Motorcycle taxis, or boda bodas, are that East African city's equivalent of rickshaws in India or yellow cabs in New York. But boda boda drivers, however sharply they're dressed, often barely make ends meet: A big chunk of most drivers' incomes goes toward rent payments to the motorcycle owner.
For a growing number of boda boda drivers, however, that loss of income has stopped: Instead of paying 50,000 shillings ($20) a week in rent for the motorcycle, they pay 60,000 shillings ($24) a week for 17 or 18 months to become full-fledged owners of their own bikes.
Own Your Own Boda (OYOB) is a young enterprise that aims to profit by empowering people to earn more income and be less dependent on an owner who can take the bike away at any time. OYOB reinvests its profits into buy more motorcycles and expanding the program to other drivers – and perhaps eventually to other cities.
To date, OYOB has loaned out about 70 motorcycles, most of which are on the road now (25 loans are already completed). Another 20 to 30 people are on the waiting list.
Co-founder and CEO Michael Wilkerson says that once the driver owns his own motorcycle, he takes home about $100 extra per month. Drivers have used that extra income to buy homes, start new businesses, and pay school fees for their children.
OYOB was founded by Mr. Wilkerson and a friend he met while working at The Independent news magazine in Uganda, Matt Brown. The enterprise came into being almost by accident. Medie Sebi, who is now the company's manager, was a boda boda driver in Kampala whom Wilkerson trusted and had befriended. Mr. Sebi managed to get a boda boda loan, and when he took ownership of the motorbike, he was able to sell it and buy land for his mother.
"Medie took me to have lunch with his mother, in her village on the land that he bought, in the small one-room brick house, which he also helped build," Wilkerson says.
He was impressed. So Wilkerson and Mr. Brown asked Sebi if he'd want another loan; they wanted to try out administering such a loan, and they trusted Sebi as a starting point. He said yes – and pointed out that many others like him needed the same kind of help.
Soon enough, Wilkerson and Brown had loaned out seven bikes. Ugandan journalist Andrew Mwenda, who founded The Independent, took notice. "I'll never forget the words he used," Wilkerson says. "'You are changing the trajectory of these people's lives.'"
Mr. Mwenda is not one to support just any old development program. Interested in seeing the positive impact scaled up, he invested the project. It's been growing ever since.
OYOB is currently adding about three bikes a month, Wilkerson says, all from the money it collects from the motorbikes it loans out. The goal is to get to 250, which he admits is a somewhat arbitrary number.
"But we just want to get to a place where we have to hire multiple new managers," he says. That will ensure they sort out any kinks that remain, at which point they can look into expanding to other cities in East and Central Africa.
The model could also be applied to other vocations, like sewing machines for tailors. Wilkerson says.
The plan doesn't come without critics. Milford Bateman, a freelance consultant on economic development and well-known critic of microfinance programs, says, "The poor are put in a much riskier situation when investing their scarce wealth into buying a taxi, when renting at least means they simply walk away if [there are] any problems."
He adds: "With a rental bike, if demand falls, you can simply hand it back and stop paying. But with an owned bike, you have an asset but nothing to do with it. Its value wastes away, and you lose your investment."
Wilkerson doesn't see demand for boda bodas falling. Indeed, Kampala is a bustling city, and motorcycles are a popular way to navigate the traffic-jammed streets. Plus, he says, OYOB is selecting the cream of the crop of boda boda drivers. It chooses drivers who are not only reliable with their finances ("We've only had one guy we gave a bike to run away with it, and that was a mistake on our part," Wilkerson says) – but are safe drivers, as well.
The OYOB staff has noticed a lack of accidents among loan participants – and boda boda accidents are usually common, Wilkerson says. "But we've only had two, with more than 70 guys who are on the road every day for many hours. That to me suggests that there's either something about our vetting process or about having your own bike that makes you less at risk for accidents."
If demand were to fall, OYOB drivers are likely to stay afloat because they’ve developed loyal customers who will keep calling when they need a ride.
It’s hard not to compare the OYOB formula to microfinance schemes. But, Wilkerson says, "This is better. We're not hoping that someone will be a successful entrepreneur. We're allowing them the means to own their own tools for a job they're already doing.”
The motorcycle itself is a physical asset, so if something does go wrong, the OYOB staff can take it back and give it to someone who will do better.
"At the end of the day, [the drivers] are paying us for the ability to use something they can't afford to buy themselves," Wilkerson says. "We have to invest in people who are willing to work hard for themselves."
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At the Jordan Pond House, if a popover doesn’t make it from oven to table in 15 minutes, it’s toast.
Each season two local pig farmers collect more than 20,000 pounds of uneaten popovers from the famed tea house to use as animal feed.
Known as “Popovers for Pigs” this program is just one example of the many environmental steps undertaken by the only restaurant to operate inside Acadia National Park on Mount Desert Island along the seacoast of Maine.
More than 2,000 people a day dine at the restaurant, whose lawn tables and chairs face Jordan Pond and the Bubble Mountains. Cadillac and Sargent Mountains rise on either side of the pond. The pristine scenery lends an "Alice in Wonderland"-like feel to the restaurant.
