Devin Thorpe, founder of the Your Mark on the World Center, calls himself a champion of social good. He writes about, advocates for and advises those who are doing good. He travels extensively to share his message as a keynote speaker, emcee and trainer. As a Forbes Contributor he covers social entrepreneurship and impact investing. His books on personal finance and crowdfunding draw on his entrepreneurial finance experience as an investment banker, CFO, treasurer, and mortgage broker helping people use financial resources to do good. Previously he worked on the U.S. Senate Banking committee staff and earned an MBA at Cornell.


Site Menu

Find me on...

Posts I like

More liked posts

Women Investing In Women

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

Just today, Forbes ran a piece documenting the abysmal share of venture capital allocated to women. The Calvert Foundation is working actively to change that dynamic with its “WIN-WIN” or Women Investing in Women Initiatives program, which has invested over $20 million in women.

The investments vary from micro loans to women entrepreneurs to million dollar loans to nonprofits that support women and families. Most of the money, about 80 percent, has been invested here in the U.S., with the balance being scattered around the world.


Jennifer Pryce

On March 26, 2014 at 4:00 Eastern, Jennifer Pryce, the President and CEO of the Calvert Foundation will join me to talk about this innovative program and the impact it is having.

Tune in then and listen while you work.

Pryce’s bio:

Jennifer Pryce is President and CEO of Calvert Foundation. Ms. Pryce brings nearly 20 years of finance and community development experience to her role. She previously served as Calvert Foundation’s U.S. Portfolio Manager and VP of Strategic Initiatives before being appointed Chief Strategy Officer. In that role Ms. Pryce led the launch of the WIN-WIN, the only gender-lens impact investment available to U.S. retail investors. Prior to Calvert Foundation, she worked with Nonprofit Finance Fund, Neuberger & Berman, and Morgan Stanley MS +0.22%’s London office in the Investment Banking division. Ms. Pryce received a BS in Mechanical Engineering from Union College and a MBA from Columbia University.


YouNoodle Powers The Tech Awards For 2014

The Tech Museum in Silicon Valley recognizes innovators who are making an impact in the world at its annual , now in its 14th year.

For 2014, YouNoodle is helping to drive the program to get more nominations. YouNoodle is mentoring a pool of early applicants already, but it’s not too late to apply. Applications are now open through May 6, 2014.


Torsen Kolind, CEO of YouNoodle

On March 26, 2014 at 7:00 Eastern, I’ll be joined by David Whitman, Vice President and Executive Producer of the Tech Awards, and Torsten Kolind, Co-Founder and CEO of YouNoodle, to talk about The Tech Awards and the application process.

Tune in and listen while you work:

David’s bio:

Often called a “modern Renaissance man,” David Whitman oversees The Tech Awards: Technology Benefiting Humanity—the global signature program of The Tech Museum of Innovation in Silicon Valley. He came to The Tech in 2008, from the East Coast, to coordinate its mega-exhibition on Leonardo da Vinci in collaboration with the Uffizi Gallery and other cultural institutions in Florence. For many years, he managed Hertz Concert Hall at his alma mater, U.C. Berkeley, working with some of the greatest performing artists of our time. Outside The Tech, he is an art collector, writer, and photographer whose work has appeared in more than 100 publications and exhibitions. Whitman has traveled adventurously, most often in the tropics, and has called many diverse places home, including California, Florida, Belgium, Brazil, and the West Indies. He enjoys reading fiction, studying foreign languages and, most of all, exploring the coastal wildlands of California with his basenji.

Torsten’s bio:

Former CEO of Venture Cup in Denmark, Torsten has built web products since he started his first company at age 16. Has judged competitions at Stanford, MIT and Imperial. Loves algorithmic challenges and is an avid musician.

KriticalMass Seeks To Reinvent Crowdfunding For Good

KriticalMass is more than a platform for raising money; it is a platform for gathering support in the form of money, volunteers and promotion.

On March 26, 2014 at 2:00 Eastern, Bartolomeo “Barto” Guarienti will join me for a live discussion about the innovative new site.

Tune in then and listen while you work.

(Note: if you have trouble with this player, click here to watch on Google+.)

Barto’s bio:

Having piqued his entrepreneurial interest early on at a personalisation startup, Barto honed his skills through venture capital in digital media and cleantech. Not satisfied with the current paths to entrepreneurship, the idea for kriticalmass came to him late one night. Pursuing his goal to set up a startup at the intersection of social media and social responsibility - his two big passions - a new take on crowdfunding was born. Barto now shares his drive to excel with the kriticalmass community, constantly reiterating his dictum “If you want to do well, you need to do good.”

Barto enjoys complaining about food in London, often confuses himself with his own wild ideas and firmly believes that had he gone to university in the States, he would now be an MLS superstar.

