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


This Young Social Entrepreneur Hopes To Save 1M Babies

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

Jane Chen’s Embrace Innovations, a laureate of the 2012 Tech Awards and winner of the 2015 Laureate Impact Award, is working to save 1 million babies over the next five years.

Chen explains why so many babies are at risk, “Each year, 15,000,000 babies are born preterm; more than 1,000,000 of those babies will die. This is largely due to poor healthcare available in developing countries. Many of these deaths are preventable. Unfortunately, a prevalent number of hospitals simply cannot afford the high cost of current incubators and are in dire need of a low cost alternative. In addition, many of these births occur in rural areas, where electricity may not even be an option so a sustainable solution is needed.”

Enter Embrace Innovations.

“We have created a low cost, sustainable infant warmer that keeps preterm babies at an optimal body temperature. It works without constant need of electricity, making it ideal for rural areas in developing countries and has already saved over 150,000 babies. In order to help save more babies and reach our 1,000,000 baby goal, we have created a unique US commercial line of baby products called Little Lotus that will help save a vulnerable baby with the Embrace infant warmer for every Little Lotus baby product sold. Little Lotus baby products are well-designed and technologically innovative, so this allows people to help their babies rest at a comfortable temperature and also help make a collective difference in developing countries,” Chen says.

Chen is already making great progress toward her vision of a world where preterm babies don’t die for a lack of basic care. She says, “We envision saving millions of preterm babies worldwide with the Embrace infant warmer and through the 1:1 model with Little Lotus. We are also working on launching more innovative products to bring to the market to help reduce infant and maternal mortality.”

On Thursday, November 19, 2015 at 1:00 Eastern, Chen will join me for a live discussion about her work to save 1 million babies per year. Tune in here then to watch the interview live. Post questions in the comments below or tweet questions before the interview to @devindthorpe.

More about Embrace Innovations:

Twitter: @EmbraceInnov @littlelotusbaby

Embrace Innovations is a social enterprise startup that aims to create innovative products to improve the health and well-being of infants all over the world. Our first product, the Embrace infant warmer, was created to help the 15 million premature and low birth-weight babies born every year. The Embrace infant warmer costs about 1% of a traditional incubator and works without constant electricity, making it suitable for developing countries. To date, the Embrace infant warmer has helped over 150,000 babies.

Embrace Innovations recently created a consumer line of baby products called Little Lotus, which uses NASA inspired technology to keep babies at a perfect temperature. The line includes baby swaddles, sleeping bags and blankets that utilizes similar technology to the Embrace infant warmer, which help keep babies at an ideal body temperature. The product has a 1:1 model: for every Little Lotus baby product sold, a vulnerable baby will be helped in the developing country by the Embrace infant warmer. The goal is to help save the lives of 1,000,000 preterm infants around the world with the Embrace infant warmer, with the help of Little Lotus. It’s a way for parents to care for their babies, and it’s a way for families with the resources to help make an enormous difference in the lives of those less fortunate.

Jane Chen, courtesy of Embrace Innovations.

Jane Chen, courtesy of Embrace Innovations.

Chen’s bio:

Twitter: @janemariechen

Jane Marie Chen is the co-founder and CEO of Embrace Innovations, which is estimated to have helped over 150,000 babies to date. Prior to Embrace, Chen worked with nonprofit organizations on healthcare issues in developing countries. She spent several years as the Program Director of a startup HIV/AIDS nonprofit in China (Chi Heng Foundation) and worked for the Clinton Foundation’s HIV/AIDS Initiative in Tanzania. She also worked at Monitor Group as a management consultant, advising Fortune 500 companies. Chen has been a TED Speaker, and was selected as one of Forbes’ Impact 30 in 2011. In 2011, Chen was also recognized as the Inspirational Young Alumni of the Year by Pomona College, and was the keynote speaker at Stanford’s Women in Management event. She is featured in Stanford’s “Tradition of Innovation,” and speaks at various international conferences, including the Skoll World Forum and World Economic Forum. In 2012, Chen was named as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum, and was featured in Dove’s “Real Role Models” campaign for women and girls. Chen is a TED Senior Fellow, Echoing Green Fellow, and Rainer Arnhold Fellow. In 2013, Chen and the other co-founders of Embrace were awarded the prestigious Economist Innovation Award, under the category of Social and Economic Innovation. In the same year, Chen and her co-founder were also recognized as Schwab Social Entrepreneurs of the Year by the World Economic Forum.

Branson’s Virgin Unite Launches ‘100% Human At Work’

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

Virgin Unite describes itself as the “entrepreneurial foundation” of Richard Branson’s Virgin Group. It is a registered nonprofit and the part of Virgin focused on social impact. Branson, not typically labeled a social entrepreneur, sure seems to be one.

Recently, I’ve connected with Virgin Unite President Jean Oelwang to learn more about the organization and about its work.

A quick perusal of the website will tell you that Branson is concerned about a wide range of social issues from the oceans, to youth unemployment and homelessness, and from AIDS and TB to rural transportation for health workers (motorbikes).

Oelwang is championing a new initiative that addresses broad, global issues, called 100% Human at Work” led by The B Team, a global nonprofit incubated by Virgin Unite.

“We live in a world in which change is happening faster than ever: environmental pressures, population growth, massive advancements in technology, and significant shifts in the demographic of the workforce to name just a few,” Oelwang says.

“This has inevitably sparked changes in the ways in which we work and people’s aspirations and desires for their work are also shifting. This is an amazing opportunity for companies to be at the forefront of change and to start to build purpose-driven organizations that prioritize people and planet alongside profit,” she adds.

Oelwang explains, “The B Team’s vision of the future is a world in which the purpose of business is to become a driving force for social, environmental and economic benefit. Its mission is to help develop a ‘Plan B’ that puts people and planet alongside profit. Plan A – where companies have been driven by the profit motive alone – is no longer acceptable.”

