Following the December 2012 rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School, it was clear that Newtown, Conn., lacked a central meeting space, town officials said Nov. 18. In the hours after the massacre, parents met at a firehouse near the school to wait for students, and that was where victims' relatives were told that their loved ones had been killed.
First Selectwoman Pat Llodra said Newtown has long wanted a community center that could house recreation, the arts, community-outreach services, and other programs. Tight finances blocked the town from reaching that goal, the News-Times reported.
The town says it will use $10 million to build the center and $5 million for operating costs over five years. That will include hiring staff. The center will be owned and operated by the town.
The gift is intended to help the town establish space for activities such as seniors playing mahjong or children taking art lessons, Selectwoman Llodra said.
More than 150 employees of GE, which is headquartered in nearby Fairfield, Conn., live in Newtown.
Jeff Immelt, chief executive of the industrial conglomerate, said that over the past year, GE employees who live in Newtown identified a community center as among the town's greatest needs.
"We are proud to help them achieve that goal," he said.
Four GE executives have been helping the town, working in the offices of the selectmen and school superintendent and doing other tasks. In addition, the company's finance arm cut ties with gun dealers, halting financing offers at about 75 gun shops across the United States.
In rural Ethiopia, a river three football fields wide can prevent a child from getting to the closest medical clinic. The problem: no bridges to bypass bodies of water.
A basic footbridge could solve the dilemma, yet countless communities in the developing world lack this simple structure.
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“It’s not the only thing that’s going to help folks get out of their situation, or to rise out of their poverty level, but it sure is a catalyst,” explained Bridges to Prosperity Executive Director Avery Bang.
With nearly 100 bridges in 14 countries, Bridges to Prosperity is aspiring to create positive social change in communities worldwide. Studies show that an average footbridge results in a 12 percent increase in community school enrollment and an 18 percent increase in people treated in local health care facilities.
In the two years following a footbridge opening, communities have 24 percent more women employed, 15 percent more businesses in surrounding communities, and overall per capita income increases an average of 10 to 20 percent.
Bridges are also a low-risk, cost-effective investment.
“I used to work on water projects,” said Mr. Bang, “but their failure rates were astronomical. If you see 80 percent projects failing in the first two to three years, you really have to think about am I doing a service?”
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With bridges, the impact is clear. A $10,000 investment yields a footbridge that will serve a community for at least 30 years.
On your next work commute, perhaps consider Bang’s question: “If you didn’t know how to get to work without your bridges and your roads in your everyday commute, how would you expect folks in the middle of Ethiopia to do any different?”
To find out how you can get involved, click here.
• Monica Gray is a DC-based filmmaker and the Senior Video Correspondent at The Diplomatic Courier.
• This article originally appeared at Dowser.org. A related video accompanies the original article. The video was originally published at the Diplomatic Courier magazine and has been republished with permission. Copyright 2006-2013 The Diplomatic Courier™. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.
In less than 12 years, Akshaya Patra has grown to become one of the world’s largest and most effective NGOs. Started in 2001 in Bangalore, Akshaya Patra provides school lunch, or a midday meal, to 1.5 million children daily across India – nearly 330 million meals cooked, delivered, and eaten every year. Its meteoric rise – and the collaboration of government, donors, and communities in that rise, is a story that I hope many NGOs and social entrepreneurs can tell in the next decades.
As a former board member, I am most interested in the ability of this organization to scale, because this has the greatest ramifications for social entrepreneurs everywhere. We tend to celebrate the social entrepreneur with the new idea but do not expect them to achieve the same level of impact as we do of the private companies we invest in. But if we are truly to call these individuals and their organizations “entrepreneurs” then we must hold out the same expectations for them – of reaching a scale and achieving an impact that reverberates through society.
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India has nearly 130 million children of school age. And of that, about 100 million are enrolled in school. And as one would expect, the schools are of varying quality. However India’s public and private sectors agree that the availability of a nutritious midday meal is critical to driving attendance of boys and girls, improving cognitive abilities, and providing children with the energy to learn in the classroom.
