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

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.

For This Family, The Bigger The Problem, The Bigger The Opportunity

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

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

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN estimates that “roughly one-third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year gets lost or wasted.”

Recognizing the journalistic injunction to avoid hyperbole, that truly is an enormous problem.

Justin Kamine, his brother Matthew and his father Hal determined that was just what they were looking for: an enormous opportunity. The Kamines have been developing infrastructure scale-projects since the senior Hal got into the cogeneration business in the mid-80s.

Justin Kamine joined me for a discussion about the company the family founded, KDC Ag, to tackle the problem.

The food waste problem also gives them an opportunity to address social and environmental problems they feel a desire to fix.

Food waste contributes to climate change as all the food that ends up in landfills required substantial energy to get there. Furthermore, the soil we use to grow crops is being consistently depleted; chemical fertilizers fail to restore all of the nutrients lost.

Justin Kamine, KDC Ag

Those chemical fertilizers, Kamine says, are overused. The first 50% of the nitrogen added does 80% of the good; the second 50% largely is lost to runoff, resulting in huge dead zones, especially in areas where runoff is concentrated in the Gulf of Mexico near the mouth of the Mississippi River.

Matthew Weatherley-White, Managing Director at CAPROCK, asked for comment, said, “Petroleum-based fertilizers mean, as Michael Pollan is fond of saying, that we are all eating oil.”

KDC Ag’s board of directors is comprised of luminaries, including former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Ann Veneman and philanthropist Howard Buffett.

Kamine cites Buffett as suggesting that conventional farmers need to be “much more environmentally sensitive and progressive.”

Six years ago, the Kamines invested in California Safe Soil, which has been working with the University of California at Davis to develop a process for converting waste food into fertilizer and animal feed. With that technology now commercialized, the Kamines formed KDC Ag to bring the technology to infrastructure scale with a goal of eliminating food waste over the next five years.

The new process mimics human digestion; they sometimes refer to it as compost 2.0. Waste food can be converted to fertilizer or animal food in three hours and is available for use the next day.

The KDC Ag process starts with virtually any supermarket waste food, including fruits and vegetables, meats and baked goods. The food pellets that result taste “like raisin bran,” according to Kamine. The pellets are fed to chicken and pigs. The Food and Drug Administration prohibits feeding the products to cows.

The liquid fertilizer can be added to a farmer’s drip irrigation system providing for precision agriculture that returns a broad range of nutrition to the soil. Food contains relatively little nitrogen so conventional farmers have KDC Ag add nitrogen to the liquid fertilizer. Organic farmers use it as it comes out of the system.

Craig Wichner, Managing Partner of Farmland LP, which invests in conventional farms and converts them to organic production, notes, “Using supermarket food waste to create fertilizer is completely philosophically aligned with organic production. They are taking a known good product (food at supermarkets), and closing the loop on the waste, converting it quickly and efficiently back into food for plants.”

The production process is sufficiently benign to be conducted in urban areas near the supermarkets supplying the food, allowing for an efficient backhaul distribution model employing trucks that deliver food to the stores to return to the farms carrying feed and/or fertilizer.

Because post-consumer food typically contains too much salt for a healthy soil amendment, those food wastes are not good candidates for the KDC Ag process.

Kamine was recently invited to participate in a clean tech competition hosted by the Prince of Monaco. Against 30 invited competitors, KDC Ag won the Clean Tech Equity Award.

What initially appealed to the Kamines, who report having $3.5 billion of infrastructure in their other businesses, is the scale of the opportunity. They hope to be operating in all 50 states within five years.

They earn approximately the same margin on both the feed and the fertilizer, allowing them to adjust according to demand without an impact on the bottom line. The margins are good enough, according to Kamine, to allow the company to invest quickly to scale up the business.

The KDC Ag process will reduce chemical fertilizer use, reduce carbon emissions, increase crop yields 10 to 40% and reduce water consumption all while reducing food waste at a potentially massive scale.

Weatherley-White’s reaction:

As an impact investor, I’m intrigued. Clear benefits to healthy soils. Equally clear benefits to landfill management and organic waste therein (including landfill-released GHG reduction). Using organic, composted fertilizer on crops is a fantastic benign-by-design chemical replacement. And the potential for scale is certainly compelling: the combination of food waste reduction and ag chemical substitution could be a massive opportunity.

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


Never miss another interview! Join Devin here!

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

The Role Of Entrepreneurship In Ending Poverty And Homelessness

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

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

“Social entrepreneurship has proven to provide impactful innovations for poverty alleviation ,” says Abby Maxman, President of OxFam America. Maxman was among a diverse group of people working on poverty eradication who contributed to a recent roundtable discussion on ending extreme poverty and homelessness.

The idea of ending poverty seemed absurd a generation ago. Today, the idea has been enshrined officially in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals or SDGs as something the world should achieve by 2030. The roundtable participants addressed a range of topics, including a focus on how social entrepreneurs would help achieve the SDGs. Watch the 80-minute discussion in the video player above.

Judith Walker, the chief operating officer for African Clean Energy, which sells clean cookstoves that generate electricity, explains the need for social entrepreneurs to see problems as opportunities. “Energy costs are very high compared to income in the markets we deal with, meaning its either not realistically accessible or almost certainly not reliable. This should be seen as an opportunity to improve the goods and services available in order to relieve burden and create other options for those struggling with any or consistent income.”

Judith Walker

She adds, “Where we see the most potential for impact is actually by catalyzing this potential by having access to the most desperately needed energy.” What customers are able to do to improve their own lives with the tools inspires her to continue working.

Why Entrepreneurs Should Care About Ending Poverty

Entrepreneurs solve problems. Social entrepreneurs solve problems that matter. Eradicating poverty pegs the mattering meter.

