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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.

6 Lessons For Social Entrepreneurs From 2016

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

In recent weeks, I have seen a common theme proffered on social media: good riddance to 2016. For some it is about politics; for others, it is the deaths of favorite artists or actors. The fact is, however, 2016 wasn’t so different from other years, full of a roster of events both positive and negative. There is much to celebrate and learn from 2016.

Looking back at six of the most popular posts I wrote for Forbes this year, I found some lessons from the social entrepreneurs I covered that are worth reviewing.

  1. Use Your Supply Chain For Impact: Utah-based dōTERRA showed us in 2016 how to use your supply chain to have a social impact. The 1.2 billion entrepreneurial company has chosen to use its international purchases of essential oils to support smallholder farmers in developing countries. They have complemented their supply chain purchases with grants from the direct marketer’s Helping Hands Foundation.

    dōTERRA volunteers in Nepal, courtesy of dōTERRA

  2. Power Of Partnerships: Physician and social entrepreneur Dean Ornish demonstrated the power of partnering with a bigger organization when he licensed his healthy lifestyle program to Healthways to help people overcome cardiac problems. This single deal allowed Ornish to help people across the country gain access to professional help with implementing his program.

    Dean Ornish, courtesy of Healthways

  3. Never Underestimate A Young Woman With Blue Hair: Maria De La Croix, applied for a job with Starbucks and was rejected because she sported blue hair, a violation of company policy at the time. Anxious to find a way to earn a living, she launched her own coffee shop on a bicycle. She made so much money, she started selling more bicycle-based shops and within two years had sold over 600 cafes in 60 countries. Her shops sell only organic food and coffee and use solar panels to generate electricity.

    Maria De La Croix, courtesy of Wheelys

  4. Impact Is Sometimes In Between: Colleen Copple learned from working against gang violence in her hometown how to bridge the gap between the police and the communities they protect. Twenty-five years after beginning her work as a community activist she now leads a consulting practice with clients around the globe, including the U.S. Justice Department. Her firm, Strategic Applications International led the development of the official report from President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing. She leveraged her skills in bringing together people who sit on opposite sides of an issue to develop a shared understanding.

    Maria De La Croix, courtesy of Wheelys

  5. Regulation A+ Provides A New IPO Path For Social Entrepreneurs: Paul Elio, founder and CEO of Elio Motors, led a $16 million raise from the public in what amounted to a “mini IPO” under new SEC rules promulgated in 2015 in accordance with Title IV of the 2012 JOBS Act. Elio Motors is planning to launch the sale of a three-wheeled car that costs just $7,300 and gets 84 miles per gallon. Elio hopes the car will empower people who traditionally haven’t been able to afford a car and that it will also help the environment.

    Paul Elio, courtesy of Elio Motors

  6. Students Using STEM Skills Make Can A Difference: Six young women at MIT combined their science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills to create a device that converts text to braille. The prize-winning inventors are hoping to bring the device they call Tactile to market a price point approaching $100, representing more than an order of magnitude pricing improvement over the market for similar devices today.

Team Tactile, six undergrads from MIT, are redefining what inventors look like. Photo courtesy of Microsoft.

Social entrepreneurs will likely change the world again in 2017. Those that make the most progress may be the ones that learn the lessons taught us by 2016.

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!

 

These 6 Women Undergrads At MIT Invented A Game Changer For The Blind

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

Six women, all undergraduate students at MIT, have invented a text to braille scanner that significantly advances the state of the art for text scanners, most of which convert text to speech. The patent-pending device is not yet available in the marketplace, but the inventors are committed to the project, called Tactile, full time upon graduation in the spring. (Disclosure: My wife owns fewer than 100 shares of Microsoft.)

The team comprises three students in Mechanical Engineering, Jialin Shi, Charlene Xia and Grace Li; two students in Electrical Engineering, Tania Yu and Chandani Doshi; and Bonnie Wang, who studies Materials Sciences.

A spokesperson for Microsoft points out that women hold just 5.5 percent of commercial patents in the United States. The company is trying to change that by providing pro bono legal support to female inventors. Team Tactile has been accepted into this program.

Keely Swan, IDEAS Global Challenge Administrator at MIT, boasts, “The Tactile team won a $10,000 grant in last year’s MIT IDEAS Global Challenge, an annual innovation, service, and social entrepreneurship program run by MIT’s Priscilla King Gray Public Service Center. The program helps students take what they learn in the classroom and apply it to real-world challenges. As one of our winning teams, Tactile received a 15-month grant, and we’ll work with them through summer 2017 as they refine their project.”

Team Tactile, six undergrads from MIT, are redefining what inventors look like. Photo courtesy of Microsoft.

Team Tactile, six undergrads from MIT, are redefining what inventors look like. Photo courtesy of Microsoft.

Keely describes the team’s work ethic and effort on their winning project. “When I first read the Tactile project plan, it was clear that they had spent time working with people who are visually impaired to understand the challenges they face, and how a real-time text-to-Braille converter could help them read almost anything, from product labels to sensitive personal information like bank statements and medical paperwork. After developing a prototype at a hackathon, Tactile continued working closely with partners and prospective users to refine the concept and create a device they believe can significantly improve the quality of life for people with visual impairments.”

