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

Monthly Archives: September 2015

‘Do Magic with Your Life’

Rai Chowdhary is a successful engineer, entrepreneur and author. Having accomplished many of  his goals, he now focuses on helping others achieve theirs.

Rai calls his system “Do Magic with Your Life.” He has a simple, executable plan to help people achieve their dreams. He focuses on helping people identify achievable dreams and then developing a path to get there.

He offers these three tips as a short summary of his complete system:

Tip 1: Define what you want to become:

Time is a one way street, and it is an equal opportunity phenomenon. From billionaires to the man on the street, and from noble laureates to illiterates, all have exactly 24 hours in a day and 365 days to the year. Like fine grains of sand escaping from your fist, it slips away – whether you notice it or not. Then why not channel it to do-magic with your life? Start by creating your dream; if you don’t have one yet – get on the road to discovery, but get moving…and once you have identified what you want to become, define it. That is the D in Do-Magic.

Tip 2: Create your dream:

You need to “create” Your dream at the intersection of your passion, your strengths, and the opportunities you see in this world. This ensures the highest chance for success and unleashing of your potential. Without passion, there won’t be enough drive to move you forward; without strengths, you will run out of steam and struggle; and without vectoring these in the direction of right opportunities, there will be much wasted time and effort. So, all three are essential and work in sync.

Tip 3: Move toward your dream:

Even if the future looks dark, the path is not completely visible, move towards your dream. Standing still isn’t going to lead you anywhere, and just because the flashlight you have illuminates the path by a few yards is no reason to stay stuck. You will see more of the path as you begin moving forward. In some cases – you will be the trail blazer and create your own path.

On Thursday, October 1, 2015 at noon Eastern, Rai will join me for a live discussion about his “Do Magic” principles. Tune in here then to watch the interview live. Post questions in the comments below or tweet questions before the interview to @devindthorpe.

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

More about The KPI System:

KPI stands for Key Performance Improvement – and, it works through Do-Magic. Do-Magic is an acronym with each letter indicating key steps one needs to take – for example: D= Define your Dream; without a dream, you might end up drifting. O = Observe and be Objective. Observe who has done this before, and be objective about your dream, or it can quickly turn into an illusion. M is for Mindsets, Milestones, and Measures of Success…etc. Thus Do-Magic offers a framework and system to create and live your dreams – be it at a personal level, or for an organization.

Rai Chowdhary

Rai Chowdhary

Rai’s bio:

Twitter: @raichowdhary

Rai Chowdhary is an entrepreneur, investor, and coach. He realized and lived his dream of becoming a top engineer, despite insurmountable odds early in life that nearly ended his career. His products and technologies have helped millions and span a wide spectrum that includes automotive products, snack foods, and, medical implants.

His next dream was to become a coach to the world’s leading companies. To realize it, he founded a coaching and training company, winning customers from small and medium enterprises, to Fortune 500 corporations.

Do-Magic is at the core of his approach to life and business; his latest book Do-Magic with Your Life documents the system and framework of Do-Magic. Now he is on the journey of sharing Do-Magic across the world – enabling people to create and live their dreams.

Remember to “join the cavalry” by subscribing to our content here.

Devin D. Thorpe

Addressing the Global “Missing Middle”

This is a guest post from Will Poole, Co-Founder & Managing Partner of Capria.

The Problem: A Lack of Capital and Expertise

There has been enormous growth in both emerging market private equity and impact investing over the past five years. Global PE giants such as KKR have invested $200 million into sub-Saharan African enterprises and impact investors now manage over $50 billion in assets. However, despite these positive trends, there is still a financing gap for early stage opportunities described as the “missing middle”, “seed gap” or “pioneer gap”. The latest Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN) annual survey found that of the $60 billion managed by impact investors, less than 10% is invested in early stage companies. Additionally, venture capitalists globally are shifting their attention to later stage investments according to a report from Ernst and Young. The global lack of early stage capital results in fewer opportunities for later stage investors, one of the top challenges of the impact-investing field mentioned in the GIIN annual survey. Furthermore, early stage risk funding is only part of the problem. Mentoring and other forms of ecosystem support are also required to help companies develop from the proof-of-concept to scale. The combined funding and ecosystem support gap for the global missing middle casts doubt on J.P. Morgan’s prediction that impact investing will be a $1 trillion opportunity by 2020.

A Solution: More Professional Investing Firms

Fortunately, there are organizations that are viewing this global funding gap as an opportunity. Investisseurs and Partenaires (I&P), an organization based in Paris created by a co-founder of the BC Partners, focuses primarily on small and medium enterprises in Francophone Africa. Fledge, a global impact business accelerator, uses a revenue based financing structure to address the challenge of finding exits for global impact businesses. Finally, the Unitus Group, which helped incubate the $23 million Unitus Seed Fund that I co-founded, supported the creation of three funds that invest in early stage opportunities on multiple continents. These organizations are all bridging the “seed gap”, providing critical financing, guidance, and support needed to prepare a company to raise sufficient investment to enable it to scale.