Change through Conversation

This is a guest post from Blake Ian, the CEO & Co-Founder of Tawkers, a new app for public text conversation.


I’ve been to countless panels, summits, fundraisers and conventions around the country and they all share more or less the same mission statement: create change through conversation. Their formulas are fairly consistent as well: get a bunch of important people in a room and put a couple really important people on the stage to have an inspired discussion that raises awareness about a cause and spurs donation, action and eventually, change.


The most recent of these conferences was here in New York and featured entrepreneurs, philanthropists and heads of state from all over the world. The theme? Global warming. I couldn’t help but note the irony as I looked around and realized half the attendees had flown into town on jets and were driven in cars to the venue. Not to mention, we were greeted every morning with tables full of plastic water bottles.

Creating change through conversation is an exciting concept, but the current execution can fall a bit short of its potential. It’s time to open up these conversations to the world and invite the input of the 99.9% of people who will never attend one of these events. It’s time for a platform that digitizes this experience and globalizes its participation.


Tawkers is my latest experiment towards this end, and we’re already starting to see the many ripples caused by its conversational current. Tawkers is an app that lets people broadcast their text conversations. Anyone in the world can tune in to read or ask questions. These “Tawks” are free, they’re open to the public, and they’re making a difference. Instead of two people getting up on stage in a Marriott meeting room, they’re texting each other from their couches, sometimes on different continents. Instead of an audience of one hundred, they’re reaching people in the hundreds of thousands.


Our goal has been to build a digital venue, a home for conversation, a platform for change. Imagine Richard Branson & Al Gore tawking about climate change, or George Clooney & Angelina Jolie tawking about the African refugee crisis. Might those be text conversations you’d tune in for? These conversations do happen, but they’re happening privately over email and text, or in person at great expense and effort to the host organization. Tawkers is helping to lift the limitations off that experience in order to educate and inspire the masses and spur action on a global scale.


Tawkers is already being used to raise awareness around a range of issues:

NGO leaders are raising funds for Ugandan orphanages:

Activists are educating us about toxic spills:

Inmates are discussing entrepreneurship programs in prison:

On Tawkers, anyone can lead one of these discussions, the privilege isn’t limited to the one percent. Do you have something to say? A cause to champion? A movement to start? Grab a co-conspirator and step up to the digital stage, because the world is eager to hear what you have to say!

The Corporate Idealist

This is a guest post by Christine Bader, author of The Evolution of a Corporate Idealist: When Girl Meets Oil (bibliomotion books + media; March 25, 2014).

Christine Bader

I joined BP in 1999 as a summer intern between the two years of my MBA. I was young, idealistic, and convinced that working in business was the way to make my mark on the world.

At the time, then-CEO John Browne had recently broken ranks with his industry to become the first head of a major energy company to acknowledge the reality of climate change and urge action. This was a different kind of oilman who seemed to be creating a different kind of oil company.

I fell in love with that BP. And BP loved me back, giving me the opportunity to live in Indonesia, working on the social issues around a remote gas field; then China, ensuring worker and community safety for a chemicals joint venture; then in the United Kingdom again, collaborating with colleagues around the world to better understand and support human rights. BP was paying me to help the people living around its projects, because that in turn would help its business.

Then BP broke my heart, with a string of horrible accidents that culminated in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster.

By then I had left the company to serve as an advisor to the United Nations special representative on business and human rights, and was looking back on my time with BP with nostalgia. But the disaster in the Gulf made me wonder whether my nine-year relationship with the company — during which I came to believe that the interests of business and the interests of society were well-aligned — was nothing but a sham.

Trying to reconcile the public profile of BP that emerged in the aftermath of that disaster with the BP I thought I knew so well, I interviewed many of the people I’ve gotten to know over the years pushing for safer and more responsible practices from inside the world’s biggest and best-known companies.

In my new book, I share the stories and reflections of this global army of Corporate Idealists, who believe in the positive potential of business, but also know the serious risks to people and planet.

These Corporate Idealists are trying to prevent the next Rana Plaza factory collapse, the next Deepwater Horizon disaster. Sometimes, obviously, we fail.

The Corporate Idealist community sees both the challenges and the potential of big business. We realize that we can’t save the world—we can’t even save every finger and toe. We can expound upon but not fully explain the disasters of our companies and industries, which is deeply unsatisfying to those who want simple answers and assurances. But we can nudge our companies toward a vision of a better future, one in which “responsible business” and “fair trade” are redundant, not novelties or oxymorons.

Are you a Corporate Idealist?

You can see more of Christine’s writing and talks at, and follow her on Twitter @christinebader.

A Polio Life Becomes Fiction

Despite the fact I had polio, or perhaps because of it, I work out at World Gym about five times a week.I often gaze at parents who bring their little kids in for daycare , and think how different things would have been years ago.


