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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: April 2016

CNN Hero Chad Bernstein Offers Keys For Mentoring Youth

You can download an audio podcast here or subscribe via iTunes.
CNN Hero Chad Bernstein is a career musician, professor and founder of Guitars Over Guns, a nonprofit that helps at-risk youth connect to adult mentors through the arts.

Drawing on his decades of work with kids, offers these three key insights for being an effective mentor to a child.

  1. Be the adult in a child’s life. The single most important factor in a child’s success is a relationship with a caring adult. Finding an avenue through which we can connect with youth. The arts are a great potential avenue, but meeting a student at their point of interest and respecting that is the key.
  2. Show up and listen. There are two keys to building trust between a mentor and a student: First, show up and be present. There is no replacement for time and consistency is key. If you continue to come back, even after a kid has done something to push you away, you are building trust. The second is the to understand the importance of creating a safe place, free of judgement. Vulnerability is paramount to creating trust and it goes both ways.
  3. Be committed. When you commit to being a mentor, you are committing to be there for the hard times as well as the triumphs, and they are equally important. Be a shoulder when it’s needed, but also don’t underestimate the value of being their champion. “You can’t un-see success,” and that feeling of “being successful” builds on itself. Sometimes, a kid just needs to have someone in their corner supporting them and letting them know that they are being seen when they make the right choices. There are certainly plenty of people in their lives that are there to let them know when they are not.

On Wednesday, April 27, 2016 at 7:00 PM Eastern, Chad will join me here for a live discussion about his work and his insights into being a good mentor and friend to a child. 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 Guitars Over Guns:

Twitter: @guitarsoverguns

Instagram: @guitarsoverguns

We believe that all young people should have the opportunity to reach their full potential through the transformative nature of music and the arts and the power of mentorship. GOGO uses popular music to connect professional musicians with at-risk youth in after-school programs as an alternative to the negative and harmful influences that typically dominate their environments. These mentors take students through the artistic learning process where they form meaningful relationships. It is through these relationships that our mentors help students navigate the challenges they face and equip them with the tools they need to become successful in and out of school.

Chad Bernstein, courtesy of Guitars Over Guns

Chad Bernstein created a program to help at-risk youth, courtesy of Guitars Over Guns

Chad’s bio:

Twitter: @chadbernstein

Chad is the co-founder and CEO of Guitars Over Guns Organization (“GOGO”), a music-mentoring program for at-risk youth. He has a doctorate from the University of Miami, teaches at FIU, and is an active member of the South Florida music scene as a multi-instrumentalist, bandleader, sideman, and writer. Chad is a Governor on the board of the Recording Academy (Grammys) and serves as the Chairman of the Education Committee. He has worked with Pharrell, Pitbull, Shakira,, Natalie Cole, Chaka Kahn, John Legend, Phil Ramone, and many more. He is currently a member of Miami groups The Spam Allstars and Suénalo, the Musical Director for Jencarlos Canela, and working on a global funk project with Pee Wee Ellis. In April of 2015, Chad was honored as a CNN Hero for his work with Guitars Over Guns.

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

Devin D. Thorpe

Day 7 of the Fathom Cruise: Travelers React

As the weeklong Fathom impact cruise to the Dominican Republic wrapped up, I grabbed my phone and sat down with some of the passengers to get their reactions to the experience.

Everyone was thrilled to have participated and most agreed that they had been changed by the experience.

Ten-year-old Sofia Kaufman joyfully explains with remarkable accuracy the process for recycling paper. Watching her would make almost anyone want to try it.

Peggy Cooley said the “Concrete floor [project], that was awesome.”

Michaelyn Pouncey vividly described her experience slogging through the muck and mud of the marsh to plant mangrove trees as the highlight of her trip.

Romaine Purdy tearfully described how the experience of tutoring students in English completely changed her thinking. Having come to on the cruise to see what she’d be selling as a travel agent, she found herself moved by the “looks in their eyes” and “knowing you were making a difference in their lives.”

