When people are in extreme need, their ability to help themselves may be severely limited. Finding food and shelter alone may be an overwhelming task. In these cases, outside aid groups must take the lead and offer a vital helping hand.
But most poor people in the United States aren't in crisis; they're struggling, but they have a capacity and desire to help themselves. The Torchlight Prize, a project of the Family Independence Initiative now in its second year, recognizes homegrown groups that are finding their own unique ways of solving community problems.
“Too often in this country, low-income families are stereotyped as shiftless swindlers or helpless victims,” says Mia Birdsong, vice president of the Family Independence Initiative (FII), in announcing this year's winners. “The Torchlight Prize is changing this narrative. It showcases the knowledge, skills, and initiative that exists in under-resourced communities, and the tremendous contributions they make to our country as innovators, entrepreneurs, and leaders.”
Four grass-roots community groups around the US will each receive a no-strings-attached prize of $10,000 over the next two years.
"The Torchlight Prize really shows us that there are solutions being developed and tested in communities," Ms. Birdsong said in a Monitor interview last week. The idea, she says, is to inspire other communities to act by showing, "Hey, look what's possible if we work together."
For a dozen years the nonprofit FII has emphasized this grass-roots, family-led approach to improving the lives of low-income families.
The idea? The movers and shakers should be those in need themselves, with the FII acting only as a resource. If a charitable group such as the FII announces that it will "invite the community to the table," that sounds like the community members are still only guests at the party, Birdsong says. "They really should be the hosts. It's not about including them, or asking them. It's about the leadership that exists in families and communities, and us following them."
In the dance with FII, the community group takes the lead. "Over and over again, what we find is that if you stop directing people, and you create space for their own leadership to emerge, they move forward," she says. "We've demonstrated this in four cities across the country with probably a thousand families … thousands of folks."
This year's Torchlight Prize winners, announced today, are Camp Congo Square in New Orleans; Freedom Inc., in Madison, Wis., Somos Tuskaloosa, in Tuscaloosa, Ala.; and VietUnity, in Oakland, Calif.
Shaka Zulu cofounded Camp Congo Square with his wife, Naimah Zulu. The summer camp program opened in 2006 after hurricane Katrina had devastated the city. The camp meets in New Orleans' historic Congo Square, a place where centuries ago native Americans and African-American slaves would gather on Sundays.
The campers learn about their heritage and the city's history, as well. They study art, reading, writing, and math, and learn respect for the city's many cultural and ethnic traditions.
“One of our students … has really used the camp experience to make a very positive impact on his life…," Shaka Zulu writes in an email. "Ngozi McCormick has now become an example of what can come from the positive experience of the Camp … he has purchased land for a business and a home, and he also teaches what he learned at Camp Congo Square to his nephews and started his own performance group. (And he’s only in his early 20s!) He has become a role model in his community among young people and we are proud to say that we at Camp Congo Square along with his parents played a role in giving him the confidence and information to be an impressive young adult.”
The FII's founder, Mauricio Lim Miller, was honored in 2012 with the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation's "genius award" for his work in helping low-income working families – who often struggle in isolation – join together to build self-sufficiency.
The Torchlight Prize received its name from the Freedman’s Torchlight, an early African-American newspaper published in New York before slavery was abolished.
Of this year's four winners, only Freedom Inc. has registered itself as an official nonprofit organization. The others are still operating as small informal groups. Some of their minuscule budgets can be measured in the hundreds of dollars, Birdsong says.
That's one reason the $10,000 prize is given over a two-year period, she says. "We don't want to mess them up" with too much money all at once, she says. The groups want to keep close to their roots "of, for, and by the community."
• For more on the Family Independence Initiative, visit http://www.fiinet.org.
Just a few weeks ago, Baltimore residents celebrated the passage of an unprecedented $1.1 billion financing plan to rebuild and renovate city schools. Leading the charge to make this happen was the Baltimore Education Coalition (BEC), a partnership of more than 25 schools, organizations, and religious institutions comprised of 3,000 parents, students, teachers, administrators, and community leaders.
It was a feat of organizing tenacity worthy of a veteran education advocate. So you might be surprised to learn that a primary player behind this coup was a 26-year-old educator and law student, Yasmene Mumby. I say “might be surprised” because if you already know Yasmene, then you know that she gets the job done!
Yasmene, along with her BEC co-Chair, Jimmy Stuart, were able to galvanize the collective passion and commitment of this community and affect meaningful change. That ain’t easy to do.
My challenge with this intro is that I need to keep it succinct, yet I could go on and on about Yasmene and all of her accomplishments. So in the interest of brevity, I now present Yasmene’s prolific résumé in the length of a single tweet: Cochair @becforourkids, Dir. Cmty-Engagement @KIPPBaltimore, founder Team ORGANIZE, co-founder @theintersection, student @UMDLaw #driven
Who said tweeting can’t be an expressive form of prose?
Yasmene is a Baltimore girl through and through. A graduate of The McDonogh School, The Johns Hopkins University, and now a student at The University of Maryland's Francis King Carey School of Law, she is using her excellent education to ensure that “all children in Baltimore City receive an excellent education.”
Keep up the amazing work Yasmene, and thanks a ton for answering our Talking GOOD questions.
1. IN JUST ONE SENTENCE, WHAT IS YOUR PURPOSE IN LIFE? My purpose in life is to live presently and to travel the world honoring the light in every human being.
2. WHAT DO YOU GET FROM GIVING? I get a sense of calm and existence. I feel as if I am contributing to the world, and valuing the time I have living.