Thus India has a fairly sophisticated set of policies, enforced by India’s Supreme Court, that require schools to provide a school lunch to their students, and that NGOs could be the provider along with government agencies. And while multiple agencies have received contracts to provide a midday meal, almost none of them focused solely on the midday meal.
Any good entrepreneur knows the importance of focus. In addition, many of these agencies were education providers, but relatively inexperienced in the areas of food, supply chain, and nutrition. In many ways, Akshaya Patra has succeeded because of its ability to stay focused on the midday meal, but to attack the complexities of the problem head on.
The roots of its success lie in its beginnings. Akshaya Patra was started by two distinct groups of professionals who were able to integrate their multidisciplinary perspectives.
The first group was the leadership of ISKCON, a faith-based group in India. These leaders were trained as engineers and worked in the private sector before their religious service. They brought a tradition of service to people, and experience cooking for thousands of people at a time at their temples.
The second group consisted of senior executives at Infosys and other Indian technology companies. They have spent the last 30 years solving complex global problems for many of the world’s largest companies.
When the two groups came together, they decided to focus on addressing a specific challenge in India that has cascading effects. And they decided to focus on scalability from the start.
They brought the best thinking in manufacturing, supply chain, innovation, and logistics management to create a central kitchen model whereby food is centrally cooked and delivered by truck to local schools. The kitchens, many of which are ISO-9000 certified, are really food factories, capable of cooking food daily for up to 200,000 people each. Food preparation begins at 3:00 a.m., and the food makes its way through a modern conveyer process until it’s loaded onto specially built trucks around 7:00 a.m. that can deliver food to government (public) schools using a hub-and-spoke routing system.
The cost is just $0.08 per meal per child – or about $28 per year.
The ability to constantly maintain a high-quality product, to provide it at scale, and at a low price are traits we would expect of the most successful companies in the world. How does Akshaya Patra do it?
In addition to the process outlined above, it also constantly innovates – including using data analytics, cooking using clean energies, and constantly improving ingredients to have healthier food – while keeping the cost the same. It hires the best talent available – experts from India’s best schools and companies, and pays them a comfortable wage. And it maintains strong corporate governance with boards, auditors. and others joining in.
And it has spent a lot of time thinking about the model for scale. It turned out that the changes in India’s demographics and geography meant that the central kitchen model could work in most of India – regardless of the romanticism of India being a nation of villages. It also turned out that many large companies and wealthy families would pay for the construction of kitchens in their communities. And it turns out that India’s growing middle class is more than willing to donate Rs. 1,200 a year ($28) to feed a child.
And most importantly, India’s central and state governments have shown an unwavering commitment to funding the midday meal program – providing cash, land, rice, and lentils to Akshaya Patra and other NGOs providing school lunches. The government support accounts for about 40 percent of the funds, with the rest coming from private sources.
For the near future, the biggest challenge facing Akshaya Patra and India around the midday meal program will be scale. While Akshaya Patra reaches 1.5 million children daily, that still only reaches 1 percent of the children of school age in India. The organization is striving to reach 5 million by 2020.
RECOMMENDED: Fighting hunger, feeding the world
This would be astounding for an NGO, but would only be 3 percent of Indian schoolchildren. Indian policymakers, philanthropists, and NGOs have not yet decided how to scale the concept around Akshaya Patra – of a centralized kitchen using best-in-class production systems, processes, and supply chain. This will entail significant training across India.
It will also require a significant funding commitment by government and private donors. And it will require a third-party organization that can continue to monitor quality so the health of the children remains a priority.
As we celebrate the breakthrough innovations of social entrepreneurs everywhere, let us also keep one eye on their progress, knowing that there are NGOs that can scale quickly when the right talent, policy, and model can come together.
• Nish Acharya has spent nearly 20 years helping governments, companies, and organizations to innovate, become more entrepreneurial, and prepare for an innovation-driven global economy.