It would be completely ghastly and unimaginable for these young, peppy mothers to imagine their kids not in ballet or soccer practice, but instead in heavy, clunky braces and framed in awkward crutches from polio.

In that other generation, mothers knew their children’s innocent years may be lost, and their future as adults limited, at best.


And grimly, they knew it had been their responsibility to protect their kids. And, somehow, they failed.

I mention this because all this came to mind when I gave the eulogy at my mother Iris’ funeral years ago. I realized how the polio mothers were very much victims of the disease, and rarely are even acknowledged for their lifelong devotion.


So I wrote a memoir of her silent commitment, and it was published from Palm Springs (I live nearby) to Los Angeles to Peoria (where I had my therapy) to Paris (where I once worked) to Taipei. Based on the overwhelming emotional response I received, I wrote a novella, TOO EARLY FOR FLOWERS: THE STORY OF A POLIO MOTHER.


It had to be fiction, because my mother would never talk about the immediate years after I got polio at the age of two. There was no Oprah nor Facebook for support. Her self-taught strength came from within.

In writing the biopic, I continually envisioned it as a movie, something like I REMEMBER MAMA and THE THORNBIRDS saga.

The young actress Ksenia Solo read the work after I approached her. I had seen her in ‘The Black Swan’ and in her SyFy series, ‘Lost Girl’ and was moved by her beauty, sensitivity and fragility, yet somehow infused with a hint of grit and fearlessness.


She wrote me that as a young woman she had no knowledge of the million dead mothers and their selfless quest, and she also saw the film potential for polio awareness : A way to tell the world through entertainment about those noble, unsung heroines, and the courage of the little victims.

She will produce ‘TOO EARLY FOR FLOWERS' and star as Iris.

Actress Ksenia Solo: Polio eradication advocate to support the cause with a film 

Also, she has become an advocate herself, and has written and spoken about polio several times to her important world-wide fan base, putting a young face to an old disease:

To the Women Who Fight Polio: You Are My Heroes

You see, my ebook is not just about the fact that Mom devoted her early life to my exercises. It was through daily encouragement, where optimism had to balance with pragmatism. She told me that the whole world is out there waiting for me, that God chooses only the bravest boys to suffer so much, and that my future is unlimited because He would always look out for me.

So I lost my braces, and after college graduation headed out, to the furthest place I could from Streator, Illinois: Sydney Australia. And then I traveled the world several times over for years.

Eventually, word came that Mom had a stroke, and she called out to me. She had been widowed twice over, and I was her oldest surviving son. It was no duty: It was a privilege.

So I returned to her, and helped her exercise and gave her words of encouragement, and told her of the world she could never see because of her devotion to me.

Life came full circle for us both.

Tragedy can inspire triumph, and Ksenia and I want to tell the world.


Donating Online Shouldn’t Be That Hard

This is a guest post from Steve Kirsch, Founder and CEO, oneID

Over the years, I’ve been fortunate enough to give size-able donations to political and charitable causes. And, because of that, I regularly get email requests to make donations to great causes I believe in and want to support.

But I don’t most of the time. Like most everybody else, my life can behectic and I don’t generally have time to stop what I’m doing to fill out all the “paperwork” necessary to make the donation. So, more often than not, I skipped it in the moment. And,often times,I forgot about it completely. But, that bugged me. I knew there had to be a way to overcome this and make it easier for people on-the-go to give.

Steve Kirsch

As someone who lives and breathes technology, I have seen the mind-boggling progress it has made to make our lives easier and more convenient. But I did not understand why most nonprofits still make me complete a form to give them money.

I’m kind of like a dog with a bone, once I start gnawing on something—in this case an idea—I don’t let it go. I wanted to know why nonprofits don’t take advantage of online giving. I wanted to know what was preventing them from making it simple for me (and others) to give. Here’s what I learned:

  • Most organizations don’t save donor payment information because they can’t or don’t know how to save it securely. This make sense to me as I know they’re in the business of helping others, not secure data storage.They’d also need to be PCI compliant and that is a complex and expensive process (I know since oneIDis PCI compliant). Not exactly something most nonprofits would want to do. 
  • The majority of giving isn’t online. Right now, only 7-10% of all donations happen online. So, it makes sense that nonprofits are focused on offline giving and not as focused on improving their giving technology. (I think this is a cyclical issue, if they don’t focus there, they won’t increase that number.)
  • And even if they have a decent online experience, it generally doesn’t extend to the mobile experience where up to 50% of all email is read.

So, what conclusion did I come to? Organizations aren’t making it as easy as they could for the more tech-savvy to give.

Being a problem solver, and having recently developed oneID technology that makes it secure and easy for people to share their personal information, I realized that I could make more of a difference than just giving dollars…I could use oneID to help nonprofits significantly grow online donations.

That was just a few months ago. So where are we now? We recently rolled out QuickDonate—an online donations solution that enables 1-click donations across all devices.

