From June 7-9, aspiring social entrepreneurs, designers, and developers will get a chance to try out new business ideas with expert coaches and judges, and to compete for prizes. International NGO Mercy Corps is hosting the competition, called Tech4Change, at its global headquarters in Portland, Ore., in collaboration with Seattle-based Startup Weekend and a host of local tech accelerators and mentors.
Like other Startup Weekends, the event schedule is intense: In less than 54 hours, participants must pitch, build, and present tech-oriented social enterprise concepts. If the crowd selects an initial concept as one of the top 12, the entrepreneur assembles a team of designers, developers, business project managers, and marketers from the weekend's attendees to help build a minimum viable product – a sort-of prototype – by the end of the weekend. The teams then present their new social enterprises to the panel of judges, and at 9 p.m. the event concludes with winners receiving their prizes.
Entrepreneurs might be surprised to learn that nonprofits aren't the only ones interested in Tech4Change, said event lead Allison Deverman Vietor of Mercy Corps.
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Many profit-maximizing investors are eager to gain access to the “base of the pyramid” – those living on $5 a day or less – a huge market with billions of potential new customers. Attendees will learn how to design and market “bottom of the pyramid” products and strategies from experts in the field at Mercy Corps, Thoughtworks, and Manifesto.
But nonprofits are also setting their scopes wide, hoping the weekend can generate job-creating ideas that they can take abroad to create employment in areas where it's needed. Mercy Corps Senior Director of Social Innovations Andy Dwonch explained:
”One billion jobs are needed in the coming decade just to keep up with current levels of global unemployment. We see that entrepreneurship and, in particular, entrepreneurship focused on opportunities in the digital economy, is one way to generate economic opportunities and jobs. Small businesses and entrepreneurial enterprises are the biggest engine for job growth in the world.”
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Focusing solely on social innovation is a new idea for Startup Weekend, and many entrepreneurs may need some support in developing business models with a double- or triple-bottom line. To help them along, Mercy Corps employees are attending both to mentor and participate, and Deverman Vietor hopes entrepreneurs will take this chance to get inside the heads of nonprofit experts and make new contacts.
As an added bonus, Global IT consultancy firm Thoughtworks is hosting a “boot camp” May 29th for registered participants to work on customer validation – designing products people want – and learn more about LEAN methodologies.
Tech4Change may be the first event of its kind, but Deverman Vietor hopes it won’t be the last. She predicts that by getting entrepreneurs and nonprofit experts together, the competition can create new solutions to old problems.
UPDATE (5/21): Relief is now pouring in from all over the world and President Obama has ordered federal aid to assist in the recovery. If you are not in the Oklahoma City area, the best thing to do right now is to donate using one of the links below. If you are in the area, local organizations are accepting gloves, flashlights, boots, and other rescue materials. Oklahoma Baptist Disaster Relief has a list of locations accepting donations.
Thousands of people have been displaced by a massive tornado that ripped through Moore, Okla., in the Oklahoma City metropolitan area, Monday. Relief organizations are scrambling to bring aid to the area. You can help right now by taking the following actions:
• Donate to the United Way of Central Oklahoma, which can be earmarked specifically for tornado relief.
• Donate to the Red Cross, which has mobilized to help tornado victims throughout the Midwest. Text RED CROSS to 90999 to donate $10.
• Text GIVE OK to 80088 to donate $10 to the Tornado Relief Fund on GlobalGiving. You can also donate online.
• Donate to the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma Disaster Relief Fund. All donations go to "providing tree removal services, laundry services, and meals to victims."
• If you're in the pathway, follow these tips on what to do during a tornado.
• Residents are being asked for gloves, boots, toiletries, shovels, trash bags, dust masks, or cash. Bring these items to:
News 9 Studio
7401 North Kelley Ave
Oklahoma City, OK 73111
As cultural institutions across the country struggle to attract young visitors, the Cleveland Museum of Art is embracing cutting-edge technology to try to lure new audiences to its collection of masterworks.
In the museum’s new Gallery One, visitors can try to match the expressions of faces in a painting or strike the pose of a sculpture in the collection and then share photographs of the results via social media. Display screens paired with original works of art show people how the pieces were made and where they come from.
The goal is to make the museum more welcoming, especially to young people who “mediate the world through the screen,” says David Franklin, director of the museum.
“The outcome is intergenerational,” he says. “But one of the inspirations was certainly trying to attract a younger demographic to the art museum, a demographic that might see the museum as off-putting or forbidding.”
The Collection Wall, a 40-foot touchscreen, features images of artworks grouped by theme, time period, and materials used, acting as a bridge between the interactive gallery and the rest of the museum. Visitors can create their own tours by saving their favorite pieces from the wall to an iPad, either their own or one borrowed from the museum.