3. HOW HAS THIS WORK CHANGED YOU? This work has led me to my truer self. A giving self. I grew up in Baltimore and tied much of my identity to school work. What else was there to focus on from age 6 to 21? As soon as I graduated from college, I headed straight to West Baltimore to teach. Being a teacher, creating Team ORGANIZE, and now co-chairing the Baltimore Education Coalition have allowed me to focus my day around giving to others. I get that from my grandfather, Dr. Shirley (Rex) Clinton, my first best friend. He was a pediatrician in West Baltimore during the late 1960s to 1990s. My grandfather loved honoring West Baltimore’s growing families by bringing their new light into the world. He became a pediatrician because he’d rather bring new life into the world than risk losing one. I wanted to be like my grandfather, but I knew my weaknesses. So I decided to help bring new life into the world as a history teacher.
4. WHO IS A LIVING HERO AND WHAT WOULD YOU ASK THEM IF GIVEN THE CHANCE? I absolutely look up to California’s Attorney General Kamala Harris, her classic grace and intellect. Attorney General Harris inspires me as I continue to develop as a law student and young woman in leadership. All the while, Harris seems grounded and modest. Quiet power. I’d like to ask her, from where did she learn her strength and resolve? And can we meet for coffee?
5. WHAT EVERYDAY RESOURCES COULD HELP YOU ACHIEVE YOUR PHILANTHROPIC GOALS? The Baltimore Education Coalition works because everyone voluntarily pitches in. We have no paid staff. This is a labor of passion and commitment for all involved. [SEE BELOW FOR A DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF BEC AND WHO IS INVOLVED.] It’s an all-hands-on-deck effort. We worked with 120+ parents, teachers, administrators, and community members to execute this 3,000 person rally for better school buildings in Baltimore City. We can use volunteer talent in many areas: oral historians, a website designer, bus transportation to and from events, printed materials, audio/visual stagers. You name it. Just email me: firstname.lastname@example.org
6. WHAT IS A BURNING QUESTION THAT YOU HAVE FOR THIS COMMUNITY? What was the moment when you realized your purpose in life? Are you fulfilling your purpose or running from it?
7. WHAT WOULD THE TITLE OF YOUR BOOK BE? Don’t fight the universe! Life eventually falls into place. I am a person that NEEDS answers; I don’t really do well with uncertainty. So often I have to remind myself to stop searching and finding more to do. The path I am to walk is already laid out in front of me. I have to remind myself that I am where I am supposed to be. Remember, I have a problem with standing still!
8. TELL US SOMETHING YOU RARELY SHARE IN PUBLIC? If I’m not moving, involved in something worthwhile and uncharted, I feel wasteful … as if I am not maximizing life and its given experiences during the seconds, minutes, hours allotted. So I practice yoga to help me stand still and reflect. Yoga is the only thing that surrenders me.
9. WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR OTHERS WHO ASPIRE TO BE CITIZEN PHILANTHROPISTS? Be honest. Value other people. Share your appreciation for them. Recognize their collective work.
10. WHAT QUESTION DO YOU WISH I HAD ASKED, AND WHAT IS THE ANSWER? QUESTION: Why are you still in Baltimore? ANSWER: I am one of the very few kids that stuck around Baltimore. Many of my friends from high school and undergrad could not wait to leave this town. And they did. I can’t. Every time in my life I have tried to leave and build my life somewhere else, Baltimore never lets me go. There have been moments and experiences that ground my commitment to Baltimore. It makes it hard to leave. I have never lived anywhere else. Yet.
More on the Baltimore Education Coalition (as written by Yasmene): The Baltimore Education Coalition is the broadest citywide linkage of 25 organizations working for Baltimore’s children. We have stopped over $100 million dollars in proposed cuts to city schools. We supported and won the bottle tax that will leverage $155 million for school construction. Most recently, we successfully advocated and won the passage of an unprecedented $1 billion financing plan to improve school facilities with 3,000 parents, students, teachers, administrators, and community leaders for Baltimore City’s 85,000 students.
We are public schools, traditional, and charter. We are after-school programs and neighborhood associations. We are education policy organizations and religious institutions. We are: ACLU of Maryland, Advocates for Children and Youth, Afya Public Charter School, Baltimore Curriculum Project, BUILD, The Cathedral of the Incarnation, Child First Authority, City Neighbors Foundation Council, The Coalition of Baltimore Charter Schools, Community Law in Action, Comprehensive Housing Assistance, Inc. (CHAI), Downtown Baltimore Family Alliance, Elev8 Baltimore, Greater Homewood Community Corporation, KIPP Baltimore, League of Women Voters of Baltimore City, Maryland Education Coalition, Mt. Washington Elementary/Middle, PTA Council of Baltimore, Reservoir Hill Improvement Council, Roland Park Elementary/Middle School Parents, School Social Workers in Maryland, Southwest Baltimore Charter School, and Supporting Public Schools of Choice.
• 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 email@example.com.
Elaine Hamel likes her power tools. She likes them a lot. And although I’ve never met her in person, I have this cockamamie image of Elaine, running around her wood shop like Tim “The Toolman” Taylor from Home Improvement, grunting as she brandishes a power sander and exhorts life lessons to her class of young female students.
Elaine is the Executive Director of Girls at Work Inc., a nonprofit organization that empowers at-risk girls to discover their inner power tools of strength and courage through building. Elaine founded Girls at Work in 2000 after nearly 13 years in the construction industry as the founder of EMH Remodeling, specializing in residential renovations. On a website about marrying one’s passions with their profession, Elaine said: “I’ve seen girls shy away from woodshop in a school setting as the majority of the class consists of boys. But a girls’ camp, or our workshop full of girls, breaks down those walls and allows girls to try many new and different things they probably would not have attempted otherwise.
Right now, Elaine is working to raise $25,000 for her program through this Indiegogo campaign. The video on the site (and embedded at the end of this blog post) does a great job of bringing her program to life. I encourage you to check it out … and to think about throwing a few dollars her way. In addition to this work, Elaine spent time over a period of four years as a volunteer in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina where she trained and managed volunteers rebuilding for those in need.
Thanks for being a citizen philanthropist and nonprofit leader Elaine. And thanks for taking the time to answer our questions!