• This article originally appeared at the Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship, the premier international platform for accelerating entrepreneurial approaches and innovative solutions to the world’s most pressing social issues.
The youths, mostly aged 6 through 14, are participants in the International Pen Pal program run by the Queens, N.Y.-based China AIDS Fund (CAF). The
program fosters friendships between HIV/AIDS affected children in Henan and American youths.
Henan, in the east central part of China, became the epicenter of that country’s HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 1990s, when villagers gave blood for money. The Chinese government’s improper donation practices led to widespread infection.
Today an estimated 4 million people live with the virus in China. CAF is dedicated to combating the spread of the disease.
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“These are kids who have lost their parents, who live with their grandparents. They don’t have a lot of moral support or mental support,” Dr. Vincent Wang, president of the pen pal program, says. “The American kids write to them like friends, like pals. The pen pal program helps them thrive.”
The program started in 2003. At first it paired children in Henan with Beijing University students. CAF has since broadened the program to include children from the United States. Today many of those university students help translate the letters and emails between American youths and their Chinese peers.
Any student can participate in the pen pal program, Dr. Wang says.
“We are trying to get more involvement from all kids on the American side,” Wang says. “We want to raise public awareness in the United States of this situation.”
The children in Henan attend one of two CAF-supported children's centers. The first opened in 2009, the second opened this past summer. The centers’ libraries, and computer and activity rooms, serve 700 children.
“They are just the tip of the iceberg. There are so many more who need help,” Wang says.
Challenges beset the Henan youths from infancy. Some lost parents to AIDS, some contracted HIV from their mothers at birth. Most live with grandparents or distant relatives. Many are discriminated against because of their extreme poverty and because their home villages are uneducated regarding the virus, says Shari Cai, a former CAF board member.
Because Henan is rural many children drop out of school quite young. There are a lot of illiterate children. Most started working when they were as young as 12.
Each year the Pen Pal program takes between 20 and 30 American students to visit the children in Henan. The trip provides a cultural shock, says Ms. Cai, who has traveled to Henan.
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“The kids see how everyday living is a struggle,” Cai says. “It changes the way they think of the world. They basically treasure what they have much more than before, and they realize everything they do has a social impact.”
With its strong emphasis on education, CAF and the Pen Pal program help the children see life can be different. It promotes self-determination and education, Cai says. Last year CAF awarded five university scholarships.
“Knowing that someone is there for them means so much,” Cai says of the children she’s visited. “They save these letters and put them under their pillows."
• For more, visit http://www.chinaaidsfund.org.
Vicki Thomas was at an age where many people look forward to retirement. She had enjoyed a successful career in public relations and marketing, including stints at a financial services trade group, a major television network, and running her own Connecticut-based marketing company.
But Ms. Thomas flipped on the television one day in 2009 and saw something that launched her on to a new career at age 64.
It was a CNN feature about two combat-wounded veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan who had started a nonprofit organization to provide housing for wounded soldiers.
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Dale Beatty and John Gallina were injured when their Humvee hit two antitank mines in November 2004. Mr. Beatty was left as a double amputee while Mr. Gallina sustained back and head injuries.
Thomas was riveted by their story, and before she knew it, she was on the phone cold-calling them to volunteer her services.
Thomas signed on as director of communications for Purple Heart Homes, the nonprofit that Beatty and Gallina started in their hometown of Statesville, N.C. She has since put her 35 years of experience to work, raising millions of dollars for Purple Heart Homes – in cash contributions as well as donations – and helping the founders with a dramatic expansion of the programs.
Now Thomas' work is being recognized with the Purpose Prize, a unique award given annually by the Encore Careers campaign, a nonprofit that works to engage baby boomers in encore careers with a social impact.
The prize, which is in its eighth year, recognizes encore career trailblazers over age 60 who have demonstrated creative and effective work tackling social problems. Thomas and another winner will receive cash prizes of $100,000, and five others will be awarded $25,000.