Will Poole

Will Poole

Scaling the Solution

Contrary to what some entrepreneurs believe, early stage investing is not easy! Convincing your investors to trust you with their capital, becoming the partner of choice for high quality entrepreneurs, and helping companies grow quickly and within their means take skills and experience that are rarely found in one person. My first fund, the Unitus Seed Fund, became the leading impact venture seed fund in India in less than two years because my partners and I:

  • Received very early risk capital and support from Unitus Labs
  • Rapidly assembled an incredible local team in Bangalore
  • Established the trust of high net worth individuals and family foundations

With my new venture, Capria, my partners and I will apply our experience investing in early stage entrepreneurs in India and the USA to seed the next generation of impact venture capitalists. Capria will partner with local fund managers who are experts in their respective geographies to launch at least 10 new venture funds over the next five years. We will leverage our experience as first time fund managers, the collective expertise of the Unitus network and a wealth of seasoned advisors to reduce the time it takes from launching a new fund to making a first capital call. We know that others have tried and failed to scale venture funds globally and understand what will and won’t work through conversations with industry veterans and over a year of background research. We have a plan that our investors believe in and are excited to run our first cohort in January 2016.

Quantifying our Impact

We know that it will not be easy to address the global missing middle. However, we’ve spoken to enough talented fund managers around the world to see that it’s possible to start closing the seed gap by helping the entrepreneurs chart their paths to scale and profitability. The exciting thing for us is the leverage that the Capria network of seed funds will have. A simplified version of the math works like this:

  • Ten $10M seed funds invest in an average of 10 companies each, catalyzing additional capital support from other investors
  • The most successful of those 100 companies advance to Series A rounds and raise an average of $5M

Depending on what you use for a survival rate and how fast the companies grow, you can see a path to $500M in impact capital being raised and deployed. And that’s only with the first funds: the second and third funds raised by Capria Accelerator participants will be 2-3 times as large!This model, along with the support of I&P and a couple of others, could turn the missing middle a thing of the past.

About Will Poole

Will Poole is a serial entrepreneur and venture investor, focused on improving ecosystems that bring opportunity to low-income populations.


Social Entrepreneur Works To End ‘Summer Slide’ And Close Achievement Gap For Urban Poor

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

The achievement gap between affluent and poor students gets worse every summer as the less fortunate forget much of what they learned during the school year, a phenomenon known as the “summer slide.”

Karim Abouelnaga, the young social entrepreneur who launched Practice Makes Perfect, explains, “The achievement gap is damaging to our society at a basic level. In 2009, McKinsey & Company estimated that the gap was costing our economy $310-$525 billion in GDP each year, which is the equivalent of a permanent national recession. The achievement gap is likely to widen as our income gap widens.”

“Our nation’s summer school system is broken. It’s well-intentioned but, as currently conceived, it doesn’t work. In reality, summer school is punitive; it’s for students who failed to learn enough to be promoted. It’s taught by teachers, many of whom are burned out from the previous 10 months. They put low-performing students together in a class to struggle. Students are assigned worksheets for tests that don’t really matter. They’re not engaged. They merely “do their time” in hopes of getting promoted and the cycle will likely repeat next year,” he observes.

Practice Makes Perfect operates in New York City’s toughest schools, where Abouelnaga observes, “Fewer than half the students in summer school pass end-of-summer reading and math tests and yet they will be promoted anyway because the city’s promotion policy also factors in attendance and classwork.”

The Cornell-educated Abouelnaga is proud of the program he’s created to address the problems he’s observed.

“At Practice Makes Perfect, we have re-imagined the summer learning experience. We work closely with schools to operate summer school programs for them,” he says.

Abouelnaga outlines the program as follows:

  • Our team handles the on-boarding and outreach process for schools.
  • We start by tackling the stigma associated with summer school and changing students’ perception around learning. Then we identify high-achieving peers who act as mentors to our students.
  • We hire college students who are aspiring teachers to lead our instruction. They conduct home visits before our program starts to build rapport with the students and their families.
  • We then hire teachers from the schools we work with to act as teaching coaches for the summer. They receive professional development and spend their summer mentoring aspiring teachers instead of burning out by teaching all summer.
  • We extend the school day incorporate local field trips, and do community service.

“We’ve created a model where everyone wins,” he exults.

Abouelnaga has a grand vision, “Practice Makes Perfect has the potential to eliminate summer learning loss and narrow the achievement gap by two-thirds. More importantly, our nation can take a huge step forward in providing equal opportunities for children of all backgrounds. We want to re-write narratives and change social paradigms. No longer will your zip code or where you’re born be the reason why you do or do not attain a high-quality education.”

Abouelnaga is one of the remarkable social entrepreneurs just completing the Santa Clara University Global Social Benefit Institute at the Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship.

On Tuesday, September 15, 2015 at 5:00 Eastern, Abouelnaga will join me for a live discussion about the problems facing our low-income, urban students and the solutions that Practice Makes Perfect is deploying to solve them. Tune in here then to watch the interview live. Post questions in the comments below or tweet questions before the interview to @devindthorpe.