Christopher Donaldson explained how helping the women of rePapel to produce more paper in a few hours than they customarily make alone in a week gave him a sense of the impact of the program on their lives.

Ray Ann Havasy noted that the Dominicans were surprised that “we were so willing to help.”

Ten-year-old Lola Hurst said, “I just feel like I make a huge impact on their work and really helped someone.”

The travelers also recognized that the trip had impacted them. Peggy and Ray Ann both reacted to the Dominicans being happy with relatively modest resources.

Michael Matti noted that the experience caused him to think more deeply about serving others.

Day 6 of the Fathom Cruise: Wanna Buy Some Artisanal Crafts Made By a Middle-Aged White Guy?

Friday, the final day in port here in the Dominican Republic on the Fathom cruise, I volunteered with an organization known as rePapel, which makes recycled artisanal paper and other crafts. This was in many ways more fun and interesting than my past activities.

We arrived to the most enthusiastic greeting of the week as the women who own and operate the rePapel cooperative sang and danced as we arrived at the site. Speaking of the site, it is a modest home with about 1,000 square feet of space. The cooperative could not afford such a lavish site but with the help of Fathom, they were able to secure the home.

The Women of rePapel greeting volunteers from the Fathom

The Women of rePapel greeting volunteers from Fathom

The group of about 35 volunteers was split into two groups, one of which was assigned to begin work supporting the production of recycled paper while the others of us, the group I was in, went to start work on crafts.

The women make crafts to sell. Ship’s passengers aid in the production of the crafts. That is, under their direction we make stuff that they sell—in no small measure—to us. It is quite a system really. No longer are these artisans required to actually do the labor involved in making their goods that they sell to us, instead they coach us to do it. We then are invited to buy the goods we “helped” to produce.

We worked through several crafting stations, including one where we made hot pads and napkin rings, another where we made jewelry and another where we made candles. I made some real progress on a napkin ring in my ten-minute shift at that workstation. I also nearly glue-gunned my fingers together. At one point afterward as I picked flaking white material from my fingertips, I wondered aloud if that was glue or dead skin from the burns.

The women of rePapel with "their" crafts

The women of rePapel with “their” crafts

At the jewelry station, I strung coffee beans and framboyan seeds in a five to one pattern that had been started by a prior volunteer at the station. Progress on the necklace was slow and I left it unfinished for the next volunteer to continue. The exercise was reminiscent of elementary school and I was relieved not to have been graded on my work.

In the candle room, I really excelled. The paraffin was hot and ready to pour. We simply took turns pouring the liquid, colored and scented wax into small glass bottles of the sort used for baby food. We then dropped a wick on a metal stem into the jars and propped it against a stick laid across the top of the jar to keep it approximately straight up.

After a short snack break, the two teams swapped places and our team was assigned to the recycled paper production. This is where the real magic happened.

My shift began at the end of the process where I used a pipe to press the nearly finished sheet between two sheets of heavy fabric to both smooth the heavy paper and dry it. Once inspected by one of the women in the cooperative, the paper was approved as complete and placed in finished goods inventory. I was a pretty good paper presser, but I was working alongside a fellow who was literally twice my size and he could press the paper at twice my pace. I felt rather inadequate.

Then, I rotated to the front end of the process tearing paper into small pieces about eight inches square. The first part of the assignment was to tear off pieces of the white paper I was assigned that had no ink on it. Once the paper that was left was all covered with print, we tore that into pieces. The clean and printed pieces were dropped into separate bins to serve as the primary ingredients in paper. As to my performance at this task, let’s just say I tore it up.

The final stage of the recycled paper process

The final stage of the recycled paper process

From there, I was invited to operate the blender. At the instruction of my coach, I scooped some liquid containing paper that had been torn into tinier pieces and run through a washing process and poured it into the blender. Then, we ran the blender for two minutes and poured the resulting puree of paper into a tray. I repeated this step a second time, but performed less well, overfilling the blender, require the coach to guide me through some remediation to remove some of the liquid. Once back on track, I operated the blender successfully and poured the puree into the tray.