The new space culminates with a gallery devoted to small exhibits. The first artwork exhibited was La Vie, a painting from Pablo Picasso’s Blue Period. The layout encourages visitors to take what they’ve learned from the interactive experiences to engage deeply with the artwork, says Mr. Franklin.
“There might be a temptation to put storage pictures there, works that wouldn’t necessarily belong in the main galleries,” he says. “But we’ve put works there of the highest order and therefore you’re interacting with the best of the best.”
The museum declined to reveal the total cost of the new gallery, saying only that it exceeded the $10 million grant the museum received from the Milton and Tamar Maltz Family Foundation for the project.
As the museum world debates the best ways to incorporate technology, leaders of cultural institutions are watching the experiment at the Cleveland Museum of Art carefully, says Joshua Jeffery, manager of digital engagement at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh.
“A lot of people were excited; a lot of people were really turned off,” he says. “But everyone was like, 'We can’t wait to see what’s going to happen.’”
For most of her 20-year marriage to Steve Jobs, Laurene Powell Jobs was content to be a behind-the-scenes philanthropist.
But a desire to change US immigration laws is bringing her into the media spotlight - albeit in a carefully managed way.
Ms. Powell Jobs has a net worth of about $11.5 billion, according to Bloomberg. Her husband, the Apple co-founder, wasn't a big philanthropist. And before his death, he did not join the "Giving Pledge," the organization started by Warren E. Buffett and Bill Gates to encourage the world's wealthiest to donate at least half their wealth to charity. The site lists 114 people who have taken the pledge. Powell Jobs has not signed either.
But she has been a quiet donor of her time and money to many causes, especially to education.
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In 1997, she started College Track, a non-profit organization that helps low-income students get into college, and graduate from college. The after-school program reaches kids starting the summer before high school and works with them throughout college. The program includes tutoring, extra-curricular activities and leadership classes. According to the website, 90 percent of the nearly 1,200 children who have participated in College Track programs have graduated from high school.
It was through her work at College Track that Powell Jobs got on the track to immigration reform. Some of the students in California in the program came into the US at a young age illegally. Now, as high school graduates, they are ineligible for state or federal college assistance. And that has led Powell Jobs to take a more public and active stance on the immigration.
“This continues to be a purgatory that they find themselves in,” Powell Jobs told The New York TImes recently. “It is one of these issues that seems discordant with what our country stands for.”
When the DREAM Act – which would have offered a path to citizenship for children living in the US illegally – failed to pass Congress, Powell Jobs began to flex her political and economic muscle. Through her Emerson Collective (which invests in education start-ups and gives education grants), she commissioned a film by Academy Award-winning filmmaker (Waiting for 'Superman,' An Inconvenient Truth) Davis Guggenheim. She's shown the 30-minute film ("The Dream is Now") to key members of Congress and launched a web site where it can be viewed.
Powell Jobs recently gave an interview to The Wall Street Journal, on the condition that the only topic she would discuss was immigration.
"Her profile is rising only of necessity and passion to change the system," said Ron Conway, a start-up investor who is a friend. "I don't think she necessarily wants to be in Washington all the time. I think it is based on the necessity of the issue." Conway told The Wall Street Journal that he saw her as "a catalyst, not a lobbyist."
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Would men stop sexually harassing women, or at least understand what it feels like to be verbally and physically abused, if they were to experience it themselves?
One TV program in Egypt has looked at the issue of sexual harassment by doing just that.
“Awel el Khayt” – roughly translated as “The Thread”–- is a seven-episode series aimed at covering longstanding socio-political and economic problems in the North African country.
In a recently aired 30-minute episode titled “Sexual Harassment in Egypt,” young actor Waleed Hammad took to the streets of downtown Cairo dressed as a woman in order to experience harassment firsthand.
In the report, Hammad – who went out both veiled and unveiled to see whether that would make a difference – said he was followed by fancy cars with men in suits who would try to lure him into the vehicle.
On another occasion, he was followed by a man who seemed to be talking on the phone. The actor realized after a while that the man was in fact cautiously addressing him, proposing a paid appointment with another man in a hotel room.
“I realized that simply walking on the street, for a woman, is such a huge effort, a psychological effort and a bodily effort. It’s like women are besieged,” Hammad said.
“As a man [Hammad] takes to the streets to go about his daily business without much thought for what he is wearing, who is looking at him, and without the fear of being physically or verbally harassed,” Ramy Aly, the editorial consultant for the program told Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“So dressing up as a woman was a real eye opener, an exercise in empathy.” Finding an actor willing to put on women’s clothing and walk the streets of Cairo wasn’t easy, Aly said.
Producers went to a number of casting agencies, but most actors refused. It took them two months to find Hammad.
Aly said the series is meant to fill a void in current affairs programming on Egyptian television, which has long been dominated by talk shows and TV debates but lacks factual programming formats.
