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."
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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.
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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.
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Nguyen Thi Huong, a paddy rice farmer in central Vietnam’s Phong Binh commune, enjoys cooking in her smoke-free and pollution-free kitchen.
“Before the advent of clean biogas, cooking was an uneasy and hazardous job for me. My kitchen would become smoky with black particles coming out from the muddy stove from fuel wood burning. The black ash would make me cough the whole day and cause soreness in my eyes,” recounted the 35-year-old.
For Huong, a mother of two children, collecting fuel wood daily from the nearby mangroves forest was a no less tedious task, particularly when she was already busy rearing pigs, looking after children, and doing house chores.
But a biogas system provided by Norwegian Church Aid (NCA) International has made her life much easier, Huong said.
The clean biogas fire “has got rid of my cough and eye infections, and given me a sense of cleanliness,” she said – not least because her village now also has a solution to its former animal manure problem.
The Phong Binh commune is a low-lying coastal area in the Phong Dien district, some 45 kilometers (28 miles) northwest of the city of Hue.
Stretched over nearly 690 hectares (1,700 acres), around 91 percent of the area is in rice production and livestock, and fishing is a secondary source of work during the non-rice-sowing season. The commune has 1,717 households, with over 8,000 people living across 10 villages.
Nguyen The Dong, one livestock farmer, remembers how managing animal manure used to be a serious problem for the community.
But Dong now has a biogas plant that is turning the stinky manure from his 100 buffalos, as many pigs, and over 200 ducks into a useful resource.
“I feed the bio-digester with manure everyday, which after an anaerobic process churns out clean gas for our kitchen. I also use this gas for lighting during the night and boiling water for bathing during winter,” he said.
More than 70 percent of Vietnam’s people live in rural areas, earning a livelihood from agriculture, animal husbandry, and fishing. Most rely on wood, charcoal, agricultural residue, and dried animal dung for their energy needs.
Gathering the traditional fuels also devours precious daylight hours that children and women in particular might otherwise spend at school, or in income-generating or social activities.
But development organizations like Norwegian Church Aid (NCA) and SNV, a Dutch development organization are now promoting the use of biogas from manure in the region. NCA has provided 82 biogas plants along with energy-efficient stoves in Phong Binh commune.
The change is reducing pressure on mangroves and other forests in the area and allowing farmers to use the nutrient-rich slurry left over from the biogas digesters as a crop fertilizer, said Hoang Thi Thanh Mai, an NCA clean energy expert.
“Bio-slurry is really good, as it has improved soil fertility. Its application has reduced bills for chemical fertilizer, whose cost has risen a lot over the years, making cultivating of crops financially difficult for many small farmers like me,” Dong said.
SNV officials say that since 2006 the organization has, in conjunction with Vietnam’s government, installed 78,000 biogas plants in more than 30 provinces of the country. The plants have benefited more than 400,000 people and are reducing the country’s carbon emissions by 167,000 tons a year, the officials said.
The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development of Vietnam has now launched an ambitious program with the SNV to install an additional 168,000 biogas systems by the end of 2012.
With a lifespan of 15 years, one biogas plant costs an estimated $500, which is a sizable investment for a farming family with moderate income. But clean energy experts say the advantages make it worth the investment for many families.
On average, farmers with at least two head of cattle or six pigs can generate sufficient biogas to meet their daily basic cooking and lighting needs.
The investment in a biogas plant is recovered in about three years, said Bastiaan Tenue, SNV’s biogas adviser in Vietnam.
Apart from the household benefits, use of biogas can protect forests, fuel new businesses, and improve air quality, he said. Reports by international and national nongovernmental organizations in Vietnam suggest more than 300,000 jobs have been created in biogas energy since 2003, including many for village people trained in biogas plant construction.
Dao Ngoc Bay in Phong Binh commune is one of them.
“I have built a number of biogas plants for SNV, which imparted me training on biogas plant construction. Now, I am happy that people are calling on my cellphone and asking me build biogas plants for them. I will continue to build biogas plants for private customers as long as there is demand, said the 35-year-old mason.
