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

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Devin D. Thorpe
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Philanthropy

This category includes stories about philanthropy, typically covering the generosity of individuals, families, groups of individuals and foundations (nonprofits primarily in the business of funding other nonprofits.

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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.


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!

New Player In Living Walls Brings Outside Inside

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

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

Sagegreenlife is bringing living walls to a growing market with new technologies that allow people to bring the outside inside.

The company builds its living, green plant walls on a patented hydroponic system without any soil. The “Biotile” stone was developed by UK-based Biotecture, Ltd.

Sagegreenlife’s founder, Richard Kincaid, 55, explains that LED plant lights provide an enabling technology by allowing plants to grow without direct sunlight.

Kincaid estimates the 2015 market for living walls at about $100 million. He hopes to see Sagegreenlife achieve revenue of $3 to $5 million for 2017. The business generates gross margins of about 60% but is not yet profitable.

The Luxottica living wall by Sagegreenlife

Watch my full interview with Kincaid in the video player at the top of the article.

Coming from a long career with Sam Zell at Equity Office Properties where he ultimately served as CEO and led the $39 billion (including debt) sale of the business, he began learning about the business of sustainable real estate, focusing on creating LEED-certified projects.

Kincaid is optimistic about the growth of a global market for green walls driven by the real benefits of the walls. “We help create more productive, healthier environments by making it easy to place living walls everywhere.”

In addition to LEED credits, he notes that companies get wellness credits for living walls. He explains that the walls absorb sound while purifying the air and increasing natural humidity.

Sheryl Schulze, senior project director at Gensler, a global design firm that sells Sagegreenlife walls, notes, “For years, the design industry has tried to solve for the successful engagement of diverse plant life in interiors. For people who experience living walls – and, the design teams creating environments to support the expectations – Sagegreenlife has made the entire process easier to implement.”

The Verdanta living wall by Sagegreenlife

The walls can be designed to display advertising as well. Schulze explains, “Brand messaging is key to successful organizations. Gensler understands that organizations attract and retain talent by the strength of their brand. When clients engage us, our mission is to build that message in the spaces we deliver. Sensory experience plays a large role in building that culture within organizations. The integration of live plants aid in that sensory storytelling.”

The collaboration between Sagegreenlife and Gensler has led to a new, smaller, portable wall that completely changes what a cubicle is. “Verdanta, the Next-Gen green wall, allows for the ability to easily reconfigure space to support various work modes while offering visual and acoustic privacy.”

Aaron Moulton, vice president of creative design for Treehouse, a sustainable home improvement company, found Sagegreenlife while conducting a search for sustainable products.

Moulton says his goal is to make spaces naturally more beautiful and healthier. “Humans need the psychological and physical health benefits of being near plant life and Sagegreenlife creates products that bring this ‘greenergy’ into homes and into commercial spaces to make them more productive and more importantly, happier!”

Moulton has what he calls a “technology positive” view of the world. He believes we can make a more sustainable world by using technologies, especially solar and batteries rather than by depriving ourselves of showers or electricity.

“We were in the design process for designing our flagship energy positive (produces more energy than it consumes) store and wanted a striking green wall that would both draw the eye, surround the doorway to our outdoor sales area and also be in line with our mission through the air scrubbing qualities of having plants in the space,” Moulton says.

By employing the Biotile technology, Moulton and Schulze agree that Kincaid and Sagegreenlife will capitalize on a global trend toward sustainability by helping people and companies bring the outside inside.

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!

How A Costume Party For 120,000 Really Makes A Difference In The Community

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

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

Twice a year, the streets of downtown Salt Lake City are overrun by princesses, storm troopers and superheroes of every variety. Salt Lake ComicCon reports that 120,000 people attended the last event. That it is profitable is surprise enough. That it serves the community may be the real surprise.

Precisely because of its success in Utah, organizers have faced a legal challenge from the organizers of the San Diego ComicCon events.

Controversy aside, Bryan Brandenburg, 58, co-founder and chief marketing officer of Salt Lake ComicCon, has strategically sought to use the event to build the community. Since its founding, the event has donated about $2 million of cash and in-kind donations–mostly in the form of tickets, but also including celebrity photos, signatures and experiences.

A family of “Incredibles” at Salt Lake ComicCon.

Watch my full interview with Brandenburg and Founder Dan Farr in the video player at the top of the article.

The hordes of aliens circulating with equally out of place residents of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros suggest an economic success. Brandenberg confirms that 2016 results included a $3 million gross profit on $7.5 million of revenue.