Haiti’s former Prime Minister, Laurent Lamothe, is now an active impact investor, supporting social entrepreneurs in Haiti. Everyone benefits from helping the poor. “Poverty is not solely the problem of the poor, the same way as climate change is not solely the problem of one country. It has consequences and implications for all of us because we live in an increasingly open and interdependent world. Improving the prospects of the most disadvantaged will improve prospects for all. ”

Anne Kjaer Riechert, a recipient of a Rotary Peace Fellowship and social entrepreneur in Germany, founded the ReDI School of Digital Integration to teach refugees, mostly from Syria, how to code. She says our focus shouldn’t be on helping people living below an arbitrary income threshold but on the income gap itself. “Poverty is relative. It is not a question of income, but the gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots. ’”

Anne Riechert

OxFam’s Maxman agrees. “Our research has shown that since 2000, the poorest half of the world has received just 1% of the total increase in global wealth, while the top 1% received 50% of the increase. Inequality is bad for us all – socially, morally, ethically, economically and politically.”

Why Social Entrepreneurship is a Key Part of the Solution to Poverty

Entrepreneurship—especially social entrepreneurship—brings value to the fight against poverty that other players—governments, corporations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) don’t.

Alicia Wallace, president of All Across Africa, which sources handicrafts in Rwanda for sale in the United States, points out the speed of entrepreneurship. “Entrepreneurship can be harnessed to fuel positive, sustainable global impact much faster than any other form of social good .”

“I definitely see competition as creating an urgency for solving poverty and homelessness,” she adds, helping to explain why entrepreneurs can have faster impact.

Social entrepreneurs have a unique mindset, according to Arlene Samen, founder of One Heart World-Wide, a nonprofit that uses a grassroots approach to improving maternal and child health in Nepal and Tibet. “Social entrepreneurs never give up, they think outside the box and are willing to empower ‘others’ to help solve their own challenges.”

Carla Javits is the CEO of REDF, a nonprofit that invests in social enterprises that serve people who are often considered unemployable, including those who have completed jail and prison sentences, recovering addicts and people who have experienced homelessness.

Javits says social entrepreneurs are flexible. “By developing new models that cut across and blend the assets of various sectors without being stuck in orthodoxies about what each sector can or should do, social entrepreneurship opens up new possibilities to solve stubborn, seemingly insurmountable challenges.”

She also points out that social entrepreneurs think outside the box of either operating as a nonprofit surviving on donations and grants or being fully supported by revenues. Operating in that middle space creates opportunities for social entrepreneurs to leverage donor dollars with revenue generating services.

Effective social entrepreneurs relieve burdens by selling products that customers need to improve their lives. The profits from the sales create sustainable impact and provide returns to investors.

Mari Kuraishi, CEO and founder of Global Giving, a crowdfunding site for nonprofits serving communities in the developing world, points out that social entrepreneurs can experiment and then scale up. “Social entrepreneurship can play a big role in experimenting within smaller jurisdictions and communities to demonstrate how to overcome issues like poverty and homelessness.”

Mari Kuraishi

She also notes that such innovators may be able to attract resources even when government grants are not available. “When political will is missing, it’s possible–but by no means a sure thing–for social enterprises to get access to the kind of resource flow that might begin to make a dent.”

Javits agrees, noting that the use of hybrid solutions can reduce public costs with other benefits to the community and the beneficiaries. “Social entrepreneurs identify hybrid solutions that can reduce but not eliminate public costs, increase individual initiative, and generate much greater value for all of us.”

Haiti’s Lamothe cautions, however, that social entrepreneurship got its start decades ago and we’re still dealing with some of the same challenges. “Poverty is a complex issue and, since the advent of social entrepreneurship in the 70s, no social enterprise has been capable of solving poverty all by itself. After decades of social entrepreneurship, it becomes obvious to me, as to many others, that reducing poverty takes a concerted, cross-sector effort that focuses holistically and long-term on the problem.”

Social entrepreneurship is becoming a primary weapon in the war on poverty but it isn’t a magic bullet.

What Social Entrepreneurs Can Do to Help

Having established that social entrepreneurs have the ability and flexibility to contribute meaningfully to the end of poverty and homelessness, let’s look at some specific things that they can do that can help to end poverty.

All Across Africa’s Alicia Wallace says one key is to equitably divide the gains and benefits. In her model, the US corporate customers are not the beneficiaries—the artisans in Africa are. She expects the corporate customers to pay fair prices for the products that will in turn allow her to pay fair wages to the largely female workforce producing mostly baskets.

African Clean Energy’s Walker agrees, though her lens is slightly different. Her customers in Africa are her beneficiaries. She explains, “We need to consider the beneficiaries as customers, and treat them with the respect they deserve, rather than just as victims or poor. ”

The division of value among entrepreneurs, customers and investors “only needs to be a little more balanced,” she says.

James Mayfield, the founder of CHOICE Humanitarian, highlights the power of income opportunities for the extreme poor. “The key to the eradication of poverty is the creation of income and employment enhancement programs. Such programs are best stimulated by the poor themselves supported by organizations that facilitate social-oriented enterprises.”

Dr. James Mayfield

After more than 30 years in the field, Mayfield highlights the importance of empowering women with income. “The missing ingredient in many unsuccessful poverty eradication programs is the importance of women participating in village decision-making , especially their role in ensuring village leaders are willing to adhere to the villager-determined core values that emphasize behaviors showing among other things integrity, generosity, service, tolerance.”

John Hewko, the general secretary—the professional head—of Rotary International, who has built his career almost entirely in international development, says that the way people think about their entrepreneurial prospects is as important as their structural access. He cites a report that women in Latin America have lower confidence in their own abilities and have a higher fear of failure. Providing training and encouragement is as important as providing access to financing.

Mark Horvath, an advocate for the homeless and producer of the popular YouTube show Invisible People, points out one limitation that impairs the work of nonprofits. Well-funded Silicon Valley companies provide lavish coffee stations with fresh fruit while nonprofits provide access to a coffee station with an honor jar for people to contribute money to keep it supplied.

Mark Horvath

He sees the problem as limiting the effectiveness of nonprofit social enterprises because foundations are risk adverse not funding new ideas or allowing autonomy for a nonprofit to do what they do best.

Government’s Role in Supporting Social Entrepreneurs

One surprising theme that developed in the discussion among these advocates for ending poverty was the need for governments to structurally support social enterprises.