“We decided to go for a mixed format where we would produce documentaries investigating issues like sexual harassment, food security, health care, and education, which we would use as a way of laying the ground for informed debate,” he said. “We wanted try and tackle some of the longstanding problems that Egypt faces in a different way.”
Sexual harassment is an endemic, longstanding, highly controversial, and sensitive subject in Egypt. A string of high-profile incidents of mass sex attacks in recent months has drawn global attention to the phenomenon.
“However,” Aly said, “society has by and large turned a blind eye to the everyday forms of sexual harassment that millions of Egyptian women experience every day on the street, public transport, and at work.”
Moreover, some men remain unsympathetic toward women who have been harassed, blaming them for dressing provocatively and calling the abuse upon them.
According to Aly, the reasons for sexual harassment are complex and include a number of stereotypes. It is fuelled by unemployment, poverty, lower chances of marriage, the Internet, pornography, and women going beyond their traditional roles as housewives and mothers.
However, none of the above provides an exhaustive, comprehensive explanation of the phenomenon, he said.
“We realized that we could not find a root cause, and so instead, the film engages in a kind of myth-busting exercise. [We found that] many perpetrators are married, they are both wealthy and poor men, and that women who are veiled in various degrees from niqab [full veil] to hijab [headscarf] are harassed in equal measure.”
They even came across a case in which a brother accidentally harassed his own sister.
In addition to Hammad’s experiment, the TV program also gathered testimonies of women who were victims of harassment. And, Aly said, it wasn’t easy getting them to open up.
“It is still a challenge to find nonactivist women who are willing to speak candidly about their experiences of sexual harassment because it is such a social taboo.”
One woman who took her harasser to court and got him convicted recounted being pressured to drop the charges during the first court hearing, and subsequently being threatened by his family, who said they would throw acid on her face.
“Nobody supported me, and to this day, not many people in my family know that I took him to court, and those that do know say, ‘How will you get married after what you have done?’ ” the woman said.
Hammad, after switching gender roles for the TV program, felt some empathy.
“I would say to all the women out there, God be with you. I know that it is such a devastating experience, and even as a man dressed as a woman, I don’t think I can claim to really understand what it feel like to be a woman under these circumstances,” Hammad said.
• This article originally appeared at Thomson Reuters Foundation, a source of news, information, and connections for action. It provides programs that trigger change, empower people, and offer concrete solutions.
Not long ago, a boatful of shellfish researchers and I cruised downstream toward a most unlikely structure bobbing at the mouth of one of the most urban bodies of water on the planet.
The 20-foot by 25-foot form ahead of us was an experimental raft that scientists from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) had placed at the mouth of New York City’s Bronx River last spring. Hanging beneath it were long, sock-like tendrils that had been seeded with Geukensia demissa, commonly known as ribbed mussels. The point of the two-year experiment was to see whether mussels would survive or even thrive given the industrial and organic effluent that flows from the Bronx into the greater New York Harbor. If the mussels did in fact prosper in this environment, it could have implications for how we might help clean up coastal waters in various parts of the world.
The idea of using bivalves like mussels, oysters, and clams to purify waterways has been on the minds of conservationists and scientists for decades. Perhaps because of a romantic nostalgia for the lost, billion-strong oyster colonies that once girded the coasts of the eastern US, millions of dollars have been put into oyster restoration projects, to mixed effect. But as mussel aquaculture grows in the US, Canada, and elsewhere, businessmen and scientists are increasingly considering the mussel, both as a way to produce a commercial product and to explore their potential as water filterers.
Uppermost on the minds of the researchers out on the Bronx River — a joint project of NOAA and the Long Island Sound Study — was whether certain types of mussels could be used to rid coastal waters of an onerous influx of nitrogen generated from sewage, fertilizers, and other pollutants. This “nutrient loading” can prompt algal blooms, which in turn deprive coastal waters of oxygen when the algae die and decompose.
“In areas where water quality is degraded... from nutrient over-enrichment, the ribbed mussel looks like a dependable partner to help us recycle lost nutrients back into useful products,” Gary Wikfors, an aquaculture expert and chief of the biotechnology branch at NOAA’s laboratory in Milford, Conn., said in an e-mail.
Other researchers also are investigating the beneficial effects of raising seaweed and kelp, in conjunction with bivalves, to clean coastal waters.
In macro-ecological terms, mussels and their bivalve kin are the intestines of coastal ecosystems. Their filters remove organic particulate matter from the water column, particularly phytoplankton. Oysters were long the bivalve of choice in the US, but the mussel has certain advantages that are being increasingly touted. Although an individual oyster can filter much more water — an estimated 20 to 30 gallons per day — mussels grow more densely than oysters.
