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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

Nonprofit

This category includes articles about nonprofit organizations and NGOs that are actively working to accomplish a social mission. The work of foundations that primarily work as grantors to other nonprofits is covered in Philanthropy.

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The Role Of Entrepreneurship In Ending Poverty And Homelessness

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

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

“Social entrepreneurship has proven to provide impactful innovations for poverty alleviation ,” says Abby Maxman, President of OxFam America. Maxman was among a diverse group of people working on poverty eradication who contributed to a recent roundtable discussion on ending extreme poverty and homelessness.

The idea of ending poverty seemed absurd a generation ago. Today, the idea has been enshrined officially in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals or SDGs as something the world should achieve by 2030. The roundtable participants addressed a range of topics, including a focus on how social entrepreneurs would help achieve the SDGs. Watch the 80-minute discussion in the video player above.

Judith Walker, the chief operating officer for African Clean Energy, which sells clean cookstoves that generate electricity, explains the need for social entrepreneurs to see problems as opportunities. “Energy costs are very high compared to income in the markets we deal with, meaning its either not realistically accessible or almost certainly not reliable. This should be seen as an opportunity to improve the goods and services available in order to relieve burden and create other options for those struggling with any or consistent income.”

Judith Walker

She adds, “Where we see the most potential for impact is actually by catalyzing this potential by having access to the most desperately needed energy.” What customers are able to do to improve their own lives with the tools inspires her to continue working.

Why Entrepreneurs Should Care About Ending Poverty

Entrepreneurs solve problems. Social entrepreneurs solve problems that matter. Eradicating poverty pegs the mattering meter.

Haiti’s former Prime Minister, Laurent Lamothe, is now an active impact investor, supporting social entrepreneurs in Haiti. Everyone benefits from helping the poor. “Poverty is not solely the problem of the poor, the same way as climate change is not solely the problem of one country. It has consequences and implications for all of us because we live in an increasingly open and interdependent world. Improving the prospects of the most disadvantaged will improve prospects for all. ”

Anne Kjaer Riechert, a recipient of a Rotary Peace Fellowship and social entrepreneur in Germany, founded the ReDI School of Digital Integration to teach refugees, mostly from Syria, how to code. She says our focus shouldn’t be on helping people living below an arbitrary income threshold but on the income gap itself. “Poverty is relative. It is not a question of income, but the gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots. ’”

Anne Riechert

OxFam’s Maxman agrees. “Our research has shown that since 2000, the poorest half of the world has received just 1% of the total increase in global wealth, while the top 1% received 50% of the increase. Inequality is bad for us all – socially, morally, ethically, economically and politically.”

Why Social Entrepreneurship is a Key Part of the Solution to Poverty

Entrepreneurship—especially social entrepreneurship—brings value to the fight against poverty that other players—governments, corporations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) don’t.

Alicia Wallace, president of All Across Africa, which sources handicrafts in Rwanda for sale in the United States, points out the speed of entrepreneurship. “Entrepreneurship can be harnessed to fuel positive, sustainable global impact much faster than any other form of social good .”

“I definitely see competition as creating an urgency for solving poverty and homelessness,” she adds, helping to explain why entrepreneurs can have faster impact.

Social entrepreneurs have a unique mindset, according to Arlene Samen, founder of One Heart World-Wide, a nonprofit that uses a grassroots approach to improving maternal and child health in Nepal and Tibet. “Social entrepreneurs never give up, they think outside the box and are willing to empower ‘others’ to help solve their own challenges.”

Carla Javits is the CEO of REDF, a nonprofit that invests in social enterprises that serve people who are often considered unemployable, including those who have completed jail and prison sentences, recovering addicts and people who have experienced homelessness.

Javits says social entrepreneurs are flexible. “By developing new models that cut across and blend the assets of various sectors without being stuck in orthodoxies about what each sector can or should do, social entrepreneurship opens up new possibilities to solve stubborn, seemingly insurmountable challenges.”

She also points out that social entrepreneurs think outside the box of either operating as a nonprofit surviving on donations and grants or being fully supported by revenues. Operating in that middle space creates opportunities for social entrepreneurs to leverage donor dollars with revenue generating services.

Effective social entrepreneurs relieve burdens by selling products that customers need to improve their lives. The profits from the sales create sustainable impact and provide returns to investors.

Mari Kuraishi, CEO and founder of Global Giving, a crowdfunding site for nonprofits serving communities in the developing world, points out that social entrepreneurs can experiment and then scale up. “Social entrepreneurship can play a big role in experimenting within smaller jurisdictions and communities to demonstrate how to overcome issues like poverty and homelessness.”

Mari Kuraishi

She also notes that such innovators may be able to attract resources even when government grants are not available. “When political will is missing, it’s possible–but by no means a sure thing–for social enterprises to get access to the kind of resource flow that might begin to make a dent.”

Javits agrees, noting that the use of hybrid solutions can reduce public costs with other benefits to the community and the beneficiaries. “Social entrepreneurs identify hybrid solutions that can reduce but not eliminate public costs, increase individual initiative, and generate much greater value for all of us.”

Haiti’s Lamothe cautions, however, that social entrepreneurship got its start decades ago and we’re still dealing with some of the same challenges. “Poverty is a complex issue and, since the advent of social entrepreneurship in the 70s, no social enterprise has been capable of solving poverty all by itself. After decades of social entrepreneurship, it becomes obvious to me, as to many others, that reducing poverty takes a concerted, cross-sector effort that focuses holistically and long-term on the problem.”

