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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.

This ‘Tornado Of Energy’ Is Revamping Education In Liberia

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Katie Meyler

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

69 Ways to Change the World

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

The other day, a colleague asked me, “Would you rather buy a 400-page book that guaranteed you’d lose 30 pounds in 30 days or a one-page checklist with the same guarantee?”

That got me thinking, what if I could get the best advice that my network of social entrepreneurs and impact investors could offer in short, tweetable chunks? Wouldn’t they have to strip away all of the stuff that doesn’t matter to provide game-changing advice?

Over the past five years, I’ve had over 800 people on my show to talk about changing the world. Sixty-nine of them responded to my request for their best advice for social entrepreneurs in 100 characters or less. These gems, from people who either have been where you are going as a social entrepreneur or are investing in social entrepreneurs like you, may represent the checklist for success and impact that you’ve been looking for.

Aaron Hurst, CEO of Imperative and author of the Purpose Economy:

Don't just seek to serve a need but to fundamentally shift an issue or market. Click To Tweet

Adlai Wertman, USC Professor, Founding Director of Brittingham Social Enterprise Lab:

Don't believe the people who tell you that you need private sector experience first! Click To Tweet

Amit Bouri

Amit Bouri, CEO of the Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN):

Build relationships and approach performance thru a lens of impact, risk & return. #impinv… Click To Tweet

Andreas Karelas, Executive Director of RE-volv:

Have fun with it. Do it for the fun of it and don't worry about the rest. Click To Tweet

Andrei Cherny, CEO of Aspiration:

Make bold plans. Make them reality by focusing on tiny details. Bet on trust, decency and goodness. Click To Tweet

Anne Friedman, managing director of Somos, a Hult Prize finalist:

Product < Your ability to communicate its value. Nail the elevator pitch FIRST. Click To Tweet

Arlene Samen, president of One Heart World:

Social entrepreneurs are able to navigate troubled waters without hesitation. Click To Tweet

Ashish Gadnis, co-founder and CEO of BanQu, Inc.:

End extreme poverty by enabling an economic identity for all humanity. Click To Tweet

Ben Block, founder of GozAround, Inc.:

Don't undercut your vision. Watering down your dream drains its power to attract support. Click To Tweet

Billy Starr

Billy Starr, founder of the Pan Mass Challenge:

Credibility through repetition; closer by the mile; commit, you'll figure it out. Click To Tweet

Bobby Turner, CEO of Turner Impact Capital:

Recognize that daunting social challenges create generational investment opportunities. Click To Tweet

Cecile Blilious, managing director and co-founder of Impact First Investments:

Global challenges can be addressed with technology. Think creatively about tech solutions. Click To Tweet

Charles Best, founder of DonorsChoose.org:

The two most important attributes for a social entrepreneur to possess: hustle and humility. Click To Tweet

Dan Buettner, founder of Blue Zones, LLC:

The secret to most success: relentless pressure, gently applied. Click To Tweet

Daniel Jean-Louis, CEO of Bridge Capital:

Foster a trusting relationship between the stakeholders involved in wealth and impact creation. Click To Tweet

Daryl Hatton, CEO of Fundrazr:

Most important words for social CEOs: How can I help? Builds team, connections, community &… Click To Tweet

David D’Angelo, Founder of Jack of All Fares:

Persist not for bottom lines, but because lives depend on it. Then live in a state of urgency. Click To Tweet

David Wilson

David Wilson of Capgemini:

While passion for social impact is key, a sustainable plan is the only path to long-run viability. Click To Tweet

Elizabeth Dearborn Hughes, CEO of Akilah Institute:

It's never too early to create HR policies. Maybe not the most fun but will save headaches later on! Click To Tweet

Jack Rolfe, CEO of the School of Life Foundation:

It is critical to develop solid tools for measuring your impact! Click To Tweet

Jacob Lief, CEO of the Ubuntu Education Fund:

Be ambitious. Be willing to risk failure. But also be honest and think critically about your… Click To Tweet

James Citron, CEO of Pledgeling:

Create like an architect, disrupt like a hacker, execute like a for-profit and lead with heart and… Click To Tweet

Janice Lintz, CEO of Hearing Access and Innovations:

The naysayers will tell you what you can't accomplish and happily take credit for the success. Click To Tweet

Jenny Kassan, of Jenny Kassan Consulting:

Know that it is possible to raise funding from investors on your own terms. Click To Tweet

Joel Solomon

Joel Solomon, co-founder and chair of Renewal Funds:

My life purpose drove my investing, an instinctual process of love for the future. Click To Tweet

Juan Diego Prudot, chief information officer at IMPCT:

Play the floor is lava: jump over obstacles and try not to fall, but if you do, the game just… Click To Tweet

Kara Goldin, CEO of Hint:

Life has so many different chapters. One bad chapter does not mean it’s the end of the book. Click To Tweet

Karim Abouelnaga, CEO of Practice Makes Perfect:

Don't chase people who don't believe in your mission to support your work. It's a bad use of… Click To Tweet

Katherine Fife, founder of Philanthropy Matters:

To be successful, social entrepreneurs must be authentic and express an abundance of gratitude. Click To Tweet

Kathleen Minogue, founder of Crowdfund Better:

Don't be afraid of appearing to stand still; listening, observing & reflecting are actions. Click To Tweet

Kip Kint, success coach at Kint Enterprises:

The secret to success in life lies in making, honoring, and keeping commitments… to yourself. Click To Tweet

Kirsten Henry Fox, courtesy of Uplift Gift

Kirsten Henry Fox, founder and CEO of Uplift Gift:

When facing seemingly impossible leaps, suspend disbelief and let curiosity guide you to the bridge. Click To Tweet

Lance Allred, CEO of Courage and Grit:

The best time hack is learning how to say, No. Click To Tweet

Laura Callanan, founding partner of Upstart Co-Lab:

Remember why you are doing what you are doing and pick your metrics before someone picks them for… Click To Tweet

Laura Lemle, founder and chairperson of the NVLD Project:

When you come up with an idea or you want to give back, do it. Don’t let fear or obstacles stop… Click To Tweet

Laurent Lamothe, former Prime Minister of Haiti:

Honesty and kindness are the keys to success. Click To Tweet

Laurie Lane-Zucker, founder and CEO of Impact Entrepreneur Center:

Your work is most impactful if it transforms both the world and you. Click To Tweet

Lauryn Agnew, CEO of Seal Cove Financial:

Social enterprises should target, measure and disclose their impact, output and outcomes. Click To Tweet

Leslie Calman, CEO of Engineering World Health:

Social change requires thoughtful action. Less tweeting: more doing! Click To Tweet

Lindsay Hadley of Hadley Impact Consulting:

If others doubt, question or criticize you, trust time to tell the true story of your character. Click To Tweet

Lindsey Kneuven, chief impact officer of Cotopaxi:

Design for systems change and maintain focus to prevent the dilution of quality and impact. Click To Tweet

Lindsey Tropf

Lindsey Tropf, CEO of Immersed Games:

No margin, no mission. The business must be sustainable in order to accomplish everything you want! Click To Tweet

Lisa Curtis, CEO of Kuli Kuli:

Start with the story but dive quickly into the data. Click To Tweet

Lisa Tomasi, President of You Give Goods:

Dream big but build your business on small, measurable goals that are focused on your mission. Click To Tweet

Liz Baker, Executive Director of GreaterGood:

Everything starts with impact. Try new things. Stop doing what doesn't work. Do more of what… Click To Tweet

Marc Raco of MouthMedia Network:

Curate content that motivates robust sharing. Important to you doesn't mean important to them. Click To Tweet

Mark Horoszowski, CEO of Moving Worlds:

Keep your mission front and center; never stop testing the best way to achieve it. Click To Tweet

Matthew Davis, founder of RENEW, LLC:

You're an entrepreneur building a profitable business that does something social. Remember profit. Click To Tweet

Matthew Weatherley-White, managing director and co-founder of the Caprock Group:

Mission won't guarantee success. Be relentless on operations and finances and mission can flourish. Click To Tweet

Mellanie True Hills

Mellanie True Hills, CEO and founder of StopAfib.org and American Foundation for Women’s Health:

The more important your vision, the more doors will open for you. Our vision: No more afib strokes. Click To Tweet

Melody Brenna, CEO of Reef Life Nanoscience:

Brains + Biz not synonymous with success, add advanced science + UPlifting Human Condition = ZEN… Click To Tweet

Michael D. Lowe, A Parent Media Co., Inc. (Kidoodle.tv):

Continually search for novel ways to monetize through unlikely sources, collaboration and… Click To Tweet

Morgan Simon, managing director of Pi Investments:

Fight like hell for the things that you really care about. Then forget the rest. Click To Tweet

Nancy Hughes, president and Founder of Stove Team International:

If you are passionate about the mission, it's not work. You enjoy every challenge and every day. Click To Tweet

Nancy Pfund, founder and managing partner of DBL Partners:

Don’t be afraid of the incumbent. If you hold to your mission, society will be on your side. Click To Tweet

Nell Derick Debevoise, founder and CEO of Inspiring Capital:

Make sure there's not an existing org to house your vision. Building costs a lot of time and money! Click To Tweet

Paul Elio, founder and CEO of Elio Motors:

Live your passion, love the process, treat people well, do what you say and never, ever, give up. Click To Tweet

Per Saxegaard, founder of Business for Peace Foundation:

Purpose of business is to improve society (if you’re not here to improve society, why are you… Click To Tweet

Robert Selliah, founder and CEO of American Medchem Nonprofit Corporation:

Firm attitude of inclusiveness is essential to serve the most vulnerable members of our society. Click To Tweet

Ross Baird

Ross Baird, CEO of Village Capital:

Always ask yourself: what is the actual problem I am solving (and for whom)? Click To Tweet

Sam X. Renick of SammyRabbit.com:

Have a deep personal purpose filled mission to quiet grave doubts, difficulties and… Click To Tweet

Samira Harnish, executive director of Women of the World:

Lead by listening. Gain trust by being authentic. Work hard, never taking no for an answer. Click To Tweet

Scot Chisholm, co-founder and CEO of Classy:

Always think like an underdog, or lose to someone who is. Click To Tweet

Scott Hill, president of Clean Energy Advisors (disclosure: Scott Hill is a client):

Love God, love your neighbor, identify a problem, take action, make a difference...in that order. Click To Tweet

Steve Grizzell, managing director, Innoventures Capital:

Build a great team. Rarely is anything big done by one person because big problems are complex. Click To Tweet

Thane Kreiner, executive director of the Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship:

Focus on how your core competencies generate impact; partner to yield a complete solution. Click To Tweet

Todd Sylvester, founder of Todd Sylvester Inspires:

The most delightful surprise in life is to suddenly recognize there is nothing wrong with you. Click To Tweet

Wendy Lipton-Dibner

Wendy Lipton-Dibner, president and CEO of Professional Impact, Inc.:

Your business success rests not on revenue but on the measurable impact you make in people's lives. Click To Tweet

Zach Hagopian, co-founder of Accelevents:

Put yourself in the users' shoes to find the common ground between user needs and business goals. Click To Tweet

Which challenge most inspires you? Tweet it, then do it!

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!

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

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jean Krisle

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

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

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

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

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

10,000 Beds RV

Krisle says the trip is intended to accomplish three goals:

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

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

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

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

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

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!

United Nations Alum Has Idea For Global Peace

Sanford Hinden spent 23 years working for UN agencies and has never quit thinking of about how to solve the world’s biggest problems.

He says, “I work every day to Save Planet Earth from biospheric collapse, nuclear war, and waste of funds on militarization and surveillance through communication to leaders, and I create organizations, programs and projects that help people, families and communities be creative, communicative and sustainable.”

Recently, Sanford and I caught up for a conversation about his ideas. You can watch them on the video above.

He is working to bring his vision to reality. He says, “Having 45 years of experience in nonprofits for global change, I know the importance of gathering the right people for a long-term effort.  I am collaborating with global educator and filmmaker Nara Bateson, global educator and entrepreneur Joy Case, GreenHearted environmental educator Julie D. Johnston, and global systems educator Alexander Laszlo on Commonwealth for Earth & Humanity. Each has a network of thought leaders and persons of influence.”

He adds, “As a child, I loved animals and nature. I would visit the Bronx Zoo often, and the United Nations as a teenager and young adult. I have helped many organizations and had great mentors like Dr. Robert Muller of the UN, and Fr. Thomas Berry, best known for his work with The New Story.  I have many proposals and programs for a better world cataloged on my website, freely available for anyone to use.  You can see them here.”

Sanford Hinden, courtesy of Sanford Hinden

Sanford Hinden, courtesy of Sanford Hinden

More about The Commonwealth for Earth and Humanity:

The Commonwealth for Earth & Humanity is a commonwealth system where all can benefit through good efforts that are environmentally sustainable.  It seeks investments in Earth, Society and Humanity. It supports Global Demilitarization, that can the allow funds to become available for investment in Earth, Society and Humanity in Earth Repair & Care, Infrastructure, Social Stabilization and Human Enlightenment creating Sustainable Families, Sustainable Communities and a Sustainable World.

Sanford’s bio:

Sanford Hinden served in United Nations non-governmental organizations for 23 years and as executive director for the Dix Hills Performing Arts Center for 12 years. Sandy is a workshop facilitator on self-development, relationships,  communication and peace, presenting educational programs to help individuals, couples, families and teams reach their full-potential. With a background in education, health and human services, the arts, the environment, peace-building, government and business, he has started and provided consulting for seven nonprofit organizations. He is author of 7 Keys to Love – Opening Love’s Door to Joy & Wellbeing, and was given an Outstanding Advocate for the Arts Award by the Long Island Arts Council.  Sandy graduated with a BA in Psychology with honors, Queens College, City University of New York, with a second major in Interpersonal Relations  and Group Facilitation. He received training in Community Organization from the Gamaliel Foundation.

