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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.

The Operation Jersey Shore Vacation team meets with leaders at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in central New Jersey to discuss the program, which donates an oceanside vacation to military families. From left, back row, CMSgt. Michael Ferraro; Col. John Wood, the Air Base Commander; and CMSgt. Terrence Greene. Front row: Paige Laurence and Amie Sinor of Operation Jersey Shore Vacation. (Courtesy of Operation Jersey Shore Vacation)

Operation Jersey Shore Vacation offers an oceanside respite to US military families

By David KarasContributor / 07.15.13

Summer is a time when many families take vacations to exciting or exotic places, whether across the world or just a drive down to a shore town along one of the coasts.

But for American military personnel and their families, such a luxury is not usually an option.

Operation Jersey Shore Vacation, the idea of a high school teen, is an innovative project that seeks to change that.

Lexi Sinor was a junior in high school when, in 2009, she came up with the plan to work with her father, Randy – a real estate agent – to identify homeowners with summer homes who would be willing to donate a week-long stay to members of the armed forces to allow them the chance to partake in a luxury so infrequent for those in the military.

After Lexi moved to Utah to attend college, her sister, Amie, now 17, stepped up to the plate. And the project quickly became something Amie is passionate about.

“It is great to see them when they come in,” Amie says of the families they provide vacations for. “I have been raised to give back whenever I can … it makes me feel good.”

Now in its fifth summer, Operation Jersey Shore Vacation works closely with military leaders at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in central New Jersey and with the owners of summer homes to identify qualified military families and to secure a home for them to stay in for a week at the New Jersey shore.

Beyond just providing the space for a family to enjoy, the project also works with local vendors and community groups to provide gift cards for groceries and other necessities, as well as free meals or outings on the island.

One location, Fantasy Island,  provides the families with free access to its rides, games, and other attractions as a special honor to service members.

“Being down here and having this chance to be together on a vacation – I think that is just real quality time for everybody to reconnect,” says Mr. Sinor, who added that he has no trouble finding support from local businesses or homeowners to make such vacations a reality.

One impetus for starting the program came when his oldest daughter was traveling in Italy between Florence and Rome and an earthquake struck, Sinor says. It took some 16 hours for the family to find out that she was safe. That experience, he says, resonated with the family as an example of what the families of US military personnel go through on a regular basis.

“We appreciate so much what the individual military people and their families sacrifice for us,” he says.

Seeing the families with children enjoying the rides and games along the coastline is a memory he won’t soon forget, Sinor says.

“It is special to them,” he says, noting the impact such experiences can have on young children. “That’s a memory they might not otherwise have had.”

While running the program takes a lot of time and dedication from an already busy high school senior, Amie says it has become something she is passionate about. The teen still visits each family during its stay – to date, more than 25 families in the five summers the program has been in operation.

“It does take a lot of time, but it is totally worth it,” she says. “When you see the families … and how happy they are to be together, it is just priceless.”

The Sinor family now is working to obtain 501c3 nonprofit status for their program.

This summer, the shore also may be visited by a family or two who have been displaced by the tornadoes in Oklahoma. At the time of a recent interview, Amie was working to identify times for a pair of Oklahoma families to travel to the New Jersey shore to get some much-needed rest and relaxation.

Heather Lamb fondly recalls the vacation her family was able to take through the project last summer, when they spent a week on New Jersey's Long Beach Island. She enjoyed the week-long reprieve along with her husband, Benjamin, and two of their three sons – Connor and Keegan.

“It was the first vacation ever for the family,” Mrs. Lamb says. “Due to my husband’s deployment schedules, we never got time to actually plan everything. You cannot make plans – it is very difficult.”

She said that every detail of the week – from the honors they received at local businesses to the memories they created together – was priceless.

“It was the best week we had,” she says. “It was so relaxing. We were so humbled and overwhelmed with the generosity.”

• For more information on Operation Jersey Shore Vacation, to apply for a vacation, or to support the effort, visit www.ojsv.org.

New York City’s Pop-Up Repair shop was a one-month experiment in June aimed at breaking the cycle of use-and-discard goods. (Oscar Abello)

Reduce, reuse, recycle – and repair: New York's Pop-Up Repair shop

By Oscar AbelloDowser / 07.12.13

Throwing away broken stuff has never been an easier choice. For some items, prices have never been lower; for others, instant obsolescence means you always have an excuse to upgrade, as if you needed an excuse. Can the possibility of repair begin to change consumer habits?

New York City’s Pop-Up Repair shop was a one-month experiment this June aimed at breaking the cycle of use-and-discard goods. It was the first step of a larger exploration of the issue, led by Sandra Goldmark, a set and costume designer and theater professor at Barnard College

Sandra and her husband, Michael Banta, a theater production manager at Barnard, launched the shop using funds from an IndieGoGo campaign, which raised more than $9,000.

Besides suffering from the frustration of a broken toaster oven and a broken printer about a year and a half ago, the couple found some inspiration in theater for the shop.

“For every show, we make and throw away stuff to make a fantasy world, again and again, and it is just a constant reminder that there’s a whole world of real stuff going through the same cycle,” Sandra says.

Her father, by the way, is lifelong environmentalist Peter Goldmark, former president of the Rockefeller Foundation and former executive director of the Environmental Defense Fund.

Theater also provided an ideal skill set for repair.

 ”Everything we’ve been able to do here, we learned how to do because of theater,” Michael adds. Many of the “repair wizards” who staffed the shop also came from the theater world.

Customer volume far exceeded Sandra and Michael’s expectations. More than 190 customers brought in more than 360 items to repair. One customer brought in 14 items. The first 25 customers were offered pay-as-you-will prices, to get a sense of what people were willing to pay before settling on some set prices for common goods.

Getting a sense of what people would pay was part of the experiment. Chairs, lamps, fans, other small electronics, including iPhones, and also stuffed toys were popular items. Most customers came from the Inwood neighborhood of New York City where the shop was located in a tiny rented former pharmacy on Broadway.

As part of the experience, customers answered a set of questions, including, “Are you bringing this in to get fixed because it has sentimental value, avoiding the higher cost of a replacement, or to help the environment?” as well as, “On a scale of one to 10, one being not at all and 10 being very strong, how much of an environmentalist would you consider yourself to be?”

Barnard College provided a research grant to support data collection, analysis, and a “theatrical response” to be crafted based on the shop experience.

As it turned out, Sandra says, “a lot of people coming into the shop rated themselves high as an environmentalist but they rarely said that they’re coming in for that. They just want their things fixed. I think, in a weird way, they’re selling themselves short.”

At the Natural Resources Defense Council, one of the largest environmental action groups in the United States, known for working with the recording academy to reduce the environmental footprint of the Grammy Awards, senior resource specialist Darby Hoover weighed in on incentives against repair and on the possibility of changing consumer habits.