Carter Newell, the founder of Pemaquid Mussel Farms in Damariscotta, Maine, and who had joined us on the Bronx River raft, explained that mussels do something that oysters in their present state of depletion don’t: They work in three dimensions. Oysters once built tremendous vertical reefs, many feet high, that accrued over centuries in places like the Chesapeake Bay and Long Island Sound. But those wild reefs are mostly gone, and the time needed to rebuild them to a useful height is formidable. Meanwhile, mussel rafts, with their long tendrils of bivalves, can be immediately established in 3D, working throughout the water column at incredible densities.
“My mussel rafts are 40 feet by 40 feet,” Newell told me. “That means they can filter something like 5 million liters [1.3 million gallons] of water per hour.” Mussel rafts also provide habitat, something oyster reefs once did when they were bigger and more substantial. “I have counted 37 different species of invertebrates living among the mussels on their culture ropes,” said Newell, who has a Ph.D. in marine biology.
Mussels are also perhaps the easiest bivalve to grow. This is due to the tremendous amount of wild mussel seed, or “spat,” that still swims in American waters. Back when wild oysters were abundant, waterways were dense with oyster spat. But following the oyster’s collapse, oyster spat is increasingly rare.
“I first got the idea to grow mussels after Hurricane Irene,” Bren Smith, owner of the Thimble Island Oyster Company in Connecticut, told me recently. “After Irene there was just this incredible abundance of mussel larvae in the water and they set everywhere. Lobstermen were complaining that their traps were full of mussels. I realized all I’d have to do was provide the structure and I could have a mussel farm.”
The effects of Irene and other storms also highlight the mussel’s inherent hardiness. “Irene completely buried my oysters and killed them,” Smith told me.
“[Hurricane] Sandy did, too. The mussels — they were just hanging there on the ropes. They did fine.”
Eva Galimany, a marine biologist with the Institute of Sciences of the Sea in Barcelona and a member of the team working on the NOAA project in New York, noted the sheer abundance of saltwater mussel species (many more than oysters and distributed in intertidal zones throughout much of the world) means that mussels are adaptable to a wide range of conditions.
“From my experiments, they are great survivors, barely get sick, and can cope with many types of weather issues and toxins,” she said in an interview.
And since they can cope with difficult conditions it’s hoped that mussels could make it in places like the Bronx and theoretically be harvested and ground up for fish food, assuming they did not contain large quantities of toxics.
But some scientists believe there is only so much that mussels can do. A more diverse set of organisms, they maintain, will be needed to filter out the range of pollutants found in places like New York Harbor. For more than a decade, Thierry Chopin, a marine biologist at the University of New Brunswick, has been conducting research into the related field of “integrated multi-trophic aquaculture,” or IMTA, where salmon, mussels, sea cucumbers, sea urchins, and seaweeds are all cultured together. His research in the Bay of Fundy shows that blue mussels and kelp can be cultivated and thrive thanks, in part, to the wastes produced by nearby pens of farmed Atlantic salmon.
His research has also revealed that seaweeds absorb persistent inorganic nutrients in the water column much more effectively than mussels. And unlike bivalves, which use oxygen as they filter and respire, photosynthetic seaweeds generate oxygen, making for a more oxygen-rich system — provided they are harvested before they die and decompose.
Moreover, Chopin believes seaweeds can safely remove toxic substances.
“The big problem is that if mussels filter phytoplankton and organic matter they also ingest all that comes with it, and that can be elements or chemicals that reach toxic levels,” Chopin said via e-mail. “What do you do with these mussels? Dump them somewhere? Then you create a pile of toxic material somewhere else.” Better in such areas, he said, to use seaweeds, which can be processed in what he calls an “Integrated Sequential BioRefinery” (ISBR). By breaking down different elements of seaweed in an ISBR, some parts can be used, for example, in cosmetics, while separating out pollutants.
Co-culturing seaweeds with mussels is something the Connecticut mussel grower Bren Smith has caught onto, although in far cleaner waters than New York Harbor. Along with his mussels, he expects this year to grow more than 10 tons of edible kelp, which he sells along with his bivalves at his community-supported fishery.
Although marine scientists hope that operations like Smith’s could build up US aquaculture potential, American growers face steep competition, primarily from Canada. Of the $108 million in mussels consumed in the US in 2012, the overwhelming majority came from Canada. Gary Wikfors of NOAA says that stressing the ecological advantages of culturing mussels is one way to expand the US mussel industry.
“More and more people who cultivate shellfish for food are trying to make the public aware of the environmental benefits, the ‘ecosystem services,’ of shellfish aquaculture,” said Wikfors.
Carter Newell of Maine has used the environmental benefits of mussel aquaculture to garner support for mussel farming along the Maine coast.
“Shellfish production is the economic argument for clean water,” Newell says. “If you’ve established a shellfish farming area and then some real estate development wants to come in, it’s very hard for them to get permits if they reduce the water quality, because edible shellfish require very clean water.”