Next, I got to make the paper! This part is pretty cool. Using a pair of frames, one a flat board about two inches larger than the piece of paper and another that is a frame of exactly the same size with a screen mounted inside. Holding the two tightly together, the frames are dipped in the tray of paper puree and sloshed around a bit like trying to get some of the good stuff in the soup up off the bottom and into the ladle.

Then we drain the water slowly out of the frame and the puree settles into the screen. Once the water is completely drained, the frame with the screen is lifted, leaving the form of a piece of paper. That is carefully transferred to a board on which it will dry. After drying for a time (I have no idea how long) each sheet is pressed, as I’d done at the beginning of my shift.

The women reported that we completed about 250 sheets of people during our combined group’s shift.

Before volunteering, my only idea about recycled paper was from the many commercial applications I’d seen, from napkins to the paper I use in my printer. As I visited with other volunteers, I learned that, due to its unique textures and colors, artisanal recycled paper sells at quite a premium, sometimes up to $2 per sheet for use in arts and crafts.

Clearly, with the help of volunteer labor and a captive group of customers (the same group of people), rePapel is on its way to scaling up a trifecta of impact: social, environmental and economic.


Day 5 of the Fathom Cruise: More English, More Impact

It is hard to believe that we’ve crossed off five days of a week on the Fathom impact cruise to the Dominican Republic. Today was the third day of impact activities in country and tomorrow will be the last, with this ship leaving port—with or without the passengers at 2:00 tomorrow.

Today, Gail, my wife, and I joined a group doing English mentoring in the community rather than in a school as we did yesterday. This turned out to be even more fun—and, I hope, more impactful.

A bus took us out to a community called Monterico, a village on the outskirts of Puerto Plata, the primary city here in the Northern part of the country. The ride was relatively short as compared with yesterday’s trip, giving us more opportunity to actually spend with people in the community.

Our time there was split into three sections. First, at a local community center we were led through a 20-minute introductory session, meeting with representatives from the homes we were to visit. We divided into small groups, each with one or two locals. From there, we walked a few blocks to the homes of the people we were to visit.

Mayelin was our host and she led us to her home where there were about eight people ready to learn English. Most had participated in a session the day before. Continuity was established with notebooks in which we could write notes not only to the student but more importantly to the next English mentor.

Gail, who speaks only a few words of Spanish, taught Mayelin herself and Miguelina, a neighbor. For Gail, this brought back pleasant memories of her 25-year teaching career. She enjoyed creating interactions between the girls, allowing them to teach each other—something she views as being more effective than teaching them herself. She felt that both girls learned something during our hour with them.

Mayelin, Gail Thorpe and Miguelina

Mayelin, Gail Thorpe and Miguelina

Miguelina did not have a notebook, suggesting that she had not been part of the program from the beginning—yesterday. Given the basic level of English we were doing, that represented no problem. It wasn’t clear to us, however, if she would be added formally to the program.

While Gail was teaching Mayelin and Miguelina, I worked with Miguelina’s grandmother Vicenta. She was an impressive student. While she didn’t pick up the language as quickly as the kids, she had a wonderful attention span—she made me jealous. Without having trained her adult attention span to expect new stimulation every few seconds by having a life dominated by competing screens, she was able to focus intently for the entire hour we spent together.



Today, we all focused on teaching the alphabet. Vicenta was able to master about half of the letters during our time together. She won’t likely progress at the same rate as the teenagers because of the difficulty of language learning at her—well, our—age. The system with the notebooks seems to anticipate and allow for those disparities, meaning that she should get the patient help she needs.
As I reflect on this program after a single exposure to it, it does some to have great potential. My biggest remaining concern is that meaningful English skills, that is those that will lead to meaningfully improved educational opportunities will require much more than the basic program contained in the 10-lesson program book. A few basic phrases, no matter how fully mastered, will not allow someone to qualify for employment in a public-facing role in the tourist industry—the best sorts of jobs in the community, especially now that Carnival has developed Amber Cove as a destination for its ships across all of its cruise lines.

