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Social Entrepreneurship

This category includes articles about social entrepreneurs, typically about businesses with a for-profit model with a social mission embedded into the fabric of the business.

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Wringing Costs From Solar Is Goal For This Berkeley PhD

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

Jason Trager is more than a throwback to the sixties or a cliche. He may have earned a PhD at Berkeley with a focus on improving the energy efficiency in buildings by applying statistical process controls, but he’s also a hard core entrepreneur who relishes profit–so long as it doesn’t adversely impact others.

He calls himself and his firm “Sustainabilist.” He says that unlike a capitalist who hordes profits and socializes externalities like pollution and carbon, a Sustainabilist hordes profits without socializing externalities. He says, “Our quest is carbon reduction. Every dollar that we make can be linked to some amount of carbon that does not make it into the atmosphere.”

Sustainabilist, the firm, is working on a number of projects, but one key area of focus is on applying statistical process controls to the process of solar installation. By doing so, he hopes to not only improve the quality of solar installations but also to reduce costs, thereby accelerating adoption.

Jason explains, “The same statistics and operational frameworks that are used to mass-produce cars, pens, beer, and soda cans can be used to detect and minimize problems with solar installations and building operations.”

He notes that the soft costs of solar installations are especially challenging. “Through our methodology, we have been able to use data to pick out issues with contractor installation techniques. If we can improve the process of the installation of solar, we can potentially eliminate an estimated $181 million in expense that it costs contractors to go back to sites in order to fix problems,” he concludes.

Sustainabilist is also working on a platform called RosettaBlock that employs open-source standards to close the feedback loop between contractors, building owners and operators and the solar manufacturers. He hopes this feedback loop can help further reduce the cost of solar.

With his focus on the environment and sustainability, Jason lives up to the Berkeley reputation. His entrepreneurial drive may allow him to accelerate solar adoption to the benefit of everyone on the planet.

Jason Trager, courtesy of Sustainabilist

Jason Trager, courtesy of Sustainabilist

More about Sustainabilist:

Twitter: @sustainabilist

We provide contracting and consulting services to sustainable businesses and companies that wish to be more sustainable. Our specialities are: quality for solar and energy efficiency control through data science, marketing and communications for sustainable enterprises, and corporate social responsibility for the enterprise. We are also producing SaaS products for social good, such as RosettaBlock and the PlusFarm urban farming controller that we are producing in collaboration with Blue Planet Consulting and CommonGarden.

Jason’s bio:

Dr. Trager is an engineer and sustainability professional with experience in utilizing data to drive profitable results while simultaneously reducing the carbon footprint of businesses. Through his company, Sustainabilist, he demonstrates his passion for building technically sound businesses that reduce the rate of anthropogenic climate change. He earned a Ph.D. from UC Berkeley, where he studied the application of statistical process control (SPC) and other mass production methodologies for energy efficiency in buildings. His program also included a designated emphasis in energy science and technology in addition to a certificate in Engineering and Business for Sustainability. He has since focused on applying SPC frameworks to improve the quality of renewable energy and energy efficiency projects with groups such as the Institute for Building Safety and Technology (IBTS), and kW Engineering.

Jason is the founder of Sustainabilist, a personalized political philosophy which guides the company. He believes that being a Sustainabilist is like being a capitalist, but that you are not obligated to maximise profit at expense of all else. Instead, the obligation is to internalize and minimize the negative externalities created by your business. It is acceptable to maximise profit as a Sustainabilist, but the previously given constraint must be satisfied at all times.

Jason’s areas of experience include business development, energy data science, product life cycle assessment, scientific coding, fundraising, team management, and bicycle repair. He is a serial entrepreneur who has been a key founder in three companies. Jason values teamwork and diversity on projects. He is committed to living by sustainable values and is always willing to have a discussion about how to improve the world.

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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!

 

This Miss America Is Working To Thank Veterans For Their Service

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sharlene Hawkes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michael ‘Luni’ Libes, Investorflow.org

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

 

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

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Priyanka Bakaya, PK Clean

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

How To Be Successful With Affordable Housing Without Being Evil

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

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

“Our nation is in the midst of a true affordability crisis.” Daryl Carter, founder, chairman and CEO of Avanath Capital Management, sees that as both a problem and an opportunity. He’s found a way to deliver returns to investors while serving working families at the same time, that is, without being evil.

Let’s start by looking at the problem. “The median income of a renter in the United States is $36,000. To be considered affordable, renters should be spending no more than a third of their income toward rent. However,” Carter says, “in many coastal markets such as Los Angeles and New York, over half of all renter households are allocating more than 50% of their income toward rent.”

That threshold matters, because if you are paying more than half of your income in rent, it is difficult to also provide food, healthcare and education for the people living under that roof. “Historically, the reason that many neighborhoods have declined, whether it’s Detroit or Oakland, is not because of who lives there, but rather because there is a lack of investment in those areas,” Carter says.

