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


This 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.

doTERRA Reinvents Supply Chain For Impact On Poverty

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

Privately-held dōTERRA is a rapidly growing direct seller of essential oil-infused products with $1.2 billion in annual revenue. Three years ago, the company launched an effort to use its supply chain to reduce global poverty by creating economic opportunities for rural communities in developing countries like Nepal, Somaliland and Madagascar.

While founder and CEO David Stirling declined to provide gross margin data for the business, he suggested that the margins of publicly-traded direct sellers, about 80 percent, would “provide a broad approximation.” So the margins are good, giving the company some wiggle room for developing its supply chain for impact.

Emily Wright, the company’s Executive Vice President over sales and marketing, notes that the company was founded with a social enterprise mindset. “dōTERRA’s core mission is to improve the health and wellness of its customers through natural products and education.” Two corporate social responsibility initiatives have expanded the social purpose of the company: the dōTERRA Healing Hands Foundation (HHF) and the supply chain program launched in 2013 called “co-impact sourcing.”

Stirling explains the thinking behind co-impact sourcing, “Our Co-Impact Sourcing model for essential oils help us achieve three goals: 1) ensure the long-term supply of these key raw material inputs for our products, 2) develop effective marketing through telling legitimate impact stories highlighting the people and projects producing these oils for us, and 3) effectively mainstream directly into our business model our philanthropic priorities as a company.”

The extensive poverty in many of the countries where dōTERRA was already sourcing product, helped create the opportunity, Stirling says, to strategically develop a program for sustainable economic development.

Tim Valentiner, the company’s director of strategic sourcing, is the one tasked with developing and implementing the co-impact sourcing program. He says, “As dōTERRA continues to experience incredible growth we realized we needed to focus attention particularly on our oil sourcing strategy in order to meet our growth needs but also to be able to give back in a meaningful way.”

Valentiner, who spent time at the World Bank, brings some gravitas to the challenge of driving impact through the supply chain. The program, he says, is growing quickly. “We currently have Co-Impact Sourcing initiatives happening now in 10 different countries: Guatemala, Nepal, Somaliland, Kenya, Madagascar, Haiti, India, New Zealand, Jamaica, and Bulgaria – with some new initiatives in additional countries currently in development.”

Valentiner notes that the co-impact sourcing and HHF efforts work together. “Linked to many of Healing Hands Foundation funded projects and partnerships are Co-Impact Sourcing initiatives where we are able to facilitate social impact and community-benefiting projects for farmers, harvesters, and distillers, their families and communities.”

The company’s new sourcing of Nepalese Wintergreen starting in 2015 is an example of the new model. Valentiner says, “Throughout several districts of Nepal, women harvesters go out early in the morning to collect Wintergreen leaves in hand-woven baskets and carry them down the mountain on their backs (fully loaded these baskets can weigh up to 80 pounds). Because of the remoteness of these locations, there are typically few other job opportunities for these women. By providing fair and on-time payments to the harvesters and distillers, these women are able to have additional household income for food, clothing, and school supplies for their families.” In addition, HHF funds are used to support the communities where the harvesters live in Nepal.

The earthquake presented a moment of truth for dōTERRA. Rather than cut and run, the company doubled down. “Because dōTERRA was already working with these Wintergreen producing communities prior to the earthquakes in 2015, we were able to quickly react in partnership with CHOICE Humanitarian to provide much needed post-earthquake relief in severely impacted areas of Nepal,” Stirling says.

Valentiner adds, “Recently, during the months of March, April, and May 2016, three different groups of 40 volunteers each including Wellness Advocates [dōTERRA distributors] and dōTERRA staff were able to travel to Nepal on humanitarian expeditions to participate directly in working side by side with Nepali people to help rebuild Nepal following the 2015 earthquakes. They were able to see Healing Hands Foundation funds in action, provide Days for Girls feminine hygiene training to community members, as well as participate firsthand in the harvesting, collection, and distillation of Wintergreen essential oil.”

“In partnership with CHOICE Humanitarian, the dōTERRA Healing Hands has been a leading force in rebuilding some of the areas of Nepal hardest hit by the earthquakes, including distribution of emergency relief supplies immediately following the earthquakes, building of 200+ temporary homes, 45+ temporary classrooms, permanent homes, repair and new construction of Wintergreen oil distillation units for 20+ communities, repair of multiple existing schools and assembling of over 500 new desks,” Stirling says.

The team boasts that HHF funds were used to construct two 10-room, “earthquake resilient” schools in Nepal. The first, completed two weeks ago, is reportedly the first new school completed since the 2015 earthquakes.

Valentiner notes that effective impact measurement remains a challenge, but it is one that the company is addressing. “We are currently developing metrics for measurement of our Co-Impact Sourcing Guiding Principles in order to ensure that we can effectively measure progress and identify successful areas for replication or scaling up elsewhere, as well as areas for improvement. We realize this is a challenge but are fully committed to impact assessment and reporting in order to help show how our Co-Impact Sourcing model is successful.”

Wright says that effort also makes marketing sense. “Consumers (especially millennials) are demanding more and more to buy products from companies that are not only socially responsible but truly produce sustainable products, traceable products. So it is becoming much more than just having a catchy CSR program as a company.”

