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Change Agent

Charitable works, NGOs, nonprofits, social entrepreneurs, and ordinary people with great ideas on how to make a positive change in their communities and around the globe.

'SCORE exists at the intersection of two uniquely American concepts – volunteerism and entrepreneurship,' says Ken Yancey (left), the chief executive officer of the nonprofit mentoring organization. (Courtesy of SCORE)

SCORE helps small businesses start, grow, succeed

By David KarasContributor / 08.26.13

Ken Yancey knows a thing or two about business.

And as chief executive officer of SCORE, a nonprofit organization that helps small businesses to start, grow, and succeed, he gets to put that experience to work on a daily basis.

The Texas native began working at SCORE in 1993, after learning about the organization while at another nonprofit. A banker by training and a longtime fan of small business, he was drawn to the organization’s mission.

“I love small business, I like small business owners,” says Mr. Yancey, who adds that the passion, drive, and enthusiasm among entrepreneurs and small-business owners is empowering.

For close to 50 years, SCORE has been providing education and mentoring services to small-business owners across the country. In fact, more than 10 million clients have relied on the services of the organization at no cost, or at a very low cost.

From one-on-one counseling by volunteers to a series of workshops and seminars, SCORE works to unite small-business owners with the tools necessary for their growth and success.

And with more than 12,000 volunteers and some 340 offices across the country, its services are widely available.

“SCORE exists at the intersection of two uniquely American concepts – volunteerism and entrepreneurship,” says Yancey, noting both the desire of volunteers to dedicate their time to helping clients and the desire of clients to reach for their goals and dreams. “That’s really where SCORE works.”

In the more than 10 years Yancey has been at the helm, he says, SCORE has seen growth in demand for its services as well as a shift in the type of clients seeking help.

“For a while, during the economic downturn, we saw more people who were accidental entrepreneurs,” he says. “They were starting businesses because they lost their jobs, or life circumstances dictated they had to do something other than their original chosen field.”

Of course, today’s small businesses are also much more aligned with social media and the Internet – meaning that SCORE's portfolio of educational topics has also expanded.

One of his favorite parts of his job, Yancy says, is working with the talented and dedicated volunteer mentors.

“Those volunteers – not only are they good, but they are making a difference, and it is a measurable difference,” he says.

Some are current or retired executives or other businesspeople; some are themselves entrepreneurs – 69 percent have small business or entrepreneurship in their backgrounds.

“They have made payrolls, and they have experienced the challenges, and certainly the joys, of entrepreneurship,” he says, emphasizing the links these volunteers can establish with the clients.

Another important element of SCORE’s work, Yancey says, is in educating new entrepreneurs.

“The people that we serve ... started a business to fulfill a dream and to achieve some goals,” he says. “And while they are highly intelligent and motivated, they often do not wear all the required hats that need to be worn to be a successful entrepreneur.”

That’s where the volunteer mentors come in.

“They help them with the aspects of business where they don’t have strengths,” Yancey says. “We help them to learn.”

SCORE mentors do not serve as business consultants, however, and do not make decisions for their clients.

The aspiring entrepreneur is "doing all the work,” he says. “What we are doing is providing that additional information, that additional expertise.”

It would seem that SCORE is on to something: Last year alone, SCORE helped clients start 38,000 new businesses that created more than 82,000
new jobs.

It’s no wonder why Yancey loves his job so much.

“It is easy to get up and come to work around here because of the mission,” he says. “Not only is it fantastic to work with and serve these entrepreneurs … but the volunteers are just amazing people.”

• For more information about SCORE, to volunteer, or to seek mentoring services, visit

Crates of wild blueberries stand ready for processing on a farm in Deblois, Maine, in August 2013. Around the US and the world volunteers gather to collect surplus fruit and donate it to those in need or turn it into various delicacies. (Dave Sherwood/Reuters)

How fruit trees grow communities

By Maria GrusauskasShareable / 08.23.13

A global grass-roots movement has identified a very effective ingredient for building community: fruit. Even while the price tag on organic fruit causes many to go without, it's much more abundant than we may think.

Fruit falls to the ground uneaten, all over the world. In the same backyards and orchards we pass everyday on our way to the grocery store or farmers market. Sure, a bit of fallen fruit is good—for the soil, for the animals and bugs, for the perpetuation of more fruit trees. But as summer turns to fall, it's often more than just a "bit" of fallen fruit. Next time you walk through your neighborhood, take note of abundant fruit trees, and the ground under them. See it?

The organization Oakland Trees provides an online map of 40,000 fruit trees on public property within the California city, which you can filter by season. And Fallen Fruit, an organization that uses fruit as the common denominator that changes the way you see the world, generates maps of fruit in public spaces all over the world.

So what do the untapped fruit trees of the world have to do with community? Everything.

Over the past few years, "fruit tree projects" have been popping up all over the world, from Vancouver and Portland to New Orleans to Fiji and Australia and beyond. They start small, with just one or two proactive individuals who are pained by the sight of perfectly good fruit in the late stages of decomposition.

Some fruit tree projects redistribute their fruit harvests to undernourished communities, while others gobble them up themselves, and many celebrate the harvest by getting together and processing large quantities of fruit into any number of delicacies. 

Even with the variations in types of fruit projects out there, one basic truth remains the same: The only thing standing between a hungry belly and the world’s excess fruit supply is a knock on a neighbor’s door. 

For Steve Schnaar, (whose childhood memories include picking apples with his family), knocking on doors to inquire about overladen fruit trees was a "hobby" of his that soon blossomed into the Santa Cruz Fruit Tree Project (SCFTP), now in its third year in Santa Cruz, Calif.