Riechert, the young entrepreneur who founded the coding school for refugees in Germany, says, “I would love that there would be more collaboration between the government learning from the social entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs getting more capital from the government to continue growing and scaling their solutions.”

Relatively small amounts of capital infused in a revenue-generating business can have the impact of allowing the enterprise to scale. The closer the business is to complete self-funding, the higher the impact of grants or patient investments.

She notes, too, after her recent visit to the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan that government policies in the camps inhibit the ability of the people there to care and provide for themselves. The government doesn’t allow refugees there to engage in any entrepreneurship.

“I would love to see a big change because if refugee was actually seen as an asset and it’s an opportunity for the Jordanian people to make money and to have more cash flow into the country by having these entrepreneurs coming from outside. I think everyone would stand to benefit from it,” she says.

Eytan Stibbe, the founder of Vital Capital, an impact investor actively serving in Sub-Saharan Africa, has achieved remarkable scale, building tens of thousands of moderate-income housing units. He says, “What we found is that the most important issue is sharing in order to reach scale in working with the government. And we try to cooperate with the government so that the interests are aligned. That’s the only way we can reach scale.”

Katie Meyler, the founder of More Than Me, a social enterprise that partners with the government in Liberia to operate primary schools. “We can only reach the masses of people who live without [education] through a public-private partnership.

Haiti’s Lamothe, sees a different but still complementary role for government. Noting that governments in the developing world are often as resource constrained as their people, the government can be a sort of GPS guide to where the problems and opportunities for social entrepreneurs are.

Laurent S. Lamothe, former Prime Minister of HaitiWorld Initiative

The Examples of Social Entrepreneurship Reducing Poverty

To emphasize the point that the members of the roundtable are not approaching this topic from ivory towers but instead they come from the field, bringing on the ground perspectives, let’s look at some of the projects and enterprises they are running.

Riechert founded her coding school for refugees after 800,000 arrived in Germany in 2015, overwhelming government resources. She noted that even after they arrived, Germany had 51,000 open jobs in the I.T. field. The economy was constrained by a lack of available talent. So, she launched her school training refugees to fill those vacant positions. Her students quickly coded an app called Bureaucrazy to help other refugees navigate the German bureaucracy.

Samen, whose grassroots efforts in Nepal and Tibet have made dramatic improvements in maternal and child health, says her One Heart World-Wide is a beneficiary of a social enterprise in Australia called Thankyou that donates 100 percent of its profits to charities. The company sells water, body care, food and baby care products.

Samen says, “They set it up that, so when you buy the product it has a code bar and you can actually see where your money is going to be invested.” She would like to see this model grow and replicate.

Javits, whose entire business model focuses on funding social enterprises serving people who are at risk of homelessness, offers an example.

“Nonprofits that provide services to people experiencing homelessness have started new businesses in property management that employ their clients, paying them wages, and preparing them for long-term employment. By selling their services like a business, while hiring people who most companies would not give a chance, offering a more supportive work environment, and investing 100% of their ‘profits’ in their employees’ success and well-being, the social entrepreneurs who start these enterprises offer a more sustainable approach that gets to the root of the problem.”

Carla Javits

Rotary’s Hewko points to a microlending program supported by Rotary in the Esmeraldas Province of Ecuador. “Borrowers are organized into credit groups, and cross-guarantee each other’s loans. With credit officers working locally, the people who benefit – primarily poor women and youth – gain more confidence to start businesses, and are more likely to repay the loans. They also receive vocational, business and personal development training from NGOs including Rotary, FUDECE and the Grameen Cooperative, and SECAP, a government training organization.”

Haiti’s Lamothe highlights the work in a small fishing village in Haiti destroyed by Hurricane Matthew in 2016. Working with a group of nonprofits, including the Carlos Slim Foundation, Happy Hearts and Sean Penn’s foundation, have been replacing tools of the trade—fishing lines and boats—lost in the hurricane. They’ve also been helping the villagers get access to buyers, connecting them to restaurants and supermarkets. “Their revenues have gone from about you know $1000 US per month for the whole village to right now it’s ten times more.”

Impact investor Morgan Simon, author of Real Impact, offers up her favorite example. “One of the projects I’m a big fan of is the Working World, which provides finance for worker-owned cooperatives and they do so through a non-extractive model.”

She credits Brendan Martin, the founder of Working World, with coining the term “non-extractive financing.” He defines this concept as being loans that can be serviced entirely by the projects they fund with surplus left over. None of the existing resources of the borrower need be devoted to debt service.

“They’ve funded over a thousand loans with the 99 percent repayment,” Simon concludes.

Expanding Social Enterprise Concepts to the Broader Economy

As the group discussed the challenges of eradicating poverty, another theme developed: the need to get the broader economy to apply more of the guiding principles of social entrepreneurship.

Rotary’s Hewko put it this way, “I think the big question here is: How do we channel the private sector? That’s really where the money is—in the private sector—and the long term sustainable solution is vibrant economic systems and economies that work.”

Not only is it important to put people to work but there needs to be a greater social awareness employed by more companies.

John Hewko

He continues, “How do you inculcate into core business models the idea of social good, so social good becomes part of the core business model of a corporation, for example, as opposed to just for corporate social responsibility which we’re doing today?”

He then goes a step further and suggests that we need a mechanism to reflect positive social impact in share prices in the stock market. “That’s not easy but that’s the holy–that’s the Holy Grail.”

Hewko highlights the leadership of Paul Polman at Unilever and others who are “beginning to think very seriously about how we work to change core business models where social good becomes not just something good we do on the side but part of our everyday business.”

Speaking of poverty and homelessness, Hewko concludes, “These problems all need to be addressed in a cohesive fashion with private sector, civil society and government working hand in glove.”

Walker, of African Clean Energy, agrees. “I do believe that the business models of nonprofits and of for-profits and everything should actually become more similar more like each other.”

Concerns and Opportunities

Still, there are some concerns about the challenges ahead in eradicating poverty and homelessness.