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!

 

I’m Not Mindful Because I’m Not a Narcissist

How many times per day do you hear “be mindful” or “be present”?

Frankly, as a social entrepreneur, I’m sick and tired of it. Here’s why.

Yes, there are demonstrable health benefits to being present in the moment, especially for good moments. And frankly, for most of us with time to read an article of this sort, most moments are pretty good. Enjoying them more makes us all healthier and happier.

But I’m not very good at that.

Right now, in Somalia 6.5 million people are at risk of starving to death, largely as a result of climate change. The entire country is experiencing extreme drought and children—the most vulnerable to famine—are beginning to die. More than 100 people died in two days from starvation-related causes. (The British Red Cross is on the scene working to alleviate suffering and prevent massive death—donate here.)

About six million women and children will die this year from the smoke of cooking fires inside their homes. That is about 11 people every minute. For some reason, I don’t feel the need to be present while I warm up my left overs in the microwave. (Learn more about clean cookstoves from the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves).

When I’m out for my run in the morning, I can’t focus on my stride length, cadence or breathing because right here at home in the United States, 28.5 million people lack health insurance and another 14 million are threatened with losing theirs if Trumpcare is adopted. A study published by the Harvard Gazette reported that as of 2009, 45,000 people in the United States die from a lack of health insurance every year. While that number likely dropped in recent years due to the Affordable Care Act, the numbers could quickly spike again. (Write your congressional representatives to encourage them to expand coverage under the ACA rather than shrinking it.)

Not everything that distracts me is terrible. The number of polio cases is the world has dropped by 99.99 percent since the mid-1980s when there were almost 400,000 cases every year. Last year there were 37. This year could be the last year that anyone on the planet gets polio. Yes, I’ve said that for the past three years. No, I’m not giving up hope that this year will be the one. (Donate to Rotary’s “End Polio” efforts here.)

Two drops of oral polio vaccine cost about 60 cents and can protect a child against the disease. Devin Thorpe administers the drops.

Two drops of oral polio vaccine cost about 60 cents and can protect a child against the disease. Devin Thorpe administers the drops.

And let’s be clear, when I’m walking the streets of Salt Lake City thinking about my next article, my strategy for increasing my impact or reducing my carbon output, I’m not present. I’m not thinking about my feet in my shoes, the wind on my face or the beauty around me. I’ve seen it before. Hundreds of times over more decades than I care to count. Frankly, I’m thinking and worrying about something much more important than how much I’m enjoying my day.

Years ago, I learned that taking a few deep breaths when I’m stressed can have a big impact on my stress and my health. I do employ that technique consciously on most days because something gets me worked up. I’m ashamed that the things that really get me worked up are stupid, first-world sorts of problems. I should be getting more worked up about people starving in Somalia for starters.

You are probably more like me than you think. Perhaps you don’t worry or think about any of the things I’ve listed above. Maybe you are more focused on caring for your aging parents, or for your own young children, or keeping the job you absolutely need to keep your family fed and sheltered. Being mindful is a luxury for the wealthy and the world would be better off if they weren’t so mindful.

Someone is sure to point out that being truly mindful means contemplating the very things I’m talking about. Wonderful! Let’s all be mindful in that sense. But let’s not pretend we can be present in the moment appreciating the world around us and simultaneously be aware of others removed from us by great distances or dire circumstances. To be mindful of others is anathema to a focus on oneself.

Life is not supposed to be one continuous amusement. Your life has meaning, purpose and real joy when your attention is focused more on the wellbeing of others.

So, the next time you start to feel a bit guilty because you are not “present” or “mindful” enough, just say to yourself, “I’m not mindful because I’m not a narcissist.”

How Social Entrepreneurs Begin To Measure Impact

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

This is the first in a series of articles about impact measurement for social entrepreneurs.

There are two keys to becoming a good social entrepreneur. Intentionality, that is intending to have a positive social impact rather than merely delivering one incidentally, is how you become a social entrepreneur. Accountability, measuring the impact, is how you become an effective one.

Measurement, however, is not straightforward for most social entrepreneurs. To help guide startup social entrepreneurs on the measurement of impact, I’ve reached out to some of the leading practitioners and experts in the impact arena to comment.

