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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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Interview

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The Painful Story Of A Reluctant Social Entrepreneur

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

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

Kelli Kelley is a reluctant social entrepreneur.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So she did.

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

Kelli Kelley, Hand to Hold

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

 

How Seeing The Nonprofit As A Business Helps Smile Train Grow

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Susannah Schaefer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Never miss another interview! Join Devin here!

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

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

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tricia Compas-Markman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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!

Journalist Virtually Resurrects Homeless Man



Justin Huggard died last December.  In April, the Deseret News ran a 4,000-word story about him. The remarkable thing was not that the News took four months to write his obituary, rather it was that they wrote anything at all.

Justin was homeless. Addicted. Invisible.

While he died on Main Street in the heart of downtown Salt Lake City; his passing was so anonymous that even those good-hearted activists who track the casualties of homelessness each year missed his death. At the annual vigil for the homeless who die in Salt Lake, the names of the year’s victims are read, remembered and honored fleetingly. But not Justin.

Daphne Chen, a reporter for the News worked four months on the story, stalking family and friends on Facebook, piecing together the life story of Justin Huggard. In a sense, she resurrected Justin so that he could be remembered as the human being he was.

Daphne made Justin into a proxy for the homeless people living and dead in our community.

Writing a story like this is difficult, on many levels. As Daphne points out, “There are no press releases when Justin Huggard dies.”

Daphne acknowledged that she didn’t expect the story to be so emotionally difficult–she’s covered tragedies many times in the past. “It started as this gray, plastic box of ashes.” But as she took Justin from an anonymous homeless man to a full-fledged human being with a family, friends, a kind personality and a history, she began to feel a sense of loss.

Daphne works on the “In Depth” beat for the Deseret News, so she works on stories for months, several at a time. While working on Justin’s story she was also working on a story about Utah’s mental health hospital. Patients assigned to the hospital by the courts often wait for five or six months for placement. Some die in the interim.

At the same time, the paper assigned Daphne to cover the controversial firing and re-hiring of the CEO of the Huntsman Cancer Institute and the subsequent firing of the CEO of the University of Utah Medical Center followed by the resignation of the President of the University of Utah. Daphne wasn’t bored looking for things to do.

Daphne Chen, Deseret News

Daphne Chen, Deseret News

Daphne, originally from Dallas, Texas, has been with the News for one and a half years. She previously reported from New York and North Carolina where she covered crime, health and education.

The key to the Justin Huggard story was Aimee Rolfe, a friend of Justin who was eager to help Daphne find the family and tell the story. They had shared a great deal together, including struggles with drugs. While Justin struggled with alcohol and “some heroin,” Aimee’s nemesis was meth. With her help, the story came alive.

Ultimately, Daphne told Justin’s story too late for anyone to do anything for him. But that isn’t the point. Daphne Pulitzer-caliber story didn’t just “give a voice to the voiceless” but also changed our understanding of who those experiencing homelessness are: human beings with families, friends and hopes who are suffering a life and death trauma in plain sight.

New Site Is ‘Like Match.com For Lawyers’

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

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

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

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

Felicity Conrad, Paladin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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!

Woman Tallies 1.5M Births And 5M Prevented

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

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

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

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

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

Leslie Heyer, Cycle Technologies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

Report Asks Investors To Respect Human Rights On Clean Energy Projects

This post was originally produced for Forbes

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

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

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

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

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

Andrea Armeni, Executive Director of Transform Finance

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

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

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

Meredith Benton

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

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

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

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

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

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!

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Erik Melang, courtesy of Distributive Solar

Erik Melang, courtesy of Distributive Solar

More about Distributive Solar:

Twitter: @distrsolar

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

Erik’s bio:

Twitter: @espmel

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

Never miss another interview! Join Devin here!

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

How Impact Investors Are ‘Starting In The Wrong Place’

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mara Bolis, Oxfam America

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This ‘Tornado Of Energy’ Is Revamping Education In Liberia

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Katie Meyler

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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