Social entrepreneurship is becoming a primary weapon in the war on poverty but it isn’t a magic bullet.

What Social Entrepreneurs Can Do to Help

Having established that social entrepreneurs have the ability and flexibility to contribute meaningfully to the end of poverty and homelessness, let’s look at some specific things that they can do that can help to end poverty.

All Across Africa’s Alicia Wallace says one key is to equitably divide the gains and benefits. In her model, the US corporate customers are not the beneficiaries—the artisans in Africa are. She expects the corporate customers to pay fair prices for the products that will in turn allow her to pay fair wages to the largely female workforce producing mostly baskets.

African Clean Energy’s Walker agrees, though her lens is slightly different. Her customers in Africa are her beneficiaries. She explains, “We need to consider the beneficiaries as customers, and treat them with the respect they deserve, rather than just as victims or poor. ”

The division of value among entrepreneurs, customers and investors “only needs to be a little more balanced,” she says.

James Mayfield, the founder of CHOICE Humanitarian, highlights the power of income opportunities for the extreme poor. “The key to the eradication of poverty is the creation of income and employment enhancement programs. Such programs are best stimulated by the poor themselves supported by organizations that facilitate social-oriented enterprises.”

Dr. James Mayfield

After more than 30 years in the field, Mayfield highlights the importance of empowering women with income. “The missing ingredient in many unsuccessful poverty eradication programs is the importance of women participating in village decision-making , especially their role in ensuring village leaders are willing to adhere to the villager-determined core values that emphasize behaviors showing among other things integrity, generosity, service, tolerance.”

John Hewko, the general secretary—the professional head—of Rotary International, who has built his career almost entirely in international development, says that the way people think about their entrepreneurial prospects is as important as their structural access. He cites a report that women in Latin America have lower confidence in their own abilities and have a higher fear of failure. Providing training and encouragement is as important as providing access to financing.

Mark Horvath, an advocate for the homeless and producer of the popular YouTube show Invisible People, points out one limitation that impairs the work of nonprofits. Well-funded Silicon Valley companies provide lavish coffee stations with fresh fruit while nonprofits provide access to a coffee station with an honor jar for people to contribute money to keep it supplied.

Mark Horvath

He sees the problem as limiting the effectiveness of nonprofit social enterprises because foundations are risk adverse not funding new ideas or allowing autonomy for a nonprofit to do what they do best.

Government’s Role in Supporting Social Entrepreneurs

One surprising theme that developed in the discussion among these advocates for ending poverty was the need for governments to structurally support social enterprises.

Riechert, the young entrepreneur who founded the coding school for refugees in Germany, says, “I would love that there would be more collaboration between the government learning from the social entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs getting more capital from the government to continue growing and scaling their solutions.”

Relatively small amounts of capital infused in a revenue-generating business can have the impact of allowing the enterprise to scale. The closer the business is to complete self-funding, the higher the impact of grants or patient investments.

She notes, too, after her recent visit to the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan that government policies in the camps inhibit the ability of the people there to care and provide for themselves. The government doesn’t allow refugees there to engage in any entrepreneurship.

“I would love to see a big change because if refugee was actually seen as an asset and it’s an opportunity for the Jordanian people to make money and to have more cash flow into the country by having these entrepreneurs coming from outside. I think everyone would stand to benefit from it,” she says.

Eytan Stibbe, the founder of Vital Capital, an impact investor actively serving in Sub-Saharan Africa, has achieved remarkable scale, building tens of thousands of moderate-income housing units. He says, “What we found is that the most important issue is sharing in order to reach scale in working with the government. And we try to cooperate with the government so that the interests are aligned. That’s the only way we can reach scale.”

Katie Meyler, the founder of More Than Me, a social enterprise that partners with the government in Liberia to operate primary schools. “We can only reach the masses of people who live without [education] through a public-private partnership.

Haiti’s Lamothe, sees a different but still complementary role for government. Noting that governments in the developing world are often as resource constrained as their people, the government can be a sort of GPS guide to where the problems and opportunities for social entrepreneurs are.

Laurent S. Lamothe, former Prime Minister of HaitiWorld Initiative

The Examples of Social Entrepreneurship Reducing Poverty

To emphasize the point that the members of the roundtable are not approaching this topic from ivory towers but instead they come from the field, bringing on the ground perspectives, let’s look at some of the projects and enterprises they are running.

Riechert founded her coding school for refugees after 800,000 arrived in Germany in 2015, overwhelming government resources. She noted that even after they arrived, Germany had 51,000 open jobs in the I.T. field. The economy was constrained by a lack of available talent. So, she launched her school training refugees to fill those vacant positions. Her students quickly coded an app called Bureaucrazy to help other refugees navigate the German bureaucracy.

Samen, whose grassroots efforts in Nepal and Tibet have made dramatic improvements in maternal and child health, says her One Heart World-Wide is a beneficiary of a social enterprise in Australia called Thankyou that donates 100 percent of its profits to charities. The company sells water, body care, food and baby care products.

Samen says, “They set it up that, so when you buy the product it has a code bar and you can actually see where your money is going to be invested.” She would like to see this model grow and replicate.

Javits, whose entire business model focuses on funding social enterprises serving people who are at risk of homelessness, offers an example.

“Nonprofits that provide services to people experiencing homelessness have started new businesses in property management that employ their clients, paying them wages, and preparing them for long-term employment. By selling their services like a business, while hiring people who most companies would not give a chance, offering a more supportive work environment, and investing 100% of their ‘profits’ in their employees’ success and well-being, the social entrepreneurs who start these enterprises offer a more sustainable approach that gets to the root of the problem.”