“One area that the B Team is focusing on is the way in which businesses treat their employees. The B Team has developed an initiative called ’100% Human at Work’ which was driven by the belief that it is time for businesses to stop looking at people as resources and to start seeing them as human beings,” Oelwang continues.

She says, “We have also collaborated to identify the five elements that define a 100% Human company: Respect, Equality, Growth, Belonging, Purpose.”

“Through partnerships and collaborations we also want to inspire business for the next generation, so that together we can make our workplaces 100% Human. We want to turn work upside down to become a place where people can contribute to society, the planet, their company and to their own personal growth,” Oelwang concludes.

On Thursday, November 19, 2015 at Oelwang will join me for a live discussion about building a “100% Human” company. Tune in here then to watch the interview live. Post questions in the comments below or tweet questions before the interview to @devindthorpe.

More about Virgin Unite:

Twitter: @virginunite

Virgin Unite, the entrepreneurial foundation of the Virgin Group. We unite people and entrepreneurial ideas to create opportunities for a better world. We believe disruption is at the heart of entrepreneurial thinking – to defy the status quo and turn challenges into opportunities.

How do we do it?

  1. We shine a spotlight on unacceptable issues and great entrepreneurial approaches. Using the strength of the Branson family and the brand’s convening power, we leverage our 53m customers, 20m social media followers, and 65,000 Virgin staff, to raise awareness of and take action around important issues.
  2. We create disruptive collaborations. We bring together the best people and organisations from all sectors to change business for good, protect the planet (and beyond!) and create better global governance.
  3. We empower entrepreneurs to change business for good. We help them get the skills, support and funding access they need to succeed, while showing how to put people and planet alongside profit at the heart of their business.

In all that we do, we are uniting a powerful global community of entrepreneurs, philanthropists, and inspirational leaders, who share our belief that entrepreneurial ideas, together with the right people, can create change around the world. Why not take a closer look at what we’ve done over the last 10 years!

Our overheads are covered by Richard Branson and the Virgin Group, meaning that 100% of all donations received go directly to the frontline.


Oelwang’s bio:

Twitter: @jeanoelwang

Jean Oelwang is President and a Trustee of Virgin Unite, the entrepreneurial foundation of the Virgin Group.. In 2003, Jean left her post as joint CEO of Virgin Mobile Australia to begin working with Richard Branson and the Virgin staff from around the world to create Virgin Unite. Over the last 12 years, Jean has worked with partners to create new approaches to social and environmental issues, such as the Branson Centres of Entrepreneurship and a global platform to support budding entrepreneurs. She has helped incubate a number of global leadership initiatives such as The Elders, the Carbon War Room, The B Team and Ocean Unite. In addition, Jean has been instrumental in working with Virgin’s businesses and others worldwide to put driving positive change at their core.

In her previous life, Jean lived and worked on six continents helping to lead successful mobile phone start-ups in South Africa, Columbia, Bulgaria, Singapore, Hong Kong, Australia and the US.

Jean has long explored the overlap of the business and social sectors and has been involved in both, having worked for the Foundation for National Parks and Wildlife in Australia, and in numerous volunteer roles, including a stint as a VISTA volunteer where she worked with – and learned from – homeless teens in Chicago.

She sits on the Advisory Council for The Elders and the Boards of the Carbon War Room, Ocean Unite, Ocean Elders and Just Capital. She is also a Senior Partner in the B Team.

Report From Haiti: Change Enough Lives And You May Change A Country

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

This is the third in a series of articles from Haiti.

Wilkins Jeangilles was raised in Port-au-Prince by parents who didn’t have the luxury of feeding him every morning before school. That didn’t stop Jeangilles from finishing at the top of his high school class. College, as it is for most Haitians, regardless of their talent and intellect, was virtually out of the question for Jeangilles. Even if he had started, he would likely have been like the majority of Haitians who start at one of the local universities but never graduate. Then along came an organization called HELP.

“With HELP, it was like I was studying in another country with computers, internet, books—everything!”

After graduation, he went to work as the finance officer for Trocaire, an Irish NGO here in the “Republic of NGOs.” About a year later, HELP itself came calling. Having lost their finance director, they asked him to apply for the position. Despite knowing him well, HELP put him through a thorough screening process.

Wilkins Jeangilles, photo by Devin Thorpe.

Deputy Country Director, Amber Walsh, says Wilkins is among the very best students to ever complete the program.

Jeangilles, who confidently describes himself as “humble,” believes he’d have entered and finished college even without the HELP scholarship. HELP provides housing, tuition, books, and a cash stipend for food and incidentals make sure the students can focus on learning. HELP also provides supplemental curricula in leadership, English and computer literacy. While the question of whether he’d have entered and finished college without HELP is actually impossible to answer, the odds are clear. With only 1 percent of high school students entering college and only a fraction of those graduating, it is highly unlikely that Jeangilles would be where he is today without HELP.

In the 1990s, Garry Delice, the Country Director for HELP, was the headmaster at the Louverture Cleary School, a remarkable Catholic boarding school for underprivileged kids that will figure in tomorrow’s report from Haiti, as well, when the founding story for HELP begins.

HELP Founder, Conor Bohan, was working as a volunteer instructor there at the school, when one of the most remarkable students, Isemonde Joseph, famously asked Bohan for about $30 so she could apply to secretarial school. He enquired to learn if that was really what she wanted, only to learn that she really wanted to go to medical school but didn’t have the money. Bohan raised the money to help her cover the relatively modest school fees.

Amber Walsh and Garry Delice. Photo by Devin Thorpe.

Amber Walsh and Garry Delice. Photo by Devin Thorpe.

