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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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How This Social Entrepreneur Learned From Her International Development Experience

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

Sarina Prabasi, born in Nepal, and her husband, Elias Gurmu, born in Ethiopia, launched Buunni Coffee, selling fair-trade Ethiopian coffee in New York City. The enterprise, their social entrepreneurship and indeed their relationship, grew out of Prabasi's… Click To Tweet

Today, she serves as the CEO of WaterAid America, a position she assumed in 2014. With an annual budget of $7.1 million, the NGO is a leader in the “WASH” or water, sanitation and hygiene community. She’s spent a total of 20 years working in the field.

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

Prabasi reports that the organization was originally focused on clean water and has helped 24.9 million gain access to clean water. Another 24 million people have gained access to toilets and sanitation.

She says that the water issues in Flint, Michigan have helped Americans empathize with people around the world who lack access to clean water. “People who maybe previously weren’t able to connect to it in a personal way are able to connect to it because of the very unfortunate things that have happened here.”

Over the past several decades, WaterAid reports that about 2.6 billion people worldwide have gained access to clean water, representing dramatic progress toward solving the problem globally. Today, 663 million people still lack access to clean water.

WaterAid has a goal, consistent with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal number six, to see that everyone on the planet has access to clean water and sanitation by 2030. This seems achievable given the progress of the past several decades. The greatest challenge appears to be getting everyone access to sanitation.

The UN reports that as of 2015, 2.4 billion people lacked access to “an improved sanitation facility.” That’s a bureaucratic way of saying 2.4 billion people don’t have toilets.

Prabasi highlights the challenges that come from a lack of access to a toilet. She notes that regardless of the amount or quality of food, kids in communities without access to sanitation are so frequently sick with diarrhea that they are malnourished. “Nearly 900 children under the age of five die each day from diarrheal diseases caused by dirty water and poor sanitation.”

The problems resulting from a lack of sanitation disproportionately impact women and girls. Women are sometimes victims of sexual violence when they make late-night excursions to find a private place to defecate.

In addition, she says, “women and girls spend 40 billion hours a year collecting water for their families from water sources that are often remote and unsafe to drink.”

There are also health problems that result simply from “holding it,” she says.

The problem extends to public health facilities in the developing world, where Prabasi says she too often finds there is no running water and no toilet. One can only imagine the lack of hygiene in a clinic without these basic facilities.

Prabasi says progress is being made. “WaterAid and its local partners have helped two million people gain clean water, three million people gain toilets, and more than eight million people gain access to hygiene education” over the past year.

She says, she’s proud of the organization’s innovation. WaterAid helps “specifically by promoting vocational training, entrepreneurship, sanitation marketing and supply chain development.” Prabasi adds, “A great example of this can be found in the job skills training program that we’ve piloted with at-risk teens, and with former gang members in Nicaragua.”

Prabasi’s work with NGOs has clearly influenced her approach to entrepreneurship. When she launched Buunni Coffee in 2012, it was the city’s first Ethiopian coffee shop. “It was important to me to do something that would help New Yorkers go beyond the usual famine- and poverty-stricken images of Ethiopia by bringing a new perspective and a slice of the country’s rich coffee culture to NYC.”

“Formerly a shoe repair shop, I’m very proud of the fact that we’ve created a vibrant community space at Café Buunni that supports local writers and artists, hosts community events and ‘walks the talk’ of socially responsible business,” she concludes.

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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!

She Sold Her Home; What Would You Do For Your Nonprofit?

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

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

Jean Krisle sold her home, bought a 40-foot RV and hit the road for a year. What would you be… Click To Tweet

Krisle launched 10,000 Beds in 2014. The “beds” are addiction treatment beds, typically for 30 days, in treatment centers across the country. Her goal is to get 10,000 people in treatment by 2020.

In 2016, 10,000 Beds awarded more than $1 million of scholarship beds to people seeking treatment, she reports. And she expects to more than double that amount in 2017, having already received more applications in the first quarter of this year than she did in all of last year.

Watch the interview with Krisle at the top of this article.

She became focused on addition after seeing her own son become addicted and make a successful recovery. She says she is proud of Colin who took a fourth job trying to support his wife and four children when he ultimately became an alcoholic and addicted to cocaine.

She credits a “failed” family intervention with preventing Colin from committing suicide on his road to recovery. Today, Colin is in recovery. He’s gainfully employed and she says, “He’s never been happier.” Attending funerals for his friends who continue to struggle with addiction serves as a reminder for him to stay clean and sober.

