you can’t drive it until you put the wheels on and the engine in. Kenya’s entrepreneurial ecosystem is ready to drive.”
This week, I’m traveling in Africa as a guest of Santa Clara University’s Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship’s Executive Director Thane Kreiner and namesakes Karen and Jeff Miller. Read all my reports.
Shalom Mbungua Kang’ethe was born healthy on February 21, 2017 at 5:00 AM at Jacaranda Maternity Hospital in Nairobe. His mother, Lydia Wangui, paid about $100 to deliver her baby there; her first son was born at Mama Lucy Hospital, a public hospital where the delivery was free. Let’s find out why she didn’t want a free delivery for Shalom.
At the public hospital, women are expected to bring a birth kit. Of course, you say. Every woman in the world has a kit ready to go to the hospital when it is time to deliver. It isn’t that kind of kit. This kit would include the hospital essentials like rubber gloves for the nurse or midwife that delivers the baby, a string to tie off the umbilical cord, a razor blade to cut the umbilical cord, two sheets–one for the baby and one for the mother, and a maternity pad. If they want the bed sterilized following the preceding delivery, mothers are expected to bring bleach.
Oftentimes, however, the bleach is irrelevant. The hospitals are so overcrowded and understaffed that multiple women may be laboring in the same bed. One nurse described a scene with ten women laboring in one room with three beds.
Jacaranda Health was founded by Nick Pearson, who is from North Carolina. Nick came to Kenya several years ago while working for the Acumen Fund. He fell in love with Kenya and with an obstetrician here. He confessed that part of his motivation for leaving Acumen to start Jacaranda Health was to impress the woman who would become his wife.
Lydia seems to think that Nick and his team are doing a good job. Her first observation about the difference between delivering at Jacaranda compared with the public hospital was the nurses were nice. Seeking to understand more fully, I asked what the worst thing about the public hospital was and she reiterated that the nurses there were “not polite.”
She also liked the hot shower, clean facilities and good food.
Of course, these things don’t just happen in Kenya. It has taken Jacaranda five years to create a model maternity hospital that it hopes to replicate across the continent eventually.
Faith Muigai, the Chief Medical Officer, was trained as a nurse in the U.S. and worked at Johns Hopkins. She provided a guided tour of the facility to the visitors from Santa Clara University’s Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship. Jacaranda participated in the school’s Global Social Benefit Institute program in 2014.She explained that the
She explained that Jacaranda initially opened a smaller facility that was intended to serve the same purpose. Staffed only with nurses and midwives and without an operating theater for performing C-sections, care could be provided even more affordably but even women who received their pre-natal care there chose not to deliver there. They made it clear that they wanted to deliver in a facility with a doctor and an operating room in case there were complications.
So, the new hospital was built. During the tour, the visitors saw a newborn that had been delivered via C-section only moments earlier. The fifth such delivery of the day.
Midwives use donated, modern ultrasound equipment from GE to spot complications as soon as women arrive.
Most of the women who deliver at the facility live in Nairobi’s slums. Urban poverty is different from rural poverty; people have money and incomes, but not enough. To help the women plan and prepare for the cost of delivering a baby, the prices for the services are posted on the wall on a giant sign. A normal delivery like Lydia’s costs about $100. A C-section costs about $350.
Women living in the slums don’t routinely have access to that much money. They are forced to save for the expense.
It isn’t just poor women that are delivering at Jacaranda. Faith admitted that she didn’t know what to think of it when women started showing up to the hospital in cars, “even a Range Rover.” The quality of care at Jacaranda now matches the most expensive private hospitals in the city, but at a fraction of the price.
Nick says the hospital recovers about 80 percent of its operating costs. Faith adds that they are exploring services they can offer at a premium, to improve profit margins for affluent patients.
As Lydia she was preparing to leave the hospital with Shalom, I asked her if it was worth paying so much. Without hesitating, she said, “Oh, yes.”
This week, I’m traveling in Africa as a guest of Santa Clara University’s Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship’s Executive Director Thane Kreiner and namesakes Karen and Jeff Miller. Read all my reports.