“I have a long history of knocking on peoples’ doors and saying ‘it looks like you have more apples than you can handle, or cherries,’ or whatever it may be, and it’s usually true—most people with a big tree aren’t using it all, or are happy to share,” says Schnaar.

“Sure, a lot of people are intimidated to knock on strangers' doors... but.. I don’t have that problem. People can say no if they want to say no.”

The success rate is surprisingly high, especially because most people—especially if they live alone—can't eat all of the fruit produced by a single tree, and Schnaar estimates about nine out of ten people say yes to sharing their excess.

Do It Yourself fruit processing is at the heart of the Santa Cruz Fruit Tree Project, and the community that's been growing out of it. Most harvests are followed by a gathering that teaches how to preserve the fruit they harvest—from drying persimmons using the traditional Japanese method Hoshigaki, to fermenting the fruit into wine with local DIY wine makers.

They've also hosted apple cider pressing parties (with a bike-powered press, of course), made vinegar and countless preserves, from marmelades to chutnies. And when there's still too much fruit to go around, or the fruit is a little bit too "mushy" to give away, the chef of local restaurant India Joze often finds a culinary use for it.

The post-harvest events bring together growers, community members, and local food experts, and they're a birthplace for lasting relationships and useful skills promoting a sustainable culture.

Schnaar's project would have fizzled out had it not been for his devotion to it, and the whole-hearted embrace it has received from the community. Most of the fruit 'hosts' have welcomed him and his fruit harvesters back each year, and the word is spreading. Harvests that used to see only a handful of people are now numbering dozens to even 40 or 50 people.

When I met up with Schnaar, his speech quickened as soon as he started talking about the various harvests and workshops that have taken place over the past three years. The lean, bike-riding 35-year-old is passionate about fruit, and he's one of the few residents who can rattle off all of the types of fruit trees growing around town, and when they are at their prime for harvesting.

He's got some clever urban agricultural ideas for the future of the project, including starting to plant and maintain trees on host properties, and helping to support the start of a "Food Forest" in Santa Cruz, and he's a great source for anyone looking to start a fruit project in their own town.

An Interview with Steve Schnaar, founder of the Santa Cruz Fruit Tree Project: 

What's your number one advice for anyone looking to start a Fruit Tree Project? 

Just start it.

I didn’t have any funding, and I didn’t really set out to make a big organization right away, but I had always thought there should be something like that here, and at some point I just started doing it, and I’d try to get people together by putting fliers out, including at the Free Skool.

For the first few years I was holding it all together, doing the lions share of the work and coordinating other peoples help. It was a lot of time for me, and again, there was no money involved, but I got paid in fruit, I guess.

When you see a fruit tree overladen with fruit, how do you handle that potentially-awkard knock?

I tend to focus on the fact that I'm not asking for a hand out ... We’re just looking for stuff that other people dont want. And it’s actually a help to them a lot of times, since many fruits will fall and make a mess on the ground and attract animals and stuff, so when we come to harvest we actually clean up a bit.

Have you ever knocked on a door where the resident didn’t know they had fruit growing in their backyard?

One group of college students, yes, they had a bunch of old avocado trees, which are much harder to get people to part with, because, unlike apples and plums and pears, avocados will stay on the tree indefinitely, for many months, sometimes a year. But yeah, the woman I spoke to insisted that she did not have an avocado tree.

(So, Schnaar politely showed the pleasantly surprised students they had several avocado trees. He provided the ladder, which they didn’t have, and helped them harvest.)

What’s the most overlooked type of fruit (in Santa Cruz, California)?

People are really intimidated by olives. I find that most things always turn out easier than they seem. Vinegar for instance, is the easiest thing ever. You put fruit juice aside and it turns itself into vinegar, and you don’t have to do anything. Sauerkraut is almost just as easy as that.

Curing olives though, even people I know that work on farms, for years, I’d ask people and they’d say ‘oh no, it’s a lot of trouble.’ But its really not hard.

So what the heck do you do with olives?

There are various methods, but basically you put them in a bucket with fresh water, and change the water every day. It’s five minutes everyday for a couple weeks, and you change the water until it doesn’t taste as bitter. When it starts to taste almost edible then you put it in salt water and put it aside and it ferments a litte bit.

It literally takes like a single digit number of hours for gallons full of olives. Thats one that people rarely use at all, olives. They are smaller here (in Santa Cruz) because we’re not the perfect climate, but they taste good. In fact, I think that some of the olives we made taste better than any ones I’ve ever had.

So, aside from raking up any rotten fruit under trees, and leaving the area nicer than it was when you found it, do you do anything else for the fruit tree owners?

Whenever we have events we take some jam or dried fruit and different things like that as a little gift to hosts. In the beginning, we would make something out of the same fruit we picked on the owners' property, but we found it's just nice to have something when we show up.

Attending My First SCFTP Harvest: Santa Rosa Plums

My first experience harvesting fruit with strangers happened at City Limits Ranch, an orchard-turned-horse ranch outside Watsonville, California. Had I died and gone to heaven? Not only did I get to explore a beautiful private horse ranch, but I also got to take this fruit home with me? 

Dozens of plum trees dotted the beautiful, dusty hillside of the property, brimming with luscious Santa Rosa plums—purple on the outside, with tart skin and vibrant red flesh, sweeter and juicier than any plum I've bought from a grocery store. 

Or maybe there's just something about picking your own fruit that makes it taste sweeter. Around two dozen community members came out to climb ladders high up into the plum canopies, while others stood on the ground, reaching for the ripe plums with the long handled 'fruit pickers' provided by the property owner. 

