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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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Devin D. Thorpe
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Can One Person Change The World? This One Did!

Margaret Mead famously said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” Personally, I would argue that a small group is typically organized and led by one person. Here in Uganda, I found the one.

To be fair, I have been in Uganda three days and I could say this about any number of the remarkable social entrepreneurs I’ve met, but Joseph Nkandu embodies that more than most. Philanthropist Jeff Miller, the namesake of the Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship, noted in his remarks at a brief ceremony at the National Union of Coffee Agribusinesses and Farm Enterprises, always abbreviated NUCAFE, that most people lack the ambition to dream of doing what Joseph has done: remake a national industry.

Jeff Miller addresses a group of employees and member of NUCAFE

Jeff Miller addresses a group of employees and member of NUCAFE

Joseph participated in the 2016 cohort of the Miller Center’s Global Social Benefit Institute. I covered that for Forbes here.

Over the past 20 years, Joseph has been working to implement his vision of the “farmer ownership model” for growing coffee in Uganda. Perhaps because coffee grows easily in Uganda and millions of people grow a little bit of coffee, the power in the coffee industry has been in the hands of the buyers and their agents.

Joseph observed that farmers in Uganda did not effectively own their coffee. As evidence, he pointed out that when he asked coffee farmers about the price of coffee, they never seemed to know. When he asked the same farmers, who frequently kept a few chickens, about the price of chicken, they always knew. Put another way, small-holder farmers in Uganda have traditionally been price takers.

This provided the basis for organizing farmers into cooperatives to create more balance in the industry so that farmers could negotiate from a position of strength. Today, 198 cooperatives representing 1 million small farmers are members of NUCAFE. Together they produce about $500 million of raw coffee.

More recently, Joseph has been working to create more vertical integration so that the farmers can capture more of the value. Ground, roasted coffee sells for about ten times the price of coffee off the tree. The equipment required to remove the coffee bean from the berry is ubiquitous in Uganda, but beans in that condition aren’t ready to be ground and roasted, substantial cleaning, grading, drying and processing is required to get it ready to be roasted and ground.

NUCAFE has recently constructed and begun operating only the third coffee processing plant in all of Uganda. Joseph believes that it is the only one in the world that is farmer owned. Now, member farmers can pay a tiny fee to have their beans processed, allowing them to increase their revenue 2.5 fold.

Inside the new NUCAFE processing facility

Inside the new NUCAFE processing facility

NUCAFE also built roasting and grinding capacity at the plant and has begun selling coffee under the brand Omukago, a Lugandan word referring to deep, close friendship akin to family, traditionally expressed with a drop of blood on a coffee bean. Although volumes are relatively modest today, the nearly tenfold difference price allows participating farmers to meaningfully increase their profits even if only a portion of their production.

Joseph grew up on a small coffee farm and then attended university to learn how to optimize coffee farming. He realized after completing school that the system was rigged against the farmers and that the industry would have to be restructured to protect the interests of the farmers.

Joseph Nkandu listens to Jeff Miller

Joseph Nkandu listens to Jeff Miller

His father had 16 children–and two wives–stretching the resources of a small coffee grower. His father was also a primary school teacher and understood the need to make sacrifices to ensure that his children had the opportunity to attend school. That investment is now paying dividends for the millions of people who are now benefiting from his son’s work.

Joseph’s next challenge: grow coffee production in Uganda. NUCAFE has targeted a six-fold increase in national coffee production over the next three years. A government-supported effort to plant millions of coffee plants around the country makes this conceivable. If I learned anything from my visit with Joseph, it would be this: never doubt that one person can change the world.

This week, I’m traveling in Africa as a guest of Santa Clara University’s Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship’s Executive Director Thane Kreiner and namesakes Karen and Jeff Miller. Read all my reports.

#17africa

 

Scaling Rapidly, This Social Entrepreneur Provides Clean Water To Many In 3 Countries

CEO Galen Welsch launched Jibu with his father to provide affordable access to clean water to people in three countries where culinary water–where available–isn’t safe to drink. Already operating in Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda, customers already number in the hundreds of thousands.

While the most prosperous folks in these three countries have long purchased bottled water to drink, Galen believed that he could not only make a profit selling water to less affluent people in three African countries, he also saw the potential to accelerate growth by giving more economic opportunities to people.

Jibu

Jibu

Jibu operates with a franchise model, unlike almost any other. With just about five percent down, Jibu will finance a franchise for a would-be entrepreneur. The total cost of a franchise is about $25,000, but franchisees put down only $1,000 to $1,500 to acquire a store and pay the rest back via volume-based assessments.

Jibu recovers the balance in about three years in Uganda and Kenya but notes that economics in Rwanda allow the company to recover the balance in the first year.

Ron Mugisha is a franchisee in Kampala, Uganda. He says he is happy with the deal. He reports that he is earning more now as a franchisee than he was before. He is excited to earn even more, both by increasing revenue at his current store and by adding new stores.