“One particular thing that happened in just the past 20 years or so was that the pace at which we generate new technology has accelerated so much that by the time something breaks, it’s already outdated,” Darby says. “There’s no incentive to repair. There’s always something newer and better.”

The situation is not entirely hopeless. 

”We’ve also created much better ways of connecting so there are more options to mix and match something that’s broken with someone who knows how to repair it or find a video of someone showing how to repair it,” Darby says. “I think what we really need to do is match the information with the mentality. We need to remind ourselves that there is value in repair, and there is value in trying to keep something out of the landfill.”

Darby referenced a few for-profit firms in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she is located, that are designed to keep stuff out of the landfill, including Urban Ore in Berkeley, Calif., tfounded in 1980, and Recology, an employee-owned firm in San Francisco that runs 20 programs designed to increase recycling and reuse.

Between ordering parts, rent, and utilities, and compensation for repair wizards, the Pop-Up Repair shop still turned out to be a losing venture, financially. 

”We don’t think right now there’s any way to charge enough for this model to really achieve financial independence,” Sandra says.

She remains optimistic.

“I think the attitudes around stuff in our country may start to follow along similar lines as the food movement,” Sandra says. “The first farmers market in New York opened in the mid 1970s, so this food movement has been building for a long time and is still frankly small compared to the mainstream. When it comes to stuff, at least in the Inwood community, I feel like people are ready for a similar change in habits, if we just provide them a way.”

This article originally appeared at Dowser.org.

Kahindi Charo shows off a mangrove nursery in Dabaso, Kenya, with a boardwalk behind him. 'If there were no mangroves, we would be dead, since most of us are fishermen and fish lay their eggs and get their food from mangrove marshes,' Charo says. (James Karuga/Thomson Reuters Foundation)

Planting mangrove trees pays off for coastal communities in Kenya

By James KarugaThomson Reuters Foundation / 07.11.13

When Kahindi Charo gathered 30 of his friends to replant mangroves in the 32 square  kilometer (12 square mile) Mida Creek area, people in his village of Dabaso in Kilifi County dismissed them as crazy idlers.

Charo recalls that back then, in 2000, the creek had suffered badly from unregulated harvesting that had left the area bare, with rotting stumps and patches of old mangrove trees. 

Today, Mida Creek, about 60 km (38 miles) north of Mombasa, flourishes with dense mangrove plantations that provide a habitat for birds, fish, and crabs. There is also a boardwalk leading to a 12-seat eco-restaurant perched beside the Indian Ocean.

“If there were no mangroves, we would be dead, since most of us are fishermen and fish lay their eggs and get their food from mangrove marshes,” Charo said, sitting at the restaurant.

The task of the Dabaso Creek Conservation Group (DCCG) was not an easy one. At first, the group planted mangrove seeds that had washed ashore, not realizing that some were from different ecological zones and unsuited to the environment at Mida Creek. Fewer than half the trees first planted by the budding conservationists survived, Charo said.  

Some discouraged members left, but others pushed on with the work. Nowadays the 26-member organization is one of more than 50 mangrove conservation community groups with a total of around 1,500 members, spread along Kenya’s 600 km (375 mile) coastline. 

Over the last 10 years, conservationists in the region have planted an estimated 10 million mangroves, and the forests have in turn provided for the community. During the peak tourism season, which runs from August to March, the Dabaso Creek Conservation Group earns over 300,000 Kenyan shillings (around $3,600) from the eco-restaurant, birding excursions, and selling crabs and fish to hotels in Dabaso.

As the project’s supervisor, Charo himself receives a salary and no longer relies on selling groundnuts to make a living. 

Like Charo, 29-year-old Mwatime Hamadi, a nursery school teacher from Gazi, 50 km (31 miles) south of Mombasa, has seen her earnings rise through mangrove conservation.

Hamadi belongs to Gazi Women Mangrove, a group whose 36 members farm fish and crabs and keep bees for honey in the mangroves. There is also a boardwalk for visitors interested in touring the marshes, with a fee ranging from 50 shillings ($0.60) to 300 shillings (around $4) for international tourists. The women also run a curio shop targeted at tourists.

Some of the earnings from these projects fund classes for illiterate adults in the community.

Michael Njoroge, a researcher with Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (KMFRI) Gazi station, explained that the institute also trains communities on planting other trees as well as mangroves – such as the fast-growing casuarina tree, which matures in just three to five years. Researchers hope it could take pressure off mangrove forests.

“We now use casuarina for building and wood fuel,” said Hamadi. “If you cut mangrove it takes 25 years (for a new tree) to mature, and other trees can’t shield us from high tide like (mangrove).”

Last year, the research institute provided almost 3,000 casuarina seedlings for planting around Gazi, a village with some 1,000 residents. Local institutions like Gazi Primary School have provided land for communal woodlots where the trees are planted. Once mature, the trees will be sold to locals, for construction and other uses.

The casuarina woodlots should help reduce the pressure on mangroves from unlicensed harvesting, although some mangroves are still felled by people who are too poor to afford other sources of fuel, according to Njoroge.

A 2010 study by Coastal and Marine Resources Development Africa (COMRED Africa) reported that 70 percent of coastal Kenya’s wood requirement was met using mangroves, including 80 percent of the poles used for building houses. But since a presidential ban on mangrove harvesting was enacted in 2000, there has been an increase in mangrove planting and losses have slowed.

A study released last year by Landsat, Ocean Coast Management, and KMFRI showed that from 2000 to 2010 mangrove depletion in Kenya totalled 1,340 hectares (3,310 acres), compared to 4,950 hectares (12,230 acres) lost in the eight years prior to that.   

Currently there are 54,000 hectares (133,000 acres) of mangrove spread across 18 forest formations along the Kenya’s coastline, according to the Kenya Forest Service (KFS). In Gazi and Dabaso any mangroves cut must be licensed by the service, which consults with community forest associations that act as grass-roots protectors of the mangroves. Communities also provide guards for the mangroves, paid for by the forest service.

Mangrove conservation is important in the fight against climate change, and not just because mangroves can slow storm surges, prevent erosion, and lower disaster risk for coastal communities.

An Earth Watch study reported that 1 hectare of mangroves can sequester 1.36 tons of carbon in a year, equivalent to the annual emissions of six cars. Mangroves and other coastal vegetation like seagrasses and salt marsh grass, which are collectively known as blue carbon, can sequester carbon up to 100 times more effectively than terrestrial forests, one study shows.

Locals hope the carbon-absorbing properties of the trees will help produce more income for communities around Gazi Bay once a “payment for ecosystem services” scheme dubbed Mikoko Pamoja is assessed and certified by Plan Vivo, a charity working on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD).  

According to project coordinator Noel Mbaru, the project covers about one-fifth of the 615-hectare Gazi Bay Mangrove Forest. The scheme is expected to sell carbon credits equivalent to 3,000 tons each year, earning the community about $15,000.

Mikoko Pamoja also oversees the casuarinas woodlots, and aims to replenish degraded land with 4,000 mangroves annually for the next 20 years.