1. IN JUST ONE SENTENCE, WHAT IS YOUR PURPOSE IN LIFE? My purpose in this life is to enable girls that feel defeated, neglected, and abandoned to discover their "inner power tools" of strength and courage through the experience of building.
2. HOW HAS THIS WORK CHANGED YOU? It has opened my eyes to the enormous amount of neglect and abandonment that exists within our youth. This work has enabled me to shift my career from a general contractor specializing in residential renovations to taking girls at risk out of their comfort zone and putting them in a place that leaves them feeling successful, competent, and confident.
3. WHAT DO YOU GET FROM GIVING? An incredible amount of satisfaction knowing that this experience is helping girls at risk to alter the lens through which they view themselves. No longer are they merely defined by failing grades but encouraged by their accomplishments from building with us.
4. WHO IS A LIVING HERO AND WHAT WOULD YOU ASK THEM IF GIVEN THE CHANCE? I thought a lot about this. While there are many people that would fall under the definition of hero, I have to say so many of the girls we work with are my heroes. Our little builder that had several surgeries on her spine to remove tumors, the last surgery leaving her with one paralyzed arm. That didn’t stop her from building with us; never even slowed her down. Or the little girl that spent two months living in her car with her mother since "the boyfriend" kicked them out. That didn’t stop her from being fully in the moment with us and building a shed. Or the little girl that had no idea where she was going to live after her summer camp session was over. She was no longer able to live with an aunt—her mother never wanted her, she was told—because the man her aunt was dating would sneak in her room at night…. So many girls we build with need to overcome horrible obstacles on a daily basis. Those are my heroes.
5. WHAT EVERYDAY RESOURCES COULD HELP YOU ACHIEVE YOUR PHILANTHROPIC GOALS? I’d have to say two things: one, lumber. Always lumber! Another is anything with our logo, T-shirts, wrist bands, dog tags … we are really working toward a tangible reminder of their experience while building with us. This is such a powerful experience for our builders and a reminder of how capable and strong they are, despite everything that holds them back, is incredibly important.
6. WHAT IS A BURNING QUESTION THAT YOU HAVE FOR THIS COMMUNITY? Who believed in you as a kid and how much of a difference did that make in your life? Do you truly know how much of a difference you can make in the life of a little girl or boy that is neglected?
7. WHAT WOULD THE TITLE OF YOUR BOOK BE? The Power of Believing in Kids.
8. TELL US SOMETHING YOU RARELY SHARE IN PUBLIC? Beneath it all, I still struggle with voices of self-doubt that were programmed very early on.
9. WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR OTHERS WHO ASPIRE TO BE CITIZEN PHILANTHROPISTS? Push past your fear of failure and listen to that inner voice telling you that you can make a difference, that you have purpose and a mission awaits you. My life is so much richer, knowing I can help a little girl that has struggled with neglect from day one, to begin to see herself as strong, powerful, and so very capable.
10. WHAT QUESTION DO YOU WISH I HAD ASKED, AND WHAT IS THE ANSWER? QUESTION: Why should people invest in a program that teaches girls how to build? ANSWER: Because so many of the girls we work with do not have supportive adults in their lives. While we cannot provide safe and supportive homes for all of them, what we can provide is an experience that will take girls pretty far out of their comfort zone and test their ability to trust themselves and each other. They overcome the fear associated with power tools, and they learn to be in the moment and fully focused. They also learn that they are capable and powerful and as many of our evaluations report “awesomer” than they ever imagined. This is the lens they need to have in order to survive and to be so much more than they ever believed possible.
• To view the video go to the original article 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
How do we navigate a constantly changing world? How do we thrive, as individuals and as a society, when the institutions and systems that form our shared bedrock emerge, shift, and fade – or collapse – with breathtaking speed?
At the Ashoka Future Forum on May 30 and 31 at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., 400 social innovators, business entrepreneurs, and philanthropists are exploring this challenge through the lens of social innovation. For Ashoka, the answer is about creating an “everyone a changemaker world” where ever more people are equipped with the skills and the motivation to solve problems in their families, communities, and workplaces.
That transformation is fraught with disruption. For generations, much of what has happened in the world was determined by centralized, hierarchical institutions; by command-and-control leadership; and by information that flowed from a few experts to mostly passive audiences. Those systems and structures very arguably limited democracy, but they had the appeal of feeling secure and predictable.
Look at those institutions today. The news profession (the subject of the session entitled “Tomorrow’s Media”) is wrestling with the social and commercial limitations of its historic function – and beginning to embrace a new role that considers solutions and provides pathways to civic engagement. June Cohen, who brought TED Talks to life; Jonathan Wells, publisher of The Christian Science Monitor; and others discuss.
Likewise, organizations in every realm are moving toward complex, information-driven networks of networks, where decisions are made and shared rapidly across functions and geography. This change promises leaps in effectiveness and impact, but only if leaders apply very different skills and values (discussed in the session “Leadership for Tomorrow’s Organizations”). Ashoka CEO Bill Drayton, Susan Peters of General Electric, and Babson College President Leonard Schlesinger consider this new reality.
In the isolated Gaza Strip, economic instability is a constant. But a startup accelerator called Gaza Sky Geeks Laboratory plans to help the region capitalize on one of its biggest assets: its technical graduates.
Between Gaza’s five universities, more than 2,000 young people graduate with technical degrees every year. Mercy Corps started the Arab Developer Network Initiative (ADNI) with a grant from Google.org a few years ago, and a number of programs supporting young entrepreneurs have come out of it, including Gaza Sky Geeks.
The laboratory will support standout technology entrepreneurs in Gaza, providing a wide range of free services designed to help them turn their ideas into viable investments. Global Envision connected with Reem Omran, co-founder of Gaza Sky Geeks, to talk about the effort – and whether Gaza could become the next IT hub in the Arab world.