Bryan Brandenburg

A love of the arts led Brandenburg to donate tickets to Ballet West so every employee there could attend.

Allison Tilton, a first soloist with Ballet West confirmed the gift, adding, “I think it speaks to how he wants to use the event as a community building environment.”

Superheroes and princesses create the potential for a partnership with Make-A-Wish Utah. CEO Jared Perry says, “Salt Lake Comic Con and the cosplay community have been very generous to Make-A-Wish Utah. We grant the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions to enrich the human experience with hope, strength and joy. Salt Lake Comic Con supports our mission through fundraising, event ticket donations and by providing special moments and one-of-a-kind experiences for our wish kids and their families.”

Bryan Brandenburg, Chris Evans and Dan Farr

“To a child, there is nothing more magical than being surrounded by super heroes and princesses,” he adds.

Brandenburg, himself a veteran, has a passion for helping veterans, current members of the armed forces and first responders of all sorts. ComicCon provides a number of free and discounted tickets to these communities.

Fearing that first responders are only appreciated when they respond and thus become a hero to someone, Brandenburg says, “My heart goes out because it’s really, you know, in many cases, it’s a job that doesn’t get enough recognition for the contribution it makes to society.”

The breadth of organizations receiving support from ComicCon is extensive. The Utah Support Advocates for Recovery Awareness, commonly known by its acronym, USARA, is another example.

Executive Director Mary Jo McMillen, says that the organization, which supports people and families impacted by alcohol and drug addiction, has received 100 free tickets to each of the events for the past two years. ComicCon also sponsored the annual Recovery Day attended by 2,000 people.

“There is tremendous value to our non-profit organization when a business like SL Comic Con contributes to supporting our efforts to address the critical impact of substance use and addiction in our community. Bryan Brandenburg has personally extended the generosity of SL Comic Con to help support the people we serve so they can experience fun and entertainment on their road to recovery from addiction,” McMillan says.

Farr, the founder of ComicCon, says he proud of the way the event itself has helped bring the community together. He’s observed multi-generational families attending the event together. He sees it as a “huge benefit of connecting people in a way that they were not necessarily connected before.”

Dan Farr, Mark Hamill and Bryan Brandenburg

“It allows people to find common interests and common interests of people who gather in a big way,” he adds.

ComicCon’s addition to the greater Salt Lake City community does not solve or even salve all of its social problems, but it is not hard to see the benefits of bringing 120,000 people together for some wholesome fun that includes everyone from recovering addicts to first responders as special, honored guests.

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!

20 Years In The Making, A Personal Quest Led To A New Venture

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

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

Eric McCallum says he likes to invest in “simple and elegant business models that have multiple impacts.” A startup called Himalayan Wild Fibers fit the bill and he led a round of financing.

Founder and CEO, Ellie Skeele, 64, has been working in Nepal for nearly two decades to commercialize her idea.

Himalayan Wild Fibers is a company that is commercializing a textile fiber that’s extracted from a wild growing plant, a form of stinging nettle that grows in the forests of the Himalayas. It is wild harvested. We extract from that a fiber, we refine it and then we sell into existing developed supply chains,” she explains.

Watch the full interview in the player at the top of the article.

Himalayan Wild Fibers, HWF, sells the fibers in a refined state, but not as thread or yarn. Her clients use the fibers to create yarns, fabrics and ultimately finished products.

Her goal is to help subsistence farmers who have virtually no cash income. She sees significant environmental benefits in the bargain.

Ellie Skeele

Early during her time in Nepal, she came across the fiber being used for a variety of rudimentary handicrafts, ropes and other rough purposes. Then she encountered someone who had created a blend of cotton and the nettle fiber and her mind began to race.

She and her team determined that the best way to enhance “economic justice” for her Nepali friends was to focus on sourcing the fiber from the farmers, paying them a “really good price for it.”

“HWF creates jobs for some of the poorest people in the world,” he says. “In six to eight weeks they can double their yearly income harvesting giant nettle without interfering with their seasonal subsistence farming,” McCallum boasts.

The fiber, because it grows in the wild, far from any industrial agriculture, has not been exposed to any fertilizers or pesticides. Skeele says, “This is the most sustainable fiber and the cleanest, purest fiber on the market.” She says “emphatically” that the product is not toxic.

She hastens to add that the nettle grows wild on land that cannot be used for farming, so doesn’t compete with food or other crops important to the Nepali farmers she hopes to help. No irrigation is required to grow it and only a fraction of the water required for processing organic cotton is used to refine it.