Delice says he remembers Joseph well. She was a natural leader. He met her in 1993, a few years before she was to graduate and ask Bohan for help. She came to Delice, he says, complaining about the quality of the food at the school, which he agrees was substandard. She organized all of the students to individually approach the cook to ask for better food. It worked, he says, and he never forgot her leadership.

At the same time Jospeh approached Bohan, Delice was approached by another student with a similar request. Delice says he and Bohan split the responsibilities. From that early generosity, Bohan built HELP. He lived and worked in Haiti running the nonprofit until about 2008, when he returned to live in the states and focus on fundraising there. Delice joined full time in 2006, giving Bohan the ability to return.

Jeangilles, the young HELP graduate and HELP finance manager, success story isn’t just prospering. He’s recently married, noting that because of his Christian faith, “we didn’t even kiss before getting married.” He credits his self-discipline for his success, explaining that everyone in his high school was focused on sex and that he was focused on his studies instead. This year, he father passed away. He now supports his mother and younger siblings. HELP’s impact is far reaching.

Snaicah Sainval, photo by Devin Thorpe.

Snaicah Sainval, photo by Devin Thorpe.

Snaicah Sainval, a current student in the HELP program working on a degree in agronomy at Quisqueya University who is shy and reserved, is the first in her family to go to college; her parents didn’t graduate from high school. She is unequivocal; without HELP, she would not be in college, there simply wouldn’t be money.

She appreciated the selection process. A group of students about two- or three-fold the size of those to be admitted into the program, are invited to “orientation.” A misnomer, really, the three-week summer camp is focused on selection over orientation. The residential program is designed to see which students have the temperament for success in the program.

In a foreshadowing of their first year experience, students at the orientation are required to do some community service, always include some street cleaning. Because cleaning streets is relegated customarily to the least educated in Haiti it is a key test of wills to see who will enthusiastically pick up a broom and go to work at the menial task in order to gain admission to college that would normally mean never having to do that again. During orientation, the staff and students are monitoring the candidates to see which are ready for the HELP program.

During the first year of the program, students like Sainval, are required to organize a year-long service learning project. Typically these require some sort of physical work, like cleaning the streets. The goal however, is not just to develop a community spirit, but to give the students an opportunity manage and plan resources in an easy to understand context. Most have never had the opportunity to develop real leadership skills before.

Walsh, a Yale MBA who says she believe she is the only Yale MBA in Haiti, is focused on impact measurement, a discipline she appears to have brought to the organization. They’ve just begun a careful study comparing life and career outcomes for HELP graduates and similarly situated—bright, capable and underprivileged—high school graduates to see how the cohorts compare.

She notes that their graduates have near 100 percent employment, among those not currently pursuing graduate education. The average income is about $15,000 per year, more than seven times the $2,000 average income for high school graduates. Of the 30 HELP employees, 15 percent are HELP graduates.

Haiti’s brain drain is among the worst in the world, with most college graduates leaving the country; only 16 percent stay in Haiti. Walsh boasts that a remarkable 86 percent of HELP program graduates are in Haiti today; most of those who are not are studying abroad and intend to return.

The success of the program is clearly tied to the screening process. This year, they received 291 applications for 25 spots. The cut the field in half looking only at grades and national test scores. The essays from the balance became the primary criteria for determining which applications would be invited to the three-week orientation that Sainval so enjoyed. This gives them an opportunity to get to know the most well qualified applicants well, including who has family resources that would allow them to go to college without HELP’s scholarship.

Classroom addition at the HELP center. Photo by Devin Thorpe.

Classroom addition at the HELP center. Photo by Devin Thorpe.

Delice, still an instructor at heart, described his focus on leadership. Standing at the white board in his small office in the HELP central office, an old home that seems to have survived the earthquake well, with classrooms made of bamboo in front and behind, he writes down the five leadership pillars they teach the students so I can’t possibly fail to include them in my little notebook: courage, sacrifice, service, rigor and respect. Everything I see about the program, even the gentle chiding I receive from Jeangilles for returning later than anticipated from my dash to find lunch down the street, confirms that they live the principles as much as they teach them.

“I’m dreaming of having more HELP students working in government, in Congress. Why not have one become president?” Delice figures that creating this future isn’t wishful thinking, they simply need to create bigger classes with 100 to 200 students, a big, but reasonable jump from the 25 that just entered the program. He believes that restoring ethics and integrity to the Haitian government is the key to Haiti’s future prosperity.

These Social Entrepreneurs Risked Their Lives To Produce Charcoal In Haiti

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

This is the first of a series of reports from Haiti.

This is the second in a series of articles from Haiti.

To tell the story of the social venture Carbon Roots, we have to go back to the Haiti earthquake.

Lyle Sorensen is an orthopedic surgeon who came to Haiti to volunteer for a month immediately following the January 12, 2010 earthquake.

While here, he was a presented with a rare case of tuberculosis of the spine, something he could not treat in Haiti. He reached out to colleagues and friends in the U.S. for help and Julia Helstrom Coupet, whose husband Mendel Coupet is Haitian, made arrangements to treat the boy, Netus Madiode, in Philadelphia. He had two major surgeries and was essentially cured. Once a paraplegic, the boy was able to play soccer again. While the boy was being treated, Lyle visited Philadelphia from Seattle and his son, Eric Sorensen, who was living in New York joined them.

The younger Sorensen had been doing some research on “biochar” a sort of soil amendment made from charcoal made from agricultural waste. Coupet was very excited about the implications of using biochar in Haiti and invited Eric to come down and visit his family in a remote village in the central part of Haiti.

Sorensen and his partners Hannah Erickson, who last year also became his wife, and Ryan Delaney, went to Haiti later that year for their first visit. They were successful in producing some biochar and even in showing the locals that the biochar increased crop yields. They set up a nonprofit entity to help fund their work and continued working with regular visits to get Haitians to use the charcoal as a soil amendment.