“Consumers are demanding to know traceability for their products and we believe that a key part of international development is and will continue to be carried out by businesses that see the value and the return on investment for social impact programs linked to the sourcing or manufacturing of their products from developing countries,” she concludes.

On Thursday, May 26, 2016 at 4:00 Eastern, Stirling, Wright and Valentiner will all join me here for a live discussion about the co-impact sourcing program and the dōTERRA Healing Hands Foundation. Tune in here then to watch the interview live. Post questions in the comments below or tweet questions before the interview to @devindthorpe.


A Unique Approach to School Fundraising

This is a guest post from Megan Walsh.

It’s a common occurrence hear stories about school cutbacks, budget cuts, and underfunding. In fact, 31 of our 50 states have experienced ongoing cuts to education related expenditures since the great recession in 2008 . Schools are struggling to find the funds to give children a well-rounded education, teachers are compensating with their own pocketbooks, and children are the worse for it. A lack of music and art programs, fewer field trips, fewer hours of Physical Education; all of these cuts affect both academic and social outcomes for children.

When Stacey Boyd, the founder of Schoola, built an inner-city charter school in Boston, she experienced first hand how difficult it was to protect “extra-curriculars” from ruthless cuts. And witnessing the impact on her students is what led her to create Schoola, who’s mission it is to save the programs that help kids reach their full potential at school.

Schoola provides an easy way for schools to generate extra funds, without asking parents or foundations for cash. Working directly with more than 25,000 schools across the U.S., Schoola accepts clothing donations from individual community members, and in some cases corporations, and then sells the clothing online. Schools get 40% of the sales proceeds from every item sold.

This unique approach to school fundraising has put violins back into the hands of students at KIPP Academy in NYC who has raised over $100,000 with Schoola. An art program in San Francisco goes on thanks to the many parents and who donated, despite the fact that the original budget allotment for this program was only $1.

In addition to schools, Schoola has begun to work with other organizations that support kids reaching their full potential. We’ve teamed up with The Malala Fund to raise money for girls around the world to have access to schooling.

Schoola SF Projects

Anyone can donate to a school or one of our partner causes by requesting a donation bag online, sending in gently-used or new clothing via mail – its free and easy to donate just by cleaning out your closet.

Our mission is simply to turn the donated items into opportunity for kids. It’s a mission that everyone at Schoola can relate to. Stacey found her confidence and her voice to pursue her dreams in a music class. I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for an art teacher. The desire to preserve these opportunities drives everything we do.

Some have asked us, why clothing? The simple answer is that it’s a household resource that has activated a really virtuous cycle – a win/win for everyone involved. For parents, cleaning out closets reduces clutter and allows cherished items to go onto new life. For schools, donation drives are a way to engage their community without asking for money. But most of all, it’s something kids can understand – we’ve seen girl scout troops organize clothing drives and college students activate campus networks to garner donations. They take an active role, and then benefit directly from their efforts.

This simple idea has lead to some incredible results. Not only have we been able to fund field trips, build playgrounds and save school libraries, but we have also brought communities together towards common goals.

About Megan Walsh:

Megan Walsh is a Bay Area mom of two kids, and spends the workweek helping more parents find and leverage Schoola to fund their school programs.


A Social Entrepreneur’s Thriving Nonprofit Enables Others to Bring about Change

This is a guest post from Naomi Eisenberger, Founder and Exec Director of the Good People Fund.

Over the past 25 years, Naomi Eisenberger has sought out individuals who do good in their own communities and beyond. As the Executive Director of The Good People Fund (, she is responsible for discovering and supporting grassroots organizations that respond in creative ways to society’s most intractable problems. While certainly not household names, each program is making an impact in their respective areas. There are approximately 75 grantees under her guidance throughout North America and abroad. These dedicated Good People work quietly, most with little recognition and minimal funding, in an effort to improve the lives of society’s most vulnerable.

Eisenberger’s years of experience with small nonprofits makes her uniquely suited to advise her grantees in many areas. She realizes that there are some basic ideas that all organizations should embrace. “I work very closely with each of our grantees” explains Eisenberger. “Together we focus on board development, fundraising, staffing, administration and more; all critical to the success of any organization. I challenge them to think realistically about how best to implement this growth. It is a delicate balancing act that requires sufficient funding to underwrite the costs of additional staff. II approach each grantee as a partnership and most admit that having a friendly supportive voice on the other end of the phone makes their efforts easier. Very few of our grantees have any formal training in nonprofit management so having someone to help answer the difficult questions is important. I have created and implemented a unique ideology that includes vetting and supervising each grantee, as the means to making the Good People Fund’s work both unusual and highly effective.”

One organization that has benefited from Eisenberger’s guidance and funding is Amir Project, which places sustainable gardens within summer camps and uses them as a tool to foster and teach social justice practices. Amir’s founder, David Fox, created the organization while still a college student. Upon graduating he formally incorporated Amir Project and set about raising funds to make his dream possible. One of David’s first fundraising attempts was a visit with Eisenberger where he detailed his vision. Eisenberger immediately recognized David’s passion for this work and Impressed with David’s ideas and his personality, immediately offered him his first grant, a matching grant to hopefully inspire others. David found the matching funds and Amir Project was on its way. That first GPF donation led to additional grants over the next five years as well as ongoing mentoring to help David resolve challenges related to the organization’s growth. Today more than 8,000 young people have been exposed to the Amir Project which operates in 30 camps nationwide.

