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

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Encircle Celebrates Grand Opening–Home to Serve LGBT Youth

Sentator Jim Dabakis, kicks off Ceremony

Sentator Jim Dabakis, kicks off Ceremony

Encircle, a nonprofit resource center for LGBT youth in largely-Mormon Provo, Utah, celebrated its grand opening today. A tent set up outside the home with about 50 seats for the crowd was inadequate for the throng of 200-plus who came to celebrate with Steve and Barbara Young and other dignitaries.

Utah State Senator Jim Dabakis kicked off the ceremony, recounting his youth as a closeted gay who studied at LDS-Church-owned Brigham Young University. He added that in high school, he heard friends talking crudely about seeing a gay man at the local smoke shop and then spending several days hanging around the smoke shop in hopes of seeing another gay person for the first time.

Stephenie Larsen, Encircle's executive director

Stephenie Larsen, Encircle’s executive director

Stephenie Larsen, Encircle’s executive director, took several minutes to thank people who had made Encircle possible. She related how she conceived only vaguely of doing “something” to help the LGBT youth in her community. She reached out to her uncle, John Williams, the late owner of Gastronomy who came out after serving an LDS mission and became one of Utah’s more successful entrepreneurs. She attributed his success to the circle of love that surrounded him, making him feel welcome to be who he was.

 Amy Zaharis

Amy Zaharis

Amy Zaharis, another of John Williams’s nieces, read a tribute to him for the role he played in the formation of Encircle before his death.

Conner Leavitt

Conner Leavitt

Conner Leavitt then sang “Bring Him Home” from “Les Miserables.” The song, a prayer to “God on high,” includes the following lyrics:

He is young
He is only a boy

You can take
You can give
Let him be
Let him live
If I die, let me die
Let him live
Bring him home

Heard in the context of the increasing suicide rate among LGBT youth in Utah County, the pleas take on new meaning.

Barbara Young, LGBT advocate

Barbara Young, LGBT advocate

Barbara Young, an outspoken advocate for the LGBT community, addressed the crowd.

Steve Young, former San Francisco 49ers quarterback

Steve Young, former San Francisco 49ers quarterback

Barbara’s husband, Steve Young, the Hall of Fame Quarterback, took the microphone for perhaps 90 seconds. The weekly television commentator seemed almost unfamiliar with the instrument.

He related a short anecdote, recounting a brief interaction with the hotel desk clerk last evening when checking in. The clerk asked about what brought Steve to town. He said he’d replied, “I’m in town for the grand opening of an LGBT youth resource center.”

Steve reported that the clerk responded, “That is good.” Steve then added, “And then the clerk began to cry,” the last word catching in his throat. He then concluded, “This is good.”

Katy Bettner

Katy Bettner

Katy Bettner, a part-time resident of Provo who lives most of the year in Austin, Texas, described growing up in the Baptist community. She said, they frequently spoke critically of other groups. Two of their favorite groups to criticize, she said, were Mormons and gays. She later visited an LDS Church. She note, in jest, that there were only 10 Mormons in Austin so they couldn’t afford to offend anyone. She found their services to be apolitical and joined. Just a few months later, she matriculated at BYU, where she found some of the same attitudes she thought she’d left behind. She’s stayed with the LDS Church, she says, despite her reservations. She was eager to support Encircle to help Mormons in the gay community feel there is a safe place for them.

Provo Mayor, John Curtis

Provo Mayor, John Curtis

Provo Mayor John Curtis came forward to welcome Encircle to the City of Provo, noting that the City had recently rebranded itself with a new logo and motto: Welcome Home. He said, if you’ll look closely at the signs, you’ll see there is no asterisk.” He emphasized that everyone is welcome in Provo.

Would You Shoot Your Hungry Neighbor?

One of my dearest friends, let’s call her Katie, is a devout Mormon who recently asked her husband, Brad, to buy her a gun to protect the food storage.

Before I continue, I should explain that members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints have been taught for generations by Church leaders to store a year’s supply of food. This is considered preparation for any range of problems from being out of work to surviving the zombie apocalypse.

In Utah, we can see times are changing because now we don’t just teach our little boys how to use guns safely, we teach our girls. Utahns are passionate about the second amendment. (Well, most of them anyway.)

I imagine Katie looking something like this ready to defend her food storage.

I imagine Katie looking something like this ready to defend her food storage.


Even so, I was a bit surprised when Katie confessed she’d asked for a gun. Let me explain why. She is likely the kindest living human being. She is a nurse and when I’m around her, I kinda want to get sick or at least to skin my knee so she’ll take care of me. She is a wonderful cook, too. She is the sort of person who goes out of her way to make delicious vegan food when she invites us over–even though she is not a vegan. I always feel guilty for making so much work for her but also look forward to next time.

Brad, is a soft-spoken business leader who drives a big, beautiful pickup truck. Well, that’s not quite right. He owns a big, beautiful pickup truck. He generally takes the bus two miles to his office. Whenever he and Katie go anywhere together, they take her minivan and she drives. Deeply religious, he works in Salt Lake City for a company based in San Francisco that is infused with liberal corporate values.