Jean Krisle

Krisle explains the entrepreneurial genesis for the nonprofit. She says, “10,000 Beds is the result of my awareness of empty beds in nearly all treatment centers at some time each year, along with the keen awareness of so many seeking help but without resources. It was an equation that needed solving. 10,000 Beds was the answer.”

Working at this point with an all-volunteer model and donated beds, the organization hasn’t needed substantial resources. Krisle says, they are still largely dependent on individual donations and corporate sponsorships.

Abhilash Patel, co-founder of Recovery Brands and Rehabs.com, serves on the board of 10,000 Beds. He says of Krisle, “I was struck by her authenticity, passion the simple common sense of her vision for 10,000 beds. It makes absolute sense that treatment programs with unused capacity should be able to donate at least one bed per year to a deserving recipient.”

Travis Whittaker, Director of Client Outreach at Cold Creek Behavioral Health, a treatment facility that has participates in the 10,000 Beds initiative, says, “We decided to participate in 10,000 Beds, Inc because it is a great program which allows addicts who are seeking treatment, but don’t have insurance or other means to receive treatment on a scholarship basis.”

He adds, “I believe 10,000 Beds, Inc. will be successful because the addicts who are seeking treatment under this program desperately want recovery, are invested in the process of applying for a scholarship, and when receiving it realize it is a once in a lifetime opportunity to better their life.”

10,000 Beds RV

Krisle says the trip is intended to accomplish three goals:

  1. Raise more money, mostly via crowdfunding
  2. Bring attention to the issue
  3. Develop better relationships with treatment centers, including both those that have not yet committed to participate and those that have

Patel notes that the road trip is a fitting promotion for the young organization. “The RV represents exactly what 10,000 beds is all about: down-to-earth, practical reliability on the road across the entire country.”

Whittaker agrees. He says, “I believe Jean’s year long RV trip for 10,000 Beds, Inc will impact her work positively. She will be able to reach and spread awareness of her program to more treatment centers throughout the United States, thus allowing more addicts to receive help under the program.”

Patel is optimistic about the future of the organization, noting that, “The organization is very close to an inflection point – just a few more key supporters and the program will take off. Every ounce of support matters!”

Krisle seems willing to do whatever is required to make this work, to help address the country’s epidemic of addiction. This begs the question, what am I willing to do to make my social venture a success. What are you willing to do?

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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!

CEA Targets $800M of Solar Investment With New Partners

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


Clean Energy Advisors announced a major new financing that will take the firm from having invested about $140 million in solar energy projects to about $800 million. CEA President Scott Hill also notes that building on this success, the firm will establish a foundation to fund more charitable initiatives. (Watch or listen to my discussion with Scott using the players above.)Scott explains that the unnamed financing partners, two “multinational families,” have committed about $350 million. Combined with additional debt financing, the firm anticipates reaching $800 million in financed projects, “completing the pipeline of projects in North Carolina.” He anticipates that deploying the capital will take 18 to 24 months.

Scott explains that the unnamed financing partners, two “multinational families,” have committed about $350 million. Combined with additional debt financing, the firm anticipates reaching $800 million in financed projects, “completing the pipeline of projects in North Carolina.” He anticipates that deploying the capital will take 18 to 24 months.

He notes that the cost of installation for small utility scale projects is about $1.50 or $1.60 per watt, yielding a cost of about $1.5 million per megawatt. The new financing should allow CEA to install another 400 MW in North Carolina. He also notes that the scale they are achieving should allow the firm to look beyond their traditional structure where Duke Energy is the primary “off-taker” or buyer of the energy from the projects financed.

The new scale also creates an opportunity for CEO to increase its philanthropic efforts. Scott says the firm has started the process of creating a foundation that will fund charitable work. Last year, the firm backed nonprofits Reverb and Headcount to build support for environmental causes at 25 concerts across the country. Scott says they’ll be doing that again. “People who attend concerts have a natural affinity for nonprofits.”

Scott also hopes that the firm can use the foundation to fund solar projects in the developing world like putting solar panels on schools that don’t have access to the grid. He says the firm will donate its time to manage projects that the foundation funds and hopes donors will help them make a big impact.

The acceleration of the solar industry is creating a bright future for the world, both in the developing world and here in the developed world.

Scott Hill, courtesy of Clean Energy Advisors

Scott Hill, courtesy of Clean Energy Advisors

More about Clean Energy Advisors:

Twitter: @cleanenergyadv

Clean Energy Advisors (CEA) creates ownership opportunities for investors in utility scale solar energy projects that generate tax-advantaged predictable income, preserve capital, and have positive social and environmental impact.

