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

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This category includes articles about Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), typically including donations to or other support for nonprofit organizations.

Loftii Enables You To Give Without Giving

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

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

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

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

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

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

Download the browser extension from Loftii’s website here.

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

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

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

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

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

Amy Larson, courtesy of Loftii

Amy Larson, courtesy of Loftii

More about Loftii:

Twitter: @beloftii

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

Amy’s bio:

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

Never miss another interview! Join Devin here!

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


Cotopaxi Striving to ‘Do Good Well’

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

Lindsey Kneuven, Chief Impact Officer at venture-backed Cotopaxi, recently told me, “Businesses can be a force for immense good; let’s ensure they do good well.”

At the moment, she’s focused on making sure that Cotopaxi does good well. The social enterprise is scaling quickly and her role is to ensure that they don’t lose focus on the targeted impact.

Lindsey brings valuable experience to Cotopaxi, having spent time with the Silicon Valley Community Foundation helping some of the area’s largest companies with their corporate philanthropy. She is concerned that startups today need to become more disciplined to have the impact they want.

She asks, “As more young companies build models that integrate their social and environmental goals, how do we create a movement to ensure that they are leveraging best practices from the development sector? How we capitalize on the enthusiasm for social impact in a way that ensure models are informed, that effective solutions/interventions are prioritized, builds on the collective impact model, and prevents the dilution of donor dollars?”

The type of legal structure a company uses has an impact on its ability and commitment to having an impact. “Cotopaxi incorporated as a Benefit Corporation and was the first company to take this structure and then receive venture funding. We are committed to infusing social impact and sustainability into all aspects of our work. This takes shape in our giving, our employee engagement, our supply chain, our operations and our design and development philosophy,” she says.

One of the challenges she faces in her work at Cotopaxi is dealing with the rapidly changing context of her work. With rapid changes in supply chain, for instance, she must quickly react to ensure that each supplier meets the company’s impact standards, stretching her capacity.

The limitations of scale inherent in one company’s trying to change the world are overcome by exporting the model for impact to other companies, she says. “Our model has incredible potential for adoption and replication. We hope to overcome any limitations by sharing our model, helping to coach other companies on how to integrate a model in a sustainable and scalable way.”

Lindsey is committed to applying data-driven principles and a collective impact approach to Cotopaxi’s social good mission. The goal: do good well.

On Thursday, June 30, 2016 at 4:00 Eastern, Lindsey will join me here for a live discussion about her strategy for driving the greatest possible impact at Cotopaxi. Tune in here then to watch the interview live. Post questions in the comments below or tweet questions before the interview to @devindthorpe.

Lindsey Kneuven, courtesy of Cotopaxi

Lindsey Kneuven, courtesy of Cotopaxi

More about Cotopaxi:

Twitter: @cotopaxi

Cotopaxi creates innovative outdoor products and experiences that fund sustainable poverty alleviation, move people to do good, and inspire adventure.

Cotopaxi funds solutions that address the most persistent needs of those living in extreme poverty. Giving is core to our model. As a Delaware Public Benefit Corporation, Cotopaxi has made a commitment to creating positive social impact. We focus our efforts on global poverty alleviation & give targeted grants to advance health, education, and livelihoods initiatives around the world.

Lindsey’s bio:

Lindsey Kneuven is the Chief Impact Officer for Cotopaxi, a Utah-based outdoor gear company with a social mission at its core. She leads the organization’s global philanthropic strategy which includes all giving, supply chain initiatives, and employee engagement. Recently recognized by Utah Business as one of 30 Women to Watch for her leadership in business and the community, Lindsey serves on the Utah Lieutenant Governor’s Commission on Community Engagement and is active on several nonprofit boards. Lindsey formerly directed global grant making, strategic planning, and large-scale employee engagement programs for a portfolio of seven corporations, including: Oracle, Juniper Networks and Singularity University at Silicon Valley Community Foundation (SVCF). She also led the organization’s work on human trafficking and wrote a grant-funded white paper on human trafficking in Silicon Valley that earned her the Leigh Stillwell Award for Excellence. SVCF is a comprehensive center for philanthropy, serving both individual and corporate donors. With over $7.3 billion in assets under management and over $823 million granted in 2015 alone, SVCF is the largest community foundation in the world. Lindsey also has extensive experience in international development and nonprofit management, having spent a number of years working in East Africa to develop and implement a primary school literacy model with Nuru International as their Senior Education Program Director. Before Nuru, Lindsey served as the Global Grants Manager for the Salesforce Foundation where she oversaw the strategy, programming and success of multi-million dollar granting initiatives for four years. She has been active in international and domestic poverty alleviation initiatives for 15 years.