When Katie asked for a gun–I didn’t ask whether she wanted something more along the lines of an AR-15 or maybe a Walther PPK–Brad suggested that perhaps they put their food storage into smaller containers to make it easier to share.

It won’t surprise you any more than it did me that all of her food storage is now in small containers. And, no, she doesn’t also have a gun. She really is the sort of person everyone wants for a neighbor. She is just the sort of person I want to be.

How To Create A Successful Corporate Social Responsibility Program

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

Why do some corporate social responsibility programs seem to backfire? There are lots of reasons, but University of Kansas Assistant Professor Jessica Li recently published a paper that explains why some do.

Her research shows that people in some countries have distinct reactions to two companies engaging in the same behavior when one of the companies is foreign and the other domestic.

Jessica has provided us with three tips for creating a corporate social responsibility program that works.

1. Consumer attributions are key.

It is important to understand that CSR is not always perceived positively by consumers. Consumers make attributions about why a company is engaging in CSR, ant these attributions influence their attitudes and behaviors.

2. Know your audience.

Consumers with collectivistic orientation make more altruistic CSR attributions for a domestic versus a foreign firm. Thus, the same CSR behavior performed by a foreign company will be perceived less positively than if it were performed by a domestic company in countries like South Korea or India.

3. Be authentic.

It’s important to show collectivistic consumers that you genuinely care about the cause. Biases against foreign companies can be minimized if the foreign company shows that it authentically cares about the cause, such as by engaging in CSR for a long time.

Jessica Li, courtesy of the University of Kansas

Jessica Li, courtesy of the University of Kansas

There is nothing worse for a CSR professional than to invest in a program that causes a negative consumer response. The money and effort feel wasted. Despite the responsibility of the company to do good, making that good profitable makes it infinite. These tips can help companies avoid CSR disasters.

On Thursday, February 2, 2017 at 2:00 Eastern, Jessica will join me here for a live discussion about making corporate social responsibility program work around the world. Tune in here (at the top of this article) then to watch the interview live. Post questions in the comments below or tweet questions before the interview to @devindthorpe.

More about the University of Kansas:

Twitter: @KUnews

Since its founding, the University of Kansas has embodied the aspirations and determination of the abolitionists who settled on the curve of the Kaw River in August 1854. Their first goal was to ensure that the new Kansas Territory entered the union as a free state. Another was to establish a university.

Map showing the location of KU campuses

Today, KU has become a major public research and teaching institution of 28,401 students and 2,600 faculty on five campuses (Lawrence, Kansas City, Overland Park, Wichita, and Salina). Its diverse elements are united by their mission to educate leaders, build healthy communities, and make discoveries that change the world.

Jessica’s bio:

Jessica Li received a Ph.D. in Social Psychology from Arizona State University and a B.S. in Biology and Society from Cornell University. Broadly, Jessica’s research focuses on the role of emotions and motivations on consumer behavior. Due to her interdisciplinary background and desire to understand decision making from multiple perspectives, she often integrates theoretical principles from psychology, economics, and biology in her work. For example, one line of research investigates how fundamental motives, such as protecting oneself from physical threat or caring for one’s kin, affects financial decisions including risk-taking, present bias, and diversification. Another line of research takes an interpersonal approach to understanding displayed emotions on consumer judgment and decision-making. As social beings, humans make quick and spontaneous judgments from fleeting cues like an employee’s emotional expression. Jessica’s work has been published in journals such as the Journal of Consumer Research, the Academy of Management Journal, the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Psychological Science, and the Journal of Consumer Psychology. Jessica teaches Integrated Marketing Communications at the undergraduate and MBA levels. In addition, she has taught a Ph.D. seminar in Consumer Behavior and a practicum in Promotional Plan Development. She is currently developing an online MBA course in IMC.

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!


Good Requires Sacrifice and Risk; Immigration of Syrian Refugees is Good

When was the last time you did something good? For a moment, let’s ignore little things and focus on things that are really good. So, I’m not talking about smiling at a stranger, I’m talking about buying lunch for a person experiencing homelessness. I’m not thinking about dropping a few coins in the Salvation Army Kettle but instead donating an amount of money you care about to a cause you care about even more. Keep that experience firmly in your mind as you read this piece.

In my experience, every good thing I’ve done has required a combination of risk and sacrifice. This is what I consistently observe as well.

For instance, Davis Smith launched a company called Cotopaxi. He hopes to make a lot of money for himself and for the venture capitalists who have backed his company. He’s also built the company to do good from the ground up. The company makes environmentally friendly outdoor and travel gear. They source the products and materials in ways that are friendly to the suppliers, especially to low-income providers. They hire recent refugees to come work in their company, often providing them with their first jobs in the United States. And they have committed to donate two percent of revenue to charitable organizations.

He has risked his financial capital and his career—to say nothing of the millions of capital others have invested in the business for which he feels some fiduciary responsibility—on a bet that he can do good in multiple ways using the economic engine of a for-profit business.