Scott’s bio:

Twitter: @williamandhill

Scott Hill has over twenty years of entrepreneurial experience including a significant perspective on business start-ups and building successful small businesses. Mr. Hill has been with CEA since April 2014.

His duties include overseeing the firms family office, endowment, foundation, and UHNW client strategies. He has served as a panelist at US based family office conferences and enjoys speaking on impact investing, renewable energy opportunities, and the future of Solar PV worldwide.

Scott is a 1991 graduate of Columbia University and four year member of the football program. He lives near Nashville, TN with his wife and children. He’s also actively involved in his community and church.

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!

Research Center Works To Prove And Improve Impact Of Social Entrepreneurs

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

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

The Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab, commonly referred to as J-PAL, is based at MIT and seeks to reduce poverty by providing academic research on interventions by social entrepreneurs and others working in the space.

Quentin Palfrey, the executive director of J-PAL North America, worked for the Obama Administration before taking on the role at J-PAL. He notes that the center receives its funding from MIT and other philanthropic donors. The center has a staff of more than 30 full-time employees. He says, “J-PAL North America does not charge for services or generate sales revenue.”

J-PAL works on global poverty. J-PAL North America focuses on poverty in the United States.

A lawyer by training, Palfrey thinks about the work in terms of policy implications. The lessons from J-PAL may be more relevant to social entrepreneurs who may be betting more than some public funding on their ventures.

Quentin Palfrey, courtesy of J-PAL

“From low-income, first-time mothers in South Carolina; to teenagers living and attending school in the most dangerous neighborhoods of Chicago; to inmates struggling with substance use disorders in Kentucky, millions of people across the United States live in poverty and face incredible social challenges as a result,” Palfrey says.

The political climate demands evidence-based approaches to social problems, he says. “Increasingly, policymakers at the federal, state, and local levels are turning to rigorous evidence on what works and why to create policies designed to combat poverty, improve schools, promote health, and address other social issues.”

J-PAL’s primary tool is the randomized control trial or RCT, Palfrey says. “We catalyze and support randomized evaluations, communicate evidence to help translate research into action, and help policymakers build capacity to create and use rigorous evidence.”

Melissa Kearney, Professor of Economics at the University of Maryland and co-chair of the J-PAL State and Local Innovation Initiative, says that the goal is to understand how and why certain interventions are effective. “J-PAL is committed to replication, meaning if a research project demonstrates effectiveness of a particular intervention in one setting, that intervention should be implemented either the same way or with potential tweaks in another setting or with another population,” she says.

“This is a critical aspect to building evidence and to developing an understanding of how and under what circumstances a particular intervention delivers impact,” she adds.

Palfrey sees the pace of the work as its greatest challenge. “Policymakers often make crucial policy decisions based only on anecdote, status quo, or political belief. Replacing this process of creating policy with one based on scientific research can be slow. Moreover, policy priorities and approaches to governance can quickly shift with changes in administrations.”

Contentious politics make the J-PAL’s work more relevant than ever, he notes. “in today’s hyper-partisan political climate, evidence-based policymaking has garnered strong bipartisan support, and the movement for more efficient and effective governance continues to gain momentum.”

Palfrey notes that there are limitations to the center’s work as well. “The randomized controlled trial is an incredibly rigorous and powerful tool for evaluating whether social programs really work, but they are not always appropriate for every setting.”

He identified three specific limitations:

  1. In some cases, RCTs may not yield results as quickly as policymakers would like for decisions that require immediate evidence.
  2. It can be difficult to generalize results from one study to other contexts; for example, a summer jobs program that helps youth avoid violence in Chicago may not work in the same way in Philadelphia.
  3. In some cases, it might not be ethical to do a randomized controlled trial, for example when a program has the resources to serve everyone who is interested.

Kearney adds, “Too often the results of an evaluation are interpreted as a ‘verdict’ on an organization or a particular program. Instead, the social entrepreneurship community should recognize that this type of evidence building work is really an iterative process.”

She says sometimes social entrepreneurs just need to try again. “If a research project yields disappointing results about the impact of a particular program, depending on the circumstance, it might make sense to try to make incremental changes to the way that particular program is implemented and evaluate the revised implementation.”