RECOMMENDED: Think you're a true geek? Take our quiz
What’s the blueprint for helping start-ups?
Reem Omran: The primary objective of Gaza Sky Geeks is to prepare start-ups for the next stage. We will provide logistical and consulting services, as well as workshops that can help them turn their ideas into concrete business plans capable of securing investment.
What resources does the accelerator offer?
Gaza Sky Geeks is outfitted with high-speed internet, desktop computers, iPads, and Androids[mc1] so that members have a reliable space to work on their projects. Members also have access to meeting spaces and a coffee shop, where they can network and collaborate on ideas.
What about events?
The accelerator hosts three types of events: workshops, hackathons, and mentorship programs and lectures. The workshops are held on a weekly basis and are designed to help with product development and promotion. Hackathons are held so that programmers have a forum to share ideas and explore software development. And the mentors are brought in to give developers feedback on their ideas and critique their business plans.
At the accelerator, are the resources and events free of charge?
Yes, you only need to be a member to use them.
What are the biggest barriers facing members?
Electrical shortages are common, and Gaza’s reputation as a conflict zone makes it difficult to attract investors. However, at the core the issues are the same as those facing start-ups everywhere. Many technology entrepreneurs are passionate about their field and ideas, but transforming a vision into a viable business plan is tricky. Most people in the IT industry in Gaza don’t receive a business education, let alone have experience running one.
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How is Gaza Sky Geeks helping to bridge this gap?
This is where the mentors are key. As I mentioned, most programmers in Gaza don’t have experience running a business, and so sometimes their target audience is off or their marketing strategy isn’t practical, and so on. Mentors can provide valuable constructive criticism so that start-ups can strengthen their goals and infrastructure to become a feasible investment.
In the coming months, Gaza Sky Geeks will select the top five startups to participate in a three-month intensive acceleration program. Selected startups that participate in the acceleration program will be linked with five dedicated mentors who have varying backgrounds and experience. The three-month accelerator will also provide targeted business and technical training so each startup has a scalable business plan and validated prototype at the conclusion of the accelerator. Throughout the three-month program, each startup will work on a one- and three-minute pitch that they will give to potential investors at a Gaza demo day and regional road shows in cities such as Doha, Qatar; Amman, Jordan' and Cairo.
• Stay up to date on Gaza Sky Geeks on Facebook and Twitter: @GazaSkyGeeks
Mira Nair’s mantra is “If we don’t tell our stories, no one else will.”
In her latest film, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, she’s exploring her roots in Lahore, Pakistan, with her contemporary lifestyle of crisscrossing borders to tell another tale of East meets West.
Adapted from the award-winning book of the same name by Pakistani author Mohsin Hamid, the film aspires to show the human side of terrorism.
Ms. Nair is known for her earlier films such as the Oscar-nominated "Salaam Bombay!" "Monsoon Wedding," "Vanity Fair," and "Namesake."
RECOMMENDED: How much do you know about Pakistan? Take this quiz.
Esha Chhabra spoke with Nair about her latest film and her vision to bring to filmmaking to communities that lack the resources. She starts close to home in Kampala, Uganda, with Maisha Lab that’s nurturing the talent of East African filmmakers.
What propelled you to make the Reluctant Fundamentalist?
Actually it came from visiting Pakistan for the first time in 2004–2005. My father was from Lahore. So even though I grew up in India, I grew up like a Lahori- speaking Urdu, learning poetry. My movies were already popular there, and I was invited to come speak. So, here was a culture that was deeply familiar and yet forbidden to an Indian. That’s why I was inspired to make something contemporary about Pakistan because as Indian directors, we only tend to address Pakistan in partition stories – more historical, less contemporary.
So I was eager to do that, and then in a time when there is increasingly a separation between the Western world and Islamic world.
Around the same time, I had been given a manuscript of the book, before it was published. And I just loved it – it gave me the opportunity to make modern Lahore but also create a dialogue with America. I, like [the book's author] Mohsin [Hamid], have lived half my life in these worlds, so I know these worlds intimately and [they] speak to me in a deep way. And politically it was very exciting – so this script gave me that chance.
To bridge East and West in a film is a tall task. Did you have a specific intent with this film that you wanted to achieve in this rather global debate?
The intent of the film is to create a real dialogue – to show how there are different points of view. And so often the world is reduced to myopia, not knowing the other side. And also there are so many people like us who cross borders. We are in a more globalized world, more so than when I was growing up.
So I wanted to make a film to show the complicatedness, the interconnectedness of our world on a fundamental level – spiritually, economically, and in the realm of terror. And to create a genuine dialogue, a bridge.
In another world, the Pakistani man and the American man would really understand each other. But the world will not allow them to mix.
So, it’s about what we think of America and what America thinks of us. But made from love on both sides – I am at home, literally, in both of these worlds.
Over 10 years after 9/11, as a storyteller, do you feel that we are trying to understand each other better or is that schism still strong due to politics?
My feeling is that we really want to understand each other now. People are fed up with war. The Americans themselves, which is a nation of 350 million or more, and I’ve met with many of them in presenting this film to audiences. And they’re saying that it’s about time we know – after all, there are human beings on both sides. And it’s about time to get rid of the stereotype. But how do we get rid of the stereotype?
Were you able to shoot the film in Lahore or did it have to be staged elsewhere?
We shot for four days in Lahore – all the exteriors. I couldn’t bring actors into Pakistan without insurance. So, that’s why we did it this way.
Delhi and Lahore are sister cities. They were built in the same time, same style. So, if you know Lahore, you can recreate it in Delhi.
However, all the music came from Lahore for this film. The draft of the script was written in Lahore.So, we did a lot of work there, and I love it there, but it would have been very risky to bring a whole crew there.
What kind of misconceptions would you like to erase about Lahore, which was such an inspiration for this film?