Never miss another interview! Join Devin here!

Devin is a journalist, author and 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!


Aziz Memon: Pakistan’s Social Entrepreneurship King

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

Aziz Memon has built a business empire called the Kings Group of Companies in Pakistan with $100 million in annual revenue while simultaneously devoting much of his time and energy to charitable purposes, especially the eradication of polio.

About half of the annual revenue from his businesses comes from King’s Textile Industries, a textile business that includes farming of organic cotton and production of organic cloth. He says, Walmart and other customers like to include 5 to 10 percent organic cotton in their products. As he built the organic cotton business and began farming the cotton, he built schools for the farmers’ families.

He also owns a solar power business called Orion Solar Power that provides solar power for street lighting and for operating swimming pools. Pakistan’s climate is well suited for solar power.

He owns a number of retail franchises in Pakistan as well, including a United Colors of Benetton store I visited in Islamabad. In addition, he also owns a medical supply business and also develops real estate.

Aziz Memon is the master franchisee of this store in Islamabad. Photo by Devin Thorpe.

Aziz Memon is the master franchisee of this store in Islamabad. Photo by Devin Thorpe.

Most of his business interests have a social purpose in their mission. Memon also places an emphasis on treating employees well and fairly. In the textile business, he says the clients, including JC Penny and Sears in addition to Walmart and a variety of European companies, have strict standards for working conditions and employee benefits. “Everything is written down in the social compliance agreement. We feel a pleasure doing all this. We feel our workers are our partners,” he says.

Memon, always socially minded, joined his local Rotary Club in 1995. That decision not only had a remarkable impact on him, but on the country.

In the 1980s, Rotary announced a global effort to eradicate polio. At the time, polio was still endemic in most countries outside of the U.S., Western Europe and Japan. Today, Pakistan is one of only two countries where polio is endemic—the other is Afghanistan. With most cases originating in Pakistan, eyes of the public health world have turned to Pakistan.

At the center of that attention sits Aziz Memon. Now, devoting himself almost full time to the effort as a volunteer, he sheepishly notes that his brother and nephew now run the day-to-day operations of the business, while he, as Chairman, weighs in only on strategic issues.

Memon has served in a long list of volunteer leadership positions in Rotary, including serving as a District Governor for the 2007-2008 service year. Today, he sits on the Rotary’s International Polio Plus Committee and as the Chairman of Rotary’s National Polio Plus Committee.

Even the WHO could not provide good records for the number of polio cases in Pakistan prior to the early 1990s. In 1995 when Memon joined Rotary, there were 2,555 cases of polio in Pakistan. So far this year, the WHO has tracked 11 cases in the country.

This progress fills Memon with a sense of urgency. “We are running short of time. There is no tomorrow. We cannot postpone,” he told me in a meeting in Islamabad. He added, “Getting rid of polio is the top priority” in his life.

Dr. Rana Muhammad Safdar, the Coordinator of the National Emergency Operation Centre, is the government’s senior most leader in the war on polio. There are “no words,” he says, to describe the respect he has for him. “I ask him to be there and he is there.”

Memon, for his part, is committed. “If I’m needed, I’m there,” he says.

Dr. Michel Thierin, who’s title is abbreviated simply as WR, serves as the World Health Organization’s Representative to Pakistan. “I see Aziz Memon as a member of the team.” The Global Polio Eradication Initiative is the partnership of Rotary International, the WHO, the U.S. CDC, UNICEF, Gates Foundation and world governments. “The GPEI in Pakistan is the quintessential definition of partnership,” Thierin adds.

Aziz Memon, by Devin Thorpe

Aziz Memon, by Devin Thorpe

K.R. “Ravi” Ravindran, President of Rotary International from Sri Lanka, says, “Aziz is the consummate Rotarian. He has had the ability to build a business, the charm to cultivate an impressive list of contacts and the guts to lead Rotary into areas that only the brave can tread. He is our most valuable resource in Pakistan.”

Memon’s polio work isn’t all administrative. Not long ago, he says, he was out with volunteers visiting households of families that had refused drops to invite them to reconsider. He was accompanied by Ramesh, a Pakistani-born polio survivor who was raised in the U.S. and was visiting Karachi where Memon lives.