"Fruit lovers, economically, they probably wouldn't be able to pay for this much organic fruit at a farmers market," said longtime SCFTP volunteer, Samantha Olden. She stands over two huge bins brimming with the morning's bounty. "The more we can grow our own produce, the less we depend on Monsanto," she added.

"And for the community, people are meeting other people that they've never met before, and going home to make jam together later."

The small children and sweet people I met only reinforced the sensation that it was a morning well-spent. 

And while I wasn't able to attend the plum wine-making get together that was taking form a few days later, I did go home and make my first-ever plum tarte (with lemon zest and rosemary) and gorged on organic plums for several days. 

• Follow Maria Grusauskas on Twitter @MariaGwrites and on Facebook

This article was originally published by Shareable, a nonprofit online magazine that tells the story of how sharing can promote the common good.

UN turns to Twitter and Beyonce for fundraising

By StaffReuters / 08.21.13

The United Nations is turning to social media to raise money and awareness of humanitarian crises that have fallen off the global agenda, said U.N. Undersecretary-General Valerie Amos.

The United Nations unveiled the social media campaign on Monday during World Humanitarian Day, the organization's annual day to remember aid workers who have died while in the field and promote humanitarian aid.

"Basically what happens every year, there are crises that hit the spotlight (and) Syria is at the top of the agenda right now," Amos, who also is the United Nations' emergency relief coordinator, told Reuters. "There are places like Afghanistan, Yemen, Haiti, Colombia, which continue to have humanitarian need but which may have slipped off the global agenda."

Under the slogan "The World Needs More," the campaign has partnered with entertainers and corporations to raise funds on social networks such as Twitter.

Entertainers working with the program tweet a word such as "strength," "love" or "humanity," and a corporate sponsor will donate $1 to a U.N. humanitarian fund for every retweet.

"We're going to try to put any funding that is raised, any money raised into those countries where are appeals are under-funded," Amos said.

Those who have agreed to participate include American pop singer Beyonce, Indian film actor Amitabh Bachchan, Brazilian novelist Paulo Coelho and 10-year-old American comedian Kid President.

Corporate sponsors include U.S. financial services company Western Union, British bank Barclays, Italian fashion house Gucci, computer chip maker Intel and the Sergio Vieira de Mello Foundation.

The U.N General Assembly in 2008 declared Aug. 19 World Humanitarian Day as a way to mark the 22 U.N. and aid agency workers, including Special Representative of the Secretary-General to Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello, who died during a 2003 bombing of the organization's Baghdad headquarters.

Sakena Yacoobi is executive director of the Afghan Institute of Learning. 'I founded AIL in order to help my people become educated and healthy and learn the critical thinking skills and other skills that they needed to live together with others in peace,' she says. (Courtesy of Skoll World Forum)

In an Afghan refugee camp, she looked to universal principles of law

By Sakena YacoobiSkoll World Forum / 08.21.13

I founded the Afghan Institute of Learning (AIL) in 1995 in the refugee camps of Pakistan when there were over 7.5 million refugees.

Although the Soviet Union had been defeated, there was still fighting in Afghanistan. Our country was mostly destroyed. We had no functional government. Refugees could not return because of the fighting, no homes, no jobs, no way to live; the structure of society had broken down; war was the norm and often people did not know how to decide what was right and wrong.

Afghan women and children needed education, health services, and training in order to rebuild their country. They also needed to have a foundation other than fighting and survival so that they could rebuild their lives and country and live in peace.

I founded AIL in order to help my people become educated and healthy and learn the critical thinking skills and other skills that they needed to live together with others in peace.

In the refugee camps there were various laws for Afghans to follow—the rules of UNHCR and some of the laws of Pakistan and the rules that various groups set up in the camps. We did not have a functional government with a system of rules and there was an absence of laws in various areas—particularly in education and health. So, we in AIL looked at what was fair, moral, and just—what we could want for ourselves—I now know that these are sometimes called universal principles of law.

We did not actually research our principles; rather, they were created through consensus by the staff. There was no time or money. We needed to start schools and clinics and train people. So AIL staff discussed amongst themselves what was important to them in light of the culture, tradition, and religions of Afghanistan, and we came up with our own rules and standards and philosophy—essentially a system of laws that would enable Afghans to feel safe and secure and would build trust for our work together. 

  1. We wanted our people to be educated and healthy because we think these are basic human rights.
  2. We wanted our people to be free and to think for themselves and get along together.
  3. We would treat people equally and with dignity, as we wanted to be treated. We would respect them and their culture, and we asked the people we worked with to do the same.
  4. We worked at the grass roots involving the people we worked with in the decisionmaking about the programs that we would provide.
  5. We wanted the people to contribute something for the schools and clinics so that they would have responsibility toward and feel a sense of ownership of the projects.

One day, the people from a distant camp asked us to set up a school for their girls. They did not have a teacher, so we went to a respected mullah in the camp and asked if he would be willing to teach. After discussions, he agreed to teach classes out of his home. We signed a contract and ultimately there were seven classes being taught in the camp where he lived. This happened because we followed our basic principles by finding a solution to meet the needs of the community, involving the community and treating them with respect.

In a conflict situation, you do not always have a set of consistent laws to guide your work; in some areas there may be an absence of laws. My suggestion to others working in this type of situation is to look to Universal Principles of Law. There’s a great deal that has been written on this topic, and I suggest beginning with the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).

As I was doing research for my panel discussion at the World Justice Forum, I found that many of the articles of the UDHR applied directly to the way AIL chose to do its work. The UDHR takes in to account the universal principals of law from various cultures and can be applied to a varied of situations.