“It may not be as difficult as it seems, at least for now,” says Stephanie Gripne, Founder and Director, Impact Finance Center & CO Impact Days and Initiative. “The majority of individuals and families [investing in social entrepreneurs] can still be satisfied with basic impact premises and themes, much as they’re satisfied with generalized results from gifts to charities. For now, the democratization of impact investing is being led by values and principles more than measurable outcomes.”

Stephanie Gripne, courtesy of the Impact Finance Center

“Even many institutional investors and advanced investors,” she continues, “are satisfied with ‘outputs – acres conserved, ex-offenders employed, fair-trade products sourced, etc. – as long as the units counted seem reasonable. A smaller percentage (but perhaps a more vocal and well-publicized percentage) are seeking real ‘outcomes’ – the types of harder, longer-term measures that drive Social Impact Bonds for example.”

Cathy Clark, Director, CASE i3 at Duke, highlights the importance of defining a “theory of change.” She says, “This is basically an ‘if-then’ statement that relates their activities to the change they seek. Every social entrepreneur needs to make this argument about their impact. Using that theory, they can they start to recognize assumptions in the theory and track measures that help test how well things are actually occurring.”

Cathy Clark, courtesy of CASE i3

Cecile Blilious, Founder, Managing Partner, Impact First Investments, echoes Clark. “Entrepreneurs should be able to describe their theory of change and work towards creating a social impact plan in parallel with their business plan.”

Cecile Blilious, courtesy of Impact First Investments

Similarly, Uma Sekar, Impact & ESG Manager, Capria Ventures, suggests starting with an impact thesis. “Entrepreneurs should start with an impact thesis or strategy, set goals that are achievable and align their core metrics. Some of the common metrics are lives impacted, job creation and geographic coverage. The more specific they are about the populations they are addressing–base of the pyramid, low income, minorities, women, refugees, etc.–the better. If it is an environment focused company – energy conservation, carbon footprint are common measures.

Lisa Curtis, founder & CEO, Kuli Kuli, suggests identifying a short list of key measures. “Social entrepreneurs should understand how their high-level vision translates down into 3-5 key metrics that are quantifiable. They should be able to articulate what success in 10 years would look like in terms of those metrics, whether it’s the number of trees planted, livelihoods created or investment made.”

Lisa Curtis, courtesy of Kuli Kuli

Focus on measuring the one thing you’re looking to do, says Nell Derick, Founder and CEO, Inspiring Capital. “A simple, customized, quantitative standard related to their self-proclaimed target impact. For example, we’ve been measuring our professionals’ and clients’ reaction to the question, ‘Do you better understand how to use your or your employees’ business skills (e.g. finance, strategy, marketing and operations) to advance social good?’ since our first programs in 2014. It’s not part of a public index or measure, but it tells US if we’re doing what we set out to do, and the very design (and ongoing choosing) of that question forces us to clarify the one thing we’re looking to do in the world.”

Nell Derick Debevois, courtesy of Inspiring Capital

Laurie Lane-Zucker, Founder & CEO, Impact Entrepreneur Center for Social and Environmental Innovation, suggests putting impact measures into a broader context. He says, “Global sustainability context is also important in this discussion of impact measures. Grounding social entrepreneurship in widely accepted contextual touchstones such as the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals helps: a) provide sustainability context for impact investors keen on seeing “the big picture,” b) facilitates comparisons between different investment opportunities addressing the same sector (i.e. water, climate, poverty, food), and c) helps ESG [environmental, social and corporate governance] reports using (hopefully) similar impact measurements be more comparable and transparently answerable to macro social and environmental needs.”

Laurie Lane Zucker, courtesy of Impact Entrepreneur Center for Social and Environmental Innovation

Matthew Weatherley-White, Co-Founder, Managing Director, The CAPROCK Group, cautions that no single set of metrics will work for all social ventures. “We believe that there are no universal impact key performance indicators. Instead, social entrepreneurs should be prepared to measure, on day one, whatever impact metrics are endogenous to the operations or mission of their enterprise. Far too often, social entrepreneurs believe that tracking and reporting on a host of socially-aware metrics will make their business ‘more’ impactful… when, in fact, doing so may be (at best) a distraction to operating the business or (at worst) a distorting force, putting at risk the survival of the enterprise.  Seen through this lens, impact measurement can be interpreted as answering the question of ‘materiality’: what impact measures are critical to the survival of the enterprise. That set of measures should be what the entrepreneur strives to report the day the doors open.

Matthew Weatherley-White, courtesy of Cap Rock.

