Jollywood is a merry-sounding name for the home of Haiti’s only film school: the Ciné Institute. That sense of promise will be showcased Jan. 24 in New York City during Haiti Optimiste, the school’s first ever fundraiser.
Following the lead of "Bollywood" (the center of the Indian film industry in Bombay, now called Mumbai) the school crossed the first letter of its town (Jacmel) and the center of the world film industry (Hollywood) with the hope of making "Jollywood" a name recognized around the world.
The institute has come to one of the world's media capitals, New York, to solicit funds and publicize its work. “We felt this was a cause coherent with the cultural mission we are promoting here in New York. We felt we should really support the school,” says Marie-Monique Steckel, president of French Institute Alliance Française (FIAF).
Three years after a strong earthquake devastated Haiti, the school has made great strides. But many challenges persist. The country has few local industries, scant natural resources, and much of its infrastructure remains in disrepair. Yet, through a combination of perseverance and generosity, Ciné Institute stands ready to celebrate.
The New York event, Haiti Optimiste, will feature a collection of new films from Ciné Institute’s students. Actor Ben Stiller, director Jonathan Demme, and Ciné Institute founder David Belle will participate in a panel discussion about recent films. Bravo’s Top Chef contestant chef Ron Duprat will be on hand, as well as Haitian songstress Emeline Michel and celebrity fashion photographer Marc Baptiste.
The fundraiser is as much about building awareness as it is financial support, says Mr. Belle, CEO of Artists for Peace and Justice and founder of Ciné Institute. Funds raised will be applied toward free tuition at Ciné Institute.
Haiti Optimiste represents a relatively new but dynamic partnership between FIAF and Ciné Institute, Ms. Steckel says.
Six months after the earthquake she traveled to Jacmel and met Belle.
“What touched me the most about Jacmel was that six months later it was [as if the earthquake] had happened the day before. I had the impression that aid had been suspended,” Steckel says. “The one institution making strides in rebuilding was Ciné Institute. Students were coming on foot and by bike. What really impressed me was the contrast of total destruction and the idea that this small institution was really determined to make a future.”
The visit convinced Steckel to help Belle rebuild Ciné Institute.
The two-year school introduces young people to educational and technological opportunities and, most importantly, jobs, Steckel says. Haiti has a 40.6 percent unemployment rate, according to the Central Intelligence Agency’s 2013 World Fact Book. Institute programs include training in fiction, documentary making, and television advertising.
The 2010 earthquake destroyed all three of the school’s original buildings. Almost immediately the staff and students started working out of tents. By May 2010 the school had stabilized enough to begin anew.
Today Ciné Institute occupies an empty hotel situated on a 5.5-acre campus overlooking the Caribbean Sea. About 70 students attend the school.
Students hope Jollywood can become the next Nollywood, which is named for Nigeria’s film industry, the third-largest in the world, Belle says.
“The obvious perception of Haiti is extremely negative. The news portrays it as full of violence, destruction, corruption, and disease,” Belle says. “I’ve been living there for 20 years, and I’m not a glutton for punishment. I remain there because I see so much potential and creativity in Haiti, and that will be very much on display on the stage” Jan. 24.
And this year will bring more changes.
Construction will soon begin on a studio for audio and music production. Donations from Lionel Richie’s and Quincy Jones’ “We are the World Foundation” made the project possible. The school will also change its name to The Artists Institute of Haiti. Ciné Institute will remain as the film school within the institute.
Manhattan Borough President Scott M. Stringer and the Haitian Roundtable, an organization of Haitian-American professionals committed to philanthropic endeavors on behalf of Haiti, recently presented an Honorary Haitian Award to Belle for his work.
For her part Steckel hopes the Jan. 24 fundraiser will be the first of many. In New York City, where there is a large and well-established Haitian community, Steckel says, “It’s important to celebrate the proud [Haitian] cultural tradition.”
But this Saturday (Jan. 19) in Washington, as well as around the country, is also a National Day of Service, calling on Americans to volunteer to serve others. In just one event some 10,000 people are expected to gather at the D.C. Armory for the biggest single service project of the weekend – putting together 100,000 thank-you "care kits" for US military personnel, disabled veterans, and civilian first responders.
A major force in organizing the effort is the Points of Light Foundation, created in 1990 after then-President George H.W. Bush invoked the vision of volunteers as a "thousand points of light" in his inaugural address the previous year. Points of Light describes itself as "an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that encourages and empowers the spirit of service."
From President Kennedy onward presidents "all have this shared belief in a call to the American people" to engage in civic-minded activity, says Michelle Nunn, the CEO of Points of Light. The fact that presidents of both political parties, right up to Mr. Obama, have been strong supporters of volunteerism "shows the common ground around service," she says.
Volunteering can be a great antidote to the discouragement of sharply partisan politics. "People are disheartened about the polarization they see reflected in the political landscape [today]," Ms. Nunn says. "So one of the themes of the Martin Luther King Jr. weekend is 'unite in America's service.'
"And I do believe that if you look at the history of this country, and you think about one of the defining characteristics of this country, it has been … that we have a great civic spirit and a great sense of citizenship and service."
Volunteering is a reminder, Nunn says, "that there's a lot more that we can act upon and create change around than what seems to be the paralysis in Washington."
The economic hard times of recent years have upped the need for volunteers – and Americans have been responding, she says.
"Everyone knows someone who's been struggling," Nunn says, "so I think it makes people more empathetic."
While financial philanthropy is "critical and important," she says, it's been shown that "people who volunteer their time are more likely to give more [financial donations], and more often, than people who don't."
Volunteers also gain a sense of satisfaction that can't be underestimated. And volunteering means making new connections and new friendships – it's "being about something that's larger than yourself," she says. "And most important is the feeling of having made a difference. All the great faith traditions point you to [the idea] that people find meaning in life by being of service to others."
Today people from nine to 90 are finding new and creative ways to give back to their communities and the world, she says. A dentist might offer free care to the poor, a graphic designer might help a nonprofit group tell its story better, or a plumbing executive might start a tutoring program for youths. The ways to serve are endless.
Social media has allowed volunteers to organize more quickly. She's seen 14-year-olds start volunteer projects that in a matter of weeks or months go national or even international.