I’m not saying that everyone will agree with everything in the document, but I think it’s a great place to start when you’re in a place where the rule of law is ambiguous or absent.

• Sakena Yacoobi is executive director of the Afghan Institute of Learning.

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.

Boys water plants as people work at a community vegetable garden in Valencia, Spain. Permablitz is a concept started in Australia in which a homeowner invites the community to help create a garden in a single day. (Heino Kalis/Reuters/File)

To make a garden in a day, try a Permablitz

By De Chantal HillisShareable / 08.20.13

Ever wanted to transform your yard into a garden but didn't know how? Well, much like the Amish tradition of barn raising, a Permablitz is a way of bringing the community together and turning a suburban house into an urban homestead ... in a single day. 

The original Permablitz network was established by Adam Grub and Dan Palmer, and more than 100 Permablitzes have been held in Melbourne, Australia, so far. The concept has since spread across Australia and begun to move overseas -- with countries such as the UK and the U.S. joining in the fun. 

Here are some tips on running your own Permablitz:

First, get a really great design.

Never, ever create a food garden from scratch without first developing a really good design.

A good design is the difference between you doing the clearing, digging, fertilizing, and pest control for your new veggie patch -- or your rotationally fenced chooks (that's an Australian chicken) doing the work for you. Isn't it smarter to let the chickens gorge themselves on grass, weeds, and bugs; dig through soil; poo in it; and hand over eggs into the bargain? In short, you need an ultra-smart, well-integrated garden design.

Get a good Permaculture designer on board, and take the design process seriously. Work with your designer to create a plan that you are willing to commit to over the long haul. It is more important to get a great, long-term design established during your Permablitz than it is to complete all the work in one day. Use your Blitz day to break the back of that design, then keep adding to and refining your project slowly, over the years.

Then, advertise and maintain engagement.

In Australia, households use the Permablitz website to advertise upcoming events and find volunteers.

If you live in the U.S., you will need to work a bit harder. First port of call? Friends, family, and gullible (make that visionary!) associates. Second port of call? Progressive websites, any volunteer website, and every single local sustainability/urban farming groups in your area. As you craft your call outs, remember to ask yourself "Why would anyone choose to attend a thing like this?"

In Australia, many people attend Blitzes because they are a great way of learning new skills. Australian Permablitzes always feature between one and two workshops. So, if you are building a henhouse and a chicken run, advertise this fact, and also plan for a workshop or two during the day covering topics like poultry keeping.

After you have advertised, make sure that you respond to any inquiries straight away. Ensure that you make it an RSVP event so that people must email you to get the address. (This maintains privacy and gives you an air of exclusivity!) Put your respondees on an email list and send them regular, wildly enthusiastic email blasts: "Our plans for the henhouse are coming along; check out these amazing pics!" etc, etc.

It's important to maintain engagement with your participants all the way through the process. Encouraging people to arrive at different times in the day is also pretty wise -- this means that as one group of people begin to fade, new energetic sorts can kick in and start things all over again.

Remember that food can also be a drawcard for potential volunteers. My husband is a Californian of Mexican descent. Luckily, our Blitz was held in Melbourne during a visit from my mother-in-law. Our gimmick was actual Mexican food. My friends and family (not to mention nearly every urban gardener in Melbourne) had never seen a tortilla up close before. It was a riotous success with everyone except my grim, pearls-before-swine elderly carpenter, who declared that the refried beans "looked like they had already been eaten and digested once before."

Yeah, mate, whatever. We advertised Mexican food. It worked.

Finally, get organized but be prepared to improvise.

Because most Australian Blitzes attract between 20 and 70 participants, preparation for these one day events is vital. If you haven't prepared well, expect total chaos! If you have prepared well, expect total chaos! (But hopefully a much more constructive form of chaos.)

Site plans and designs posted around the Blitz area are a good place to start.

Hosts need to make sure they have enough materials on hand -- enough timber, mulch, shovels, and screwdrivers to finish the job. It is a good idea to get one person to coordinate food for the day, and at least one person to greet and settle newly arrived volunteers. Make sure your designer will be there to provide practical direction and support, and try to find out who among your volunteer crew has the specialist skills that you will need (like bricklaying or carpentry) in advance, if possible.

The best blitzes are the result of adequate preparation in the lead up to the event, and crazy, desperate improvisation on the day.

It's fun. You'll like it.

• This article was originally published by Shareable, a nonprofit online magazine that tells the story of how sharing can promote the common good.

Cameron Kerr, a wounded soldier being treated at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., poses with Genevieve Finn during a visit to the hospital. (Courtesy of Genevieve’s Crutches)

A teen starts Genevieve’s Crutches to give others an extra boost

By David KarasContributor / 08.19.13

Genevieve Finn was only 14 when doctors diagnosed her with a condition that resulted in a series of operations on her hips.

Recovering from surgery required the extensive use of crutches to get around. But not wanting to settle on plain aluminum crutches, the crafty teen decided to use fabric and vinyl tape to give her metal supports some flare.

Fast forward four years, and her colorful crutches are being sported by wounded warriors, children, and others needing an extra boost.

Genevieve’s Crutches, as the effort has since been named, is a registered 501c3 nonprofit organization based out of the family’s New Jersey home. It is supported by the volunteer efforts of Genevieve; her mother, Regina; and the family’s oldest daughter, Casey, who is now 22 – as well as the generosity of others who donate their crutches to the cause.