Horvath, the homeless advocate who was himself homeless for a time, worries that nonprofits are often forced to follow money over mission and aptitude. “What I’m seeing in the homeless services sector is and I like to say it like this maybe I’m a farmer and I grow apples. I’m really good at it but all of the money is over in oranges. I’m not so good at oranges but I’m going to start growing oranges even though I can’t do it really well because I’ve got staff to pay and I’ve got an electric bill and everything else. So you have all these people just going after the money instead of really addressing fighting poverty and homelessness.”

The United Nations Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in Kenya, Siddharth Chatterjee, explains the challenge and opportunity ahead for Africa.

“Africa, for example, will see its population double from the current 1.1 billion to around 2.3 billion by 2050. Over 70% of its population is less than 30 and its median age is 19. One hundred million new jobs per year need to be created in Africa to cater to this looming ‘youth bulge.’ It could prove to be a demographic dividend or a disaster.”

Chatterjee is an optimist, however. He says, “Africa is going to be the new market of the future and if we invest now, not only will we overcome poverty and homelessness but contribute to reduced fragility and instability, advance peace and economic growth and reduce the burden of economic migrants to the West and the US.”

We’ve Got This

Generally speaking, the group was optimistic about prospects for eliminating poverty and homelessness.

REDF’s Javits says, “ Something we can do in our lifetime is to end homelessness for the vast majority of the hundreds of thousands who have no stable home each night. ”

Arlene Samen

Samen, who has spent her career among the poor in Nepal and Tibet, says simply, “ It can be done. ”

This article, which is published originally for Forbes, will become part of a book with the working title Thirty Years to Peace.

#30YTP

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


Never miss another interview! Join Devin here!

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

One Father’s Dementia Inspired A Social Enterprise To Protect Billions

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

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

Michael Trainer, 40, one of the founders of the successful Global Citizen events in Central Park in New York City, had a life-altering experience following the third concert. His father was diagnosed with dementia.

Trainer had been focused almost exclusively on Global Citizen, an event that people earn the right to attend by doing good deeds, activating tremendous cumulative impact through collective advocacy, donations and volunteerism. The shock of his father’s diagnosis caused him to reassess his priorities.

Recognizing that Global Citizen was in good hands, he left and began researching dementia, its causes and treatments. He came away determined to help people achieve “Peak Mind” and so created a new social enterprise that would encourage people to improve their health with an eye on preventing dementia.

Forest Whitaker and Michael Trainer at the 2015 Peak Mind Meditation summit with Dalai Lama

Watch the full interview with Trainer in the video player at the top of this article.

“While I have been focusing on issues like malaria and polio, diseases that are affecting the extreme poor, I now became aware of the fact that there was an extraordinary prevalence–growing prevalence–of diseases like diabetes and dementia that were affecting a different part of the globe.” Trainer continues, “And so it led me down the rabbit hole and was the genesis of Peak Mind.”

One of the things he found was a link between Type 2 diabetes and dementia.

Dementia already costs the world about 1% of global GDP or about $605 billion–and diabetes costs the world about twice as much. Trainer also explains that one in two people will likely get dementia, meaning that almost everyone will either get it or end up caring for someone with it. Similarly, about half the U.S. and Chinese populations are pre-diabetic. To punctuate this point, Trainer adds, ” We now have more obese people on the planet than non-obese people for the first time in history.”

Trainer compares his last venture with his current one. “With Global Citizen, we wanted to move beyond guilt and shame as a driver for social change, and more take people on a journey through hope and inspiration. I want to do the same with Peak Mind, only this time the focus is creating impact from the inside out.”

To inspire people to use and protect their minds, Peak Mind holds periodic events. The first event featured His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama hosted by Academy Award winner Forest Whitaker. At the events, Trainer says they hope to both inspire people and to provide practical, measurable steps people can take to improve their health and their lives.

Andrea Fennewald, Founder of The Wellness Collective, collaborated with Trainer on the first Peak Mind event. She says, “We believe change starts on an individual level, and thus aimed to create a shift in attitudes and habits around physical and mental health.”

Trainer says that Peak Mind is profitable, that it employs ten people and expects to increase that to 20 as the next event approaches. The company expects to top $1 million in revenue for 2016.

Michael Trainer with His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama

“I’ve been a social entrepreneur my whole life,” Trainer says. He lived and studied in Sri Lanka at age 19 and that led to a series of nonprofit, international development and social enterprise opportunities, culminating in Peak Mind.

“Our mission is at the core of what we do, my background is in building social movements, most recently as national director of Global Citizen. Most of these enterprises were nonprofit or for-purpose entities driven by impact at scale. With Peak Mind, the mission is the same, to build a movement around next-generation wellness,” Trainer concludes.

After learning of his father’s diagnosis, he took his dad to South Africa on a vacation. They shared a great bonding experience that included learning more about Nelson Mandela, whom Trainer considers his hero and role model. Peak Mind may not be able to cure those who have dementia today but Trainer hopes it will help prevent millions or even billions from suffering from it in the future.

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


Never miss another interview! Join Devin here!

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

10 Problems. 10 Solutions. 10 Awards. Classy.

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

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

A lesson all successful entrepreneurs seem to learn quickly is that they must solve a problem. For social entrepreneurs, this is even more important. If people are literally dying as they wait for a solution, the ones who show up to help have a greater obligation to do so something that will solve the problem—at least for some of those experiencing it.

Classy, which operates a crowdfunding platform for nonprofits and social entrepreneurs, has created an award the company calls the Classy Award to recognize social enterprises that “are tackling some of the world’s most complex problems,” according to a company press release. The awards were presented on June 16, 2017, in Boston.

For this article, the ten winners and Classy co-founder Pat Walsh, the company’s chief impact officer, came together to record a discussion about the problems they solve and the work they are doing to solve them. You can watch the entire discussion with the winners in the video player at the top of this article.

Classy Award Winners

In no particular order, this article will identify each of the winners, the problems they seek to solve and the work they are doing to solve them.

Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team

Rebecca Firth, the community partnerships manager for Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team, said, “In many places in the developing world, good quality digital maps do not exist, leaving millions of people uncounted. Without free, up-to-date maps it is hard to deliver health care and services, making places more vulnerable to disasters and epidemics.”

Imagine trying to find the source of an Ebola outbreak in a rural area where no reliable maps exist. How do you find a village that is at risk if it isn’t even on the map?

“What we do is we help anyone anywhere in the world create those maps,” says Firth. Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team uses a crowdsourcing model to create maps using the company’s simple online tool.

“This week we passed 30000 volunteers. We’ve mapped 45 million people who haven’t been on the map before.” Firth explains that these folks can now receive services that were difficult or even impossible to deliver before the map was created.

“One example of this is last year when there was a yellow fever outbreak in Kinshasa, the Missing Maps community activated to map the area using OpenStreetMap tools activated to map the area,” Firth says. “And then what followed was the largest and fastest vaccination campaign ever by Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors without Borders) who used the map to vaccinate 720,000 people in 10 days.”

Mission Asset Fund

Jose Quiñonez, 45, CEO of Mission Asset Fund, explains the person and societal problems that come from excluding some people from the traditional financial system. “People would be left in the shadows of our economy.” He notes that we all lose when certain individuals are not allowed to access basic financial instruments and therefore can’t buy a home, can’t start a business and can’t even invest in their own education. Those without a credit score are “economically invisible,” he says. About 45 million people in the United States fall into this group, he says. Globally, about 2 billion people fall into this category.

Mission Asset Fund is helping to formalize and legitimize an informal practice that is common around the world. The practice of lending circles, which go by a variety of names with varying protocols, all revolve around small communities creating tiny savings banks where members contribute periodically and occasionally get a turn at borrowing from the fund. By formalizing lending circles, Mission Asset Fund provides a connection to the formal economy and reveals the invisible people.

Days for Girls

Celeste Mergens, 55, founder and CEO for Days for Girls notes that there are 300 million women and girls of reproductive age counted among those who are living on less than $1.95 per day, the World Bank standard for extreme poverty. “Meeting basic needs such as food, water, shelter, and hygiene is a constant challenge for many of these women and girls,” she says. One of the challenges women face is the shame and stigma associated with menstruation.

Days for Girls has engaged 60,000 “Health Ambassadors” in the developing world to teach men and women about menstruation to remove the stigma. She notes, “Without periods there would be no people.” These ambassadors sell reusable feminine hygiene kits, increasing their own incomes at the same time they share their passion for the dignity of women.

Sustainable Health Enterprises (SHE)

Elizabeth Scharpf, founder and CEO of SHE, identified and tackled much the same problem with a different strategy. She notes that women without access to proper feminine hygiene use rags or even leaves to manage their menstruation. She confirms that some young women are victims of sexual predation or are forced into prostitution to fund feminine hygiene products so they can stay in school.

Scharpf says, “Eighteen percent of women and girls in Rwanda missed out on work or school because they could not afford to buy menstrual pads. Quite apart from the personal injustice, and the larger issues of health and dignity, we’re also talking about a potential GDP loss of $215 per woman per year – a total of $115,000,000 in Rwanda. It’s bad business.”

She invented a feminine hygiene pad that can be produced locally in Rwanda, made from the fiber of a banana tree. SHE helps women launch businesses to manufacture and distribute affordable pads.

Because International

Kenton Lee, 32, founder of Because International, identified the problem that many children who are growing up in poverty lack good shoes. One of the contributing factors is that kids outgrow their shows quickly and the parents and caregivers can’t afford to buy new shoes every time the kids outgrow a pair.

Lee says, “Shoes are a big deal.” There are three problems he highlights from a lack of shoes: 1) health is at risk, especially in communities without adequate sanitation, 2) shoes are often a required part of a school uniform so a lack of shoes keeps kids out of school, and 3) the dignity and self confidence that are missing without shoes.

Because International markets the “Shoe That Grows” primarily to faith-based organizations and other NGOs, that donate the shoes to children who need them. The durable shoes come in only two sizes but are both adjustable for five full shoe sizes so kids can wear them for years. He acknowledges that, “It doesn’t solve every problem for the kids.” The program really took off two years ago and they have been able to provide 100,000 shoes to kids in 89 countries and are now beginning to manufacture the shoes in some of the places where they are being most used.

Habitat for Humanity International

“About one in five people or one 1.6 billion people across the globe lack adequate housing,” says Jyoti Patel, director of capital markets for Habitat for Humanity. One of the key reasons for this is a lack of access to affordable mortgage financing for low-income families. As a result, many low-income families live in makeshift shelters even though they have income and could afford to support a small mortgage. Instead, they slowly build and upgrade their homes slowly over time.

Much of the microfinance industry that some think of as a solution to poverty focuses on short-term loans to support entrepreneurship. This creates a cash-flow mismatch when someone uses short-term microfinance loans to make permanent housing upgrades—think roof or a water tank–that will last for years or decades.

Habitat has created a $100 million “MicroBuild Fund” to finance longer-term loans to people without access to traditional credit sources so they can afford to upgrade their housing. The fund “is comprised of $10 million in equity and $90 million as a line of credit received from the Overseas Private Investment Corporation,” Patel says. Habitat is the largest equity holder. Omidyar Network and MetLife have also invested. Triple Jump, based in the Netherlands, is also an investor and also manages the fund. The money is invested with an eye toward capital preservation and a focus on both social and environmental impact.

International Justice Mission

There is a new form of sex trafficking of children in the Philippines that sends shivers down the spine of every parent. Victims are taken from the street and presented via the internet to customers who direct the sexual abuse of the child in real time.

Blair Burns, 43, the senior vice president of Justice Operations for International Justice Mission, says that this is part of a broader problem, the general failure of the rule of law.

Burns reports:

International Justice Mission (IJM) is the world’s largest international anti-slavery organization working to combat modern day slavery, human trafficking, and other forms of violence against the poor in 17 communities across the developing world. IJM does this by partnering with local authorities and partners to rescue victims, restore survivors, convict perpetrators, and transform broken public justice systems. To date, IJM has helped to rescue over 34,000 people from slavery and other forms of violent oppression.