Paul Parravano, Co-director of Government and Community Relations at MIT, is visually impaired and has advised the Tactile team during their product development efforts. He says the market is full of devices, many of which are expensive. Braille display devices cost about $1,500 and they don’t scan documents at that price.

The team hasn’t set a price point, but they believe they can produce their device for just $100, giving them the opportunity to price theirs well below the price of competing devices that don’t provide scanning.

Parravano points out that pricing is key. Many visually impaired people are unemployed or underemployed and therefore don’t have resources for expensive technology. He says, if the team can price the product below $1,500 it could represent a real breakthrough.

With a target price approaching $100, this could represent a quantum leap forward for the blind community.

Team member Jialin Shi adds, “According to the National Federation of the Blind, only 40.4% of adults with significant vision loss were employed in 2014 and more than 30% live below the poverty line.”

Shi describes the team’s bold plan, “We want to make Tactile affordable and accurate. If we can do that, then we believe we will be able to increase the braille literacy rate, and in turn, increase the employment rate of adults with significant vision loss. We think it’s incredibly important to invest in technology that will enable, empower and allow people with disabilities to go and do amazing things. Getting Tactile to a point where we can sell it for $100 or less would be ideal, and would allow us to help many more people than the technologies that exist today.”

Team Tactile, working on their prototype. Courtesy of Microsoft.

Team Tactile, working on their prototype. Courtesy of Microsoft.

The device isn’t market ready, yet. Team member Bonnie Wang explains, “There is a lot of work we still have to do to refine our product. The largest roadblock is shrinking the size of our braille linear actuation mechanism to meet the size requirements of standard braille characters. We are continuing to make steps in decreasing the size of our device to make it portable for users.”

The biggest limitation the team faces is the state of optical character recognition (OCR) technology. “One limitation is the complexity of processing images of irregular surfaces. Especially with the limited processing power of our device, it is difficult to adjust for folds in the surface and distortions in text,” Wang says.

Despite the challenges and limitations, Keely notes that what they have accomplished is remarkable. “I have been deeply impressed by the team’s knowledge, passion, and ability to work together quickly and effectively. The IDEAS Global Challenge judges were also impressed by how much the team accomplished in such a short period of time.”

Shi explains the team’s vision for the product’s impact. “Ultimately, this will provide people with visual impairment access to information that they wouldn’t otherwise have. No more than 5 percent of books have braille translations. Tactile would allow them to read anything they wanted from text books and novels to food labels and mathematical equations. It truly would open up a world of opportunity for an entire community of people.”

The team’s efforts have impact beyond the community of people with visual impairments, Keely points out. “As an all-female undergraduate team, they are setting a great example for other young women and girls, demonstrating what they can accomplish in science, technology, and engineering.”

On Thursday, December 22, 2016 at 5:00 Eastern, all six members of the team will join me here for a live discussion about their project, their progress and their passion. Tune in here then to watch the interview live. Post questions in the comments below or tweet questions before the interview to @devindthorpe.

Never miss another interview! Join Devin here!

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

Prudential Working To Double Impact Investing Portfolio Focuses On Newark

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

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In the Spring of 2014, Prudential Financial, Inc., announced a commitment in double its impact investment portfolio from about $500 million to $1 billion by 2020. Half way through that period, the financial giant reports it is making progress, with much of the investment going to redevelopment efforts in Newark.

Prudential was founded 140 years ago in Newark, New Jersey and remains there today. Lata Reddy, Vice President of Corporate Social Responsibility, says that the decision to stay in Newark was not simply “inertia.” She says, the company has repeatedly decided to stay in the community and to invest in it as part of its social mission.

Prudential reports investing more than $400 million in Newark’s civic infrastructure, to help create new jobs and attract more consumers. Projects include:

  • The redevelopment of the historic Hahne & Co. building into a mixed-use development featuring street-level retail, which will include a Whole Foods Market, mixed-income apartments, and space for Rutgers University.
  • The revitalization of Military Park into an epicenter of Newark city life, complete with a café and a spacious lawn where community activities such as fitness classes, concerts and movie screenings now take place.
  • The development of free ultra-high speed Wi-Fi in Newark’s downtown district accessible to anyone. The WiFi is 200 times faster than public WiFi networks available in other cities including New York.
  • The renovation of the former National State Bank building into Hotel Indigo, one of the first new hotels built in Newark in 40 years.
  • The conversion of a former warehouse into AeroFarms, a next-generation urban farming hub. AeroFarms will help bring a new, sustainable industry to the city, create jobs, revive deteriorating neighborhoods, and produce healthy food for residents.

Jonathan Cortell, Vice President of Development for L+M Development Partners, says, “Lata and her team have been invaluable partners in our joint effort to restore the long vacant Hahne & Co. flagship building in downtown Newark. Our initial collaboration was to finance the property’s acquisition and it has steadily grown from there.  Vacant for nearly three decades, the acquisition was not the easiest transaction and I can’t imagine any other lender successfully pulling it off as Prudential did.”