“If mangroves are destroyed, we won’t get any more money or educate our children, (so) we need to conserve them carefully,” said Hamadi of Gazi Women Mangrove.

• James Karuga is a Nairobi-based journalist interested in agriculture and climate change issues.

This article originally appeared at Thomson Reuters Foundation, a source of news, information, and connections for action. It provides programs that trigger change, empower people, and offer concrete solutions.

A group of clownfish is displayed ahead of the Taiwan International Ornamental Fish Expo in Taipei in September 2011. Conservationists are working to improve the home aquarium industry by ending destructive fishing practices and encouraging aquaculture. (Pichi Chuang/Reuters/File)

Cleaning up the global aquarium trade

By Rebecca KesslerYale Environment 360 / 07.10.13

To bring a kaleidoscopic glimpse of tropical marine life into their living rooms, aquarium hobbyists depend on a steady supply of live fish and invertebrates from the world’s imperiled coral reefs. Bagged and boxed, the animals are flown in from biodiversity hotspots like Indonesia and the Philippines in the so-called Coral Triangle. But poor handling and long supply chains have raised concerns that too many creatures die in transit or soon after arrival. Some marine populations have taken a hit, and destructive collection practices — including the use of cyanide — have damaged precious reef habitat.

In Hawaii the issue has ignited into full controversy, though scientists say the trade there is better managed than in many other regions. For several years, activists have sought to get aquarium collection banned through lawsuits, legislation, and public pressure. In May, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, best known for its confrontational anti-whaling crusades, launched a new campaign to end the trade in Hawaii — and eventually elsewhere — for good.

That effort comes on the heels of several failed attempts to introduce sustainable practices by more mainstream conservation groups, scientists, and industry representatives. Meanwhile, other new efforts are raising hope in some quarters that the trade might be able both to satisfy first-world hobbyists and support sustainable livelihoods for people in developing nations. These initiatives include raising fish and coral in aquaculture facilities specifically for the aquarium trade, as well as a promising new method for detecting fish caught after cyanide has been used to stun them.

“[In] Indonesia and the Philippines there are serious concerns about reef damage and fish mortality from the trade,” Brian Tissot, a marine ecologist at Washington State University, said in an email. A 2010 paper in the journal Marine Policy, on which Tissot was the lead author, called on the U.S. to take the lead in reforming the aquarium trade and its bigger siblings — the jewelry, home décor, and curio trades in dried corals, shells, seahorses, and the like.

“It’s very scary, and of course the impacts on those ecosystems are largely unknown,” he says of the magnitude of marine life that those trades are removing from reefs. “That’s what we worry about.”

Critters destined for aquariums are plucked from their home reefs in at least 40 countries throughout the tropics, with the Philippines and Indonesia supplying about 85 percent of the world’s aquarium fish. Poor fishermen typically sell their catch for pennies per fish into a complicated chain of dealers and middlemen. More than half the fish and other marine creatures land in the U.S., the world’s number one importer, trailed by Europe and Japan.

A consumer trend favoring tanks that emulate reef ecosystems — shrimp, corals, anemones, etc. — has increased the diversity of the catch. Around 2,000 fish species, 150 stony coral species, and more than 500 other invertebrate species now enter the trade, totaling perhaps 30 million reef fish and other animals annually, according to Andrew Rhyne, a marine scientist at Roger Williams University in Rhode Island and the New England Aquarium in Boston, who with colleagues has been scrutinizing trade records in unprecedented detail.

Retail prices vary widely. A common fish like the green chromis will set you back just a few bucks, but collectors have reportedly offered as much as $30,000 for rare individuals like peppermint angelfish. Globally, the trade may be worth up to $330 million per year, according to a report from the United Nations Environment Program.

Some scientists and conservationists worry that the industry is further taxing coral reef ecosystems already gravely threatened by rising water temperatures, ocean acidification, and pollution. They say the aquarium trade has taken its heaviest toll in the Coral Triangle, which encompasses a large area of the Pacific Ocean, including the waters of Indonesia, the Philippines, and Malaysia. A chief issue in this region is the collateral damage to reefs, fish, and other marine life when fishermen break coral to get at their quarry, or, worse, squirt sodium cyanide and other poisons to stun fish.

In a 2012 analysis of a year of U.S. declarations forms and invoices from aquarium trade importers, Rhyne’s team found that most species entering the U.S. are abundant over wide areas, and therefore unlikely to be seriously harmed by the trade. However, although few studies have been done, a number of documented cases exist where the trade depleted or virtually eliminated some species in certain areas, experts say.

One such example is the blue tang, the 12th-most popular imported fish, which is overfished in Indonesia, Rhyne says. Retail prices are already high — even topping $100 for large blue tang — and the fish’s starring role in Disney’s forthcoming animated film, “Finding Dory,” will surely spike demand, just as “Finding Nemo” did for clownfish. “Fishers will have to travel much further distances, further increasing handling stress, which in turn increases mortality, which increases collection pressure,” Rhyne wrote by email.

In addition to the ecological concerns, there are ethical ones. Robert Wintner, Sea Shepherd’s new vice president, and the Humane Society of the United States, among others, argue that the trade and hobby are cruel and too often deadly, and that a tiny tank is no place for a wild animal.

The toll on reef life in Hawaii, where Sea Shepherd’s pugnacious campaign is focused, is hotly disputed. Wintner — a longtime activist on the issue there under the nom de guerre of Snorkel Bob — says the problems are visible. He rattles off “horror stories” perpetrated by the industry that include the devastation of hermit crab, yellow tang, and featherduster worm populations, as well as smashing up coral to extract the latter.

“These guys are taking obscene amounts of fish,” Wintner says. “They are ‘Hoovering’ the reefs.” He dismisses many of his critics as complicit in the industry and describes most attempts to reform the business as greenwash.

Yet industry members and some scientists, including Tissot, who has studied the Hawaiian trade for years, say the Sea Shepherd campaign’s claims grossly exaggerate the impact in Hawaii. They say the business is much better studied and managed there than in the Coral Triangle, and shorter supply chains and gentler handling mean captured fish have far better survival odds.

Previous high-profile attempts at reforming the trade have collapsed. The Marine Aquarium Council launched a decade-long effort to train collectors and others in the supply chain to adhere to tough voluntary standards, but that initiative largely fell apart by 2009 because its sustainability claims were not verifiable, according to one analysis. And a bill drafted by several environmental groups to set sustainability standards for coral-reef wildlife entering the U.S. has foundered after the death of its champion, Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, last December.

The criticism has prompted both bristling and soul-searching among hobbyists and business people. “From an environmental perspective there could be specific species or specific areas that are pressured, but from a global perspective it’s nil,” says Chris Buerner, president of Los Angeles-based Quality Marine, a leading aquarium animal wholesaler. Buerner, who served on the board of the Marine Aquarium Council, notes that the volume of fish taken from the sea for aquariums is minuscule compared to what’s taken for food. Nonetheless, he says it’s a good thing if all the scrutiny pushes the industry toward lower-impact practices, adding, “There are things the trade really should work hard to improve.”