Memon identified a “refusal family,” one that had refused polio vaccinations, on the sixth floor of a building with no elevator. He volunteered to go up. Ramesh volunteered to go with him on crutches. Up they went. When they arrived, Memon said through the door to a skeptical mother, “We don’t have drops, we just want to give you some sweets for your children.” The woman opened a tiny security window in the door to receive the treats. When she saw Ramesh, he could see her straining to raise herself up to look down through the window to see his crutches, legs and feet.

“Is this what is called polio?” she asked.

When Memon explained that it was, she said, “No one told me this.” She then invited Memon to give her children all the drops he wanted.

Aidan O’Leary, UNICEF’s Team Leader for polio eradication in Pakistan says that “Memon has been hugely influential in maintaining and supporting” key relationships with “political leadership, business leadership, media leadership, religious leadership and the medical leadership.”

Memon was formally recognized for his humanitarian and community service by the Government of Pakistan in 2011. He was awarded the Pride of Performance by the President.

Although Memon is no longer engaged in his business on a day-to-day basis, he remains an active Chairman and is involved in all key decisions. Business remains an important part of his life, despite devoting most of his time to humanitarian pursuits.

Overall, revenue has grown 20 percent this year. Memon says, “I think God sees that I am neglecting the business for a noble cause.”

doTERRA Reinvents Supply Chain For Impact On Poverty

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

Privately-held dōTERRA is a rapidly growing direct seller of essential oil-infused products with $1.2 billion in annual revenue. Three years ago, the company launched an effort to use its supply chain to reduce global poverty by creating economic opportunities for rural communities in developing countries like Nepal, Somaliland and Madagascar.

While founder and CEO David Stirling declined to provide gross margin data for the business, he suggested that the margins of publicly-traded direct sellers, about 80 percent, would “provide a broad approximation.” So the margins are good, giving the company some wiggle room for developing its supply chain for impact.

Emily Wright, the company’s Executive Vice President over sales and marketing, notes that the company was founded with a social enterprise mindset. “dōTERRA’s core mission is to improve the health and wellness of its customers through natural products and education.” Two corporate social responsibility initiatives have expanded the social purpose of the company: the dōTERRA Healing Hands Foundation (HHF) and the supply chain program launched in 2013 called “co-impact sourcing.”

Stirling explains the thinking behind co-impact sourcing, “Our Co-Impact Sourcing model for essential oils help us achieve three goals: 1) ensure the long-term supply of these key raw material inputs for our products, 2) develop effective marketing through telling legitimate impact stories highlighting the people and projects producing these oils for us, and 3) effectively mainstream directly into our business model our philanthropic priorities as a company.”

The extensive poverty in many of the countries where dōTERRA was already sourcing product, helped create the opportunity, Stirling says, to strategically develop a program for sustainable economic development.

Tim Valentiner, the company’s director of strategic sourcing, is the one tasked with developing and implementing the co-impact sourcing program. He says, “As dōTERRA continues to experience incredible growth we realized we needed to focus attention particularly on our oil sourcing strategy in order to meet our growth needs but also to be able to give back in a meaningful way.”

Valentiner, who spent time at the World Bank, brings some gravitas to the challenge of driving impact through the supply chain. The program, he says, is growing quickly. “We currently have Co-Impact Sourcing initiatives happening now in 10 different countries: Guatemala, Nepal, Somaliland, Kenya, Madagascar, Haiti, India, New Zealand, Jamaica, and Bulgaria – with some new initiatives in additional countries currently in development.”

Valentiner notes that the co-impact sourcing and HHF efforts work together. “Linked to many of Healing Hands Foundation funded projects and partnerships are Co-Impact Sourcing initiatives where we are able to facilitate social impact and community-benefiting projects for farmers, harvesters, and distillers, their families and communities.”

The company’s new sourcing of Nepalese Wintergreen starting in 2015 is an example of the new model. Valentiner says, “Throughout several districts of Nepal, women harvesters go out early in the morning to collect Wintergreen leaves in hand-woven baskets and carry them down the mountain on their backs (fully loaded these baskets can weigh up to 80 pounds). Because of the remoteness of these locations, there are typically few other job opportunities for these women. By providing fair and on-time payments to the harvesters and distillers, these women are able to have additional household income for food, clothing, and school supplies for their families.” In addition, HHF funds are used to support the communities where the harvesters live in Nepal.