Nonprofits can integrate it easily by plugging into existing platforms, payment processors, and CRM solutions. Just a line of code or so and they’re up and running.

Early roll outs are showing remarkable results, with nearly 70 percent opt-in rates. We are just getting started, and I’m keen to get it rolled out so nonprofits across the country can start to significantly increase their donations.

Brands For The People Brands Do Gooders

Brands for the People is a branding agency for social entrepreneurs launched by branding expert Andrea Shillington.

On March 21, 2014 at 5:00 Eastern, Andrea will join me for a live discussion about her firm’s efforts to help the helpers.

Andrea Shillington

Tune in here then to watch the interview live.

Andrea’s bio:

Andrea gave up the corporate world to pursue her passion to help Do Good startups become world famous brands. Before creating Brands for the People, Andrea was a brand consultant for several years in the Middle East, Europe and North America. She worked on a wide variety of projects ranging from rebranding the UAE’s federal governments to re-branding hospitality groups.

After returning home to Vancouver, Andrea re-discovered the startup community and wanted to find a way to make strategic branding affordable. Going much deeper than logo design, Brands for the People was born to help startup businesses with a vision to change the world. Brands for the People is the world’s first online branding agency serving big-hearted entrepreneurs with world changing ideas all over the world.

MFX Solutions Helps Microlenders Hedge Currency Risk

Microfinance lenders financing loans in the developed world and lending in the developing world create tremendous currency risk for themselves as they scale.

MFX Solutions is a mission-driven business focused on identifying and managing the peculiar risks associated with microfinance companies. 

Brian Cox

On Friday, March 21, 2014 at 3:00 Eastern, Brian Cox, CEO of MFX Solutions will join me for a live discussion about the way his firm is shaping the microfinance world to enable more effective lending to the poor.

Tune in here then to watch the interview live.

Brian’s bio:

Prior to starting MFX, Brian ran the Europe and Eurasia Division at the U.S. Treasury Department and oversaw a $70 million fund supporting bank-based microfinance in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. He also served as Executive Vice President of the US-Russia Business Council, as a consultant to microfinance investors, and as an analyst in a venture capital firm. As an entrepreneur, he started a company building houses in Eastern Europe and Africa. Brian has a BA and MBA both from Stanford University. Brian is fluent in French with basic Spanish and Russian.

Celebrate World Water Day On 3/22 With Some New Shoes

Freewaters is a social venture investing in clear water and preserving the environment by selling eco-friendly shoes.

On March 21, 2014, Freewaters CEO Eli Marmar will join me to talk about the innovative effort to provide clean water to more people for generations to come.

Tune in here then live then to watch the interview.

Eli’s bio:

After graduating from the Art Center College of Design’s prestigious Industrial Design program in 2000, Eli spent the next eight years pushing the limits of wetsuit design as Senior Designer for O’Neill in Santa Cruz, CA. In 2010 he co-founded Freewaters and is responsible for all branding and marketing. Freewaters is based in Laguna Hills, CA and Eli currently lives nearby in the mellow beach community of Encinitas.

RBC Wealth Management CEO Explains Firm’s $46 Million Commitment To Water

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

In recognition of World Water Day, Saturday, March 22, 2014, I’ll be visiting here live with John Taft, the CEO of RBC Wealth Management-US, about RBC’s Blue Water Project. Through the project, RBC has committed almost $46 million to improve access to clean drinking water and to fund related research at universities.

The Blue Water Project has committed $38 million to 650 charitable organization working to preserve watersheds and improve access to clean drinking water. Another $7.8 million has been committed to universities.

Water is increasingly having impact on business as demands for water increase along with global populations. RBC has indicated a desire to play a role in developing sustainable water policies.


John Taft, RBC

On Friday, March 21, 2014 at 1:00 Eastern, Taft will join me here for a live discussion of about RBC’s efforts with regard to water.

Mark your calendar to tune in here then and listen while you work.

Taft’s bio:

RBC Wealth Management ¬ U.S. John is CEO of RBC Wealth Management, the seventh largest full-service retail brokerage firm in the U.S. He has worked in the financial services industry since 1981. He has been active in the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association (SIFMA) where he served as chairman-elect in 2010 and chairman in 2011. He has published articles in The New York Times, Harvard Business Review, Business Insider, and Forbes, and authored ³Stewardship: Lessons Learned from the Lost Culture of Wall Street² (John Wiley & Sons 2012). As a LinkedIn LNKD +2.07% influencer, John is among the prestigious invitation-only group of industry leaders who provide ongoing thought leadership blogs. He graduated magna cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa from Yale University and earned an M.A. in public and private management from the Yale School of Organization and Management.