Ryan Delaney and Eric Sorensen of Carbon Roots near Cap Haitien, Haiti. Photo by Devin Thorpe.

Ryan Delaney and Eric Sorensen of Carbon Roots near Cap Haitien, Haiti. Photo by Devin Thorpe.

Following the earthquake, a cholera epidemic broke out. Approximately 700,000 people got cholera and 9,000 people died. Sorensen got sick while visiting a remote village in central Haiti. After five days of severe diarrhea, he and Delaney hiked out, got back in their car and drove to Port-au-Prince to a hospital where he was diagnosed with cholera and treated.

Delaney, reflecting on nearly six years of work in Haiti, told me yesterday that the biggest lesson he’s learned is to “learn to think like a Haitian.” He’s referring to the insights that the founders were slow to accept.

The locals kept asking if they couldn’t burn the charcoal made from the agricultural waste instead of using it as a fertilizer. For many months, the trio persisted in their efforts to get Haitians excited about this plentiful fertilizer that would also be carbon negative.

Ultimately, they saw the light. They began to appreciate that the vast majority of Haitians cooked with charcoal, meaning that this is a huge business. So, with a pivot as big as the market, the three founders shifted from producing biochar to producing charcoal made from agricultural waste.

To get excited about this, the trio of founders began to appreciate some significant environmental benefits to their charcoal. First and foremost, they wouldn’t be cutting down trees. Deforestation in Haiti is such a problem that making charcoal from wood is illegal, despite the fact that the entire country uses wood-based charcoal to cook every meal.

Deforestation isn’t an abstract concept in Haiti, they tell me. Given that deforestation contributes to landslides that kill people, Haitians view deforestation as real and present danger.

By using agricultural waste, they realized they could do a lot to protect the most critical aspect of Haiti’s environment.

They moved the base of operations from the agricultural region in the more remote center of the country, to Cap Haitien, the largest city on the northern coast of Haiti and formed the company, Carbon Roots. Delaney moved permanently to Haiti at this point. Sorensen continues to spend about 25 percent of his time in Haiti.

Shortly after the move, Delaney was invited by a social enterprise in Cusco, Peru to come do some consulting. Although he realized he was not feeling well when he got on the plane, he left Cap Haitien for Port-au-Prince bound for Miami, then on to Lima and finally to Cusco. By the time he arrived, he was delirious with fever. He checked into his hotel but quickly recognized he would need some medication. He stumbled into a hospital hoping to get some medication for malaria, thinking that was what he had. They quickly diagnosed him with Typhoid and admitted him with a fever of 104.5. Before he recovered, he developed pneumonia and spent five days in the hospital there, for which he was charged $400, after being told, it would be “kind of expensive,” he says. He noted that he’s glad he went to Cusco because he’s sure he got better treatment there than he could have received in Haiti.

Charcoal production at Carbon Roots. (Note that the material being burned to produce charcoal would be burned in any event.) Photo by Devin Thorpe.

Charcoal production at Carbon Roots. (Note that the material being burned to produce charcoal would be burned in any event.) Photo by Devin Thorpe.

In Cap Haitien, they began making charcoal at scale. Today, the company produces five tons of charcoal every day in 200 small kilns, converted barrels. They are the largest producer of charcoal in the country and likely the only one producing legal charcoal. They sell the product under the brand name Chabon Boul,

Customers tell them that their charcoal is better than other charcoal on the market, that it lights faster, lasts longer and burns more evenly.

Last year, MIT did in-home testing of their charcoal and noted that it is much cleaner burning, with 29 percent less CO2 and 39 percent less particulate matter than wood-based charcoal. They, too, noted that it is more thermally efficient.

It also works well in modern, clean-burning cookstoves.

To date, Carbon Roots has survived almost entirely off grants. They received early, small grants from Arizona State University where Delaney earned a master’s degree in sustainability. The also received a grant from Halloran Philanthropies.

Much of their money has come from US AID’s DIV program for Development Innovation Ventures. The program provides grants in three stages up to $150,000, $1.5 million and $15 million respectively.

Sorensen and Delaney would like to quickly triple their capacity. To do so, they want to buy and install some much more sophisticated and expensive production equipment. They say they need $800,000 to $900,000 for the equipment, which will come from Viet Nam.

The new technology would have significantly lower emissions than their current production process. To create charcoal you create a controlled burn of the material, carefully managing the oxygen to prevent a full burn. The partially burned material, which can be burned again, is charcoal. The fully burned material is ash, they explained.

A local Haitian demonstrates how to make charcoal from wood. Photo by Devin Thorpe.

A local Haitian demonstrates how to make charcoal from wood. Photo by Devin Thorpe.

The new equipment will capture and use the waste heat to dry the raw agricultural waste before it is burned and then will essentially bake the briquettes to harden them, a process that takes days on drying racks today. The new process will also allow them to produce some electricity that will power some of their equipment.

One of the goals the founders have is to create employment for Haitians. They now have 50 permanent employees on working on production. In addition, they employee about 45 workers as day laborers. Finally, they have about 30 women engaged in their new retail distribution system.

Sorensen reminded me, however, that while their goal is to create employment, “this isn’t a jobs program. We have to be efficient.” They are serious about creating jobs for locals. The two are the only expats on the team; all of the other employees are local hires.

Their new retail distribution model will help them employ more people. The model will create what they will call boutiques where women will come in the morning to get charcoal to sell. They will take the charcoal on consignment and will borrow a wheel barrow from the boutique. They will leave their national ID card as collateral. Some women work a route, delivering the charcoal. Others stake out a spot in their neighborhood where passersby will purchase the charcoal. In either case, they return the wheel barrow to the shop at the end of the day and pay for the charcoal they took in the morning. Typically, the women will pocket $13 for a day’s work. With about 70 percent of Haitians living on less than $2 and 50 percent living on less than $1, the profit represents good wages—especially given that they don’t need to buy any inventory up front.