Lata Reddy, courtesy of Prudential

Lata Reddy, courtesy of Prudential

Reddy, who rejoined Prudential in 2012 in her current position after a three-year stint as an independent consultant, sees Prudential playing a key role in addressing fundamental problems in Newark, which exist to a greater or lesser degree around the world. She worries that “too many people are excluded from the real economy.” She notes that some communities like Newark are “experiencing concentrated poverty.” This impacts women, veterans and people of color disproportionately.

Communities lose out when the upwardly mobile move out of the community, leaving the less fortunate to fend for the themselves. This impacts the city government, she notes, reducing the tax base and impairing the talent pool that government can draw from for leadership. Ultimately, however, Reddy says that Prudential sees these problems as opportunities for the firm to make a difference and a profit.

Reddy says, “Our goal is to create a thriving, walkable, 24/7 community.” She points out that Prudential is the largest company based in Newark, “the only Fortune 50 company headquartered here.”

Cortell agrees, complimenting Prudential’s work in the community. “Lata’s group consistently demonstrates flexibility and creativity well beyond what you typically see from lenders. Lata and her group encouraged us to raise the bar and actively engaged local institutions, like Rutgers University, that are helping to make Hahne’s a real resource for the City of Newark.”

Daryl Carter, Founder, Chairman and CEO of Avanath Capital Management, which has raised three funds to invest in affordable housing, says that Prudential invested in all three funds and provided debt financing on some of the projects as well.

Carter says, “Because of Prudential’s initial and ongoing investment in our funds, we have successfully acquired, renovated, and preserved over 41 affordable housing communities totaling more than 7,000 units throughout the United States.”

He explains the vital role affordable housing plays in building healthy communities. “For example,” he says, “providing resident services such as after-school programs for kids keeps them engaged and makes communities safer, and creating quality living environments that are also affordable contributes to the overall stability of a neighborhood. Prudential supports our vision and holistic approach in providing quality housing to a segment of the market that is often ignored by other investors.”

Reddy acknowledges that there are challenges. “Even with our resources, you can’t do it alone.” She says, attracting additional capital to support redevelopment has been a challenge. For some projects, the “capital stacks” are complicated.

There hasn’t, however, been a problem with finding good projects to fund. The scale of the problem–opportunity as she sees it–is massive, providing plenty of shovel ready project just waiting for capital.

She acknowledges that not all of the community’s problems can be solved by investments. Prudential also deploys some philanthropic capital to support job training and other programs in Newark.

Furthermore, the money presently allocated to philanthropy and impact investment is too small to solve the problems they hope to address. In order to actually solve the world’s biggest problems, “we need more capital,” she says. Traditional capital markets will have to be deployed with an eye toward impact to solve these problems.

In this regard, Prudential itself is a symbol of this problem. While building a $1 billion portfolio of impact investments by 2020 is a huge step forward, the firm has $1 trillion in total assets. The firm’s allocation of capital to impact is just 1/1000th of its total.

Reddy says that the bespoke nature of impact investing is part of the problem for achieving scale. She expressed hope that standardizing impact investment structures will make the market more efficient and attract more main stream capital.

The impact of the projects, however, is already being felt in Newark, she says. More people and companies are coming to live, work and do business in Newark. More amenities are being created. Prudential has catalyzed more capital by leading the way.

Reddy sees this work as being central to the firm’s commitment to the community and social impact. The firm was founded, she says, on the principle of helping people “achieve financial prosperity and the peace of mind at comes with it.” Impact investing is a contemporary way of continuing that legacy, she says.

On Thursday, December 15, 2016 at 11:00 Eastern, Reddy will join me here for a live discussion about Prudential’s investments in Newark and elsewhere on it way to building a $1 billion impact investment portfolio, Tune in here then to watch the interview live. Post questions in the comments below or tweet questions before the interview to @devindthorpe.

Never miss another interview! Join Devin here!

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

Multi-Generational Giving from a Silicon-Valley Tech Company with a Big Heart

This is a guest post from Kurt Klein, the CEO of DataEndure

DataEndure (formerly Computer Media Technologies) opened its doors in the heart of the Silicon Valley in 1983, just as the first rudimentary notebook computers were trickling into the marketplace and the 3.5-inch floppy disk was a novel idea, still a year away from introduction.

Kurt Klein, the CEO of DataEndure has kept the legacy of philanthropy within his company. For over 10 years he has made a yearly commitment to Second Harvest Food Bank and Pursuit of Excellence.

Along with volunteering his time, Kurt has inspired the entire team of 50+ employees at DataEndure with the passion to collect food donations for this fine organization. Every year the entire staff travel to the local grocery store just before Thanksgiving and each employee fills an entire cart of meats, dried and canned goods and everyone checks out and DataEndure picks up the entire tab. The whole team then loads up a truck with all of the groceries and deliver them to the food bank.