More about Practice makes Perfect:

Twitter: @PMPUSA

Practice Makes Perfect (PMP) is a non-profit organization that provides an innovative summer learning program to struggling inner-city students. PMP’s unique “near-peer” model places K-8 students in small groups with higher achieving mentors from the same neighborhood who are four years older. PMP’s alternative to traditional summer school narrows the educational achievement gap among students in socioeconomically disadvantaged communities. Results from Summer 2015 showed that students who have completed the PMP summer program show average gains of 2 months English Language Arts (ELA) and 6 months of Math proficiency.

Karim Abouelnaga with student, courtesy of Practice Makes Perfect

Karim Abouelnaga with student, courtesy of Practice Makes Perfect

Abouelnaga’s bio:

Twitter: @KarimAbouelnaga

Karim Abouelnaga is the founder & CEO of Practice Makes Perfect, which he founded at 18 while still a college student. He is the product of under-resourced New York City public schools, but benefited from mentors who helped lift him out of his neighborhood into Cornell University, where he received over $300,000 in scholarships and aid to make his college education possible. He founded the organization to “pay it forward,” to help students with a background similar to his who didn’t have the opportunities he had. Karim is an Echoing Green Fellow and Global Shaker and, at the age of 23, was named to the Forbes 30 Under 30 in Education list in 2015.

Matchbook Learning Claims Solution To Struggling Public Schools

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

K-12 education in the United States just ain’t what it used to be. (Please pardon my use of the vernacular to emphasize the point.)

Sajan George, Founder and CEO of Matchbook Learning, explains, “Our nation’s K-12 public education system is in need of a turnaround. Children born in the bottom 25% income zip code have just a 9% chance of graduating from college. Our nation’s schools continue to slide against international peers. We once ranked at the top of the world in how we educated our next generation and now we are in the middle. We are failing both as a country and particularly our children of poverty. Our country needs a sustainable, scalable turnaround solution.”

George is leading revolution in education that he hopes will turn this disturbing trend around.

George describes the effort, “Matchbook combines the best in both public school turnaround expertise and blended learning expertise. Our principals are some of the country’s leading practitioners in engagements involving ‘lead turnaround partners,’ blended school design and implementation and coaching of master teachers.”

He emphasizes the use of technology and customization. “We have brought this tri-fold experience together to target school turnarounds with a customized blended model that blends face-to-face and virtual instruction in brick-and-mortar schools via a 1:1 computing environment, while coaching teachers to personalize instruction for the benefits of each and every child in their classroom.”

The focus is to enhance education at schools with most poverty, George says, noting, “Our unique and innovative blended turnaround school model is the first of its kind in the nation to be offered to schools with the highest poverty rates and needs.”

George hopes to expand the program, asking that we “encourage parents, funders and government officials to allow conditions for these kinds of 21st century models of school to proliferate based on results with the conditions necessary for rapid, sustainable scale.”

On Tuesday, September 15, 2015 at 4:00 PM Eastern, George will join me for a live discussion about the problems facing K-12 education in the U.S. today and the Matchbook Learning solution. Tune in here then to watch the interview live. Post questions in the comments below or tweet questions before the interview to @devindthorpe.

More about Matchbook Learning:

Twitter: @matchbooklearn

Matchbook Learning is a national non-profit school turnaround management organizaiton. We courageously seek to turnaround some of our nation’s chronically failing K-12 public schools via our technology-enabled, personalized learning model of school. When we do, we believe that we will create powerful proof points that can transform the country.

George’s bio:

Sajan founded and leads Matchbook Learning, a national nonprofit school management organization launched in 2011 to turnaround our nation’s bottom 5% of under performing public schools with a unique blended model of school that leverages both online technology and turnaround management skills. Matchbook Learning has launched three successful school turnarounds in Detroit, MI, one in Newark, NJ and has plans to continue to expand nationally. Prior to founding Matchbook Learning, CEO Sajan George was a Managing Director with Alvarez & Marsal (“A&M”) where he led the Firm’s Education Practice. In that role, he led a diverse group of talented turnaround professionals across the U.S. in running entire K-12 public school districts. Sajan and his team at A&M employed turnaround strategies across major urban cities with precedent setting reform efforts in St Louis (2004 – first ever district to contract out its entire management to a private management firm), to New Orleans (successful post-Katrina success in designing the reopening of several schools within days after the levees historically broke – 2005 & 2006) to New York City (well chronicled turnaround and Broad Prize winner for in 2007 under Joel Klein) to Detroit (2009 & 2010 – historic State takeover and appointment of Emergency Fiscal Manager) with numerous mid-tier cities in between. Prior to A&M, Sajan was a Senior Director in Arthur Andersen’s Corporate Restructuring Group wherein he led turnarounds of companies in crisis across a range of industries in Canada, Australia and the United States.

Hat tip to Tara Russell at Fathom for the introduction to George.

Women With Disabilities Face Avoidable Challenges, This Nonprofit Seeks To Help

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

“It’s a tough fact of life that women with disabilities face challenges many of us cannot even imagine. But the tragedy is that many of their most difficult challenges could be avoided,” says Richard Ellenson, CEO of the Cerebral Palsy Foundation.