The nettle is a rhizome. It actually benefits from the harvesting. The stalks are cut off, but the rhizome and roots remain in the ground and flourish season after season.

“The nettle grows wild under the high elevation forest canopy, is very leafy so converts CO2 to oxygen,” notes McCallum. “The Gov. of Nepal is eager to find non-timber forest products to stimulate the local economy in these high elevation forest areas. The nettle needs the forest canopy to thrive. By creating these jobs HWF is protecting the forest.”

For Skeele, the quest to help the Nepali subsistence farmers is personal. “I have two children adopted from Nepal and the came to me from poverty. They come from mountain families.” She felt this was a gift she should repay.

She went to Nepal about 20 years ago after working in Silicon Valley and finding herself unfulfilled. She says she called her sister and said, “I’m going to sell my house and I’m going to stay in Nepal for a while to get my head screwed on straight and see if I can’t do something more meaningful with my life.”

To date, she acknowledges, the impact has been modest. “When we scale it will be, by Nepal’s standards, huge,” she adds. She says she doesn’t expect the business to ever grow to $500 million. There isn’t enough of the fiber to harvest to create a business of that scale. But the benefits to Nepal will be meaningful even at a much smaller scale.

Led by McCallum, HWF has raised money from 19 investors. The company has 14 employees and is just now beginning to generate revenue.

Of his investment in HWF, McCallum says, “For me personally, it’s a test to see if one can invest in the third world, get a modest return and have an impact. Because if this works, it could potentially attract more impact capital from more people who desire to get more than just a financial return but also a social ROI.”

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!

 

This Miss America Is Working To Thank Veterans For Their Service

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

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

As Americans head to the beach or the mountains to celebrate Independence Day they may give some thought to the freedoms they enjoy. With a bit of prompting from some patriotic music accompanying fireworks tonight, they may even give some thought to the soldiers who have fought and died to make those freedoms possible.

Former Miss America Sharlene Hawkes, 53, never forgets. In 2005, she helped found the Remember My Service Military Production division of StoryRock. Remember My Service, RMS, produces videos and books about the service of America’s armed forces.

Watch my full interview with Hawkes in the player at the top of this article.

The division got started “kind of accidentally,” Hawkes says. StoryRock produces a variety of personal and group history products, using a digital approach. The products include video yearbooks and scrapbooks that include video. The profitable division employs six people full time and another five on a part-time basis.

The 96th Regional Readiness Command of the Army Reserve approached her to ask for help organizing their growing treasure trove of digital historical assets. “It was hiding on computers everywhere because nobody knew really what to do with it all,” she says.

She didn’t begin to appreciate the scale of the problem initially, thinking that this was limited to the local Army Reserve unit. “Come to find out, it was military-wide where they needed help.”

The records, videos and books RMS helps to organize serve multiple functions. Initially, she was focused on the value of the historical records being kept for each unit. Quickly, she learned that commanders were interested more in building esprit de corps and also in helping to recruit.

The commanders see the potential for younger sisters and brothers to see the records and say, “Wait a minute, that’s what you guys do. Wow. I want to be part of that.”

One of the challenges that RMS faces is that the military doesn’t have a line item for yearbooks in the budget. One of Hawkes’s innovations was to find private sponsors who would pay to produce the materials for the people serving. In 2006, she helped the National Guard unit in Utah to complete a project using that model. It worked so well, she says, “The National Guard has now done four major projects over the last eight years.”

Private sponsors have made it possible for all the guardsmen to receive records of their service. The model has proven successful, but Hawkes acknowledges that it is a lot of work. Essentially, one project has two sales cycles: one for the project and one for the financing.

In honor of the 50th anniversary of the service of America’s Vietnam vets, RMS is now working on its biggest project to date. Hawkes notes that these vets got a “double whammy.” They served, risked their lives, saw their friends die and then came home to a country that “didn’t care about them.”

Sharlene Hawkes

“America has grown up,” she says. “We never ever should treat our troops like that again.”

The 50th-anniversary commemoration began in 2012 and will continue through 2025 perhaps as we mark the 50th anniversary of the return of the final Vietnam era veterans.

The book is called A Time to Honor: Stories of Service Duty and Sacrifice. The book is not available for individual purchase. Instead, RMS is working on a state-by-state basis using its sponsorship model to produce copies for each and every veteran in that state. so far, only a handful of the states have gone to print.