Carla Javits

Rotary’s Hewko points to a microlending program supported by Rotary in the Esmeraldas Province of Ecuador. “Borrowers are organized into credit groups, and cross-guarantee each other’s loans. With credit officers working locally, the people who benefit – primarily poor women and youth – gain more confidence to start businesses, and are more likely to repay the loans. They also receive vocational, business and personal development training from NGOs including Rotary, FUDECE and the Grameen Cooperative, and SECAP, a government training organization.”

Haiti’s Lamothe highlights the work in a small fishing village in Haiti destroyed by Hurricane Matthew in 2016. Working with a group of nonprofits, including the Carlos Slim Foundation, Happy Hearts and Sean Penn’s foundation, have been replacing tools of the trade—fishing lines and boats—lost in the hurricane. They’ve also been helping the villagers get access to buyers, connecting them to restaurants and supermarkets. “Their revenues have gone from about you know $1000 US per month for the whole village to right now it’s ten times more.”

Impact investor Morgan Simon, author of Real Impact, offers up her favorite example. “One of the projects I’m a big fan of is the Working World, which provides finance for worker-owned cooperatives and they do so through a non-extractive model.”

She credits Brendan Martin, the founder of Working World, with coining the term “non-extractive financing.” He defines this concept as being loans that can be serviced entirely by the projects they fund with surplus left over. None of the existing resources of the borrower need be devoted to debt service.

“They’ve funded over a thousand loans with the 99 percent repayment,” Simon concludes.

Expanding Social Enterprise Concepts to the Broader Economy

As the group discussed the challenges of eradicating poverty, another theme developed: the need to get the broader economy to apply more of the guiding principles of social entrepreneurship.

Rotary’s Hewko put it this way, “I think the big question here is: How do we channel the private sector? That’s really where the money is—in the private sector—and the long term sustainable solution is vibrant economic systems and economies that work.”

Not only is it important to put people to work but there needs to be a greater social awareness employed by more companies.

John Hewko

He continues, “How do you inculcate into core business models the idea of social good, so social good becomes part of the core business model of a corporation, for example, as opposed to just for corporate social responsibility which we’re doing today?”

He then goes a step further and suggests that we need a mechanism to reflect positive social impact in share prices in the stock market. “That’s not easy but that’s the holy–that’s the Holy Grail.”

Hewko highlights the leadership of Paul Polman at Unilever and others who are “beginning to think very seriously about how we work to change core business models where social good becomes not just something good we do on the side but part of our everyday business.”

Speaking of poverty and homelessness, Hewko concludes, “These problems all need to be addressed in a cohesive fashion with private sector, civil society and government working hand in glove.”

Walker, of African Clean Energy, agrees. “I do believe that the business models of nonprofits and of for-profits and everything should actually become more similar more like each other.”

Concerns and Opportunities

Still, there are some concerns about the challenges ahead in eradicating poverty and homelessness.

Horvath, the homeless advocate who was himself homeless for a time, worries that nonprofits are often forced to follow money over mission and aptitude. “What I’m seeing in the homeless services sector is and I like to say it like this maybe I’m a farmer and I grow apples. I’m really good at it but all of the money is over in oranges. I’m not so good at oranges but I’m going to start growing oranges even though I can’t do it really well because I’ve got staff to pay and I’ve got an electric bill and everything else. So you have all these people just going after the money instead of really addressing fighting poverty and homelessness.”

The United Nations Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in Kenya, Siddharth Chatterjee, explains the challenge and opportunity ahead for Africa.

“Africa, for example, will see its population double from the current 1.1 billion to around 2.3 billion by 2050. Over 70% of its population is less than 30 and its median age is 19. One hundred million new jobs per year need to be created in Africa to cater to this looming ‘youth bulge.’ It could prove to be a demographic dividend or a disaster.”

Chatterjee is an optimist, however. He says, “Africa is going to be the new market of the future and if we invest now, not only will we overcome poverty and homelessness but contribute to reduced fragility and instability, advance peace and economic growth and reduce the burden of economic migrants to the West and the US.”

We’ve Got This

Generally speaking, the group was optimistic about prospects for eliminating poverty and homelessness.

REDF’s Javits says, “ Something we can do in our lifetime is to end homelessness for the vast majority of the hundreds of thousands who have no stable home each night. ”

Arlene Samen

Samen, who has spent her career among the poor in Nepal and Tibet, says simply, “ It can be done. ”

This article, which is published originally for Forbes, will become part of a book with the working title Thirty Years to Peace.

#30YTP

Over 1 million people have read my books; have you? Learn more about my courses on entrepreneurship, crowdfunding and corporate social responsibility here.


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!

10 Problems. 10 Solutions. 10 Awards. Classy.

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

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

A lesson all successful entrepreneurs seem to learn quickly is that they must solve a problem. For social entrepreneurs, this is even more important. If people are literally dying as they wait for a solution, the ones who show up to help have a greater obligation to do so something that will solve the problem—at least for some of those experiencing it.

Classy, which operates a crowdfunding platform for nonprofits and social entrepreneurs, has created an award the company calls the Classy Award to recognize social enterprises that “are tackling some of the world’s most complex problems,” according to a company press release. The awards were presented on June 16, 2017, in Boston.

For this article, the ten winners and Classy co-founder Pat Walsh, the company’s chief impact officer, came together to record a discussion about the problems they solve and the work they are doing to solve them. You can watch the entire discussion with the winners in the video player at the top of this article.