Clean water is something in short supply at the mouth of the Bronx River. But as Newell and the NOAA scientists started pulling up yards of rope from underneath the experimental mussel raft, it did seem plausible that mussel culture could one day get going in New York — if not to produce edible mussels, then to grow mussels that would lend a hand in cleaning the water. Each and every mussel sock that we pulled up from beneath the raft was loaded with the ribbed mussels that had been set out the previous year. They had not only survived. They had thrived.
But most interesting of all was the experiment nature had conducted all by itself. On the human-planted raft, colonies of indigenous blue mussels had decided to set all along the ropes. It seems that now it is not only we who are considering the mussel. The mussel, in its way, is considering us.
• Paul Greenberg is the author of the James Beard Award winning New York Times bestseller Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food. He is currently a fellow with The Blue Ocean Institute and the writer-in-residence at New York City’s South Street Seaport Museum. In previous articles for Yale Environment 360, he assessed the record of the US Clean Water Act on its 40th anniversary and reported on a controversial proposal to explore for oil and gas in the Atlantic Canyons off the US East Coast.
"If it bleeds, it leads." Ever hear that maxim of journalism? If you want readers, go with the scary, gruesome story—that's what gets hearts pumping and grabs attention.
But what grabs our attention can also scare the heck out of us and shut us down.
Scary news might "sell," but we can also feel so bombarded with the negative that our "why bother?" reflex kicks in. Fear stimuli go straight to the brain's amygdala, Harvard Medical School's Srinivasan Pillay explains. But, he adds, "because hope seems to travel in the same dungeons [parts of the brain] as fear, it might be a good soldier to employ if we want to meet fear."
So let's get better at using hope. It's a free energy source.
Hope isn't blind optimism. It's a sense of possibility—delight in the new and joy in creativity that characterizes our species. So let's break the good-news ban and become storytellers about real breakthroughs. (Below, don't miss my top 10 go-to's.) I'm convinced that in the process, we will strengthen our capacity to incorporate and act on the bad news as well.
After all, it's only in changing the small stories that we change the big, dangerous story—the myth of our own powerlessness. Remember, what we do and say doesn't just influence our friends, but also our friends' friends and our friends' friends' friends (yes, research shows it goes three layers out).
That's power! Here are some recent items that have made my day.
Renewables ramping up. With news of Keystone and tar sands and coal-crazy China, it's easy to think that renewable energy is going nowhere, but we'd be wrong. Between 2008 and 2012, the U. nearly doubled its renewables capacity. And in the first three months of this year, 82 percent of newly installed domestic electricity-generating capacity was renewable. Plus, installed capacity of new solar units during the first quarter of this year is more than double that of same period last year.
Globally, 13 countries now get 30 percent or more of their electricity from renewable sources. And Germany—with cloud cover worse than Alaska's—gets 21 percent of its electricity from renewables. In 2010, Germany, which is slightly smaller in size than Montana, produced about half the world's solar energy. That could depress you, or, it could remind us of the vastness of untapped potential. In April, at the first Pathways to 100% Renewables conference in San Francisco, I heard scientists declare that there's absolutely no technical obstacle to our planet's reaching 100 percent renewable energy in a few decades.
Abetting the process, the cost of renewables is plummeting worldwide—that of electricity from large solar power plants fell by more than half, from $0.31 per kilowatt-hour in 2009 to $0.14 in 2012.
Wind wows. Denmark's wind energy alone provides about 30 percent of the country's electricity, making it the world leader as ranked by the share of a country's electricity that wind power provides. And US wind power? We're second only to China among the world's wind energy producers, with wind power equal to about 10 nuclear power stations or 40 coal-fired power stations.
Growing up in oil-centric Texas, I would have been the last person to predict my home state's leadership. But in the 1990s eight utility companies brought groups of citizens together to learn and to think through options. By the end of the process, they'd ranked efficiency higher than when they began, and the share of those willing to pay for renewables and conservation increased by more than 60 percent. Apparently, the utility companies listened: If Texas were a country, it would now be the world's sixth-ranking wind energy producer.
Cities, states, countries pledge to go clean: Eight countries, 42 cities, and 48 regions have shifted, or are committed to shifting within the next few decades, to 100 percent renewable energy in at least one sector (like electricity, transportation, or heating/cooling). In California, San Francisco, Lancaster, and San José have officially set their goal at 100 percent renewable electricity within the next decade. And if you're thinking, "Oh yeah, that's just California": Greensburg, Kan., set its goal at 100 percent renewable power for all sectors after the town was wiped out by a tornado in 2007.
Colorado's target is 30 percent renewable electricity by 2020, a standard that's helped spur success—especially when it comes to wind. And Vermont's energy plan is set to get the state to 90 percent renewable energy in all sectors by mid-century.