Some public aquariums, retailers, and wholesalers like Quality Marine are taking measures to improve their practices, such as formalizing sustainability standards for purchased fish and improving animals’ traceability to avoid buying from unreliable suppliers, Buerner says. And a new industry-friendly eco-labeling system now under development, called SMART, would require adherence to catch quotas.

A recent breakthrough in developing a test for cyanide exposure in fish is being widely hailed. Fishing with the poison is illegal in most countries, but remains prevalent in about 15 nations that supply the aquarium business, as well as the much bigger trade in live reef fish for Asian food markets, according to a 2012 report by Defenders of Wildlife. Such a test would allow the industry to reject cyanide-caught fish, and U.S. law prohibiting the import of illegally collected wildlife could be applied, which could help finally eliminate the poison from the aquarium trade, experts say.

Aquaculture could also take pressure off wild fish, which comprise up to 95 percent of marine fish sold. A young SeaWorld initiative called Rising Tide Conservation aims to “write the cookbook” for breeding various marine fish species that have proven difficult to cultivate in captivity, says Judy St. Leger, the group’s director.

Coral aquaculture is even farther along. For example, just a few years ago, Indonesians were hacking tons of coral from their reefs for export. In 2011, Rhyne says he flew to Bali to help advise the nation’s young coral mariculture program, and was impressed to discover an advanced system already in place. More species were under cultivation when he returned last summer. One of the biggest producers was a shell and coral exporter who had harvested wild corals for decades but now has a prosperous coral farm with numerous employees in the unlikeliest of places, just offshore from a cement factory and a ferry terminal. The area’s coral industry is rapidly moving from a wild fishery to aquaculture, Rhyne says.

Ironically, while the U.S. government urged Indonesians toward aquaculture, a government proposal to list 66 coral species under the Endangered Species Act would likely destroy the fledgling business, Rhyne says.

Even so, Rhyne and others see in coral aquaculture an inkling of how the aquarium hobby could help reef-dependent humans and animals alike. If you take away a fish collector’s livelihood, he’ll likely turn to another unsustainable fishing practice to feed his family. But done right, the aquarium trade could give people living in poverty both an income and a reason to preserve their reefs. It won’t be easy, though, Rhyne acknowledges.

“If your goal is to conserve coral reef ecosystems then you have to... look at the people involved in these trade chains,” says Rhyne. “If you don’t do that then you can never touch the conservation.” 

Correction, July 8, 2013: An earlier version of this article reported that dynamite was used to collect fish for the aquarium trade. Experts say dynamite is used in the live reef fish trade for restaurants, but not for aquarium fish — a point also made in a United Nations Environment Program report.

• Rebecca Kessler is a freelance science and environmental journalist based in Providence, R.I. A former senior editor at Natural History, her work has been published by ClimateCentral.org, Conservation, Discover, Natural History, ScienceNOW, ScienceInsider, and Environmental Health Perspectives. She has previously written for Yale Environment 360 about the fatal impact fishing gear is having on whales in the North Atlantic and about efforts to restore prairies in the U.S. Midwest.

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

Labor union members and supporters demonstrate inside the capitol building in Lansing, Mich., last December. While activists still see such protests as sometimes necessary, a new generation is looking for new approaches to solving disputes that that build bridges through concepts such as community and love. (James Fassinger/Reuters/File)

New generation activists build bridges

By Sally KohnYES! Magazine / 07.09.13

Saul Alinsky is called the father of modern community organizing. His 1971 Rules for Radicals is like a political version of The Art of War merged with street fighting tips from a boxing coach—the tone is gruff, aggressive, and blunt. For Alinsky, the ends justify pretty much any means. But a new crop of activists is forging a different path—and turning organizing orthodoxy on its head.

In the traditional Alinsky approach, opponents are “enemies” and strategy involves concepts like “pressure” and “attack.” Alinsky’s final rule is “Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.” Don’t just target institutions, he says—go after individuals and make it personal and painful. This is the advice that helped shape modern political organizing—not always the most effective approach for alliance building and mass public appeal.

The new generation of community organizers is adapting the antagonistic politics of the past and building bridges instead of burning them—not necessarily abandoning old-school, Alinsky-style organizing altogether, but reimagining orthodoxies of organizing to create new alliances, innovations, and possibilities.

Ai-jen Poo is the founder and director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, a membership organization of housekeepers, nannies, and home health assistants, most of whom are undocumented immigrant women. These are the workers who are at the furthest margins of our economy. In 1938, they were explicitly excluded from initial labor standards as a concession to segregationists in Congress, and these workers, who do the work that makes all other work possible, are to this day excluded from basic wage and safety protections. But the central theme of Poo’s politics? Not revenge. Not protest. Not polarization.

It’s love.

“The way we try to think about it and the way the world is, we’re all interdependent and interconnected,” says Poo of her organizational philosophy. “Those connections are fairly invisible to most people most of the time. We’re taught not to see those connections. What organizing with love does is organizes ways for people to see their interconnections and harnesses that connection as a source for change.”

It’s not that Poo’s “political love” is conflict or tension free, a saccharine “Kumbaya” holdover from the ’60s.

“Conflict and tension are as much a part of the human condition as interdependence is,” Poo says. “There are times we have to have conflict, and tension has to exist to bring something else into being. But they have to coexist with a deep sense of connection and shared destiny.”

While the natural “enemy” of domestic workers might be their employers in a traditional Alinsky-style power analysis, through Poo’s prism, most employers mean well and love their home aides and nannies—and want to do well by them—but maybe don’t know how or face hurdles to doing so because of existing policy. So instead of fighting employers, Poo organized them—inspiring the launch of Hand in Hand, an association for employers of domestic workers.

Saru Jayaraman has used this model in her work. As co-founder and director of the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC United), Jayaraman organizes low-wage workers in the restaurant industry—the servers and dishwashers and bussers who often make as little as $2.13 an hour and get no benefits or sick days. In Jayaraman’s work, calling restaurant owners “villains” isn’t just a figure of speech—ROC United has organized campaigns against specific restaurant owners for wage theft and other employment violations.

And yet after a very brutal public campaign that recouped $1.15 million in overdue wages for workers at one of celebrity chef Mario Batali’s top restaurants, Jayaraman extended her hand. She welcomed Batali into a group of “high road” restaurant owners that ROC United convenes. This might seem like a variation on another Alinsky mantra, “no permanent friends, no permanent enemies,” but it goes beyond a superficial tactic to a philosophical mindset. Jayaraman isn’t just moving targets like chess pieces. She isn’t burning opponents to the point where relationships are permanently charred. She’s building long-term alliances with partners that have recently been her opposition.