World Housing Gives Away Houses Like Tom’s Gives Away Shoes

Inspired by Tom’s Shoes, World Housing claims to have created the world’s first one-for-one housing program. While developing condos in North America, the company is donating housing to deserving families in developing companies.

By focusing on communities surviving in and around garbage dumps, World Housing is addressing the needs of the poorest of the poor. Working through carefully vetted NGOs, World Housing says it ensures that recipients get quality housing and that they employ local workers. The NGOs work to carefully choose families for housing that will serve as role models in their communities.


On Friday, March 21 at noon Eastern, Peter Dupuis, founder and CEO of World Housing will join me for a live discussion about the program.

Tune in here then and listen while you work:

About the World Housing Founders:

Peter Dupuis and his World Housing Co-Founder Sid Landolt have been business partners since 1982. They have earned a reputation as innovators and industry leaders in the design, marketing and sale of resort and luxury real estate. After a chance encounter on a flight between L.A. and Vancouver with TOMS Founder Blake Mycoskie, Peter and Sid began exploring the concept of one-for-one gifting and social entrepreneurship. World Housing is the result of that work, the world’s first one-for-one real estate gifting model.

$100 For Your Charity and $100 For You! Enter to win!

Would you like $100 for your favorite charity and $100 to keep? The Your Mark on the World Center is running a contest to build our audience so you can enter to win multiple times by “joining the cavalry,” following us on Twitter and Facebook.  

If you work for or otherwise support a nonprofit organization in the U.S., please share this post with your friends and other supporters of your charity to encourage more people to sign up who’ll choose to support your organization.

The winner will also receive a copy of my book Your Mark on the World. Another three copies of the book will also be given to runners up in the raffle.

Enter here.


Love UT Give UT Coming March 20, 2014

The Community Foundation of Utah is ready for the second annual Love UT Give UT giving day. After raising over $800,000 in 2013 and hopes to raise much more in 2014.

Throughout the entire day, we’ll be streaming a live show from Gallivan Center to celebrate and promote Love UT Give UT. We’ll have professional broadcasters for hosts throughout the day. I’ll be “producing” the show.

We’ll have nonprofit leaders and dignitaries join us throughout the day. Here’s the schedule:

  • 8:00 AM Community Foundation of Utah
  • 8:10 AM Utah Nonprofits Association
  • 8:20 AM The Sharing Place
  • 8:30 AM Community Foundation of Utah
  • 8:40 AM Senior Charity Care Foundation
  • 9:00 AM Noble Horse Sanctuary
  • 9:10 AM Repertory Dance Theater
  • 9:30 AM Girls Scouts of Utah
  • 9:40 AM Tracy Aviary
  • 9:50 AM Head Start
  • 10:00 AM Wasatch Gardens
  • 10:10 AM Pygmalion Theater and YWCA
  • 10:20 AM Turn Community Services
  • 10:30 AM American Cancer Society
  • 10:40 AM Weber State University
  • 11:00 AM Utah Assistive Technologies Program
  • 11:10 AM Utah Faces
  • 11:20 AM Cottonwood Heights
  • 11:40 AM Utah Youth Village
  • 12:00 PM Salt Lake Arts Academy
  • 12:10 PM National MS Society
  • 12:20 PM HEAL Utah
  • 12:30 PM UNA Southern Utah
  • 12:40 PM 12:50 PM
  • 1:00 PM Scott Chapman, Chapman Richards
  • 1:10 PM American Childhood Cancer Organization
  • 1:20 PM Utah Support Advocates for Recovery Awareness
  • 1:30 PM Salt Lake Bicycle Collective
  • 2:00 PM Ogden
  • 2:10 PM Weber Pathways
  • 2:20 PM Utah Animal Adoption Center
  • 2:40 PM Mayor Becker’s Office
  • 3:00 PM Epilepsy Alliance
  • 3:10 PM Mayor McAdams
  • 3:20 PM St.George
  • 3:30 PM Westminster College
  • 3:40 PM St. George guest TBD
  • 4:00 PM Ogden Nature Center
  • 4:30 PM Plan-B Theater Company
  • 4:50 PM Boys and Girls Club of Salt Lake
  • 5:00 PM St. George guest TBD
  • 5:30 PM Beacon After School Program
  • 5:50 PM Community Foundation of Utah

Watch at

The Secret To Polio Eradication In India

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

On March 26, 2014, the World Health Organization (WHO) is expected to certify India as a polio free country, marking more than three years since the last case of polio there. While visiting India for this story as a guest of Rotary International, I stumbled upon a surprising secret—more about that later.