Walking through the dusty Nairobi slum called Kawangware, the general bustle of the place overwhelms the visitor. Grace Njeri lives in the neighborhood and she’s got work to do. She recently signed on as a sales rep for the social enterprise Livelyhoods and this is her third day on the job.
Yesterday, she had her first sale. She sold a clean cookstove and she’s carrying another one through the streets; she holds the stove in one hand and the empty box in the other. As she walks, she and her trainer Simon Mwenya spot a man in an informal hardware store looking at the stove. She decides to approach him.
With her winning smile and the knowledge that she has three children at home and no father to help carry the load, she quickly makes the sale. As Thane Kreiner, the Executive Director for the Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship at Santa Clara University completes the receipt for her as part of his field work today, Grace learns that the buyer would like to become a distributor himself. He’s interested in buying 20 more stoves.
Grace was doing well before the possibility of selling 20 more stoves popped up. After selling two units in her first three days she is well on her way to her first month’s target of six stoves.
She takes the cash from the sale and walks across the street to an M-Pesa kiosk. The ubiquitous kiosks are so common in Nairobi that there are sometimes multiple competing shops on the same block. They are never far away. She hands the clerk the 3,490 shillings (about $35) she collected for the stove and the money is instantly applied to the account on her phone. Using her smartphone, she then transfers the entire amount to Livelyhoods. She’ll collect her commissions and any bonuses she may earn at the end of the month.
After completing the transaction, she cajoles a colleague into allowing her to take the electric kettle in hopes of finding a buyer. Around the corner, she spots the barber shop, a shop that isn’t 100 square feet in size, has two barbers and two customers in it. She recognizes that there are four prospects who can’t leave.
She enters and within five minutes she leaves having taken an order for a blender and another for an iron. Her day is getting better and it isn’t even noon.
Livelyhoods is intent on creating quality employment opportunities for some of Kenya’s least qualified. Sales reps last an average of only four months. A few won’t survive their first week. Some people aren’t cut out for sales.
At 44, Grace is old than the average of 24. The sales reps who attended the meeting this morning at 8:00 sharp–the trainer Lillian locks the door promptly at 8:00–were typically younger. Split almost perfectly between men and women, the crew included eight women and six men.
Most of the reps will move on to better jobs, the company says. The position is intended to be preparatory. Training is pretty intense.
The meeting began comfortably with introductions. Then Lillian offered an enthusiastic evangelical prayer. She then moved on to stretches with twenty people in a 200 square foot room. Despite the cramped quarters, the team seemed genuinely to enjoy the stretching as Lillian made it into a game of “Simon says.” I couldn’t help but wonder if the game was more or less amusing with two Simons in the room. No one seemed to notice.
With that complete, real sales training with goal setting and a review of the seven steps of a sale were presented, reviewed and practiced. Jeff Miller, the namesake for the Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship who is visiting Nairobi, provided a group of reps with some personal sales training. Later, he would accompany some of the reps and help one close five sales in one hour.
Livelyhoods generated $440,000 in revenue in 2016, according to Claire Baker, the Director of Development. With growth beginning to ramp, in part due to a new layaway program for the $35 stoves, the company hopes to help more people in 2017.
The company’s founder, Tania Laden, participated in the Miller Center’s Global Social Benefit institute program in 2016. I reported on that here.
This week, I’m traveling in Africa as a guest of Santa Clara University’s Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship’s Executive Director Thane Kreiner and namesakes Karen and Jeff Miller. Read all my reports.
February 21, 2017 – The women mostly wearing beautiful, brightly colored traditional gowns were seated quietly beneath white event tents festooned in bright colors surrounding a small plaza that would serve as a stage. An empty tent on a platform was waiting for the VIP guests, including the executives of All Across Africa, the company the women credit with changing their lives.
All Across Africa sources handicrafts from here in Rwanda and also from Uganda and Burundi. The women weave baskets. This model would not distinguish All Across Africa from dozens or perhaps hundreds of other social enterprises that buy handicrafts from marginalized communities in emerging markets, but the story doesn’t end there.
CEO Greg Stone and COO Alicia Wallace have developed an impressive customer base for their products, including Pro Flowers and Costco. Their portfolio of buyers includes hundreds of independent retailers, allowing them to buy in volumes that are unusual.