But in some ways the restaurant is under siege: More than 2 million people visit Acadia National Park each year (and the park is only a fraction of the size of, say, Yosemite National Park). In addition to the thousands who dine at the restaurant daily, many more avail themselves of the restrooms and water fountains there.
With so many pairs of feet walking through, the restaurant decided to act.
“Pigs do indeed like popovers. They prefer the butter and the jam, but they will eat them all the same,” says David Woodside, president of Acadia Corporation, which manages the more than 100-year-old Jordon Pond House. The privately owned and operated restaurant works with the park as a licensed concession.
Today the Jordon Pond House prides itself on its recycling efforts, which are the result of teamwork – from the wait staff who began the recycling efforts to the maintenance crew who pushed for composting.
“It is all really grass roots,” says Michael Daley, operations manager of the Jordan Pond House.
Each year the restaurant recycles more than 50,000 lbs. of cardboard, 8,000 lbs. of paper, 2,500 lbs. of plastic, and 2,500 lbs. of metal.
Every morning the wait staff peels lemons to make gallons of lemonade for thirsty hikers, cyclists, and other tourists. Boxes of rinds sit outside the kitchen, waiting to be ground.
When Les Harbur, the restaurant’s maintenance manager, saw the hundreds of pounds of lemon rinds being tossed daily, he decided to turn them into compost. Today Jordan Pond House composts approximately 30,000 lbs. of lemon rinds, egg shells (200,000 of them), coffee grounds, tea bags, vegetable trimmings, and garden waste each season. The compost is spread on the gardens and lawns.
The citrus in the compost acts as a natural pesticide, Mr. Daley says. All along the building black-eyed Susan’s, daylilies, and loosestrife reach toward the sun. If one looks closely one can spot crushed eggshells in the soil – and catch a whiff of lemon in the air.
“We have the best-smelling compost in the area,” Daley says.
Another example of the restaurant's efforts toward increased sustainability comes in the little porcelain containers of strawberry jam served with popovers. The Jordan Pond House buys the jam from an Amish family who live about 115 miles away in Smyrna, Maine. The family makes the jam, fills the containers, and delivers them to the island. In the kitchens the wait staff empties them, loads them in the dishwasher, and prepares them for their return trip to Smyrna.
In another nod to the restaurant’s roots, the Jordan Pond House features local seafood. The restaurant has joined a local fishermen's cooperative. Rather than importing frozen haddock, the menu features Atlantic whiting, Acadian redfish, and other local underutilized species.
Christopher J. Brown, one of two pig farmers who use the popovers, also runs a soup kitchen in Bar Harbor, Maine. Mr. Brown comes almost every afternoon to the loading dock just outside the kitchen. There he finds an enormous garbage pail nearly overflowing with golden brown popovers. With help Brown tips the pail into a plastic bag and heaves it onto his truck.
“The pigs fight for the popovers," he says. "They will peel and eat them to get to the insides.”
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The neighborhood is the basic building block of human civilization, whether in a big city, small town, or suburban community. It’s also the place where you can have the most influence in making a better world.
These suggestions, drawn from my book The Great Neighborhood Book (a collaboration with Project for Public Spaces), are focused on strengthening the sense of community and spirit of the commons by providing people with ways to come together as friends, neighbors, and citizens. That creates a firm foundation that enables a neighborhood to solve problems and seize opportunities.
This is drawn from a presentation I regularly give to community, civic, academic, professional, and business groups. For more information, see Jay Walljasper.com.
1. Give people a place to hang-out.
2. Give people something to see.
3. Give people something to do.
4. Give people a place to sit down.
5. Give people a safe, comfortable place to walk.
6. Give people a safe, comfortable place to bike.
7. Give people reliable, comfortable public transportation.
8. Make the streets safe – from crime.
9. Make the streets safe – from traffic.
10. Remember the streets belong to everyone, not just motorists.
11. Don’t forget about the needs of older neighbors.
12. Don’t forget about the needs of kids.
13. Let your community go to the dogs.
14. Reclaim front yards as social spaces.
15. Remember the best neighborhoods, even in big cities, feel like villages.
16. Plan for winter weather as well as sunny, warm days.
17. Don’t fear density – people enjoy being around other people.
18. Don’t give up hope – great changes are possible when neighbors get together.
19. Build on what’s good in your community to make things even better.
20. Remember the power of the commons: people working together for the benefit of everyone in the neighborhood.
21. Never underestimate the power of a shared meal to move people into action.
22. Start with small steps – like planting flowers.
23. Become a community booster, watchdog, patriot.
24. Learn from other neighborhoods in your town and around the world.
25. Take the time to have fun and enjoy what’s already great about your neighborhood.
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With more than $2 million raised for the victims of Friday morning’s shooting rampage at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., the Community First Foundation, the main local organization collecting donations, plans to give the first $100,000 raised, plus an additional $100,000 from the foundation, to local charities by the end of this week.
The $2 million total includes contributions from Warner Bros., the studio behind the new Batman movie “The Dark Knight Rises,” whose midnight screening was interrupted when the alleged gunman, James Holmes, opened fire. Twelve people were killed and 58 were injured. Mr. Holmes was subsequently arrested but has not yet been charged.