"I think that's one of the really exciting things, and that's all been made possible through technology," Nunn says. "I just think people are more powerful now than they ever have been to be change agents and that we're seeing that happen all the time…. It's an exciting time for volunteer service."
Everyone has something that they can give, she says. "There are always ways for people to create change and make a difference."
Tomorrow's Washington D.C. event, creating care packages for American military personnel and American veterans, is an example of an activity that anyone can participate in and support.
"I think the country is totally united in the belief that we really must and need to support our military men and women who are returning to civilian life [or] … returning to combat," Nunn says. "It was an easy thing to think about rallying around these real heroes."
• People who would like to volunteer this weekend in Washington DC or elsewhere, or in the future, should visit PointsofLight.org.
Mike Rea, founder of Give2Asia, calls the 2004 Asian tsunamis the “first global disaster of our time.”
Now an employee of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Mr. Rea wanted to use the disaster’s 10th anniversary to investigate what had become of the millions of dollars his group contributed, and the many people it aspired to help.
Then he learned that Hollywood was producing its own retrospective (of sorts) on the tsunamis. Even better, he thought, for educating people about a once-devastated land and ways to respond effectively in the wake of natural emergencies.
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Mr. Rea traveled to Sri Lanka in August where he filmed a “mini-documentary” called “To Sandy From Sri Lanka: Lessons in Diversified Disaster Giving.” He reached out to the producers of The Impossible, who invited him to the premiere of the film and enabled him to interview its director, Juan Antonio Bayona. Mr. Rea also released a “viewer’s guide” to the movie; so far, it’s received at least 12,000 views. (The project is a personal one, not part of Mr. Rea’s work with Gates).
One of his hopes is to give people a richer understanding of the tsunamis than they can get through The Impossible. The film focuses on a white family of tourists whose visit to Thailand is disrupted by the disaster.
“Every single Thai character is at the service of foreign tourists,” says Mr. Rea. “You have no sense that their own lives have been turned upside down. It’s a missed opportunity.”
His other goal is to help inform disaster philanthropy. Mr. Rea’s takeaways, in broad strokes, are relatively simple:
• Make gifts not only to the Oxfams of the world but also to community groups. (Or, in the case of New York’s Superstorm Sandy, “Give to Occupy Sandy and community foundations as well as the Red Cross,” he says.)
• Give “when emotions are high,” he suggests, but also later — six months or a year after the disaster, when it becomes clearer which nonprofits are doing an effective job and still need cash.
• Write checks; don’t send used clothes.
Mr. Rea’s trip to Sri Lanka was mostly encouraging. A vocational-training center to which Give2Asia sent $500,000 had expanded its programs and served as a “safe haven” during the country’s civil war, says Mr. Rea. A $50,000 grant paid for 100 people to be trained in culinary skills. He learned that many of the program’s graduates were thriving in businesses overseas.
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With hindsight, Mr. Rea says he wished he’d done more to help women who participated in the program but chose not to leave their homes and families for work.
Still, he says, the experience taught him that giving to local groups often pays off over the long term. ”It’s a big investment that’s been sustained after the crash of post-tsunami philanthropic aid died,” he said.
Mr. Rea is plotting next steps for “Tsunami Plus 10″— he has two more years, after all, until the storm’s anniversary — and he plans additional trips to the region.
“This is not the first rape case, and this is obviously not the last, but the kind of fire it has ignited in the hearts of millions is what differentiates this case from the rest,” says Sakshi Kumar, founder of Justice for Women, a grass-roots initiative offering free self-defense and martial arts classes to women across India.
Kumar is referring to the fatal Dec. 16 gang-rape attack of a 23-year-old physiotherapy student in Delhi, which continues to make international headlines and spur a national outcry of protests, demonstrations, and political unrest in this country of 1.2 billion.
As the trial of the five suspects, including a sixth person who will be tried in juvenile court, is under way, a number of social enterprises, nonprofits, and international movements are reacting to the larger discussion of women’s rights.
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Justice for Women, entirely volunteer-led, began as a Twitter hashtag in response to the Guwahati molestation case. Kumar decided to take action through social media and set-up a blog, Facebook Page and YouTube channel, forming an online platform to marshal resources and stand up for women who have been wronged. Seven months later, Justice for Women now organizes classes that teach women everything from Krav Maga to karate in academies and institutes willing to volunteer their services.
In addition to the free workshops, Kumar adds, “We’ve written letters to various authorities suggesting ways to cure the crisis of gender inequality in our country; by means of our blog, we’ve been educating women about laws and rights on various issues from cyber stalking to domestic violence; we guide women in need to appropriate organizations where they could get immediate help.”
Conversations addressing sexual assault continue online at Gotstared.at, winner of the 2012 U.N. World Summit Youth Award in the category “Power 2 Women”. Dhruv Arora founded the site to create a virtual platform inviting women around the world to upload pictures of what they wore when being harassed.
Arora said he started Gotstared.at in January 2012, during a time when many claimed that women who dress provocatively invite rape. With over 14,000 “likes” on his Facebook Page, Mr. Arora also posts posters with bold statements about the issues of rape and sexual violence to “get a conversation started around these much-ignored issues.”
The Equal Community Foundation (ECF) takes a unique approach to women’s rights — mobilizing men to uplift women. The nonprofit organization, based in Pune, India, runs “behavior-change programs” such as its Action for Equality program, engaging men aged 14 to 17 in low-income urban communities to be positive agents of change.
Founder and CEO of ECF, Will Muir, says its focus is on violence and gender-based discrimination. Through his work he aims to inspire a new generation of social programming and professionals who dedicate their lives to the cause of women and child rights.
In response to the Delhi gang-rape, Mr. Muir notes that “there are men in every community who care, and there are organizations, albeit only a handful, working to develop methods that will tackle this problem at its root. This is an issue that can only be solved with men, and we want you to know that ECF’s staff and volunteers care and want to help.”
According to a 2005 UNFPA report, India’s national sex ratio is 933 females per 1,000 males, largely due to female foeticide, infanticide, and discrimination against girls. ECF states only 5 percent of organizations in India engage men as part of the solution, and it wishes to change this statistic.