Palfrey believes the work is a part of helping people out of poverty. “By transforming government and building a movement for evidence-based policy, we can help lift millions in the United States out of poverty. Committing to evidence-based policymaking will require innovating at every level of government and challenging the status quo. I’m confident that by doing so we can allocate our resources in a way that maximizes benefits for those who need it most.”

On Thursday, March 2, 2017 at 1:00 Eastern, Palfrey will join me here for a live discussion about J-PAL’s work and how it can be utilized by social entrepreneurs to increase their impact. 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.

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!

Entrepreneur Leverages Celebrities’ Influence For Charity

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

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

“If you do a gesture for charity, you should always make sure that it’s from not a press spin, but a natural, organic effort,” John Travolta said at the City Summit and Gala organized by social entrepreneur Ryan Long.

The City Gala held around the Grammys raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for charities, including Travolta’s own Jett Travolta Foundation, named for his son, who passed away in 2009.

Travolta said his interest in philanthropy began with Katrina. “It was organic. It really was. When Haiti happened, when Hurricane Katrina happened, I had a plane. Nobody was helping them. Why wouldn’t you do it?”

John Travolta with Philanthropist Dale Godboldo, courtesy of City Gala

He also made the case for transparency in charitable work, “Make clear where the money is going so no one ever questions it. You have to have an integrity because it is a known area that could be suspect. You have to have a lot of integrity about admitting and exposing how this gets displayed or distributed.”

Halle Berry, who delivered the keynote address at the Summit, said, “I’ve been an advocate of philanthropic efforts as long as I can remember—for most of my life.”

Berry offered advice for humanitarians, “My advice: take the media training that your team provides you! I recall so many times I’ve walked away from an interview and said to myself, ‘Now why did I say that?’ So prepare for your opportunities, but if you do that, the press can be a powerful way to share the programs you are passionate about.”

Halle Berry with Greg Reid on stage at the City Summit and Gala, courtesy of City Gala

Long has come a long way from his roots to be hobnobbing with the rich and famous.

The City Gala was first held in 2015 and this year expanded to include a full-day Summit. The 2017 event was held on February 11 and 12. This year Berry and Travolta delivered speeches. Quincy Jones was presented with an award. John Paul Dejoria, founder of Paul Mitchell and number 214 on the Forbes 400 list, also presented.

Long chose two charities as the primary beneficiaries of the Gala, “We are tremendously honored to present the 2017 program in support of the International Arts & Philanthropy Foundation (IAP), which provides funding in support of arts, education, early childhood development, as well as the Breed Life program which supports and facilitates the gift of life through live organ donation.”

Ryan Long, courtesy of City Gala

Jeff Timmons of the Grammy-nominated pop group 98 Degrees served as the emcee for the Gala.

City Gala is registered with the State of California Attorney General’s Registry of charitable trusts as a Commercial Fundraiser. Long says, “The entire mission and vision of the City Gala program is to bring business and entertainment heroes together united by their passion for overcoming hard obstacles and for supporting startup and not yet well-known philanthropic causes.”

The event included “a red carpet, silent auction, and a day-long set of presentations and panels by business luminaries from organizations such as NASA, Google, Virgin Galactic and many others,” Long says.

Long says the event was a big success, selling out and raising “hundreds of thousands” for charity. This despite the fact that the scheduled headline celebrity canceled in December due to a conflict, requiring Long and his team to scramble.

For 2018, the Grammys will be moving to New York City so the City Gala will move to Oscar weekend.

On Thursday, March 2, 2017 at noon Eastern, Long and Timmons will join me here for a live discussion about the event, its challenges and impact. 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.

Update March 9, 2017: After posting the article and conducting the interview posted above, a reader wrote to Forbes suggesting that Long donates only 5 percent of revenue collected at his events to charity and that he “pays off celebs and the ones that participate have no idea what they are walking in to.” The reader directed us to Rip Off Report where a variety of related accusations were made. In a rebuttal, Long acknowledged that as of February 2015, he was behind on his taxes and had filed for bankruptcy in 2010 as a result of the 2008 recession. He also acknowledged several arrests and criminal convictions. He also defended the legitimacy and success of past events, saying that $350,000 was donated to charity after the 2014 event.

In an email response, Long noted that his accuser is known to him. With respect to the money for charity, he says, “I lost money personally/professionally again this year… but managed to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for the charitable organizations. After years of trying/failing/trying failing, I have evolved and know that it’s simply a matter of time before visions/reality becomes true.”

Dale Godboldo, founder of International Arts and Philanthropy, said by email in response to an inquiry, “IAPF/Breed Life did receive funds from the event and according to our agreements.”