Rainer Dahl joined me on a trip to Nepal in 2015. At the time, Rainer was 70 years old. We slept on the floor in a school for a week, trekking out into the Himalayan foothills every day to help villagers install clean, wood-burning stoves to eliminate smoke from inside their homes. Smoke from cookstoves in the developing world is responsible for killing on the order of 6 million people, mostly women and some of their children, every year. We were shocked by the black soot and creosote we found in every home.

Each day, Rainer would climb from home to home in the village. Keep in mind that the Nepali village isn’t a cluster of homes and businesses so much as a collection scattered up and down the side of a mountain. Getting from one to another was a real hike. To each home, he would carry tools, often including a steel crowbar, five or six feet in length, weighing 30 pounds or so.

Rainer would then take the bar and use it to create a hole in the wall for a chimney. After installing the stove and chimney, he would use rocks and an adobe-like cement to repair the wall. Day after day.

I would really have felt sorry for Rainer if we hadn’t been joined by Jim Mayfield, the Founder of CHOICE Humanitarian, the organization that we were working with on the trip. Jim is past 80. He was also sleeping on the floor. Unlike Rainer, he would stay in Nepal. He spent nearly half the year in Nepal in 2015. He is working to eradicate extreme poverty in the country before he dies. It’s a race against time.

Rainer and Jim could each be at home relaxing. They’ve every right and no one would think less of them. Both, however, had chosen that week to make a great sacrifice for the sake of doing good.

Doing any good requires risk and sacrifice. You have certainly used the same calculus to justify good you’ve done. Whether it was donating money that could have paid for a needed home repair or time that could have been used to do something perfectly healthy and normal, like take a yoga class or read great literature. You chose to sacrifice for a person or cause you believe in.

Syrian people in refugee camp in Suruc. These people are refugees from Kobane and escaped because of Islamic state attack. 3.4.2015, Suruc, Turkey

Syrian people in refugee camp in Suruc. These people are refugees from Kobane and escaped because of Islamic state attack. 3.4.2015, Suruc, Turkey

Why, I ask myself, would we expect that allowing a healthy amount of immigration into our country, where 99 percent of us are immigrants or their descendants, should be without risk or sacrifice? In the long run, we know that immigrants make great neighbors because so many of our neighbors are.

How risky are immigrants to America? About 2.6 million of us die every year. Including the deaths from 9/11, 3,264 people died in terror attacks in the U.S. over 20 years, an average 153.2 per year. When I asked Google to calculate 153.2 divided by 2.6 million, Google responded “zero.” In fact, the answer is 0.005892307 percent. In other words, ignoring the fact that we tightened immigration policies after 9/11 and this data includes 9/11, the risk of death from terrorism is tiny. In several years since 9/11, the number of deaths from terrorism was zero. It is not certain that there will be deaths from terrorism in the future, but it is fair to label it a risk of immigration, however small.

Yes, one unnecessary death is tragic, but if we were willing to do whatever it takes to eliminate the risk of one single death, why do we still drive cars? More than 35,000 people died in auto accidents in America in 2015, up almost 10 percent from the year before!  Why do we still use stairs, which kill about 1,300 people every year? The fact is, in virtually every other aspect of life, we accept a far greater level of risk than that associated with terrorism from refugees—and immigration more broadly—without batting an eye.

There is only one question left. Is allowing a few Syrian refugees into our country good? Donald Trump is the grandson of an immigrant who arrived in America penniless. Where would America be without the likes of Albert Einstein and Hakeem Olajuwon? How about former refugee Madeleine Albright, our country’s first female Secretary of State?

Let me quickly concede that I cannot prove that allowing refugees into our country is good, but I wish to add my voice to the many who say it is. Having reached that conclusion, there is no question in my mind that we can and should accept the risks and make the sacrifices necessary.

If you want to keep doing good, as you have done in the past, I urge you to accept the risks of America’s traditional acceptance of refugees from around the world, based solely on their need, without respect to race, religion or country of origin.

Winter Innovation Summit: A Quick Report

Impact investors and government leaders from around the world convened in Salt Lake City at the Winter Innovation Summit hosted by the Sorenson Impact Center to focus on the ways that data can be used to inform both investments and government spending.

Jeremy Keele, President & CEO of Sorenson Impact, said, “The central theme of Sorenson Impact and the event itself is to explore how data, evidence, and innovation can be leveraged to solve difficult social problems like homelessness, chronic unemployment, incarceration, and poverty.”

Government leaders, including both Utah Governor Gary Herbert and US Congressman John Delaney of Maryland, address the conference.

Former CNN anchor and current social entrepreneur, Soledad O’Brien, New York Times columnist David Bornstein, and Academy Award-winning filmmaker were featured in a discussion about the role of media in creating social impact.

Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams spoke at the conference. Salt Lake County, under his leadership, has successfully completed a second Pay For Success financing to reduce recidivism and homelessness in the County. The deal involves the County paying for services only if key results are achieved by providers. The providers, in turn, are paid by investors expecting that the results will meet the County’s requirements for a full payout.