It is virtually impossible to convey the magnitude of the eradication of polio from India. Deepak Kapur, a business leader in New Delhi who has chaired Rotary’s National PolioPlus Committee in India since 2001, explained the challenges to me during my recent visit. He identified six major challenges that the country faced:

  1. Population: The biggest challenge is the sheer scale of the project, needing to vaccinate 172 million children twice each year. Note that there are only seven countries with a total population greater than 172 million on the planet.
  2. Population Density: On one immunization visit, Kapur noted 107 people living within a 30 square yard plot of land in shanties, literally taking sleeping shifts around the clock.
  3. Insanitary Conditions: You can see refuse flowing in open sewers and otherwise abysmal sanitation conditions in many Indian communities, especially in Utter Pradesh and Bihar.
  4. Impure Drinking Water: Many people in India still lack access to clean drinking water; they may be drawing water from shallow wells in places with no sewer system such that there is a constant intermingling of sewage and drinking water.
  5. Malnourishment: Malnourished children don’t seem to get the same immunity from the vaccine that healthy children get. In the developed world, children receive three doses of the vaccine and gain immunity. Some Indian children have been infected with the virus after 18 documented doses.
  6. Enteric diseases: Several communities in India have the highest incidence of enteric diseases in the world, meaning that the kids who received an oral dose of vaccine wouldn’t gain immunity due to diarrhea—the vaccine simply didn’t stay in the body long enough to do any good.

Deepak Kapur, a business leader in New Delhi

Without seeing, smelling and hearing these problems in person it is difficult to get a complete sense of the challenges. Having been there, I can tell you that only having it done makes it seem possible.

(The story continues after the infographic.)

Courtesy of

The Secret:

Sajjan Goenka, an entrepreneur and philanthropist in Mumbai who has been a member of Rotary since 1968 was the first person I interviewed in India for this story; he shared the surprising secret with me. He shocked me when he said, “We didn’t believe we could do it. I didn’t believe we could do it.” Kapur agreed, offering up the same observation after he enumerated all of the challenges to eradicating polio.

I expected bravado and chest thumping. I expected to hear that “we always knew we could do it.” In fact, a group of naïve, well-intentioned people got together and thought even though it would probably be impossible, it was important enough to try.

And so it—the eradication of polio from India—is done. In the 1980s, there were approximately 350,000 cases of polio every year worldwide, 150,000 in India. In 2013 there were just 403 cases of polio worldwide, none in India, according to a WHO report.

Goenka was the first to help me understand the early history of the fight against polio. In those early days in the 1980s, he explained, Rotary was virtually alone in the effort. He explained that the government was not investing in polio vaccines so Rotary funded and administered the first vaccination campaigns alone.

Sajjan Goenka, Rotary member, entrepreneur, philanthropist

Over the years, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the WHO, UNICEF and the Indian Government all got involved. More recently, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) has added more than $1.5 billion to the fight in an effort to ensure that having come so far, the virus is finally defeated.

The Vaccine:

Dr. Sunil Bahl, Deputy Project Manager, National Polio Surveillance Project (NPSP), a joint project between the Indian Government and WHO, explained some of the technical challenges of the polio vaccine. There are—or were—three strains of Polio, commonly called P1, P2 and P3. For more than a generation, a “trivalent” vaccine that inoculated against all three strains was used.

Dr. Sunil Bahl, Deputy Project Manager, National Polio Surveillance Project

In India, however, it was learned through the NPSP surveillance that the trivalent vaccine was not especially effective. Children weren’t gaining immunity. The last case in the world of P2 was reported in 1999, so thereafter it was no longer necessary to immunize against it. So, in 2005, the country began using “monovalent” vaccines that inoculated against just one strain. The results were immediately apparent. When the P1 vaccine was used, cases of P1 dropped significantly, but cases of P3 would rise.

A “bivalent” vaccine had not been developed or used prior to that point. The bivalent vaccine was developed in 2009 and it is now used around the world. Its efficacy is comparable to the monovalent vaccines—much better than the trivalent vaccine—and it covers the last two strains.

Dr. Jay Wenger, a Director of Global Development at the BMFG who previously worked with Dr. Bahl, explained that the last reported case of P3 occurred just over one year ago. Only P1 appears to be surviving today.

Government of India:

Everyone I spoke with was quick to give the ultimate credit for success in India to the Indian Government. When I met with Anaradha Gupta, An Additional Secretary in the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare who serves as the Mission Director of the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM), leading the polio fight for the Indian Government, I was impressed that I had found the person responsible for finally snuffing the life out of polio in India.

Anaradha Gupta, An Additional Secretary in the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare

Gupta earned an MBA in Australia and has done executive education at both Stanford and Harvard. It showed. She spoke the language of an MBA, focused on process and outcomes. When she took office in 2009, India had 741 cases of polio. In 2010, there were just 42 cases, with the last case of polio in India reported in January 2011.