Classy Award Winners

In no particular order, this article will identify each of the winners, the problems they seek to solve and the work they are doing to solve them.

Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team

Rebecca Firth, the community partnerships manager for Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team, said, “In many places in the developing world, good quality digital maps do not exist, leaving millions of people uncounted. Without free, up-to-date maps it is hard to deliver health care and services, making places more vulnerable to disasters and epidemics.”

Imagine trying to find the source of an Ebola outbreak in a rural area where no reliable maps exist. How do you find a village that is at risk if it isn’t even on the map?

“What we do is we help anyone anywhere in the world create those maps,” says Firth. Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team uses a crowdsourcing model to create maps using the company’s simple online tool.

“This week we passed 30000 volunteers. We’ve mapped 45 million people who haven’t been on the map before.” Firth explains that these folks can now receive services that were difficult or even impossible to deliver before the map was created.

“One example of this is last year when there was a yellow fever outbreak in Kinshasa, the Missing Maps community activated to map the area using OpenStreetMap tools activated to map the area,” Firth says. “And then what followed was the largest and fastest vaccination campaign ever by Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors without Borders) who used the map to vaccinate 720,000 people in 10 days.”

Mission Asset Fund

Jose Quiñonez, 45, CEO of Mission Asset Fund, explains the person and societal problems that come from excluding some people from the traditional financial system. “People would be left in the shadows of our economy.” He notes that we all lose when certain individuals are not allowed to access basic financial instruments and therefore can’t buy a home, can’t start a business and can’t even invest in their own education. Those without a credit score are “economically invisible,” he says. About 45 million people in the United States fall into this group, he says. Globally, about 2 billion people fall into this category.

Mission Asset Fund is helping to formalize and legitimize an informal practice that is common around the world. The practice of lending circles, which go by a variety of names with varying protocols, all revolve around small communities creating tiny savings banks where members contribute periodically and occasionally get a turn at borrowing from the fund. By formalizing lending circles, Mission Asset Fund provides a connection to the formal economy and reveals the invisible people.

Days for Girls

Celeste Mergens, 55, founder and CEO for Days for Girls notes that there are 300 million women and girls of reproductive age counted among those who are living on less than $1.95 per day, the World Bank standard for extreme poverty. “Meeting basic needs such as food, water, shelter, and hygiene is a constant challenge for many of these women and girls,” she says. One of the challenges women face is the shame and stigma associated with menstruation.

Days for Girls has engaged 60,000 “Health Ambassadors” in the developing world to teach men and women about menstruation to remove the stigma. She notes, “Without periods there would be no people.” These ambassadors sell reusable feminine hygiene kits, increasing their own incomes at the same time they share their passion for the dignity of women.

Sustainable Health Enterprises (SHE)

Elizabeth Scharpf, founder and CEO of SHE, identified and tackled much the same problem with a different strategy. She notes that women without access to proper feminine hygiene use rags or even leaves to manage their menstruation. She confirms that some young women are victims of sexual predation or are forced into prostitution to fund feminine hygiene products so they can stay in school.

Scharpf says, “Eighteen percent of women and girls in Rwanda missed out on work or school because they could not afford to buy menstrual pads. Quite apart from the personal injustice, and the larger issues of health and dignity, we’re also talking about a potential GDP loss of $215 per woman per year – a total of $115,000,000 in Rwanda. It’s bad business.”

She invented a feminine hygiene pad that can be produced locally in Rwanda, made from the fiber of a banana tree. SHE helps women launch businesses to manufacture and distribute affordable pads.

Because International

Kenton Lee, 32, founder of Because International, identified the problem that many children who are growing up in poverty lack good shoes. One of the contributing factors is that kids outgrow their shows quickly and the parents and caregivers can’t afford to buy new shoes every time the kids outgrow a pair.

Lee says, “Shoes are a big deal.” There are three problems he highlights from a lack of shoes: 1) health is at risk, especially in communities without adequate sanitation, 2) shoes are often a required part of a school uniform so a lack of shoes keeps kids out of school, and 3) the dignity and self confidence that are missing without shoes.

Because International markets the “Shoe That Grows” primarily to faith-based organizations and other NGOs, that donate the shoes to children who need them. The durable shoes come in only two sizes but are both adjustable for five full shoe sizes so kids can wear them for years. He acknowledges that, “It doesn’t solve every problem for the kids.” The program really took off two years ago and they have been able to provide 100,000 shoes to kids in 89 countries and are now beginning to manufacture the shoes in some of the places where they are being most used.

Habitat for Humanity International

“About one in five people or one 1.6 billion people across the globe lack adequate housing,” says Jyoti Patel, director of capital markets for Habitat for Humanity. One of the key reasons for this is a lack of access to affordable mortgage financing for low-income families. As a result, many low-income families live in makeshift shelters even though they have income and could afford to support a small mortgage. Instead, they slowly build and upgrade their homes slowly over time.

Much of the microfinance industry that some think of as a solution to poverty focuses on short-term loans to support entrepreneurship. This creates a cash-flow mismatch when someone uses short-term microfinance loans to make permanent housing upgrades—think roof or a water tank–that will last for years or decades.

Habitat has created a $100 million “MicroBuild Fund” to finance longer-term loans to people without access to traditional credit sources so they can afford to upgrade their housing. The fund “is comprised of $10 million in equity and $90 million as a line of credit received from the Overseas Private Investment Corporation,” Patel says. Habitat is the largest equity holder. Omidyar Network and MetLife have also invested. Triple Jump, based in the Netherlands, is also an investor and also manages the fund. The money is invested with an eye toward capital preservation and a focus on both social and environmental impact.