Franchisee, Ron Mugisha

Franchisee, Ron Mugisha

Ron has already opened a few “micro-franchises.” While Ron, like all of the 20 or so franchisees, operates an actual water filtration system that produces up to 20,000 liters per day, the micro-franchisees are employees of a franchisee and are typically hoping to learn the ropes so they can open their own franchise store. A few micro-franchisees, including one of Ron’s, are simply agents content to represent the company in a small, strategic location where bottled water is stocked but not produced.

The franchisee’s operations aren’t quite as challenging as you might expect, operating a small-scale bottling plant. The water filtration system, developed by a partner in Colorado, is maintained by corporate; the franchisees just need to bottle water and sell it. In fact, to simplify the franchise structure, the company maintains ownership of the equipment, even after the franchisee has paid off the initial financing.

The Jibu strategy is to serve the middle 70 percent of the market, essentially ceding the relatively small market of affluent customers to legacy bottled-water providers and competing instead for the largest part of the market, those who are typically boiling their water. Because boiling isn’t free and isn’t completely effective–you can’t remove some contaminants by boiling–most people in the three countries served can afford Jibu bottled water.

Jeff Miller and Galen Welsch

Jeff Miller and Galen Welsch

The poorest people, those who can’t afford to pay for water at almost any price, comprise about 20 percent of the population. Jibu doesn’t ignore them entirely, instead, Galen has helped to create “water clubs” for people who are referred to a franchisee. After some modest screening, these customers are given an opportunity to buy filtered water at 90 percent off the list price. While these customers are not profitable, it provides a model for helping rather than ignforing the poorest people in the markets Jibu serves.

Jibu has already raised over $5 million and is working on another round of financing to allow the company to keep growing quickly. Santa Clara University’s Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship estimates that the number of customers reached by Jibu over the past 30 months has grown by more than tenfold to about 250,000. Galen represented Jibu at the Center’s Global Social Benefit Institute accelerator program in 2014.

The total population of the three countries Jibu serves approaches 100 million people, providing ample opportunity for growth.

The company’s social and environmental goals–and progress toward achieving them–has allowed the company to raise millions in the form of grants. The company hopes to quickly scale to 1,000 franchises, employing 8,000 people, including 5,000 women and youth (for whom the unemployment rate is stratospheric). By encouraging customers not to boil water, Jibu hopes to prevent the emission of 300 tons of CO2.

This looks like one to watch.

This week, I’m traveling in Africa as a guest of Santa Clara University’s Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship’s Executive Director Thane Kreiner and namesakes Karen and Jeff Miller. Read all my reports.

#17africa

Inspired By His Sister, This Man Seeks Maximum Impact From Sanitary Pads

Richard Bbaale was upset that his younger sister could not attend school during her monthly period so he decided to do something about it. After pondering the situation through completing his MBA at Uganda Martyrs University, he launched Bana, a nonprofit social venture to make and sell affordable pads to keep girls in school.

Richard wasn’t content to sell affordable pads to keep girls in school, however. He wanted to use the pads to empower women in every way possible.

Richard Bbaale, outside Bana plant

Richard Bbaale, outside Bana plant

Starting with highly absorbent banana tree fibers, he conceived of an environmentally friendly pad that would be completely biodegradable, especially in Uganda’s ubiquitous pit toilets. Traditionally, the banana tree trunks are simply discarded.

He also wanted to create a distribution channel that would empower women so he’s created an Avon-like sales force of “Champions” who sell the pads to their friends and neighbors. The five-year-old s company is changing the lives of these women in dramatic ways.

All this was not enough for Richard. He recognized that women could help him with the supply of banana tree fibers. He hires groups of women in villages to harvest the banana tree trunks, break them down and pound them to release the fibers. They then dry them in the sun and sell them to Bana. Most women work part time for about $15 per month, but some work nearly full time and earn about $45.

Richard says he’s about to provide the women with equipment that will do much of the hard work of preparing the fiber, allowing them to more than double their production—and their potential incomes. This could allow women who have traditionally earned less than $1 per day to earn $3 or $5 per day.

Most of the employees in the production facility are also women. He’s making every effort to see the production and distribution of the pads change the world for as many women as possible.

To that end, Richard has established a community health clinic that provides a variety of basic health care functions, including labor and delivery, HIV and STD screening, and immunizations. The clinic also provides health education, helping women to understand their reproductive options.

Richard is excited. He is prepared to scale up the production substantially with an infusion of capital. One donor has committed about $750,000 subject to finding another to match that. The capital would principally be used to “industrialize” the production processes in the plant.

Richard introduced us to three of the women who provide Bana with banana fibers.

Maria Nantubwe is a young-looking grandmother who is a painful reminder of the childhood mortality statistics in Uganda, having lost two of her three children. Today, she makes two kinds of soap to sell to her neighbors and occasionally weaves baskets to sell as well. She also works in the garden, growing food for her family. He devotes about six hours per day pounding banana tree stalks into fibers for Bana. She says, “It is hard work but you get used to it.” She says she likes the work because she gets paid immediately when she delivers a 70-kilo bag of fiber and can produce three per month.

Maria Nantubwe prepares banana fiber

Maria Nantubwe prepares banana fiber

Richard  also introduced us to three of the more successful “champions.”