All Across Africa’s secret sauce is creating contemporary designs that are appealing to Americans that the weavers in Rwanda can produce, rather than simply taking what the women were making and trying to sell it in the U.S.
When the company landed Costco in 2009, they had to grow their phalanx of weavers who supply their products from 60 women to over 1,000 in about 90 days. It has continued to grow ever since. Today, about 2,000 of the women were invited from this part of Rwanda to participate in the celebration. At least half showed up.
The weavers, primarily women but including a few men, held their annual celebration of the year spent working themselves out of poverty. The event is part annual meeting and includes some ceremony, but is primarily a party to celebrate their shared success.
At last year’s event, the weavers presented Greg with a spear and shield as symbols of his battle with their poverty. They recognized that they needed each other to make the climb from the lowest economic rungs to a lifestyle that would include adequate food, shelter and clothing—and dignity. In his remarks, Greg recommitted himself and the company to the fight.
All Across Africa exists to fulfill that mission. Selling baskets is simply the vehicle the company uses to achieve that objective. Organized originally as a nonprofit, the company now uses a hybrid model with a for-profit and a nonprofit entity. The for-profit business, All Across Africa, sources and sells baskets and other handicrafts. Opportunity Across Africa, the nonprofit, provides training.
The company participated in the Global Social Benefit Institute program at the Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship at Santa Clara University in 2016. I wrote about the program here.
The company has helped the women form and manage co-ops. Technically, the company doesn’t buy products from the weavers; it buys from the co-ops. The co-ops are all independent. They can choose to sell products to other companies and there are several competing for the women’s handicrafts. But, the women say they earn twice as much selling to All Across Africa and so devote the majority of their time to its orders.
The income they make is life changing, they say. Typically, before joining the ranks of the All Across Africa weavers, they ate only two meals a day, including a bowl of porridge for breakfast that would have to last a full day of working outside on their farms. Now, they eat three meals a day, pay others to work on their farms and use their profits to acquire more land and animals. The women take pride in being fat, though few would qualify for that label in the U.S. None of the women appeared skinny or undernourished.
The income increases their status in the community and at home. The women not only earn greater respect from their neighbors but also from their husbands. They admitted that their husbands were dismissive of their work before All Across Africa but no longer. Many women earn more than their husbands and are now true partners in their marriages.
The income is also growing the local economy in unanticipated ways. In addition to using their new wealth to hire farm hands, they also buy sisal, the natural thread they use for weaving the baskets, rather than tediously harvest it themselves as they once did. Each week, the women gather for order days on Monday and Tuesday. A cottage industry of food purveyors has popped up so the woman don’t have to cook or bring lunch.
At today’s event, in a lengthy pageant-like sketch, the women portrayed the complete cycle of change that All Across Africa brings to their lives. They covered everything from how they were recruited and how skeptical they were about changing their lives by weaving to how to run a co-op, to avoid bad financial decisions—like spending their money on banana beer—and how to save for the future. The presentation ended with the women dancing and proudly holding up their bank books.
A local politician was invited to speak. His message, reminding the women to be thrifty and to buy health insurance was at least redundant and perhaps insulting. One of the women leaders, Irene Mujawayezu (her last name means servant of Jesus, one of the staff explained), took the microphone to explain in response that in her co-op, all of the women have their health insurance paid and to otherwise make clear that these women didn’t need a man to tell them how to spend their money.
In her remarks today, Alicia invoked a local blessing, “I wish you many cows and much success.” That was also redundant. The women do have many cows and plenty of success.
Potential Energy, a clean cookstove manufacturer based in Kampala, Uganda is facing challenges on several fronts. Despite having sold 45,000 high-efficiency cook stoves, the nonprofit venture is facing a host of troubles, including some existential threats.
Potential Energy sells the Berkeley-Darfur stove primarily to NGOs that give or sell them to refugees. The stove was developed with help from refugees in Darfur at Lawrence Berkeley National Labs. The wood-burning stove is a highly regarded “tier 4” stove that reduces wood consumption by more than 50 percent and reduces smoke and pollution even more.
The nonprofit notes on its website that the stoves have already impacted 270,000 people, mostly refugees.