In the aftermath of the shooting, more than 2,500 individuals have donated through GivingFirst.org, the Community First Foundation’s online fundraising Web site, bringing in a total of $251,000 so far, says Cheryl Haggstrom, executive vice president. Others mailed in checks or wired their donations.
At GivingFirst.org, donors can choose from a list of 10 organizations to contribute to, or they can give to the Community First Foundation’s Aurora Victim Relief Fund. Thus far, the 10 groups have received $105,000 in total, and the fund has garnered $146,000.
The foundation says it has waived all fees used to administer the fund, which was established in partnership with Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper.
Many local organizations say they have been inundated by calls from people around the country wanting to donate. But rather than collecting those contributions on their own, some charities, such as the Colorado Organization for Victim Assistance, have pointed donors to the GivingFirst.org Web site, the portal through which it has long accepted donations. So far, the nonprofit, which provides support for crime victims, has received $45,000 through GivingFirst, says Nancy Lewis, the victim group's executive director.
“It’s been overwhelming,” she says. “People have really opened up across the country to help the victims in any way they can.”
Her organization is setting up a committee to help disburse the donations to the shooting victims and their families. Apart from honoring requests from donors to give directly to specific victims, the group says it will use families’ financial needs as a criterion for distributing the money. Ms. Lewis estimates the process to take a full year. The timeframe and approach are similar to the organization’s response after the Columbine High School killings in 1999.
Other organizations that have faced similar floods of donations after a tragedy took a more cautious approach. The Denver Foundation initially told the public through its Web site that it was “currently examining opportunities to provide relief” and “will offer more information in the near future.” The organization then took action Tuesday night by urging donors to give to a “Critical Needs Fund” it has set up.
So far, a few thousand dollars have trickled in, says David Miller, the foundation’s president. There’s a possibility his organization will end up giving the money to the Community First Foundation. Mr. Miller, though, prefers to give the money to needs that aren’t particularly attractive to donors, such as paying utility bills or the salary of a receptionist for a local group like the Aurora Mental Health Center, whose counseling services have been in demand.
Some charities have had to tell their donors they aren’t collecting donations. Denver affiliates of both the American Red Cross and the United Way are directing supporters to Community First Foundation’s fundraising efforts since they are not principally involved in providing services to those in need.
Those charities have given support, though. For example, the United Way set up a number that victims’ families could call to find out which hospital their relatives were in, and the Red Cross provided immediate shelter and food for those displaced by the incident, such as the residents of Mr. Holmes’s apartment building, which was evacuated
after police found explosives there.
In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, as social networks lit up with news of what had transpired, some individuals urged others to give to the Red Cross to help the victims. Red Cross officials quickly responded on Twitter, Facebook, and elsewhere that the charity was not currently raising money to help the shooting victims.
Clear messages to potential donors are important at a time like this, says Robert Thompson, a spokesman for Mile High United Way. “We don’t want to muddy the waters. We didn’t want to make things confusing.”
There’s nothing like the power of a good story, says Trevor Burbank, to cross the cultural divides between countries.
Mr. Burbank is cofounder and CEO of Teach Twice, a social venture that aims to publish children's stories from around the world in an effort to spread traditions and tales across the globe. A portion (currently 35 percent) of the profits from the books goes to help schools and students in the country where the story originates.
Teach Twice's title echoes the venture's dual purposes: It provide parents with great stories to read to their children, and it provides financial support to schools and students in the developing country from which the book came. Ideally, both the author and illustrator live in the country where the narrative originated.
“Our real point is sharing the culture and the story,” says Burbank, who graduated from Vanderbilt University this spring.
Teach Twice was created when Burbank’s cofounder, Teach Twice's chief operating officer and fellow Vanderbilt student Jason Wen, approached Burbank about it. Burbank was able to bring his experience working for community-development projects, such as one that assists orphans in Africa, to the venture. The two developed the idea in December 2010 and January 2011.
Burbank and Wen then assembled a group of 12 Vanderbilt undergraduate and graduate students to get Teach Twice off the ground. The team won third place at a Vanderbilt Entrepreneur Society competition in which they were the only group using undergraduate students and the only nonprofit group, Burbank says.
Along with third place, they received a $250 prize. “It wasn't a huge amount, but it was the first one we won, so it was exciting,” Burbank says.
They later placed as semifinalists at a Dell Social Innovation competition, receiving $5,000 in prize money. Through a combination of the money they’d won, grants, donations, and money raised through the fundraising website Kickstarter, Teach Twice was able to publish its first title, “My Precious Name,” in March.
“My Precious Name” tells the story of a Ugandan boy who learns the importance of his name. It was written by Eva Baronga, with illustrations by Sam Muganga. Teach Twice found the story through its East Africa regional director, Paul Kabanda. Burbank had met Mr. Kabanda when he traveled to Uganda on a trip sponsored by his church.
Kabanda contacted the Ugandan Children’s Writers and Illustrators Association to find a local team to write the book. Money from the book’s sales will go into the construction of a school in Nakikungube, Uganda.
Members of Teach Twice find the story, market it, and design the narrative, Burbank says. The printing is handled by Worzalla, a book manufacturer based in Stevens Point, Wis.