DC Water and the Nation's First Environmental Impact Bond with Eric Letsinger (moderator), Beth Bafford, George Hawkins, photo by Decker Rolph

DC Water and the Nation’s First Environmental Impact Bond with Eric Letsinger (moderator), Beth Bafford, George Hawkins, photo by Decker Rolph

Eric Letsinger, founder of Quantified Ventures, George Hawkins and CEO and General Manager of the District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority (DC Water), and Beth Bafford, Director of Investment at the Calvert Foundation, explained the structure and process for creating the world’s first Environmental Impact Bond. The Pay For Success program provided $25 million of financing to create “green infrastructure” to prevent sewer backups during rain storms. The deal was also unusual in that the payor and the provider are the same entity, creating a moral hazard that had to be managed; the payor/provider only has to pay back the money if the intervention works. They note that they will, however, be strictly required by contracts to do the work, even if it isn’t effective, mitigating the moral hazard.

Pay For Success financings, also called Social Impact Bonds, require the use of objectively obtained and evaluated data on outcomes–not outputs. This data discipline is required for PFS transactions. That same discipline is beginning to spread throughout government social programs and impact investments.

One of the challenges discussed at the conference is the threat that the Trump administration will limit access to data rather than expand it. Linda Gibbs, Principal at Bloomberg Associates, an international philanthropic consultancy, virtually shouted, “Data is a public good!” She made the case that data should be generally available to the public except when there is a compelling reason to keep it private.”

A relatively new field within impact investing is gender lens investing. Jackie Zehner, President of The Jacquelyn and Gregory Zehner Foundation; Jackie VanderBrug, Managing Director, U.S. Trust, Bank of America Corp.; and Robyn Scott, co-founder and CEO of Apolitical, made the case for investing after measuring the number and proportion of women employees, managers and board members. They presented data that suggests that this approach to investing improves returns.

Much more happened at the Summit than can be covered here in a short story. Watch for follow-up pieces here and at Forbes.com.


Two Social Entrepreneurs Help LGBTQ Youth–And Everyone Else–Cope

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

Stephenie Larsen and Andrea Smardon have each found their own way to help others cope with challenges. Their work intersected last fall when Andrea produced and reported a story about Encircle, Stephenie’s LGBT outreach center in Provo, Utah, for NPR.

The NPR story highlights the odd juxtaposition of Encircle’s new center located within sight of the Provo Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, noting that in the fall of 2015, the Church implemented a new policy toward married gay couples and their children that excludes them from full participation.

Stephenie sees an urgent need for helping the LGBT community in densely Mormon Provo. “Utah has the fifth highest rate of youth suicide nationwide, with LGBTQ youth who experience rejection from their parents having an eight times greater risk of suicide. Those that are LDS experience even greater depression, suicidal ideation and family alienation, often losing their faith and spiritual community along the way.”

Andrea Smardon, courtesy of Changing Our Stories

Andrea Smardon, courtesy of Changing Our Stories

Andrea produced the NPR story while working on her new, long-form podcast she called “Changing our Stories.” The podcast is about making meaningful change. The episode on Encircle will be released soon.

Andrea explains her motivation for leaving her long-term job with KUER, the NPR affiliate at the University of Utah. “This is a time of incredible change. From a warming climate to social and technological change, we’re all trying to adapt. We need stories to help us process all of this. Stories help define us. They connect us with a shared understanding and serve as a guide to where we are headed.”

She notes that the news we generally read, see and hear is not up to the job of helping us cope. “Many of us are bombarded with news and information all day long, but those stories are not adequate to the task of making meaning from our lives. In the 24- hour news cycle, much is lost. I think we start to forget about parts of ourselves, our history, and our potential. We need something more nourishing. People are hungry for something more, starving really.”

Andrea could see the need for more discussion about the the LGBT community in Utah County where suicides are such a problem. While some have questioned the connection to rising suicide rates in Utah, especially in Utah County, Andrea was interested in Stephenie’s work with Encircle to address the problem head on.

Encircle is setting up operations in a beautiful, old home the organization is restoring adjacent to the Provo Temple. What goes on inside that home is what will give it significance

Inside, Encircle is doing something new and different, Stephenie says. “What’s revolutionary about our approach is that we do not just serve LGBTQ youth, but also their families. We do this because research shows that youth are nine times less likely to commit suicide if their family is affirming. We also hope that better-educated families will influence attitudes in our community.”

Encircle’s story fits Andrea’s podcast perfectly. “I’m finding people who are figuring out how to make change, small and large acts of ingenuity or bravery,” she says. “I’m looking for those stories that can help guide the way for all of us. I’m not talking about how someone lost 50 pounds in a month or invented the next addictive app. I’m talking about the kinds of changes that might help preserve us as a species or at least live fuller lives while we’re here. Every episode on the podcast is a story of personal transformation. Because that’s what I need to hear right now, and I’m pretty sure you do too.”

Every story of change includes challenges. In fact, it may be the hurdles people have to clear that make the stories meaningful.

Stephenie says money is her biggest challenge. “Raising enough money to renovate a house and run a project like Encircle is a huge undertaking. A lot of the fears I had about individuals not wanting us in downtown Provo have proven to be the opposite. We have experienced nothing but positive responses and an outpouring of love.”