“I have four children, so crutches tend to accumulate, [especially] when you have athletes in the house,” Regina says when recalling how the effort began. “We did a few sets of what we had in the house, hoping to share.”

The initial batch of personalized crutches was modeled after those Genevieve created for herself and her brother, who had knee surgery around the time of her own operations. Regina recalled the attention the crutches got in transit to physical therapy and other places.

“Needless to say, people stopped and looked,” she said. “The focus becomes the crutch, and not the illness or the injury.”

As the family began to gather and decorate more pairs of crutches, they began the search for people who would benefit the most. The idea to send some to wounded soldiers recovering at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., came about as the family coped with the loss of one of their son’s friends, who was killed while serving in Afghanistan.

After some networking, the Finns found a patient who helped connect them to wounded soldiers in need of crutches. The rest is history.

Ever since, the family has traveled to the medical center every few months, with the most recent trip being in July. And each time, they bring a carload of crutches ready to donate to patients there.

“It’s always a great visit. Every time we come back with stories,” says Regina, who added that many of the recipients have undergone amputations related to combat injuries. “You would expect it to be somewhat depressing, but it is not. It is incredibly uplifting and rewarding.”

“You step in there and you are part of this family, this community,” she adds. “They are there to heal, and they work incredibly hard. They are warriors, and this is their new battle.”

One of the most rewarding parts of the project, she says, is the chance to see the recovery in patients they visit more than once.

And for the project’s namesake, Genevieve, the effort is worthwhile.

“It feels amazing to be able to help people in a different sort of way,” she says. “To be able to help them out in a way that really nobody has even thought of is really incredible.”

The teen, who will be attending Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, N.J., this fall to study business and technology, describes the project as “inspiring and humbling at the same time.”

Pairs of crutches come with all sorts of designs, the Finns say. Whether an assortment of colors or camouflage – a favorite at Walter Reed – or even sports teams and colleges, the range of designs is wide.

The family doesn’t play favorites with teams – they have created crutches that bear team emblems and mascots from across the country, in several different sports.

Since 2010, more than 150 pairs of crutches donated to the family have found their way to patients who use them on a daily basis.

And moving forward, Regina says the family hopes to start creating crutches for children, and to find ways to maintain the involvement of high school students in the creative process.

• For more information or to support Genevieve’s Crutches, visit or

Children of sex workers prepare to go school in Soma Home in the eastern city of Kolkata, India. The home, set up to protect young girls from being sexually abused or trafficked, is named after a girl who died due to lack of help. In the US, Hilton and others in the hotel industry are creating programs to curb child sex trafficking. (Parth Sanyal/Reuters/File)

How to stop global child trafficking

By Jennifer SilbermanSkoll World Forum / 08.16.13

We are a world on the move. Since the beginnings of humanity, we have lived and died by our freedom to walk across continents, scale mountains and sail across oceans. And with time, our ability to travel has only elevated – into the skies and into space. But the same freedom to travel that makes both survival and tourism possible has bred crime, giving life to the seedy underbelly of global commerce that trades in women and children and sex.

The Polaris Project estimates that nearly 21 million people around the world are held in slavery each year, and the U.S. Department of State estimates that 600 thousand to 800 thousand people are bought and sold across international borders. Of these, it is estimated that 50 percent are children – most of them are female and the majority are forced into the commercial sex trade.

The hospitality industry is, unfortunately, part of this underbelly – an unwilling participant in what experts call “the sexual exploitation that is particularly prevalent in this industry.” And let me be clear. We are unwilling. The Hilton Worldwide Global Code of Conduct condemns all forms of human trafficking and commercial exploitation, and we are fully committed to protecting men, women and children in every one of our markets.

This commitment stems from our earliest days as a company. Opening his first hotel in 1919, Conrad N. Hilton, our founder and namesake, believed in the power of international travel to change the world for the better. He imagined a world filled “with the light and warmth of hospitality.” We have taken this vision to heart, committing to not just travel, but to Travel with Purpose™, bringing shared value to the communities where we live, work and travel.

Among the most important efforts we make is protecting those who need it most and shining our light on an issue too often hidden out of sight. At Hilton Worldwide, we are using every tool in our toolbox to advocate for change, and we are encouraging our industry peers to do the same.

In 2011, we became just the second U.S.-based, multi-brand hospitality company to sign the ECPAT Tourism Code of Conduct, supporting its voluntary principles to prevent child sex tourism and trafficking. The Tourism Code is one of the first global, multi-stakeholder initiatives to define the role and obligations of tourism companies in ending child sex trafficking. We also committed to the UN Global Compact, agreeing to work toward common goals on issues of human rights and labor, among others.

But this is not an issue where just seeing something and saying something is enough. We all need to be the change. At Hilton Worldwide we have developed interventions – from industry collaborations to Team Member trainings to social sector partnerships – to halt trafficking at all angles.

We are a member of the International Tourism Partnership, helping to create the Human Trafficking Working Group. Our work has developed a united industry position on trafficking and supports youth apprenticeship programs at hotels in Mexico, Brazil and Vietnam in collaboration with the U.S. Department of State, and the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons.

While working closely with our industry, we are also working closely within our business. Every day our Team Members are on the front lines of this issue, and so we are educating them about child trafficking, and we are developing training modules that can be applied around the world.

Through both compliance training and our internal learning and development network, Hilton Worldwide University, we can reach 300,000 Team Members at 4,000 properties across 90 countries. We are building a network of more engaged, more aware advocates. And we know we are not the only ones; our peers in the industry have similar initiatives and it will take each of our efforts – together and apart – to reverse the tide of child trafficking.