Eisenberger has always believed that small actions can have huge impacts, whether it is to start a nonprofit or support one, and shares that belief with others. Since its inception in 2008 the Good People Fund has raised and granted more than $7 million dollars to these small programs working diligently, but quietly, to improve lives.

Naomi Eisenberger

Naomi Eisenberger

Naomi Eisenberger is the founder and Executive Director of The Good People Fund. For the past decade, she has drawn on her extensive business and nonprofit experience to help grantees build their own successful nonprofit organizations.

More than Sandy Beaches: A Path to Education Reform on the U.S. Virgin Islands

This is a guest post from Nicholas Midler.

Stories about struggling school districts in America frequently crop up in news cycles, but the U.S. Virgin Islands paints a picture of what these schools are actually in danger of sliding into. Located two and a half hours by plane from Miami, the Virgin Islands are a U.S. territory. The Islands’ warm climate and tropical beaches make them a popular tourist destination, but venture inland from the tourist attractions and you’ll find a far less rosy picture in the Islands’ schools. To help reverse the educational trends on the island, I started The Family Connection Kindercamp, a six-week nonprofit summer camp for students entering or repeating kindergarten on St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands.

When I first started The Family Connection Kindercamp one statistic stuck squarely in my mind as a motivator. When Virgin Island students were assessed upon entering Kindergarten, 53% tested as below proficient in language skills. It is easy to hold such statistics in abstract, but their devastating effects are reflected in the Islands’ crumbling economic outlook. The unemployment rate clocks in at 11.7%, and 68% of children below the age of four receive Federal food aid. Even more troubling, the results from a recent series of standardized tests correlated to the new Common Core standards revealed that 83% of VI schoolchildren from the third to eleventh grade failed to meet expectations for English and 93% failed math.

It was the goal of the six-week camp to turn these statistics around and set its students on a path of higher academic achievement. I wanted the roughly 80 kids enrolled annually in the camp to avoid being a part of the dismal education statistics on the island, such as 47% of VI youths aged 18 to 19 who don’t have a high-school diploma. The camp intervenes before kids enter kindergarten to give them a strong foundation for future academic success.

The issue of how best to prepare incoming students for kindergarten is a topic that has proved itself worthy of lengthy debates. The topic is especially pressing for children from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. According to a study from the University of Kansas, kids from lower income areas have heard 30 million fewer words by the age of four. Intervening early in a student’s academic life offers a way to head off this vicious cycle of declining performance, but turning around test results is a delicate game. State and Federal budgets are strained enough without having to pay for pre-K, and my experience at The Family Connection Kindercamp has taught me that it often takes a group effort from the community to ensure success.

Parents are a particularly vital part of this community. From birth to age five, the human brain undergoes 90% of its development. In these crucial first years parents define the bulk of their child’s experiences. Even after school enrollment, parents continue to exert great influence over their child’s development. It is not without reason that researchers call parents a child’s first and most important teacher. The Family Connection Kindercamp drew on this influence by continually keeping its door open for parents who wanted to volunteer at the camp. Not only is the volunteer parent a boon to the camp, which benefits from the extra supervision, but the camp is a veritable idea factory for the helpful parent. The activities, games, and teacher-student interaction all demonstrate ways for the involved parent to engage with their child at home. There is no better way to learn than by doing, and volunteering at the camp provides parents with a first-hand look at the teaching techniques and expectations of school.

The learning that does take place in a classroom is rapidly shifting in manner. Play is being reevaluated from an odious necessity used to placate puerile attention spans to the teacher’s best friend. Fun activities and games that engage a young student’s attention are now thought to be an effective teaching method. Instead of tracing the letter “A” fifty times in a textbook, the alphabet is now being taught with glue, construction paper, and glitter. Coupled with Socratic style questions that encourage the child to consider or think deeply about the activity, this play through learning technique outpaces more traditional teaching methods by far.

The Family Connection Kindercamp adapted this new technique by breaking the classroom down into several activity stations. Students can rotate between different activities, each of which exercises different skill sets. The different stations not only increases engagement by making learning fun, but the jostling and communication between groups encourages good behavior and serves as an informal introduction to the classroom setting.

To keep the independence thrust upon the kids by the child-led curriculum from descending into chaos, behavioral routines had to be established. Expectations were set, and kids soon learned how to work constructively in the classroom. An independent review authored by Elizabeth Jaegar, an early childcare Ph.D., catalogued the curriculum’s role in the success of the program. The report notes that “during the last week of the program, the classrooms appeared to be ‘well-oiled machines’ where children moved smoothly from a large group activity to choice time at various learning stations throughout the room.” The report even describes “one child [who] even cried and pleaded with his mother to stay longer,” demonstrating that the children find the open-ended syllabus to be fun and engaging.