International Justice Mission

There is a new form of sex trafficking of children in the Philippines that sends shivers down the spine of every parent. Victims are taken from the street and presented via the internet to customers who direct the sexual abuse of the child in real time.

Blair Burns, 43, the senior vice president of Justice Operations for International Justice Mission, says that this is part of a broader problem, the general failure of the rule of law.

Burns reports:

International Justice Mission (IJM) is the world’s largest international anti-slavery organization working to combat modern day slavery, human trafficking, and other forms of violence against the poor in 17 communities across the developing world. IJM does this by partnering with local authorities and partners to rescue victims, restore survivors, convict perpetrators, and transform broken public justice systems. To date, IJM has helped to rescue over 34,000 people from slavery and other forms of violent oppression.

Grassroot Soccer

As global health improves, one group is being left behind, according to Molly McHugh, 44, communications director for Grassroot Soccer, a nonprofit that has created an innovative way to reach young people. “In the last decade HIV related deaths have decreased for every age group except adolescents,” she says. There is a gap in the delivery of healthcare for this cohort.

The gap exists for a variety of reasons, from the focus on infant mortality to the lack of a trusted, competent person to talk to about sex and reproductive health. No teenager wants to talk to their parents about sex.

To empower young people to be the delivery system for accurate information about sexual and reproductive health, Grassroots Soccer uses the sport of soccer to engage them. The organization focuses on HIV/AIDS, gender-based violence and malaria. “Our solution is to reach adolescents through a combination of 3 C’s: Curriculum using soccer-based activities and lively discussions; Coaches who are young community leaders, trained to be health educators, who connect personally with participants and become trusted mentors; and a Culture of safe spaces for youth to ask questions, share opinions, and support each other,” Molly says.

Samasource

Poverty is primarily a lack of money result from deficient economic opportunities, according to Samasource’s Wendy Gonzalez, its senior vice president and managing director. “Poverty is at the root of all social ills. We’re really trying to solve poverty.”

Samasource begins by providing training to “marginalized women and youth” to teach them to complete “dignified” internet-based work. Gonzalez says, “We work in the slums of Nairobi. We work in extremely poor, rural Uganda. We also work in India.” After providing digital skills training, Samasource either places them into full-time work or hires them directly.

“Our goal is really to be the bridge employer.” The idea is that once a person is employable and can work for a company without a subsidy, they are likely to be successful.

So far, Samasource has moved 36,000 people out of poverty and has paid out $10 million in wages. Gonzalez reports that 80 percent of them stay employed or go on to get university education.

OpenBiome

To say that OpenBiome fits a unique niche in the social good space is a gross understatement. The nonprofit stool bank is all about helping people get healthy poop. Yes, that kind of stool.

About 500,000 people get and 30,000 people die each year in the U.S. from a bowel infection called Clostridium Difficile or C-diff. It is a hospital acquired disease that results from antibiotic use that kills that healthy fecal microbiota. James Burgess, 30, executive director, said that he and his colleagues started OpenBiome after a friend suffered through a long-lasting C-diff infection.

“Today, we provide carefully-screened, clinical-grade stool to 900 hospitals across the country, enabling thousands of treatments and supporting dozens of ground-breaking clinical trials in the microbiome,” he says. The treatment is a fecal transplant. The material is traditionally administered via a colonoscopy. A new pill—a “poop pill”—is being developed, he says.

OpenBiome is now testing the use of fecal transplants to treat a wide variety of gut treatments.

The Award

The Classy Award selection process is rigorous, according to co-founder Pat Walsh. There is a four-phase process that begins with a lengthy nomination form. Each year, Classy works to improve the process. A selection committee determines who all the winners are.

The nomination process begins this fall for next year’s awards. If you know someone who is solving a problem worth solving, consider nominating them.

Over 1 million people have read my books; have you? Learn more about my courses on entrepreneurship, crowdfunding and corporate social responsibility here.


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!

Knowing No App Alone Will Solve Hunger Didn’t Stop This Teen From Making A Difference

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

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

Sometimes it takes the perspective of a kid to see problems that impact children and find a solution.

When Jack Griffin, then 16 years old, saw a news story about two kids living out of a truck in Florida who were homeless as a result of their late mother’s medical bills, he recognized a problem he hadn’t seen before.

He began researching and watching. He discovered that “there are so many kids across the nation that are, you know, getting ready for school in the bathrooms of libraries and gas stations. I realized that it’s so prevalent and yet still so hard to see if you’re not directly impacted by it.”

“I was just a student in high school I had to face none of the day-to-day struggles that these kids had,” the teen, now 19, told me in an interview. Watch the full interview in the video player at the top of this article.

When Griffin learned that 1,000 of the 3,000 kids in his high school qualified for free or reduced lunch, he decided he had to do something to help.

As he began to research, he identified a problem he thought he could help solve. An online search revealed low-quality results that weren’t always geographically relevant for a hungry kid without access to a car.

Asking an adult wasn’t a great solution either, he observes. “That’s so hard and such a massive absolute obstacle to overcome because it’s so difficult to reveal your circumstances to someone like that because there’s such a stigma around being in need of assistance and being in these dire circumstances.”

As an aside, Griffin interjects, “We have a lot of work left to be done with making sure that people know that it’s OK to just ask for help.”