Grassroot Soccer

As global health improves, one group is being left behind, according to Molly McHugh, 44, communications director for Grassroot Soccer, a nonprofit that has created an innovative way to reach young people. “In the last decade HIV related deaths have decreased for every age group except adolescents,” she says. There is a gap in the delivery of healthcare for this cohort.

The gap exists for a variety of reasons, from the focus on infant mortality to the lack of a trusted, competent person to talk to about sex and reproductive health. No teenager wants to talk to their parents about sex.

To empower young people to be the delivery system for accurate information about sexual and reproductive health, Grassroots Soccer uses the sport of soccer to engage them. The organization focuses on HIV/AIDS, gender-based violence and malaria. “Our solution is to reach adolescents through a combination of 3 C’s: Curriculum using soccer-based activities and lively discussions; Coaches who are young community leaders, trained to be health educators, who connect personally with participants and become trusted mentors; and a Culture of safe spaces for youth to ask questions, share opinions, and support each other,” Molly says.

Samasource

Poverty is primarily a lack of money result from deficient economic opportunities, according to Samasource’s Wendy Gonzalez, its senior vice president and managing director. “Poverty is at the root of all social ills. We’re really trying to solve poverty.”

Samasource begins by providing training to “marginalized women and youth” to teach them to complete “dignified” internet-based work. Gonzalez says, “We work in the slums of Nairobi. We work in extremely poor, rural Uganda. We also work in India.” After providing digital skills training, Samasource either places them into full-time work or hires them directly.

“Our goal is really to be the bridge employer.” The idea is that once a person is employable and can work for a company without a subsidy, they are likely to be successful.

So far, Samasource has moved 36,000 people out of poverty and has paid out $10 million in wages. Gonzalez reports that 80 percent of them stay employed or go on to get university education.

OpenBiome

To say that OpenBiome fits a unique niche in the social good space is a gross understatement. The nonprofit stool bank is all about helping people get healthy poop. Yes, that kind of stool.

About 500,000 people get and 30,000 people die each year in the U.S. from a bowel infection called Clostridium Difficile or C-diff. It is a hospital acquired disease that results from antibiotic use that kills that healthy fecal microbiota. James Burgess, 30, executive director, said that he and his colleagues started OpenBiome after a friend suffered through a long-lasting C-diff infection.

“Today, we provide carefully-screened, clinical-grade stool to 900 hospitals across the country, enabling thousands of treatments and supporting dozens of ground-breaking clinical trials in the microbiome,” he says. The treatment is a fecal transplant. The material is traditionally administered via a colonoscopy. A new pill—a “poop pill”—is being developed, he says.

OpenBiome is now testing the use of fecal transplants to treat a wide variety of gut treatments.

The Award

The Classy Award selection process is rigorous, according to co-founder Pat Walsh. There is a four-phase process that begins with a lengthy nomination form. Each year, Classy works to improve the process. A selection committee determines who all the winners are.

The nomination process begins this fall for next year’s awards. If you know someone who is solving a problem worth solving, consider nominating them.

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!

Imagine Dragons Lead Dan Reynolds Hosts Festival For LGBTQ Youth With Blessing Of LDS Church

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

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

Imagine Dragons lead singer Dan Reynolds is hosting the LoveLoud music Festival in Orem, Utah on August 26 to benefit LGBTQ youth with the explicit blessing of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The singer, acknowledging that his life as a musician requires him to be an entrepreneur, says he avoids the business side as much as possible to focus on the creative side, adding that the mission of bringing people together influences his work.

In a face-to-face conversation you can watch in the video player at the top of the article, Reynolds says the mission of the music festival is “to provide a platform–a place–where the community can all come together from all different political climates–religion, non-religion, whatever it is–where everyone from all different cultures come together and agree on one thing.”

The one thing, he says, is to acknowledge that LGBTQ youth have a difficult time, especially in the context of “raising a family of faith.”

“The goal,” he continues, “is to provide a safe place where we can all agree on one thing: love.”

Orem is located in Utah County. Over 93 percent of people in Orem are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Mormons have a complex relationship with the LGBTQ community, at once advocating for loving and respecting LGBTQ people while at the same time pronouncing homosexual sex a sin, even within the context of marriage.

In a prepared statement, Reynolds noted that suicide is the leading cause of death in teens in Utah and that LGBTQ+ youth who come from a home or community where they are not accepted are eight times more likely to commit suicide.

The LDS Church issued a formal statement regarding the LoveLoud Festival:

We applaud the LoveLoud Festival for LGBT youth’s aim to bring people together to address teen safety and to express respect and love for all of God’s children. We join our voice with all who come together to foster a community of inclusion in which no one is mistreated because of who they are or what they believe.

We share common beliefs, among them the pricelessness of our youth and the value of families. We earnestly hope this festival and other related efforts can build respectful communication, better understanding and civility as we all learn from each other.

Reynolds was raised a Mormon, was a Boy Scout who earned his Eagle rank and also served a two-year proselyting mission to Nebraska. He acknowledges that these experiences helped shape his life and influence his music.

Dan Reynolds, Imagine Dragons

Speaking of his mission, he says, “It was powerful for me so I’m sure it finds its way into my music.”

“As for Boy Scouts, I don’t know if necessarily, you know, lighting fires informs my music,” he says, laughing. He notes more soberly that his character probably was shaped in part by his experiences in Scouting.

For Reynolds, the Church’s support is a big deal that he personally worked to earn. “It’s incredible! Today marks a moment of great healing.”

This is important to Reynolds because it will help attract people who are “a little more conservative.” He wants the event to be a safe space for everyone, not just progressives.

Reynolds will perform with Imagine Dragons at LoveLoud, along with Neon Trees, Krewella, Nicholas Petricca of Walk the Moon, Joshua James and Aja Volkman.

The festival will also feature commentary from young LGBTQ people and their parents. “The dialogue can be powerful towards opening hearts and minds and creating, hopefully, a more loving environment,” Reynolds says.