Lighting Up African Communities With Impact Investment For Clean Energy

This is a guest post from Dr Murray Simpson, CEO, INTASAVE Energy

Access to power is still a major challenge for remote rural off-grid communities in Africa and elsewhere. In Kenya, for example, more than 30 million people are without electricity, approximately 75% of the population.

The provision of a reliable, sustainable, clean energy source has wide-ranging benefits, helping to improve health, increase children’s educational attainment, empower women, boost the economy and therefore improve quality of life for entire communities.

One of the simplest and cost-most effective ways of providing this is through solar power, especially in countries with the right prevailing conditions. Kenya, for example, is well suited to solar, with an average of 5 kWh/m²/day (1,850 kWh/m²/year) available throughout the country.

In the past, the standard solution for off-grid solar power has been through standalone solar home systems (SHS) that supply a fixed amount of energy to single households. Although these systems have achieved some success, they have significant limitations including their high cost, limited functionality and lack of community benefits.

A better model is required for delivering sustainable clean energy that is affordable, easy to maintain and scalable. To address this need INTASAVE Energy has created a unique model through its Solar Nano-Grid (SONG) renewable energy systems.


SONGs differ from other solar installations as they combine a visionary model for sustainable affordable energy with a cutting-edge new form of energy storage using up-cycled batteries, never used in development projects before. This unique combination not only provides a “quick fix” for immediate electricity needs (both domestic and communal), but also a long-term scalable solution that allows communities to grow their electricity usage at their own pace.

Each SONG consists of a small grid network and central solar hub that produces a DC power output of 3-5 kWp. The hub contains traditional lead-acid cells that store the power collected from the solar panels. Household energy is then supplied via portable battery packs charged at the central hub, collected for use in homes and returned for re-charging as required. A SONG can supply an entire community of around 50 households from one central hub.

Ground-breaking IonQube technology allows industry standard 18650 lithium-ion batteries, as used in laptops and power drills, to be ‘upcycled’ into a rechargeable and long-lasting power source for low carbon energy storage. By monitoring and analysing how power is being used with microcontrollers in the battery packs in initial installations, INTASAVE is able to expand and increase supply to meet individual and community requirements for existing and future roll-outs.

One of the key benefits of the SONG model is that excess power generated at the central location is available to meet the community’s commercial, social or agro-industrial needs, which is not possible with an SHS. It can power water pumps, flour mills and egg incubators, and even support commercial micro-enterprises such as hair clipping and mobile phone charging businesses. INTASAVE Energy is working with the SONG communities to help grow new businesses, creating much-needed jobs and income for long-term development.

The first INTASAVE Energy SONG deployments are currently taking place in Kenya. INTASAVE Energy has also launched a major $30 million equity funding campaign to enable the wider implementation of the SONG programme. Details can be found here or contact

About Dr Murray Simpson:

Dr Murray Simpson is senior visiting fellow, University of Oxford, Department of Engineering Science and CEO of the INTASAVE-CARIBSAVE Group, a global not-for-profit and environmental enterprise organisation with offices in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, China and the UK, specialising in sustainable development and climate change adaptation and mitigation in developed and developing countries, and in emerging economies.

Day 4 of the Fathom Cruise: Impact Increases

Today, day 4 of the Fathom impact cruise to the Dominican Republic, brings us to the crescendo of service and the peak of excitement for the trip. Today was the first full day in port, giving everyone on board an opportunity to tackle one service project or another. (See yesterday’s post for a summary of the options.)

Gail, my wife, and I volunteered to teach English to school children. We loaded buses at 8:00 AM for a surprisingly long ride—nearly 90 minutes—up into the mountains to an area called Cupay. There we arrived at a small school called “Centro Educativo Isabel Meyreles” with about 280 students. We visited the fourth grade class.