Andrea faces her own challenge now that she’s on her own. “I no longer have a radio station and a ready audience for my work, so I have to figure out how to reach people. Anyone can post a podcast on iTunes, but getting heard is another matter,” she says. “I believe there is an audience out there that wants what I have to offer, but the challenge is connecting with them.”

Stephenie has a similar challenge. “We aspire to reach those outside our geographic area by putting information online,” she says.

Stephenie worries more, however, about not being able to change the hearts of people who refuse to have the discussion–but should. “We value spiritual connections and understand it oftentimes influences individuals’ openness to LGBTQ equality. We are limited by people’s willingness to consider issues affecting LGBTQ individuals with openness, and cannot change attitudes of those who will not come to the center.”

Andrea visited the center and spoke face-to-face with Stephenie and others for her story. That’s her model. She doesn’t work over the phone. She explains, “I’m telling intimate stories, and many of them would not work as well over the phone. I’m based in Utah, and most of my stories – at least for now – are about people here. I think these kinds of stories would appeal to people across the country and the world.” She hopes her geographic limitations won’t limit her audience.

Setting aside the challenges and limitations to peer into the future, Stephenie sees a big change resulting from her work. “We envision our community as a place where sexual and gender minorities feel valued and respected—where they do not feel inferior or defined by their sexuality. We work toward a future where families and congregations will encircle all individuals with love.”

“We will see a drastic reduction in homelessness, suicide, and depression,” she concludes.

Andrea’s vision parallels Stephenie’s. “My main goal is to connect people to one another, to help tell someone’s story in such a way that it changes the way people view their own lives and their place in the world.”

“At a time when the US appears deeply divided, I want to create a space for listening, trust, curiosity, and new possibilities,” Andrea said.

On Thursday, January 19, 2017 at 4:00 Eastern (2:00 Mountain), Stephenie and Andrea will join me for a live discussion about the ways they are working to help people cope with change and challenges. Tune in here (at the top of this article) then to watch the interview live. Post questions in the comments below or tweet questions before the interview to @devindthorpe.

More about Encircle:

Instagram: @encircletogether

Encircle: LGBTQ Family and Youth Resource Center is a nonprofit organization that addresses the needs of Utah’s LGBTQ youth and their families, while changing attitudes within the community as a whole. Located in downtown Provo, Utah, the nonprofit center serves as hub to find resources that support the overall well-being of sexual and gender minorities, as well as provide a physical gathering place for families, individuals, and the community to host activities that are safe and enriching. Additionally, Encircle plans to facilitate individual counseling, conflict resolution, and other resources, including providing models of what inclusive homes might look and feel like.

Stephenie’s bio:

Stephenie and her husband, Mitch, love Utah County and have chosen to raise their six children there. She received a law degree from J. Reuben Clark Law School and is a member of the Utah State Bar. While living in Washington, D.C. Stephenie was an attorney for abused and neglected inner-city children. She then worked on Capitol Hill for both the House Committee for Children, Youth & Family and Utah Congressman Bill Orton. In Washington, D.C. she also worked for the lobbying firm MacAndrew and Forbes. Stephenie has done clerkships with Parsons, Behle and Latimer, Justice Stirba, Senator Orin Hatch and Utah County Guardian ad Litems.

More about Changing our Stories:

Twitter: @UtahPodcaster

Changing Our Stories is a podcast about transformation. Each episode is an intimate, true story about what it takes to make meaningful change. Forged in the Mountain West, it’s a virtual campfire under the stars. In a world where the 24-hour news cycle prevails, this show provides listeners a more expansive view on the human race, to reflect on where we came from, and imagine where we’re headed next.

Andrea’s bio:

Andrea Smardon is an award-winning reporter and podcast producer based in Utah. She’s a contributor to National Public Radio, and has worked at public radio stations across the country from Boston to Seattle. She recently left her reporting job at KUER in Salt Lake City to devote herself full time to podcasting and freelancing for national outlets.

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!


Career Spent Inspiring CSR Spreads Good Globally

Eclat Impact is a sponsor of the Your Mark on the World Center.

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

Georg Kell might not have anticipated the global reach of his work when he started his career more than 30 years ago. After joining the United Nations in 1987, the opportunity for global influence presented itself. Georg took full advantage.

Georg started his career as a research fellow in engineering at the Fraunhofer Institute for Production Technology and Innovation in Berlin. He then spent a few years working as a financial analyst in various countries in Africa and Asia, helping him to gain a global perspective.

After joining the UN in 1987, he became “obsessed with modernizing the UN from within and working with the private sector,” he says.

A key point in his career came 12 years after joining the UN. “In 1999, I helped craft a speech for Kofi Annan, then UN secretary-general, calling on business to look beyond profit and to contribute to society, the environmental and global governance,” he says. “The reaction overwhelmed us. It made the front pages in major papers. That’s where the real story of building the Global Compact started.”

Georg Kell, courtesy of Arabesque

Georg Kell, courtesy of Arabesque

Vince Molinari, the CEO of Oisa Capital and former CEO of Gate Global Impact, which partnered with the UN Global Compact, explains the impact the Global Compact has. “UNGC has done an amazing job of creating awareness and convening the private sector around global issues and the imperative of public and private collaboration to drive sustainability and civil society. This was born from the passion and vision of Georg and now is being carried on by Lisa Kingo, UNGCs new Executive Director.”