Activist and famed playwright of the Vagina Monologues, Eve Ensler, had this to say: “If the good men who are not doing the raping, if the good fathers who are teaching different things do not rise up and speak to the other men and train, educate, and work with the other men, we will never end violence against women and girls.” Ms. Ensler is currently touring India and Bangladesh promoting her One Billion Rising campaign, an international movement calling 1 billion women and girls to action on the 15th year anniversary of V-Day on February 14, 2013.
For Gauri Singh, CEO and founder of The Maids’ Company, the recent uproar over the gang-rape attack meant creating a shuttle system to safely transport her female employees to and from work. Based in the outskirts of Delhi, Singh’s social enterprise, which she started 18 months ago, manages 90 maids who are also co-owners of the company and share equity.
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Ms. Gauri states that her work is focused on “the economic independence of women – both low-income and middle-high income women. Through [The Maids’ Company] we provide secure jobs with good wages to low-income migrant urban women.” With increased income, women are able to resist domestic violence and improve their bargaining position in their families, Gauri believes.
“For me personally, the situation at home has changed a little,” Kumar says. Calling Delhi home, she adds that everyone has become more vigilant and proactive.
“Women have started carrying weapons like pepper spray and knives along. They’re realizing that it’s as much their responsibility as anyone else’s to ensure safety.”
For more information about the social enterprises, nonprofits, and movements mentioned:
Justice For Women (comprised of a team of four volunteers — Sakshi Kumar, Dr. Anita Hada Sangwan, Ankita Garg, Zena Costa)
Gotstared.at (founded by Dhruv Arora)
Equal Community Foundation (founded by Will Muir)
One Billion Rising campaign (founded by Eve Ensler )
The Maids’ Company (founded by Gauri Singh)
In India, one iconoclastic solar company employs deep knowledge of the ways communities use energy to overthrow the traditional means of bringing power to the people.
Now, coming off a September meeting with President Barack Obama, Bangalore, India, -based SELCO is stepping into the light of international attention. As a UN report (PDF) from last year shows, it's been a difficult journey—and one with lots of lessons for other social enterprises.
Since 1994, SELCO has transitioned from a simple solar-light provider to an energy-solution company seeking to correct the failings of the Indian energy market and provide affordable energy to the poor.
Founder Harish Hande, a University of Massachusetts Ph.D who'd become enthusiastic about rural solar energy during field work in the Dominican Republic and Sri Lanka, says he set out to dispel three myths when he launched the company from an office in his aunt's home:
1) Poor people cannot afford sustainable technologies;
2) Poor people cannot maintain sustainable technologies;
3) Social ventures cannot be run as commercial entities.
The Indian energy market has largely failed the rural poor, explains the UN report, because “most of India’s rural population does not have access to electricity. Instead, they are dependent on highly polluting and inefficient sources of energy such as kerosene or forest wood.” India’s massive blackouts this summer reveal major problems even for the people connected to the central power grid. Solar options have been present, but no banks were willing to make loans for the high start-up costs of solar energy. Furthermore, rural inhabitants had formed a negative perception of solar power based on government-installed solar street lights that were not maintained and would stop functioning after a few months.
SELCO acted to correct these breakdowns with a business model built on products and services people needed. In the mid 1990s, Hande began fixing some of the pre-existing solar street lights and training locals on how to maintain the technology themselves. Fast-forward a few years: these now-experienced technicians were snapped up by SELCO as employees.
At SELCO’s inception, Hande insisted that the company be a commercial enterprise rather than dependent on grants, which could run out or be unreliable. He felt that the poor would “be willing to pay for technology if they found it useful.”
Drawing on various equity investments and early loans from Tata BP Solar and USAID, through SELCO’s US-based non-profit partner Winrock International, Hande was able to set up three rural service centers, “which were essential for creating a sustainable rural delivery model.” By relying on the local, experienced solar technicians from its service centers, SELCO was able to provide reliable solar power to even the remotest of customers. The technician customizes SELCO’s products and services based on his local knowledge of the customer.
The UN report describes a hypothetical customer:
"His need is for a minimum of four lights, one each for the kitchen, bedroom, living room, and cowshed. However, a deeper understanding of his lifestyle might reveal that while he needs these four rooms to be lighted, the rooms need not be lighted simultaneously."
A smart SELCO salesperson would install technology for four lights but only sell the customer two actual lamps.
The solar technicians literally sat with midwives during nighttime births and calculated budgets with street vendors to determine the ways each used electricity and when it was needed most. Hande explains:
"Today, when we design a solution for a midwife, a vegetable vendor, or a mason, we begin with the precept that the solution must pay for itself. It should be financed from the additional income that it generates. There is a big difference between creating a want and selling a product, and identifying a need and designing a solution to fulfill it. We always want to focus on the need."
SELCO's name for the individualized, one-day-at-a-time repayment plan for each client, based directly on the cash flow freed up by the solar lights, is "doorstep financing." It's a format the company believes deeply in, going so far as to organize field trips for loan-wielding bankers to show how valuable solar power is to its customers.
But even the best ideas can fail if the global market takes a turn in the wrong direction, as they did in 2005 when SELCO diversified its supplier base for cheaper products and Germany started subsidizing its solar market, causing global prices to plummet. On the edge of financial disaster, Hande stabilized company costs and reassessed its business model. SELCO eventually climbed into profitability by 2008 after a second round of funding from socially oriented investors such as International Finance Corporation, E+Co, and Good Energies and Lemelson Foundation.
What might have become a fatal crisis for SELCO turned out to be a useful course correction.
“In retrospect, Harish feels that those difficult days helped SELCO not only refine its business model but also to have a better set of investors whose philosophy is aligned to that of SELCO,” concludes the UN study.
SELCO had determined that its success depended on several key practices: reliance on a network of locally connected salespeople, all of them on staff; a strong, flexible relationship with a single reliable supplier, Tata BP; and, above all, an intimate knowledge of the electricity needs of its customers.
Strong relationships with philosophically aligned investors, suppliers, employees, and clients, coupled with an unwavering mission to its social objective, are key to SELCO’s success.
This approach is also the reason SELCO’s growth strategy is to replicate itself rather than to scale up the original business. Hande recognizes that for long-term growth, SELCO must continue to operate in the context and communities of the people it serves and understands best. A growth alternative—setting more and more aggressive sales targets in existing locations—might actually lead the company to turn away from the low-income buyers it aspires to serve.