Printing books isn’t Burbank's area of expertise, so working with Worzalla was invaluable, he says. “They were really good about holding my hand and helping me understand the details.”
The story for Teach Twice's next book, “Tall Enough,” comes from South Africa and will be published in October.
Currently, Teach Twice books are only sold through its website, TeachTwice.org, and at business presentations. Teach Twice hopes to have its titles available on Amazon within the next month, Burbank says.
The social venture also wants to continue working on another project, titled Teach One, in which volunteers teach and mentor middle and high school students in the United States. Teach One will launch at five colleges this year, Burbank says, with the hope that additional chapters will be started in other communities.
Teach Twice expects to continue publishing children’s titles, Burbank says, as well as expand to include photography and fiction books for all ages.
“After that, we really want to take off,” he says.
For the past nine years, seafood industry executives and marine conservationists have met in a European or North American city to talk about sustainability at the annual Seafood Summit.
This year, they’ll meet in Hong Kong. It’s a sign that market-based efforts to make fishing and aquaculture more environmentally friendly are spreading from Europe and the US, where eco-labeling schemes like the Marine Stewardship Council’s (MSC) were first launched, to Asia, where most of the world’s fishermen, fish farmers, and seafood consumers live.
So far in Asia, wealthy, seafood-loving Japan is leading the way. Yes, Japanese fishing boats still hunt whales under the guise of scientific research. Fishermen continue to kill dolphins in Taiji’s now-infamous coves, and Tokyo sushi lovers still feast on endangered Atlantic bluefin tuna. But at the same time, consumers and corporations here are becoming some of the first in Asia to put their buying power to work for the cause of sustainable seafood.
Signs of the nascent revolution could be found on a recent afternoon in the sprawling fish display of a chain grocery store in Nagano Prefecture, three hours from Tokyo. There, nearly hidden among the piles of attractively packaged seafood and the red flags blaring “The more you buy, the cheaper it seems!,” sat several dozen Styrofoam trays of salmon and trout roe, salted mackerel, and salmon steaks bearing the MSC logo, signifying that the fish had been sustainably caught.
Fumiko Yamaguchi, 81, who purchases fish at the store every day, said she’d never noticed the small blue-and-white label. She is worried about the state of the world’s oceans, however. “Programs about overfishing are on TV all the time lately — if we harvest too many fish there won’t be any left,” she said, adding that fishermen and government regulators, not consumers, must fix the problem.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates that more than 80 percent of the world’s fish stocks are fully exploited, overexploited, or recovering. Like Yamaguchi, many Japanese are aware of those dismal figures. Yet eating seafood is a central part of national food culture — so much so, says Greenpeace Japan’s oceans campaign manager Wakao Hanaoka, that “some people think they have a right to eat it, and they don’t want outsiders telling them not to.” That, along with other cultural and institutional factors, means the notion of sustainable seafood still faces an uphill fight in Japan.
If more Japanese consumers embrace seafood sustainability, they could have a significant impact on ocean ecosystems. The Japanese eat 6 percent of the world’s fish harvest, 81 percent of its fresh tuna, and a significant chunk of all salmon, shrimp, and crab. Japan also imports more seafood than any other country and caught 4.2 million metric tons of fish in 2008.
“Japan is an incredibly powerful player in fisheries and as a market,” says Adam Baske, an international policy officer at the Washington, D.C.-based Pew Environment Group. Japan demonstrated its dominance at the 2010 meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, where Japanese officials allegedly pressured representatives from Asia, Africa, and other regions to join them in voting down a proposed ban on international trade in Atlantic bluefin tuna. Turning that power toward conservation, Baske says, represents “an incredible opportunity.”
Quite a few international environmental organizations seem to have had the same idea recently. In the past six years WWF, Greenpeace, and the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership have all launched seafood campaigns in Japan. Greenpeace has published a Japanese-language guide to threatened seafood, and WWF plans to release 50,000 copies of its own guide later this summer.
MSC, the world’s leading wild-caught seafood standard setter, is also making inroads in Japan. Although total market share for MSC-labeled products remains below 1 percent, nearly 30 food retailers — including four of the top 10 — carry about 250 different products from various fisheries certified as sustainable. One in six consumers recognizes the label, and three fisheries — for skipjack tuna, flounder, and snow crab — have won certification. MSC’s Tokyo office, opened in 2007, remains the organization’s sole Asian outpost.
While persuading consumers in seafood-centered Japan to purchase sustainably caught fish is a particular challenge, the fact remains that influencing the public’s seafood-buying choices remains a daunting challenge worldwide. The MSC has certified 168 fisheries — ranging from Alaskan salmon to Argentine anchovies — as sustainable, representing about 8 percent of the world’s annual harvest of wild fish. The organization is now assessing another 116 fisheries. Consumers in Europe are increasingly attuned to whether the seafood they’re purchasing is sustainable. But numerous analysts believe the most important progress is being made on the corporate front, where international giants such as Unilever, Wal-Mart, and McDonalds are buying larger quantities of certified seafood.