Lahore is the like the Venice of the East or I would say, Venice is like the Lahore of the West. It is a deeply refined city from where poetry, singing, craft, food – all this sensuality comes from there at the highest expression of self. The National Institute of Arts is in Lahore, and just the sheer amazing talent that comes of it is astounding to me.
So, one would never know this if you read the newspapers. You would think that it’s just drones, hijackings, and killings, which sadly the nation is ridden with. But life goes on. There is this line in the film that Pakistan was born into chaos. But as the chaos increased, the biryanis got tastier, life got more raucous (laughs). Life continued! Life in all its forms exists in Lahore in a way that’s powerful, not ordinary.
In a lot of these films that are a dime a dozen on Pakistan, you never see the family life, you never know about the family that was bombed in the name of democracy, you don’t know their names, sometimes you don’t even know the character’s name. So, in this film, [the protagonist] Changez’s family is very important to me. In fact, Mohsin used to joke with me that we should [call it] “Monsoon terrorist” (laughs).
Changez’s family isn’t necessarily impressed by his career in finance and Wall Street. They’re not pandering for that.
What role did Mohsin play in the filmmaking process? You’ve worked with several texts now – "Namesake," "Vanity Fair." How do you wrestle with these pieces of fiction? Any different than a traditional script?
It’s genuinely just an organic process of building a relationship. If I love the story so much to inhabit it for several years and make a movie, I will love the author. There’s no question of it.
One of the greatest gifts of the Namesake has been that Jhumpa and I are like sisters now.
Both Jhumpa and Mohsin understood that film is a different medium than a book. So they were happy to have me tell their story in a manner that’s most fit for film. Mohsin took a more direct role and was one of the writers for the screenplay with Ami Boghani and William Wheeler. And he’s a complete kid at the cinema – so he loved it.
I reinvented Erica in the film; she didn’t agree with me, the way she was in the book. But there was no resistance from Mohsin. And then I wanted a third act to the book that doesn’t exist in the story – what happens to Changez after he comes back from America, what does he do in Pakistan?
Mohsin was very experimental in the book – in terms of the layout, the voice – and it was a largely internal book, consumed in Changez’s thoughts, feelings, and frustrations. How do you translate that into a film – is that a challenge?
We kept the structure of the tea house, the nonlinear flashbacks. We had to create a reason for them to meet. And we created a final act on his present day life in Lahore. Also, the ending in the book was very ambiguous. In a film, we could not leave that vague; we had to determine what happened.
That is always a challenge on how to make it less internal. That’s what I love to do in cinema – how to have the images speak of emotions and remove the words.
We also had Riz Ahmed, who plays Changez, and he spent time with Pakistani Wall Street bankers to get a sense of their high-flying life – and a lot came from that. Imagine you work all day, enjoy in the evenings but then come home to an empty flat with a beer bottle in the fridge and no one to greet you. So, that’s a cinematic moment where I can convey emotions and ideas without text. That adds a lot of layers and textures.
You have said many times that you only choose films that only you can do. And many of these films fall outside the parameters of the big production houses. Do you ever find it frustrating as a filmmaker to have to find alternative sources of funding and support?
No, I prefer to be poor and free. I refuse to say harder, or I refuse to do it. I like to work with studios when the subject is right for it. This subject would have [been] censored and hindered if I had gone to the studios – it would have never been what I wanted to do. So, there was question that I wanted to do this independently.
I am just so grateful that Doha Film Festival stayed with us as steadfast partners till the end. And there are other films that should be made with the studios, and I will make them.
You’ve also been pushing for the voice of new, young filmmakers with your film lab in Kampala, Uganda. Can you give us an update on Maisha?
It’s for East Africa – Rwanda, Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania. It’s a free school and we have now trained over 600 alumni over the last eight years, and all of them are literally working in media. I’ve just come back from Doha[, Qatar,] where we had a Maisha documentary lab where we training all kinds of filmmakers – Qataris, Palestinians.
RECOMMENDED: How much do you know about Pakistan? Take this quiz.
The mantra is “If we don’t tell our own stories, no one else will." So it’s necessary for us to tell these stories.
We have 10 labs in the course of a year in these four countries. We [have] two big annual labs in Kampala – they make 20-minute films. Our films have won 26 awards internationally.... And we have created six feature filmmakers.
My goal was to create local cinema and of the highest standards. It’s become a beacon for artists here since there aren’t too many places to get good training on the continent. And I invite writers, directors, actors from my film circle to come and lead workshops. People want to do good, they just need to know how. So Maisha is a place for them to share their skills.
• "The Reluctant Fundamentalist" is now playing in limited release in the United States. To see a trailer, go here.
For the richest American family of their era, the goal was fittingly ambitious: "To promote the well-being of mankind throughout the world."
With that mission, underwritten by the vast wealth of John D. Rockefeller Sr., the Rockefeller Foundation was chartered 100 years ago. For several decades, it was the dominant foundation in the United States, breaking precedent with its global outlook and helping pioneer a diligent, scientific approach to charity that became a model for the field.
"They were in a very small group of foundations that practiced idea-based philanthropy as opposed to just charity. They are willing to invest in ideas," said Bradford Smith, who as president of the New York-based Foundation Center oversees research on philanthropy worldwide.
The Rockefeller Foundation is celebrating its centennial by touting an array of forward-looking projects, ranging from global disease surveillance to strengthening the resilience of vulnerable cities in the US and Asia to future calamities. It is also looking back, at a 100-year history replete with triumphs and controversy.
The Rockefeller Foundation played pivotal roles in introducing Western medicine to China, developing a vaccine for yellow fever, combating malaria, establishing prestigious schools of public health, and spreading the lifesaving agricultural advances of the Green Revolution. Recipients of its grants included Albert Einstein, writer Ralph Ellison, and choreographer Bill T. Jones.