The sponsors who support the book don’t get traditional advertisements in the book. Instead, they are invited to provide a tribute to the veterans that are included from a spokesperson for the sponsor.

Utah’s book was financed 50% by the state with the balance coming from three sponsors: the Miller Family Foundation, Merit Medical and Questar.

Born in Paraguay, Hawkes is listed here as the fifth most famous person born there. She lived in neighboring Argentina as a teenager before returning to her family’s traditional home in the United States, so she was rather well known in Argentina as well.

But this Miss America is all about the red, white and blue.

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!

How Addressing ‘Eco-Genocide’ Is Almost Like Spinning Straw Into Gold For This Entrepreneur

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

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

Plastic pollution in our oceans represents an “Eco-genocide” according to Bonnie Monteleone, Executive Director and Director of Science Research and Academic Partnerships at Plastic Ocean Project, Inc.

Priyanka Bakaya, 34, founder and CEO of PK Clean, invented a scalable process to convert plastics back into the diesel fuel they came from, not quite spinning straw into gold but exciting nonetheless.

When Monteleone had learned that plastics could be converted back into oil. She saw that as a way to emulate nature by creating a circular system where plastics removed from the oceans could be converted back into fuel. When she looked for partners, she was worried about the contaminants in the plastics extracted from the oceans.

PK Clean invited us to send them two pounds of our ocean plastics to turn into oil. They sent the oil back with their analysis that quelled our concerns,” Monteleone said.

PK Clean’s operations generate no toxic emissions and require no special permitting, Bakaya says. The company operates northwest of downtown Salt Lake City, well within city limits. The primary output from the system is diesel fuel.

The process costs $25 to $30 per barrel of diesel produced. With market prices in the range of $60 to $70 per barrel, the operation currently enjoys tremendous margins.

Monteleone now a customer, says, “PK Clean provides both economic and environmental hope to help mitigate the negative impacts caused by plastic pollution.”

Judson Bledsoe uses the benchtop plastic to fuel unit from PK Clean

PK Clean sold a benchtop demonstration unit to the University of North Carolina at Wilmington to perform tests. Monteleone appreciated the transparency and says, “They have earned our confidence as a viable solution.”

PK Clean is a fast-growing start-up already operating at a breakeven that will generate $2 to $5 million in revenue in 2017, Bakaya says. “We have a strong customer pipeline for the coming years.”

The start-up is also raising a $50 million project finance fund to provide capital for the customers’ projects deploying the company’s units.

The pricing model for the units involves an upfront fee for the plastic-to-fuel units plus PK Clean takes a royalty on the production so they get an ongoing revenue stream from the installed units.

Priyanka Bakaya, PK Clean

Bakaya, who earned degrees at Stanford and MIT, says the best customers for PK Clean are folks who are already handling large amounts of plastic waste, some of which may be going into the landfill. She sees the biggest opportunities on the East Coast where high landfill tipping fees create an even bigger incentive to convert waste plastic into diesel fuel.

She notes that the units and the fuel take up relatively little space when compared to the mountains of plastic typically associated with recycling centers, making it optimal to co-locate the PK Clean conversion units.

The opportunity for recycling remains huge, despite global efforts to increase recycling. Bakaya says only 9% of plastic is recycled. Plastics vary in quality as indicated by the numbers stamped on the bottom of plastic packaging. Those that are high scoring are more likely to be recycled using traditional processes, but all plastics–even those horrible shopping bags–can be converted using the PK Clean processing units.

PK Clean’s innovation was to identify a process that was reasonably well understood but that had only been done in small scale, unprofitable operations and to make it scalable, efficient and profitable.

PK Clean is committed to the environment. This fall, the company will launch its “Zero Waste” campaign in Salt Lake City with a goal of getting people to reduce their waste to the size of a mason jar per month. Getting people to recycle all of their plastic will be key to that initiative.

Scaling PK Clean will be its own challenge. Bakaya says they already have hundreds of inquiries coming in from people wanting to build units on their sites.

“We don’t want to promise that we can make a hundred of these in the next year. You know we’re sort of gradually scaling up and picking which sites make the most sense to begin with,” Bakaya says.

Each full-scale unit converts ten tons of plastic per day into about 60 barrels of fuel. Recyclers can install as many units as they may need to process their volume of plastic.

Monteleone is excited about the potential for PK Clean to help mitigate plastic pollution in the oceans. “Plastic consumption increases at roughly 4% annually, according to the World Economic Forum, by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in our oceans. We need PK Clean technology to help mitigate the eco-genocide caused by plastic pollution.”