All of these techniques would have been useless if adequate funding for the camp couldn’t be raised. Hosting a pre-kindergarten summer program is no small effort, and the federally mandated teacher to student ratio of around 10-1 ensures that these programs lack neither cost nor quality. The federal Headstart program, which provides high quality pre-K to economically disadvantaged children, is a case in point. In 2014, Headstart spent just under 8.6 billion dollars for just under one million kids.

The Family Connection Kindercamp, though nowhere near the same size, is able to provide a week of high quality early-childhood education for $95 per child through a public-private partnership model. The program benefits from funds and in-kind gifts furnished by both the government and private donors. Classes take place in rent-free public school classrooms that were already stocked with useful resources. Accredited public school teachers who have years of experience and a college degree under their belt, teach the program.

The public-private partnership is in many ways a metaphor for the cooperation needed for early-childhood education to succeed. The benefits of initiating high quality pre-K are fairly straightforward. It remedies learning gaps before they blossom into dismal test scores and drop out statistics, and it has the potential to establish a level playing field for all American children. Winning this meritocracy is no simple matter but it can start with you. If just a fraction of the money spent by tourists on the U.S. Virgin Islands went towards supporting the public-private model, the dismal statistics that inspired me to make a change in early childhood education could be reversed.

Select A Cause That Fits Your Business

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

Chris Grandpre, Chairman and CEO of Outdoor Living Brands, has a few words of advice for social entrepreneurs.

Grandpre earned his chops in consulting and investment banking before leading the formation of Outdoor Living Brands in 2008 with its four franchise concepts, including Mosquito Squad, an outdoor pest control business.

For years, Mosquito Squad has partnered with Malaria No More, a 501(c)(3) charitable nonprofit working to eradicate malaria.

Martin Edlund is co-founder and CEO of the $14.4 million 2014 revenue nonprofit, Malaria No More. With just 35 people in half a dozen offices scattered around the world, he says, ”Despite our small size, we help to mobilize billions of dollars in global financing for malaria from the US, UK, other global donors, and endemic country sources.”

Edlund says, “Malaria No More was founded by prominent business leaders and takes an innovative approach to solving one of the world’s oldest, deadliest diseases. We galvanize leaders, engage some of the world’s most innovative companies, and have helped to define a model of disease eradication for the 21st century, which we launched last year with Bill Gates.”

The partnership has proven valuable to both organizations.

Chris Grandpre, courtesy of Outdoor Living Brands

Chris Grandpre, courtesy of Outdoor Living Brands

Grandpre explains the value of the partnership to his $100 million revenue business. ”While Mosquito Squad ‘fights the bite’ principally as a matter of convenience for our clients across the United States, unfortunately, in other less developed parts of the world a mosquito bite can be a matter of life and death. Aligning Mosquito Squad with Malaria No More, an organization dedicated to eliminating the nearly 500,000 needless deaths from malaria around the world every year, and donating a portion of our revenues to support this effort elevates the purpose of our brand and organization.”

Grandpre adds that growing the business and doing good work together. “We know, based on the demographics and psychographics of our clients, that Mosquito Squad customers prefer to do business with companies that give back to their communities and the world around them.” Supporting Malaria No More also differentiates Mosquito Squad from its competitors, he says.

Grandpre offers three tips for social entrepreneurs.

Tip 1: “Select a Cause that Fits your Business”

He said, “Identifying and embracing a cause that is directly related to your business and to the buying motivations of your customers, will improve the likelihood that it will become part of the organization’s corporate culture and resonate with your customers and [become] a differentiator of your brand.”

Edlund said of the mosquito-borne disease, ”Malaria is one of the oldest, deadliest diseases in human history–yet it’s one of the few scaled diseases that we can eradicate in our lifetime. We’re already making great progress. Malaria deaths among kids in Africa have fallen more than 70 percent, and 6.2 million lives have been saved since 2000.”

Grandpre added, “at Mosquito Squad, we passionately believe that where you happen to be born should not dictate whether you live or die from a mosquito bite.”

He noted that the corporate team and franchisees share a passion for fighting Malaria, in part because it fits the business so well.

Tip 2: Select a Cause that You are Passionate About

Grandpre said, “People want to have a purpose–something more than making money. Fortunately, malaria has essentially been eradicated in the United States, demonstrating that the battle can be won. However, in other parts of the world such as Africa, malaria carries a heavy toll with nearly 500,000 people, largely young children under the age of six, dying every year.”

Edlund added, “We face several serious challenges. Drug-resistant strains of malaria have emerged in Southeast Asia. If it spreads, it could rob us of our life-saving treatments for malaria and create a humanitarian catastrophe. Mosquitoes are also growing resistant to the insecticides used in bed nets. Both challenges require a renewed focus and investment in R&D.”

The threat to young children ”is simply unacceptable when we know that malaria can be defeated in other parts of the world just like it has been here at home. If you can’t get passionate about saving the life of a child before he or she has even had a chance to make their mark on the world, what can you get passionate about?” Grandpre asked.

Tip 3: “Show Leadership from the Top:

Leaders must demonstrate genuine concern for the cause, Grandpre said. ”If social responsibility is just a marketing tactic to promote your business and your brand, it will likely be doomed to fail. However, if your senior leadership team is fully committed and active in the cause, the organization and customers will notice. In our support of Malaria No More, I try to be out front and lead by example.”