But today, Potential Energy faces big challenges. It has paid to produce 5,000 stoves in India that sit there unassembled. According to CEO Jessica De Clerk, originally from Portland, Oregon, the company lacks the resources to bring the stoves to Uganda from India. Between shipping costs and duties, the cost to import them nearly matches the $10 per unit cost to build them in the first place.
Once they arrive, if they do, Potential Energy needs to assemble them and sell them–neither task will be free. While they have a number of small orders, the bulk of the stoves would not have an immediate home. Jessica says she hopes to sell the stoves for $20 each in bulk, meaning that Potential Energy will almost certainly lose money on bulk sales.
The challenges don’t end there. In an effort to broaden its product line and diversify its revenue sources, Potential Energy has begun selling several models of charcoal burning stoves to low-income people in urban Kampala. These stoves range from $6 to $50. The $50 stoves are sold on credit and come with contracts that require the customers to purchase more environmentally friendly charcoal briquettes.
These efforts don’t all sit well with donors, some of whom are focused on moving to the sale only of stoves that are deemed “tier 4” for both efficiency and emissions. Such stoves cost about $100 and require a fan to provide secondary air to enhance burning. Jessica, living and working in Kampala since she came here to support a project for a Portland Rotary Club, says the high prices make selling such stoves impossible. Without them, however, she faces a dearth of funding.
And there’s more. She took us to visit three customers who have purchased the $50 high-efficiency charcoal stoves.
Helen Okidi lives in a slum in Kampala about 15 minutes’ drive from the Potential Energy office. Helen is obviously proud of her stove and was thrilled to show it off to the international group of visitors from the Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship at Santa Clara University. She wasn’t reluctant to bring out her old stove to show how much nicer the new one is.
Notably, however, the new stove was clearly not being used regularly. The old stove was full of burning charcoal and she had clearly been cooking with it before we arrived. She had lit some charcoal in the new stove but admitted that she usually cooks with the old one, which consumes much more fuel and emits much more smoke.
Helen was getting virtually none of the benefits of the new stove because she continued to use the old one. She was also buying charcoal at the market rather than using and buying the briquettes that burn more efficiently and come from charcoal dust rather than from burning wood to create charcoal–using up 80 percent of the energy in the wood. So she was getting none of the financial, environmental or health benefits of her new stove.
That is not always the case. We visited both Betty Sabit and Elijah Kizza who have the same stove. Both are using theirs exclusively. Betty says she cooks two meals per day for two people and it works great. A 110-pound bag of the briquettes lasts her two months. Elijah shares the stoves with five roommates. They don’t cook as regularly, but also love the stove and the eco-friendly briquettes, which he says saves them money. Both Betty and Elijah seem to be getting all of the health, environmental and financial benefits of the stove.
Jeff Miller, the namesake for the Miller Center, offered Jessica some advice that she received well. He suggested she focus on the Berkeley-Darfur stove and jettison all of the other distractions so she can build that business to a volume where it can be self-sustaining for the organization.
Moving production to Uganda from India could significantly cut costs, eliminating most if not all importation costs, potentially cutting the landed cost of finished products almost in half.
Jessica is an impressive young CEO. She joined Potential Energy just one year ago precisely because she saw the value and the life-saving potential of the Berkeley-Darfur stove. In the year before joining Potential Energy, she developed a tier 4 stove for LivingGoods that can be produced for just $5. She is committed to the work, obviously bright and apparently hard-working, we left believing that she can find a path to greater sustainability and even more impact.
“How Do You Start Charging People You’ve Been Serving For Free?” That’s the question that Brian Iredale, head of Nurture Africa in Kampala, Uganda is asking himself. At the same time, the handwriting is on the wall. To continue serving the people he loves, he must begin charging.
Brian came to Uganda in 1997. Seeing the challenges the country he faced, he decided to do something about it. He earned a nursing degree and returned in 2003 to launch a nonprofit that today is called Nurture Africa. He focused on the needs surrounding the community of HIV patients and their families, especially AIDS orphans. In 2009, he left his job as a nurse and began working full time for the organization.
Since its founding, Nurture Africa has provided services to its needy clients at no charge. In order to continue serving them, however, Brian has recognized that the organization will need to begin charging fees to make it more financially sustainable.