Carbon Roots was selected as part of the Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI) at Santa Clara University I’ve written about here. Sorensen credits the experience with helping them to put the final pieces together.

Within eight years, the founders hope to have about 25 percent of the charcoal market in Haiti, a market of about $300 million annually. They are excited about the environmental impact that will have on the countryside.

These guys exemplify a “do whatever it takes” attitude. Given the risks they’ve taken, the sacrifices they’ve made in their personal situations, the opportunity costs they refuse to think about, I must say, Delaney and Sorensen are some of the most impressive entrepreneurs I’ve ever met.

Young Social Entrepreneurs May Want To Check Here For Impact Opportunities

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

This is the first of a series of reports from Haiti.

This is the second in a series of articles from Haiti.

Jude V.P. Tranquille, age 29, and living in Port-au-Prince visited Washington, DC for RYLA North America Conference, a meeting for members of Rotaract, a youth group associated with Rotary International. While there, he made a connection that would not only change his life but that has the potential to help infinitely more.

Tranquille met Jan Holz, a young man who splits time between the U.S. and Germany, something that is relatively easy when you work for Lufthansa. Tranquille expressed his desire to create some sustainable progress in Haiti, having been frustrated by the futility of much of the earthquake relief that focused on handouts that needed to be repeated in order to work. When he gave people food following the quake, he noted, they were hungry the very next day.

Jude Tranquille. Photo by Devin Thorpe.

Jude Tranquille. Photo by Devin Thorpe.

Holz got the picture and quickly they came up with the idea of hosting an entrepreneurship camp for young entrepreneurs. Jann solicited support from Lufthansa and HelpAlliance a nonprofit created by Lufthansa employees. Tanquille brought Devoted Servants, his own nonprofit. Together, they recruited help from the Rotary Club of Wall Street and the Rotary Club de Delmas-Aeroporte, among other supporters and sponsors.

In the summer of 2014, they held their first two-week camp for 28 young entrepreneurs. For 2015, they found 34 entrepreneurs, many of whom had heard about the camp from people who attended the first one. The second camp ran for three weeks rather than two and attracted a crop of somewhat more serious entrepreneurs, many of whom already had small businesses they were working to launch.

During my visit, I caught up with three of the founders of Novac, an ambitious group of young people planning to conquer the world, starting with backbacks. The three are Smiff Lormier, Peterson Figaro and Napoleon Rodolpho.

Peterson Figaro, Smiff Lormier and Napoleon Rodolpho. Photo by Devin Thorpe.

Peterson Figaro, Smiff Lormier and Napoleon Rodolpho. Photo by Devin Thorpe.

They credited the camp with helping them to find key partners, including an embroiderer to sew their logo onto the backpacks and a workshop with dozens of sewing machines where they can produce their orders renting the shop by the day, radically reducing their capital requirements.

Prior to the camp, the three had done a round of fundraising, selling shares in their nascent business founded in March. After describing their round in basic terms and doing some quick calculations they reported that they had raised $2,000. They’ve already produced hundreds of backpacks and are negotiating an order to produce special backpacks for drones that could yield a gross profit of $5,000. In Haiti, their business is starting to get real.

Another pair of entrepreneurs that participated in the conference, was Diego Desulme and Jenny JeanJacque, founders of A-Tech (and newly engaged to be married). A-Tech is a social enterprise, focusing on helping young Haitians explore the opportunities available in the 21st Century by increasing computer literacy.

The A-Tech strategy is to publish booklets that provide training on how to use computers, so students can affordably prepare for their limited time in front of computers, which few can afford. Even in schools, access to computers is limited.

The books include some advertising that covered the printing costs. The books were then sold to other young entrepreneurs in bundles all around Haiti and were then resold to students eager to learn how to use computers.

The first year program was so successful that Lufthansa not only signed up to support the second year, but funded the production of a documentary film of the second year camp. The film was screened by the Rotary Club of Wall Street for visiting Rotarians and dignitaries from around the world last week at the Rotary UN Day and was apparently a hit with the audience.

Rotarians from around the world were involved in the Entrepreneurship Camp. Dominique Bazin, a Rotary Assistant Governor, provided local support in Port-au-Prince. Jack Guy Lafontant, President-elect for the Rotary Club de Petion-ville was also engaged. Susanne Gellert worked on the project on behalf of the Rotary Club of Wall Street.

Young social entrepreneurs may wish to check out the Rotary Youth Leadership Awards or RYLA, where they may make international connections that may help them find exciting opportunities for impact.

Seattle-Based Fledge Hatches 39 Social Ventures Or ‘Fledglings’

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

Michael “Luni” Libes is the social entrepreneurs’ social entrepreneur. He created Fledge, an accelerator for social entrepreneurs that has now helped to create over $10 million in total funding for it ventures since its founding in 2012.

The problem, as Luni sees it, is all wrapped up in opportunity. “The trouble is, the problems of the world continue to expand, while the majority of the money, infrastructure, and power lie in the for-profit sector. If only businesses solved the important problems of the world, their success would lead to profits, scaling up those solutions, then more profits, more scaling, and so on, in a virtuous, self-sustaining cycle.”

Luni boasts, “Thirty-nine ’fledglings’ have graduated from the six Fledge programs run over the last three years. Companies such as Evrnu, making cotton recyclable; BURN Manufacturing and Obamastove, manufacturing clean cookstoves in Africa; Distributed Energy Management, conserving energy through financial management; Ensibuuko, modernizing the savings and credit co-ops of East Africa; Seeder, matching green builders with green building suppliers; East Africa Fruit, aggregating and distributing fruits and vegetables in Tanzania, Deehubs, at the corner of free speech and social media; Shift Labs, designing medical devices for the developing world, and dozens of others.”