Today, 90 percent of SELCO’s clients pay for their solar systems with credit. SELCO technicians work out of one of the company's 25 energy service centers, which employ 170 people in Karnataka and Gujarat. They have "sold solar lighting to more than 110,000 rural homes and to 4,000 institutions” and, with the help of the aforementioned social investors, aim to reach twice that number.
The UN study concludes with Hande explaining, “It is better if we now focus on building other SELCOs rather than trying to grow this SELCO.”
“Every staffer, including Hande, is an employee," notes Business Today. "The firm does not take out profits but reinvests in the business.”
The result has been a good idea that has led to other good ideas, like a small local startup that leases SELCO lights to street vendors who only need them part of the day. Today, SELCO's "innovation department and incubation laboratory," funded in partnership with the Self Employed Women's Association Bank, sets out to “explore and generate new ideas that can be developed into products and services to address needs of the poor.”
And the benefits of SELCO to its clients? Some cite “the significant savings in energy costs as their primary benefit ... the rest pointed to their children’s education.” The impact on pollution, meanwhile, “is yet to be quantified."
As Hande steps back from the company he founded 15 years ago to focus on other innovations for the poor, SELCO is doing about $3 million in business. Hande feels that could increase to $10 million in the coming years, but he believes that “fresh ideas, fresh legs” from the younger leaders are the ones to take SELCO forward.
Social Vigil explains that Hande hopes to “replicate the SELCO model across India” and create six centers of innovation for the poor by 2017. And as Business Today reports, he "wants to reach out to still poorer people, work with the poorest of the poor. He wants 20 percent of SELCO's turnover this year to come from families with a monthly income of Rs 3,000 [USD $55] or less."
The UN findings mark SELCO as a truly market-driven enterprise with sustainable, large-scale impact in rural Karnataka. The hundreds of millions of Indians who lack energy have every reason to hope that SELCO's many reinventions will continue.
With its tiny houses nestled along the main road and its red-brick church, Töpchin — just 25 miles outside of Berlin — is a traditional-looking Brandenburg village. But heading east through the marshland that borders the village, a visitor encounters the unexpected: five huge Asian water buffaloes.
The species was native to Europe until 10,000 years ago, when hunting shrunk its range to the continent’s far southeast. So Germans know these beasts only from pictures of them in fields and rice paddies in Asia. “Some people are really confused when they see the water buffaloes,” says Holger Rössling, the man who set the animals free in Töpchin in the summer of 2011. But the black creatures with massive horns and an impressively muscular build appear to be very much at ease in their new home. And they are meant to stay.
Rössling is a project manager with the Brandenburg Nature Conservation Fund, a government agency in the federal state surrounding Berlin. The group brought in the water buffaloes from a special breeder in France so they would graze threatened tracts of fens and remnant inland salt marshes, as German cows have long since lost their affinity for grazing in such wet or nutrient-poor environments.
The Töpchin project is an example of a growing conservation trend in Europe — using large, exotic herbivores to enhance the diversity of native flora and fauna. Many people still believe that nature conservation is all about leaving native plants and animals alone, or restoring their habitats to a wild state. But in a world dominated by humans and rapid environmental change, things have become more complicated. The answer isn’t always to strive for a regionally “pure” mix of native species. A growing number of conservationists now seek to employ exotic species for managing native biodiversity.
“Our landscape is dominated by human use, so we should allow ourselves to be creative and flexible with how to manage it for maintaining biodiversity,” says Reinhold Leinfelder, a bio-geologist at the Free University of Berlin and former director of Berlin’s Natural History Museum.
What is happening in Germany is complementary to so-called “rewilding,” a global movement that aims to expand core wilderness areas, connect them via corridors that allow humans and animals to co-exist, and protect and reintroduce top predators. One initiative, Rewilding Europe, led by conservation groups such as WWF, aims by 2020 to rewild 1 million hectares (2.47 million acres) of land spread across 10 reserves, from Spain, to the Danube, to the Carpathian Mountains. By contrast, the projects in Germany aim to restore and create biologically enriched landscapes shaped by humans.
Within a short time, a number of similar projects like the one in Töpchin have sprung up across Germany. Only a few kilometers west of Berlin, the Heinz Sielmann Foundation has set free 19 Przhevalsky horses, natives of Mongolia, along with 41 European bison, in the Döberitzer heathland, a former military training ground. The goal is for the wild horses and European bison to regularly graze the area, cropping tree saplings and encouraging the spread of heat-loving species found in the heathland.
A third project near Berlin that uses large herbivores for conservation is set in another truly anthropogenic landscape — a former sewage treatment farm. In the 1980s, the sewage farm was shut down and discussions ensued about what to do with the property. Since 2011, the result is a project that aims to create one of the largest sylvan pasture areas in Europe.
“On more than 800 hectares [2,000 acres], we are now trying to create this new landscape type that is ideal for rare and endangered species — an open forest,” says Andreas Schulze, project manager for Nature in the Barnim Region, a public/private partnership of local authorities, environmental organizations, organic farms, and private citizens.
Schulze uses yet another mix of herbivores for the grazing: Koniks — ponies supposedly derived from the ancient European wild horse — as well as British cattle varieties like the White Park and the Scottish Highland, which are more robust and thus cope better with rugged and wet terrain than ordinary German cows. In Holland’s Oostvaardersplassen nature reserve, a similar mix of koniks and other herbivores is used to keep biodiversity levels high.
“Grazing with koniks and other large herbivores is the best approach for conservation in Germany,” says Josef Reichholf, a prominent zoologist and evolutionary biologist from Munich’s Technical University, who has long advocated the reintroduction of large herbivores to enhance biodiversity in Germany’s human-dominated landscape. Reichholf points out that the German landscape is exposed to a constant downpour of fertilizer from the sky, as car and factory exhausts add nitrous oxides to the atmosphere. This airborne fertilizer helps nonspecialized plants grow, which reduces and finally excludes rare plant species adapted to nutrient-poor habitats. Dense vegetation also creates a damp, cool surface microclimate, which is detrimental to many species of insects and birds of the open landscape. Large herbivores crop this excessive plant growth, allowing rarer native species to flourish.