His plan is to begin offering some services to the public at a profit so that it can afford to offer those services at a discount to the needier families.
The organization offers microloans to mostly women to help them become more financially independent. For the loans, Nurture Africa has traditionally charged an interest rate of 1 percent per month. Going forward, Brian plans to charge 2.75 percent per month, which is still below the market rate of 3 percent. The loans of up to about $150 are expected to be–and generally are–repaid within six months.
Most health services have been offered completely for free. The challenge of charging low-income clients anything will be big. In order to be able to afford to offer the services at a discount in the long run, Brian plans to offer services to the general public, including more affluent customers, at a modest premium to cost to generate cash flow to support the discounts for needier clients.
The organization provides a variety of educational programs. As we toured the campus with Brian, we encountered classes going on all over. In one room, HIV-positive women who are pregnant were learning how to deliver a baby without infecting them. Another group was learning about hygiene. In another room, girls were learning how to sew and others were learning how to braid hair. Next door, a group of teens was learning to use Microsft Office on donated computers.
One of the students in the computer lab was Latif Sserunjoji. He explained that the students “need I.T. skills for life.” Latif was born after his mother received help from the organization before he was born.
Brian recognizes his own need for training at this critical juncture in the organization’s history. He’s enrolled in the Healthymagination Mother and Child program, a social venture accelerator that is a partnership between GE and the Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship. He will be presenting to a group of donors and investors next week in Nairobi as the culmination of the program. The coaching and mentoring he’s received as part of the program has helped him develop a pitch for the investors and a strategy for shifting from a pure donor-supported model to relying on fees for a substantial portion of the funding.
As the tour came to an end, Brian guided the group to a small stage. Some of the students performed a dance for the visitors.
Brian noted that some of the kids who were born to HIV-infected women in the earliest days have grown up to become volunteers and even employees of the organization, coming full circle. In a similar way, Brian hopes to master this difficult transition and to have the opportunity to share his insights and lessons learned with others.
Margaret Mead famously said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” Personally, I would argue that a small group is typically organized and led by one person. Here in Uganda, I found the one.
To be fair, I have been in Uganda three days and I could say this about any number of the remarkable social entrepreneurs I’ve met, but Joseph Nkandu embodies that more than most. Philanthropist Jeff Miller, the namesake of the Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship, noted in his remarks at a brief ceremony at the National Union of Coffee Agribusinesses and Farm Enterprises, always abbreviated NUCAFE, that most people lack the ambition to dream of doing what Joseph has done: remake a national industry.
Joseph participated in the 2016 cohort of the Miller Center’s Global Social Benefit Institute. I covered that for Forbes here.
Over the past 20 years, Joseph has been working to implement his vision of the “farmer ownership model” for growing coffee in Uganda. Perhaps because coffee grows easily in Uganda and millions of people grow a little bit of coffee, the power in the coffee industry has been in the hands of the buyers and their agents.
Joseph observed that farmers in Uganda did not effectively own their coffee. As evidence, he pointed out that when he asked coffee farmers about the price of coffee, they never seemed to know. When he asked the same farmers, who frequently kept a few chickens, about the price of chicken, they always knew. Put another way, small-holder farmers in Uganda have traditionally been price takers.
This provided the basis for organizing farmers into cooperatives to create more balance in the industry so that farmers could negotiate from a position of strength. Today, 198 cooperatives representing 1 million small farmers are members of NUCAFE. Together they produce about $500 million of raw coffee.
More recently, Joseph has been working to create more vertical integration so that the farmers can capture more of the value. Ground, roasted coffee sells for about ten times the price of coffee off the tree. The equipment required to remove the coffee bean from the berry is ubiquitous in Uganda, but beans in that condition aren’t ready to be ground and roasted, substantial cleaning, grading, drying and processing is required to get it ready to be roasted and ground.
NUCAFE has recently constructed and begun operating only the third coffee processing plant in all of Uganda. Joseph believes that it is the only one in the world that is farmer owned. Now, member farmers can pay a tiny fee to have their beans processed, allowing them to increase their revenue 2.5 fold.