You can see a full list at

Luni explains, “Each of these companies received an investment from Fledge, plus 10 weeks of intense training, guidance, and mentorship. Since graduating from Fledge, these companies have raised more than $10 million in follow-on funding, earned millions in total revenues, and created over 300 jobs, all while saving lives, saving trees, cleaning the environment, and alleviating poverty.”

“By proving it possible to do good by doing business, Fledge will not only help hundreds of startups get started, and not only provide a return to our investors, but we will showcase a model that others can copy, so that hundreds of thousands of other entrepreneurs can join this new model of business,” he concludes.

On Thursday, November 5, 2015 at 3:00 Eastern, Luni will join me here for a live discussion about Fledge and the fledglings it has incubated and hatched. Tune in here then to watch the interview live. Post questions in the comments below or tweet questions before the interview to @devindthorpe.

More about Fledge:

Twitter: @FledgeLLC

Fledge is the conscious company accelerator, educating, guiding, and mentoring mission-driven for-profit startups from around the world.

Michael ‘Luni’ Libes, courtesy of Fledge

Michael ‘Luni’ Libes, courtesy of Fledge

Luni’s bio:

Twitter: @Lunarmobiscuit

Luni is a 20+ year serial entrepreneur, most recently founder of Fledge, the conscious company accelerator, and the Entrepreneur in Residence at Pinchot University. Luni is the author of The Next Step series of guidebooks on entrepreneurship, and The Pinchot Impact Index, outlining a technique for measuring impact across a portfolio of companies.

Venture Philanthropist Has Innovative Plan To Move ‘America Forward’

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

Social innovator Lexi Barrett is helping to lead a non-partisan effort at New Profit, a venture philanthropy fund, called America Forward focused on supporting results-oriented organizations working in education, workforce development and poverty alleviation.

Barrett, who has spent most of her career in government service, says, “Although the impact of our sector, and our New Profit Portfolio and America Forward Coalition Members in particular, is impressive—millions of communities and individuals go unserved each year and the problems we seek to solve are even greater. And while the federal government ought to be learning from and expanding these efforts, in too many cases government is getting in the way by creating unnecessary barriers, stifling innovation, and investing in programs that do not work.”

Barrett hopes to change that. She says, “America Forward is turning the page from an era of unprecedented gridlock to one of unprecedented problem solving.”

She adds, “The organizations that America Forward works with recognize that policy change is an essential part of scaling the solutions that they are advancing on the ground, and have come together as a Coalition to advance a policy agenda that champions social innovation.”

Barrett reports that the formal launch of the effort last month included the release of a briefing book called Moving America Forward: Innovators Lead the Way to Unlocking America’s Potential. She explains, “This book offers transformational policy ideas shaped by the experience of social innovators who are solving problems in their communities every day. These policy ideas are framed around five challenges for the next President, including government that works, education for the future, ‘market-able’ America, first jobs, and second chances.”

America Forward is hoping to get the attention of presidential candidates and policymakers. Barrett says the solutions to America’s biggest problems are apparent. “To scale the results we are seeing everyday on the ground in communities across the country, it is imperative that we activate America’s problem solvers. We envision a government that identifies innovative solutions, invests in what works, and engages everyone to solve our nation’s problems. By doing these things, we believe that together we can move America forward,” she concludes.

On Thursday, November 5, 2015 at noon Eastern, Barrett will join me for a live discussion about America Forward and the solutions that she sees to some of America’s biggest challenges. Tune in here then to watch the interview live. Post questions in the comments below or tweet questions before the interview to @devindthorpe.

More about America Forward:

Twitter: @america_forward

America Forward is a nonpartisan policy initiative of New Profit, a national venture philanthropy fund that seeks to break down the barriers between all people and opportunity in America. America Forward unites social innovators with policymakers to advance a public policy agenda that champions innovative and effective solutions to our country’s most pressing social problems. We lead a Coalition of more than 70 social innovators who foster innovation, identify more efficient and effective solutions, reward results, and catalyze cross-sector partnerships. Our Coalition members are achieving measurable outcomes in more than 14,500 communities across the country every day, touching the lives of nearly 8 million Americans each year. Since 2007, America Forward’s community of innovators has played a leading role in driving the national dialogue on social innovation and advocating for lasting policy change. America Forward played a critical role in the creation of a federal tiered-evidence fund aimed at scaling high-impact organizations and significantly leveraging federal dollars; our community influenced the creation of the White House Office of Social Innovation; and we continue to advocate for the inclusion of provisions focused on outcomes in key pieces of federal legislation. Together, we have leveraged $1.5 billion for social innovation and have driven millions of federal resources toward programs that are achieving measurable results for those who need them most. America Forward believes that our nation’s social innovators can lead the way to unlocking America’s potential — and help move all of America forward.

Lexi Barrett, courtesy of New Profit

Lexi Barrett, courtesy of New Profit

Barrett’s bio:

Twitter: @lexibarrettAF

As Policy Director for America Forward, Lexi focuses on developing and implementing federal policy initiatives that accelerate social innovation, leading policy communications strategies, and supporting the education policy work of the America Forward Coalition. Before joining America Forward at New Profit, Lexi spent nine years in federal service. She served for six years on Capitol Hill as legislative assistant to Senator Richard Durbin, working on a variety of education, national service, and early childhood policy issues. Lexi also worked as a policy advisor at the U.S. Department of Education in the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education. Most recently, Lexi served as a Senior Policy Advisor on Education at the White House on the Domestic Policy Council, helping to shape and advance President Obama’s early education and K-12 education agenda.