Still, detractors challenged the foundation's work. From the left, activists accused it of being a front for US corporate and national security interests. From the right, critics over the years faulted its support for population-control programs and for research by Alfred Kinsey and others into human sexuality.
During the 1930s, the foundation provided some financial support to the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Anthropology, Human Heredity, and Eugenics in Germany, which, among other projects, conducted research related to Nazi-backed eugenics and racial studies.
The foundation says that its grants to the institute were focused on straightforward genetic research, and that it cut off support for any projects that veered into social eugenics.
Also during the 1930s, and continuing after the start of World War II, the foundation funded a project to relocate scholars and artists, many of them Jewish, who were losing their positions in Germany under the Nazis.
The next generation of philanthropists would be wise to study the history of the Rockefeller Foundation and its handful of peers, Smith said.
"The new money goes about this as if there wasn't any history," he said. "I think there is a lot to learn — what worked, what didn't work."
Now dwarfed by the largesse of Bill Gates and other contemporary philanthropists, the Rockefeller Foundation remains ambitious and well-funded, and is increasingly eager to work in partnerships.
Even before the foundation was first proposed, there were sharply mixed views about John D. Rockefeller Sr. and the fortune he amassed as the founder of Standard Oil.
Rockefeller was "perhaps the most reviled as well as the most generous man in America" in the early 1900s, according to a just-published history of the Rockefeller Foundation that it commissioned to mark its centennial. The book depicts Rockefeller as America's first billionaire, with a fortune that today would be worth $231 billion.
On the advice of his inner circle, Rockefeller sought a congressional charter for a foundation that would coordinate his already substantial charitable giving.
Some government officials were suspicious of the endeavor and some newspaper editorialists suggested the project was a cynical effort to improve the family's checkered image. The measure proposing a charter died in the US Senate, prompting the Rockefellers to turn swiftly to New York state, where lawmakers unanimously approved a charter that was signed into law May 14, 1913.
It was one of three major, still-operating foundations founded in that era, following the Russell Sage Foundation in 1907 and the Carnegie Corporation in 1911.
Judith Rodin, who has been the Rockefeller Foundation's president since 2005, noted in an interview that the Rockefeller family started channeling huge sums into philanthropy at a time when the tax code didn't reward such practices.
"Clearly they were improving their own images," Ms. Rodin said. "But they had strong views that people with that much money should give it back to society."
She also credited the family with establishing a broad, flexible mandate for the foundation so that its leaders, over the decades, could tackle a wide array of challenges, both in the United States and worldwide.
"We have the luxury and responsibility of picking the big, thorny problems, without worrying about offending governments or our donor base," Rodin said.
Much the creative work has taken place at the foundation's Bellagio Center in northern Italy. Maya Angelou and Susan Sontag did some of their writing there, and novelist Michael Ondaatje worked on "The English Patient" while in residence at the center.
Among the foundation's proudest achievements was the Green Revolution — the nickname for a series of initiatives between the 1940s and 1970s that dramatically boosted agriculture production around the world. The concepts — such as improvements in irrigation, wiser use of fertilizer and pesticides, development of high-yield grains — were pioneered by agronomist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Norman Borlaug, and then spread to other nations via Rockefeller Foundation programs.
After several decades of dominance, the Rockefeller Foundation was overtaken by the Ford Foundation as the nation's largest.
Now, according to the latest rankings compiled by the Foundation Center, the Rockefeller Foundation is the 16th largest, with total assets of $3.5 billion, compared to $34.6 billion for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. In terms of total giving, the Rockefeller Foundation ranked 39th with gifts of $132.6 million in 2011, compared with more than $3.2 billion given by the Gates Foundation.
Those financial realities have prompted the Rockefeller Foundation to do most of its current work in partnerships, rather than operating solo.
Dwight Burlingame, a professor at Indiana University's Center on Philanthropy, said such partnerships have become crucial to effective grant-making.
"Foundations need to be more nimble," he said. "The number of players has dramatically increased — foundations have pushed recipients of their grants into getting more partners, so it's not a single source."
The number of foundations in the US and worldwide has surged in recent years, and a new generation of billionaires in Asia and other regions is showing increased interest in philanthropy.
Rodin says the Rockefeller Foundation, in addition to its other projects, is holding conferences for aspiring philanthropists from developing countries to provide advice on effective giving. It's been a leading proponent of "impact investing" — investments that can spur social and environmental progress as well as earn profits.
"We've tried not to be out there hectoring others to become philanthropists, but to be there as a resource for those who do want to give," Rodin said. "We'd like to help them not make the same mistakes over and over."
1. Green Worker Cooperative’s Co-op Academy , The Bronx, N.Y.
Ideas for co-ops may flourish, but few people understand exactly how to make theirs real. The Co-op Academy is providing answers. Founded four years ago by Omar Freilla (who recently made Ebony magazine’s list of the Power 100), the academy runs 16-week courses that offer intensive mentoring, legal and financial advice, and help with designing logos and websites.
Run by the South Bronx-based Green Worker Cooperative, the academy guides up to four teams per session through the startup process and has graduated four organizations now thriving in New York City. These include Caracol Interpreters, which is raising the bar on interpreter wages, and Concrete Green, which focuses on environmentally sound landscaping. Six more co-ops are in the pipeline.
“I’m amazed at how little knowledge and information is out there for the average person about how co-ops function and how to start one,” says Janvieve Williams Comrie, whose mother-owned cooperative Ginger Moon also came out of the program. “That’s one thing the Co-op Academy really provides, the hands-on know-how.”
Even money for tuition ($1,500 per team) gets the treatment. Mr. Freilla is adamant that teams fundraise to cover that cost—even if they can foot the bill themselves.
“By fundraising for the registration fee, you are promoting the vision for your cooperative, gaining supporters, and creating a buzz before the program even starts,” he says. “That is just the kind of support that will propel your business forward, and while you’re doing it you’ll be getting an early opportunity to see just how well you and your teammates work together.”