In Japan, a domestic fishing-industry organization launched its own seafood standard in 2007, called Marine Eco-Label Japan (MEL Japan). MEL Japan secretariat staff member Masashi Nishimura says the scheme, which has certified 13 fisheries and 45 processors and distributors to date, was a proactive response to international trends. “When it comes to managing Japan’s fisheries, Japanese actors have been doing it longer than anyone else,” says Nishimura. “There was a need for a Japanese-run scheme.” MEL Japan encourages traditional systems of voluntary, fishermen-led resource allotment called “co-management.”
But critics say co-management has done little to prevent the decline of coastal fish stocks, 40 percent of which are rated in poor condition by Japan’s Fisheries Research Agency. They also point out that MEL Japan, whose secretariat is run by an industry association and whose certifier is a nonprofit organization that includes fisheries industry representatives on its board, is hardly in a position to impartially evaluate those fisheries. (MSC, too, has been widely accused of certifying fisheries that are not sustainable.) Nevertheless, MEL Japan is a sign that some fishermen think eco-labels will help them sell fish because customers are starting to care about sustainability.
As is the case globally, Japanese corporations, rather than consumers, have provided most of the momentum so far. Aeon, Japan’s largest supermarket chain, began enthusiastically promoting MSC-certified seafood in 2006, but spokeswoman Miho Takahama says the company was not motivated by consumer demand. “Back in 2006, customers were like, ‘What’s MSC?’" she says. “We wanted to proactively introduce sustainably harvested fish as a way to protect marine resources and secure a steady, long-term supply of fish. To do that, we had to raise customer awareness about MSC.”
Greenpeace’s Hanaoka, who recently began negotiations with Japan’s top five supermarket chains to sell less of certain threatened species like eel and tuna, suggests retailers may have more near-sighted motivations as well. “The food retail market is quite saturated and competitive,” he said. “Brand image is very important.” And corporate-centered strategies for reforming the seafood industry may be particularly critical in Japan, where environmental groups have little lobbying power and are not often able to force regulatory change. In contrast, the fishing industry enjoys strong links to regulatory agencies.
“After World War II, Japan promoted its fishing industry because there was a lack of protein,” explains Toshio Katsukawa, an associate professor of fishery management at Mie University. “Catching as many fish as possible was the policy objective. It worked.” He says that while the industry has declined since its peak in the 1960s and 70s, policy still focuses on supporting rather than aggressively regulating fisheries. Retired bureaucrats regularly cycle into top posts at fishing industry organizations, and politicians compete for fishermen’s votes.
Katsukawa says most consumers don’t have the information they need to challenge overly cheery government narratives about fisheries. “It’s a problem of education," he says. "People are taught that eating many fish is a good thing because it supports Japanese culture.”
Environmental organizations do offer alternative information, but they are smaller, weaker, and poorer than their counterparts in the US and Europe. When environmental groups bring up fish, they face an additional challenge: anger over controversial campaigns by Sea Shepherd, Greenpeace, and others to end whaling and dolphin hunting.
But Aiko Yamauchi, WWF Japan’s fishery and seafood project leader, sees sustainable seafood as a positive way to approach the issue. “We’re trying to improve troubled fisheries, not just tell people to avoid eating fish,” she says. “The global movement is not opposed to Japanese culture.”
That approach is slowly starting to work. Ultimately, however, trends that have nothing to do with sustainability may dwarf the progress WWF and other organizations have made in Japan. Fish consumption is falling as people buy more meat and convenience foods, and annual fish harvests have fallen by more than half since 1985 as both fishing communities and fish stocks decline.
Meanwhile, aquaculture production, fish processing, and seafood consumption are all booming in neighboring China, which now consumes about one third of the world’s fish. MSC plans to open an office there and another in Singapore in the near future. Whether lessons from Japan prove useful remains to be seen.
• Winifred Bird is a freelance journalist living in Japan. She has written about the environment for the Japan Times, Environmental Health Perspectives, and other publications. In a previous article for Yale Environment 360, she reported on the struggle to maintain bear populations in heavily urbanized Japan.
When Gaitano Likhavila was still working as an accountant at the provincial hospital in the west Kenyan town of Kakamega, he ran into a situation that got him thinking about water.
“There was a serious water shortage that made the hospital administration almost close down the hospital. At the same time, a lot of rainwater from the roofs was wasted, running down to the River Isikhu, but nobody thought of getting hold of this free water,” says Likhavila.
In 2007, he left the hospital and set up a business, now known as the KwelaKwela Inn, along the Kakamega-Kisumu highway. The venue, which occupies three-quarters of an acre, is well-known for traditional African foods, cultural performances, drinks, and lodging, and has a large garden for outdoor functions.
But as he built his business he faced one big challenge: a shortage of water. At first he paid local women to carry water on their heads from the Isikhu River, about 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) away, for cooking, drinking, washing, and other daily use.
“It was very expensive for me, because I needed a lot of water to run my business on a daily basis. Not that the water from government was not available, but it was not reliable,” he explains.
But the Isikhu River also dries up between rainy seasons when there is very little precipitation, and the situation has been getting worse each year due to changes in the weather patterns, experts say.