DataEndure and its employees provide food to Second Harvest Food Bank with an annual employee Thanksgiving food donation drive. Over the years, the event becomes an internal competition of sorts whereby the company tries to outdo its donations of the previous years. Just last year, the company sent over more than 4,000 pounds in total food weight in just one day. Imagine that happening each year for the past ten years the company has been doing this and it’s clear to see the commitment .CEO Kurt Klein sponsors the charity event and closes the office for two hours. In addition to the food donation, DataEndure matches cash contributions to provide to Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties.

As one of the largest food banks in the nation, Second Harvest provides food to an average of nearly one quarter of a million people each month. DataEndure’s efforts will support Second Harvest’s goals to mobilize individuals and companies, enabling community partners to connect people to the nutritious food they need.

“It’s firmly engrained in our culture to support community charitable efforts, and the Second Harvest Food Bank performs incredibly important work to combat hunger in our area,” Klein said. “We are honored to help Second Harvest assist those who are struggling to put food on their tables.”

Community outreach and giving back has been at the forefront of DataEndure’s culture for the last 30 plus years. Kurt is a mentor for an organization that is very near and dear to his heart, Pursuit Of Excellence.

Every new school year, Pursuit of Excellence brings in 30 plus teenagers and provides these motivated young people with tuition, room and board, even spending money for the time it takes them to take it to graduation. Klein, a CEO with a mission to motivate, takes on four mentees.

He contributes his time to helping these teenagers with whatever they may need to reach their goal of becoming a college graduate. And it’s more than money. The organization provides them with a support system that teaches them financial oversight and money management. Kurt even took his group on a tour of Facebook’s campus and comes to their holidays and graduations.

“I treat them just like they are my own children,” says Klein, a father of two. “ A few years ago I had one mentee named Jaime, and it was great to see him put on that cap and gown. Now, I’m mentoring his little sister at UC Santa Cruz, and it’s a wonderful feeling to be part of this family’s progress.” The secret? The perfect combination of a little nurture, and of course a lot of support. Sometimes he’ll nudge them to a field, such as business, but for the most part, he’s happy to see them graduate and go off on a path knowing he helped guide them to that shining moment of graduation day.

He wants all of his employees to follow in his and his father’s footsteps, creating a company culture of being a part of the community they work in. But it’s not just these two organizations Klein feels strongly about. DataEndure also offers gift cards to other organizations in a matching offers contest. If any employee is nominated by a peer for demonstrating one of the company’s culture pillars, DataEndure will make a donation to a charity of the employee’s choice.

India Creates Opportunities For Social Solar Entrepreneurs

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

Upendra Tripathy, recently retired Secretary of the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy in India, sees tremendous opportunities for social entrepreneurs to play a role in expanding renewable energy there.

Tripathy retired on October 31, 2016 from the top policy position in the Ministry. During his tenure, he oversaw a 400 percent increase in carbon tax in the country. He also led the five-fold increase in the 2022 target for solar power in the country from 20,000 to 100,000 megawatts. While he acknowledges that he is not a social entrepreneur, he notes that he has put policies into place that support social entrepreneurship.

According to freelance writer and creative consultant, Ashok Choudhury, who lives in Delhi, Tripathy has been widely recognized for leading change in the Ministry during his two-and-a-half year tenure.

World Bank Group President, Jim Yong Kim (L) and Indian Finance Minister, Arun Jaitley (R) pose with Indian Ministry of New and Renewable Energy Secretary, Upendra Tripathy (2L) and World Bank Country Director, Unno Ruhl (2R) following the signing and exchange of agreement in New Delhi on June 30, 2016.The World Bank Group June 30, signed an agreement with the International Solar Alliance (ISA) to collaborate on increasing solar energy use around the world, with the goal of mobilizing one trillion dollars in investments by 2030. / AFP / PRAKASH SINGH (Photo credit should read PRAKASH SINGH/AFP/Getty Images)

World Bank Group President, Jim Yong Kim (L) and Indian Finance Minister, Arun Jaitley (R) pose with Indian Ministry of New and Renewable Energy Secretary, Upendra Tripathy (2L) and World Bank Country Director, Unno Ruhl (2R) following the signing and exchange of agreement in New Delhi on June 30, 2016.The World Bank Group June 30, signed an agreement with the International Solar Alliance (ISA) to collaborate on increasing solar energy use around the world, with the goal of mobilizing one trillion dollars in investments by 2030. / AFP / PRAKASH SINGH (Photo credit should read PRAKASH SINGH/AFP/Getty Images)

Tripathy explains that during his service, the government took three specific actions to support renewable energy entrepreneurship. First, the government set up a regulatory infrastructure to encourage the establishment of micro-grids. Second, policies were created to encourage commercial rooftop solar projects on schools, hospitals and businesses. Third, social entrepreneurs and nonprofits were encouraged to increase their outreach to the public to get the country closer to universal access to electricity.