Unlike in the tropics, large parts of Europe’s biological diversity of animals and plants occur outside of forests: on meadows, in fens, and on heathlands.
“We need the buffaloes to remove biomass, otherwise these sites would loose their special plants and be overgrown by ubiquitous species,” says Rössling from the Brandenburg Nature Conservation Fund. And what of German cows? “Buffaloes are very resilient, they have strong hooves and munch away on nearly all kinds of plants, whereas modern cows are simply not adjusted any more to living in marshlands,” he says.
Zoologist Reichholf sees a wider importance of experiments like those around Berlin for the whole of Europe. Currently, European consumers eat meat and drink milk mainly from cows kept in large, industrial facilities and fed with imported soy from rainforest nations.
“We can’t continue like this and have to learn again how to obtain milk and meat from a biologically diverse landscape,” he says. The German projects showcase how nature conservation and meat production could go hand in hand. “The current projects should be viewed as an important reality tests for a much broader application,” Reichholf says.
The three projects demonstrate that in Europe today conservationists must often apply intensive management strategies if they want to keep biodiversity high. After centuries of human use, returning to a state of wilderness will often make landscapes poorer in species, not richer, hence the rationale behind many conservation schemes in Germany that involve introducing exotic grazers. It’s well established among biologists here that the large forests covering Germany after the end of the last Ice Age were poorer in species than the “cultural landscape” that developed later through human use. The big loss of biodiversity started with industrialization and the introduction of modern farming techniques.
German conservationists long tried to re-establish the pre-industrial landscape of the 18th and 19th centuries, following romantic ideals of beauty and untouched nature. Rössling’s project is departing from that traditional baseline — by many millennia. Buffalo are a reintroduction that reaches back more than 10,000 years. But the true reference point is the future, says Rössling. He sees himself building something new with the best available blend of species, even if they have not been native for a long time, or are not native at all.
“These projects make more diversity possible in a landscape that suffers from industrial agriculture,” says Gerhard Wiegleb, professor for ecology at the Brandenburg Technical University of Cottbus. He notes that water buffaloes long lived in Europe and that close relatives of the Przhevalsky horses also inhabited the continent until roughly 10,000 years ago. “They appear exotic, but they are not totally alien here in their ecological role as large herbivores,” says Wiegleb.
He says the key in reintroducing species that disappeared long ago is intensive monitoring of the effect of these large herbivores on the landscape. “Many projects are started with good intentions, but then there is a lack of scientific data to see what has happened,” says Wiegleb. The projects around Berlin are too new to have been effectively studied.
These projects highlight the challenges of nature conservation in what US author Emma Marris calls the modern “rambunctious garden” of novel ecosystems. Many scientists now even proclaim a new geological epoch, the Anthropocene, in which the long-held boundaries between nature and culture vanish due to the huge impact of humans on the planet.
At the Töpchin project, the Asian water buffaloes were introduced using European Union funds and an “eco-compensation” payment from the construction of the Berlin Schönefeld Airport, due to open in 2013. Over the past millennia of post-glacial landscape development, Brandenburg has harbored tens of thousands of hectares of uncommon habitats, such as calcareous fens, a subtype of wetland rich in calcium and home to marsh orchids and rare feather mosses.
Another increasingly rare habitat is the region’s inland salt meadows, located on the leftovers of an ancient ocean. These habitats are home to a unique mix of animal and plant species, like milk seaweed, that normally only occur far away along the North Sea and Baltic coasts. But in recent decades drainage and industrial agriculture have shrunk these habitats dramatically.
Closer to the city is the 3,400-hectare (8,400-acre) Döberitz heath reserve that for 300 years was used as a military training area — first by the Prussian army, then the Nazis, and until 1989 by Soviet forces. The heavy shelling and use of tanks created a landscape that is exceptionally open and nutrient-poor. A wide range of species that like sandy, warm habitats have moved in, including nightjars and hoopoes, two bird species that have become rare in recent decades. But given the nitrogen-enriched rain and dense forests in the region, the heathland would be overrun by trees without intensive human management.
In 2011, the Sielmann foundation began setting free European bison and introducing Przhevalsky horses, which largely went extinct in their native Mongolia in the 1960s but have since been bred by zoos, including one in Munich, Germany. The heath offers the bison and Przhevalsky horses a semi-natural habitat that they like, and they keep the landscape open for rare specialists, such as St. Bernard’s lily and marsh gentian.
“The horses’ and bisons’ positive effect on the heathland is already measurable after a very short time,” says Peter Nitschke, head of the Döberitz heath project. The foundation is financing the project in part with entrance fees for a wildlife compound that has become popular for Berlin families.
In Töpchin, local residents have warmed to their exotic neighbors. “At first, we were very skeptical,” says Kerstin Simon, who runs a farm with her husband Detlef. “We thought conservationists wanted to set more land aside for nonuse.”
Soon, however, the Simon family discovered that the buffalo project was a great opportunity for them. They have allowed the animals to graze on their land, too, and they can slaughter an animal from time to time. Later this year, the Simons will start marketing meat and sausage from water buffaloes. “We reckon Berliner city dwellers will like it as a taste of the wild,” says Kerstin Simon.
• Christian Schwägerl, is a freelance journalist who writes for GEO magazine and the Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper. Until last year he was Der Spiegel’s environment correspondent. He is the author, with Andreas Rinke, of the recently published "11 Looming Wars," which discusses potential future conflicts over technology, food, territory, and resources. In previous articles for Yale Environment 360, Schwägerl wrote about a unique nature reserve being created along the spine of Germany’s former Iron Curtain and about the rise of urban beekeeping in Berlin.
Soccer is the most popular sport in the world. So why not harness its power for good?
That’s exactly what a start-up based in New York City is doing — literally.
The company, Uncharted Play, has designed a fully functional soccer ball called the SOCCKET which can power an LED light. One minute of kicking around this portable generator produces around six minutes of light. Children in developing countries without reliable sources of electricity can play their favorite game and then plug in the light to read, do homework, and help illuminate their homes.