This year's Purpose Prize winners also include a veteran who organized volunteers to teach disabled vets to combat stress through fly-fishing; a cancer survivor who founded an education and support organization for Latino patients; an immigrant who advocates for the rights of domestic workers; a social activist who founded a support organization for families of prisoners; a public health expert fighting to eradicate an infectious parasite carried by river snails that afflicts people in West Africa; and a former parish pastor who created a religious refuge for the homeless on the streets of Philadelphia. (More about all of this year's winners can be found at www.encore.org/prize)
Thomas grew up in a small, rural Wisconsin community during the Vietnam War. In an interview, she tearfully recalled high school assemblies where the principal regularly announced the names of former students who had been killed in action.
"It made such an impression on me – to see an All-Star basketball player come home in a flag-draped coffin and to see the families, my neighbors, weeping," she said.
During the course of her career, Thomas had worked in marketing and communications for the Credit Union National Association, and at the American Broadcasting Co. She was running her own marketing company in Weston, Conn., when she learned about Purple Heart Homes.
"I was doing well, but felt a need to go back to what drives me, something was missing," Thomas said. "9/11 happened and changed our nation. And we were in another war. Was it a good war, the right decision? I didn't agree. But when I saw Dale on television without his legs, I just wanted to help them."
Purple Heart Homes focuses on a problem where the need is great – 3.2 million veterans have service-related disabilities, about 14 percent of the total, according to the US Department of Veterans Affairs. Many face challenges with homes that lack accessibility features such as wheelchair ramps or stair lifts, and many do not have the money to make the necessary changes.
Thomas drew on her experience working with credit unions to start a program that leverages donations of foreclosed homes to provide affordable home ownership for young veterans. Banks and cities donate the homes, and Purple Heart raises money to do renovations and provides financial counseling to veterans who may have spotty credit scores.
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She found a credit union – Peach State Federal Credit Union in Georgia – to issue special 15-year mortgages worth 50 percent of the home's appraised value. The program is structured so that the borrower can own the home free and clear after 15 years. She also restructured another Purple Heart Homes initiative that funds home modifications for older veterans who do not qualify for assistance programs.
She has overseen an expansion of the budget from less than $100,000 to $3.2 million this year and a projected $6 million next year, which should allow Purple Heart homes to increase the number of homes it completes, currently around 40 annually. Fundraising also has allowed her to draw a small salary.
Thomas is 67 now, and showing no signs of slowing down. "It's an honor to know I'm making a difference," she said.
• The author is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.
Every year, thousands of new student athletes enter the world of college sports. All are talented, competitive, driven. Each athlete, whether a football linebacker, waterpolo player, or long distance runner, is expected to perform well, commit a large amount time and effort to the team, and represent the school in a positive way.
These are high standards for collegiate athletes to meet. So shouldn’t the schools they attend be held to similar expectations?
Mike McGuiness began asking this question two years ago, when he hatched his idea for the Association for the Protection of Collegiate Athletes (APCA). Mr. McGuiness, who owns his own marketing firm, describes himself as always having loved college sports. But he also says that something hasn't felt quite right.
“I found myself really frustrated one day,” McGuiness says. Mistreated college athletes, he realized, needed help. Though there was a lot of talk about issues like injuries not receiving proper care, lost scholarships, or being cut from teams, no one was doing anything about it, he says.
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Enter the APCA, a group trying to even the playing field and create a more equal relationship between student athletes and their schools. In an effort to increase transparency and keep prospective student athletes well informed, McGuiness and his volunteers are assembling athletics-based reports on colleges and universities in the United States.
Eventually McGuiness plans to have reports on every collegiate sport across the three NCAA divisions, for both genders. “We do not discriminate,” he says. “We want to stress that there aren’t just the 30,000 athletes you see on TV.”
Since the APCA website went up in August, reports for football and field hockey have been completed for all divisions. They have been assembled using historical data from previous seasons collected in a way that allows the APCA to rank the schools.
“No one else is doing this,” McGuiness says. “No one is really ranking schools by sports.”