But “together” extends beyond the rooms, pools and halls of our industry. Partnerships with those working directly to combat trafficking are just one more way we are committed to strengthening our communities. With Airline Ambassadors, we are supporting anti-human trafficking trainings for travel industry personnel, particularly at airport properties, and the creation of a safe house for young women in Haiti. We are also working with The Polaris Project to develop the curriculum for our Team Member trainings and with the Somaly Mam Foundation to support public awareness and education programs for trafficking victims.

In support of these aggressive programs to end trafficking in our industry, we are also working to create better opportunities for youth who may be at risk of falling into the sex or slave trade. With Room to Read, we are funding girls’ education programs to help vulnerable populations in India stay in school and receive vocational and life-skills training. We have also created a strategic partnership with the International Youth Foundation, investing $3 million over three years to help vulnerable youth reach their full potential through expanded access to education, as well as workforce and life-skills training.

But it is our partnership with Vital Voices, a global network that aims to empower women to accelerate peace and prosperity in their communities, that I believe is truly unique. Together we have developed the Global Freedom Exchange, a dynamic mentoring opportunity for emerging and established women leaders on the forefront of efforts to intervene in child trafficking.

Our program will launch in late June in three cities around the United States, and will employ a multifaceted, impact-oriented approach to provide participants with specific knowledge, skills and relationships that will benefit their professional development, their respective NGOs and the communities they serve. The program will also develop an ongoing international network of activists working together to prevent and respond to child sex trafficking around the world.

For the last 20 years, I have seen first-hand, specifically in Latin America, the arduous fight that women and children may face in preserving their human rights. Our 26 amazing women – academics, activists and survivors – from 13 different countries, will come together to share and engage at the Global Freedom Exchange, growing their collective capacity for change. The skills and relationships they will gain could be life-altering for so many women and children around the world – those trapped by poverty, age or physical restraint.

In our child sex trafficking trainings for Team Members at Hilton Worldwide, we ask participants to “Practice your Awareness.” Think about that for a moment. Awareness here isn’t a state – to be aware – but a skill; a skill that can be learned and improved upon.

At Hilton Worldwide we are always seeking improvement, whether for the satisfaction of our guests or, in this case, the impact of our corporate responsibility. For the two million children around the world forced into prostitution, I challenge you to practice your awareness, and to always seek to make it better.

• Jennifer Silberman is vice president for for Global Corporate Responsibility at Hilton Worldwide.

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.

Pigeons fly overhead as a woman collects recyclables from a dump in New Delhi, India. In Pune, India, an alliance of waste pickers has established an inclusive, sustainable model for dealing with India's rubbish problem. (Adnan Abidi/Reuters/File)

Hidden environmentalists: India's waste pickers

By Ben ThurmanDowser / 08.15.13

Indian Railways, often upheld as the greatest "gift" of the British Raj, spans the length and breadth of India, connecting a diverse people from Kanyankumari to Kashmir. Despite 65 years of nation-building, there are few common features that unite India’s billion-strong population. Yet, as my train labored along the paradisaical Malabar Coast, I lowered my gaze from the horizon and found one: rubbish. Newspapers, plastic bottles, food packaging, jettisoned from carriage windows – the railway network scars the countryside with 70,000 miles of litter.

It typifies the prevalent "out of sight, out of mind" attitude towards waste – both at an individual and civic level – which has propelled several of India’s metropolitans into health and environmental crises. Last November, Bangalore was “drowning in its own waste” when pickups ceased for three weeks. Mounds of rubbish polluted "the Garden City," attracting rats, stray dogs, and pigs to some of its more illustrious neighborhoods.

The crisis, caused by villagers blocking the road to the Mandur landfill, drew attention to Bangalore’s existing waste management policy. Over the last two decades, as the city experienced stunning growth, the resultant increase in waste has simply been loaded onto trucks and dumped on the outskirts. Out of sight; out of mind. Since 2000, this practice has been mechanized by the municipal authority itself.

With the nation generating 750,000 tons of waste every week – the equivalent of two Empire State Buildings – the environmental and health implications of landfills are colossal. In Mandur, the latest dumping site had poisoned local waters and spread sickness and disease throughout local villages, until the protest forced its closure.

Rajneesh Goel, Bangalore’s chief civil servant, admits that they “never followed scientific landfill practices.” Indeed, practitioners estimate that 80 percent of waste in India is "managed" not by civic authorities, but by an informal economy of rag-pickers – people that salvage recyclable items to sell to scrap dealers. But with the city’s latest landfill closing permanently and India’s capacity to contain its waste reaching breaking point, the country needs to rethink its strategy.

In Pune, a city that suffered its own waste disposal crisis in 2010, an alliance of waste pickers has established an inclusive, sustainable model for solid waste management that presents a potential blueprint for the future. When the government of India introduced new Municipal Solid Waste Rules in 2000, requiring household segregation and door-to-door collection of waste, Kagad Kach Patra Kashtakari Panchayat (KKPKP) seized the opportunity to improve the condition of waste pickers in India by integrating them into formal waste management services.

They formed SWaCH – India’s first wholly-owned cooperative of self-employed waste pickers. Since 2005, SWaCH has worked in partnership with city authorities, providing door-to-door collection for a small fee and – unlike other contractors that favor landfills and incineration units – recycling and composting the city’s rubbish.

However, as Vishnu, head of operations, explains, it is an initiative driven primarily by social, rather than environmental forces. Before SWaCH, waste pickers rummaged through landfills to find scraps to sell.“They were not working in a clean area – there are snakes and pigs and dogs. And they were not getting enough sellables to sustain their families.” By incorporating waste pickers into the municipal mechanism for waste collection and formalizing what had previously been a completely unregulated economy, SWaCH has provided increased economic security and social uplift for thousands of families in Pune.