She explained that early in her tenure, she faced a difficult decision. The World Bank was prepared to provide funding for vaccines in 2010. The loan would come with strings attached. One of the strings was that vaccines were to be purchased from WHO prequalified manufacturers, who were not yet prepared to produce the vaccine at the scale required for India. Gupta decided to source the vaccine locally in India from high-quality, but non-WHO-prequalified who met India’s “Good Manufacturing Practices.” The impact of that decision is evident in the dramatic decline in cases from 2009 to 2010 and 2011. “We saw amazing results,” she exclaimed.

The other key, she says, was the programmatic effort to ensure that every single child was immunized. The goal was to reach every single child. Her data indicates that they in fact reached 99.7 percent of the children under five in the country. “We started to get data of every household that was missed,” she explained.

National Immunization Days:

The government organizes, with help from Rotary, WHO, and UNICEF, two National Immunization Days (NIDs) each year. On these days, all 172 million children are immunized. Volunteers from Rotary work side-by-side with health care workers to stand up immunization booths in every community in the country. In the days leading up to the event, all sorts of promotion is done.

Scott Leckman, a cancer surgeon from the Salt Lake Rotary Club (my club) has been visiting India every year for the past five years to help with the NIDs. He noted that on the day before the NID, he works with local Rotary clubs to distribute flyers around the community to alert people to the place and time for the NID booth in the community the following day.

When I visited India, I was able to observe a rally with about 100 Rotarians, many local, plus groups from Tokyo Japan and Devon, England, along with 300 primary and secondary school students. The group, with visiting Rotarians riding horses, a marching band playing, marched through the neighborhood for two hours waving signs and banners announcing the NID place and time.

Immunization Day Rally through poor neighborhood in Delhi, India

On the actual day of the event, I visited three booths operating in strategically different ways. The first stationary booth was, as it was explained, the most common sort. Set up under a simple awning, Rotary volunteers working with health workers began immunizing children with two drops of the oral vaccine early in the morning. Each child immunized would receive a toy ball. Given the incentive, it was not surprising to see that most of the young people were accompanied by modestly older siblings; six-year-olds dragged their four-year-old brothers and sisters to get inoculated in order to get the toy ball.

Dr. Mona Khanna immunizes children in Delhi, India

When children were immunized, their pinkies were marked with a pen using the same ink used to mark adult fingers after voting in an election here in India. This not only prevents children from being immunized multiple times for the sake of toys, but also allows for the “mop-up” teams who go house-to-house following the NID to find the children who weren’t immunized.

On the NID, there are also mobile units that drive around setting up shop quickly and then moving on after immunizing the children in the immediate area.

The third focus of the NID is transit stations; booths are set up in train stations. The workers and volunteers there not only invite children passing through the stations be immunized, but also board the trains when they stop in the station to look for children who need to be immunized and give them their drops right on the train.

Leckman shared with me an anecdote from his 2009 trip with 16 Salt Lake Rotarians to India to help with the NID.

Dr. Scott Leckman, Rotary Member, immunizing children in India

After doing the immunizations and walking back to the bus. I’m kind of walking by myself and this Indian guy about my age on a bike was passing by and jumps off and starts walking with me.

He says, “Where are you from?”

I say, “The United States.”

“What are you doing here?”

“I’m with Rotary and we’re immunizing kids against polio.”

“Well, what do you get out of it?”

I said, “A world without polio.”

He thought about it for a moment and simply replied, “Namaste,” which is to say, I recognize the divinity within you. Then he got back on his bike and rode away.

Polio’s Impact:

Since Rotary launched its effort to eradicate polio in 1985, approximately 10 million cases of polio have been prevented. For many in the developed world, however, that is a statistic without much meaning. Few people younger than 50 even know of anyone personally who was afflicted with polio-related paralysis.

During my visit to Delhi, I visited St. Stephen’s Hospital, which operates the only dedicated polio ward in India. The program is led by Dr. Mathew Varghese, who gave us a tour of the ward.

Dr. Matthew Varghese with one of his patients in the cancer ward

Polio frequently paralyzes the lower limbs and most often impacts those with little economic means, leaving them in the humiliating position of being forced to crawl. The kids who grow up crawling end up with permanent deformities.

Dr. Varghese accepts every patient who comes to him, regardless of ability to pay. Over the last decade, he boasts enthusiastically, that his patients are getting older and older. Virtually all of his patients are now over 15. He performs surgeries that allow children who crawl, to stand and walk in braces or calipers. Some children have had paralysis on only one leg. One outcome is that the affected leg is shorter than the other leg. Dr. Varghese provides surgery to lengthen the leg one millimeter per day. This allows patients to get out of orthopedic shoes and sometimes to eliminate the need for crutches or even a cane.

The ward is financially supported by Rotary.

The History of Rotary’s Fight to End Polio:

One of the highlights of my visit to India, was a meeting with Raja Saboo, who at the age of 80 interrupted his planning for a humanitarian mission to Rwanda, to visit with me.