Grandpre says that he has traveled himself to rural villages in Kenya, distributing “diagnostic kits, malaria medicine, and bed nets to rural medical clinics” and even installing bed nets in dung huts. This year, he plans to visit Camaroon with Malaria No More and some of the Mosquito Squad franchisees.

“Being directly involved and passionate about our efforts helps this cause to grow deep roots in our brand’s value proposition,” he concluded.

Martin Edlund, courtesy of Malaria No More

Martin Edlund, courtesy of Malaria No More

Edlund says we really can eradicate malaria if we simply demonstrate the will to do so. “The rate limiting factor for our success is, simply put, the will to get the job done. We have a plan and a track record of progress. There are many challenges to solve, but with the right commitment and investment we can be the generation to end malaria for good.”

He added, ”Malaria eradication would be (in the words of the Economist Magazine) ‘one of humanity’s greatest achievements.’ Achieving it by 2040 would save 11 million additional lives, prevent 4 billion malaria cases, and unlock $2 trillion in economic benefits around the world. There are very few other solutions that would do as much to save lives and improve livelihoods around the world.”

On Thursday, April 14, 2016 at noon Eastern, Grandpre and Edlund will join me for a live discussion about the success of their partnership, the progress being made in the fight to eradicate malaria and the lessons that social entrepreneurs can take from their experience. Tune in here then to watch the interview live. Post questions in the comments below or tweet questions before the interview to @devindthorpe.


Nudging Our More Charitable Selves

By Mark Cotteleer, Research Director and leader of the Center for Integrated Research at Deloitte Services LP

Good intentions gone to waste

Too often, when considering options like giving blood, making a charitable donation, or becoming an organ donor, the only thing we end up giving is the passing thought, “Maybe next time.” Our good intentions get lost in the fast-paced shuffle of the day. And before we realize it, the thought has passed and we move on to the next task. Why is it that so often, we want to “do good by others” but end up failing to take the necessary action to do so?

The field of behavioral economics offers some answers. Through the combination of economics and psychology, behavioral economics explores the cognitive biases that influence how we assess and make decisions—especially when those decisions run counter to our best intentions.

For charitable giving, one behavioral bias that can often manifest itself is the planning fallacy. This happens when we make assumptions about what we can accomplish without considering the myriad complications that might inhibit or delay our efforts. If you were late for a meeting recently, chances are you fell victim to the planning fallacy.

Unlike other areas, helping people sidestep these cognitive pitfalls can be difficult. For starters, freely giving our time or money to a cause is said to be intrinsically motivated: actions that satisfy internal goals—like learning to play an instrument or volunteering at a shelter—that are not motivated by money or some other external reward. Instead, overcoming biases like the planning fallacy requires us to create an environment that speaks to intrinsic motivations.

Make it simple, make it social

Thankfully, evidence now shows that when programs are designed to take into account how people think, success often follows. Even more promising, this “design thinking” frequently does not require giant overhauls but rather small “nudges” that can result in substantively positive outcomes.

A key tenet in design thinking is to make a nudge simple. Integrating a smart default has a proven track record in nudging positive behavior. Consider the much-heralded Save More Tomorrow program for retirement savings. Here, employees enroll in a program that auto-escalates annual retirement contributions after each raise. This simple option yielded impressive results: A full 78 percent of participants joined and average savings jumped from 3.5 percent to 13.6 percent over 40 months.

Organizations such as SmartGiving are taking these findings and using them to bolster charitable causes. Through employer partnerships, SmartGiving enables employees to choose a donation amount that automatically gets deducted from their regular paychecks. Now employees can choose to donate without having to actively consider each opportunity.

If defaults help us overcome planning fallacies, social proof can speak to our intrinsic motivations. When we see others doing good, it motivates us to follow suit. Social proof has even kindled more honest behavior among government beneficiaries.

The Ice Bucket Challenge may be the most widely acclaimed example of effective deployment of social proof. Engaging others to “join in” and participate in helping to fight against ALS resulted in a worldwide phenomenon. An incremental $220 million was raised to help this cause by simply invoking social proof.

If designed correctly, these nudges provide people with a wonderful opportunity: They help our “fast-paced” selves come to decisions that our “slow-paced” selves would prefer—no matter how quickly life moves.

About Mark Cotteleer:

Mark Cotteleer is a Research Director and leader of the Center for Integrated Research at Deloitte Services LP

New Cookstove Yields New Model For Social Entrepreneurs

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

In the past, I’ve covered cookstoves five times, excluding the time I went to Nepal to help locals install cleaner cookstoves in village homes up in the Himalaya. We’re here again, but we’re turning our focus on the business model rather than the cookstove.

For social entrepreneurs who really want to make a difference for people in the developing world, helping locals to import technology from elsewhere can be counterproductive because cash leaves the local economy and opportunities for entrepreneurs may be limited.

Anthony “Tony” Robinson, not to be confused with Tony Robbins, is a professor at Trinity College Dublin in Ireland; his research into energy and thermal conduction has helped him design a simple stove that generates electricity while a family cooks on the stove. More importantly, he’s developing a new way to get the stoves into local consumers hands in Malawi.