And whole countries? Iceland already gets 100 percent of its electricity from renewables—three-quarters from large hydro and 25 percent from geothermal. In Costa Rica, it's about 95 percent—mainly from hydroelectric (which it's working to diversify), along with wind, biomass, and geothermal. Costa Rica's sights are set on becoming the world's first carbon-neutral country in time for its 2021 bicentennial. Absorbing more carbon will speed it along, so Costa Rica's forestry-financing agency is working with landowners to plant 7 million trees on cattle and coffee farms in the next few years.
Monaco, Norway, New Zealand, and Iceland are also shooting to become the first carbon-neutral country. And Ethiopia unveiled plans to become a middle-income carbon-neutral country by 2025.
- Citizens clobber coal. Just since 2005, as part of Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign, citizens across the country have stopped more than 165 coal plants from opening and successfully pushed for the retirement of more than 100 existing ones. The campaign aims to retire one third of America's remaining 500 coal plants by 2020. And if you're not registering how important this is, consider that coal accounts for more than a third of US greenhouse gas emissions.
- Forests forever. In India, 10 million families take part in roughly 100,000 "forest-management groups" responsible for protecting nearby woodlands. Motivation is high, especially for women, because firewood still provides three-fourths of the energy used in cooking. Working collaboratively with the Indian government, these groups cover a fifth of India's forests; and they're likely a reason that India is one of the few countries in the world to enjoy an increase in forest cover since 2005.
And if you're not excited yet, try these two final tales:
Close to home: Four years ago in Magnolia Springs, Ala., the conservative town government passed the toughest land regulation in the South. It's spending a quarter-million dollars on a comprehensive plan to restore and protect its charming river from agricultural chemical runoff. "I'm a tree-hugging, liberal—I mean a tree-hugging conservative Republican! Which I know some people may say is an oxymoron," said Mayor Charlie Houser of this small town near Mobile. Brown pelicans are showing up again, says Houser, and he adds: "Cormorants up in the treetops ... Beautiful sight!"
Around the world: Three-fourths of Niger is desert, and news headlines focus on hunger there. But over two decades, poor farmers in the country's south have "regreened" 12.5 million desolate acres. In all, Niger farmers have nurtured the growth of some 200 million trees—discovering that trees and crops are not competitors but are complementary. The trees protect the soil, bringing big crop-yield increases, and they provide fruit, nutritious leaves, fodder, and firewood. Now young people are returning to villages in Niger, and school kids are learning to care for the trees, too.
Are you willing to step up as a solutions-news ban breaker?
Neuroscientists tell us our brains are "plastic," with new neuronal connections being created all the time, forming new "streambeds" in our brains that shape our responses to life. So isn't actively choosing what shapes our brains perhaps the most powerful ways to change ourselves, enabling us to change the world?
Facing unprecedented challenges, we can choose to remain open to possibility and creativity—not mired in despair. Surely, the latter is a luxury that none can afford. We can create and enthusiastically share a solutions story today, every day. It is a revolutionary act.
Here are my top picks to help you "break the ban":
Small Planet Institute
Ecologic Development Fund
ZERI (Zero Emissions Research Initiatives)
Your Olive Branch
World Future Council
OdeWire: News for Intelligent Optimists
• Frances Moore Lappé is a contributing editor to YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas and practical actions. This article is adapted from "EcoMind: Changing the Way We Think, to Create the World We Want."
Survival of the ... Nicest? Check Out the Other Theory of Evolution
A new theory of human origins says cooperation—not competition—is instinctive.
Marriage Equality Victories Show How Change Happens, One Step at a Time
Before 2004, no state allowed same-sex marriage. Today, it's legal in 11 states and the District of Columbia. If you want to see how political progress is made, look to the local level.
Boston Aftermath Shows Nation Less—Not More—Afraid of Muslims
Despite the horrific attacks that followed the Boston bombing, the behavior of ordinary people and elected representatives shows improved tolerance of muslims and other immigrants.
The US Pacific Fleet said May 9 that it will send an amphibious dock landing ship to six Pacific island nations over the next several months to provide humanitarian assistance and help people better prepare for disasters.
The missions, which cost about $20 million a year, build trust, enhance cooperation, and open dialogues between leaders, Pacific Fleet Commander Adm. Cecil Haney said in a statement. They strengthen relationships that are critical for deterring conflict, he said.
"The US Pacific Fleet is always prepared for battle, but we also operate to preserve the peace," Admiral Haney said.
Last year, the hospital ship USNS Mercy offered cataract surgery, dental fillings, and other aid in Cambodia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam. Veterinarians treated livestock like water buffalo and pigs.
This year, the Pearl Harbor will be joined by the Australian ship HMAS Tobruk and the New Zealand ship HMNZS Canterbury.