Raja Saboo, former President of Rotary International

Saboo served as the President of Rotary International in 1991-92; he joined Rotary in 1961. As a young man, he met Mahatma Gandhi and as an adult met Mother Teresa several times. In 1992, he visited South Africa in his official capacity as the President of Rotary International. He was surprised to be invited to meet with President F. W. de Klerk. After a brief introduction, the South African President invited Saboo to stand with him at a press conference where he announced the end to apartheid.

Saboo, who served on the Rotary International Board beginning before the decision to make polio Rotary’s global effort, was able to provide a historical perspective.

Individual Rotary clubs were engaging in the fight against polio by the late 1970s, but this work was all being done at the club level and not at the international level.

Sir Clem Renouf of Australia served as the president of Rotary in 1978 and 1979 was the first to identify polio as a potential large scale project for Rotary. In 1981, Rotary decided approve a proposal to “immunize the children of the world against polio by 2005, when Rotary would be celebrating its 100 years. In 1988, the goal was rephrased as the eradication of polio, a difference that may be viewed as symbolic, but was actually a significant leap. No longer would success be judged by Rotary’s effort, but by the outcome.

When Rotary first estimated the cost of the program, Saboo said, the organization estimated the cost would be $25 million. They quickly realized that the cost would be much higher, estimating that it would be at least $120 million. In 1988, Rotary International raised $240 million to kick off the effort in earnest.

More than $10 billion has been spent to date to end polio with a budget of approximately $5 billion pending for the “Endgame Strategic Plan.”

Saboo played a key role in managing one of the biggest challenges of the immunization campaign. Some people in the Muslim community were especially resistant to efforts to immunize their children. Saboo visited a community where five families were specifically identified who were refusing to have their children vaccinated. During the visit, Saboo noticed a small child crawling on the ground in a classic polio afflicted way. He recognized that the child needed polio corrective surgery. He organized an effort to have this child and other children in the area receive the needed surgeries. This helped to soften the resistance to immunizations.

Public Relations:

In India, managing the challenge of public relations is the primary responsibility of UNICEF. During my visit, I sat down with Nicole Deutsch, Chief of Polio with the UNICEF India Country Office.

Michelle Kloempken, Rotary, Nicole Deutsch, UNICEF, Nima Chodon, Rotary

“UNICEF’s role is primarily on the social mobilization and communications side; this is about creating demand for the vaccination and raising awareness about its benefits,” Deutsch explained. Deutsch noted that she previously worked in Nigeria on polio and that while there, they used the “India Model” of communication for building community support.

Much of the focus is on bringing in influential leaders, like religious and local political leaders and doctors to participate in local functions to establish credibility for the immunizations.

“Branding was a big thing in India; so anytime people saw the pink and yellow they knew a campaign was being announced,” she explained. She highlighted the use of celebrities as spokespeople for the campaign across all sorts of media, including text messages.

“At one point it became obvious that there were certain communities that were being repeatedly missed or had distrust. Working with Islamic leaders and imams really helped turn things around. They were a major force in getting community buy in and support for this. Rotary had actually done a council of Ulemas to meet one time,” she noted.

Deutsch made it clear that the success in India came down to creating a universal understanding and agreement important among local and national government and among religious leaders that immunizations were. Everyone took ownership of the program within their particular responsibility.

The Legacy of the Polio Campaign:

With the eradication of polio in India and the imminent end of polio globally, it may be too early to look at what’s next, but it is clear that the 30 year effort to end polio has proven a few things. Most importantly, we can see that there is a way for humankind to do extraordinary things. In many ways, ending polio has proven to be a much greater challenge than going to the moon and yet we can predict reasonably that the final case of polio in human history will be reported in the next twelve to 18 months.

Dr. Wenger from the BMGF explained the Foundation’s hope that the “personnel and machinery used for the eradication of polio will be used for other things,” like routine immunizations for DTP and measles.

“In India especially—when I was there in early 2002, the routine immunization coverage in Bihar was about 10 percent, so only 10 or 11 percent of kids were getting the vaccines they were supposed to get. After years of working on that not just with the polio folks—with other groups too—now 70 or 80 percent of children are getting vaccinated,” Dr. Wenger explained.

“We think that is a huge piece of the polio legacy to see that the infrastructure is used to help other health goals. That is a huge benefit of eradication,” Dr. Wenger said.

“The challenges in India were so stunning. You could really go to places in India and find thousands of kids living on top of each other without any sanitation and who were getting no health care. We would run into some areas where the only thing people were getting from outside was the polio vaccine. In a way, this is sort of sad. In some ways, it was evidence of the reach of the polio program.”

He noted that the NIDs required two million volunteers. “That’s a huge commitment and buy in by the population. Once you’ve done that for something, you should be able to extend that to other things. That would be the real benefit of polio eradication, even bigger than the bottom line thing of getting rid of polio,” Dr. Wenger concluded.

Loading posts...