The earthquake presented a moment of truth for dōTERRA. Rather than cut and run, the company doubled down. “Because dōTERRA was already working with these Wintergreen producing communities prior to the earthquakes in 2015, we were able to quickly react in partnership with CHOICE Humanitarian to provide much needed post-earthquake relief in severely impacted areas of Nepal,” Stirling says.

Valentiner adds, “Recently, during the months of March, April, and May 2016, three different groups of 40 volunteers each including Wellness Advocates [dōTERRA distributors] and dōTERRA staff were able to travel to Nepal on humanitarian expeditions to participate directly in working side by side with Nepali people to help rebuild Nepal following the 2015 earthquakes. They were able to see Healing Hands Foundation funds in action, provide Days for Girls feminine hygiene training to community members, as well as participate firsthand in the harvesting, collection, and distillation of Wintergreen essential oil.”

“In partnership with CHOICE Humanitarian, the dōTERRA Healing Hands has been a leading force in rebuilding some of the areas of Nepal hardest hit by the earthquakes, including distribution of emergency relief supplies immediately following the earthquakes, building of 200+ temporary homes, 45+ temporary classrooms, permanent homes, repair and new construction of Wintergreen oil distillation units for 20+ communities, repair of multiple existing schools and assembling of over 500 new desks,” Stirling says.

The team boasts that HHF funds were used to construct two 10-room, “earthquake resilient” schools in Nepal. The first, completed two weeks ago, is reportedly the first new school completed since the 2015 earthquakes.

Valentiner notes that effective impact measurement remains a challenge, but it is one that the company is addressing. “We are currently developing metrics for measurement of our Co-Impact Sourcing Guiding Principles in order to ensure that we can effectively measure progress and identify successful areas for replication or scaling up elsewhere, as well as areas for improvement. We realize this is a challenge but are fully committed to impact assessment and reporting in order to help show how our Co-Impact Sourcing model is successful.”

Wright says that effort also makes marketing sense. “Consumers (especially millennials) are demanding more and more to buy products from companies that are not only socially responsible but truly produce sustainable products, traceable products. So it is becoming much more than just having a catchy CSR program as a company.”

“Consumers are demanding to know traceability for their products and we believe that a key part of international development is and will continue to be carried out by businesses that see the value and the return on investment for social impact programs linked to the sourcing or manufacturing of their products from developing countries,” she concludes.

On Thursday, May 26, 2016 at 4:00 Eastern, Stirling, Wright and Valentiner will all join me here for a live discussion about the co-impact sourcing program and the dōTERRA Healing Hands Foundation. Tune in here then to watch the interview live. Post questions in the comments below or tweet questions before the interview to @devindthorpe.


US Bank Runs ‘Community Possible Relay’ to Inspire Volunteers

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

U.S. Bank recently kicked off the Community Possible Relay, a three-month tour of community volunteering in response to a long-term trend of declining volunteerism. The goal is to inspire thousands of volunteers across the country.

Reba Dominiski, President of the U.S. Bank Foundation, explains, “U.S. Bank is issuing a national challenge for Americans to address the 25 to 50 percent decline in volunteerism that has taken place over the last four decades in our communities. The Community Possible Relay is a three-month, nearly 12,000-mile, 38-city, 25-state cross-country journey to inspire individuals across America to give back to their communities.”

“We’re challenging all Americans and businesses to join us in this massive collective effort to revitalize the spirit of community in our Race to 153k – representing 1,000 volunteers for every year U.S. Bank has been in business,” said Richard Davis, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of U.S. Bank. “We invite everyone to help build and support vibrant communities by volunteering and giving back. This relay symbolizes our dedication to bringing back community volunteerism in America. By working together, we can and will make a difference.”

The relay is a genuine community revitalization program. It represents U.S. Bank’s effort to address the reported 25 to 50 percent decline in volunteerism that has taken place over the last four decades. The bank hopes to inspire a wave of volunteerism and community engagement with a “mobile baton” that will drive across the country making stops throughout the summer, issuing a call-to-action for people to join U.S. Bank volunteers and help give back to their communities.

The campaign lives on social media with the hashtag #CommunityPossible.

On Thursday, May 26, 2016 at noon Eastern, Reba will join me for a live discussion about the relay and the drive to increase volunteering across the country. Tune in here then to watch the interview live. Post questions in the comments below or tweet questions before the interview to @devindthorpe.