Georg is philosophical about the challenges he’s faced in his career. He points at his experience starting the UN Global Compact as an example.

“Launching the Global Compact, for example, was chaotic. With a budget of just $10,000, the first office in the basement of the UN had no windows and one of the team slept there. It was a real start-up within the UN. The working conditions were tough but the spirit was high, and it was a challenge which I learned a lot from,” Georg says.

He identifies two keys to success based on his experience.

First, he says, “My advice to anyone would be to discover your inner skills. If you identify an opportunity, try to be the best at it.”

Second, he sees value in being able to see beyond the walls of your own silo. “I also always advise people to be horizontally oriented. It’s great to dig into something very specific but connecting the dots and seeing the opportunities in connecting them, there’s a premium on that.”

Today, Georg serves as the Vice Chairman of Arabesque, a fund manager focused on environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) criteria. With offices in London and Frankfurt, the firm focuses on trading and investing in 1,000 global stocks. This opportunity gives him the opportunity to continue his work of getting the private sector to focus more energy on doing good.

Molinari also admires the work Arabesque is doing. “Arabesque is innovating and bringing together the converging of transparency, shareholder and consumer alignment, corporate governance and sustainable values into investable products that are open to all level of investors.”

“This is truly game changing to have capital markets, technology and sustainability pioneers and experts all converging in one company,” he adds. “This is the epitome of multiple paradigms shifts intersecting at one company under its visionary CEO Omar Selim and his team, resulting in the future of investing occurring in the present.”

On Thursday, January 19, 2017 at 3:00 Eastern, Georg will join me for a live discussion about his career, the UN Global Compact and Arabesque. Tune in here (at the top of this article) then to watch the interview live. Post questions in the comments below or tweet questions before the interview to @devindthorpe.

More about Arabesque:

Twitter: @ArabesqueAM

Arabesque is a specialist ESG Quant fund manager that uses self-learning quantitative models and big data to assess the performance and sustainability of globally listed companies. The firm’s investment technology processes over 100 billion data points to select an investment universe of equities, integrating Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) information with quantitative strategies.

Georg’s bio:

Georg Kell is the founding Executive Director of the United Nations Global Compact, the world’s largest voluntary corporate sustainability initiative with over 8,000 corporate signatories in more than 160 countries. As its founding Executive Director, Kell helped to establish the United Nations Global Compact as the foremost platform for the development, implementation and disclosure of responsible and sustainable corporate policies and practices. In a career of more than 25 years at the United Nations, Kell also oversaw the conception and launch of the Global Compact’s sister initiatives on investment, the Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI), and on education, the Principles for Responsible Management Education (PRME), together with the Sustainable Stock Exchanges (SSE) initiative.

Mr. Kell now serves as Vice Chairman of Arabesque.

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!


‘Amazing’ Opportunity: Electrifying the Developing World With Solar

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Back in the 1930s, the United States remained largely a rural country, with almost half of the population still living in rural communities–without electricity. Electrifying rural America was a key part of the New Deal. The key then was distribution of electricity generated in utility-scale plants.

Today, the world is in a race to electrify rural communities in the developing world. This presents an opportunity for entrepreneurs and investors around the world, say Chris Warren, CEO of Clean Energy Advisors, and Erik Melang, co-founder of Distributive Solar.

Unlike the New Deal-era effort to electrify rural America, today’s electrification efforts run the full gamut from solar lamps charged by day and used at night to utility-scale projects that connect to the grid.

Entrepreneurs around the world are getting in on the act. India has organized incentives and entrepreneurial support programs to for solar projects.

d.light, among others, offers a range of solar products in Africa, including solar lamps at the bottom and “modern, grid-like solar power systems for homes and businesses” at the top. Akon has installed 1,200 micro-grids across Africa. Utilities across Africa have built or bought power from solar developers who have built utility-scale projects.

Erik points out that the “market opportunity is huge.” He says, this is an “amazing opportunity for the world to invest in Africa.” He explains that in the developing world, homes can initially meet all of their needs with systems that produce fewer than 100 watts of power, while in the U.S. the average household uses 3 to 5 kilowatts, or 30 to 50 times as much.

The implications are important. A little bit of solar power can go a long way in changing and improving lives in Africa–which they can readily afford as they shift from kerosene to solar lighting. Many of the systems deployed at the household level use a pay-as-you-go model. The consumers pay for the power the solar panel generates rather than needing to buy the panel up front.

The other key implication is that as African affluence grows, the average household demand for electricity will grow until it eventually approaches the U.S. level. In other words, the business of providing solar power in the developing world will continue to grow faster than the U.S. economy for the next several decades.

Chris Warren, courtesy of Clean Energy Advisors

Chris Warren, courtesy of Clean Energy Advisors

Chris notes, too, that because much of the need in Africa is off-grid, systems don’t need to work with the grid, simplifying installation and reducing costs, compared with typical U.S. installations that need to work with the grid.