Anthony Robinson, courtesy of Trinity College Dublin

Anthony Robinson, courtesy of Trinity College Dublin

“We are attempting to develop a business model for developing world technologies, in this case clean energy technology. We believe that if a technology is to be sustainable, from an economic standpoint, then it must be engineered in such a way that it is at an appropriate technical level for local manufacture (close to consumer manufacturing),” he says.

By manufacturing the stoves in country, the skills necessary to service and repair the stoves will also reside in country. This will also serve to keep costs low and the profits circulating in the local economy.

“Our model would start with an appropriate technology with few imported components. The system would be manufactured and assembled by local co-ops and than sold by micro-financed small entrepreneurial enterprises,” Robinson says.

Still in a pilot phase, the team has just five full-time people and a few dozen others working at the periphery of the project. The business is set up as a nonprofit.

The goal, Robinson says, is not to create a large organization, but instead to empower local entrepreneurs. ”We want to start businesses, but do not have a desire to be part of them. We would measure success by when the technology and associated businesses are independent and we can step away from them.”

To understand how the business will work in country, it will be helpful to learn more about the simple stoves, the conditions in which local people are living, and the years of laboratory and field research that has gone into the design.

Robinson has identified five problems associated with cooking and lighting homes in the developing world:

  1. Smoke and toxic fumes from open-fire cooking pose one of the most severe health risks in the developing world; it is the #1 killer of children under five for example
  2. Collection of fuel for cooking can take tens of hours per week, primarily undertaken by women and children, burning precious calories and time and often taking them from the safety of their community
  3. Overuse of wood fuel is causing extreme deforestation, soil erosion and contributing to global warming
  4. Lighting requires “further exposure to smoke and toxic fumes and risks of house fires
  5. An exorbitant proportion of income, if it can be afforded, spent on candles or paraffin for the worst quality of light
  6. Limited ability for after dark income generating activities, socializing or studying

He adds, “Everybody suffers, but women and children are particularly vulnerable.”

Mobile phones, he says, represent a lifeline for local people, but they often lack an affordable way to keep them charged. He says, “They are used for ordering seeds and fertilizer, selling produce and products, doing banking transactions, keeping in touch with friends and family and so much more.”

Anthony Robinson in Malawi, courtesy of Trinity College Dublin

Anthony Robinson in Malawi, courtesy of Trinity College Dublin

The hybrid stove-electric generator Robinson is developing “consists of a locally made efficient clay cookstove and a thermoelectric generator (TEG) system.”

The unit is simple, by design. “The stove is significantly more efficient that the traditional open-fire, meaning less fuel and less smoke and toxic fumes. The TEG extracts a very small portion of the heat from the fire and converts some of this heat into electricity. With some innovative circuitry, the system allows for charging of phones, low powered radios and other rechargeable batteries such as those in LED lanterns and flash-lights.”

A critical lesson from the design stage of the stove was working with local people. Robinson has used a scientific approach, incorporating data logging devices attached to the prototypes deployed in the homes of families in Malawi in three successive trials. They also followed up with surveys. “Together with survey data, the information was used to re-engineer the TEG-Stoves in such a way that the technology evolved iteratively to something that worked and was valued. In essence, the technology has been designed by the end user,” Robinson says.

Robinson and his team have faced two big challenges, he says. The first challenge has been building something from scratch in Ireland that will not only function, but that can also be manufactured in Malawi. The second, has been to reach the lowest possible price point. These are near universal considerations for social entrepreneurs in the developed world hoping to support communities in developing countries.

The stoves as presently designed have their limitations, Robinson acknowledges. The electricity generated is modest and will only power low-power devices like cell phones, radios and LED lights. At low volumes, the cost is prohibitive and getting to scale is a challenge. The key, he believes, may be micro-loans for the purchases.

“Whether it is this TEG-Stove technology or the next technology, what we are trying to do is a notably different approach to what has been attempted in the past,” Robinson says, referring to a business model focused on the process more than the product.

He contrasts the approach he’s using with infrastructure projects that sometimes go awry. “The conventional model for energy technology deployment, such as that of solar PV, has typically been to show up, install and commission the system and leave. This same technology deployment model is not isolated to the energy sector, but also for water and sanitation, health etc. But technologies need to be maintained and repaired which requires infrastructure to support and sustain the technology. Simple things like the lack of spare parts have brought down the best solar installations,” he says.

“Our hypothesis is that if the technology is designed for the people and by the people and it can be manufactured in-country, then the people will have intellectual ownership of it. We believe (hope) that this strategy may make the difference and pave the way for appropriate and sustainable technology development across all sectors,” he concludes.

On Thursday, April 7, 2016 at 3:00 Eastern, Robinson will join me here, live from Ireland, to discuss the stove and the business model associated with bringing it to market. Tune in here then to watch the interview live. Post questions in the comments below or tweet questions before the interview to @devindthorpe.