Gary White, CEO & Co-founder, Water.org, also emphasizes the unique measurement challenges each social venture will face. “For enterprises like Water.org and WaterEquity, we are very much focused on delivering impact in the form of number of people reached with water and sanitation improvements.  For our WaterEquity initiative, we also look at IRIS metrics and commit to reporting within that framework.”

Gary White, couresty of Water.org

Matthew Davis, CEO, RENEW, an impact investing firm focusing on Ethiopia, notes that for some ventures impact measure is relatively simple. “In the part of the world where I invest (Africa), where job creation is desperately needed and starting and growing a business is very challenging, the best impact is a healthy growing business that is managed by ethical leaders. Therefore, growth and good governance must be a priority from day one.”

Matt Davis, courtesy of Renew LLC

Peter Fusaro, Chairman, Global Change Associates, agrees. “Hopefully, they should be focused on the ESG metrics of environmental benefits, job creation and be ethical vis a vis transparency.”

Bobby Turner, CEO, Turner Impact Capital, also recommends ESG metrics. “At Turner Impact Capital, our reports provide financial, social and environmental metrics for our investors to track. By doing so, one can then see the correlation and interdependency between profits and purpose, i.e. a reduction in carbon footprint leading to lower utility costs or a reduction in crime translating into lower insurance costs and thus higher profit margins.”

Bobby Turner, courtesy of Turner Impact Capital

Daniel Jean Louis, CEO, Bridge Capital, operating in Haiti, suggest even more basic measures, starting with “customer and employee satisfaction” because they are “much easier to track.”

Balance qualitative measures with quantitative measures, suggests Topher Wilkins, CEO and founder, Opportunity Collaboration and Conveners.org, respectively. “In general, it’s best to be able to justify both quantitative and qualitative impact, i.e. data-driven metrics (how many more children are now attending school, what percentage of women are now surviving childbirth, what’s the increase in average household income, etc.) alongside stories or testimonials from beneficiaries, e.g. ‘before X organization came to my village, it was very difficult to feed my entire family, but now I can provide at least two meals a day and no one is hungry anymore.’”

Expanding on this idea, Lisa Hagerman, Director of Programs, DBL Partners, says, impact measures should include narratives and quantitative measures about the programs and practices related to the target impact. These should include “narratives across: public policy, environmental stewardship, workforce development, community engagement, and, quantitative metrics across: job creation, quality of jobs & benefits offered (including wealth creating programs such as Employee Stock Ownership Plans), environmental metrics, supply chain accountability, among others.

Some investors do have more specific guidelines. Joel Solomon, Chair, Renewal Funds, says, “We are a B Corp Fund. We strongly encourage, but don’t require, portfolio companies to become B Corp. We use the B Corp questionnaire as part of our due diligence before final investment. We prioritize B Corp companies for our intake process.”

Joel Solomon, courtesy of Renewal Funds

Impact takes time so reporting on impact will improve over time, says, Laura Callanan, Founding Partner, Upstart Co-Lab. “If this is a new enterprise, there will be a trajectory to actually deliver impact just like there will be a trajectory to deliver financial return. Impact investors need to think like investors first and foremost and recognize it takes time to build a business and see results, all kinds of results.”

Lauryn Agnew, President, Seal Cove Financial and Founder, Bay Area Impact Investing Initiative, agrees. “We also need to measure both outputs and outcomes, which can take decades. Biotech investments seek the outcome that lives are saved over decades.”

Ultimately, measurement isn’t a panacea. Morgan Simon, Managing Director, Pi Investments, says, “At Pi Investments, we try to focus on impact management above and beyond measurement–ensuring both fund managers and entrepreneurs have a clear vision of how they will enhance the impact of their work over time.”

Morgan Simon, courtesy of PI Investments

Lane-Zucker, emphasizes the organization of the enterprise to minimize measurement challenges. “The more that entrepreneurs can bake double and triple bottom line values into their DNA (mission, legal structure, reporting, etc.) from the earliest stages of their project, the easier it will be to locate appropriate measures as the business begins to take shape and mature.”

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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!

When Free Maternity Care Isn’t Worth The Price

Shalom Mbungua Kang’ethe was born healthy on February 21, 2017 at 5:00 AM at Jacaranda Maternity Hospital in Nairobe. His mother, Lydia Wangui, paid about $100 to deliver her baby there; her first son was born at Mama Lucy Hospital, a public hospital where the delivery was free. Let’s find out why she didn’t want a free delivery for Shalom.