“We’ve evolved to think that nobody is evil at all,” says Jayaraman of her organizing philosophy and approach. “It’s different from how we thought about organizing even just 10 years ago—as bosses versus the rest of us. That’s not how we think about it anymore. We actually understand how hard it is to run a restaurant and be profitable. And at the same time, we think we can all do better. And we’re working together to do better.”

In fact, soon Jayaraman and her organization will launch a new association for restaurant owners who want to treat their workers responsibly, a competitive alternative to the anti-worker Restaurant Industry Association. “We’re willing to work with anyone,” Jayaraman says.

This new generation of bridge-building organizers isn’t just connecting unlikely allies but unlikely issues as well.

Take the work of Eveline Shen, head of Forward Together, a multiracial grass-roots organization that traditionally focused on reproductive justice issues within communities of color. Shen broadened the mission of the group and launched Strong Families, a nationwide campaign that is connecting women’s rights organizations, immigrant groups, queer activists, and poverty rights organizations to advocate for the full range of America’s families, the vast majority of which no longer fit the traditional mom-and-dad-and-kid, white-picket-fence norm of yesteryear.

Shen gives an example around identity: “When a queer Vietnamese American woman in New Orleans faces job discrimination, it may be difficult to disentangle whether it was due to racism, sexism, or homophobia, or a combination of these factors.” And it’s the same for issues: “We don’t experience climate change on Monday and economic hardship on Wednesday.”

A generation ago, organizers strategized about how to “cut an issue”—how to break an issue down and focus on the right bite-sized piece around which to organize an advocacy campaign.

The new generation strives to connect issues more and more. “In our work, we lift up the leadership and needs of communities that sit at the intersection of multiple systems of oppression to demand policy and culture change that reflect the reality of our lives,” says Shen. Her approach has led to a groundbreaking Strong Families coalition in New Mexico, which includes Native American, Latino immigrant, and gay rights organizations all at the same table. They have worked together to stop harsh anti-abortion legislation and juvenile incarceration proposals—issues these conventionally disparate groups would likely never take up on their own. It’s a model Strong Families is spreading to other states.

For Marcy Westerling, who founded the Rural Organizing Project to advance social change in rural Oregon, bridge building was a cultural necessity. “Small towns and rural communities lack anonymity,” Westerling says, so more conventional antagonistic organizing methods don’t make sense there—especially when it can lead to grass-roots leaders losing their day jobs or their kids being ostracized at school.

“There is a need to frame topics from some shared starting point,” says Westerling. It’s an approach that has worked for the Rural Organizing Project, winning support on issues such as gay rights and immigration reform from some of the most traditionally conservative parts of the Northwest.

Westerling notes that conservatives now use Alinsky as their playbook. Groups like Freedom Works, one of the parent organizations of the Tea Party movement, handed out copies of Rules for Radicals as a training manual for new leaders.

“The modern right uses the language of war when describing their assaults,” says Westerling. At this moment in history, she argues, the left must play a different role—not only disrupting and upending the status quo, but also pointing toward and building constructive alternatives. “Now it is more incumbent on us to be the keepers of calm, as we both acknowledge tense issues and offer reasonable ways forward that are fair to all sides.”

“Deep down, our organizing today doesn’t reflect a different value system,” Jayaraman says. “It’s not about being less radical or caring less about workers. It’s about being effective.”

“The traditional us-versus-them framework is limiting,” adds Poo. “There are moments when it should be utilized, when opposition is important to dramatize an issue—but ultimately, in the long term, we should be building shared destiny and a collective sense of humanity. That should be the driving force, even underneath moments of opposition.”

Westerling agrees. Leading with bridge building doesn’t mean abandoning the edge of protest or softening demands. Rather, says Westerling, it means trying to move beyond current dynamics and aim for shared analysis “to imagine a just future for everyone.”

In fact, Shen notes that under the traditional model, Alinsky discouraged organizers from “challenging issues” in favor of “short-term, winnable campaigns.” But the greatest need is often in the stickiest issues, which, if approached right, also hold the greatest promise for powerful bridge building—and for big change.

And yes, Westerling adds, that often means strange bedfellows “who confess their own surprise at walking with us.” But if the goal of progressive organizing is to achieve change, it makes sense that the strategies of organizing—as well as the alliances—should also change.

One of Ai-jen Poo’s role models is Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who understood very well the advantages of combative organizing models as well as the power of joining with your one-time enemies to build bridges toward change. Now, in the shadow of the civil rights era, as opponents of fairness and justice rev up with increasing hatred and vitriol, a new generation of organizers—notably led by women of color—is innovating new approaches to organizing that borrow from these deep and old notions of community and love. They point the way forward toward a future that is better for all through a politics and practice that potentially engages everyone in achieving change.

• Sally Kohn wrote this article for Love and the Apocalypse, the Summer 2013 issue of YES! Magazine. Sally is a writer, activist, and television commentator. Her writing has appeared in Salon, The Washington Post, New York Magazine, More Magazine, USA Today, and elsewhere.

This article originally appeared at YES! Magazine.

Romanian immigrant Marga Fripp founded Empowered Women International to give a voice to Washington D.C.'s immigrant and refugee women, helping them to pursue their dreams and become a part of their new community. (Nina Tisara )

Marga Fripp empowers women immigrants in the US

By Rich PoltTalking GOOD / 07.08.13

FACT: A profound, life-changing experience can act as a spark to ignite a person’s sense of purpose and commitment to a calling.

FACT: A spark is useless without the presence of a combustible fuel.

ERGO: A life-changing event (the spark) will not necessarily ignite a person’s sense of purpose unless that person already possessed an underlying desire to make a difference (either knowingly or not). In other words, one’s need to make a difference is like a combustible fuel.

Case in point is the subject of this week’s Talking GOOD feature, Marga Fripp. In 2001, Marga had a life-changing experience when she had to leave behind her native Romania to bring her seriously ill newborn baby to the United States for treatment. Neither speaking the language nor driving a car, Marga struggled to find her own way in the US while caring for her baby and an eight-year-old daughter, and while managing with a husband whose work frequently took him out of the country.

That alone would have been more than most people could handle, but Marga felt she needed to also help other women who were in similar circumstances. So in 2002, Marga founded Empowered Women International (EWI) to give a voice to the Washington D.C. area’s immigrant and refugee women, enabling them to pursue their dreams of entrepreneurship and of becoming a part of their new community.

If coming to the US and struggling as an immigrant was the spark that led to Marga forming EWI, then what was the combustible fuel?

Not surprisingly, Marga was a passionate advocate for women long before arriving in the United States. As a journalist in Romania, Marga produced programs that focused on women’s equality, human rights, and integration solutions for orphans and street children during the difficult first years of Romania’s transition from communism. She was banned from broadcasting in 1996 due to her critical portrayal of the social policy of the post-communist government of President Ion Iliescu.

In 1998, she founded a Romanian nonprofit to counteract domestic violence and sexual assault and promoted legislation to protect women from domestic abuse, which led to a domestic violence bill signed into law by the parliament in May 2003.