Australians will lead the mission in Papua New Guinea and New Zealand will lead in Kiribati and Solomon Islands. This is the first time partner nations will be leading individual phases of the mission, the US Navy says.
Doctors, dentists, and veterinarians will join the trip, along with experts in public health and disaster response. Many of the professionals are from non-governmental organizations.
Humanitarian missions can have great public relations value for the United States and other participants.
This became particularly clear after the US sent ships and planes to deliver food, tents, and medical care for victims of the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami.
Approval ratings for the U. in predominantly Muslim Indonesia climbed to 38 percent in 2005 from 15 percent two years earlier because of the help, according to a poll by the Pew Global Attitudes Project.
The Navy began sending vessels on annual "Pacific Partnership" tours shortly afterward.
US Navy Capt. Wallace Lovely, commander of Hawaii-based Destroyer Squadron 31, will lead this year's mission.
Being forced by war or natural disaster to become a refugee presents huge challenges. Just finding food, water, and shelter is a major accomplishment. But if you are a woman, and have a disability as well, these challenges can multiply until they seem insurmountable.
But two young women honored in New York in early May by the Women's Refugee Commission show that anything is possible. Their lives make two important points: As disabled women African refugees they represent remarkable stories of perseverance and courage as they lifted themselves out of dire circumstances. And to top that, they have now taken on a second role, as advocates for the many other disabled women refugees still in desperate need of help.
Dahabo Hassan Maow, from Somalia, first lost her parents and then, at age 14, one of her legs when she was caught in the middle of a firefight on her way home from a market in that war-torn country. She later moved from refugee camp to refugee camp trying to find help.
"When I came to the camp, I couldn't find anyone that I knew," she said in a recent interview with the Monitor. "I couldn't fetch water. I couldn't stand in line for food or wood. I had crutches. I didn't have a safe area to sleep."
"[Before Heshima] I would cry every day and every night," she says. "I was thinking, 'How can I change my life?' A lot of people didn't even understand what I was talking about [her special challenges as a disabled person]. The most I could get was 'I'm sorry.' "
Everything changed once she found Heshima. "They started to educate me," she says. "They taught me a trade, how to tie-and-dye clothing, how to sew clothes.
"After that I became a teacher myself, I was teaching others," she says. Today 25 girls in Kenya use her designs.
"Heshima Kenya was my first family, along with the others girls that were living there," says Ms. Maow, who now is married, living in Minneapolis, and expecting a child next month.
“Displaced persons with disabilities remain invisible in so many ways,” says Sarah Costa, executive director of the Women's Refugee Commission. “They are socially isolated and rarely consulted when humanitarian programs are designed and implemented."
As many as 6.5 million of the world's 43.5 million people displaced by conflict live with disabilities, the World Health Organization estimates. Disabled women refugees face special challenges, including social exclusion based on cultural biases. They often are unable to take advantage of the humanitarian aid that is available because of their disabilities. Women and girls with disabilities are also four to 10 times more likely to be the victims of sexual violence than other women.
Aitm Caroline Ogwang was one of her mother's eight children. The family had moved from its native southern Sudan to Uganda to escape the fighting in Sudan. (South Sudan has since become an independent country.)
One day when she was five years old she wandered out of the refugee camp to search for food. As she was picking a mango from a tree an explosion occurred nearby, possibly caused by the Lord's Resistance Army fighters, who was marauding in the area. She immediately found herself deaf.
Ms. Ogwang also tells a frustrating and desperate tale of survival. She, too, ended up in Nairobi; at one point a British family was going to take her in, but they finally concluded that her handicap would be too much for them to deal with.
Ogwang's mother eventually committed suicide – among other causes was her heartbreak at being unable to care for her daughter properly.
It was an aunt who gave Ogwang hope when she felt like she wanted to kill herself. "My aunt said, 'Never give up. Don't hurt yourself. There is a future. That's not God's plan for you,' " Ogwang said through a sign language interpreter in a Monitor interview.
At age 16 she found other deaf refugees from South Sudan that she could talk with using sign language.
"We'd talk about how to make a deaf organization," she says. In 2007 she founded the South Sudan Deaf Development Concern. It had four members, herself and three young deaf men. "We lobbied [the South Sudan] Parliament until they finally agreed to put civil rights for people with disabilities in the Constitution," she told the audience at the Women's Refugee Commission event May 2.
Her life proves that "one disabled woman can change the world," she says.
"I would like to advocate for these deaf refugees. They've been neglected. I'm advocating for equal rights for them. The first to be abducted are deaf girls. It's very important to get them to safe areas where they can be educated."
Ogwang's goal is to become a lawyer and be elected as the first deaf woman member of the South Sudan parliament. "We don't have much time on this earth," she says. "So I want to do what I can for future generations."