“We designed the SOCCKET for children and families who could not only use the light, but were in the most dire need of a sense of hope — of having a product that addresses an issue in their lives in a positive way,” Jessica Matthews, CEO and co-founder of Uncharted Play, tells Latitude News.
More than a billion families around the world use kerosene lamps as their primary source of light because electricity is either unavailable or too expensive. But as well as being a serious fire risk, kerosene lamps also endanger the health of those who breathe their fumes. The World Bank says living in an enclosed space with kerosene lamps is the equivalent of smoking two packs of cigarettes a day — that’s probably why, in the developing world, an incredible two-thirds of women with lung cancer are nonsmokers, according to the BBC.
The SOCCKET is one innovative alternative to kerosene. Matthews explains that the ball contains a pendulum, or gyroscope-like device, inside it.
“As the ball rolls, the mechanism also rolls, harnessing kinetic energy and then storing it inside a simple battery,” she says.
The SOCCKET is currently being used in poor communities in 10 nations around Latin America and West Africa, including Mexico, Brazil, Nigeria, and, most recently, Haiti. Uncharted Play works with larger corporate partners like State Farm and Western Union, which pay for the balls, and NGO’s like Promundo and Children International, which distribute them. Bill Clinton endorsed the project in a speech at George Washington University last March, and high-profile musicians like Linkin Park and K’naan have also pitched the SOCCKET at their concerts.
Promundo, a Brazilian charity, held a trial workshop with the SOCCKET in Brazil in June. Eighty children participated in a soccer tournament that doubled as a conversation on sustainability. Tatiana Moura, executive director of Promundo, says the event was “quite successful” and that the lights worked well. The kids who participated in the pilot will each receive a ball when Promundo begins distributing them later in the year.
Matthews estimates Uncharted Play has produced 15,000 balls since she and Chief Social Officer Julia Silverman founded the company in May of 2011. They’re working on a model with a USB port so people can charge their cell phones too.
The SOCCKET started as a group project at a class at Harvard College in 2008. The assignment? Find a real world problem and solve it. Matthews, Silverman, and two other women chose the lack of electricity in developing countries.
“We weren’t trying to change the world,” says Matthews. “By no means where we trying to do anything beyond not failing the class.”
And Matthews — who believes many entrepreneurs start out with lofty goals that end up putting too much pressure on their fragile enterprises — says changing the world isn’t her mission right now either. After all, there are a variety of solar lamps and wood-burning stoves that would be more effective in eliminating kerosene use in poor countries on a grand scale.
But Matthews, a social psychology and economics major, believes the SOCCKET can also be effective as a teaching tool. She hopes children who use it will be inspired to think creatively about problems in their own lives and communities.
“The impact of a product never stops with its pure utility,” she argues. “Part of what we’re trying to do is promote the idea of empowering the person who’s using the product, getting that person to start thinking in a different way. The challenge is: can we create inventors and innovators everywhere we go?”
Matthews is certainly an innovator herself, but no engineer. She says her team struggled at first to come up with a suitable design.
The most difficult part of the process was finding the right material for the outside of the SOCCKET. Early versions didn’t play like a normal soccer ball. And creating a product capable of withstanding tough conditions in the developing world was much more challenging than designing the generator and battery. After seven different models, Uncharted Play has settled on a recyclable, light-weight foam that’s difficult to puncture and keeps the ball inflated without air being pumped inside.
“Some of the most mundane features of a product are the usually the hardest to actually get right,” she says.
Matthews was born in the US, but her parents are Nigerian, and she’s a dual citizen. She travels there frequently. Her life abroad has raised her awareness of problems in the developing world, but she’s wary of describing herself as a “social entrepreneur,” a popular term for businesspeople who balance profit and charity in their work.
“For me personally,” she says, “it’s just entrepreneurship — providing a solution for a problem people have in a way that’s worthwhile or useful enough that they’re willing to spend something or offer something in return.”
Matthews is currently an MBA candidate at Harvard Business School, and Uncharted Play is a business, not an NGO. And she says its important for young entrepreneurs to look beyond the US for new ideas.
“It’s hard to do something new in America because we already have so much,” she continues. “Here, the next big thing is usually an app that tells you what kind of superhero you’re most like. But it’s a lot easier to do something meaningful in places where providing clean water or electricity or even self-confidence is a big deal.”
Uncharted Play is now working on the “Ludo” (Latin for “I play”), a smart ball with a chip inside it that tracks how long you play with it. You earn points for each minute of play and can “spend” them on real-world items for charitable projects.
“It’s purposeful, fun, and trying to use ‘play’ to make a difference in the world,” Matthews says. “We’re trying to share the online world with the offline world in a cool, new way.”
Uncharted Play expects to do a full US release of the Ludo — which will be marketed to consumers in the developed world — in August 2013. You can watch a video about the ball here.
The D.C. Promise Neighborhood Initiative, one of the country’s premier efforts to lift children out of poverty by offering a comprehensive array of educational and social services, has won a five-year, $25-million federal grant to step up its work.
The grant, one of just seven of its kind that the Education Department awarded last month, was an especially sweet victory for the Washington project, which is working to turn around the city’s Parkside-Kenilworth neighborhood. Last year, it failed to win a similar award because it missed the application deadline due to technical problems it faced when e-mailing its proposal.
This time, the group’s leaders left no stone unturned to ensure the application met all of the federal agency’s specifications, says Ayris Scales, the executive director—who now calls the project “the comeback kid” and says she feels like “Cinderella at the ball.”
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The Washington effort is among dozens across the country that are following an approach pioneered by Geoffrey Canada, founder of Harlem Children’s Zone, which involves marshaling schools, nonprofits, and other community organizations to help children in troubled neighborhoods from “cradle to college.”
With strong backing from President Obama, Congress has allocated money each year since 2010 to support projects called “Promise Neighborhoods” across the country. The D.C. group received a $500,000 planning grant in 2010, then made its failed bid last year for a much bigger award to put its plans into effect.
The Chronicle has been following the group’s ups and downs as a way to look in-depth at the challenges of spreading this idea outside New York.
The organization will use its 2012 grant to expand a new approach to boost the impact of its work—an effort it dubs “Five Promises for Two Generations.”
The goal is to provide more services to single mothers with children up to age 8, for example helping them get schooling and job training, Ms. Scales says.