Lydia Wangui and her newborn son Shalom Mbungua Kang'ethe

Lydia Wangui and her newborn son Shalom Mbungua Kang’ethe

At the public hospital, women are expected to bring a birth kit. Of course, you say. Every woman in the world has a kit ready to go to the hospital when it is time to deliver. It isn’t that kind of kit. This kit would include the hospital essentials like rubber gloves for the nurse or midwife that delivers the baby, a string to tie off the umbilical cord, a razor blade to cut the umbilical cord, two sheets–one for the baby and one for the mother, and a maternity pad. If they want the bed sterilized following the preceding delivery, mothers are expected to bring bleach.

Oftentimes, however, the bleach is irrelevant. The hospitals are so overcrowded and understaffed that multiple women may be laboring in the same bed. One nurse described a scene with ten women laboring in one room with three beds.

Jacaranda Health was founded by Nick Pearson, who is from North Carolina. Nick came to Kenya several years ago while working for the Acumen Fund. He fell in love with Kenya and with an obstetrician here. He confessed that part of his motivation for leaving Acumen to start Jacaranda Health was to impress the woman who would become his wife.

Lydia seems to think that Nick and his team are doing a good job. Her first observation about the difference between delivering at Jacaranda compared with the public hospital was the nurses were nice. Seeking to understand more fully, I asked what the worst thing about the public hospital was and she reiterated that the nurses there were “not polite.”

She also liked the hot shower, clean facilities and good food.

Of course, these things don’t just happen in Kenya. It has taken Jacaranda five years to create a model maternity hospital that it hopes to replicate across the continent eventually.

Faith Muigai, Chief Medical Officer

Faith Muigai, Chief Medical Officer

Faith Muigai, the Chief Medical Officer, was trained as a nurse in the U.S. and worked at Johns Hopkins. She provided a guided tour of the facility to the visitors from Santa Clara University’s Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship. Jacaranda participated in the school’s Global Social Benefit Institute program in 2014.She explained that the

She explained that Jacaranda initially opened a smaller facility that was intended to serve the same purpose. Staffed only with nurses and midwives and without an operating theater for performing C-sections, care could be provided even more affordably but even women who received their pre-natal care there chose not to deliver there. They made it clear that they wanted to deliver in a facility with a doctor and an operating room in case there were complications.

So, the new hospital was built. During the tour, the visitors saw a newborn that had been delivered via C-section only moments earlier. The fifth such delivery of the day.

Midwives use donated, modern ultrasound equipment from GE to spot complications as soon as women arrive.

Most of the women who deliver at the facility live in Nairobi’s slums. Urban poverty is different from rural poverty; people have money and incomes, but not enough. To help the women plan and prepare for the cost of delivering a baby, the prices for the services are posted on the wall on a giant sign. A normal delivery like Lydia’s costs about $100. A C-section costs about $350.

Posted prices at Jacaranda Maternity Hospital

Posted prices at Jacaranda Maternity Hospital

Women living in the slums don’t routinely have access to that much money. They are forced to save for the expense.

It isn’t just poor women that are delivering at Jacaranda. Faith admitted that she didn’t know what to think of it when women started showing up to the hospital in cars, “even a Range Rover.” The quality of care at Jacaranda now matches the most expensive private hospitals in the city, but at a fraction of the price.

Nick says the hospital recovers about 80 percent of its operating costs. Faith adds that they are exploring services they can offer at a premium, to improve profit margins for affluent patients.

As Lydia she was preparing to leave the hospital with Shalom, I asked her if it was worth paying so much. Without hesitating, she said, “Oh, yes.”

This week, I’m traveling in Africa as a guest of Santa Clara University’s Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship’s Executive Director Thane Kreiner and namesakes Karen and Jeff Miller. Read all my reports.

#17africa

Despite Big Impact, This Nonprofit Faces Challenges

Potential Energy, a clean cookstove manufacturer based in Kampala, Uganda is facing challenges on several fronts. Despite having sold 45,000 high-efficiency cook stoves, the nonprofit venture is facing a host of troubles, including some existential threats.

Potential Energy sells the Berkeley-Darfur stove primarily to NGOs that give or sell them to refugees. The stove was developed with help from refugees in Darfur at Lawrence Berkeley National Labs. The wood-burning stove is a highly regarded “tier 4” stove that reduces wood consumption by more than 50 percent and reduces smoke and pollution even more.

The nonprofit notes on its website that the stoves have already impacted 270,000 people, mostly refugees.

But today, Potential Energy faces big challenges. It has paid to produce 5,000 stoves in India that sit there unassembled. According to CEO Jessica De Clerk, originally from Portland, Oregon, the company lacks the resources to bring the stoves to Uganda from India. Between shipping costs and duties, the cost to import them nearly matches the $10 per unit cost to build them in the first place.