NUCAFE also built roasting and grinding capacity at the plant and has begun selling coffee under the brand Omukago, a Lugandan word referring to deep, close friendship akin to family, traditionally expressed with a drop of blood on a coffee bean. Although volumes are relatively modest today, the nearly tenfold difference price allows participating farmers to meaningfully increase their profits even if only a portion of their production.
Joseph grew up on a small coffee farm and then attended university to learn how to optimize coffee farming. He realized after completing school that the system was rigged against the farmers and that the industry would have to be restructured to protect the interests of the farmers.
His father had 16 children–and two wives–stretching the resources of a small coffee grower. His father was also a primary school teacher and understood the need to make sacrifices to ensure that his children had the opportunity to attend school. That investment is now paying dividends for the millions of people who are now benefiting from his son’s work.
Joseph’s next challenge: grow coffee production in Uganda. NUCAFE has targeted a six-fold increase in national coffee production over the next three years. A government-supported effort to plant millions of coffee plants around the country makes this conceivable. If I learned anything from my visit with Joseph, it would be this: never doubt that one person can change the world.
CEO Galen Welsch launched Jibu with his father to provide affordable access to clean water to people in three countries where culinary water–where available–isn’t safe to drink. Already operating in Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda, customers already number in the hundreds of thousands.
While the most prosperous folks in these three countries have long purchased bottled water to drink, Galen believed that he could not only make a profit selling water to less affluent people in three African countries, he also saw the potential to accelerate growth by giving more economic opportunities to people.
Jibu operates with a franchise model, unlike almost any other. With just about five percent down, Jibu will finance a franchise for a would-be entrepreneur. The total cost of a franchise is about $25,000, but franchisees put down only $1,000 to $1,500 to acquire a store and pay the rest back via volume-based assessments.
Jibu recovers the balance in about three years in Uganda and Kenya but notes that economics in Rwanda allow the company to recover the balance in the first year.
Ron Mugisha is a franchisee in Kampala, Uganda. He says he is happy with the deal. He reports that he is earning more now as a franchisee than he was before. He is excited to earn even more, both by increasing revenue at his current store and by adding new stores.
Ron has already opened a few “micro-franchises.” While Ron, like all of the 20 or so franchisees, operates an actual water filtration system that produces up to 20,000 liters per day, the micro-franchisees are employees of a franchisee and are typically hoping to learn the ropes so they can open their own franchise store. A few micro-franchisees, including one of Ron’s, are simply agents content to represent the company in a small, strategic location where bottled water is stocked but not produced.
The franchisee’s operations aren’t quite as challenging as you might expect, operating a small-scale bottling plant. The water filtration system, developed by a partner in Colorado, is maintained by corporate; the franchisees just need to bottle water and sell it. In fact, to simplify the franchise structure, the company maintains ownership of the equipment, even after the franchisee has paid off the initial financing.
The Jibu strategy is to serve the middle 70 percent of the market, essentially ceding the relatively small market of affluent customers to legacy bottled-water providers and competing instead for the largest part of the market, those who are typically boiling their water. Because boiling isn’t free and isn’t completely effective–you can’t remove some contaminants by boiling–most people in the three countries served can afford Jibu bottled water.
The poorest people, those who can’t afford to pay for water at almost any price, comprise about 20 percent of the population. Jibu doesn’t ignore them entirely, instead, Galen has helped to create “water clubs” for people who are referred to a franchisee. After some modest screening, these customers are given an opportunity to buy filtered water at 90 percent off the list price. While these customers are not profitable, it provides a model for helping rather than ignforing the poorest people in the markets Jibu serves.
Jibu has already raised over $5 million and is working on another round of financing to allow the company to keep growing quickly. Santa Clara University’s Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship estimates that the number of customers reached by Jibu over the past 30 months has grown by more than tenfold to about 250,000. Galen represented Jibu at the Center’s Global Social Benefit Institute accelerator program in 2014.
The total population of the three countries Jibu serves approaches 100 million people, providing ample opportunity for growth.
The company’s social and environmental goals–and progress toward achieving them–has allowed the company to raise millions in the form of grants. The company hopes to quickly scale to 1,000 franchises, employing 8,000 people, including 5,000 women and youth (for whom the unemployment rate is stratospheric). By encouraging customers not to boil water, Jibu hopes to prevent the emission of 300 tons of CO2.
This looks like one to watch.