“Today there is no predicting [the weather],” said Moses Agumba, head of the Lake Victoria South Water Services Board, which operates in the area. Increasing deforestation and climate change have made rainfall erratic, he said.
The Lake Victoria Water Development Authority, a government department that connects homes to piped water supplies, depends on the Isikhu River to pump water into its storage facilities. When water shortages hit, rationing becomes the only way to serve the population.
Likhavila didn’t see the point in applying for a water connection for his business, as it was expensive and unreliable.
“I saw that I needed a lot of water. I thought very hard and came up with an idea of harvesting my own water,” he says.
He paid some men to dig a hole 10 feet deep and 10 feet wide. He used the soil to bake bricks for the construction of an underground tank, and bought iron bars, wire mesh, and water-proof cement.
He then got a plumber to fit a network of pipes around the edges of his sheet-iron roof, channeling rainwater runoff into the tank.
Today there is a dining area for visitors on top of the underground tank, and all that can be seen of it is a lid and an electric pump in the corner that draws up water.
Likhavila has also installed plastic water-storage tanks on his roofs. He pumps water from the underground tank up to these roof tanks to supply the guest rooms, toilets, bathrooms, kitchen, bars, and restaurant.
“I get a lot of water when it rains,” he says. “I first fill the overhead tanks, which can take several weeks to empty.”
Once all the tanks are full, an outlet directs water to the vegetable garden. He also has a car-washing bay that uses water from the tanks.
Likhavila says his system stores enough water to get him through most of the year. He only suffers from water shortages, usually lasting two to three weeks, at times when droughts are particularly severe. And his system allows him to capture more of the region’s increasingly intense rains.
The total cost of constructing the tank system was around 60,000 Kenyan shillings ($700), with the main expenses being labor and materials.
“For these past few years, I would have been spending more than 5,000 Ksh (about $60) every month paying for piped water from the government,” he says. Since 2007, he would have spent as much as $4,000 on water bills, he calculates.
Officials from the local water department found it hard to believe that such a thriving business could run without piped water. They suspected Likhavila might have been siphoning water illegally from the municipal supply.
They came to investigate and saw the water-harvesting tank system for themselves. Then they wanted to check that the water was safe for human consumption.
“They found that I treated the water with chlorine, and it tasted sweeter than the piped water. They left me alone,” says Likhavila.
He believes that water harvesting is the solution to the water shortages experienced by small-scale farmers and the rural poor during dry spells.
“Farmers should stop cursing climate change when there is a simple way of storing water,” he says. “And I would encourage them to construct underground tanks, because the water is as cold as if it had come from the fridge and it is very clean.”
If farmers installed a similar system, their livestock would not die and they would have enough water for drinking and other household uses as well as irrigation, he says.
Likhavila says other people from the area now are coming to see how he built his system, with a view to doing the same. Many are his old colleagues at the water-short hospital.
“Hospital officials have visited me to learn about this innovation, and are now planning to start constructing tanks to store water for hospitals and other institutions,” he says.
• Pius Sawa is a freelance science journalist based in Nairobi, Kenya.
Resilience isn't something that Andrew Zolli just thinks about. It's something he's had to demonstrate in his own life.
In 2008 his close partner at PopTech, Tom LeVine, died suddenly. He and his wife lost a child in pregnancy. His mother suffered a serious illness.
"And then we had the global financial collapse. All at the same time," he recalls. "I've had rough times before, but I've never had anything that made me feel like I might run up against my ability to manage."
Mr. Zolli had been working on a book about resiliency. "I wrote this book at a time when it felt like it was raining hammers. I would show chapters of the galley to my wife who would say, 'You see what you said here in Chapter 3? Are you doing this? You need what you're writing about right now.' "
Zolli did pull through. Today he and his wife have two lovely children. He's still heading PopTech, which brings together a global community of innovators from many fields to share insights and work together to address world problems. And his book, "Resilience: Why Things Bounce Back," written with journalist Ann Marie Healy, was published this summer.
Resilience is the key to the world overcoming its severe economic and environmental challenges, Zolli says. It's what makes individuals, organizations, and cultures able to withstand hardships and recover.
A few years ago Zolli noticed "a new conversation" emerging among institutions such as the Rockefeller Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, USAID, and the World Bank, "converging toward a conversation about ... how we build systems that can absorb disruption, because we're living in such a time of volatility," he says. He saw how the scientific study of resiliency, though still in its infancy, was already yielding useful insights.
Iceland is "a fascinating laboratory for economic, social, and political resilience of many different stripes," Zolli said in a recent telephone interview. Its banks melted down in the financial crisis. But the country has taken decisive steps to bounce back, including writing a new constitution in just a few months time.
One happy conclusion of the book is that most people are resilient – often more resilient than they think. But can those who, for whatever reason, don't seem to possess that quality be helped? What makes individuals resilient? Ways to increase resiliency are becoming better understood, with two factors emerging, he says.
"If you believe that the world is a meaningful place, and you have a meaningful place within it; if you believe that you have agency within the world, that your actions have meaning ... that successes and failures are put in your life to teach you things, and that they're not just random acts of chance, then you have a much higher degree of resilience in the face of trauma," he says.