More about U. S. Bancorp:

Twitter: @usbank

Minneapolis-based U.S. Bancorp (“USB”), with $429 billion in assets as of March 31, 2016, is the parent company of U.S. Bank National Association, the fifth largest commercial bank in the United States. The Company operates 3,129 banking offices in 25 states and 4,954 ATMs and provides a comprehensive line of banking, investment, mortgage, trust and payment services products to consumers, businesses and institutions.

Reb Dominiski, courtesy of US Bank

Reb Dominski, courtesy of US Bank

Reba’s bio:

Twitter: @RDominski

Reba Dominski serves as Senior Vice President of Corporate Social Responsibility at U.S. Bank. She brings a wealth of corporate giving and community relations experience to this role, which oversees the U.S. Bank Foundation and employee volunteerism. Last year, the foundation provided more than $23.5 million in grant funding and employees donated more than 370,000 volunteer hours. Prior to joining U.S. Bank, Reba spent more than 20 years at Target Corporation, including the past six years as senior director of community relations focused on education. Prior to this role, Reba worked within several businesses at Target including: merchandising, sourcing, stores, and merchandise planning.

Reba is an active volunteer, currently serving as a member of the national advisory board for Strive Together. She formerly served on the executive committee and leadership council for Generation Next. Reba has a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Michigan.

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Devin D. Thorpe

A Unique Approach to School Fundraising

This is a guest post from Megan Walsh.

It’s a common occurrence hear stories about school cutbacks, budget cuts, and underfunding. In fact, 31 of our 50 states have experienced ongoing cuts to education related expenditures since the great recession in 2008 . Schools are struggling to find the funds to give children a well-rounded education, teachers are compensating with their own pocketbooks, and children are the worse for it. A lack of music and art programs, fewer field trips, fewer hours of Physical Education; all of these cuts affect both academic and social outcomes for children.

When Stacey Boyd, the founder of Schoola, built an inner-city charter school in Boston, she experienced first hand how difficult it was to protect “extra-curriculars” from ruthless cuts. And witnessing the impact on her students is what led her to create Schoola, who’s mission it is to save the programs that help kids reach their full potential at school.

Schoola provides an easy way for schools to generate extra funds, without asking parents or foundations for cash. Working directly with more than 25,000 schools across the U.S., Schoola accepts clothing donations from individual community members, and in some cases corporations, and then sells the clothing online. Schools get 40% of the sales proceeds from every item sold.

This unique approach to school fundraising has put violins back into the hands of students at KIPP Academy in NYC who has raised over $100,000 with Schoola. An art program in San Francisco goes on thanks to the many parents and who donated, despite the fact that the original budget allotment for this program was only $1.

In addition to schools, Schoola has begun to work with other organizations that support kids reaching their full potential. We’ve teamed up with The Malala Fund to raise money for girls around the world to have access to schooling.

Schoola SF Projects

Anyone can donate to a school or one of our partner causes by requesting a donation bag online, sending in gently-used or new clothing via mail – its free and easy to donate just by cleaning out your closet.

Our mission is simply to turn the donated items into opportunity for kids. It’s a mission that everyone at Schoola can relate to. Stacey found her confidence and her voice to pursue her dreams in a music class. I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for an art teacher. The desire to preserve these opportunities drives everything we do.

Some have asked us, why clothing? The simple answer is that it’s a household resource that has activated a really virtuous cycle – a win/win for everyone involved. For parents, cleaning out closets reduces clutter and allows cherished items to go onto new life. For schools, donation drives are a way to engage their community without asking for money. But most of all, it’s something kids can understand – we’ve seen girl scout troops organize clothing drives and college students activate campus networks to garner donations. They take an active role, and then benefit directly from their efforts.

This simple idea has lead to some incredible results. Not only have we been able to fund field trips, build playgrounds and save school libraries, but we have also brought communities together towards common goals.

About Megan Walsh:

Megan Walsh is a Bay Area mom of two kids, and spends the workweek helping more parents find and leverage Schoola to fund their school programs.

1. http://www.cbpp.org/research/state-budget-and-tax/most-states-have-cut-school-funding-and-some-continue-cutting

Day 7 of the Fathom Cruise: Travelers React

As the weeklong Fathom impact cruise to the Dominican Republic wrapped up, I grabbed my phone and sat down with some of the passengers to get their reactions to the experience.