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!

 

 

Reverb Is Making The Live Music Industry Greener

Clean Energy Advisors is a sponsor.

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

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.

Adam Gardner, courtesy of Reverb

Adam Gardner, courtesy of Reverb

More about Reverb:

Twitter: @reverbrocks

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’s bio:

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.

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 Collaboration Raised Over $1M For Charity

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

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

Collaboration is a word that gets thrown around a lot more than it actually happens. Pledgeling, a small social enterprise, proved the power of collaboration when it signed Evite as a customer and delivered over $1 million in donations in the first year.

Pledgeling is a mobile-centric donation processing company with fifteen employees. CEO James Citron says the company hopes to double the staff within 18 months.

He rattles off early milestones:

  • Powered over 30,000 fundraising campaigns
  • Raised $3 million in donations for 4,000 nonprofits
  • Had 10,000 nonprofits join their network
  • Sold 40 customers who license their software
  • Process “hundreds of thousands” of dollars of donations monthly

Pledgeling is not yet profitable but has 90 percent gross margins, giving it the potential to reach profitability as it scales.

Evite, the collaboration partner, provides digital party invitations. Lots of them. CEO Victor Cho says the company has sent over 2 billion event invitations. The company now sends about 20,000 invitations every hour and has over 100 million annual users. It is a subsidiary of Liberty Ventures Group (NASDAQ: LVNTA, LVNTB). Evite, Cho says, generates most of its revenue from advertising.

Jennifer Young, Global Director of Social Impact Programs, at Pearson, led the implementation of Pledgeling tools at Pearson. She explains why Pearson moved forward with the Pledgeling implementation. “Now more than ever, people are looking online for opportunities to contribute to good causes. That’s a major reason why as part of our campaign at Pearson to raise awareness and inspire action around the global illiteracy crisis, we have elevated online fundraising as our major call to action.”

Shifting demographics as well as technology influence consumer demand, Young says. “We know that Millennials, in particular, are more likely to promote causes across social media and so by integrating Pledgeling’s digital platform into our campaign, we have made it easy for younger advocates – no matter how small their giving potential – to join our movement and contribute in a concrete way.”

Evite was eager to collaborate with Pledgeling, Cho says. “Our users were asking for this functionality.”

Victor Cho, courtesy of Evite

Citron agrees, noting that consumers are more aware of brands’ social impact. “Consumers today increasingly expect brands to align with their purpose and use their business to make a positive impact on the world. Customers will switch to a competitor based on brand values – just look at the #deleteuber movement, which catapulted Lyft into a top 5 app within 48 hours because consumers make choices by their values.”

“In fact, 90% of consumers will choose a brand that gives back over one that doesn’t,” Citron adds.

Cho describes the how the collaboration works for the customer. “With Evite Donations Powered by Pledgeling, we are first and foremost making the process of giving easier–just a couple clicks. Also, importantly, we are offering this service in a way that does not charge a transaction fee.”

The Evite Donations allow Evite users to add a donation option to invites, Cho says. “Whether it is a child who wants to raise money for a charity instead of getting another pile of birthday gifts or a couple who would rather have friends support a favorite cause than bringing hostess gifts or wine, it’s in people’s nature to give. We are just making it simpler for them to do so as seamless part of the event process, and in a way that maximizes their gift.”

Young, who has followed the Pledgeling-Evite collaboration says, “I was really excited when I first learned of the Pledgeling and Evite partnership because of the potential it has to advance the reach of charitable giving through the simple act of connecting people to good causes through the major milestones in our lives – whether it’s a birthday, a wedding or an anniversary.”

Cho says the response to the new feature has been overwhelmingly positive but it hasn’t been without challenges. “Some hosts don’t want their guests to feel pressured or somehow expected to donate,” he says. “Some guests are still compelled to give physical gifts instead of donations.”

“At this point in time, we aren’t yet at a place as a society where giving a donation is widely accepted etiquette in lieu of gifts,” Cho notes.

Citron says that the Evite collaboration is a great example of the success their having, but notes that no single solution will work for customers of all sizes. “we are developing a variety of turnkey tools to roll out soon for smaller, mid-market businesses to make it easier to achieve their goals in ways that are different from our larger, enterprise business customers.”

Pearson’s Young believes the key to the Pledgeling’s success will be to leverage the growth of purpose-driven companies, helping them to frictionlessly connect their customers with causes they care about.