Vaishali, a member of SWaCH, told me about her life before. “We used to go to the big dirt [landfills and dumping grounds]. So long we had to walk and walk, and we didn’t know if we would get anything. We used to carry our load on our head.” Today, with her own push-cart, the work is less strenuous; and with a set route, she has a regular income that allows her to provide not only food but education for her children.

Her children are now training as a plumber and teacher, reflecting the social uplift that is not uncommon among cooperative members.

But “if this SWaCH wasn’t here,” she believes, “all our children would be in the same occupation.” As well as improving working conditions, this initiative has the potential to break the generational cycle of waste pickers and poverty.

Although its primary goal was to improve the livelihoods of those engaged in a “crude and undignified” occupation, SWaCH has also had a transformative effect on the city – something of which cooperative members are very much aware.

“We feel proud,” says Vaishali. “Because of us the city is clean, and people are not frequently ill.” Another worker, Shobha, astutely observed: “Yes, we get our money; but the corporation, too, is getting the benefit of our work.”

Every week SWaCH members recycle 4,000 kilos (8,800 pounds) of "waste" that would otherwise be incinerated or sent to landfills. However, Vishnu believes they are “invisible environmentalists,” because their contribution is not recognized by the authorities. Despite its impact on livelihoods, the clear environmental effects – especially for those in the vicinity of peripheral landfill sites – and the carbon-credit benefits obtained by statutory and corporate bodies, SWaCH continues to encounter political resistance.

“They [the municipal authorities] want to promote incinerators and big contractors,” Vishnu laments. SWaCH currently serves 40 percent of Pune’s 1 million households; but the Pimpri Chinchwad Municipal Corporation recently awarded a contract for door-to-door collection and transportation to landfill to another party, and Vishnu fears that Pune Municipal Corporation may do the same.

This move would dismantle much of what SWaCH and KKPKP have been fighting for since their formation: private landfills not only have environmental repercussions, but also marginalize waste pickers whose source of earning – sellable scraps – are now off-limits.

“Why are they doing this?” Vishnu asks. “Because they are giving big money. They have no social concern.”

In India waste is a multi-billion-dollar industry, with huge opportunity for innovation and – as some practitioners have shown – profit. Vishnu hopes that SWaCH’s all-inclusive solution to the problems of waste and waste pickers “will be an example for India.” Vaishali reiterates the belief that “if all garbage workers work like this, it will be very good for the environment and for rag pickers. What we are doing, the same should be done all over India.”

But it is not so simple. “We need all-level involvement,” says Vishnu. “Government, citizens, institutional level.” It requires individual and community buy-in to end dumping and promote household segregation. But more importantly, it demands accountability on the part of state authorities that seem increasingly happy to ignore the waste that rises up around them. While he disapproves of “political interventions” that restrict the growth of SWaCH, Vishnu acknowledges ruefully, “without Municipal Corporation support, we can’t do this.”

The increasingly common incidence of waste piling up in Tier-I cities is evidence that India is at a crossroads. It is time for local governments to stop chasing lucrative contracts and act in the best interests of its citizens, the environment, and those that process India’s waste – the hidden environmentalists.

This article originally appeared at

A sailing ship designed to replicate the vessel of explorer Ponce de Leon, who explored Florida in 1513, is seen near the port of Miami in April 2013. In Vermont, a group of volunteers is building the Ceres, a sailing ship that would carry cargo up and down the Hudson River using only wind power, returning to the days of sail-powered commerce. (Andrew Innerarity/Reuters/File)

Vermont sailing barge may be model for carbon-free shipping

By Mat McDermottYale Environment 360 / 08.14.13

This week a new sailing barge was launched on Lake Champlain that its backers hope will soon be in the vanguard of a new carbon-neutral shipping alternative. The 39-foot Ceres — built by volunteers from the Vermont Sail Freight Project and farmer Erik Andrus — is an update on the type of cargo vessels that once plied the inland waterways throughout the northeastern US. Like them, the Ceres will sail without any sort of motorized assistance.

With the Ceres, the Vermont Sail Freight Project, which is supported by the nonprofit Willowell Foundation, hopes to prove that carbon-neutral boats can be a viable shipping method for the 21st century, connecting small-scale farmers in Vermont and upstate New York with customers along the Hudson River south to New York City — all while reducing the substantial greenhouse gas emissions that come from conventional shipping of produce, which is dominated in the region by trucks.

For the next few weeks, the Ceres — which consists of a flat-bottomed plywood box hull covered in fiberglass and a rig borrowed from traditional English Thames barges — will undergo testing on Lake Champlain. If all goes as planned, this fall it will begin its 300-mile maiden voyage down the Hudson to New York, delivering pre-ordered shelf-stable produce to customers along the route.

With no refrigerator onboard, the Ceres will have to carry goods that will last the approximately 10-day trip without losing quality. Grains, dry beans, preserves, onions, squash, and potatoes will make the trip. Without a fixed sailing schedule, customers will learn their orders are approaching by phone, text, or email.

Though a blip on the transportation radar, the Vermont Sail Freight Project (VSFP) is one of a growing number of efforts to revive sail-powered transport in connection with sustainable agriculture, in both the United States and Europe.