McGuiness bases the APCA rankings on 25 factors in three categories: how well the school does athletically, how well the school does academically, and how well the school takes care of its athletes. Looking at things like a school’s graduation rate, how many championships a team may have won, or how a school responds to an athlete’s injury, McGuiness then determines if the school is a good choice from a student athlete’s perspective.
“We want to help student athletes before they commit to a school,” he says. Though the reports are available by individual sport right now, eventually McGuiness would like to have student athletes be able to search for a school, pull up a report, and be able to compare it side by side with other schools they are interested in.
All of the APCA’s services are free of charge.
In addition to helping students before they enter college, McGuiness is also interested in helping athletes who run into trouble. He plans on having a lawyer and doctor on hand to provide a second opinion to any athletes who feel they’ve been mistreated. He would also like to have a 24-hour hotline, hold roundtable discussions across the nation, and have an APCA board of advisers composed of current and recently graduated collegiate athletes.
Down the road, McGuiness would like to provide services for student-athletes when they leave school. “I’d like to help student-athletes transition into the professional world,” he says, whether they become professional athletes or enter other fields.
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For now, though, McGuiness is working to establish the APCA as a viable and useful tool for student athletes. His team of young volunteers – who are still collegiate athletes at, or are recent graduates of, schools like Williams College, Columbia University, and Emory University – is continuing to gather data and get the word out through social media.
“We’re going to just keep rolling and pushing out,” he says. “The response has been very positive.”
The goal, McGuiness says, is "to be a bat on the shins” of colleges and universities. Athletic programs are not worth doing "if you’re not going to take care of these kids like you should,” he says.
• To learn more about the Association for the Protection of College Athletes (APCA), visit www.apcanow.org.
Katey Sagal is so much more than Gemma Teller Morrow, the gritty matriarch of the "Son of Anarchy" biker club.
Turns out Sagal and her real life husband, "Anarchy" director Kurt Sutter, are as charitable as their TV characters are tough.
The cast showed up at the Asbury Park's Paramount Theatre in New Jersey to answer fan questions, screen Sons of Anarchy Season 6 Episode 10 - and to raise nearly $70,000 in recovery relief for those affected by Hurricane Sandy, reports TVFanatic.com.
All proceeds from the special fan event went to the Hurricane Sandy New Jersey Relief Fund and Staten Strong charities. Sutter says that every season, he sets viewership goals with Anarchy fans. If they're met, the show rewards the fans. This year, he decide to go to his home state to hold the fan event and sell tickets to raise funds for Sandy relief efforts.
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"I try to maintain that relationship with our fans and show our appreciation. It was a way for us to do that and for our fans to help as well in terms of giving back to the community they love and just sort of have some fun," said Sutter.
Sagal dressed in black leather sang for the New Jersey audience with her band. The actress has just released a new album, her first in nine years. "Covered" is mostly a collection of covered songs, including Tom Petty's 1989 classic "Free Fallin."
Alongside Sagal's acting career, she has lent backing vocals to artists from Bette Midler and Bob Dylan to Tanya Tucker and Gene Simmons. On Covered, her third studio album, she is backed by the Forest Rangers, who are led by Sons of Anarchy music supervisor and musical director Bob Thiele. Thiele, along with songwriter Tonio K, penned "Follow the River," the record's one original number.
Sutter says he was inspired to make this a benefit event by Theo Rossi, who plays Juan Carlos "Juice" Ortiz on "Anarchy." Rossi is also a Staten Island native and cofounded Staten Strong after hurricane Sandy hammered the community.
How will the money be used?
The Hurricane Sandy New Jersey Relief Fund, according to its website, has awarded more than $25 million in its first year to over 90 non-profit organizations doing relief and rebuilding work.
"I am so pleased to announce that the Fund has granted more than $25 million in the last year to New Jersey's recovery and rebuilding efforts," said First Lady Mary Pat Christie, chair of the Hurricane Sandy New Jersey Relief Fund. "Our grantee partners have been the lifeline for so many in their communities. The valuable services they offer have impacted the lives of over 100,000 New Jerseyans. I know that for many Sandy is still very much a part of their lives and I pledge to keep making calls to raise funds and awareness for the people of New Jersey."