Cho is excited about where the Pledgeling-Evite collaboration will go in time. “We are helping people do good when they get together and the response from our users has been incredible. We’ve had a great start to this partnership and we expect to grow the amount of charitable donations raised exponentially in the coming years. Even the smallest donations can add up to make a tremendous positive impact on the world. It’s very exciting!”

Citron also has grand expectations. “Our vision for the future is that every business will fulfill its purpose through an authentic giving strategy that helps them grow, builds loyalty from their customers and employees, and makes a positive impact on the world.”

On Thursday, February 9, 2017 at noon Eastern, Citron and Cho will join me here for a live discussion about the collaboration’s success and its implications for the future. 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.

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!

Why This Founder Thinks She Can Make A Good Educational Kid’s Game

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

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

Lindsey Tropf, CEO and founder of Immersed Games, is working with her team to create a massively multiplayer online role-playing game that is as entertaining as World of Warcraft and as educational as school.

Their core product is Tyto Online, is expected to launch soon. One module of the game, Tyto Ecology, is available for sale and has generated $140,000 of revenue to date. This module is a single-player game that has sold 18,000 units.

The Immersed Games team includes 13 full-time staff members plus others working from a “local labor grant.” The startup isn’t yet profitable, but does generate 70 percent gross margins on sales today and expects to ramp that up with volume.

Tropft isn’t just playing around; she’s serious about education. In fact, she’s a doctoral candidate in the School Psychology at the University of Florida.

She says, “We aren’t just creating a video game, we’re creating a learning and inspiration platform. As we grow our content, the long-term vision means that students from eight years old and up can explore a game world with access to learning almost anything they want. They might stumble across some physics quests that spark a passion for the subject.”

She hopes to create something of a bridge from the game to the real world. “Then we suggest an activity on our Learning Dashboard that helps them apply that in the real world and realize that all these skills they’ve been learning actually generalize. This is why I think of us as having the potential to be a learning and inspiration platform for a generation of gamers.”

Tropf sites some interesting statistics. She says, “Young children spend 78% of their screen time doing educational content, but as they get older, that drops drastically. Children eight to 10 only spend 27% of their time in content that parents consider at least somewhat educational.”

She says the reason is pretty simple. Older kids say educational games aren’t fun.

“We’re creating a game that teaches but also plays like a real game– because it is! Tyto Online is an MMORPG, a massively multiplayer online role-playing game, which is a game like World of Warcraft,” she says. “Instead of killing boars and collecting hides for quests, you’re doing things like looking for evidence about if something is an invasive species that you can then transplant out and save the local ecosystem.”

Lindsey Tropf, courtesy of Immersed Games

She notes the design of the game is different from most educational content in two ways. “First, we’re social! As an online game, we can enable unique and emergent types of gameplay that wouldn’t be possible in a single game. For example, we’re planning on teaching entrepreneurship and enabling players to sell to other players in the game, purchase kiosks and advertising, etc. in a real marketplace in the game with live people.”

“Second,” she says, “we’re unified. We’re putting all our content into one single game so that we can retain a player for a long period of time and lead to many learning opportunities (and recurring revenue for a sustainable business model).”

Immersed Games participated in Intel’s Education Accelerator, a four-month, in-residence program for EdTech start-ups that is run jointly by Intel Education and Intel Capital. The selective program draws promising candidates from a “large worldwide” applicant pool, according to Elizabeth Broers, Director, Public Sector Thought Leadership & Intel Education Accelerator.

Broers says, “By applying the foundational concepts of engaging gameplay with 21st-century learning skills, Immersed Games have created worlds where kids can dive in and start creating. The team at Immersed Games created a platform where the learners are treated as gamers but learning as if they were in the classroom.”

She adds, “The learners are creating biomes, learning the concepts of ecology in a fun, game-like environment. Additionally, Immersed Games is also incorporating Next Generation Science Standards and creative problem solving into all their products.”

Tropf says that funding has been one of the greatest challenges so far. Game development happens before the revenue starts, she points out. “In order to build just our first module of content, we had to build the entire networking infrastructure, most of the main game systems, and an entire toolset for content development.”

Today, she worries more about what’s coming. “I’m most concerned about optimizing our tools and workflow so we can create content as quickly as possible to make sure we have a large set of learning opportunities in the game world. And of course making sure those experiences generate a really engaging gameplay experience.”

She also worries about user acquisition. “Our first game sold pretty well on Steam, but that’s mainly ‘core’ gamers — 18-35-year-old men, and isn’t the right fit for Tyto Online, so we’re pursuing testing new channels and messaging with parents and kids themselves.”