There’s the Dragonfly Sail Transport Company, which delivers produce to shore communities along northern Lake Michigan; Washington State has the Salish Sea Trading Cooperative, delivering locally grown produce around Puget Sound; the Island Market Boat serves customers in Maine, bringing produce dockside and selling directly to customers as a sort-of floating farmer's market. In New York City, HARVEST envisions something similar to the VSFP, hoping one day to develop a fleet of the sort of small vessels that once delivered produce and fish in New York and New Jersey.

Taking sail-based trade to another level entirely is the 105-foot brigantine Tres Hombres, now sailing a regular route between northern Europe, islands in the Atlantic and Caribbean, and North America, carrying rum, chocolate, and other freight. And efforts are under way to establish a Fair Transport eco-label, which would assure that goods bearing the mark would have a carbon-emissions reduction of 90 percent, compared to fossil-fuel-shipped maritime cargo.

Operating on a shoestring budget, VSFP’s Ceres is clearly a demonstration project at this point, rather than a commercial venture. In the future, however, several voyages a year are possible — the goal being, eventually, to form a producer-owned shipping and marketing cooperative.

“I think people really get the project right away,” Hannah Mueller, Willowell's administrative director, says. “People from all different economic and political backgrounds understand why you'd want to have carbon-neutral trade and local food combined in this way.”

It’s an understatement to say that a huge transformation in infrastructure, habits, and expectations would be required for this sort of vision and distribution model to expand beyond the niche or boutique pilot project state. However, in VSFP and the proposed trading model of which it is part, it’s possible to start visualizing what an ecologically sustainable low-carbon economy might look like — a combination of traditional knowledge revived, mixed with a dose of high-tech communication, tailored to specific regional needs.

 • Mat McDermott writes about environmental issues for a variety of print and online publications, including Motherboard, Earthtechling, Hinduism Today, and Dark Rye.

This article originally appeared at Yale Environment 360, a publication of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies.

Baby boomers Martina Schramm and her husband Robert are seen in front of their home in Pembroke Pines, Fla. The baby boom generation now gives the largest share of donations to charities, more than their parents' or childrens' generations. (Joe Skipper/Reuters/File)

Baby boomers now the largest source of charity gifts

By Heather JoslynThe Chronicle of Philanthropy / 08.13.13

Baby boomers now give the largest share of donations to charities, surpassing every other age group, including the generation born before 1946, says a study released today [Aug. 8].

Boomers make up 34 percent of the pool of donors, but give 43 percent of all money contributed by individuals, the study found.

“Baby boomers are now the dominant source of income for most nonprofits,” says Mark Rovner, a principal at Sea Change Strategies and the study’s primary researcher.

Together with the generation born before 1946, he says, they are responsible for the vast majority of giving to charities. The study, which is based on self-reported data, found that the two groups together are responsible for nearly 70 percent of the estimated total annual giving to charities by individuals.

However, the findings raise concerns for fundraisers: Donors at all stages of life are not poised to significantly increase their giving over the next year—and it will be harder in the future to win support from the generations that follow the boomers.

Of the four generations surveyed—“millennials,” born from 1981 to 1995; Generation X, born from 1965 to 1980; boomers; and the elderly—a majority in each group said they expected to give the same amount of money to charity in the coming year and to support the same number of charities.

Donors in their 20s and early 30s were most likely to say they planned to give more in the next 12 months and support more charities, with 21 percent saying they would give more money and 13 percent saying they would add beneficiaries.

Seventy-five percent of boomers said they would support the same number of charities in 2013 that they did last year, a higher share than for any of the other groups.

The online study of 1,014 U.S. donors was conducted in May and published by Edge Research, Sea Change Strategies, and Target Analytics, a division of Blackbaud.

Donors under 50 showed markedly more interest than older Americans in seeing a charity’s results. Nearly 60 percent of millennials, and half of Generation X donors, said that seeing results from their contributions influenced their decision to give. By contrast, only a third of the oldest generation said the same. 

Young donors were also less likely to make unrestricted gifts to charities: 43 percent of donors born before 1946 said they would make a gift that wasn’t earmarked for a specific purpose, compared with only 22 percent of millennials.

Perhaps most alarming for fundraisers, the results indicate that the younger donors are, the less likely they are to agree that cash gifts are the best way to support charities.

While 48 percent of donors born before 1946 said money made the biggest difference, only 36 percent of Generation X said the same, and only one in four millennials agreed.

Instead of cash, millennials would rather give their time: The survey found them to be the most fervent believers of all the generations in the value of volunteering. Thirty percent said they could make the biggest difference that way, compared with 24 percent of the eldest generation and 20 percent of boomers.

However, people in their 70s and beyond were the most likely to have volunteered at a charity in the past year—42 percent did so, compared with 33 percent of millennials.

The survey also asked people of all ages how they have donated during the past two years. Some key findings:

  • Half of all donors have given money at a retail store’s checkout counter, making it the most popular means of giving for all except those in the oldest generation. Direct mail is the most popular means of giving for people in their 70s or older.
  • Online giving is popular among all ages. Thirty-nine percent of all donors said they had given that way, including 42 percent of boomers. More boomers give online than through the mail.
  • Direct mail and phone solicitation plummet in popularity among younger donor groups. While 52 percent of the oldest generation gave by mail over the past two years, only 22 percent of Generation X and 10 percent of millennials did.

Giving by phone was much less popular overall, although 19 percent of the oldest donors reported that they gave that way. Telemarketing generated donations from only 6 percent of millennials and is unlikely to grow in popularity, says Mr. Rovner.

“If I had telemarketing stocks in my portfolio, I would sell them tomorrow,” he says.

The full study, “The Next Generation of American Giving,” can be downloaded free. Go to:

This article originally appeared at The Chronicle of Philanthropy.

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