Ellenson elaborates, “Women with cerebral palsy and other physical disabilities receive basic healthcare services that are widely and persistently inadequate, inconsistent, and substandard. In fact, many physically disabled women experience life-threatening crises, and endure life-draining experiences, directly related to deficient medical care. All women deserve recognition and delivery of optimal healthcare; for women with disabilities, efforts aimed at improving their particular requirements for optimal healthcare delivery is urgently needed, deserved, and long overdue.”

To address this crisis, the Cerebral Palsy Foundation has launched its “Transforming Healthcare for Women with Disabilities” initiative.

Ellenson explains, “CPF, with the extraordinary support of 100 Women in Hedge Funds, has put together an innovative collaboration with four leading medical institutions – Columbia, UCLA, Harvard, and Northwestern – to create an organic team approach to addressing this issue.”

“We will spend our first year developing a model, and our second putting that model in place in a beta test. We will then spend that second year refining and evolving our approaches. Eventually, all the institutions will implement these new protocols and begin to share the work nationwide,” he adds.

Ellenson shared his vision for the future that will result from the current effort, “The success of this project will empower women with cerebral palsy to expect the same standard of healthcare received by us all. And give physicians the knowledge to finally deliver it. While women with cerebral palsy are the focus of this project, the outcomes will benefit many more women with physical disabilities including stroke, traumatic brain injury, multiple sclerosis.”

On Tuesday, September 15, 2015 at noon Eastern, Ellenson will join me for a live discussion about the new initiative, including further discussion of the problems facing women with disabilities and what he hopes CPF can do to alleviate those problems. Tune in here then to watch the interview live. Post questions in the comments below or tweet questions before the interview to @devindthorpe.

More about the Cerebral Palsy Foundation:

Twitter: @yourcpf

The Cerebral Palsy Foundation is a 60 year old organization whose Chairman Emeritus is Paul A. Volcker. Our mission is to transform lives for people with cerebral palsy today – through research innovation and collaboration.

Our collaborative networks bring together great thinkers in science, research, and technology who work actively with us developing solutions to the most pressing problems faced by people with cerebral palsy and related disabilities.

CPF plays an instrumental role in a wide variety of initiatives – from improving basic healthcare to adapting new technologies which provide advanced access for gaming and therapies, to funding translational research and clinical application which allow individuals to leverages the enormous advances being made in the sciences.

The Cerebral Palsy Foundation is guided by a deep commitment to delivering innovations that can change lives today. We are driven not only by vision, but by experience. More than half of our Board members have children or family members with CP, or have the condition.

Richard Ellenson with his son Tom

Richard Ellenson with his son Tom

Ellenson’s bio:

Richard Ellenson brings enormous vision and energy to his role as CEO of the Cerebral Palsy Foundation. In his first year there, he has launched major initiatives that have helped evolve the Foundation and ready it for significant growth in its work and profile.

Prior to leading CPF, Richard was founder and CEO of two assistive technology companies (Blink Twice and Panther Technologies) which helped transform and reimagine the field of assistive technology. Said Alan Brightman, Founder of Apple AAPL +0.86% Computer’s Worldwide Disability Solutions Group and now Vice President for Global Accessibility at Yahoo YHOO +3.23%, “The mass market mentality Richard Ellenson brought to this market was unprecedented in the history of assistive technology.”

Prior to this work, he was an advertising executive who created memorable campaigns for brands such as American Express AXP +1.32% and Remy Martin, and who penned the classic line, “It’s Not TV. It’s HBO.”

Richard has worked tirelessly to create awareness about people with disabilities and to share stories about their vibrant lives. He and his son have been featured as ABC World News People of the Year, on CNBC’s Squawk Box , in a New York Times Sunday Magazine cover story, and as a feature on ESPN’s E:60.

Richard has been honored with many awards in the field, has served on several Advisory Councils and has also been the recipient of two NIH grants. Richard is a graduate of Cornell and holds an MBA from The Wharton School. He lives in New York City with his wife Lora, Director of Gynecologic Pathology at New York Presbyterian Hospital-Cornell, and with his two very special children, Thomas and Taite.

Improving Your Nonprofit Through Skills-Based Volunteers

This is a guest post from Marjorie Ringrose, Director of Social Impact at Social Venture Partners Boston.

While it uncomfortably discounts the tremendous joy and value that comes with volunteering, there’s a volunteer-to-fundraising calculus that nonprofit and philanthropic leaders intuitively understand. People who volunteer for an organization are more likely to donate to it. They give larger contributions and donate more often and for longer periods of time than those who don’t volunteer.

One-in-four American adults volunteer with nonprofits, but few nonprofits use skilled volunteers as well as they could. Only 15% report volunteering their professional and management expertise. Most serve food, tutor children and provide transportation. These are certainly vitally important, but there is clearly more room for skilled volunteering. Why isn’t there more?

Is it because volunteers don’t want to offer their professional skills? No. The longevity of engaged philanthropy, the growth of corporate voluntarism, and LinkedIn’s more than four million members wanting do skills-based volunteering and/or join a board demonstrate professionals’ desire to volunteer their skills.