Centro Educativo Isabel Meyreles

Centro Educativo Isabel Meyreles

To begin, they welcomed us with a song and dance. Of course, we felt honored by that.

Then, we were issued English training books that we’d been trained to use on Monday and began mentoring.

In a quick and random match up, I was paired with Nathalie, a delightful little girl who already knew some English and proudly told me that her father spoke five languages, including English.
We had fun reviewing basic phrases like “Hello. My name is Nathalie.” She helped me design a simple matching game with flash cards to help her learn a dozen different responses to “How are you?”

As we worked, however, I noticed that was frequently being distracted by the two blonde 10-year-old boys who were part of the mentoring team. They were teaching students about their own age at the same table. For some mysterious reason, Nathalie was more interested in the boys next door.

Over the course of nearly an hour, we did make some real progress. She learned some new words, master pronunciation of others that were already familiar and practiced greetings and polite responses. It was fun for me and seemed to be a break from the routine for her to have a funny-looking, middle-aged American drop into her classroom to provide an hour of mentoring.
As I reflect on the impact of the day and the potential impact of the program across the months and years that it is intended to run, I see tremendous impact.

The students will have regular opportunities to practice language skills at an age when their minds have a natural facility with language and as such will be likely to actually learn English.
In addition, the activity gives ship’s passengers the opportunity to use a skill—their English—in a way that not only serves the community but does so in a way that the community can’t on its own.

The passengers are native English speakers and the teachers are not. Our volunteering doesn’t supplant the role of a teacher, but it does enhance the teacher’s ability to help the students learn English. No losers, only winners!

This model for service off the ship strikes me as a great one for expansion and application to other regions of the world where native English speakers like to cruise.

Day 3 of the Fathom Cruise: Impact Begins

Today we arrived in the Dominican Republic and began our work as volunteers.

Less than 48 hours after sailing from Miami, we arrived in Amber Cove, a recently redeveloped port not used by cruise ships in three decades. The port is simple, intentionally quaint and sufficiently modern.

Before arriving, we had another opportunity for training this morning. We reviewed Dominican history, culture and key traveler tips. The session was fun, with much of the session set up as games. The interactive format ensured that we all earned something. Don’t get me wrong, we won’t get college credit for this training, but we came away with a basic understanding of the country.

Upon docking, we were invited to a welcoming party celebrating the opening of the new port and the arrival of the first ship. Tara Russell, Fathom’s president, and Arnold Donald, Carnival’s President and CEO, welcomed the first passengers and thanked the local community for its support. A number of local dignitaries were present and the mayor of Puerto Plata, the nearby city.

The Adonia docked in Amber Cove

The Adonia docked in Amber Cove

Following the ceremony, we were off to impact activities. There were several to choose from:

  • Reforestation and Nursery
  • Cacao and Women’s Chocolate Cooperative
  • Community English Conversation and Learning
  • Student English Conversation and Learning
  • Water Filter Production
  • Concrete Floors in Community Homes
  • Creative Arts, Music and Sports
  • Recycled Paper and Crafts Entrepreneurship

Each person was invited to sign up for three activities during the four days here in port. I cheated and signed up for four, one each day. The various projects and activities are all supported by two major, local nonprofits. Entrena was founded by a young American and his Dominican wife, John and Sobeya Seibel, after his stint in the Peace Corps in 1982. Instituto Dominicano de Desarrollo Integral, Inc. (almost always referred to as IDDI, pronounced like Edie) is a large nonprofit with six social and environmental missions.

Note that the cruise also offers traditional cruise excursions like zip lines and tours, but they are not included in the price of the cruise, whereas the impact activities are.

For today, I had signed up for the Reforestation and Nursery project. While not as deforested as Haiti, which is almost entirely deforested, the Dominican Republic is largely deforested and the country is working to reverse that. There are a variety of differences between Haiti and the Dominican Republic that make reforestation possible here and more difficult on the other side of the island, principally the use of wood and charcoal as cooking fuel in Haiti, which is less common on this side.