There are limitations to how far the game can go in approaching the learning environment in school. Tropf explains, that in the game, players may be challenged to figure out why some jackrabbits are getting sick and propose a solution. “An excellent teacher can make this completely open-ended where students can present an unlimited amount of solutions and work through it, while in the game setting, we do have to pre-design this and code it in, so we naturally have a more limited amount of solutions.”

Tropf acknowledges another limitation is that the game can’t put students into the real world. “There’s the risk that students may not generalize their learning and realize they can apply these outside of the game world if they only learn in a game. We’re working to address this with our web-based Learning Dashboard.”

“Our long-term goal is to think of this as an inspiration platform. Students can play for years as they learn across many areas of content, being exposed to new subjects and digging deep into complex systems for their favorites, like mastering building ecosystems,” Tropf says.

Broers is optimistic about the company’s prospects. “Immersed Games has a huge opportunity in front of them and we look forward to watching them grow and expand Tyto Online into additional STEAM areas. As with any start-up, it’s all about how quickly they can execute but they have a talented group with a clear mission and the momentum is with them.”

On Thursday, February 2, 2017 at 1:00 Eastern, Tropf will join me here for a live discussion about the startup’s game development and strategies for distribution. 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.

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!

Artificial Intelligence Is Now Ready For Social Entrepreneurs

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

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

The University of Southern California has recently created the Center on Artificial Intelligence for Social Solutions or CAISS, specifically to develop uses of artificial intelligence–AI–for use cases of interest to social entrepreneurs.

The Center is a collaboration between the USC Viterbi School of Engineering and the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work. Eric Rice, an Associate Professor from the School of Social Work, has been tapped to lead CAISS.

The potential for AI to be an effective tool for entrepreneurs with no background in technology is confirmed by Rice himself. When asked about his LinkedIn profile URL, he acknowledged not only that he doesn’t have one, but also said, “I’m a bit of a Luddite.

Eric Rice, courtesy of USC

The Center has gathered commitments of $3 million for its launch. The two partner schools put up much of that money with additional funding from private partners. CAISS has an annual operating budget of $500,000 and has only one full-time staff person. The Center itself is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit.

Leading the new Center is as close to entrepreneurship as Rice admits getting, though as an academic he is entirely focused on social good.

Rice explains that the Center is looking at two particular sets of social problems. The first set is the “Grand Challenges for Social Work” established by American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare. These twelve challenges are focused on social issues facing the United State. The other set is the Sustainable Development Goals or SDGs established by the United Nations in 2015 as goals for poverty reduction by 2030, primarily focused on the developing world.

One of the first projects the Center has undertaken is developing an AI tool to identify peer leaders among Los Angeles County’s homeless youth. By better identifying peer leaders, they can spread information about AIDS infection and prevention more rapidly. Their initial study showed success in increasing the number of youth who were getting tested for HIV.

Alison Hurst, the founder and executive director of a Safe Place for Youth, admits she hasn’t given much thought to how AI can be used to serve the homeless youth her organization is charged with helping. “I just know that we need to use all the tools in the bag to understand the interventions needed as our social problems keep growing,” she says.

The Center is one of the first places that AI engineers and social scientists have come together. Rice points out that “AI lets you model the messiness of the real world so you can probabilistically figure out how to proceed.”

Eric Rice, courtesy of USC

One of the partners in the youth project is called My Friend’s Place, which is led by Executive Director Heather Carmichael, LCSW. She notes the potential for both financial and social benefits from implementing AI tools. “My Friend’s Place is doing amazing work with 1,500 youth experiencing homelessness every year,” she says.

“With limited resources and the breadth and complexity of the young people’s needs, it is our obligation to pursue knowledge, support and interventions that will reach the greatest number of youth,” she continues. “Imagine, if AI can help us identify 1 of the 100 youth we serve daily as a potential peer leader, we can expedite an invitation to health education and peer leadership programming, and ultimately ‘produce’ peer leaders socially positioned for the greatest impact!”

Rice observes that one of the biggest challenges the Center faces is getting the engineers and the social scientists speaking the same language. “Their way of thinking is very mathematical. Our way of thinking isn’t,” he says. “We had problems because we weren’t speaking the same language.”

That challenge also is the key to AI’s promise, Rice says. ” They ask each other questions they’ve never heard before .” This creates opportunities for answers they’ve never given before.