For a more thorough background on Marga, I encourage you to read her full biography on the EWI website. Now, before I hand the microphone over to Marga, I’ll leave you with one of her favorite inspirational sayings (courtesy of Plato): “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a difficult battle.” Thank you Marga for answering our questions!

1. IN JUST ONE SENTENCE, WHAT IS YOUR PURPOSE IN LIFE? Be a voice for the voiceless, and inspire women to believe in their endless creative potential. 

2. HOW HAS THIS WORK CHANGED YOU? Social justice, creativity, and entrepreneurship have been guiding forces in my life ever since I was a young girl. Empowered Women International enabled me to see that no matter whether we live in a developed or a developing country, women must continue to stand up for their rights, to use their creative power to re-invent themselves, and to pursue their wildest dreams.

3. WHAT DO YOU GET FROM GIVING? Amazing sense of possibility, respect for others, and endless compassion.

4. WHO IS A LIVING HERO AND WHAT WOULD YOU ASK THEM IF GIVEN THE CHANCE? Krista Tippett (author and radio host/producer of “On Being”): Will we ever be able as humanity to see one another more similar than different? What will it take for that to happen?

5. WHAT EVERYDAY RESOURCES COULD HELP YOU ACHIEVE YOUR PHILANTHROPIC GOALS? A great writer who could pitch Empowered Women’s story to Oprah’s Magazine.

6. WHAT IS A BURNING QUESTION THAT YOU HAVE FOR THIS COMMUNITY? Do you see a need for women’s empowerment in your community? Share a link of a community where entrepreneurship can change the lives of women and their families. Empowered Women International can help. 

7. WHAT WOULD THE TITLE OF YOUR BOOK BE? "Making Change: The story of an immigrant woman who gave voice to millions"

8. TELL US SOMETHING YOU RARELY SHARE IN PUBLIC? I love puppet theater and never get tired of clapping my hands like a child during the show.

9. WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR OTHERS WHO ASPIRE TO BE CITIZEN PHILANTHROPISTS? Adopt a cause that speaks to you; seek to understand the problem and how your investment is changing lives. It is not about the size of your gift, it is about your commitment to be part of the solution. 

10. WHAT QUESTION DO YOU WISH I HAD ASKED, AND WHAT IS THE ANSWER? What inspired you to get involved in social change? I was 20 years old when I was hired by a Romanian television station to report news and produce talk shows on social issues: women’s rights, street children, orphans, and the disenfranchised. I learned quickly that being a newsmaker was powerful, but being a changemaker was my life’s mission. Over the past decade I’ve been dedicated to empower women and create opportunity, so they can lift themselves and their families out of poverty and become agents of change.

This article was originally posted at Talking GOOD, a series of interviews with “citizen philanthropists” who champion causes and lead by example. Talking GOOD was launched in 2012 by Rich Polt, principal of the Baltimore-based PR consultancy Communicate Good, LLC. To nominate someone for a Talking GOOD interview, please fill out this form, or email rich@communicategood.com.

A street money changer holds bundles of rupiah bank notes on the side of a busy street in Jakarta, Indonesia, in May. Bank Andara fills another important role in the monetary system, reaching more than a million low-income Indonesians with micro loans for their businesses and other financial services. (Enny Nuraheni/Reuters/File )

Bank Andara, a bank for banks in Indonesia, grows micro businesses – and turns a profit

By Kyla YeomanGlobal Envision / 07.05.13

With reporting by Emily Youatt

Indonesia has millions of micro-entrepreneurs and thousands of microfinance institutions. But because most institutions lack enough capital and established systems they can only provide bare-bones services to small client bases. Without better services, the country’s homegrown employers will stay micro forever.

What these microfinance institutions needed was a bank of their own to provide capital, technology-based banking solutions, and new, tailored financial services. In April 2013, Bank Andara celebrated its fourth anniversary doing just that, with more than a six-fold increase in assets since its inception, having partnered with 737 microfinance institutions reaching nearly 1.2 million low-income clients.

“By offering a ‘one stop’ commercial partnership with small, independent microfinance institutions, Bank Andara provides access to financing, capacity building, technology, and management information systems so that they, in turn, can provide their customers with vital services and products that typically only commercial banks can provide,” said David Yong, CEO of Bank Andara.

“Ultimately, this allows small banks to help their customers build their livelihoods and reduce the risk of poverty.”

The wholesale commercial bank is exclusively dedicated to serving the Indonesian microfinance sector, and was founded by Mercy Corps and the International Finance Corporation (IFC) with support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, KfW, Stichting Hivos-Triodos Fonds, and a local individual, Mr. I Wayan Gatha, which collectively represent the bank's shareholders.

In the archipelago, 56.5 million Indonesians are self-employed through micro and small businesses, but 79 percent do not have access to any type of formal financial services. And most Indonesians living on less than $2 a day are considered too risky for loans or live in locations too remote for formal financial services.

Since its founding, Bank Andara has addressed the key flaws of the fractured Indonesian microfinance sector: lack of access to sufficient capital, small average loan size, lack of collateral, regulatory hurdles, and the perception that financing microfinance institutions is a high risk.

Take Taufik Hidayat, for example, a client of a small microfinance institution, who was able to take out a seasonal loan to start a beekeeping business when his recycling business was devastated after market prices dropped.

Thanks to Bank Andara’s partnership with a microfinance institution near his village, Hidayat took out a seasonal loan with a flexible repayment plan, unique to Bank Andara, of IDR 5 million ($581) to adapt to the change and kick started his beekeeping endeavor.

Starting with three bee boxes, he collected and sold the honey door to door himself. Over the first six months of the loan, he increased his business to 18 bee boxes and employed three workers. During good months, Hidayat can make Rp. 240,000 (about $24) a day selling his honey, and the flexible repayment plan helps smooth out his finances through rainy months when the bees aren't producing.

In 2011, Bank Andara launched the world's first mobile-enabled microfinance payment services platform, called AndaraLink. Based on Visa’s Fundamo platform, nearly 400 microfinance institutions are now on the network. The platform lets them serve their clients with international and domestic remittances, cash-to-cash services, monthly bill payments, and a pick-up service named “Solusi Setoran” that picks up payments directly from customers of microfinance institutions partners.

As Bank Andara widens its lending pool to more microfinance institutions, and as mobile-based services like AndaraLink become more commonplace, millions more micro and small business owners like Hidayat can get the banking services they need to grow – huge news for those considered too remote and too risky for commercial banks.

After four years of operations the bank has turned a profit, a trend expected to continue as it expands its lending portfolio. By December 2012, Bank Andara reported more than a six-fold increase in total assets since its establishment in 2009: IDR 1.2 trillion.

Creating this multiplier effect by working through existing microfinance institutions requires carefully structuring its lending products. It controls risk through the use of highly honed due diligence and strong relationships with its partner microfinance institutions, ratings, and guarantees. Because Bank Andara shareholders have invested in the wholesale bank together, they share the financial risk and, as a team, provide a strong network of advisory services and support.