The latest round of funding, $1 million spread out among 13 organizations on Oct. 31, includes $68,000 to the First Presbyterian Church of Matawan to expand their bath and kitchen facilities for the 500 volunteers per year coming to assist in rebuilding projects. Another $250,000 was donated to the Bayshore Center at Bivalve-Cumberland LTRG, to add staff and help 100 homeowners with repairs and mold remediation.
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International relief organizations are scrambling to get to devastated areas in the central Philippines to join relief and recovery efforts after Friday’s typhoon left 10,000 dead, according to news reports. Many American groups are also raising money to support the survivors of Typhoon Haiyan.
The Chronicle talked with Robert Ottenhoff, president of the Center for Disaster Philanthropy about what is happening and how donors and nonprofits can avoid mistakes.
This is the first big international disaster since your group was founded in August 2012. What are your thoughts on the donor-solicitation or giving efforts so far?
Donors are not as quick to respond to international disasters as they are to domestic. And their interest is in part driven by media coverage. It was interesting: Several weeks ago, we had a huge storm hit India, and the Indian government did a fantastic job of evacuating a million residents. As a result, there were hardly any deaths. As a result, there was very little media coverage.
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So it’ll be interesting to see with the Philippines whether media coverage continues. You know, media coverage in disasters is what drives donations.
It is slower than domestic in part because there are a lot fewer donors who are active in international activities, and those that are don’t primarily consider themselves disaster philanthropists. What we often hear is that donors will say, “We don’t get involved in disasters.”
Until donors can draw a direct link to their normal grant programs, it’s a little bit more difficult for them to get involved in disasters unless it happens to be a disaster in their community or an area where they’ve got some direct contact.
So it was easier for donors to make a decision to get involved with Katrina or Sandy or Moore, Okla., because they had some connections to that. It’s harder for most of them to make the connection with the Philippines or Vietnam.
What are relief organizations saying? What are they doing right? Could they do more?
It’s too early to tell. At this point, we know that it has been extremely difficult for the relief organizations to reach the affected areas, and so relief supplies are badly needed.
What is your group doing for the typhoon?
We’ve established a CDP Typhoon Haiyan Recovery Fund.
The goal of our fund is going to be to focus on midterm and long-term needs. One of the things that’s becoming apparent in recent years as we learn more about disaster philanthropy is that almost all of the money is donated within two to three months. And very little comes after 90 days. And yet there are emerging urgent needs. This was apparent in Katrina, Sandy, Haiti, the [Southeast Asian] tsunami, you name it.
In the Philippines, it’s such basic things—hundreds of thousands are going to be left without homes, without farms, without other ways for livelihood. We want to focus our dollars on the long-term recovery needs. So we’re not saying either-or. It ought to be both for donors.
What’s the best avenue for nonprofits to help? What should they tell their supporters?
They should probably get in touch with some of the organizations that are doing this work and have an existing presence in the Philippines. What we don’t encourage is sending volunteers. There’s been too many untrained, unorganized volunteers coming to disaster areas, and that just adds a huge burden to the local relief workers. So don’t send volunteers. And don’t send goods and products, unless they’ve made some arrangement or determine that these are goods that are actually needed.
We would recommend cash donations to organizations that have experience with disaster relief and an existing presence in the Philippines.
What’s the biggest misconception about disaster giving?
The biggest one we hear is that someone gives a contribution and then assumes that everything is OK. That a million or $10 million or $20 million are given, and therefore whatever is wrong must have been corrected. That’s one misconception.
RECOMMENDED: A most powerful storm: Typhoon Haiyan
The second misconception we’re beginning to realize is we can’t keep putting all of our dollars into relief. More philanthropic dollars need to be put into planning, preparation, and mitigation.