Jack Griffin

So, Griffin created a website now called FoodFinder that would help students find free food resources. The site was school-centric so it worked by having the user enter the name of the school. The site would generate a Google map displaying the school as a blue pin and five or ten nearby red pins would be the nearest free food resources.

He launched the site near the end of the school year, coincidentally a high-demand time of year. When students leave school, those who rely on school for free or affordable meals now find themselves hungry.

Working with what Griffin calls the “first responders to hunger,” the teachers, counselors and administrators, the site immediately got some traction.

Looking to create an app, Giffin reached out to the Wireless Technology Forum in Atlanta and found stable|kernal, a mobile technology firm that helped them design and then build the mobile app.

Sarah Woodward, Director of Business Development for stable|kernal says, “The stable|kernel team was so moved by Jack’s story and by what FoodFinder wanted to solve that we felt strongly we should get involved. We love serving FoodFinder as their product team. They are a truly collaborative group that wants to do what’s best for the product, which makes our jobs easy. We love solving the technology challenges they have so that FoodFinder can focus on its’ real business of bringing more food resources to the people that need them most.”

About a year later, in the summer of 2016, Griffin launched the Food Finder app, available both in the Apple App Store and Google Play.

He’s proud of the app’s simplicity. There is no login and no data entry required. Open the app and it immediately starts looking for free food in your vicinity.

The website has been upgraded to operate much like the app. Users no longer have to enter a location. There is no friction whatsoever between a hungry person and the information about free food resources. Within two or three seconds, without any data entry, the information is presented.

FoodFinder website screenshot showing free food resources in downtown Salt Lake City

When I tested the website and the app, both identified ten free food resources within about two miles of my location but omitted the largest free food distribution center in the valley, the Bishop’s Storehouse operated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the St. Vincent de Paul Dining Hall at the Weigand Homeless Resource Center operated by Catholic Community Services. Griffin explains that outside the Southeast, the app relies entirely on the USDA’s Summer Feeding Site location database; within the region, additional sites are added to the app’s database.

Griffin has financed the operation of the 501(c)(3) nonprofit with grants and donations so far totaling nearly $100,000. He’s looking to partner with corporations to make the operation more sustainable in some way.

One early partner is the Arby’s Foundation. Christopher Fuller, senior vice president of communications and executive director, said, “As an organization that has been involved with ending childhood hunger for years but is also expanding our focus to include empowering youth, a partnership with Jack was right up our alley.”

Fuller praises Griffin’s FoodFinder, “Before FoodFinder there was not a year-round national database for meal programs so finding a program near you was a challenge. Unfortunately, many families struggling with food insecurity don’t even know where to start looking when they find themselves in need. FoodFinder offers a comprehensive solution to this issue for families by delivering this information in an easy to use app.”

According to Feeding America, there are 42 million people in the U.S., including 13 million children, who struggle with food insecurity. The nonprofit notes that “households with children were more likely to be food insecure than those without children.”

These numbers motivate Griffin to keep working.

As Griffin built the website and then the app, he saw two sides to social entrepreneurship. “With social entrepreneurs, people are quick to loudly support your idea.”

On the other hand, he faced criticism from people asking if an app is really the best way to solve hunger. He notes that a “surprising number of kids and their families do have smartphones or access to one.”

What kept him going was the feedback. He acknowledges that it is difficult to track the conversion from app and website usage to people actually getting the food they need.

He loves hearing from volunteers at food pantries and churches that the people they serve say they found them using the app. He adds, “a couple of times a month we’ll either get an e-mail or a phone call sometimes with people actually in tears just whether they are directly impacted by the issue or not say you know this is such great work you’re doing. We really appreciate it.”

Over 1 million people have read my books; have you? Learn more about my courses on entrepreneurship, crowdfunding and corporate social responsibility here.


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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!

Social Entrepreneur Seeks To Make CSR Easier For Everyone

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

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

Ryan Scott, 48, CEO and founder of Causecast, is working to make corporate social responsibility easier for everyone involved, from the corporation and the employees to the nonprofits they support.

Causecast, a Certified B Corporation, operates a web service that matches corporate volunteers to nonprofit projects. The system provides a comprehensive reporting and management system.

Causecast allows both management and rank-and-file employees to put projects into the system to garner volunteer support.

Alicia Quinn, Director of Programs for Mission Edge, a nonprofit based in San Diego, uses the Causecast platform to match skills-based volunteers to specific needs in the nonprofit community there.

“It truly is a ‘one stop shop’ for corporate social responsibility and employee engagement,” Quinn says.

“When I first began designing the program, I didn’t have an effective method of sharing opportunities for nonprofit engagement with volunteers. I feared having to resort to email and an Excel spreadsheet to source organizations’ needs, and volunteers’ interests and skills. Causecast offers an efficient and effective solution for matching the supply with the demand.” Quinn says Mission Edge chose Causecast instead.

Ryan Scott, Causecast

“By offering an efficient and affordable product, Causecast allows nonprofits to access talent and harness the passions of the corporate community to impact the social sector,” she concluded.

Scott, an early investor in Tesla and other Silicon Valley startups, brought him into contact with the co-founders of AutoLotto, an app that lets users play the Powerball lottery right from their phones. (Disclosure: my wife owns 60 shares of Tesla.)

Mel Brue, head of marketing communications for AutoLotto explains that the lottery was originally started to fund social projects. Building on that idea, AutoLotto has created “social impact pools” that work like office pools to benefit charities. She says that social impact is especially important to millennials.