A New Investment Model For A New Capitalism

Over the last 30 years or so, a growing movement that expects capitalism to drive social benefit rather than tolerate its own harm has led to a burgeoning demand for capital with a conscience. Michael Sauvante of Commonwealth Capital has developed a model for financing social ventures that could rapidly increase available capital for social ventures.

Michael explains, “Small business with 20 or fewer employees provide more U.S. jobs than all the jobs in big business, government, non-profits and all the other sources of jobs combined. Yet small businesses are struggling to survive and are desperate for capital and credit, both exceedingly difficult to obtain.”

“One of the biggest problems with raising money for such small businesses is that, unlike investing in the stock market where investors can buy and sell anytime they want, when they invest in small private businesses, investors cannot easily get their money out of them once they put it in. What is needed is a way for investors to support small businesses, but still be able to get their money out anytime they need or want to,” he continues.

His innovation has been around for decades, but Michael wants to breath new life into it for the sake of social enterprises. He notes, “BDCs (Business Development Companies) overcome this problem by serving as an intermediary between investors and small companies. BDCs are a special type of venture capital company that is a public company listed on the stock market. That means anybody can own a piece of them, not just wealthy people like they do in regular venture capital funds. It also means their investors get freely tradable stock that they can buy and sell anytime they want.”

He adds, “BDCs take the money they get from investors and invest it in and/or lend it to small companies. That way small businesses get the money they need, but their investor backers don’t have their money tied up if they need or want to get it out. Commonwealth Capital is taking the basic BDC concept further by forming lots of smaller BDCs under it to help spread this concept much wider than would normally be possible.”

Michael is passionate about social entrepreneurship. He says, “Small businesses are the backbone of every local economy. Commonwealth Capital (CC), along with other BDCs it will help to sponsor, will provide a means to financially help small businesses at an unprecedented level, all across the country. That alone will go a long way to uplifting local economies and making them more sustainable. However, CC was also formed as a special type of corporation called a benefit corporation. Benefit corporations are legally mandated to address the social and environmental needs of their employees, their customers, their suppliers, their investors, and the broader community they serve, in addition to paying attention to their financial bottom line. That makes them model corporate citizens and fixes what is currently broken with the old model of greed capitalism. And CC will require all the companies it invests in, lends to and/or acquires to follow that same beneficial mandate as well.”

On Thursday, November 5, 2015 at 2:00 Eastern, Michael will join me for a live discussion about the BDC concept for social entrepreneurs. Tune in here then to watch the interview live. Post questions in the comments below or tweet questions before the interview to @devindthorpe.

You can download an audio podcast here or subscribe via iTunes.
More about Commonwealth Capital:

Commonwealth Capital (CC) is a California benefit corporation, Business Development Company (BDC). BDCs are public venture capital companies that invest in small businesses. Being a public company, anybody, not just wealthy investors can invest in them. And its investors will have freely tradable stock. CC thereby resolves what has been an irresolvable dilemma – how to invest in small private companies but retain the liquidity that comes with investing in large public companies. As a result of its “benefit purpose,” CC expects to work primarily with impact investors. Such investors pursue investments that normally have a sustainability focus around environmental, social and governance concerns.

Michael Sauvante, courtesy of Commonwealth Capital

Michael Sauvante, courtesy of Commonwealth Capital

Michael’s bio:

Michael is the Executive Director of Commonwealth Group LLC (, the leading consultancy in the U.S. with respect to using Business Development Companies (BDCs) for Main Street small businesses. He is also the chief architect of Commonwealth Capital, a California benefit corporation, soon to be first benefit corporation BDC in the country. He has over 30 years of experience in founding and running more than a half dozen companies in diverse industries and has long been a progressive thinker in the field of sustainability, corporate social and environmental behavior, and corporate responsibility.

Sauvante’s philosophy for building sustainable businesses is outlined in “The Triple Bottom Line: A Boardroom Guide,” published in 2001 in the “Director’s Monthly” of the National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD). His efforts to change California’s laws (in 2004) to make corporations more socially and environmentally responsible (six years before the first state approved benefit corporations) is highlighted in the book, Megatrends 2010: The Rise of Conscious Capitalism, by Patricia Aburdeen.

He expanded on that topic in an article “Rewiring Corporate DNA,” published in 2008 by the Center for Business as an Agent of World Benefit at Case Western Reserve University’s Weatherhead School of Management.. His article “A Primer on Going Public: How companies too small for the national stock exchanges can access public capital” laid out the concepts that later would best be described as crowdfunding. Michael subsequently promoted the concept for regional stock exchanges, which resemble crowdfunding portals. His stock exchange idea was explored in the book “Local Dollars, Local Sense” by Michael Shuman. Many of Michael’s other ideas were published in a number of articles, books and other writings including, “A New Stock Exchange Where People and the Planet Matter” which explores the question, “What if there were a stock exchange where society and the environment were the top priority and profit a means to maintain continuity and not an end in itself?” Corporations listed on such an exchange would be valued based on how well they served society instead of solely by short-term profit. In 2002, Michael was recognized by the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, as one of 35 “Technology Pioneers” worldwide. For a full bio and comprehensive list of his writings, visit

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Devin D. Thorpe

What is Impact Investing? Impact Investing 101

There is a lot of talk these days about impact investing, but relatively few people actually know what it is or how to do it. With the help of Your Mark on the World Center sponsor Gate Global Impact’s CEO Vince Molinari, we’ll explain impact investing basics.

Vince offers answers to the following three basic questions:

1. What is impact investing?

Impact investing is a progressive new investment philosophy whereby an investor proactively seeks to place capital in businesses that generate financial returns from organizations committed
to societal, sustainable and/or environmental goals. The growth of IMPACT INVESTING is borne out by global trends in macro/micro socioeconomics, Next-Gen behavioral finance, and ubiquitous social media that continues to drive participants and awareness to this movement.