Not all social problems appear to lend themselves to AI applications, Rice acknowledges. Mental illness is an example he sees where AI interventions may be a long way off.

He insists, however, that AI has great potential for solving social problems and points at the success with the youth program. AI helps social scientists see unlikely outcomes, in contrast to traditional statistical models that help us see how the average person sees average problems.

Barbara Grosz, Higgins Professor of Natural Sciences in Harvard’s Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, also collaborates on the youth project in LA County. She is optimistic about the collaboration’s promise to help solve social problems.

“AI has the potential to support significantly, and in diverse ways, the work of people who are addressing social problems,” Grosz says. “For it to succeed in doing so, though, requires the combined efforts of those with expertise in AI and people whose expertise in the social sciences and policy give them a deep understanding of these social problems, their roots, and the key characteristics of approaches that are likely to work.”

She also highlighted the contributions of Rice’s co-founder, Milind Tambe. She adds, “It needs sufficient support to enable their work.”

While the collaborations have yet to create consumer products, it is clear that the Center’s work could now begin to complement efforts of social entrepreneurs with sufficient backing from impact investors to develop new tools for addressing social problems.

On Thursday, February 2, 2017 at 4:00 Eastern, Rice will join me here for a live discussion about using AI for solving social problems. 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.

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 To Create A Successful Corporate Social Responsibility Program

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

Why do some corporate social responsibility programs seem to backfire? There are lots of reasons, but University of Kansas Assistant Professor Jessica Li recently published a paper that explains why some do.

Her research shows that people in some countries have distinct reactions to two companies engaging in the same behavior when one of the companies is foreign and the other domestic.

Jessica has provided us with three tips for creating a corporate social responsibility program that works.

1. Consumer attributions are key.

It is important to understand that CSR is not always perceived positively by consumers. Consumers make attributions about why a company is engaging in CSR, ant these attributions influence their attitudes and behaviors.

2. Know your audience.

Consumers with collectivistic orientation make more altruistic CSR attributions for a domestic versus a foreign firm. Thus, the same CSR behavior performed by a foreign company will be perceived less positively than if it were performed by a domestic company in countries like South Korea or India.

3. Be authentic.

It’s important to show collectivistic consumers that you genuinely care about the cause. Biases against foreign companies can be minimized if the foreign company shows that it authentically cares about the cause, such as by engaging in CSR for a long time.

Jessica Li, courtesy of the University of Kansas

Jessica Li, courtesy of the University of Kansas

There is nothing worse for a CSR professional than to invest in a program that causes a negative consumer response. The money and effort feel wasted. Despite the responsibility of the company to do good, making that good profitable makes it infinite. These tips can help companies avoid CSR disasters.

On Thursday, February 2, 2017 at 2:00 Eastern, Jessica will join me here for a live discussion about making corporate social responsibility program work around the world. 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 the University of Kansas:

Twitter: @KUnews

Since its founding, the University of Kansas has embodied the aspirations and determination of the abolitionists who settled on the curve of the Kaw River in August 1854. Their first goal was to ensure that the new Kansas Territory entered the union as a free state. Another was to establish a university.

Map showing the location of KU campuses

Today, KU has become a major public research and teaching institution of 28,401 students and 2,600 faculty on five campuses (Lawrence, Kansas City, Overland Park, Wichita, and Salina). Its diverse elements are united by their mission to educate leaders, build healthy communities, and make discoveries that change the world.

Jessica’s bio:

Jessica Li received a Ph.D. in Social Psychology from Arizona State University and a B.S. in Biology and Society from Cornell University. Broadly, Jessica’s research focuses on the role of emotions and motivations on consumer behavior. Due to her interdisciplinary background and desire to understand decision making from multiple perspectives, she often integrates theoretical principles from psychology, economics, and biology in her work. For example, one line of research investigates how fundamental motives, such as protecting oneself from physical threat or caring for one’s kin, affects financial decisions including risk-taking, present bias, and diversification. Another line of research takes an interpersonal approach to understanding displayed emotions on consumer judgment and decision-making. As social beings, humans make quick and spontaneous judgments from fleeting cues like an employee’s emotional expression. Jessica’s work has been published in journals such as the Journal of Consumer Research, the Academy of Management Journal, the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Psychological Science, and the Journal of Consumer Psychology. Jessica teaches Integrated Marketing Communications at the undergraduate and MBA levels. In addition, she has taught a Ph.D. seminar in Consumer Behavior and a practicum in Promotional Plan Development. She is currently developing an online MBA course in IMC.

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!

 

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