“Causecast has the infrastructure already in place to help us fulfill our philanthropic strategy domestically as well as abroad,” Brue says. “Causecast has been particularly effective in developing programs that are tailored to a specific region or country. Their diligent vetting of charities, as well as the infrastructure to facilitate giving, will allow us to launch impactful programs quickly as we scale both in the US and internationally.”

One feature of the program is modeled on crowdfunding sites. It allows employees to fundraise for a cause or charity in competition with other employees working to support the same cause. Employee engagement is one of the big benefits of the system, Scott says.

In one case, Scott reports, a corporation engaged 1,000 employees in a crowdfunding campaign, ultimately reaching broadly outside the company connecting with the social networks of the employees.

Scott, who had a successful exit in the 90s after creating an early opt-in email marketing platform, says he gained the ability to focus more of his energy on giving back after the deal.

“I tried doing some fundraising and things like that,” Scott says. “I found it to be not quite as satisfying as I would like. I didn’t really feel like I was being engaged at all levels.”

He began looking at corporations to see how they were giving and realized that they were not being offered tools that would make corporate social responsibility programs effective both in engaging employees and tracking impact.

So, Scott created Causecast.

He boasts that the system works. When companies have an existing CSR program and then adopt the Causecast platform for managing, they see an increase in participation. “All of a sudden they have 50 percent more participation because of all the transparency, because of the social, because of all of the technologies and products that we built around this.”

Over 1 million people have read my books; have you? Learn more about my courses on entrepreneurship, crowdfunding and corporate social responsibility here.


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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!

It Shouldn’t Be Easier To Find Your Mate Than To Find A Co-Investor Online

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

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

Last summer, at a meeting of Seattle impact investors, one of the members said she didn’t have need for additional deal flow–investment opportunities–what she needed, she said, according to Nancy Reid, director of the Seattle Impact Investing Group, is a way to build an investor syndicate. “What we need is investor flow.”

Michael ‘Luni’ Libes, 47, and Matt Eldridge, 48, who heard that need and set out to create a nonprofit, online platform called Investorflow.org to address the concern.

Matt Eldridge, co-founder and COO of Investorflow.org

“Impact investors are spread around the world, investing all around the globe. This makes it incredibly difficult for those seeking funding to find these investors. It also means that investors tend not to know each other,” Libes said, framing the discussion.

Watch the full interview with Libes and Eldridge at the top of this article.

He points out the investors typically have specific areas of focus, so even if you have dozens of impact investors in a room, chances are there still isn’t a critical mass of interest for any particular deal.

There is a wide range of possible interests for impact investing, he notes. “The UN has organized 17 distinct sustainability goals, but number 1, No Poverty, includes everything from the poorest billion people to affordable housing in New York City.”

“Meanwhile, in reality, most impact investments come from investors talking to other investors, not from companies pitching investors. The problem isn’t a lack of dealflow, nor a lack of crowd. The problem is efficiently matching the right deal to the right investor, one investor to another. Or more simply… the problem isn’t dealflow but investorflow,” Libes says.

Michael ‘Luni’ Libes, Investorflow.org

The investing community is ready for a new solution, Reid suggests. “Fundraising is still awkward.” That is true even for investors. “It can be an uncomfortable dynamic,” she adds.

“Fundraising is also still unbelievably slow and difficult! It’s way easier to find the right babysitter or landscaper or date than it is to find the right co-investors, which is bizarre,” Reid concludes.

Janine Firpo, the impact investor Reid mentioned who coined the phrase investor flow, emphasizes that impact investing is best done in teams. “What I believed we needed was an ‘investor flow’ solution that could put trusted investors together to share deals. Aside from a few very wealthy and committed individuals, this type of investing is not a solo activity. It takes a community. Luni made the idea of an investor flow a reality.”

“The solution is investorflow.org, an online network where impact investors can hear about deals that fit their particular interests, vetted by fellow investors. All the deals are posted by investors seeking co-investors, not by entrepreneurs or fund managers,” Libes explains.

Libes says the site already has 157 investors signed up with 14 deals in the review pipeline. As yet, no deals have closed. Deals are coming in at a rate of about one per week. Still, there aren’t enough investors. “We think at somewhere between here and 1,000 we’ll have a critical mass where when there’s deal posted there will always be someone interested,” Libes says.

This idea represents some fresh thinking in the impact investing world. It will be interesting to see if the site reaches the “critical mass” needed to start funding deals regularly.


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How Your Nonprofit Can Use $10,000 Per Month of Free Google Adwords


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It may be no secret that Google is giving away $10,000 per month in free Google Ads to nonprofits but many are still not taking full advantage of the opportunity.

Daniela Larsen, who leads both a for-profit marketing agency called Navanas Agency and a nonprofit called the Navanas Institute doing economic development work and education online and around the world, shares insights on how to get and use the monthly grant.

Daniela says most active nonprofits qualify. View eligibility details here. The basic guidelines require that you have a substantive website and that you be a legitimate nonprofit. Hospitals and universities are not eligible.

Be sure to watch the entire interview with Daniela at the top of this article to get all of her insights.

Nonprofits must use ’em or lose ’em. If you don’t actively use the grants, Google will cancel the account. There are other rules for use, mostly aimed at ensuring that the ads benefit your nonprofit–and not a corporate sponsor or partner. What a great program! Google really wants you to take full advantage.

The program gives a nonprofit a daily Adwords budget that represents about 1/30th of the $10,000, Daniela says. Adwords is Google’s advertising platform. Advertisers bid on words and phrases. The grant only allows bids up to $2.00 per word.

Many nonprofits lack the skills to take full advantage of the program and so they let these funds go to waste. Navanas Agency helps nonprofits take full advantage, with advisory fees as low as $500 per month.