Marjorie Ringrose

Marjorie Ringrose

Is it because nonprofits don’t need people to volunteer their professional skills? Not generally. According to Taproot, two-thirds of nonprofits say they need pro bono help in areas requiring skill, such as marketing, human resources, and information technology.

Rather, it’s because many nonprofits don’t use their skills-based volunteers efficiently or effectively.

What a lost opportunity. Nonprofits miss out on valuable skills that could help strengthen and grow their organizations. And they miss out on engaging a population of volunteers that is not only sizable, but can also be significant and lasting donors.

Yes, identifying and engaging skills-based volunteers with the right professional experience and personality is hard. Finding and managing complex, lengthy skills-based projects is time consuming.

Organizations operating with an engaged (or venture) philanthropy model, which focus on donations of time as well as money, have practices in place to address this. Groups such as Social Venture Partners, New Profit Inc., Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation, among others, have mobilized countless hours of skills-based volunteering for their beneficiaries and have, in many cases, secured those very volunteers as their own reliable donor base.

How do these organizations do it? They bring carefully vetted skilled volunteers to a small number of carefully selected nonprofits. They put the volunteers to work in carefully designed and managed projects that often get at the nonprofits’ most critical business challenges. They seek nonprofits who devote resources to stewarding these volunteers and with leaders who bravely expose their stress points and welcome volunteer involvement.

Effective use of skilled volunteers creates a virtuous cycle. Nonprofits get precious resources focused on their most pressing needs, volunteers feel like they are making a meaningful difference because they are being asked to do important work, in turn creating the deep commitment that can lead to even more (and more effective) volunteering and to significant, lasting contributions. Ultimately, it’s an authentic partnership that creates great value for everyone.

Marjorie Ringrose, Director of Social Impact at Social Venture Partners Boston, brings nearly 100 skilled volunteers and 3,500 hours of pro bono counsel annually to some of Boston’s best nonprofits @SVPBoston

Learning to Make a Difference: Three-Year Follow-up

Three years ago, I wrote the book, Your Mark on the World. In the book, I profile a host of ordinary people who were doing remarkable things for good. One of the subjects of the book was a group of my students at South China University of Technology where I was teaching when I wrote the book.

The chapter I wrote about this group is included in this post below. I’ve asked one of the students, Niu Chongran, or Adrian, to join me on Tuesday, September 15, 2015 at 6:00 Eastern. We’ll talk about his experience with the service project described in the book (and below) and his experiences since. Tune in here then to watch the interview live. Post questions in the comments below or tweet questions before the interview to @devindthorpe.

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

Chapter 27

Learning to Make a Difference

Niu Chongran, or Adrian, got his first real taste of volunteering in China as a student last year at South China University of Technology when his teacher assigned the students to form groups and do some form of volunteer work as a way to develop managerial skills and experience.

Chongran was the leader of a group of freshmen that also included Lu Xiaoliang or Dandelion, Liu Shiqin, Feng Yucheng or Jack, and Zhang Jiahui or Ana.

(Long before college, most Chinese students choose an English name to facilitate their study of English.  Chinese given names are often chosen based on their meaning and may not necessarily be names in the English sense of the word.  Hence, when Chinese students choose English names they don’t feel constrained to use a traditional name, but may choose any English word that resonates with them by virtue of its sound or its meaning.)

The students in the class were initially bewildered by the assignment, but most ultimately caught the vision of volunteering and worked hard to plan, organize and execute a project that would leave someone or something better off.

Chongran’s group decided to coordinate their efforts through the Guangzhou Volunteer Union, an only-in-China sort of organization.  The GVU as it is commonly known is a government organized non-governmental organization or GO-NGO.

Going back to the Cultural Revolution in China from 1966 to 1976, the strident form of communism practiced at the time devastated the economy and left citizens in fear of their government; no one volunteered to do community service of any sort in this environment.  The idea of selfless sacrifice of time and resources for strangers and the less fortunate was inadvertently obliterated by the effort to govern the people specifically for the common good.

The government created the GVU to promote volunteering in the community in 2002; volunteering had sprung to life in the 1990s in Guangzhou, but the government hoped to accelerate the development of volunteering by providing funding to advance the cause.  Their primary activity is to train people in the basic aspects of volunteering, that is, why it should be done and how one might find time to help other people.

Their focus is on helping the elderly, especially those who have no living children.  Each year they help to coordinate 15,000 volunteers in making 70,000 contacts with almost 17,000 seniors either in person or by phone.

After completing a basic course in volunteering, people can opt for more advanced training that teaches them to better appreciate the needs of seniors and to learn how to assess their situation and identify opportunities to help.

The most common problem identified by the GVU among seniors is severe depression; seniors often report contemplating suicide.  The effort appears to be effective; no known suicides have been reported among the seniors in the program.

In one case, Feng Xian or Cherry, a Vice President of GVU with responsibility for coordinating the meetings of the Board of Directors, reported proudly that one of their volunteers had found a woman who was despondent and thinking about suicide.  Not only did the program visits help to improve her mood, but as her mood improved, she joined the volunteers and is now among the most active in visiting other senior citizens.