These mental attitudes are associated with religious beliefs. "People who have a spiritual or religious worldview are, on average, more resilient than people who aren't," he says. That's not the same as saying a particular religious belief – or any religious beliefs – are true. But "whether religion is true or not, it's actually good for you," he says.
The kind of "mindfulness" meditation associated with Buddhist monks has also proved useful in reducing stress. It can be used with combat veterans diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. Today US troops are more likely to kill themselves after returning home than to have been killed by the enemy, Zolli says. "That's a byproduct of the fact that war has become less fatal but no less stressful." In teaching some form of "mindfulness" meditation to veterans "we're talking about not only saving dollars but saving lives."
Zolli's book is laced with examples of resilient institutions. None is any more remarkable than that of Hancock Bank. Hurricane Katrina damaged or destroyed 90 of the 103 branches of the Gulfport, Miss., based regional bank. Many of its customers had lost everything they had, including their IDs and checkbooks. The bank, recognizing that its prime responsibility was to serve its community (not to make a profit), authorized branches to begin giving out $200 to anyone who would sign their name (not just its customers), no ID required. In this way some $42 million was put in the hands of local residents (and pumped into the local economy) to help begin the recovery.
The move paid off for the bank. More than 99 percent of the money was paid back voluntarily. And the goodwill that was created helped deposits at the bank rise by $1.5 billion over the next three years.
"The world needs a lot more examples like this," Zolli says. "How do we establish rules that create more Hancocks over time?"
America celebrates businesses such as Google and Facebook who grow at fantastic speed, but forgets that a crash is often awaiting them somewhere down the line. "We forget that everything that goes up must come down," he says. "And the coming down is usually uglier."
Hancock represents a different model. "This kind of slower growth, deeply connected to community, this is the kind of stuff of which real resilience is made," he says.
PopTech now is taking on the question of how to build resiliency in the world, Zolli says. The world's problems, from economic disruptions to changing climate patterns, will demand resilience. "It's ultimately in our collective self-interest that we bolster the resilience of all of us."
Indiana University’s trustees voted [in June] to create a school of philanthropy, the first in the nation and a sign of both the growing amount of scholarship on the nonprofit world and intense demand to offer rigorous training to people who work at charitable institutions.
The university has already raised nearly 70 percent of its $100-million goal to endow the new school, said Eugene Tempel, who founded Indiana’s Center on Philanthropy, one of the first and biggest academic units created to study the field.
Leslie Lenkowsky, a professor of public affairs and philanthropic studies at Indiana University, said the decision to start a school was a profound development for nonprofits.
“It’s a coming of age for the study and teaching of philanthropy—just as we have schools for government and business, this will be the first school for the nonprofit sector,” said Mr. Lenkowsky, who is a also a Chronicle columnist.
Indiana has long been building a serious academic program in philanthropy. It created the first philanthropy doctoral program, and last month it graduated the first students in the United States to earn bachelor’s degrees in philanthropy.
Mr. Tempel says he hopes other colleges and institutions will follow Indiana’s lead and elevate the study of philanthropy.
While Indiana is a public university, private donations will be the key to paying for the school, said Mr. Tempel.
The goal is to expand the number of faculty members who teach philanthropy by 10 members over the next years, says Patrick Rooney, who took over as head of the Center on Philanthropy when Mr. Tempel left to lead the Indiana University Foundation. Among the projects the center produces: “Giving USA,” which this week issued a new estimate of the state of private support.
Under the plan, student would graduate from the School of Philanthropy rather than liberal arts, and the school would grant tenure.
Today, “everyone who teaches in philanthropic studies has a home somewhere else,” said Mr. Tempel. “This will allow them to have one home, one primary responsibility.”
Mr. Tempel says when he and a small group of others wrote a document 12 year ago pushing a School of Philanthropy, “some people thought were we crazy.”
The critics didn’t see enough intellectual basis to justify creating a school. One wrote, “There isn’t enough 'there' there.”
But now, Mr. Tempel says, more scholarship has been conducted, and academics have less reason to raise the question.
Paul Light, professor of public service at New York University, agrees, noting the great deal of research on philanthropy conducted in the past 10 or 20 years. He sees the new school as a logical extension of the Indiana center’s work. “It is an interesting start, and we’ll see if it catches hold [at other universities].”
William Schambra, director of the Bradley Center of Philanthropy and Civic Renewal for the Hudson Institute, gives the new school a qualified thumbs up: “If the school can encourage foundations to enter into larger discussions of the moral and political purposes of philanthropy in America, then it could be helpful, but it won’t be if it is just going to be another technical training school for nonprofit managers or fundraisers. If the classes are all about measuring outcomes and effective grant making 101, then it isn’t adding to the field.”
The school must still be approved by the Indiana Commission on Higher Education, which could take it up as soon as next fall or winter. If approved, it could start operations in July 2013.
As Nourishing the Planet has witnessed first-hand, small-scale farmers and local communities have developed innovative ways to meet the challenges facing people across the world. But until recently, they have often lacked the ability to share their solutions, or their knowledge has been overlooked by governments and international groups.
Today, Nourishing the Planet highlights five organizations that recognize the valuable contributions farmers can share with their neighbors, with policymakers, and with people across the world.