“When we invest in mothers, we invest in children,” she says, “and you get greater returns.”
She says the project plans to increase the project’s full-time staff members from four to 30.
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The D.C. effort—which unites two public schools, two charter schools, city agencies, corporations, social-services, and medical groups—has raised $30-million in cash and donated services to match the federal grant.
That money could come in handy given federal budget wrangles. The Education Department announced the group would get $25 million over five years but said only $1.9 million would be allocated immediately. The rest must be approved by Congress in annual spending bills.
The Promise Neighborhoods budget grew from $10 million in the 2010 fiscal year to $60 million in the 2012 fiscal year. President Obama proposed increasing the budget to $100 million this fiscal year, but Congress has not yet approved a 2013 budget because of partisan bickering and has kept spending at 2012 levels.
• Note: See The Chronicle’s package of articles about the D.C. Promise Neighborhood Initiative.
Hasna Muktar, a traditional birth attendant in remote Sankuri village in northern Kenya, has met her share of challenges while delivering babies, from snakebites and threatening hyenas to the choking fumes of kerosene lamps that are widely used to provide a feeble light at night-time deliveries.
But that last problem, at least, is now being overcome, thanks to the installation of solar panels and bright, low-energy LED lights.
‘’The solar lamp has made my deliveries and women's education work simple, as I charge it during the day and start using it at night,” Muktar said. “In the past we use to worry on the cost of the kerosene but now everything is in front of our door.’’
Sankuri village is 300 kilometers (186 miles) from the main regional town of Garissa, and the arid area has poor communication and transport networks, forcing residents to use donkey carts and camels to ferry patients to hospitals.
The journey takes seven days to Garissa, and many patients die on the way before receiving medical attention. Women in labor are particularly vulnerable, with obstructed delivery often resulting in fistula or the death of mother and child.
But traditional midwives in Sankuri offer an alternative – and one that is now solar-powered.
As the scorching sun sets on the horizon, a group of eight heavily pregnant women walk into the expansive compound where Muktar has her "delivery room," consultation room, and training room, where she educates both pregnant and other women on behavioral change and family planning.
The facility is built with sticks and grass, and the only source of water is from a shallow well. There is no electricity.
The lack of power in the past meant Muktar had to use a kerosene lamp at night to attend to births and other emergencies, and to wind her way through the bush and along village paths to home facing dangers such as snake bites, attack by hyenas, and stepping on thorn trees used for fencing.
‘’For 25 years I have been using kerosene lamps, and sometime bright lights from the moon. I have been bitten three times by snakes and that affected my work and inconvenienced many pregnant women in Sankuri village,” she said.
As well, “the kerosene lamp made health problems both to me and mothers with their newborn babies. I have contracted respiratory infections on various occasions, and also the use of moonlight is quite tricky as I have to conduct deliveries in the open air. I use moonlight only when kerosene is out of stock or when I contract respiratory sickness,‘’ she said.
But now Muktar and other traditional birth attendants have less to worry about after receiving portable solar LED lamps and solar panels to charge them from Pajan Kenya, a local nongovernmental group backed by the international NGO Afri-Ireland.
The system, which has been delivered to 30 traditional birth attendants, takes five hours of sunshine to charge lamps that then last as long as 12 hours.
The lamps are used by the birth attendants to attend to women at night, and also during women’s education sessions, where a traditional attendant congregates more than 20 pregnant women at her compound to go through family planning and behavioral change education.
Muktar said she has already used the lamp during 185 births in Sankuri village – and that the technology is bringing down the cost she must charge for her services. Formerly, she said, she charged about 425 Kenyan shillings ($5) for a delivery, including the costs of kerosene, transported from Garissa. Now a birth costs 255 Kenyan shillings ($3).
Pajan Kenya, the organization educating traditional birth attendants on the use of solar lamps, says the project is an example of green energy empowering grass-roots women and contributing to reductions in maternal and child mortality in remote areas with few health facilities.
Two thirds of Kenya's maternal deaths are attributed to postpartum hemorrhage (severe loss of blood during or after labor), sepsis (bacterial infection in the blood), eclampsia (hypertension during pregnancy), or a ruptured uterus.
According to the last demographic health survey, released by the government, Kenya has one of the highest maternal death rates in the world at 448 per 100,000 live births. Seventy percent of women in northern Kenya deliver under the care of traditional birth attendants, while 30 percent give birth at a hospital, figures show.
• Abjata Khalif is a freelance journalist, based in Wajir, Kenya, with an interest in climate change issues.
Daniel Burmeister is an Argentine handyman turned filmmaker. Though good at unstopping toilets and repairing windows, he decided to change his path at middle age and make films. Small films. Local films. Free films. Love-infused films. Films that make you feel the joy he clearly manifests in doing them.
Daniel is a one-man film crew. When he needs a tracking shot, he hops on a bicycle and records with one hand while steering wobbly with the other. When he wants the effect of a panning shot, he places his subject on a sheet, which someone pulls from off camera, creating the appearance that the camera is panning the subject.
Beyond Daniel’s ingenuity, though, is a system. Burmeister would roll into the small towns of Argentina and pitch up first at the local mayor’s office. He would offer to make a film about the community, for the community, and by the community. He’d do it in 30 days, and all he asked was that the town provide him a place to sleep and food.
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He became a rallying force for small communities. Residents would gather for the grand premier – the film projected on a large white sheet in a local school gymnasium. You can imagine the cheers as friends and neighbors saw themselves on the “big” screen. Within hours, Burmeister was gone, rolling along to the next town on the map.
I got to know Burmeister through El Ambulante, a 2009 documentary about him by Eduardo de la Serna, Lucas Marcheggiano, and Adriana Yurcovich. And here’s what I learned from Burmeister: What makes someone come alive is a gift that they do not possess. This gift should be shared with as few constraints as possible. And when it is, the means to continue that sharing naturally follows. That is a rough approximation of what I think of as the working fundamentals of the “gift economy.”
There are many smart people poking, exploring, and parsing this term, all the while giving it a growing cache and even making it a source of some intellectual argument. Argue on, but please, with a smile.