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!

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!

 

Impact Measurement: How Much Is Too Much? How Much Is Not Enough?

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

This is a third and final piece in my series on impact measurement.

First Part Link: How Social Entrepreneurs Begin To Measure Impact

Second Part Link: Impact Measurement: Finding Your Way Through The Maze

One of the great challenges of impact investing is knowing how much impact reporting to require from the ventures you invest in, remembering that startups face plenty of challenges without layering on needless reporting. On the other hand, impact investors want to know about the good that comes from their investments.

To find answers to these questions, I reached out to nearly two dozen impact investing experts to learn how they think about this dilemma.

Bake in the Impact

There were several themes that developed in the answers. One consistent message was voiced by Morgan Simon, Managing Director of Pi Investments, who suggested entrepreneurs and investors should “structure fairness into the business from day one, such that counting specifics become less critical . For instance, Pi investee Uncommon Cacao set a 49% margin cap to ensure cacao farmers always retain the majority of the value in a transaction.”

Morgan Simon

Matthew Davis, CEO of Renew, which makes investments in Africa, made the same point, but added the caveat that it “depends on the type of business and how it and its shareholders define impact.” He adds, that for his portfolio, just seeing an ethical business in Africa prosper is sufficient.

Laurie Lane-Zucker, founder and CEO of Impact Entrepreneur Center for Social and Environmental Innovation, agreed. “Another reason why it is important to bake impact values into a company’s DNA at the earliest stage possible is because impact measurement becomes engrained in daily activities and is less of an ‘add-on’ to what each person already has on his or her plate.”

Right Size the Reporting to the Company

The need to match the reporting obligations to the size and stage of development of the company was another theme that came from the experts.

Daniel Jean-Louis, CEO of Bridge Capital, which invests exclusively in his native Haiti, argues that while avoiding bureaucracy is important, a certain amount of administration is required in all businesses. “So, it’s important not to confuse red tape with administration. “

Uma Sekar, impact and ESG Manager for Capria Ventures, agrees. ” Impact metrics that tie directly with business operations are most useful. Right-sizing the framework with a lean and adaptive set of metrics that take the stage of the company into consideration, reduces the burden of measurement. Early stage companies do not create deeper levels of impact as yet, therefore shouldn’t build a system requiring such data collection.”

Daniel Jean-Louis, courtesy of Bridge Capital

Nell Derick-Debevoise, founder and CEO of Inspiring Capital, encourages investors to “Be realistic.” She notes, “I’ve never heard from a fellow B Corp (from Susty Party to Ben & Jerry’s) that they gained a customer because of B Corp status.” She notes that institutional investment could be years in the future for startups. She concludes, “Be smart about getting prepared for GIIRS or IRIS, but don’t worry about getting it exactly right in the first three years.”

“Impact measures should be carefully considered upfront, fundamental to founding the business, and bite-size as well as dream goals should be established,” says Carrie Endries, senior portfolio manager for Reynders, McVeigh Capital Management, LLC. “In this way, collecting impact data can be as natural as collecting financial data metrics. They can be expanded and broadened along the way as a company grows, but just as you don’t have extensive financial reporting as a very small company, neither should you expect expansive impact reporting.”

Stephanie Gripne, founder and director of the Impact Finance Center and CO Impact Days and Initiative, cautions against trying to do too much. “The entrepreneur needs to be strategic in measuring the few key indicators that will demonstrate success and capture that information, not gathering every piece of info imaginable and then seeing what shows results.”

Stephanie Gripne, courtesy of the Impact Finance Center

“I think it’s important to tell your investors when it simply isn’t possible to get a firm number,” says entrepreneur Lisa Curtis, founder and CEO of Kuli Kuli. “At the beginning, we had quite a few impact investors asking us for more quantitative data about how many people in the communities where we source were eating moringa as a result of our work. We got a lot of qualitative data from our suppliers but found that without the resources to do a full-fledged survey in far-away countries it was impossible to collect hard data.”

She adds, “We’re now at a point where we have the resources to embark on those types of surveys.”

Find Alignment Between Investors and Entrepreneurs

When investors and entrepreneurs are well aligned in goals and objectives, it is easier to settle on appropriate measurement metrics, the experts say.

Matthew Weatherley-White, co-founder and managing director of the Caprock Group, cautions, “Too often, grantors and investors want to see metrics that reflect their values rather than the operations of the entity.”