2. What financial returns can investors expect from an impact investment?

One of the most common questions about impact investing is what sorts of returns investors can expect. Vince answers, “Profit is not a dirty word, profit creates sustainability, and sustainability creates systemic change. Impact investing returns vary widely. Some investors are willing to give up part of their standard return expectations for the sake of high societal impact. Others are focusing on opportunities to earn market returns, recognizing that not only does solving societal problems create the potential for market returns, the very act of solving the problem may reduce the risk of the investment. Investors can earn high returns while creating impact.”

3. How does an impact investment actually create societal good?

Impact investing creates social good in much the same way that philanthropy does. The money is spent to fund a project that has a social benefit attached. Rather than donate the money, however, the investor asks for the money back. For instance, an investor could fund the construction of a school and ask for the money to be paid back over time in the form of a mortgage. The market for impact investments runs from large scale infrastructure projects to small investments in social enterprises that are serving social needs and providing employment in the developing world.

Vince recently authored “Africa Is the New Frontier of Impact Investing” for Ventureburn, where you can learn more about Vince’s take on impact investing.

On Thursday, October 29, 2015 at noon Eastern, Vince will join me for a discussion about impact investing. Tune in here then to watch the interview live. Post questions in the comments below or tweet questions before the interview to @devindthorpe.

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

More about Constellation Fin Tech:

Twitter: @GateImpact

Constellation Fin Tech is an innovative and disruptive financial technology software platform company with focus platform launches on impact investing and family offices.

Vince Molinari

Vince’s bio:

Twitter: @VinceMolinari

Vincent Molinari is the co-founder and CEO of GATE Global Impact, a leading electronic marketplace platform that’s helping the world’s leading organizations standardize and accelerate impact investing.

Vincent is an active speaker on issues related to capital markets and early-stage companies, and he regularly speaks at events around the world. He’s been invited to testify before the U.S. House Committee on Financial Services and the Subcommittee on Capital Markets and Government Sponsored Enterprises. Vincent has also testified before the Securities and Exchange Commission Advisory Committee on Small and Emerging Companies regarding secondary market liquidity. He regularly consults with members of Congress and regulatory agencies on these issues.

Vincent is a managing partner at Constellation Fin Tech and a founding board member and former co-chair of the Crowdfund Intermediary Regulatory Advocates, a self-regulating association that works with governmental and quasi-governmental entities to establish crowdfunding industry standards and best practices. Vincent is also a co-founder of the Crowdfunding Professional Association, a leading trade organization for the crowdfunding industry, and sits on the board of CF50, a global think tank of 50 of the leading minds from academia, policy, and industry.

Remember to “join the cavalry” by subscribing to our content here.

Devin D. Thorpe

Filmmaker Focuses Lens On Nobel Peace Prize Winner Yunus

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

Filmmaker Holly Mosher is a remarkable social entrepreneur herself, focusing her lens on a variety of social issues. Recently, I saw her film about arguably the greatest social entrepreneur on the planet, Nobel Peace Prize Winner Muhammad Yunus. I saw the film, Bonsai People, and met her at the 2015 Parliament of World Religions held in Salt Lake City.

The film title comes from Yunus’s observation that people who live in poverty are not deficient people, but like a bonsai tree, they are planted in confining circumstances that prevent them from reaching their potential.

Mosher explains, “When millions of people were starving from the famine in Bangladesh, Muhammad Yunus was inspired to try to do something to help. What he ended up creating was a microcredit program that enabled people to start their own income generating activities and get on their feet. But while working with the poorest of the poor, he saw that just like they lack access to financial services they also lack access to so many things we all take for granted: education, healthcare, nutrition, alternative energy, technology, etc. So he’s gone on to create 60+ social businesses all aimed at helping the poor.”

“I read about his work and was inspired to make a film that showed his vision and how his work affects those on the ground in rural Bangladesh. By creating the film, I’m able to help inspire those around the world to join the social business movement and help solve local problems in their own communities. They will see how he always looks to get to the root of the problem and come up with a business solution that really creates empowerment and change,” Mosher continued.

Mosher hopes not only that people will see the film, but also that they will be motivated to act. “The more people that see the film, the more that will be inspired to join the new social business movement. The film has been used as a tool in many of the social enterprise programs that are starting to pop up at universities across the country, so that people can more deeply understand how the most successful social entrepreneur has taken this business model and created sustainable businesses in seemingly every sector. If he can do it in Bangladesh, we can recreate this model around the globe.”

On Thursday, October 29, 2015 at 1:00 Eastern, Mosher will join me for a live discussion about Yunus and the film. Tune in here then to watch the interview live. Post questions in the comments below or tweet questions before the interview to @devindthorpe.

Holly Mosher filming, courtesy of Holly Mosher

Holly Mosher filming, courtesy of Holly Mosher

More about Holly Mosher:

Twitter: @filmsforchange @bonsaimovie

Holly Mosher is an award winning filmmaker and honors graduate from NYU, creating films inspiring positive change. Holly had her directorial debut with the award-winning Hummingbird, an emotionally compelling, award-winning documentary about two non-profits in Brazil that work with street children and women who suffer domestic violence. She then produced two films on healthcare – Money Talks: Profits Before Patient Safety and Side Effects, starring Katherine Heigl. She co-produced Maybe Baby, about single women trying to get pregnant. She executive produced Vanishing of the Bees, narrated by Ellen Page and Free For All, about election issues and Pay 2 Play: Democracy’s High Stakes, a film about the influence of money in politics. Her latest directorial project was Bonsai People – The Vision of Muhammad Yunus, which follows the work of Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Muhammad Yunus from microcredit to social business.


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