Chongran’s group got involved with the 2011 effort to make and deliver scarves to the senior citizens.  Chongran and his team hoped to knit five scarves—one from each member of the group, but ultimately the boys in the group were unable to pull it off.  The girls came through, each knitting a scarf (though one of the three scarves was not in the end viewed as being an acceptable gift, leaving two) to be given to seniors.


Left to right:  Lu Xiaoliang “Dandelion,” Feng Yucheng “Jack,” Niu Chongran “Adrian,” Zhang Jiahui “Ana,” and Liu Shiqin (front).  Photo courtesy of Niu Chongran “Adrian.”

Via email, Chongran told me in his excellent English as a second language, “There’s differences between weaving a scarf for senior and buying a scarf for senior, because most of us don’t know how to weave the scarf and we took time to learn and weave, eventually when the scarf was finished by our own hand, we have already weaved our love inside, that’s enough to inspire everyone’s potential of being love.”

Through the GVU, the five student volunteers identified a very elderly woman who lived with the elderly wife of her nephew, who wasn’t entirely out of the picture but who did not live full time with his wife and aunt.  Each of the elderly women received a scarf and a thoughtful visit from the group.

Jiahui noted afterward, “From that project, I not only knew more about life in Guangzhou but also got shocked by what the volunteers did. There were shower devices installed by volunteers also a specially made telephone for the old, buttons of which are quite big to make it easier for the old to read. By marking words like help on the button, the old lady could call for help with ease.”  She added a note that represents the sentiments of her group, “I think we should not only focus on the material abundance, but give them more company.”

The students spent several hours with the senior ladies, having already spent countless hours learning how to knit and then knitting them beautiful scarves for them.  One can only guess at the impact the visit had on the seniors, but I don’t have to guess at the impact on the students.

Shiqin caught the vision of the project and how it benefits not only the seniors, but also the volunteers.  She noted, “I think being a volunteer is not only helping others but also helping ourselves to grow; it’s those efforts that help us realize our responsibilities to contribute to the society and provides us with a source of satisfaction and fulfillment.  And I will continue to do these right things.”

Chongran is organizing an ongoing effort to follow up on the project and plans to broadly recruit students to join him formally in the fall; he already has several committed.  When the entering freshmen arrive on campus next fall, one of the activities will be a day for students to join clubs.  One of the options will be Chongran’s student club for caring for senior citizens.

Yucheng commented, “For me this is an unforgettable experience… From this I learned that we can help people and we should help people who need.  I can never forget the smile in the old lady’s face.”

Expert’s Three Keys To Promoting Your Story

Our supporter, Mike Schwager, is a PR pro who specializes in helping people and organizations, especially those doing good in the world, to share their stories for maximum media exposure. He’s sharing his three key for promoting your story with Your Mark on the World readers today.

1. Be Persuasive: Pitching a story to an editor or reporter has some basic tenets for a persuasive publicist. First, always tell the truth. Second, know your outlet before you call or email. Third, have the right attitude: See the journalist as a peer in communications. Believe in your story. Believe in yourself.

2. Be Creative: Creative formatting tips: First, use news to make news. Remember “relevance,” “impact,” “timeliness” and “novelty.” Second, seasonal tie-ins. Once, eight weeks before Christmas, we convinced the manufacturer to designate a Holiday Consumer Affairs Specialist who could talk about “everything you wanted to know about mailing gifts for the holidays.” We booked this specialist on literally dozens of top all-news stations in major markets around the country. Third, products are newsworthy when they Are evolutionary or revolutionary. I’ve booked many products that were a next step up in technology on shows like Today or Good Morning America.

3. Humanize Your On-Air Appearance: First, humanize yourself and your organization. People don’t want to hear cold statistics or facts; make more use of anecdotes. Second, a smile is worth a thousand words, and remember to smile when appropriate. Also, use the first name of your interviewer, or opponent. When you transmit a smile, or use someone’s first name, you’re energizing the empathetic cord between you and your audience. You become more likable.  As you’re talking to an interviewer, think of someone you’ve been close to who you love and care about. The interviewer will feel that positive emotion. (I learned that from Walter Cronkite in the men’s bathroom at CBS).

On Tuesday, September 15, 2015 at 1:00 Eastern, Mike will join me for a live discussion about pitching your story to the media. Tune in here then to watch the interview live. Post questions in the comments below or tweet questions before the interview to @devindthorpe.

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

More about Worldlink Media Consultants:

Media Relations and Communications Services: Speech Writing (for CEOs, government officials [US and overseas], and celebrities); Op-Ed page writing; TV interview training (by phone and in-person); Publicity [primarily for non-profit and humanitarian organizations, authors, and leading-edge thinkers]; Video Production; Reputation Repair; Creative Consulting.

Mike Schwager

Mike Schwager

Mike’s bio:

Twitter: @MikeSchwager

Mike Schwager’s communications career began at CBS, for Network Radio News, and as a writer for CBS Audience Services. For the latter, Mike explained CBS policy to viewers and shareholders. From CBS he moved to the large public relations agency, Burson-Marsteller, where he served as a broadcast media specialist, promoting the Fortune 500. From Burson, Mike became partner at Michael Klepper Associates, where he promoted China as PR Director of The Exhibition of the People’s Republic of China; and managed accounts for The Louisiana World’s Fair; Father Flanagan’s Boystown; Kelloggs; The government of Canada; Data General; Polaroid; and Automatic Data Processing (ADP).