On Thursday, January 19, 2017 at noon Eastern, Chris and Erik will join me here for a live discussion about opportunities in solar in the developing world. Tune in here (at the top of this article) then to watch the interview live. Post questions in the comments below or tweet questions before the interview to @devindthorpe.

More about Clean Energy Advisors:

Twitter: @ceacleanenergy

Clean Energy Advisors is a private equity firm focused on creating socially and environmentally positive ownership opportunities for investors in utility scale solar energy projects that generate tax advantaged predictable income and preserve capital.

Chris’s bio:

Twitter: @ceocleanenergy

Chris Warren has over twenty-five years of experience in the financial industry and along the way he has acquired a unique set of skills and experiences through roles that include managing assets for high net worth investors, leading a major division of a Fortune 500 company, building three successful businesses from inception, and overseeing complex financial arrangements for over US $860 million in renewable energy assets. Mr. Warren is a graduate of Duke University. His technical training includes a Certification in Renewable Energy Management from North Carolina State University and training in Basic and Advanced Solar PV Design from Solar Energy International.

Erik Melang, courtesy of Distributive Solar

Erik Melang, courtesy of Distributive Solar

More about Distributive Solar:

Twitter: @distrsolar

Commercial Solar Origination. Recruiting, training and supporting commercial solar consultants to present the economic, branding and environmental benefits of going solar to commercial business owners.

Erik’s bio:

Twitter: @espmel

Erik Melang is a Co-Founder of Distributive Solar and oversees the firms Recruiting, training and support of Independent Sales Representatives. Erik previously served as Managing Director of Impact Partners, where he led impact strategies initiatives and renewable energy private equity investments. It is in this role that Erik was drawn to the amazing business opportunity around Commercial Solar Origination. The industry is in the early stages of mass adoption and Commercial Business Owners are realizing the tremendous economic benefits of deploying solar panels on their rooftops. Erik is an Appalachian State MBA with strong desire to learn and teach and is an avid follower of everything solar and all things “Impact.” Erik’s interest include Clean Energy, Fishing, Snow Skiing, Travel , Guitar Pickin’ and is a child adoption advocate.

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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!


Confessions of a Mean Girl

Jessie Funk was a mean girl. Think Lindsey Lohan in the movie. Really.

Jessie wasn’t born a bully, she was first bullied. She developed bulimia as a result.

Today, Jessie cringes when she thinks about the times she was bullied but hurts even worse when she thinks about when she was a bully.

Jessie, who resembles Lindsey Lohan, describes her reaction to being bullied, “My natural reaction was to turn around and become the worst bully you can imagine.” She says she wasn’t just a bully to her peers, but also to her parents, teachers and school administrators.

Over the years since, she has worked to repair relationships with her family and others whom she hurt when she acted out.

As penance or repentance for the harm she did, she has launched Ivy Girl Academy, a nonprofit that works with young women to help them cope with the challenges they face. She travels the country helping girls learn to cope with bullying.

Jessie related the story of a young girl in North Carolina who approached her after a presentation and gave her a hug. Jessie thanked her for the hug and the girl pulled up her sleeves to reveal the cuts on her arms. She told Jessie that she was gay and hadn’t been able to come out to her parents, who had made it clear that they’d disown her if she did.

Jessie has coached the girl, to help her both deal with bullies in her school and to prepare for a healthy dialog with her parents.

Recently, Jessie joined me for a live discussion about her work.

Jessie is a professional speaker and singer with five albums under her belt. Her life’s mission is helping girls overcome the challenges that she herself faced. Ivy Girl Academy is the primary vehicle that she uses for that.

More about Ivy Girl Academy:

Twitter: @ivygirlacademy

We ignite personal & positional leadership skills in teen ladies through world-class workshops, summer camps, and certification programs.

The Ivy Girl Academy was created by Jessie Funk. Jessie has been a passionate advocate for teen girls since she was one herself. She has worked with, served and studied young ladies in many different capacities for the last eight years.

Jessie holds a leadership certification from the University of Notre Dame, she is a certified life coach and she has been a professional motivational youth speaker for a decade. Jessie has released five solo albums and has published five books including, “It’s Your Life…Own It. A Teen’s Guide to Greatness.”

Jessie Funk, courtesy of Ivy Girl Academy

Jessie Funk, courtesy of Ivy Girl Academy

Jessie’s Bio:

Twitter: @jessiefunksing

Jessie Funk holds a leadership certification from the University of Notre Dame along with a Bachelors Degree in Psychology. She has also been a professional youth speaker for twelve years, speaking for high schools and leadership conferences internationally. She is a “7-habits” facilitator for Franklin Covey, the most prestigious leadership training company in the world. She is a published author of two books for teens and she is also the Director of Education for the Utah Anti-Bullying Coalition. Her passion for empowering teenagers led her to start an international non-profit organization called “The Ivy Girl Academy,” a confidence and leadership- training program for teen ladies.