There are a variety of tools available online to help you learn how to utilize Google Adwords, so even if you don’t know how today, check Udemy or Youtube for instructions and you can become proficient.

Daniela suggests using a strategy to maximize the return on the $10,000. For example, she explained that one nonprofit that provides sight-restoring surgeries that cost just $25 in the developing world did an effective Father’s Day promotion.

The nonprofit got donors to give their father a gift of someone else’s sight, making Dad a hero for Father’s Day. Making the donor, or in this case the gift recipient, a hero is a powerful way to build a relationship.

In a nutshell, nonprofits can quickly apply and qualify for $10,000 per month of free Google Adwords. With a little, affordable help, any nonprofit should be able to utilize these funds effectively to attract donations and expand its impact.

Daniela Larsen, Navanas

Daniela Larsen, Navanas

Danaiela’s bio:

Twitter: @navanasinc, @navanas1

Daniela has seen the explosive impact non profits can have when they treat themselves like a business and take marketing seriously. She has worked with many non profits to create revenue generating campaigns using email marketing, video, social media and expeditions to create sustainable revenue. She serves on the boards of Small Candles, The Hutchings Natural History Museum, Skymaster’s Wildlife Foundation and MIT Ghana. She is passionate about creating and distributing education that make the world a better place with current projects in Nepal, Madagascar, Kenya and Ghana. Daniela and her husband Nathan have 5 children. They “worldschool” their family by traveling broadly, learning online from the world’s best mentors and teaching other families how to do the same.

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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!

 

Facing Huge Demand, This Charity Needed A Miracle Worker To Raise Money

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

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

In 2010, between 500 and 700 families were being turned away from the Ronald McDonald House in Salt Lake City every year because the home lacked the rooms to care for all of the families with sick children being treated at area hospitals. To fix that problem, a major expansion requiring a significant capital campaign would be required. That, in turn, would require new leadership.

Enter Carrie Romano, who was recruited to serve as the CEO of the Ronald McDonald House Charities Intermountain Area largely because she had recently led a $20 million capital campaign for the .

If you are fortunate, you’ve never had occasion to stay at a Ronald McDonald House. Romano explains, “We provide a home-away-from-home to ease daily burdens and empower families of hospitalized children with meaningful experiences and quality time together.”

Watch the full interview with Romano at the top of this article.

Sandra Howell recently spent time at the Salt Lake City Ronald McDonald House. She learned about it from her social worker when she delivered premature twins. She says, “I was so concerned what I would do when I was discharged.”

She says the House was the “best miracle that ever happened to me.” She describes it as a House that was a home during the 78 days her babies were in the hospital. Today, she reports the babies are doing well.

To provide that sort of service to the hundreds of families being turned away each year, Romano needed to raise about $12 million for the expansion and to subsequently increase annual fundraising enough to cover an operating budget that would more than double.

McDonald’s, its franchisees and customers provide about 15 percent of the annual operating budget. The rest comes mostly from private philanthropy. About 10% of the annual budget comes from earned revenue, mostly in the form of the modest fees guests pay to stay–which are waived for those without the means to pay–and from Medicaid payments.

Many social entrepreneurs will one day face the difficult decision to bring on a CEO who can grow the enterprise and create more impact.

Romano, who says courage is her superpower, says, “I dare take on big things and see them through.”

She organized a campaign catalyst team to help with the fundraising. She also made sure that every employee felt empowered to help. She notes, “You never know where your biggest supporter may come from.”

Carrie Romano, Ronald McDonald House Charities of the Intermountain Area

Romano understands that most people are uncomfortable asking people for money. She doesn’t suffer from that condition, however. She says, “I love giving people the opportunity to give away their treasure” for a great cause.

She adds, “I am grounded by the mission of the charity.”

Lisa Teske Hudson, a principal at Aspen Consulting Group, Inc., served as president of the Board of the YWCA in Salt Lake during the capital campaign Romano led. When Romano took on the challenge at the Ronald McDonald House she not only solicited contributions from Hudson, she asked her to serve on the board.

Hudson says there are three things she considers before giving her time or her money to a cause: mission, management and gratitude.

She says that last year, the Ronald McDonald House served 3,827 guest families and its family room at Primary Children’s Hospital served 7,400 families “during a very critical time of their lives.” That mission meets the Hudson test.

Of the management, Hudson says, “With my experience on this board and other boards, I feel that the leadership of this charity is among the best in Utah and among the best I’ve seen.” She notes that the nonprofit is received a four-star rating (the highest) from Charity Navigator.

Her thinking about gratitude reflects the thinking of many donors, “My husband and I have not made financial donations significant enough to have a building named after us. But the contributions we make are hard-earned and meaningful to us. We are what the charity refers to as Grand Givers – individuals who give a personal gift of $1,000 or more. The management and staff do an exceptional job of showing gratitude for the support they receive from donors.”

Using her superpower, Romano successfully led the capital campaign and oversaw the construction of an expansion of the House that more than doubled its size, nearly eliminating the need to turn families away. In 2016, only 167 families were turned away.


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The Painful Story Of A Reluctant Social Entrepreneur

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

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

Kelli Kelley is a reluctant social entrepreneur.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So she did.

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

Kelli Kelley, Hand to Hold

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

 

How Seeing The Nonprofit As A Business Helps Smile Train Grow

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Susannah Schaefer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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This ‘Tornado Of Energy’ Is Revamping Education In Liberia

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Katie Meyler

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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