The last point hints at the underlying motivation for rapid adoption of renewable energy. As India is still a developing country, there are about 300 million people who lack access to electricity. Unlike the U.S., where the primary motivation for renewable energy is to reduce carbon emissions, the need to expand access to electricity is a primary motivator in India.

Choudhury notes that Tripathy organized the 2015 RE-INVEST conference, calling it a “game changer” for entrepreneurs. The conference led to a variety of commitments from both the private and public sector, including plans to build 277 Gigawatts (GW) of renewable energy. The government committed to build 175 GW, including 100 GW of solar, he says.

Choudhury says, “More important was the structuring of the 100 GW of solar into 40 GW in solar parks, 40 GW in rooftop and 20 GW in distributed space. Big entrepreneurs came in to solar parks. Thirty-four solar parks have been sanctioned so far all over India. More are in the pipeline. Rooftop has taken a big leap and many new and small time entrepreneurs are joining the solar journey in the form of channel partners, companies and NGOs.”

Tripathy says there are already about 800 micro grids operating in India. He offers some tips for social entrepreneurs wanting to expand access to electricity using solar and other renewable energy sources in India, especially in rural villages.

First, he says, mini-grid entrepreneurs need to look for anchor tenants with resources to help defray the capital and operating costs so they don’t fall entirely on the poor. He offers examples: “Mobile towers, remote hospitals, or tourist homes if any,” adding, “In such cases, you can cross subsidize the tariff of the poor from your income from the anchor point who can pay more.”

Tripathy points out, “Mobile tower connectivity is a win-win situation. The owners save costly fossil fuel and carbon footprint, create employment and promote energy access.”

His second tip for social entrepreneurs is to scan the environment, referring to the entrepreneurial ecosystem. He says, “Meet peers, join national and sub national platforms, and use ‘Right to Information’ [rules] to understand what all benefits Governments (federal, provincial and local) give to that sector. The financial model should suitably incorporate all these features to make a successful social enterprise.”

Choudhury says, “For India, climate justice is an article of faith. Renewable energy is a part of climate justice as it reduces carbon footprint, brings in investment, creates employment, and secures the future of our future generations.”

On Monday, November 21, 2016 at 10:00 PM Eastern (8:30 Tuesday morning in India), Tripathy will join me for a live discussion about the opportunities being created in India for social entrepreneurs and the benefits they will in turn bring to the 300 million people in India who lack access to electricity. Tune in here then to watch the interview live. Post questions in the comments below or tweet questions before the interview to @devindthorpe.

Never miss another interview! Join Devin here!

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

Announcing My New Social Media Course for Nonprofits

Recently, I completed and posted a new course on social media for nonprofits on Udemy that you can complete in under an hour and costs just $25.

As I sit on the board of one nonprofit, the public relations advisory board for another, I have seen up close how daunting social media can be to a nonprofit where every dollar is precious and time is a luxury that other people have.

Social media is an important tool for nonprofits, not just in fundraising, but for developing a community and for issue advocacy and awareness. Well-crafted social media campaigns can reach more people than a good write-up in your local paper.

Blue bird cartoon and social media icon set in speech bubble shape. Vector file layered for easy manipulation and custom coloring.

The course, “Basic Social Media for Nonprofits,” will help organizations with up to $10 million annual budgets develop a strategy and actionable tactics that don’t take an inordinate amount of time nor much of a budget in order to thoughtfully develop an audience, a community and a donor base via social media.

Udemy is a leading platform for online courses. I have posted four courses on the platform, including this one. Earlier this month, I announced my new course “Intro to Impact Investing.”

Over the past several years, like many journalists, I’ve had to learn much of the art and science of social media. Having attracted over 40,000 followers on Twitter, over 6,000 fans on Facebook and over 5,000 connections on LinkedIn, I realized that my audience is much bigger than most nonprofits. Many nonprofits have a clear advantage, however, with a natural and committed fan base among those they serve and the their friends and families.

My new course is regularly just $25, but you can register using the code “DOGOODER” and get 20 percent off and pay just $20. Let me share a secret I haven’t posted elsewhere. If you join the Doers Circle here on Patreon, you can get even bigger discounts plus other benefits!

USAID Extension Grant Propels Carbon Roots International in its Mission to Improve Lives, Livelihoods, and the Environment in Haiti

This is a guest post from Eric Sorensen, CEO and Co-Founder of Carbon Roots International

What does a $500,000 award extension made possible by the generous support of the American people through USAID mean to Carbon Roots International? More predictable and efficient production of green charcoal for cooking in Haiti, with even less environmental degradation—and acceleration of our mission to create jobs, reduce deforestation, and improve lives in Haiti.

This infusion of capital into our organization is more than just a significant vote of confidence by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), which is the main U.S. government agency working to end extreme global poverty and helping democratic societies worldwide to reach their potential. It also enables Carbon Roots to purchase, install, and operate new equipment to expand and automate our innovative process for turning agricultural waste into charcoal for cooking. It also puts Carbon Roots on the path to financial sustainability.