Fathom-IDDI Reforestation Project

Fathom-IDDI Reforestation Project

As we were the first regular participants (training and investigative groups have been doing preliminary work for some months) there were no trees ready for us to plant so our task was to plant seeds and seedlings in small bags that would serve as temporary pots for the nursery. In two to five months the trees will be ready to plant in their permanent homes. By cultivating the seedlings in the nursery, the plants are given a 50/50 chance of surviving, they facilitators explained.

As a group of about 60 people, we were allocated four hours for the project. We left the port at 2:00 and returned at 6:04, almost perfectly on schedule.

We did virtually all of our project work in about one hour. In that time, we planted seeds or seedlings for 1,373 trees:

  • 299 Palm trees
  • 274 Flamboyan
  • 425 Saman
  • 277 Sea Grapes
  • 128 Canafistula

Following the one hour of work, we took a break, had some light snacks and water. We followed that with a guided hike through the rainforest to help us gain some perspective on the reforestation work that we were initiating.

The pace of the work and the hike were similar, set to the capability of the weakest and slowest among us. For most, that made the afternoon rather light work and generally enjoyable.

For some of us who are passionate about driving impact, we found ourselves wondering—sometimes out loud—about the impact we’d had.

Ultimately, it is clear that if we’d each given $50 to IDDI, the organization could have hired a team to do more planting than we’d done. That said, the IDDI staff staunchly defended the model, emphasizing the value to them of having us come.

If we simply consider the alternative of cruising to Amber Cove to lay on the beach and compare that to the project we completed, it becomes clear that this does have a social benefit that has the potential to be meaningful. We put two groups of people together from significantly different cultures and worked closely together—not especially hard nor for very long—but we got to know each other in a personal way that would have been unlikely—if not impossible—on the beach. And of course, laying on the beach, no reforestation would have happened at all.

Perhaps the cruise isn’t so much about the help we give or the difference we make in the lives of the Dominicans but about the connections we make and the differences we make in our own lives.

Day 2 of the Fathom Cruise: Training for Good

Today was the second day of the Fathom impact cruise to the Dominican Republic. It was an “at sea” day that on a traditional cruise would be spent entirely at rest. Not on a Fathom cruise. An at sea day is just time to prepare for the service we’ll be doing later in the week.

First, each passenger was provided with a cohort and invited to attend an orientation with the cohort. This isn’t a “how to find your life preserver” sort of training, rather it is a session on developing empathy—not sympathy—for the people we serve, helping us to see them as human beings with the same passions we have.

Following the orientation, we got training in providing instruction in English as a second language. While my wife has a teaching degree with a certificate in teaching English as a second language, the rest of us did not and were quite pleased to get some preparation. We were, among other things, assured that we speak English well enough to be of help to students who speak virtually none. That was encouraging!

In the afternoon, we had optional advanced training based on Ashoka’s training built around the “Humans of New York” blog, again teaching us how to feel empathy for other people. The exercise involved getting us to listen deeply and thoughtfully to strangers—other passengers—so that we could really get to know them quickly.

These trainings were great reminders of things I’ve been taught effectively by the guests on my show over the past three years. We all fall into the trap of seeing a person not so much as a human being but as a caricature of the person they are. We look at outside manifestations of people, their hair color and style, the clothes they wear, their age, and we make decisions and judgments. We stop seeing individuals and drop people neatly into the categories we have in our minds for them: old, young, uneducated, elitist, religious, intellectual, etc. All nonsense.

Today, members of the media on the cruise were invited to a briefing with Fathom President Tara Russell and Carnival CEO and President Arnold Donald (Carnival owns Fathom). They are an impressive pair of leaders. They handled the press well, fielding questions from across the spectrum of interests from seasoned travel writers to impact folks like me.