To further finance Bank Andara’s wholesale microfinance lending, Indonesia's Bank Ekonomi provided a loan of IDR 50 billion (about $5.05 million) in June 2012. And in October 2013, Citibank Indonesia and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) announced the disbursement of a $18.5 million term loan.

Since its first loan to a microfinance institution partner in 2009, Bank Andara has partnered with microfinance institutions in 18 provinces. It opened its third and fourth branch offices in Central Java and East Java this past February 2012. 

As the Bank continues to expand its lending portfolio, millions more Indonesians will be able to build businesses out of poverty.

This article originally appeared at Global Envision, a blog published by Mercy Corps.

Timothy Nyongesa compares the light from a kerosene tin lamp with that from an IndiGo solar lamp, hanging in his home. Kenyans can buy the IndiGo solar kits for about $120 paid over 80 installements. Then they no longer need to buy kerosene, which produces harmful fumes when burned inside homes. (Isaiah Esipisu/Thomson Reuters Foundation)

Solar kits bring clean light to Kenya's poor

By Isaiah EsipisuThomson Reuters Foundation / 07.04.13

At Sibanga market, 10 kilometers (6 miles) outside the town of Kitale in western Kenya, Timothy Nyongesa walks into the Mibawa Suppliers shop to collect a gadget that he hopes will brighten his children’s studies and his family’s health.

In exchange for an initial payment of 1,000 Kenyan shillings (about $12), Mr. Nyongesa walks out with a kit that will generate solar energy at his home. He jumps on his bicycle and snakes along a footpath to his village of Sinyerere, 6 kilometers farther into the countryside.

Nyongesa’s family is one of more than 3,000 in the Kitale area who since 2011 have switched to solar power instead of using kerosene lamps to light their homes.

“I cannot have my children study using a kerosene tin-lamp when those in the neighborhood are using electricity from the sun,” he says.

The solar kits, which aim to scale up access to solar power for Kenya’s poor, are marketed using an installment plan that puts the 10,000-shilling (about $120) pack within reach of people with modest incomes. After an initial deposit of 1,000 shillings, the user makes weekly payments of 120 shillings ($1.40) for 80 weeks before fully owning the system.

Scratch cards with codes enable purchasers to make their payments securely from home via SMS – using their mobile phone, which also can be kept charged with the solar kit.

The innovative effort, by Azuri Technologies, a British-based company that developed and manufactures the IndiGo solar kits, was recently named a winner of the 2013 Ashden Awards, considered the world’s leading green energy prize. The awards recognize innovations that promote sustainable energy to reduce poverty and tackle climate change.

“It has been tremendous to see the appetite for IndiGo,”says Simon Bransfield-Garth, chief executive officer of Azuri Technologies. “At the same time, we are acutely aware of the scale of problem we are attempting to tackle, and so all our effort is on growing to reach as many customers as possible.”

In a statement at the launch of a new report on markets for renewable energy, Achim Steiner, executive director of the UN Environment Programme, said that uptake of renewable energies was continuing to increase globally as countries, companies, and communities saw the opportunities to capitalize on low-carbon economies and the potential for future energy security and sustainable livelihoods.  

Nyongesa’s interest in solar power, however, has as much to do with his children’s health as anything else.

Health experts say kerosene lamps produce fumes that are hazardous to breathe, and Nyongesa says some of his children complain about eye irritation, which he associates with prolonged use of the lamps.

Nyongesa, who has three wives, is coy about exactly how many children he has (“Let’s put it at 15”), but says that 11 of them go to school and use lamps at home for at least two hours a day to study.

Kerosene lamps are also bad for the environment. The British Air Transport Association calculates that each ton of kerosene burned produces 3.15 tons of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that is largely responsible for atmospheric warming, which contributes to climate change.

Nevertheless, a recent study by the US National Institutes of Health estimated that 500 million households globally still rely on kerosene or other liquid fuels for lighting and consume 7.6 billion liters annually.

The new solar-lighting system is the second Nyongesa has bought for his family in three months. He gave the first to his first wife to provide light for studying and other domestic needs.

The IndiGo kit consists of a 3-watt solar panel, a battery, two LED lamps, a phone charging unit, and connection cables.

The device is designed to serve needs of the poor, particularly in Africa. Apart from Kenya, it is also marketed in Malawi, South Sudan, and Zambia.

So far, the Mibawa Suppliers shop in Kitale is the only place in Kenya where the IndiGo kits are sold, says Edward Namasaka, who is the sole supplier in the country.

However, Mr. Namasaka says he has already identified five more traders in other towns in western Kenya and intends to begin supplying the gadgets to them soon.

Although raising the weekly payment may be a challenge for many people who survive on less than 100 shillings ($1.15) a day, many people prefer it to the high cost of purchasing kerosene and charging mobile phones, Namasaka says. The biggest incentive is that once the payments are done, the customer owns the IndiGo kit and can continue to access power without cost.

There are measures in place in case a user defaults on a payment. The battery-charging system contains a microchip that links it to a central server: If a weekly payment is missed, the system can be automatically disabled.

But Namasaka tries to be lenient, giving those who cannot service their loans a window period of up to one month to pay the belated installment.

Emmanual Siboe, one IndiGo user, called the system “a revolution.”

Apart from previously paying nearly 100 shillings a week for kerosene for lighting, he explained, “every time I needed to charge my phone, I had to walk all the way to the shopping center, and pay 20 shillings for the service.”

Mr. Siboe reckons that the cost of charging his phone, along with those of his wife and daughter, used to be 180 shillings ($2.25) a week.

“But with this gadget that harvests energy from the sun, I now charge it free of charge,” he says.

• Isaiah Esipisu is a freelance journalist with a focus on agriculture and environment. He can be reached at esipisus@yahoo.com.

This article originally appeared at Thomson Reuters Foundation, a source of news, information, and connections for action. It provides programs that trigger change, empower people, and offer concrete solutions.

An aerial photograph shows a tract of Amazon jungle recently cleared by loggers and farmers near Altamira in Para State. Imazon’s program in Para State helped to reduce illegal deforestation by more than 80 percent. (Stian Bergeland/Rainforest Foundation Norway/Reuters/File)

How better-trained farmers slow Brazil's deforestation

By Daniel JensenGlobal Envision / 07.03.13

In Para, Brazil, farmers are turning a profit and the government is on track to slow deforestation thanks to local nonprofit Imazon, which got them to work together.

By 2003, Brazil was on the verge of an environmental catastrophe. As its economy expanded, cattle ranchers needed more land to graze their livestock, and few laws prevented them from burning down thousands of square kilometers of untitled land in the Amazon, causing vast environmental damage.

In the worst regions, like Para, widespread poverty meant that stopping deforestation was at the bottom of the government’s list, despite massive efforts by groups like Greenpeace and Imazon.