Grace Nalubowa is a 21-year-old mother of one daughter who has been selling Banapads since she was 16 years old. She learned enough about retail sales that she has opened a small retail shop on her family’s property and says she now generates a profit approaching $100 per month.

Grace Nalubowa with daughter

Grace Nalubowa with daughter

Fausta Cibe is a mother of six who sports dyed bright red hair. She too sells other products along with the pads. She sells cosmetics along with the pads to her young women customers. She sells some of the pads to women who resell them, agents who help her increase her volume. Asked how the business changes her life, she says with a cheeky grin, “I feed [my family] well and I look beautiful, as you can see.”

Fausta Cibe, a successful "Champion"

Fausta Cibe, a successful “Champion”

Sylvia Naluyage has been selling for Bana since the company was launched in 2012 and was involved even before that. We visited with her outside of her big new home, about twice the size of the small home where she used to live across the street with her ten children. She practiced her pitch for us, explaining how she always involves a wife’s husband in the sales pitch. She takes credit for the initial sales but notes that the product itself if responsible for resales. Like Fausta, she has built a small network of women from other neighborhoods who act as agents for her.

Sylvia Naluyage, former home left, new home right

Sylvia Naluyage, former home left, new home right

This week, I’m traveling in Africa as a guest of Santa Clara University’s Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship’s Executive Director Thane Kreiner and namesakes Karen and Jeff Miller. Read all my reports.

#17africa

Impact Measurement Poses Challenge For Social Entrepreneurs And Impact Investors Alike

One of the greatest challenges for social entrepreneurs is how to measure and report impact. For help, I asked Thane Kreiner, PhD, executive director of the Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship at Santa Clara University, a leading expert on social impact.

This week, as a guest of the University, I will be traveling with Thane to Uganda, Rwanda and Kenya, visiting some of the social entrepreneurs who have completed the Center’s Global Social Benefit Institute social entrepreneurship accelerator program.

Thane Kreiner, courtesy of Santa Clara University

Thane Kreiner, courtesy of Santa Clara University

Here are the questions I put to Thane and his responses.

Impact investors are becoming increasingly sophisticated about measuring impact. What impact measures should social entrepreneurs be prepared to deliver from day 1?

It depends on the sector, impact model, and temporal relation between outputs of the social enterprise and impact. In some sectors, impact is much easier to measure than in others because the impact or outcomes are directly or independently caused by outputs. Conversely, when the time between output and impact is long (e.g., years or decades), impact measurement may not be possible at all, much less in a day. Impact measurement can be costly, particularly when many factors in addition to the output of the social enterprise contribute to the impact or when there is temporal separation between output and impact.

What impact standards should social entrepreneurs use to frame their impact reports?

Social entrepreneurs in almost all sectors should report the number of lives impacted; in doing so, they should explain the theory of change (or logical framework) and provide qualitative examples of what each life impacted means in humanistic terms. Number of jobs or livelihoods created is also an impact reporting standard. Most other impact measures vary by sector or other factors related to the specific form of the impact. For social enterprises serving the poor, economic impact, whether increased income, decreased expenses, or reduction of productivity is a useful measure.

While measuring impact should have the effect of improving impact, how does a social entrepreneur avoid burdening the effort with bureaucracy that stifles impact or thwarts economic success?

Clear communication among stakeholders is essential when defining the impact model, impact metrics, and impact measurement and evaluation process. Impact investors who demand impact measurement should be prepared to fund it. Social entrepreneurs should be realistic about what can be measured quantitatively (“not everything that counts can be counted” – attributed to Albert Einstein, perhaps erroneously) and what cannot. They should also be cautious about attribution error, as many people and communities served by one social enterprise are served by other means.

More about the Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship:

Twitter: @MillerSocent

Founded in 1997, Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship is one of three Centers of Distinction at Santa Clara University. The centers embody the University’s mission to unite students and faculty with Silicon Valley leaders to address significant public issues. Miller Center accelerates global, innovation-based entrepreneurship in service to humanity.

Thane’s bio:

Twitter: @ThaneKreiner

Thane Kreiner, PhD, is Executive Director of the Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship at Santa Clara University. Thane was previously Founder, President, and CEO of PhyloTech, Inc. (now Second Genome), which conducts comprehensive microbial community analysis for human health applications. He was Founder, President, and CEO of Presage Biosciences, Inc., a Seattle-based company dedicated to bringing better cancer drugs to market. Thane was the start-up President and CEO for iZumi Bio, Inc. (now iPierian), a regenerative medicine venture based on the break-through iPSc (induced pluripotent stem cell) technology. Prior to his efforts as a “parallel entrepreneur”, Thane spent 14 years in various senior leadership roles at Affymetrix, Inc., which pioneered the DNA chip industry. Thane currently serves on the Board of Directors for the BioBricks Foundation and as a Board member for Didimi, Inc.. Thane earned his MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business; his Ph.D. in Neurosciences from Stanford University School of Medicine; and his B.S. in Chemistry from the University of Texas, Austin.

This week, I’m traveling in Africa as a guest of Santa Clara University’s Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship’s Executive Director Thane Kreiner and namesakes Karen and Jeff Miller. Read all my reports.

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

#17africa

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.

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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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