2. Red Clouds Collective , Portland, Ore.
They shared an active, outdoorsy lifestyle in the Pacific Northwest. They shared a talent for creative work. It seemed logical for the group of friends to leave their corporate jobs to form Red Clouds Collective, a Portland manufacturer of handcrafted canvas and leather gear. The worker-owner cooperative pools the talents of a variety of artists and allows them to make a living as craftsmen beyond what any of them could do individually. A percentage pay system benefits the original designer, the assembler, and the collective. After one year, business is great. What’s popular? theGOODbook™, a leather wallet/iphone case/sketchbook all in one.
3. Seward Community Cafe , Minneapolis
It’s one thing to run a successful cooperative business, and quite another to lend a hand to the competition. But that’s exactly what the Seward Cafe in Minneapolis did, loaning $10,000 to Hard Times Cafe when the nearby worker-run restaurant was struggling through an extended closure due to repairs. “
They’re like our little sister,” says Nils Collins, a worker at Seward, which is the oldest collectively run restaurant in the country. “We can’t function in an environment where everything is corporate-owned. It’s a lot more effective to have mutual support and solidarity.” The two businesses often help each other with tax-form preparation and even food delivery.
“We call it a friendly rivalry,” said Hard Times’ bookkeeper Rozina Doss. “A worker-run business has its own set of difficulties, so our relationship is just a recognition that other people have the same commitment that we do to changing the way work is done.”
4. Patient/Physician Co-ops , Houston
Don McCormick, a former health insurance executive, opened a free, charity-funded clinic to better understand the problems in health care and stumbled onto something that surprised him: Uninsured people were willing to pay a nominal monthly fee—like $18—if it guaranteed access to medical care.
Then McCormick learned that doctors actually earned more by billing patients directly—even at those nominal fees—than they did by going through Medicare, Medicaid, or HMOs. With that realization, McCormick founded the Houston-based Patient/Physician Cooperative in 2005, which now has 60 participating clinics. Members of PPC function as a group, which allows them to purchase health care at affordable prices. There are no co-payments or qualifications for those with pre-existing conditions, and the model has since spread to North Carolina and Portland, Ore.
“This turned into a very practical solution,” McCormick says, “and it’s better than what anyone else is proposing.”
5. Community Food Forest , Providence, R.I.
The new plantings at Roger Williams Park hover around three feet tall. But in a few years, they’ll sprout leafy greens and medicinal herbs. All will be available to harvest for free, along with wild mushrooms, tubers, and fiber. The edible forestry project, which broke ground in April 2012, is a partnership between the University of Rhode Island Master Gardeners and city officials at Roger Williams Park.
The location is no accident. More than 83 percent of nearby residents live in a USDA-declared food desert, with little access to supermarkets selling fresh produce. But in years to come, the edible forest, which sits adjacent to a community garden, will provide nuts, mulch, fruit, and fuel.
Similar projects are popping up in other urban areas. The Beacon Hill Food Forest in Seattle—funded in part with a $20,000 grant from the city’s Department of Urban Neighborhoods—is the largest edible forest on public land in the nation.
6. Community-Owned Mercantile, Port Townsend, Wash.
“We live here, work here, invest here. We just want to buy some socks here,” reads the motto of Quimper Mercantile in Port Townsend, Wash. After the town’s general store closed in 2011, residents of this out-of-the-way town found themselves with few nearby options for buying basic goods, and they weren’t interested in inviting Wal-Mart to move in.
Their solution? A dozen activists and business owners raised $50,000, formed a corporation, and began selling shares to friends and neighbors. To date, 1,008 folks have invested—a hundred-dollar share at a time—$570,000, and Quimper Mercantile opened for business in October 2012.
When the bankroll reaches $950,000 investors can start trading their shares. “We’re a for-profit venture, not a co-op,” says Peter Quinn, CEO. “So it’s essentially buying stock in a startup, with all the usual possibilities and risks.” At this fledgling stage, participation is motivated less by profit-seeking than community-building. “A much more altruistic purpose,” Quinn says.
7. Buying land as a cooperative, Duvall, Wash.
Mobile homes provide a source of long-term, low-income housing but, vulnerable to rate increases or eviction, it’s hardly stable. Last year, in Duvall, Wash., 24 mobile-home dwellers joined to create a cooperative and purchase their trailer park. Final price: $1.18 million.
That sounds pretty steep, but Ben Guss, a facilitator with the Northwest Cooperative Development Center, linked the residents to funding through ROC USA Capital, which has made loans to 125 such communities across the country. For the Duvall project, ROC partnered with the Washington State Housing Finance Commission, and now for $475 a month—just $15 more than they were paying before—each member of the newly named Duvall Riverside Village Co-op is an owner.
“It’s great to change from having Damocles’ Sword in the air that you know can fall,” said Stewart Davidson, who lives there and serves as board president. “When I pass, my wife can live here and not be worried about having a knock on the door with someone saying, ‘Here’s your notice, you’re out.’”
• Claudie Rowe wrote this article for How Cooperatives Are Driving the New Economy, the Spring 2013 issue of YES! Magazine. Claudia has been an award-winning social issues journalist for more than 20 years. Her work has appeared in Mother Jones, The New York Times, The Seattle Times, and The Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
While these claims might be a bit overstated, social franchising works. The best examples come from sectors as diverse as nutrition and sustainable energy, but they all share common threads:
There’s usually an existing market failure, a simple business model that can be used over and over again, a partnership between transnational and local NGOs, and – ultimately – a cheap, innovative product or process that does what the market didn’t.
Global Envision has covered a number of franchises in the past. Here’s how our five favorites work:
Tiendas de la Salud, Guatemala
With expertise from Mercy Corps and money from the Linked Foundation, a pilot project brought 36 franchised stores to rural Guatemala, where 53 percent of the population lives in poverty. The stores provide affordable generic medications where health services are otherwise nonexistent. The business model has been so successful that it was purchased by local commercial pharmacy chain Farmacias de la Comunidad, which has plans to expand the project to rural areas across the country.