Once they arrive, if they do, Potential Energy needs to assemble them and sell them–neither task will be free. While they have a number of small orders, the bulk of the stoves would not have an immediate home. Jessica says she hopes to sell the stoves for $20 each in bulk, meaning that Potential Energy will almost certainly lose money on bulk sales.

The challenges don’t end there. In an effort to broaden its product line and diversify its revenue sources, Potential Energy has begun selling several models of charcoal burning stoves to low-income people in urban Kampala. These stoves range from $6 to $50. The $50 stoves are sold on credit and come with contracts that require the customers to purchase more environmentally friendly charcoal briquettes.

These efforts don’t all sit well with donors, some of whom are focused on moving to the sale only of stoves that are deemed “tier 4” for both efficiency and emissions. Such stoves cost about $100 and require a fan to provide secondary air to enhance burning. Jessica, living and working in Kampala since she came here to support a project for a Portland Rotary Club, says the high prices make selling such stoves impossible. Without them, however, she faces a dearth of funding.

And there’s more. She took us to visit three customers who have purchased the $50 high-efficiency charcoal stoves.

Helen Okidi, Potential Energy customer

Helen Okidi, Potential Energy customer

Helen Okidi lives in a slum in Kampala about 15 minutes’ drive from the Potential Energy office. Helen is obviously proud of her stove and was thrilled to show it off to the international group of visitors from the Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship at Santa Clara University. She wasn’t reluctant to bring out her old stove to show how much nicer the new one is.

Helen Okidi's two stoves

Helen Okidi’s two stoves

Notably, however, the new stove was clearly not being used regularly. The old stove was full of burning charcoal and she had clearly been cooking with it before we arrived. She had lit some charcoal in the new stove but admitted that she usually cooks with the old one, which consumes much more fuel and emits much more smoke.

Helen was getting virtually none of the benefits of the new stove because she continued to use the old one. She was also buying charcoal at the market rather than using and buying the briquettes that burn more efficiently and come from charcoal dust rather than from burning wood to create charcoal–using up 80 percent of the energy in the wood. So she was getting none of the financial, environmental or health benefits of her new stove.

CEO Jessica De Clerk with customer Betty Sabiti

CEO Jessica De Clerk with customer Betty Sabiti

That is not always the case. We visited both Betty Sabit and Elijah Kizza who have the same stove. Both are using theirs exclusively. Betty says she cooks two meals per day for two people and it works great. A 110-pound bag of the briquettes lasts her two months. Elijah shares the stoves with five roommates. They don’t cook as regularly, but also love the stove and the eco-friendly briquettes, which he says saves them money. Both Betty and Elijah seem to be getting all of the health, environmental and financial benefits of the stove.

CEO Jessica De Clerk with customer Elijah Kizza

CEO Jessica De Clerk with customer Elijah Kizza

Jeff Miller, the namesake for the Miller Center, offered Jessica some advice that she received well. He suggested she focus on the Berkeley-Darfur stove and jettison all of the other distractions so she can build that business to a volume where it can be self-sustaining for the organization.

Moving production to Uganda from India could significantly cut costs, eliminating most if not all importation costs, potentially cutting the landed cost of finished products almost in half.

Jessica is an impressive young CEO. She joined Potential Energy just one year ago precisely because she saw the value and the life-saving potential of the Berkeley-Darfur stove. In the year before joining Potential Energy, she developed a tier 4 stove for LivingGoods that can be produced for just $5. She is committed to the work, obviously bright and apparently hard-working, we left believing that she can find a path to greater sustainability and even more impact.

This week, I’m traveling in Africa as a guest of Santa Clara University’s Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship’s Executive Director Thane Kreiner and namesakes Karen and Jeff Miller. Read all my reports.

#17africa

How This Collaboration Raised Over $1M For Charity

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

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

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

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

He rattles off early milestones:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Victor Cho, courtesy of Evite

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On Thursday, February 9, 2017 at noon Eastern, Citron and Cho will join me here for a live discussion about the collaboration’s success and its implications for the future. Tune in here (at the top of this article) then to watch the interview live. Post questions in the comments below or tweet questions before the interview to @devindthorpe.

Never miss another interview! Join Devin here!

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

Artificial Intelligence Is Now Ready For Social Entrepreneurs

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

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

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

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

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

Eric Rice, courtesy of USC

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eric Rice, courtesy of USC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On Thursday, February 2, 2017 at 4:00 Eastern, Rice will join me here for a live discussion about using AI for solving social problems. Tune in here (at the top of this article) then to watch the interview live. Post questions in the comments below or tweet questions before the interview to @devindthorpe.

Never miss another interview! Join Devin here!

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

 

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