As a professional vocalist she has released five solo albums, has toured 36 states with the Broadway musical “Footloose,” has also been hired for hundreds of recording sessions as a studio vocalist including songs heard on TV’s “America’s Got Talent,” ESPN and “The Biggest Loser.” Jessie has walked away from three record deals unwilling to sell her soul for fame. She chooses to use her voice to lift and inspire in positive ways.

Jessie’s favorite role in life is that of adored wife and mother to two.

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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!

My New Year’s Resolution: Read The Paper

It will come as no surprise to anyone else who lives on social media, I’ve delegated the responsibility for choosing the news that I read to my friends. In 2016, I rarely sat at my desk, in an easy chair, a cafe bar stool or on any other perch simply to read a newspaper. That wasn’t always the case. I was a religious reader of the Wall Street Journal for many years.

Over the past 25 years, digital streams of information have chipped away at my perceived need to sit down with the paper and really read it. More recently, social media has become a primary source of news. Often, social media leads me to articles in the New York Times and reports from CNN and other television news media, but in those cases, I’m typically consuming a single story, not perusing the full days’ news and putting it all in context.

Reading via social media presents another hazard. I often view only the headline.

Think about that for a moment. The headline is almost certainly abbreviated in such a way as to omit key points of balance. It is also unclear from just a headline, even if I can see who published the article, whether it is an editorial or reported story–a vital distinction for understanding what I’m not reading.

Even scarier, I think, is that internet memes circulating with no provenance or authority are hitting my brain in almost exactly the same way a headline does. An oversimplified statement is dropped into my brain and left there to ripen or putrefy before ultimately being forgotten. Give me ten mindless memes and ten New York Times or Wall Street Journal headlines in ten minutes. Wait ten more minutes. Just ten. Then quiz me. Will I be able to distinguish facts reported from the New York Times or Wall Street Journal from the memes making rounds without a source? I’m quite confident that I’d do poorly on such a test.

This past week, I spent some time trying to find actual copies of newspapers. If you’re like me, you probably haven’t done that in a while. Our local drug store no longer sells papers. The convenience store on Main Street no longer sells them either. The nearest grocery store does, but they were sold out of both our daily local papers. Starbucks was, too. It seems pretty clear that the business of selling newspapers isn’t what it used to be.


That contradicts some key realities. Newspapers are simply amazing. The New York Times published yesterday, on Saturday, included 67 articles. Taken together with the photographs accompanying the stories–many in full color–and you have a book-length collection of professionally written stories, reported from around the world. The price: $2.50.

The Wall Street Journal, with similar girth and breadth of coverage, costs a whopping $4.00. The slightly thinner USA Today was $2.00 and the Saturday edition of the Deseret News, one of our local papers, was free.

So much of the news that we no longer read because it is not on the front page of the paper and may not make the list of most popular articles of the past 24 hours on the publication’s homepage, is important and well-written. You’d be surprised.

The USA Today features a story by Nathan Bomey about the coming resurgence of oil companies. He explores recent bankruptcies and argues that oil companies that have survived recent years are poised for a rebound. That wasn’t front page news but whether you are interested in how to invest your money, how to fuel your car or about climate change, that article might have been interesting to you.

The Deseret News ran a lengthy piece by Eric Schulzke buried in the middle of the paper about America’s aging infrastructure. Inspired by a recent water main break that cost the City of Sandy, Utah $200,000 to repair, noting that the City spends only $1.5 million all year on replacing aging pipes, the piece suggests that the country is ready to fall apart. In 1980, 10 percent of pipes were in “poor shape.” By 2010, that number had reached 45 percent. If you live in the United States, that would be good information to have.

The Wall Street Journal virtually buried a piece by Eliot Brown about Ford’s acquisition of Chariot, a shuttle company, last year, putting it into a broader context of mergers and acquisitions by Ford to cope with a radically changing future that will include driverless vehicles. From this example, Brown explores other examples of old-line firms making acquisitions of startups backed by venture capitalists. The volume of such deals in 2016 doubled compared to 2015. I bet you didn’t see that posted in your Facebook feed.

The New York Times ran a piece by Katie Thomas about a new drug for treating spinal muscular atrophy, a disease that sometimes kills children before their second birthdays. The drug will save lives, giving some children a chance at life that they simply would not have had otherwise. But the treatment isn’t cheap. The first year cost of the drug is between $625,000 and $750,000 with subsequent years needing lower dosages that are expected to cost only $375,000. After reading the piece, I could hardly believe it wasn’t on the front page. Why aren’t we all talking about this over dinner tonight?

The beauty of the physical newspaper is that we can easily see what the editors think is important for us to know. Those stories sit on the front page above the fold so that we can see those stories without even picking up the paper. The stories are organized by topic as well, with sections full of business news, sports news, arts news, and so forth. Newspapers are veritable treasure troves of information that I’ve been too often ignoring.

Now, I will confess, I don’t plan on subscribing to a print newspaper. I have found that the Washington Post app is great at giving me a virtual experience that parallels the print without mimicking it in any way. The app allows me to easily work my way through the paper, skimming some articles, reading others thoughtfully, in depth. It costs much less than a print subscription and I have it with me all the time.

As you may have guessed, I want to invite you to join me this year in reading the newspaper. Pick one that you like and read it. Regularly.


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