Fuel from Agricultural Waste Instead of Trees

Carbon Roots is already the largest charcoal producer in Haiti. While most of us in the United States associate charcoal with backyard barbecues and a pleasant, often festive, alternative to cooking in the kitchen, in Haiti charcoal is serious business. Nine of out 10 households there depend on charcoal or wood for all their cooking, and the reliance on tree wood has turned Haiti into one of the world’s most devastatingly deforested landscapes.

Carbon Roots has developed a process for producing green charcoal briquettes from agricultural waste instead of tree wood. The green charcoal has the added benefits of burning hotter and cleaner than traditional wood charcoal and costing less—without requiring Haitians to change their stoves or cooking methods.

Early in our development, Carbon Roots received valuable guidance and direction from Santa Clara University’s Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship. As participants in their Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI®) program, Carbon Roots was able to refine and improve our business plan, business model, and financial structures.

We sell green charcoal briquettes to customers directly, through wholesalers, and via independent women retailers that Carbon Roots recruits and trains. In addition to the health, cost, and environmental advantages of using green charcoal in their own homes, the women who become retailers learn valuable business skills—plus, they have the opportunity to earn incomes exceeding most other income-generating activities available to women in Haiti.

Two Carbon Roots vendors in Haiti

Two Carbon Roots vendors in Haiti

Taking the Green Charcoal Process to the Next Level

Although Carbon Roots is already helping to combat deforestation and boost the livelihoods of many Haitians—especially our network of independent women retailers—we still lacked a way to improve the efficiency and predictability of the first step of the green charcoal briquette production process: carbonizing the agricultural waste into charcoal dust. That’s where the USAID award extension comes into play.

Now Carbon Roots can afford to purchase and install one Big Char pyrolyzer unit from its Australian manufacturer, Pyrocal. This Big Char unit will serve as a proof of concept to potential investors, who will be needed to fund the purchase of the additional five units we will require for full-scale production.

The Big Char continuous carbonization technology:

  • Automates previously manual steps
  • Provides a steady source of heat that eliminates the need to sun-dry the charcoal dust
  • Can operate even in rainy weather, a serious advantage in monsoon regions such as Haiti
  • Produces less smoke than manual methods

Working with our Miller Center GSBI mentor, we were able to determine how best to proceed with acquiring the Big Char pyrolyzers—starting with a single unit for the pilot program, funded by the USAID grant; moving to full production with multiple pyrolyzers, funded through a mix of debt, lease, and a variable payment option (VPO) investment instrument; and eventually opening a second production facility, funded through a mix of debt and equity.

Our GSBI mentor also helped us refine our financial projections. We determined that two production facilities would produce sufficient internal cash flow to sustain one new factory every year for 10 years. That translates into saving 7 million trees and generating in excess of $50 million in income for poor Haitian women and their families.

As a result of its greater efficiency and ability to operate more days per year, the new Big Char pyrolyzer will allow Carbon Roots to increase our annual volume of green charcoal production while reducing both costs and emissions.

The demand for our green charcoal already outstrips our ability to supply it, and the problem isn’t lack of business resources, our business model, or resistance to our products. The limiting factor has simply been financial resources. We are extremely grateful to USAID’s Development Innovation Ventures for this generous extension award, which will enhance our ability to benefit our wide range of local stakeholders: farmers who monetize waste streams by selling agricultural residues to Carbon Roots; women charcoal retailers who enjoy higher incomes and greater autonomy; and poor Haitians who have access to a cleaner, cheaper, sustainable cooking fuel.

Social Entrepreneur Creates ‘Nobel Prize For Business’ Focused On Social Responsibility

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

Per L. Saxegaard of Norway recognized years ago that there was no Nobel Prize for Business. The closest that one comes is the prize for Economics. Saxegaard decided not only to create a prize modeled on the Nobel Prizes, but to focus it on social responsibility, what he calls being “businessworthy.” (Disclosure: I recently wrote an unrelated piece for the Rotarian Magazine, affiliated with Rotary International, which is mentioned in this article.)

A former investment banker, Saxegaard founded the Business for Peace Foundation and assembled a team of past Nobel Laureates in Peace and Economics to serve as a the panel of judges. Ten years and dozens of winners later, the Business for Peace Awards are internationally recognized.

Past winners include Jeffrey R. Immelt, CEO of GE and Sir Richard Branson of Virgin. The 2016 winners included Tore Lærdal, founder of Lærdal Medical and and Dr Jennifer Nkuene Riria who launched a successful microfinance institution in Kenya.

Given his experience in assessing and recognizing socially responsible businessses, Saxegaard was invited to be a keynote speaker on Saturday, November 12, 2016 at the Rotary International at the United Nations Day event where eight businesses will receive the Rotary Responsible Business Award. I’ve also been invited to participate in the program that day.