Everyone was thrilled to have participated and most agreed that they had been changed by the experience.

Ten-year-old Sofia Kaufman joyfully explains with remarkable accuracy the process for recycling paper. Watching her would make almost anyone want to try it.

Peggy Cooley said the “Concrete floor [project], that was awesome.”

Michaelyn Pouncey vividly described her experience slogging through the muck and mud of the marsh to plant mangrove trees as the highlight of her trip.

Romaine Purdy tearfully described how the experience of tutoring students in English completely changed her thinking. Having come to on the cruise to see what she’d be selling as a travel agent, she found herself moved by the “looks in their eyes” and “knowing you were making a difference in their lives.”

Christopher Donaldson explained how helping the women of rePapel to produce more paper in a few hours than they customarily make alone in a week gave him a sense of the impact of the program on their lives.

Ray Ann Havasy noted that the Dominicans were surprised that “we were so willing to help.”

Ten-year-old Lola Hurst said, “I just feel like I make a huge impact on their work and really helped someone.”

The travelers also recognized that the trip had impacted them. Peggy and Ray Ann both reacted to the Dominicans being happy with relatively modest resources.

Michael Matti noted that the experience caused him to think more deeply about serving others.

Day 6 of the Fathom Cruise: Wanna Buy Some Artisanal Crafts Made By a Middle-Aged White Guy?

Friday, the final day in port here in the Dominican Republic on the Fathom cruise, I volunteered with an organization known as rePapel, which makes recycled artisanal paper and other crafts. This was in many ways more fun and interesting than my past activities.

We arrived to the most enthusiastic greeting of the week as the women who own and operate the rePapel cooperative sang and danced as we arrived at the site. Speaking of the site, it is a modest home with about 1,000 square feet of space. The cooperative could not afford such a lavish site but with the help of Fathom, they were able to secure the home.

The Women of rePapel greeting volunteers from the Fathom

The Women of rePapel greeting volunteers from Fathom

The group of about 35 volunteers was split into two groups, one of which was assigned to begin work supporting the production of recycled paper while the others of us, the group I was in, went to start work on crafts.

The women make crafts to sell. Ship’s passengers aid in the production of the crafts. That is, under their direction we make stuff that they sell—in no small measure—to us. It is quite a system really. No longer are these artisans required to actually do the labor involved in making their goods that they sell to us, instead they coach us to do it. We then are invited to buy the goods we “helped” to produce.

We worked through several crafting stations, including one where we made hot pads and napkin rings, another where we made jewelry and another where we made candles. I made some real progress on a napkin ring in my ten-minute shift at that workstation. I also nearly glue-gunned my fingers together. At one point afterward as I picked flaking white material from my fingertips, I wondered aloud if that was glue or dead skin from the burns.

The women of rePapel with "their" crafts

The women of rePapel with “their” crafts

At the jewelry station, I strung coffee beans and framboyan seeds in a five to one pattern that had been started by a prior volunteer at the station. Progress on the necklace was slow and I left it unfinished for the next volunteer to continue. The exercise was reminiscent of elementary school and I was relieved not to have been graded on my work.

In the candle room, I really excelled. The paraffin was hot and ready to pour. We simply took turns pouring the liquid, colored and scented wax into small glass bottles of the sort used for baby food. We then dropped a wick on a metal stem into the jars and propped it against a stick laid across the top of the jar to keep it approximately straight up.

After a short snack break, the two teams swapped places and our team was assigned to the recycled paper production. This is where the real magic happened.

My shift began at the end of the process where I used a pipe to press the nearly finished sheet between two sheets of heavy fabric to both smooth the heavy paper and dry it. Once inspected by one of the women in the cooperative, the paper was approved as complete and placed in finished goods inventory. I was a pretty good paper presser, but I was working alongside a fellow who was literally twice my size and he could press the paper at twice my pace. I felt rather inadequate.

Then, I rotated to the front end of the process tearing paper into small pieces about eight inches square. The first part of the assignment was to tear off pieces of the white paper I was assigned that had no ink on it. Once the paper that was left was all covered with print, we tore that into pieces. The clean and printed pieces were dropped into separate bins to serve as the primary ingredients in paper. As to my performance at this task, let’s just say I tore it up.