The proceeds from the event will go to support nonprofits that support LGBTQ youth, including Encircle, Stand4Kind, The Trevor Project and GLAAD.

Encircle founder and executive director, Stephenie Larsen, says, “Dan is a beautiful person with a huge heart and an important mission. He is selflessly giving his heart and soul to help the LGBTQ community see the incredible individuals that they are. He spent a day at Encircle a few months ago. All day he took photos with the youth and had conversations with them. I watched him looking these kids in the eyes trying to communicate to them the love and support he has for them. It was if he was doing all that he could to take away any pain they may be feeling.”

Reynolds, the musician and reluctant entrepreneur on a mission to bring people together, may have been in a unique position to do so. Because of his support for the LGBTQ community and his LDS roots, providing support from both sides, he may bring the community together. We’ll see on August 26 if his vision for healing, unity and love for LGBTQ youth is realized.

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Knowing No App Alone Will Solve Hunger Didn’t Stop This Teen From Making A Difference

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

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

Sometimes it takes the perspective of a kid to see problems that impact children and find a solution.

When Jack Griffin, then 16 years old, saw a news story about two kids living out of a truck in Florida who were homeless as a result of their late mother’s medical bills, he recognized a problem he hadn’t seen before.

He began researching and watching. He discovered that “there are so many kids across the nation that are, you know, getting ready for school in the bathrooms of libraries and gas stations. I realized that it’s so prevalent and yet still so hard to see if you’re not directly impacted by it.”

“I was just a student in high school I had to face none of the day-to-day struggles that these kids had,” the teen, now 19, told me in an interview. Watch the full interview in the video player at the top of this article.

When Griffin learned that 1,000 of the 3,000 kids in his high school qualified for free or reduced lunch, he decided he had to do something to help.

As he began to research, he identified a problem he thought he could help solve. An online search revealed low-quality results that weren’t always geographically relevant for a hungry kid without access to a car.

Asking an adult wasn’t a great solution either, he observes. “That’s so hard and such a massive absolute obstacle to overcome because it’s so difficult to reveal your circumstances to someone like that because there’s such a stigma around being in need of assistance and being in these dire circumstances.”

As an aside, Griffin interjects, “We have a lot of work left to be done with making sure that people know that it’s OK to just ask for help.”

Jack Griffin

So, Griffin created a website now called FoodFinder that would help students find free food resources. The site was school-centric so it worked by having the user enter the name of the school. The site would generate a Google map displaying the school as a blue pin and five or ten nearby red pins would be the nearest free food resources.

He launched the site near the end of the school year, coincidentally a high-demand time of year. When students leave school, those who rely on school for free or affordable meals now find themselves hungry.

Working with what Griffin calls the “first responders to hunger,” the teachers, counselors and administrators, the site immediately got some traction.

Looking to create an app, Giffin reached out to the Wireless Technology Forum in Atlanta and found stable|kernal, a mobile technology firm that helped them design and then build the mobile app.

Sarah Woodward, Director of Business Development for stable|kernal says, “The stable|kernel team was so moved by Jack’s story and by what FoodFinder wanted to solve that we felt strongly we should get involved. We love serving FoodFinder as their product team. They are a truly collaborative group that wants to do what’s best for the product, which makes our jobs easy. We love solving the technology challenges they have so that FoodFinder can focus on its’ real business of bringing more food resources to the people that need them most.”

About a year later, in the summer of 2016, Griffin launched the Food Finder app, available both in the Apple App Store and Google Play.

He’s proud of the app’s simplicity. There is no login and no data entry required. Open the app and it immediately starts looking for free food in your vicinity.

The website has been upgraded to operate much like the app. Users no longer have to enter a location. There is no friction whatsoever between a hungry person and the information about free food resources. Within two or three seconds, without any data entry, the information is presented.

FoodFinder website screenshot showing free food resources in downtown Salt Lake City

When I tested the website and the app, both identified ten free food resources within about two miles of my location but omitted the largest free food distribution center in the valley, the Bishop’s Storehouse operated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the St. Vincent de Paul Dining Hall at the Weigand Homeless Resource Center operated by Catholic Community Services. Griffin explains that outside the Southeast, the app relies entirely on the USDA’s Summer Feeding Site location database; within the region, additional sites are added to the app’s database.

Griffin has financed the operation of the 501(c)(3) nonprofit with grants and donations so far totaling nearly $100,000. He’s looking to partner with corporations to make the operation more sustainable in some way.

One early partner is the Arby’s Foundation. Christopher Fuller, senior vice president of communications and executive director, said, “As an organization that has been involved with ending childhood hunger for years but is also expanding our focus to include empowering youth, a partnership with Jack was right up our alley.”

Fuller praises Griffin’s FoodFinder, “Before FoodFinder there was not a year-round national database for meal programs so finding a program near you was a challenge. Unfortunately, many families struggling with food insecurity don’t even know where to start looking when they find themselves in need. FoodFinder offers a comprehensive solution to this issue for families by delivering this information in an easy to use app.”

According to Feeding America, there are 42 million people in the U.S., including 13 million children, who struggle with food insecurity. The nonprofit notes that “households with children were more likely to be food insecure than those without children.”

These numbers motivate Griffin to keep working.

As Griffin built the website and then the app, he saw two sides to social entrepreneurship. “With social entrepreneurs, people are quick to loudly support your idea.”

On the other hand, he faced criticism from people asking if an app is really the best way to solve hunger. He notes that a “surprising number of kids and their families do have smartphones or access to one.”

What kept him going was the feedback. He acknowledges that it is difficult to track the conversion from app and website usage to people actually getting the food they need.

He loves hearing from volunteers at food pantries and churches that the people they serve say they found them using the app. He adds, “a couple of times a month we’ll either get an e-mail or a phone call sometimes with people actually in tears just whether they are directly impacted by the issue or not say you know this is such great work you’re doing. We really appreciate it.”

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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!