A wave of environmental laws passed by the federal government from 2004 to 2008 seemed to complicate things for local governments and economies, even as deforestation rates fell. Many municipal governments couldn’t fully meet government targets under the new regulations but faced economic sanctions if they didn’t. A beef embargo prevented farmers from selling their meat to mainstream supermarket chains like Carrefour and Walmart if their municipality ended up on a blacklist for failing to reduce illegal deforestation to government-mandated levels. The government confiscated herds and sawmills from the law’s offenders.

When Paragominas, a municipality in Para where Imazon worked, was placed on the list, 2,300 jobs and all the municipality’s federal agricultural credits disappeared within a year.

Imazon found itself helping save the local economy. It created a training program for the local government to learn how to use satellite technology to track deforestation. Since most of the affected land wasn’t titled, Imazon also helped farmers formalize their land titles and trained them in improved farming techniques, like rotating crops and limiting overgrazing, to make their land more productive and reduce the need to cut down more rainforest.

It worked. Farmers trained in better methods required less land to turn a profit, so they cut down fewer trees.

In just a few years, Imazon’s program in Paragominas helped to reduce illegal deforestation by more than 80 percent. When farmers in Paragominas implemented Imazon’s training techniques, most saw their incomes increase, even as they stopped clearing additional land.

Inspired by the success of the program, the state government decided to launch its own Green Municipalities Program in 2011, essentially promoting Imazon’s collaborative approach in Paragominas at a state level. Now, more than 94 of Para State's 143 municipalities have signed onto the Green Municipalities Program, and both the state government and Imazon are straining to meet the demand.

However, a new breakthrough came when Imazon attracted the attention of the Investment Innovations Alliance, a new partnership between Mercy Corps, USAID, and the Skoll Foundation. This April at the Skoll World Forum, the partners announced their first grant of $3.4 million, complementing an earlier $2.6 million from Skoll.

The funding will support Imazon to scale the successes in Paragominas across the state of Para. The project has ambitious goals, as the government has promised to reduce deforestation by 80 percent over the next seven years.

By systematizing the training process, the alliance hopes to leave the state government capable of responding to the growing demand from farmers and municipal governments who have seen Imazon’s programs work in Paragominas.

The question is how Imazon can show its methodologies work. Mercy Corps will help Imazon to test its approach in 10 municipalities serving as guinea pigs, drawing from its own network of experts in impact analysis.

But Imazon’s biggest success may be its ability to get locals on board with its ideas. 94 municipalities have already signed on to reducing deforestation through the Green Municipalities Program, and Cameron Peake, Mercy Corps's director of social innovations special initiatives, says she’s impressed at how the nonprofit has persuaded the local farmers and government that environmental sustainability, economic growth, land rights, and good governance can actually go together.

And that achievement, for one, is too valuable to put a number on.

This article originally appeared at Global Envision, a blog published by Mercy Corps.

Jean Gianacaci, center, speaks with a youth at a book fair last summer at a Trenton (N.J.) Housing Authority property. She is joined by volunteer Claire King, left. Christine's Hope for Kids hosted a book fair for residents of the property, offering books, fresh fruit, and healthy snacks. (Courtesy of Christine's Hope for Kids)

Christine's Hope for Kids gives kids a chance to be kids

By David KarasContributor / 07.02.13

In January 2010, Christine Gianacaci was visiting Haiti with a team from Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla., on a trip to help children and the underprivileged when she – along with five others – were killed in a massive earthquake that rocked that country.

When her parents, John and Jean Gianacaci, took on the unimaginable task of planning their daughter’s funeral, they both agreed that they had to find a way to continue their daughter’s good works. They also wanted to find a way to put the money that could be used for flowers to good use.

“At her funeral we decided, in lieu of flowers, we would start a foundation,” Mrs. Gianacaci says. “We decided to start a foundation to help underprivileged kids and kids with differences.”

Christine’s Hope for Kids was born.

The mission of the organization – helping to give kids a chance to just be kids – is significant in a number of ways to the Gianacaci family.

Christine grew up with learning differences and had been diagnosed with Tourette’s syndrome, her mother says.

“She knew what the challenges were for kids like her,” Mrs. Gianacaci says. “She knew what that was like. She had a very big heart for kids that lived with adversity.”

Christine was able to attend college, and her Tourette’s syndrome waned with age, her mother says.

In college  she became involved with Students for the Poor, a branch of the Food for the Poor organization. That’s where the other motivation behind the family’s foundation comes in.

“The kids went to Haiti to make a difference, and do some good, and they lost their lives doing it,” Jean Gianacaci. She says she felt “We have to do something to honor this.”

Gianacaci recalled her daughter’s experience on a similar trip in 2009 to Jamaica, and the changed outlook Christine had when she returned home.

“The things she saw, and the poverty she saw, were overwhelming for her,” Gianacaci says. “When you grow up here, you’re not exposed to poverty at that level.”

But what impacted Christine most, her mother says, were the children she met.

“What touched her heart the most were the kids who lived there,” Gianacaci says. “The kids were happy. They were in such poverty … but yet, they were happy.”

Jean and her husband, John, with the help of a part-time assistant and a score of volunteers, have since taken up Christine’s mission. To date, the foundation has given more than $300,000 in donations and in-kind support to organizations in New Jersey and across the country that work with children.

The family has decided to focus on helping children in the United States.

“Kids need help everywhere, but we wanted to stay here because there is a tremendous need right here in our very own country,” Gianacaci says.

Another benefit is the ability to more easily see the results of donations and support.

“I can see where our money goes,” Gianacaci says, adding that she makes sure donations are put to the right uses on behalf of supporters. “We are very grateful that people are willing – with all the choices they have – to donate to Christine’s Hope for Kids.”

From supporting community organizations such as Big Brothers-Big Sisters to partnering with schools to raise money or assembling pajama bags for disaster victims, Christine’s Hope for Kids has teamed with the wider community.

It also supports individual children, sending some to summer camps and providing equipment for others so that they can participate in athletics.

“Kids are shut out of games and activities because of money issues. It is overwhelming to me,” Gianacaci says. “Where will their memories be if they don’t get a chance to do anything?”

The foundation also helped bring a group of New Jersey kids to the seashore – for the first time.

“We sent kids to the Jersey shore last summer who have never seen the ocean,” she says. “And they live in Jersey.”

Another project supported youngsters taking a photography course in Florida – something Gianacaci hopes will be a positive memory for them whether they take up the hobby or not.

The Gianacaci family also aims to help teach kids how to help other kids. Partnering with schools can be a big part of achieving that goal.

“Everybody needs a little help some time,” Gianacaci says. “Just because you don’t have a brand-new bike doesn’t mean you are less of anything. It just means you don’t have a bike.”

While her formal title with Christine’s Hope for Kids is “president,” Gianacaci prefers to be called something else.

“I really like ‘mom’ the best,” she says.

• For more information on Christine’s Hope for Kids, to volunteer or provide support, visit http://www.christineshope.org.

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