At his own agencies, The Media Relations Group, and later, Worldlink Media Consultants, Mike’s client roster included: The United States-Mexican Development Corporation; IBM; Harvey Mackay’s “Swim With The Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive” (which he turned into a mega best-seller); Inc. Magazine Publisher Wilson Harrell’s “For Entrepreneurs Only” (Wilson dedicated his chapter on public relations to Mike); John Robbins’ “Diet For A New America;” Cleve Stevens’ “The Best In Us;” Opportunity International; CURE International; World Vision; Darcy O’Brien’s “The Hidden Pope;” The Mentors Channel and The WellBe (digital bracelet that measures stress); Jack Nadel’s “The Evolution of an Entrepreneur”); and Bob Lenz’s “Dignity Revolution: Standing Up For The Value Of Every Person.”

Mike is presently about to launch a publicity campaign with breakthrough information on mental disease for renowned psychiatrist, Dr. Clancy McKenzie, M.D., Founder/Director of The Alternative American Psychiatric Association and author of “Delayed Posttraumatic Stress Disorders From Infancy” and “Babies Need Mothers: How Mothers Can Prevent Mental Illness In Their Children.”

Mike’s public relations websites are at:, and He maintains two spiritual/humanitarian sites at:, and Mike is also host of a spiritual/humanitarian Internet radio show, The Enrichment Hour, on

He can be reached via e-mail at: He is based in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. His phone is: 954-423-4414.

Cucula: Signature Furniture in Favor of Refugees

This article was original produced for Dive In Social and is reprinted here by permission.

In Berlin, do it yourself culture takes unbelievable proportions for the ones who (like ourselves) can’t assemble even an easel. There is a friend building his own ship (!), another one making boombox out of old suitcases. And there was also the day when we step out of our flat to find a temporary woodwork in our backyard. This is Berlin being Berlin. And the do it yourself lifestyle found its perfect match in Cucula, a brand that sells furniture made by refugees living in the city. The twist: all the pieces are based upon italian designer Enzo Mari’s original work, who developed a line focused on educating the consumer market about design discipline.



“Cucula” means “doing something together” and is a term borrowed from hausa, the original language of a vast area in Africa and the second language in Nigeria. Inspired by Mari’s idea that everyone can make furniture, designer Sebastian Däschle took the italian’s design to a refugee camp in Oranienplatz, Kreuzberg, so that they could build up their own pieces. “But their reaction was that they don’t need furniture, they need work and money, Corinna Sy, co-founder, says.

Corinna joined Sebastian from the starting point of the company, which aims at promoting inclusion and providing education to victims of global disasters. Jessy Medernach and Barbara Meyer complete the founding team. Cucula intends to be an association, a workshop and educational program, altogether. Now, it works as a pilot. “It is complicated to establish a social business around here, I really can get why it is so hard. And even if we are starting a company, we have five refugees working with us. They have completely different needs and have been through diverse experiences, there are so many issues, says Sy.

In order to ensure the Cucula’s mission of including refugees, they try to include in the articles of incorporation the requirement of having immigrants in their staff. Besides being the only firm in the world authorized to sell ready made Enzo Mari items, the designer granted this right only for the cause. In his own conception, design has to do with utopia and the furniture proposed by his “Autoprogettazione” have been planned for a different society.

Sedia Uno chair, produced by refugees as a reward for the supporters of the crowdfunding campaign (photo: Verena Brüning)

Sedia Uno chair, produced by refugees as a reward for the supporters of the crowdfunding campaign (photo: Verena Brüning)

“Tavolo Rettangolare”, table designed by Enzo Mari and made by Cucula (foto: Verena Brüning)

“Tavolo Rettangolare”, table designed by Enzo Mari and made by Cucula (foto: Verena Brüning)

Mari’s idea shocked the design scene and when Cucula had its crowdfunding campaign available online, having a Sedia Uno as a rewards, it was a hit. 70,000€ collected in 6 weeks, enough to ensure scholarships to 5 trainees-refugees. The company-school-organization offers all the structure (home and health) to all five of them.

“We took Mari’s concept and put it in another context. Our goal is to emancipate people. By then, no one could produce and sell his pieces, but they were widely known in design books. Our entrance in the market was good, because we had a very well known designer and a social cause, Sy says.

Work at the workshop, shot before the fire (photo: Verena Brüning)

Work at the workshop, shot before the fire (photo: Verena Brüning)

Malik at the workshop oficina (photo: Verena Brüning)

Malik at the workshop oficina (photo: Verena Brüning)

But the product designer and now entrepreneur highlights the tension of dealing with a social problem that is an open wound in Europe. As if it was not enough, another problem caught everyone unaware: about a month ago, the workshop — that was working full-throttle to deliver the crowdfunding rewards caught fire. They not only lost a massive part of raw material, but had to suspend its operation until they find a new address so that they can resume work.