Social Entrepreneur Seeks To Make CSR Easier For Everyone

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

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

Ryan Scott, 48, CEO and founder of Causecast, is working to make corporate social responsibility easier for everyone involved, from the corporation and the employees to the nonprofits they support.

Causecast, a Certified B Corporation, operates a web service that matches corporate volunteers to nonprofit projects. The system provides a comprehensive reporting and management system.

Causecast allows both management and rank-and-file employees to put projects into the system to garner volunteer support.

Alicia Quinn, Director of Programs for Mission Edge, a nonprofit based in San Diego, uses the Causecast platform to match skills-based volunteers to specific needs in the nonprofit community there.

“It truly is a ‘one stop shop’ for corporate social responsibility and employee engagement,” Quinn says.

“When I first began designing the program, I didn’t have an effective method of sharing opportunities for nonprofit engagement with volunteers. I feared having to resort to email and an Excel spreadsheet to source organizations’ needs, and volunteers’ interests and skills. Causecast offers an efficient and effective solution for matching the supply with the demand.” Quinn says Mission Edge chose Causecast instead.

Ryan Scott, Causecast

“By offering an efficient and affordable product, Causecast allows nonprofits to access talent and harness the passions of the corporate community to impact the social sector,” she concluded.

Scott, an early investor in Tesla and other Silicon Valley startups, brought him into contact with the co-founders of AutoLotto, an app that lets users play the Powerball lottery right from their phones. (Disclosure: my wife owns 60 shares of Tesla.)

Mel Brue, head of marketing communications for AutoLotto explains that the lottery was originally started to fund social projects. Building on that idea, AutoLotto has created “social impact pools” that work like office pools to benefit charities. She says that social impact is especially important to millennials.

“Causecast has the infrastructure already in place to help us fulfill our philanthropic strategy domestically as well as abroad,” Brue says. “Causecast has been particularly effective in developing programs that are tailored to a specific region or country. Their diligent vetting of charities, as well as the infrastructure to facilitate giving, will allow us to launch impactful programs quickly as we scale both in the US and internationally.”

One feature of the program is modeled on crowdfunding sites. It allows employees to fundraise for a cause or charity in competition with other employees working to support the same cause. Employee engagement is one of the big benefits of the system, Scott says.

In one case, Scott reports, a corporation engaged 1,000 employees in a crowdfunding campaign, ultimately reaching broadly outside the company connecting with the social networks of the employees.

Scott, who had a successful exit in the 90s after creating an early opt-in email marketing platform, says he gained the ability to focus more of his energy on giving back after the deal.

“I tried doing some fundraising and things like that,” Scott says. “I found it to be not quite as satisfying as I would like. I didn’t really feel like I was being engaged at all levels.”

He began looking at corporations to see how they were giving and realized that they were not being offered tools that would make corporate social responsibility programs effective both in engaging employees and tracking impact.

So, Scott created Causecast.

He boasts that the system works. When companies have an existing CSR program and then adopt the Causecast platform for managing, they see an increase in participation. “All of a sudden they have 50 percent more participation because of all the transparency, because of the social, because of all of the technologies and products that we built around this.”

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Upscale Purse Delivers Purses With a Purpose

Chris Bray, a fixture in Utah’s nonprofit community, has launched a social enterprise she hopes will power the rest of her career with still greater impact.

Chris recognized that nonprofits are always looking for more funding, especially from funding partners that understand their mission and objectives and will support them appropriately. She decided to become such a funder.

She created Upscale Purse, an online retailer that sells new and used high-quality purses and gives 10 percent to charity. The upstart is already breaking even and she’s excited to see it grow.

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

Chris is focusing on charities that serve and support women. “Women have tremendous barriers in their way and many have become victims of cruel and inhuman acts. One in three women will experience some form of domestic violence sometime in their life (Utah Women Stats, 2017).”

“In 2016, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children estimated that 1 in 6 endangered runaways reported to them were likely sex trafficking victims,” Chris continues. “The International Labor Organization estimates that there are 4.5 million people trapped in forced sexual exploitation globally. According to the Report, in the United States, the most common form of human trafficking (79%) is sexual exploitation. The victims are predominantly women and girls.”

“At Upscale Purse, our purpose is not only to provide an opportunity to purchase beautiful purses and handbags but also deliver funding to support women escaping crisis situations and offer them an opportunity for hope and a fulfilling life. A portion of the sale of every purse will be distributed to select nonprofit partners.”

Chris Bray, Upscale Purse

Chris Bray, Upscale Purse

More about Upscale Purse:

Upscale Purse combines fashion with purpose and sells beautiful, upscale purses then gives as least 10% to nonprofits working with disadvantaged women escaping domestic violence or human trafficking. These are purses with a purpose! Organized as a low-profit company, we make a measurable positive impact on women’s lives through the sale of purses, donations to carefully vetted nonprofits serving disadvantaged women and the volunteer experiences we create.Partners provide services that include mentoring, education and assistance escaping dangerous situations.

Chris’s bio:

I have served in the nonprofit community for over 30 years. I have worked at the CEO of Utah Nonprofits Association, Vice President of Collective Impact at United Way of Salt Lake, Executive Director of Children’s Service Society and The Sharing Place. My past work has centered mostly in nonprofit services impacting children but in the past few years, I have worked with more organizations focused on women’s challenges. Happy and balanced women are an important cornerstone of successful families and our communities. Many women have tremendous barriers in their way to achieve their goals and too many have become victims of cruel and inhuman acts. I decided to start a company that sales purses and invests in nonprofits addressing these barriers. Because of my background in collective impact strategies, this company will work with the nonprofits who achieve significant impact for the women they serve and are making a measurable community impact.

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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!

 

New Player In Living Walls Brings Outside Inside

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

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

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

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

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

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

The Luxottica living wall by Sagegreenlife

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

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

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

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

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

The Verdanta living wall by Sagegreenlife

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

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

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

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

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

A family of “Incredibles” at Salt Lake ComicCon.

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

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

Bryan Brandenburg

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

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

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

Bryan Brandenburg, Chris Evans and Dan Farr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dan Farr, Mark Hamill and Bryan Brandenburg

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

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

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


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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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