Read more here.
Founder Michel Lescanne had already revolutionized malnutrition treatment with Plumpy’Nut, a peanut and milk product that would allow patients to regain strength and recover at home rather than taking an expensive and often lengthy trip to the hospital. Taking a cue from McDonald's and Coca Cola, local manufacturers and distributors get the product to their markets, and Nutriset collects a royalty fee. This keeps Plumpy’Nut cheap, while Nutriset gets paid so they can do more research.
Read more here.
The HealthStore Foundation, Kenya
In 2000, Scott Hillstrom and Eva Ombaka set up a network of microfarmacies and microclinics to combat a host of treatable diseases accounting for 70 to 90 percent of all childhood deaths in Kenya. These franchised Child and Family Wellness Shops provide both essential drugs to treat infectious diseases and basic medical services, allowing them to reach more than 2.5 million Kenyans by turning nurses into entrepreneurs.
Read more here.
KeBAL food carts, Indonesia
A new food cart franchise is battling malnutrition in Jakarta, Indonesia. Mercy Corps teamed up with Dutch nutrition company DSM and Rabobank to develop street food that kids would enjoy while providing missing nutrients, supplied as an added mix by DSM. Initially piloted in 2009, the social franchise is working toward financial sustainability while exposing DSM to the massive base-of-the-pyramid market in Jakarta.
Read more here.
Husk Power Systems, India
Husk Power has been quietly leading a green revolution in India with its biomass-powered microgrids, which have already served over 200,000 customers. Backed by Acumen Fund, the group hopes to reach 5 million people over the next five years, providing a credible solution to India’s vast power needs. The key to its success? Developing a cheap generator that local franchisees can use to power a miniature grid for their village. To provide a cheap source of fuel, the generator runs on biomass waste that abounds on Indian farms.
Read more here.
Dana Frasz is a food entrepreneur. She wants to recycle food, taking the food that’s not consumed and putting it into the hands of those who cannot afford it. She wants companies to stop wasting so much food – at the grocery story and in restaurants. She wants us all to be aware of how much we’re throwing in the dustbin.
Too idealistic? Frasz would argue otherwise. Hear her talk about her passion – FoodShift.
How much waste is there currently in the United States and how accurate are these figures?
Forty percent of all the food produced in the US is wasted.
This figure is from national experts on food waste – author Jonathan Bloom wrote “American Wasteland: How America Throws Away Nearly Half its Food” and Dana Gunders has been researching this issue at the Natural Resources Defense Council.
What are grocery stores doing currently to prevent food waste? Are there any policies in place to prevent this?
Some grocery stores are donating excess food or marking down the prices of food that is still good but may be past its peak freshness, damaged in some way or cosmetically imperfect. There is a federal policy in place to encourage food donation. It’s called the Good Samaritan Food Act and it was passed specifically to encourage the donation of food. It protects food donors from liability as long as they are donating to a nonprofit. Many food donors can also receive tax deductions for their donations.
What has been the toughest part for you, as an activist and a social entrepreneur, in this effort?
I am really disturbed by the excessive waste and consumption in American culture.
Our materialistic lifestyles in the US have negative social and environmental impacts around the world. Rather than living in harmony with the earth, we are perpetuating a culture that is dependent on exploitation, extraction, and acquisition. Food waste is not only a waste of nutrition, it squanders water, depletes soil, wastes fossil fuels, and adds greatly to the world’s carbon footprint.
What is your solution?
Food Shift is working with Oakland, Calif., schools to ensure surplus food from the cafeteria is redistributed to students and families rather than thrown in the garbage. We are working with a local grocer who has expressed interest in paying Food Shift to recover food from their stores. This would allow us to employ someone in the process while reducing waste disposal costs for the business. We are interested in developing food recovery and redistribution models that increase access to more nutrition food, reduce waste, and generate revenue in some way so they can sustain and scale – like low-cost markets and value-added products.
How feasible is it?
We have trash and recycling removal in this country, why not have a food-recovery service sector that recovers and redistributes surplus food as an extension of our current waste management system?
It may sound crazy, but it is realistic strategy and could create a lot of jobs in the green economy. Generating revenue from food that would otherwise be wasted is possible, but by no means easy. It’s a difficult challenge to ensure food safety, to establish new distribution channels, and to pilot new models that are outside of the current norm.
Why do stores not simply list fresh foods items as 50 percent off at night, an hour or so before closing? That seems to make sense to avoid waste and still make some money.
It makes so much sense – and people love a good deal. Berkeley Bowl estimates it sells $1,500 per day of produce off its bargain shelf, which offers bags of damaged or nearly expired produce for 99 cents. Andronico's Community Markets is running a program with Food Star to sell cosmetically imperfect produce at a low cost, and Zero Percent is a technology that is allowing food establishments to post their surplus through an online application at either a discount or for donation. These are all great innovations that more businesses should adopt to reduce waste, save money, and protect the environment.
Are there models for food waste elsewhere in the world (that you’ve read or seen) that you would like to see implemented here in the US?
The United Kingdom is leading the way on this issue. A campaign there called Love Food Hate Waste has reduced food waste by 18 percent over the course of five years. The UK has also standardized date labels so they are not so confusing for consumers. Many grocery stores there provide storage instructions for fruits and vegetables and informational tips and ads are displayed in over 12,000 stores. Instead of buy-one-get-one-free promotions, some UK stores are piloting a buy-one-give-one-free or get one later program. I also really like Rubbies in the Rubble – a company in the UK making jam and chutney from rescued produce.
What can each person do?
Become a food waste champion within your family and circle of friends! There are lots of recipes and other tips online. Here is a storage guide.