The award recipients will include Coca Cola Beverages Pakistan and Mercantil Banco Universal. Six individuals will also be recognized. These include Juan Silva Beauperthuy, Queremos Graduarnos Program (We Want to Graduate), of Venezuela; Jean-Paul Faure, Le Trophée du Rotary, new business development program, of France; Suresh Goklaney, Jal Jeevan Centers, community water purification plants, of India; Annemarie Mostert, Sesego Cares, entrepreneurial, leadership and job training, of South Africa; Stephanie Woollard, Seven Women, Nepalese crafts, of Australia; and, Lawrence Wright, Launch Detroit, women-led small business support, of Michigan.

John Germ, President of Rotary International, explains the reason for recognizing these business leaders, “We want to lift up those entrepreneurs who leverage their skills to develop their local economies, serve their communities, and promote socially responsible business practices.”

He went on to explain his hope that these businesses will play a role in solving some of the world’s big problems. “Getting businesses of all kinds to invest, not only in profits, but in ethical and responsible practices is key to achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Rotary stands with the United Nations in achieving the Global Goals and is committed to bringing together entrepreneurs, like this year’s outstanding Responsible Business honorees, to make an outsized impact on their communities.”

Saxegaard explains that the Business for Peace Foundation is a nonprofit that is funded by donations and sponsorships. For the awards program, he uses the same venue that the Nobel Prize uses, the City Hall of Oslo.

Saxegaard encourages business leaders to make the “businessworthy pledge”:

I am a business leader who knows that business cannot succeed in societies that fail. I will do my utmost to be businessworthy in all my efforts, and to tune my business to support the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. I call on my peers to do the same.

He says, “This year the businessworthy pledge was personally signed committing business leaders representing some USD $700 BN in sales to tune their business to the SDGs and be businessworthy. This is due to spark a global campaign rallying other business leaders to join and commit.”

He wants, he says, to “inspire business leaders to be businessworthy; ie., create value by improving society, acting responsibly.” He adds, “Not all profits are created equal.”

Per L. Saxegaard, Executive Chairman, courtesy of the Business for Peace Foundation

Per L. Saxegaard, Executive Chairman, courtesy of the Business for Peace Foundation

Saxesgaard offers three tips to help businesses become more businessworthy.

Business must contribute to accomplishing the SDGs.

Saxedgaard says, “The forces of technology, globalization and climate change are simultaneously accelerating in a non-linear way, posing demanding implications to society as well as changing the landscapes of business. Volatility and complexity are increasing. There is a need for business to adjust its maps.”

He notes that global political leaders signed on last year to support the accomplishment of the SDGs by 2030. He notes, “These goals are unrealistic if business does not engage and contribute actively. A businessworthy mindset and practice puts a name on the map adjustment needed for business to contribute to the SDGs.”

Business needs to focus on improving society.

Saxegaard says, “The increasing interdependence and complexity confronting business, forces a broadening of the business mindset that have dominated the last few decenniums. Transparency has become the new standard. Incumbent structures are increasingly being challenged. Consumers and society increase their influence as we become more and more interconnected. More than before there is a need for business to broaden its thinking and include stakeholder and society in its reflections when seeking to create value.”

He redefines the marketplace to shift the lens through which business leaders see the world. “Societal needs define markets and create opportunities for growth. Business thinking needs to focus on products and business models that help improve society. Being businessworthy coins this kind of mindset.”

Purpose is the language of the millennial generation.

“Purpose nourishes meaning. To attract the talents of tomorrow, business needs to have a purpose bigger than profit, to make money with a higher meaning. Money might motivate, but no amount can inspire. Being businessworthy coins business seeking to improve society while acting responsibly, helping solve problems that create value for both business and society,” Saxegaard concludes.

On Saturday, November 12, 2016 at 11:30 AM, live from the United Nations, Saxegaard will join me for a discussion about becoming more businessworthy. Tune in here then to watch the interview live. Post questions in the comments below or tweet questions before the interview to @devindthorpe.

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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!

Traci Johnson Kicks Off Campaign for Autism Inclusion


Former model Traci Lynn Johnson, wife of Tiki Barber, is making a difference for the autism nonprofit KultureCity. She’s leading the new campaign to help everyone understand that even though those with autism may struggle to use words to express love, they still do.

Traci says, “KC is launching a new national campaign called Love Without Words. This campaign is designed to show that while people with autism sometimes have difficulty demonstrating love verbally, it does not mean that they are not capable of love.”

Traci Johnson, courtesy of Kulture City

Traci Johnson, courtesy of Kulture City

“We have launched this campaign with different celebrities, influencers and companies,” she continues. “In this campaign, we are having these celebrities and influencers show how they demonstrate love on a daily basis without using words. We then have a call to action to ask everyone that we are reaching how they, too, show love without words. And of course, there is also a donation aspect as well.”

Traci notes that people with autism are often poorly understood. “We often face the challenge of people not realizing that children (and adults) with autism are a lot like able-bodied individuals, as well. People often think that just because someone has autism means that they don’t have feelings or emotions. This could not be further from the truth.”

The misunderstandings people have, lead to conscious and sometimes unintended discrimination, she says. “We live in a world where there is still racism, bigotry and discrimination and these feelings often are directed towards people with disabilities, such as autism.”