The workshop, before the fire (photo: Fred Moseley)

The workshop, before the fire (photo: Fred Moseley)

Material in the workshop, before the fire

Material in the workshop, before the fire

Despite the hardship, Sy speaks in a passionate way, and one can see the passion for work and for the cause through it. Without breathing, she tells all about her adventures in conducting the project. “Now we are very busy trying to stabilize our sales structure, since it is a bit different than the usual. We want the project to scale up, but it is not easy. We have to consider political, economic, social aspects, it is not only a matter of selling. Sometimes the refugees want to go back hoe sometimes they want to stay here. We need to listen each and every one of them. Our work is only the tip of the iceberg in their stories”, concludes Sy.

Brothers’ Venture Provides Building Blocks For Prosperity In Honduras

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

In 2009, Two American brothers with exceptional abilities and the brightest futures risked it all to create a social venture specifically designed to help the people of one of the Western Hemisphere’s most challenged countries, Honduras. Their toy block company Tegu is having an impact there and beyond.

Will Haughey, Chief Blockhead of Tegu, the company they founded, says they are working to address “poverty and unemployment in Honduras and Central America,” adding that “unemployment [is] well north of 30% and poverty rates [are] above 65%.”

Haughey notes that they found there really was no entrepreneurial or creative segment in the economy, so they created one.

“[We] started a manufacturing business in Honduras connected to a design business based in the USA. Tegu, short for Tegucigalpa, uses Central American hardwoods in the production of a premium quality magnetic wooden building system. The more blocks we sell, the more people we put to work,” he explains.

“Tegu Blocks are inherently educational and make a wonderful gift. The best thing we can do for Honduras is sell blocks as many places as possible all over the world. Schools are a great fit as well,” he concludes.

On Thursday, September 10 at 2:00 PM, Haughey and his brother Chris, the Head Elf, will join me here for a live discussion about the business and its impact in Honduras. Tune in here then to watch the interview live. Post questions in the comments below or tweet questions before the interview to @devindthorpe.

More about Tegu:

Twitter: @tegu

Founded by two brothers, Chris and Will Haughey, Tegu is a vertically-integrated premium toy company with a manufacturing facility in Honduras and sales and marketing office in Connecticut. Tegu debuted in the fall of 2009 and has sold over 500,000 units of its patented magnetic wooden blocks (“Tegu Blocks”) and has employed and trained more than 200 craftsmen and craftswomen in Honduras. Beyond their online distribution on and, Tegu Blocks are now sold throughout the world in mainstream and specialty retail and educational channels. Tegu has formal distributor relationships outside the USA in Asia and Europe. Founders and co-owners Chris and Will Haughey, the company’s most senior executives, developed and implemented Tegu’s strategy to reduce poverty, develop human capital, and support sustainable forestry in Honduras. Chris conceived the idea of Tegu based on his first-hand experience of Honduras and its social and environmental challenges. He left his career as a management consultant to devote himself full time to the development of the company in early 2007 and relocated with his family to Honduras in 2009 to establish the factory. Today, he is responsible for Tegu’s hiring of low-income Hondurans, the career development and training programs to grow their human capital, and Tegu’s sourcing program that contributes to reforestation and the reduction of illegal logging in Central America. He personally visits each of Tegu’s wood suppliers as part of on-site verification of their forestry practices. Will left behind his career in investment banking and finance in 2008 to lead the effort to raise Tegu’s capital and develop its consumer-facing brand. He has been Tegu’s fundraising champion in the United States, convincing socially-minded strategic investors to bet on a manufacturing firm that would have a major social and environmental impact in Honduras. Now he is the face of Tegu and its social return to the major international brands that support Tegu as its customers. Chris invested the entirety of his life savings – including his modest retirement savings – to provide Tegu with necessary seed capital, and Will invested over half of his life savings to take the company through to a viable product concept when he joined his brother full-time in the business.

Will Haughey’s bio:

Twitter: @willhaughey

Will Haughey is Co-Founder and Chief Blockhead of Tegu. Will oversees Tegu’s commercial activities including global marketing, sales, distribution and product development. Earning a BS in Business Administration from Indiana University, Will concentrated in Finance and International studies. Upon graduation, he joined the Healthcare Investment Banking practice of Goldman, Sachs & Co., in New York. Following two years of mergers and financing work, Will joined Goldman Sachs Investment Partners, managing investments in the public and private markets. Will joined forces in May 2008 with brother, Chris Haughey, to form Tegu. Will is based at Tegu’s US headquarters in Darien, Connecticut.

Chris Haughey’s bio:

Chris Haughey is Co-Founder & Head Elf of Tegu. In preparation for Tegu’s launch in 2009, Chris moved to Honduras in order to establish and grow the Company’s privately owned factory. Chris oversees Tegu’s engineering, sourcing, production and supply chain activities and is deeply involved in Tegu’s innovation initiatives globally. He spent three years with The Boston Consulting Group in their Los Angeles practice and prior to that worked for a year in Mexico City with university students. Chris holds a BS in Mechanical Engineering from Stanford University. Chris operates at Tegu’s Honduras factory.

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