A Social Entrepreneur’s Tips For Taking On The Impossible

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

Lisa Curtis is a serious social entrepreneur. Since she started her career as a Peace Corps volunteer, she has been all about doing good. Her company, Kuli Kuli, which sells products with miringa (don’t feel bad if you’ve never heard of it; most people haven’t) sourced in West Africa. It takes optimism to face all of the challenges associated with selling a new food; she shares three secrets to her success.

Curtis tells the story of how she started eating moringa as a way to supplement her diet after her Peace Corp stint left her malnourished. Later, she would launch Kuli Kuli to provide others with the health benefits and to support and grow the economy of West Africa where she sources the moringa.

Kuli Kuli’s products are carried in more than 800 retail outlets, including Whole Foods Markets, Sprouts and Kroger, according to Curtis. Owler estimates Kuli Kuli 2015 revenues at approximately $1 million.

Curtis says, the company’s moringa is sourced from women-owned cooperatives in Ghana, where they have already planted over 100,000 moringa trees. In Haiti, working with Whole Foods and the Clinton Foundation, Kuli Kuli is working to create a Moringa enterprise that will help to reforest the nearly completely deforested country. The Haitian moringa is used in the newly launched energy shots marketed by the company.

The partnerships with Whole Foods and the Clinton Foundation are helping to create a business model that socially and environmentally sustainable, Curtis says.

She has been recognized as a StargingBloc Fellow, a Wild Gift Better World Entrepreneur, an Ashoka Emerging Innovator and a Udall Scholar.

Lisa Curtis, courtesy of Kuli Kuli

Lisa Curtis, courtesy of Kuli Kuli

Curtis says that her optimism and “mild delusion” provide a “recipe for taking on the impossible.” She offers three specific points for doing what others say you can’t:

First, she says, “Write down something that you’re grateful for everyday.” This habit can help social entrepreneurs who face seemingly insurmountable struggles to balance their perceptions of challenges against what has already been accomplished.

Second, Curtis says, “Imagine what it would feel like to have your goal accomplished.” Visualization is considered a key to success in areas from golf to marketing. Seeing is believing, many say. A quick internet search for “vision board” will give a sense of how the industry of people helping you to visualize your achievements has grown.

Third, “Take one small step towards your impossible goal everyday, even if it’s just sending an email,” she says. Actions have consequences and these consequences can build momentum that ultimately change your goal from impossible to inevitable.

On Thursday, April 7, 2016 at 2:00 Eastern, Curtis will join me for a live discussion about her three point plan for taking on the impossible and about her latest progress with Kuli Kuli. Tune in here then to watch the interview live. Post questions in the comments below or tweet questions before the interview to @devindthorpe.

Autism Nonprofit Generates Revenue 7 Ways

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

Dr. Julian Maha founded KultureCity about three years ago, shortly after his son was diagnosed with autism. The diagnosing physician, Maha says, told him his son would likely have to be institutionalized. Motivated by that challenge, Maha set out to create a nonprofit that would actually drive greater impact in the lives of those affected by autism.

Maha really believes he is completely reinventing the model for nonprofits. Last year, Microsoft MSFT +1.03% launched Windows 10 with the #UpgradeYourWorld campaign I covered here. KultureCity was one of ten nonprofits recognized by Microsoft as part of that campaign, suggesting that Maha has created something different from typical nonprofits.

Maha asserts that the innovations he’s implementing at KultureCity make him “a true social entrepreneur.” He says, “ We are on a mission to fundamentally change the culture of how autism is viewed by society and to show the world that these individuals not only have potential but the means to achieve that potential.”

One of the key innovations that Maha has created is a diversity of revenue sources. He identifies seven different revenue sources:

  1. Angel Donations: large donors who fund overhead and provide an operating budget.
  2. Public Donations: funds raised from ordinary individual donors.
  3. Cause Marketing Products: KultureCity works with companies that create specific products that give back to the organization.
  4. Corporate Partnerships:  Maha explains, “We collaborate with companies that have products used by the special needs community. These partnerships then make us the de facto nonprofit partner of the companies.”
  5. Marketing Placement: KultureCity provides children with autism with “lifeBOKS,” a kit to help prevent wandering and related tragedies, like drowning. Marketing offers are packaged with the kit, providing the sponsoring companies with targeted branding opportunities that tend to garner good social media results, according to Maha.
  6. Business Incubator: The organization is now incubating businesses that help create jobs for people with autism and other special needs individuals. “Donations are used towards taking an idea from concept to market,” Maha says.
  7. Sensory Friendly Initiative: KultureCity helps make tourist attractions, businesses and community organizations sensory friendly. In return, these places hold fundraising events.

While it is clear that you could describe each of these as being a form of donation, there are seven distinct strategies for these donations.

Dr. Julian Maha with his wife Dr. Michele Kong, courtesy of KultureCity

Dr. Julian Maha with his wife Dr. Michele Kong, courtesy of KultureCity

KultureCity generated almost $500,000 of revenue last year, more than double the $183,000 it reported in 2014. The organization raised only $20,000 in 2013, its first year of operations.

There is a lot of work to do, Maha acknowledges. “For instance, work environments are not optimized for their success, and the culture is one that limits them because of their diagnosis. We are trying to change that by inspiring the community to see their potential and also to give the right tools to autistic individuals to help them not only succeed but be accepted fully by society.”