1. Africa Rice Center:
Created in 1971 by 11 African countries, the Africa Rice Center now works with 24 countries across the continent, connecting researchers, rice farmers, and rice processors.
AfricaRice has been developing learning tools that focus on reaching as many farmers as possible, aiming to both “decentralize and democratize learning within the rice sector.” One powerful method has been farmer-to-farmer videos, which feature local experts sharing their knowledge about seed drying and preservation, rice quality, and soil management with viewers. These videos have been translated into more than 30 African languages, with great impact.
Reaching even beyond the continent, the African Rice Center has also created a set of four videos on seed management with rural women in Bangladesh, helping to further facilitate valuable knowledge exchange between rice farmers.
According Louis Béavogui, a researcher at the Institut de recherche agronomique de Guinée (IRAG) a research institute of the Guinean government, “watching the videos on seed has stimulated them [farmers] to start looking for local solutions to common problems that farmers face. It is by drawing on local knowledge that sustainable solutions can often be found at almost no cost.”
To read more about the AfricaRice Center and other agricultural knowledge sharing organizations, see “What Works: Creating Connections.”
SEWA is a member-based Indian trade union that brings together approximately 1.3 million poor, self-employed women workers. These women make up approximately 93 percent of the work force in India, but are often uncounted and lack health care, access to credit, and other social security services.
Fifty-four percent of SEWA’s members are small and marginal farmers. These women meet monthly in groups across the country to discuss challenges they are facing and identify possible solutions. SEWA’s Village Resource Centers connect the farmers with agricultural supplies, including improved seeds and organic fertilizers, as well as trainings.
SEWA, for example, is introducing women farmers to agroforestry and vermin-composting (a process which uses worms to break down organic matter into rich fertilizer and compost). “We now earn over Rs. 15,000 [$350] per season, an amount we had never dreamed of earning in a lifetime,” says Surajben Shankasbhai Rathwa, who has been a member of SEWA since 2003.
For more on SEWA and other organizations helping women farmers, see “Women farmers key to end food insecurity.”
3. Songtaab-Yalgré :
Marceline Ouedraogo founded this rural women’s association in 1990 as a way to support the women of Burkina Faso with the resources and support that they need. Originally going door-to-door to recruit members, the organization now has more than 1,000 members and works with over 3,100 women in nearly a dozen villages across Burkina Faso.
The women of Songtaab-Yalgré began by teaching each other how to read and write in their local language. After gaining this basic, but critical skill, the organization then found ways to boost members’ incomes by producing shea butter products. Returning to traditional techniques, the women learned how to process the arechete – or shea butter nuts – into a variety of products, including shea butter creams and soaps, with the profits distributed evenly among members.
In 2006, Songtaab-Yalgré won the Equator Prize in recognition of its outstanding community efforts to reduce poverty through the conservation of biodiversity. The organization now runs 11 centers for arechete collection and manages and protects 20,000 shea trees using ecological practices. By working together, the members of Songtaab-Yalgré are improving both their environments and their livelihoods.
To learn more about Songtaab-Yalgré, see “Forming Groups and Transforming Livelihoods.”
4. Ecova – Mali:
After witnessing how much more efficiently local experts trained their fellow Malians than foreigners could, two former Peace Corps Volunteers, Gregory Flatt and Cynthia Hellmann, founded Ecova-Mali in 2007 as a “grass-roots alternative to the predominant top-down approach to development.”
The organization runs a training center and testing ground 35 kilometers (22 miles) outside of Bamako, Mali’s capital, as well as provides small grants to local farmers. In 2007, for example, Ecova-Mali awarded $125 (50,000 CFA) to Fatoumata Dembele, who used this money to buy vegetables seeds for her community. After growing these new crops, she and her neighbors were able to save the valuable vegetable seeds from the plants for future harvests, eliminating the need to purchase expensive new seeds and boosting both their incomes and their crops.
Terra Madre, a network launched by Slow Food International in 2004, focuses on protecting and promoting improved education, biodiversity, and connections between food producers and consumers. In June 2011, 200 representatives from 50 indigenous communities around the world met in Jokkmokk, Sweden, for the first-ever Indigenous Terra Madre Conference.
The meeting, hosted by the native Arctic people known as the Sámi, and organized in partnership with Slow Food Sápmi and Slow Food International, discussed food sovereignty issues, the importance of preserving traditional knowledge for future generations, and ways to involve indigenous people and local communities in policy decisionmaking and implementation.
Small-scale farmers and indigenous people around the world shared their experiences and the solutions they had developed in response to the challenges they faced in common. As TahNibaa Naataanii, a participant in the meeting from the US-based Navajo Sheep Presidium, described, “We hear stories of the same thing that is happening in our own countries and own lands, and it gives us hope.”
At the conclusion of the meeting in June 2011, the participants issued the Jokkmokk Agreement, recognizing the importance of their collective knowledge and experience, and calling for indigenous people across the world to continue their cooperation, information sharing, and networking in order to strengthen their voices and protects their environment and ways of life.
• Jenna Banning is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project. To purchase "State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet" please click HERE. And to watch the one-minute book trailer, click HERE.