This evening, we had dinner in the elite sea food specialty restaurant on board. Again, we got to spend time with Tara and Arnold. It is great to see them come together on this project. Tara doesn’t have a long history with cruising; her career has been in the impact space. Arnold, on the other hand, is the CEO of the world’s largest cruise line and he’s handed over a ship to someone in whom he has obvious confidence and with whom he shares a sense of purpose and passion.


At dinner, one of the other journalists on the trip commented that the day had been “stressful.” I asked why and he reminded me of the workshops we’d attended (separately). His point was that the sessions had taken him outside of his comfort zone. It was great evidence that this cruise is not like any other cruise you or I have ever been on. While no one mistakes this cruise with a day at the office, the mood aboard the ship is one of preparation, not relaxation.

This Isn’t Your Grandparent’s Cruise Line

Fathom, a new cruise line owned by Carnival, got underway this week with its inaugural cruise. This isn’t your ordinary cruise; it is voluntourism writ large. With approximately 750 passengers on board, the MV Adonia will arrive at Amber Cove every other week bringing a small army of volunteers. For the inaugural cruise, Fathom invited a few journalists along, including me.
We set sail Sunday, April 17, 2017 about 4:00 PM from Miami headed to our single destination, Amber Cove, near Puerto Plata, a city founded by Christopher Columbus before 1500.
Passengers will have nearly four days for volunteering and fun, arriving on Tuesday afternoon and leaving for Miami on Friday afternoon. This approach also gives passengers an opportunity to spend time in the city in the evening, a rare feature on cruises (typically, cruise ships sail at night to be in a different port most days of a trip).

One of the first signs that this cruise would be different was the set of “fair trade” toiletries we found in the bathroom. Fathom is working to ensure that there is integrity in the effort to do good on this trip.
This evening, Fathom’s President Tara Russell hosted a small group of journalists at her table, giving us an opportunity to get to know her better. We also met her family members who are traveling with her.
I first connected with Tara after my wife told me about Fathom nearly a year ago. Tara appeared on the Your Mark on the World show in an episode produced for Forbes here.
Tara is passionately committed to driving real impact, but recognizes the need for the business to be profitable without stealing passengers from other Carnival cruise lines.
One of the strategic ideas for Fathom was that by incorporating service they might attract younger passengers, including more Millennials, who hadn’t cruised before; it seems to be working. No longer in my forties, I am certainly among the older set on this cruise. Tara, who is about 40, appears to be about the median age of the passengers. During the muster drill the crew asked who had not cruised before and nearly every hand went up.

Aaron Hurst, author of The Purpose Economy

Aaron Hurst, author of The Purpose Economy

Aaron Hurst, the social entrepreneur CEO and Founder of Imperative and author of The Purpose Economy is on board. In fact, a copy of his book was waiting in our stateroom when we boarded.
The ship is full of socially-minded, good people and I’m looking forward to meeting them with hopes of telling their stories.
This week, I will do my best to provide a report on the activities each day. Internet access in the Caribbean is dicey so be patient if you don’t see a report.

Polio End Game Strategy to Require Another $1.5B

The Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), the joint effort including Rotary International, the World Health Organization (WHO), the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC), UNICEF and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to eradicate polio, acknowledged today that the “End Game Strategy” scheduled to wrap up in 2018 is about one year behind schedule and will need another $1.5 billion in funding on top of the original budget of $5.5 billion.

The acknowledgement was made officially today during a briefing on the simultaneous global transition from trivalent to bivalent vaccine. There are three strains of polio. The primary tool in fighting polio has been the Sabin trivalent oral vaccine using weakened forms of all three viruses. A global switch across 155 countries still using the trivalent vaccine will occur beginning on April 17 and will wrap up on May 1. The trivalent vaccine will not be used anywhere in the world thereafter.

The switch is possible because there is no type 2 wild polio virus left. The last recorded case occurred in 1999. The switch is expected to have a positive impact on the final stages of the effort because bivalent vaccine is actually more potent than the trivalent–for the two forms of the disease it is created to fight. The bivalent vaccine was credited with allowing India to eradicate polio officially in 2014, three years after the last case was reported there in January 2011.