A smile is integral to the design of a gift economy. This is an emergent, irreverent, rule-breaking search for a new way to relate to the world and each other. It is a playful subversion of the so-called “laws” of economics, no more evident than in the term itself, which puts “gift” first, thereby casting a new hue to the so-called gray science.
The economy as most of us experience it is a system of fixed and rigid exchanges. It is a transaction model built on the notion of knowing exactly what we are getting for what we are going to pay. The relationship between the parties is minimal or nonexistent, and the exchange is objectified to the point where only minimal trust is needed. External costs, whatever those may be in terms of broader social impact, are mostly irrelevant and ignored.
Also ignored are the potential internal dimensions of this interaction. A fixed price paid with an inanimate currency deliberately makes the transaction as impersonal as possible.
The gift economy begins to break down these pre-set arrangements. Born of a sense of generosity, service, or altruism, the gift economy practitioner is playing with a different motivation. Put simply, there is a thumb on the scale, and it is in favor of giving rather than getting.
This changes everything. Yet it would be simplistic to say the change is monochromatic. For some, giving is an act of self-fulfillment. For some it is primarily to help others. And there are infinite gradations in between. People are often transformed as they practice the gift economy. Individuals begin to feel that by nominally helping others they are profoundly helping and transforming themselves.
Silas Hagerty is a gift economy filmmaker in Kezar Falls, Maine. His most recent work is Dakota 38, the moving story of the largest mass execution in United States history – that of 38 Lakota Indians in 1862. He spent years making the film and had no hesitation in essentially giving it to the Native American community when it was done. It was a natural part of his evolution in doing gift economy projects over many years.
After graduating from film school, Silas was looking for the rungs on the ladder of a conventional film career but began to see that his passion for filmmaking could be a gift put in the service of others. The shift was powerful. “If I come into the room and am basically asking ‘How can you help?’ it creates a certain kind of energy,” Silas explained.
“What I challenged myself to do was to walk into every encounter and instead ask, ‘What can I do for you?’ It’s a completely different energy. That basic structure started to change in me.”
This shift from a “me” to “you” – how can I serve you, rather than how can you help me – is radical in today’s context, but really nothing terribly new. Anthropologists remind us that a communal sense has deeper roots than our modern social structures, which are self-centric and individualistic.
The gift economy is exciting because it is in the process of rediscovering some of this ancient wisdom. I am working on a book about what seems an emergent ethos of generosity and, for lack of a better term, the broadening desire of so many people and organizations to “do good in the world.” The appeal of the nonprofit world to young job-seekers, the movement toward social responsibility within the private sector, even the triple-bottom-line idea of balancing people, planet, and profit, all bespeak this general inclination.
Lest we appear naive, let’s stipulate that some of this is just an old system masquerading under modern marketing. But what has long been held up as the model economic paradigm – the Western, industrialized market system – is under fire, from Wall Street to Athens and beyond.
The gift economy is diverse. The person who writes a check to their favorite charity or nonprofit is breaking the bonds of transactional living. There is no quid pro quo, just a gesture of generosity to further the work of a worthy enterprise. This is motivated by a desire to achieve some greater good and a willingness to act generously to that end.
The volunteers who wear “ask me” tags at the Jackson, Miss., airport or vacuums the carpet a local church are giving something different. Rather than writing a check, they are giving their time and opening the potential of a deeper personal experience.
It seems to me there is greater potential for internal transformation here, more potential for this generosity to create and sustain a community and thus impact the broader social context. Will this scale and change the world? No. But this is a gift economy practice that builds from the premise that changing oneself might be the real key to changing the world, to paraphrase Mahatma Gandhi.
ServiceSpace.org has been working in the “pay it forward” arena for more than 10 years. Its Karma Kitchen, for instance, has operated in Berkeley, Calif., for several years on a model where patrons are charged nothing but are told their meal was paid for by the generosity of the person who came before them. They are asked to contribute in order to keep this experiment going.
And it not only has kept going for several years, but has inspired similar restaurants in Chicago and Washington, D.C. The gift economy model here is something like a large circle spooling forward. Though patrons don’t know each other, their mutual generosity is essential to keeping the restaurant alive. In a sense, they are paying each other and learning that generosity does indeed beget generosity. This builds trust that ripples outward, a trust in generosity that does not remain within the confines of the restaurant.
There are plenty of gift economy activities that simply ask patrons to pay what they want. This is closer to a charity model, where an external funder is often essential to keep an activity alive. This shading of the gift economy looks more like a straight line than a loop, with those motivated to help others doing just that. This form of generosity can touch those not in any position to pay forward anything, like the homeless at a soup kitchen.
There are all various shapes and forms of the gift economy. They are not opposing models, in my mind, but rather gradations along a common spectrum, bound by a common motivation to be generous and live beyond the realm of “me.” Fundamental to them all is a mindset of living in a world of abundance rather than a zero-sum game. Gift economy practices strive to bring that recognition – of abundance or even unlimited good – closer to the playing field of day-to-day living.
Choices of how to act on the impulse to be generous force us to identify and clarify our motivations. If nothing else, this process encourages a self-awareness that rigid, transactional economics does not require.
I teach journalism at a small Midwestern college and was chatting with a student in the concourse one day. She is a photographer and was planning to take portraits of graduating seniors.
“Good way to make some extra money,” I commented.
But she was way ahead of me. “I’m not going to charge anything,” she said. She was simply going to offer her services and let people pay what they felt the work was worth.
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She had been inspired by the “pay what you will” model of Panera Bakery, a large restaurant chain that decided to use one of its branches in Missouri as an experiment in giving several years ago. They removed prices and asked patrons to pay according to their own sense of the value of the “purchase.”
Ron Shaich, Panera’s co-CEO and president of the Panera Foundation, explained the innovation to USA Today, saying, “I’m trying to find out what human nature is all about.”
The flourishing gift economy – from charitable donations to volunteer service to pay-it-forward generosity – seems to have a welcome answer to Ron Shaich’s question.
• Paul Van Slambrouck is Associate Professor of Mass Communication at Principia College. He is a former Editor in chief of The Christian Science Monitor and Deputy Managing Editor of the San Jose Mercury News. Mr. Van Slambrouck is currently writing a book on the power of generosity, including the emergence of a gift economy, and is a contributor and volunteer with ServiceSpace.org.