What could be things we could be doing to adapt or to avoid, to make some changes where we’re building, where we’re living, so that when these storms, which will happen, which are inevitable and getting bigger and more frequent all the time, there isn’t going to be the same death and destruction.
• The Center for Disaster Philanthropy is keeping track of international relief organizations’ response to the Haiyan recovery efforts.
Including the rural poor in formal financial systems can be difficult because of the high cost of traditional banking models, which include brick-and-mortar branches. Although developments in mobile phone banking are on the rise, some banks are trying a less high-tech kind of mobile bank – one on wheels.
When the poor have no access to formal banking institutions, they instead resort to hiding their money at home, which can make it hard to keep safe and perhaps even harder to save. The rural poor often encounter more risk in their day-to-day lives, and individuals who have money on hand may be expected to help with the more frequent family emergencies inherent with increased risk.
With a bank account, money is out of reach and account holders can save up for future expenses such as education, fertilizer, and medical care.
So with the rise of tech-driven banking in developing nations, why is this rubber-to-the-road method of reaching customers gaining traction? In Uganda, many of the rural unbanked still prefer the physical presence of a banker, even though they have access to the technology for mobile banking.
“The market reality is that people want bank services closer,” according to Tonny Miiro, managing director of Uptime Solutions Uganda, one of the banks in Uganda that is using vans to reach more far-flung residents. “That is what we are doing. It is important that government comes up with more policies that call for more inclusive bank services provided by financial institutions, as there is demand.”
In the Philippines, however, the goal of mobile banking vans is bringing microinsurance to a hard-to-reach population. Cebuana Lluillier’s “Micro-insurance On Wheels” program teaches potential policyholders about insurance, hoping this will increase policy sales and allow the rural poor to avoid financial ruin in case of disasters, such as a flood or an earthquake.
The initiative aims to teach poor, rural Filipinos about how microinsurance works. It is part of a global movement to promote microinsurance as the next big idea in poverty reduction.
“Ordinary people see ‘insurance’ as something that only rich people can afford,” says Jonathan Batangan, the company’s general manager. “We are offering ordinary Filipinos affordable insurance with the added benefits of accessibility, reliability, and convenience.”
In Rwanda, Bank of Kigali uses vans to address two issues. First, the vans will serve as the first point of contact for the 50 percent of the population that is currently unbanked. Second, the vans will increase the effectiveness of rural microfinance institutions that need to make more deposits and withdrawals to serve their members adequately.
By both promoting its own brand and helping local organizations that provide financial services, Bank of Kigali plans to be a major player in reaching the government’s 2020 goal of 90 percent financial inclusion.
Whatever the reason, mobile banking isn’t just for telephones anymore.
Many people who suffered the wrath of Superstorm Sandy have spent the last year trying to make sense of a bewildering array of aid programs, fighting with their insurance companies, and scrambling to keep up with mortgage payments even as they make costly repairs.
Now the New York Legal Assistance Group, an organization that has worked hand-in-hand with storm victims to try to make the arduous road to recovery a little easier, is doing all it can to get charities, grantmakers, and government to think about legal aid almost in the same way it thinks about the Red Cross: an essential nonprofit service that starts work right after a disaster strikes.
“If we could have been in even more places and talking to more clients early on, we would have been able to resolve a lot of issues that we’re now having to untangle, that are more complicated than they needed to be,” says Ann Dibble, director of the charity’s Storm Response Unit.
The importance of legal services after a disaster is not well understood, says Yisroel Schulman, president of New York Legal Assistance Group. Out of the $60 billion Congress allocated for Sandy relief, he says, only $1 million was earmarked for legal services. What’s more, he says, foundations often don’t include legal services when they ask for grant proposals after a disaster.
Mr. Schulman’s group wants to change that. It carefully documented its work after the storm and the impact those services had on clients, and conducted an in-depth client survey, releasing its findings in a report, a summary of which is available online.
“We’ll be able to show government and private philanthropic funders the value and the role that legal services plays in disaster relief,” says Mr. Schulman.