The switch must be made simultaneously around the globe because a few of the children receiving the oral vaccine will actually infect other children with the disease. This form of the disease is called circulating vaccine-derived polio virus (cVDPV) and while less virulent, the paralytic effects can be the same. It is important to stop giving the vaccine universally so that a child can’t infect a neighbor who hasn’t received the type 2 vaccine.


Stephen Cochi, Senior Advisor to the Director of the Global Immunization Division at the CDC, noted that the GPEI anticipates one breakout of type 2 cvdpv resulting from the switch and has 100 million monovalent type 2 vaccine doses ready to combat it if it in fact occurs.

The CDC joined Rotary in 1988 to launch the Polio Plus program to eradicate polio. The initial estimate was that transmission of the virus could be suspended by 2000. We are now 16 years past that date, but now appear to be on the cusp of suspending transmission.

The disease is circulating only in Pakistan with some cases occurring across the boarder in Afghanistan. Only ten cases of the wild polio virus have been identified so far this year; another three cases of cVDPV has also been documented this year. At this point last year, there had been 22 wild cases and just one cVDPV case.

It is important to put these numbers into a longer term context. In the mid 1980s when this global effort was being organized, there were up to 400,000 cases per year, meaning that the annual number of cases has been reduced by 99.98 percent.

The transition from trivalent vaccine to bivalent vaccine will be accompanied by placing greater emphasis on the use of the Salk IPV vaccine, using killed viruses in routine immunizations around the world. The Salk vaccine must be injected and therefore is more difficult to administer in mass programs as the OPV is used in the developing world. The IPV does not have any risk of infecting children so it is and will continue to be administered in its trivalent form as a barrier against outbreaks of cVDPV.

The GPEI expects that polio transmission will be suspended during the traditional low season this year, which ends about this time each year. Next month, I will be visiting Pakistan to report on the eradication of polio from ground zero. It is important to note that the GPEI expects to observe the last case of wild polio virus in history in the next few weeks.

Rotary International has provided leadership in fundraising and otherwise supporting the GPEI’s work and has provided over $1.5  billion over the life of the effort to date, coincidentally comparable to the funding requirement anticipated for the revised final year of the End Game Strategy.

Children celebrate polio eradication in India in 2014., by Devin Thorpe

Children celebrate polio eradication in India in 2014, by Devin Thorpe

Carol Pandak, Director of Polio Plus at Rotary International, notes, “Rotary is committed to supporting polio eradication until we achieve our goal of eradication.”

“Rotary is committed to raising US$35 million per year through 2018, to ensure we fully leverage our fundraising agreement with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation by which every dollar Rotary commits up to U$$35 million per year is matched 2:1.,” she continued. “However, that money is only the tip of the iceberg. Rotary members will also continue to play a key role advocating in countries around the world, encouraging their governments to support the final push to end polio.”

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has been matching Rotary money on the basis of $2 for each dollar from Rotary. Pandak adds, “Rotary and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation are both dedicated to ending polio and enjoy a strong partnership. We’re in the third year of a five year fundraising agreement and we are focused on maxing out the potential match from the Gates Foundation for each year of the agreement.”

“Based on the our long-term fundraising partnership with the Gates Foundation, we have agreed to monitor the funding situation and continue a dialogue if there are funding needs past 2018,” she concludes.

Michel Zaffran with the WHO says that they have already begun reaching out to the funding organizations, presumably including Rotary and the Gates Foundation, to ensure that the effort can be maintained through 2019 as required.

This is the first official acknowledgement I’ve seen that the original End Game Strategy  will have to be modified in order to finish the job. The estimate of $1.5 billion represents a significant challenge for the world and will require individuals, nonprofits, NGOs and governments all to collaborate on this funding need over the next three years to ensure that three decades of work aren’t wiped out by a rogue strain of the vaccine.


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