Watch my entire interview with Carter in the video at the top of this article.

Carter points to an estimate from the Joint Center for Housing Studies that indicates that two million rent-controlled units will expire over the next decade. Most of these are supported by Low Income Housing Tax Credits. He says, “These units are at-risk for redevelopment into market-rate apartments.”

The problem gets worse. Every year, about 100,000 rental units are lost to obsolescence or failure to meet building codes. Most of those units are—or were—affordable.

Carter sums up the situation this way: “The bottom line is: people need quality, affordable places to live – now.”

“Targeting this asset pool is an additional source of investment opportunity for Avanath,” Carter says.

Carter says he is a beneficiary of affordable housing. “My journey as a social entrepreneur began on Detroit’s West Side, in a working class, African American neighborhood. My father, an autoworker, and my mother, a nanny, moved to Detroit to pursue the economic dream tied to the auto industry. With a combined income of $10,000 per year, they purchased a small two-bedroom bungalow in the 60s for $15,000. Their monthly mortgage payment was $130 per month or 16% of their monthly income of $833 per month.”

“While not picture perfect, this home provided a stable setting for my family to pursue the American Dream. My home incubated my dreams of the University of Michigan, MIT, and Avanath long before I had any thought about them. Today, this same dream is simply implausible for much of the population, based on a rampant rise in the price of housing in our nation,” he continued.

That foundation helped to motivate and inspire Avanath’s strategy of bringing institutional capital into areas where affordable housing is most needed.

Daryl J. Carter, Avanath Capital Management

One of the lessons Carter has learned is that keeping good residents helps to foster a successful community. This is a stark contrast to other investors, whom he says often seek to create a “new resident profile.”

Avanath, like other developers, will invest in upgrading the projects they buy. “When we renovate, we raise the rents but we raise the rents to a level that is affordable for the residents that are there. And we try to do what I call ‘smart renovations’ where we put in things like washers and dryers that benefit that family.”

He admits that they don’t do everything they might so they can keep rental rates lower. He says that when he shows his investors the projects, they’ll ask why the popcorn ceilings from the 60s or 70s haven’t been replaced. “They’ll say, ‘It would be great if you can get rid of it.’ And we say, ‘Yeah, it would be great but I’d have to charge $40 more rent.’”

The Avanath strategy for getting good investor returns include buying the properties on good terms. “We buy it on a very favorable basis because in many respects it’s been abandoned by the previous owner.”

Once purchased, Avanath works with the residents and the community, including elected officials to take what Carter calls a “holistic approach.” Not only does the company invest in the buildings but also in things like afterschool programs that will add value.

Carter explains the strategy, “Our investment strategy is to preserve the existing supply of affordable housing and add value to our communities by investing in capital improvements that enhance asset quality without sacrificing affordability.”

“Safe, clean, and affordable housing is the foundation for economically viable neighborhoods,” Carter says, speaking from experience.

“By acquiring affordable and workforce housing, making strategic improvements that increase quality of life without sacrificing affordability, and then investing in social programming such as on-site tutoring, sports programs and financial literacy courses, we are giving residents more than just a place to stay – we are giving them lifestyles, aspirations, and a path toward success.”

“Through this work, we have been successful in advancing positive social change, while also generating attractive, risk-adjusted returns to our investors. It is important to our mission to deliver returns that rival other commercial real estate investments.”


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Daniela Larsen, Navanas

Daniela Larsen, Navanas

Danaiela’s bio:

Twitter: @navanasinc, @navanas1

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

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!

 

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

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carrie Romano, Ronald McDonald House Charities of the Intermountain Area

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

The Painful Story Of A Reluctant Social Entrepreneur

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

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

Kelli Kelley is a reluctant social entrepreneur.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So she did.

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

Kelli Kelley, Hand to Hold

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

 

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

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

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

First Part Link: How Social Entrepreneurs Begin To Measure Impact

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

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

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

Bake in the Impact

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

Morgan Simon

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

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

Right Size the Reporting to the Company

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

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

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

Daniel Jean-Louis, courtesy of Bridge Capital

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

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

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

Stephanie Gripne, courtesy of the Impact Finance Center

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

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

Find Alignment Between Investors and Entrepreneurs

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

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

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

Matthew Weatherley-White

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

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

Lauryn Agnew

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

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

Remember Impact Reporting Is a Cost of Doing Business

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

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

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

Gary White, courtesy of Water.org

Tune Your Reporting According to Your Theory of Change

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

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

Cecile Blilious

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

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

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

Reporting is Important to the Movement

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

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

#impmeas


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

How Seeing The Nonprofit As A Business Helps Smile Train Grow

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Susannah Schaefer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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