The problems storm victims face are daunting and often multifaceted.
As an example, Ms. Dibble points to a client in Howard Beach, Queens, whose multifamily house suffered significant damage. After the storm, the homeowner lost the tenant whose rent she depended on to make her mortgage payment.
Her mortgage provider let her defer monthly payments, but that is coming to an end.
New York Legal Assistance Group is helping her try to negotiate a deal that will keep her out of foreclosure at the same time that it’s helping her with her insurance claim so she can make needed repairs.
People who have been through a disaster seldom think they need a lawyer, says Ms. Dibble.
“They think that everyone’s going to treat them fairly and efficiently,” she says. “Especially in the beginning, people just assume that everything’s going to be taken care of.”
To date, New York Legal Assistance Group has helped more than 5,500 storm victims deal with legal and financial matters related to Sandy. A critical component of the organization’s response was its ties to community groups in neighborhoods devastated by the storm.
The organization also started a Storm Help Hotline, operated by staff lawyers assisted by volunteers, which at its peak received more than 100 calls a week. It still averages about 30 calls a week.
Initially the group reassigned lawyers from other projects to focus on storm assistance, but in time the organization hired 27 lawyers, paralegals, and financial counselors for its Storm Response Unit and trained 1,000 pro bono lawyers and other volunteers to provide disaster-related legal services.
Perhaps the most unusual—and eye-catching—part of the group’s response to the storm: its Mobile Legal Help Center.
Less than a year old when the storm struck, the 41-foot vehicle is a joint project with the New York State Courts’ Access to Justice Program. The idea is to take legal services into neighborhoods to reach people who have trouble getting assistance because they lack transportation or child care, have a disability, speak little English, or fear coming into the office because of their immigration status.
The Mobile Legal Help Center can accommodate up to 17 people at a time, and has videoconferencing capabilities that allow access to judges for emergency proceedings, such as unlawful evictions and orders of protection in domestic-violence cases.
“It was out there every day in the months after the storm, going right to the most impacted areas,” says Ms. Dibble. In the early days of the disaster, she says, the mobile help center also gave residents a place to get warm and charge their cellphones.
New York Legal Assistance Group also suffered from the ravages of Superstorm Sandy. The building in lower Manhattan that houses its offices flooded, and the group wasn’t able to return for 10 weeks.
So at the same time the nonprofit launched its storm response, it was scrambling to get normal operations back up and running, says Mr. Schulman.
“We had to find locations for 200 staff members,” he says. “We had to rebuild our computer network, rebuild our phone network, work without case files.”
Within days of the storm, the group conferred with legal-service providers on the Gulf Coast, who shared what they learned after Hurricane Katrina. Now New York Legal Assistance Group is passing it forward, holding webinars for legal-services groups after deadly tornadoes in Oklahoma and after devastating flooding in Colorado. Holding online training makes it easier for pro bono lawyers, representatives from the bar association, and others to attend.
“We actually offered to go out there, but I think they’re facing what we were facing,” says Ms. Dibble. “They themselves are physically displaced or physically challenged.”
The nonprofit doesn’t see a quick end to its work helping Sandy victims. The group currently has 1,600 open cases and still hears from 300 new people each month about problems related to the storm.
The stress of navigating relief programs, fighting with insurance companies, and making repairs is beginning to wear on people affected by the storm, says Ms. Dibble.
“It’s not uncommon for clients to say to us at this point, 'You do it,’” she says. “'If you think you can get me more money, you try to get me more money, but I’m tired. I can’t tell my story to one more agency. I can’t go through the whole thing again.’”
Ms. Dibble worries that the one-year anniversary is only going to exacerbate those feelings as people question why they haven’t made more progress in their recovery. But, she says, the charity’s lawyers are trying to rally clients’ resolve.
“We’re by no means counselors,” she says. “But we try to encourage people to continue on, to move forward, to help them see that there’s a path forward.”
• This article originally appeared on the website of The Chronicle of Philanthropy.