The final stage of the recycled paper process

The final stage of the recycled paper process

From there, I was invited to operate the blender. At the instruction of my coach, I scooped some liquid containing paper that had been torn into tinier pieces and run through a washing process and poured it into the blender. Then, we ran the blender for two minutes and poured the resulting puree of paper into a tray. I repeated this step a second time, but performed less well, overfilling the blender, require the coach to guide me through some remediation to remove some of the liquid. Once back on track, I operated the blender successfully and poured the puree into the tray.

Next, I got to make the paper! This part is pretty cool. Using a pair of frames, one a flat board about two inches larger than the piece of paper and another that is a frame of exactly the same size with a screen mounted inside. Holding the two tightly together, the frames are dipped in the tray of paper puree and sloshed around a bit like trying to get some of the good stuff in the soup up off the bottom and into the ladle.

Then we drain the water slowly out of the frame and the puree settles into the screen. Once the water is completely drained, the frame with the screen is lifted, leaving the form of a piece of paper. That is carefully transferred to a board on which it will dry. After drying for a time (I have no idea how long) each sheet is pressed, as I’d done at the beginning of my shift.

The women reported that we completed about 250 sheets of people during our combined group’s shift.

Before volunteering, my only idea about recycled paper was from the many commercial applications I’d seen, from napkins to the paper I use in my printer. As I visited with other volunteers, I learned that, due to its unique textures and colors, artisanal recycled paper sells at quite a premium, sometimes up to $2 per sheet for use in arts and crafts.

Clearly, with the help of volunteer labor and a captive group of customers (the same group of people), rePapel is on its way to scaling up a trifecta of impact: social, environmental and economic.


Day 5 of the Fathom Cruise: More English, More Impact

It is hard to believe that we’ve crossed off five days of a week on the Fathom impact cruise to the Dominican Republic. Today was the third day of impact activities in country and tomorrow will be the last, with this ship leaving port—with or without the passengers at 2:00 tomorrow.

Today, Gail, my wife, and I joined a group doing English mentoring in the community rather than in a school as we did yesterday. This turned out to be even more fun—and, I hope, more impactful.

A bus took us out to a community called Monterico, a village on the outskirts of Puerto Plata, the primary city here in the Northern part of the country. The ride was relatively short as compared with yesterday’s trip, giving us more opportunity to actually spend with people in the community.

Our time there was split into three sections. First, at a local community center we were led through a 20-minute introductory session, meeting with representatives from the homes we were to visit. We divided into small groups, each with one or two locals. From there, we walked a few blocks to the homes of the people we were to visit.

Mayelin was our host and she led us to her home where there were about eight people ready to learn English. Most had participated in a session the day before. Continuity was established with notebooks in which we could write notes not only to the student but more importantly to the next English mentor.

Gail, who speaks only a few words of Spanish, taught Mayelin herself and Miguelina, a neighbor. For Gail, this brought back pleasant memories of her 25-year teaching career. She enjoyed creating interactions between the girls, allowing them to teach each other—something she views as being more effective than teaching them herself. She felt that both girls learned something during our hour with them.

Mayelin, Gail Thorpe and Miguelina

Mayelin, Gail Thorpe and Miguelina

Miguelina did not have a notebook, suggesting that she had not been part of the program from the beginning—yesterday. Given the basic level of English we were doing, that represented no problem. It wasn’t clear to us, however, if she would be added formally to the program.

While Gail was teaching Mayelin and Miguelina, I worked with Miguelina’s grandmother Vicenta. She was an impressive student. While she didn’t pick up the language as quickly as the kids, she had a wonderful attention span—she made me jealous. Without having trained her adult attention span to expect new stimulation every few seconds by having a life dominated by competing screens, she was able to focus intently for the entire hour we spent together.



Today, we all focused on teaching the alphabet. Vicenta was able to master about half of the letters during our time together. She won’t likely progress at the same rate as the teenagers because of the difficulty of language learning at her—well, our—age. The system with the notebooks seems to anticipate and allow for those disparities, meaning that she should get the patient help she needs.
As I reflect on this program after a single exposure to it, it does some to have great potential. My biggest remaining concern is that meaningful English skills, that is those that will lead to meaningfully improved educational opportunities will require much more than the basic program contained in the 10-lesson program book. A few basic phrases, no matter how fully mastered, will not allow someone to qualify for employment in a public-facing role in the tourist industry—the best sorts of jobs in the community, especially now that Carnival has developed Amber Cove as a destination for its ships across all of its cruise lines.

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