“Social entrepreneurs, particularly in those critical start-up years, should foreswear the kind of broad, catch-all ‘values based’ expectations that our community tends to place on an enterprise,” Weatherley-White continues. “An example might be a retail-focused franchise-model water purification business in highly urbanized areas of Africa. Their metrics could be simple: liters of water purified, liters sold, number of unique customers, perhaps something about gender diversification in their franchisee base, etc.”

Matthew Weatherley-White

This alignment should be an ongoing process, says Lisa Hagerman, director of programs at DBL Partners. “The fund manager and the social entrepreneur’s interests must continually be aligned. As such, the metrics should be applicable to the entrepreneur’s business, with the option of omitting information requested if not applicable. Metrics and social impact efforts should have a positive, and strategic, impact potential for the company as a way of keeping all interests aligned and metrics valuable, and relevant, to all stakeholders.”

Lauryn Agnew, president, Seal Cove Financial and founder, Bay Area Impact Investing Initiative, says entrepreneurs should seek that alignment when finding investors by “communicating appropriate and reasonable expectations for impact, outputs and long-term outcomes over the life of the investment” and then matching those to an investor with consistent risk, return and impact targets.

Lauryn Agnew

Topher Wilkins, CEO of Opportunity Collaboration, says the responsibility for preventing burdensome reporting rests with the investors. He suggests the entrepreneurs build trust with the investors or funders so “everyone involved knows impact is being achieved.”

“The social entrepreneur is running a business first and foremost,” says Laura Callanan, founding partner of Upstart Co-Lab. “All measurement — customer feedback, employee turnover, net revenue, social impact — needs to be useful for running the business. Investors who care about impact need to back entrepreneurs who care about impact and then let those entrepreneurs do their job. “

Remember Impact Reporting Is a Cost of Doing Business

The experts also noted that impact reporting is a reality that entrepreneurs need to keep in mind; this may require them to strike a balance between reporting too much and too little.

“It’s a cost of doing business in modern times like getting organic certification if you are a food product,” says Joel Solomon, chair of Renewal Funds. “The substitute is having a clear mission and purpose articulation, with products or services that take sustainability and fair, safe work conditions, as well as environmental and community practices into account.”

Gary White, CEO of Water.org, says, “This is always a balance that social entrepreneurs must strike. I think it is helpful to look at existing frameworks like IRIS. We have been very rigorous in our process to adopt what we feel are important impact parameters to measure. We engaged a firm, IOD Parc, to advise us on this process. While this has required some upfront investment of time, it is paying off in terms of only measuring what is most important.”

Gary White, courtesy of Water.org

Tune Your Reporting According to Your Theory of Change

The experts also agreed that reporting requirements are, at least in part, a function of the theory of change driving the investment.

“Measuring impact should be the result of an impact plan,” says Cecile Blilious, founder and managing partner at Impact First Investments. “This frames the impact that the company is trying to achieve, and can then be measured. It should not be regarded as a burden, but rather as a working tool very similar to a business plan.”

Cecile Blilious

Gripne, from Colorado, explains, “A social entrepreneur needs to first be clear about his or her own hypothesis for impact, the research and reasoning behind it and the methods for continually testing and re-adjusting the hypothesis and measures. Those basics go a long way in gaining and maintaining investors’ trust, and in buying time (and their patience) for developing and refining more sophisticated measures.”

Cathy Clark, director at CASE i3 at Duke University, says, “If your theory has to do with employees, you can survey them at almost no cost. If it has to do with customer incomes after they’ve used your product, again, you can survey them but it will cost you something. Services like Acumen’s Lean Data program can help entrepreneurs learn a great deal about their customers in a very short time for very little money.”

“We think of data as a conversation, not an endpoint,” she adds. “What can you ask that you or others can act on? What choices do you face that information from a stakeholder can help you answer? How do you start to find data to compare yourself to that is relevant? These are where impact makes progress.”

Reporting is Important to the Movement

Bobby Turner, the CEO of Turner Impact Capital, noted that reporting is important for the impact investing movement. “Measuring impact will not always have the effect of improving impact as many impact models are untested and therefore there is no guarantee that the measurements will be positive. Notwithstanding, measuring impact (social or environmental) is critical to the social impact movement as without a proven correlation between profits and purpose, the movement will not be able to raise meaningful amounts of market rate capital.”

In contrast, Peter Fusaro, Chairman of Global Change Associates, cautions, “If they go deep in the weeds, they will be buried with reporting and not focusing on impact. I feel the most important measurement is actually being successful in an ethical way.”

#impmeas


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

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

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tricia Compas-Markman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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