Maha sees the reinvention of the nonprofit model as being key. “The biggest challenge is to help society understand that the traditional nonprofit model is broken and in dire need of revitalization. Nonprofits need to be judged on their impact and also their ability to empower the populations that they serve. In addition, nonprofits also need to utilize their resources in a way that maximize impact and decreases organizational overhead.”

KultureCity’s social media presence suggest the company is playing above its weight, that is it may be having more impact than its revenues suggest it would. As of this writing it has almost 33,000 Twitter followers and 41,000 likes on Facebook, significantly larger numbers than most nonprofits of their scale in my experience covering the space.

Maha never loses sight of the fact that his purpose isn’t to remake nonprofits for its own sake, but rather to change the world for people with autism, giving them a “chance at a brighter future.”

On Thursday, April 7, 2016 at noon Eastern, Maha will join me for a live discussion about his innovations in nonprofit management and the impact that is having on his constituency of people affected by autism. Tune in here then to watch the interview live. Post questions in the comments below or tweet questions before the interview to @devindthorpe.


Hint Water Founder’s Passion For Health Drives Unsweetened Success

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

Kara Goldin talks about sugar as if it were a bad thing–a very bad thing. Goldin, the founder of $30 million beverage company hint®, launched the company in 2005 after developing the unsweetened flavored water in her home kitchen as a healthy alternative to the sweetened juices she had been buying for her kids.

Goldin approaches the subject of sugar and sweeteners with the subtly of a presidential stump speech. “People ask me ‘who’s your biggest competitor?’ It’s the sugar and sweetener companies. They will use any food or beverage to sell their ‘drug.’ And use any language to make it seem healthy,” she says.

The former AOL executive doesn’t like diet sweeteners much more than sugar. She proclaims, “Almost 1/2 of Americans have type 2 diabetes or pre-diabetes. That’s up 27% from a decade ago! And what are we drinking over the past decade? Diet sweeteners. You be the judge.”

“It’s criminal that we have allowed the word ‘water’ on labels to be used to define a drink that is sweetened. Water means health to most people and unfortunately many of these water drinks with sweeteners are not so healthy,” she continues.

The science, however, may not be quite as clear as Goldin’s passion. The American Diabetes Association describes the statement “Eating too much sugar causes diabetes” as a myth on its site.

Still, Goldin’s zeal seems to come from a genuine desire to improve health. That’s why she created the product in her kitchen over a decade ago, and it seems to be the driving force that propels the company forward.

Not only is the company’s water available in stores across the U.S., but in Silicon Valley, the company distributes the product directly to corporate campuses including Google and Facebook, Goldin says.

hint® is a member of the Social Venture Network and Goldin will be a keynote speaker at the spring conference on April 14 to 17 in San Diego, where, I expect, members will hear her stump speech.

On Thursday, March 24, 2016 at 1:00 Eastern, Goldin will join me here for a live discussion about hint®. Tune in here then to watch the interview live. Post questions in the comments below or tweet questions before the interview to @devindthorpe.

More about hint®:

Twitter: @hintwater

hint® is the leading unsweetened flavored water in the US today. We make it easier for people who don’t like the taste of plain water to drink water with just a little bit of real fruit flavor without sweeteners. In doing so, we help people get healthy and hear that in addition to helping them drink water, hint® is always helping people get healthy in their own way.

Kara Goldin, courtesy of hint®.

Kara Goldin, courtesy of hint®.

Goldin’s bio:

Twitter: @hintwaterceo

Kara Goldin is chief executive officer and founder of San Francisco based hint Inc., which produces the leading unsweetened flavored waters, with nothing artificial. Since its launch in April ’05, hint® has received numerous accolades from national publications including “Best Flavored Water” (in Health, Men’s Health, and SELF in both 2010 and 2012), “Best Enhanced Water” (BottledWaterWorld and BevNET) and “Top 25 New Products”. Kara started hint, Inc. to make it easier for consumers to lead a healthy lifestyle. Flavored only with natural fruit, hint delivers refreshment without unnecessary additives and sweeteners. hint’s latest brand extension is the introduction of hintfizz, a carbonated version of hint Water, that received the 2012 Better Homes and Gardens “Best New Product Award” as well as the 2012 Silver Stevie Award for “Best New Product or Service of the Year.” Kara has been a contributor to national outlets including The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, MORE, The Huffington Post,, Reuters and Businessweek as well as appearances on national programs including CNBC and Fox News. Kara was formerly the Vice President of Shopping and E-commerce Partnerships at AOL, where she grew AOL’s shopping business from startup to more than $1 billion in revenue in less than 7 years. In 2015, Kara was selected as winner of the prestigious Marketers That Matter award for Brand Building Small Company. Kara was also selected among only 10 other women as Fortune’s 2011 “Most Powerful Women Entrepreneurs,” and in 2012 as one of Ernst and Young’s “Entrepreneurial Winning Women.” She was honored with the 2012 Gold Stevie Award Winner for “Female Entrepreneur of the Year” & was listed as a “CEO to Watch in 2013” by And finally, Forbes recently named her as one of the “40 Women to Watch Over 40.” Kara is also an active speaker and writer as well as a member of SFBay YPO.

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