Liv Ullmann founded the Women’s Refugee Commission (WRC), now part of the nonprofit International Rescue Committee, nearly 25 years ago. After visiting refugee camps the Swedish actress and humanitarian discovered that although most refugees were women and children, little was being done to ask them about their needs. The mission of the WRC is "to improve the lives and protect the rights of women, children, and youth displaced by war, persecution, and natural disaster."
Detroit may be broke but it will soon have a first-rate motor pool, featuring 23 new ambulances and a fleet of 100 new police cars. Some city parks also are getting tender loving care. New fruit trees and shrubs have been planted, and mowing crews are beginning to make the rounds to keep the green spaces tidy.
One of the surprising things about Detroit's descent toward insolvency — so dire that a state-appointed emergency manager recently arrived to take over — is that public services haven't collapsed as completely as some might have expected.
But that's not because city departments are functioning as usual. They're not. Instead, a growing collection of volunteers, some affluent, some just average guys riding their Toros, are trying to pick up some services that local government can't provide.
Detroit's Department of D.I.Y. (Do It Youself) is either the most heartwarming or humiliating reflection of its distress, but the volunteers insist it shows their refusal to give up on the place where they live.
"When the system fails us, you have to become the system," said Mitch Logan, a 48-year-old film producer who is part of a self-dubbed "Mower Gang" that mows neighborhood parks after they've finished their own yards.
In addition to the landscaping, a church group is boarding up vacant houses in the Brightmoor neighborhood, one of the city's most distressed, to keep criminals out. And several neighborhoods are now hiring security to patrol their streets, supplementing an undermanned police department.
As for the new cars, "It is unprecedented for us to help buy emergency vehicles or police cars," said Rip Rapson, chief executive of the Kresge Foundation, which joined with Detroit's automakers and other businesses to make the purchase. However, "this was the kind of expenditure they could not find in their budget."
Detroit's problems have been a national spectacle for the last several years, the result of the region's long economic slump and of past mismanagement that squandered city resources. By the time emergency manager Kevyn Orr took over city finances in March, local government was $327 million in the red and had gone through rounds of layoffs and cuts.
Bus service has been reduced or discontinued on about three-dozen routes, leaving thousands of daily riders to find other ways around town. Libraries and recreation centers began closing extra days for employee furloughs, and trash trucks were delayed because of breakdowns.
Police manpower now numbers 2,600 officers, down from 4,000 a decade ago.
The city's parks were in danger of becoming a particular eyesore. Until donors stepped in, the city planned to close almost half of them. Still, mowing on many is scheduled only every three weeks.
"It's a disgrace to the nation, a disgrace to the state," said Harriet Cammock, a writer who moved to the suburbs because of the deterioration.
Some area residents have begun adapting, though they couldn't come close to filling the huge need.
Tom Nardone of suburban Birmingham, owner of an Internet novelty business, started the Mower Gang. Through word-of-mouth, his website and Facebook, the group has grown to more than 20 regulars who take care of eight or nine parks where the weeds were too high for children to play. He hopes to keep expanding.
"I understand how the budget works [but] I'm mad at the city," he said during a cleanup trip to Dueweke Park on Detroit's lower east side, where only one of the six swings on the swing set still had a seat.
On the other side of town in Brightmoor, a few members of the Rosedale Park Baptist Church gave up waiting for the city to demolish vacant houses in the neighborhood, where dozens of streets already have more empty lots than families. They bought plywood and boarded up about 20 of houses and began mowing yards.
Now, "they won't become a place where our children can get raped and robbed," said Roy Harlin, who works at the church.
Residents are becoming more active in Palmer Woods, an exclusive neighborhood of gently curving streets lined with grand Tudor homes and mini-mansions.
Rochelle Lento and her neighbors pay more than $300 a year each for private security even though the 12th Police Precinct is nearby. Residents in nearby Sherwood Forest are also hiring security, and a business association on the city's east side now pays off-duty Detroit police officers to do patrols.
"We'll do what we need to do to remain safe and secure," said Lento, a lawyer, whose house was stripped of three copper downspouts by thieves.
A group that she's a part of also has planted trees and painted benches and bleachers at the ball field in Palmer Park, one of the city's largest public spaces, so it could be used.
Katherine McFate, chief executive of the Washington-based Center for Effective Government, said she understands the need but that Detroit should be wary of letting donors go too far.
"The idea that we are now outfitting first responders through charitable contributions should be very concerning," she said. "There are certain functions that you want government to perform that should not be at the whim of individuals or charities."
But community organizations such as the nonprofit Kresge Foundation — which contributed $1 million toward the emergency vehicles and earlier pledged $150 million to support broader economic and infrastructure improvements — said Detroit's dire condition requires more than traditional efforts.
"No arms were twisted here" to buy the vehicles, said Mr. Rapson. "Mayor [Dave] Bing made a really compelling argument to the business community and the foundation community" for the help.