Traci approaches the campaign with optimism. She says, “Our success would further the goal of inclusion and social/cultural acceptance for those with autism. This is important because while a cure, treatment or reason for why autism occurs would be phenomenal, society as a whole, needs to learn how to accept people with autism until such a time that treatment may exist, because autism is not going away.”

On Thursday, November 17, 2016 at noon Eastern, Traci will join me here for a live discussion about the new campaign and its potential for impacting families with members with autism. Tune in here then to watch the interview live. Post questions in the comments below or tweet questions before the interview to @devindthorpe.

Traci Johnson and Tiki Barber, courtesy of Kulture City

Traci Johnson and Tiki Barber, courtesy of Kulture City

More about Kulture City:

Twitter: @kulturecity

Kulture City is the fastest growing autism non-profit in the country. KC’s mission is to gain autism acceptance in every community throughout the world. KC is striving to accomplish this by pushing boundaries and by changing the culture that is considered normal.

Traci’s bio:

Twitter: @traciljohnson

Traci Johnson, is the wife of Tiki Barber, mother of two little girls, Brooklyn and Teagan, philanthropist and marketing consultant. She graduated from Mount Saint Mary College and attended New York University for her Master’s Degree in Journalism.

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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!

 

Next Economy: Election Aftermath

By Garvin Jabusch

If you believe in the continuing evolution of the economy towards innovation-driven sustainability and economic coexistence with our fragile earth systems, then this has been a rough week.

So, what happened? We can cite a number of likely reasons behind Trump’s victory, but here are the ones that stood out to us.

  • First, people are extremely angry about the ever-widening economic and social inequality and inequity they have been experiencing the last couple decades, and they can see that the main beneficiaries of this inequality are never held accountable (only one banker jailed after 2008, for example).
  • Second, half of the nation – or 47% of the electorate anyway – has been convinced by an ideology that claims the best way to fight inequality is to pass policies that actually cause more inequality. Jane Mayer’s book Dark Money does an excellent job of explaining how this happened.

Unfortunately, this ideology has negative implications for the Next Economy. Next Economics at its core reflects the ongoing process of de-risking the global economy of its most serious long-term threats, those being the worst outcomes of climate change, resource scarcity, and widening inequality. The risk of inequality itself has now driven an election result that will slow progress on managing all real systemic risks.

We’ve always said that U.S. political risk is one of the scariest things about managing for the Next Economy, because so much policy and business is driven by the owners of legacy economy energies, utilities, transportation and so on. “The next president has questioned the science of climate change, vowed to withdraw from the Paris agreement on global warming and pledging to stimulate production of coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel,” is how Bloomberg put it. Meanwhile, many of the world’s leading institutions (the World Economic Forum at Davos, for one) still cite climate change and the erosion of social cohesion as the most dangerous and pressing economic risks confronting the world. The global economy can, must and will rise to meet these challenges.

The transition to an economy based on businesses that are more efficient, less risky, and more profitable remains inevitable; and the realities of the global economy’s exposure to climate and social risks remain the same. Much of the world still understands this, and a Trump presidency will set back U.S. technological and political progress behind the rest of the world, at least temporarily. As Michael Liebreich of Bloomberg New Energy Finance tweeted, “So this is interesting. I will continue to inform decision-makers about the world’s unstoppable transition to clean energy and transport.” Our economic evolution continues, but which nations and regions benefit first and most by taking advantage of the most incredible advances may now be an open question.

Critically as well, America’s most economically powerful states – led by New York and California – will continue to support sustainable technology and renewable energies in pursuit of greater economic growth. Indeed, we did see some bright spots the other night: Florida solar advocates celebrated a major win as voters rejected a utility-backed amendment to limit solar energy development. It is unlikely that wind energy in America will suffer much either: “Seventy percent of U.S. turbines are in low-income rural areas,” according to Bloomberg, saying, “Wind Is the New Corn for Struggling Farmers.” In fact, the five states generating the largest fraction of their electricity from wind all voted for Trump. The economic, health and other benefits of clean, renewable energies are winning despite political rhetoric.

We need to continue investing in the zero-risk economy, and we still stand to earn outsize returns as the Next Economy gains market share away from the legacy economy. The investment decisions affecting climate change we make collectively and globally in the next few years will reverberate for centuries and affect billions of people. A Trump presidency does nothing to change that.

In the long run, economics drive the future and policy follows, not the other way around. Coal isn’t in terminal decline for any reason other than it is no longer economically competitive; solar isn’t the fastest-growing energy source in the world because of the Paris Accords, but because it is incredibly economically competitive. No administration can change that. They can only make it more or less timely.

The road ahead may not be as smooth as we once imagined, but we still got this.

Garvin Jabusch is cofounder and chief investment officer of Green Alpha®Advisors, LLC. He is co-manager of the Shelton Green Alpha Fund (NEXTX), of the Green Alpha Next Economy Index, and of the Sierra Club Green Alpha Portfolio. He also authors the Sierra Club’s economics blog, “Green Alpha’s Next Economy.”

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