“Biogas is here to stay as long as there are farmers raising their cattle in Vietnam and other Asia-Pacific countries, most of which are extremely vulnerable to effects of climate change and shrinking natural capital,” he said.
“Alone in Vietnam there are over 1 million households that qualify for a biogas plant,” he said.
• Saleem Shaikh and Sughra Tunio are climate change and development reporters based in Karachi, Pakistan.
University of the People has an ambitious goal: to use the Internet to provide an extremely low-cost college education to students around the world.
And the nonprofit’s big idea is starting to gain traction with grantmakers.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has awarded $500,000 to support the university’s effort to gain accreditation. The grant comes on the heels of recent awards by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Intel Foundation, and the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.
Since its inception in 2009, University of the People has enrolled 1,500 students from 132 countries. Courses are taught by professors from around the world who volunteer their time, and the university offers degrees in business administration and computer science.
“If you educate one person, you change his life,” says Shai Reshef, the technology executive who founded and leads the university. “If you educate many, you change the world.”
While University of the People uses the Internet to deliver courses, the organization takes a straightforward, no-bells-and-whistles approach to technology.
“Since we wanted to make sure that any person with any Internet connectivity will be able to study with us, we don’t require broadband,” says Mr. Reshef. “So we don’t have audio, and we don’t have video.”
The wide variety of ways that students gain access to the Internet has surprised even the university’s leaders.
Some students take part using dial-up connections at home, while others study from Internet cafés. To cut down on Internet café charges, some students download classroom materials to a flash drive, study and complete assignments on an offline computer, and then return to the Internet café to upload their work. Some students rely entirely on mobile phones for their Internet access.
“We didn’t know it was possible, and then one of the students showed us,” says Mr. Reshef.
The one place where University of the People provides the Internet connection for students is in Haiti. There, the university is working with local charities to provide computer centers to help 250 earthquake survivors complete their studies.
University of the People does not charge tuition, but it does require some fees. The application fee ranges from $10 to $50, depending on the student’s country of residence. Applicants from developing countries pay less.
Starting in September, the university will charge a $100 exam-processing fee for each course. Students who cannot afford it will be able to seek contributions from donors to cover the fees on a Kiva-like Web site the university is developing or apply for a University of the People scholarship.
“The theory is that nobody will be excluded for financial reasons,” says Mr. Reshef. “But we still expect our students to help us become sustainable.”
A new book titled Jugaad Innovation looks at lessons from emerging markets in frugal innovation for multinational corporations. Here's our chat with co-author Simone Ahuja, one of the three authors on this project (along with Navi Radjou and Jaideep Prabhu).
For readers who aren't familiar with jugaad, could you please briefly describe it?
Jugaad is a Hindi word meaning an innovative fix. It's an improvised solution using ingenuity and resourcefulness, often due to very limited resources.
When we talk about jugaad innovation, we are referring to the mindset and principles that are used to make this happen. Jugaad innovation is frugal, flexible, and inclusive. It's also called gambiarra in Brazil, zizhu chuangxin in China, and is most like DIY in the US.
I think the biggest question for a lot of readers is – this looks great on paper. But how do we make this happen in the US where there's an onslaught of regulations?
I think we have to shift our mindset around this issue. Absolutely regulations can add a challenging dimension to innovation, but the jugaad mindset can actually help address these.
Embrace, a low cost, portable infant warmer is one example. The creators of Embrace used all of these principles to find a solution that would address the needs of emerging markets. The device is now being tested at the Lucille Packard [Children's] Hospital at Stanford right here in the US, where medical devices are highly regulated.
Another example is the Nano, the $2,000 car created by Tata Group in India. The car was made first for Indian markets, but with some limited additional cost is being adapted for Europe and even the US – markets with strict regulations, and setting new industry benchmarks.
Another example is GE Health's Mac 800 – a portable, low-cost ECG unit first developed for emerging markets that has received FDA approval and will make a big impact on our highly strained health-care system right here in the US. All of these products utilized several principles of jugaad innovation – and all of them are finding a place in highly regulated markets like the US and Europe.
Reducing the bells and whistles on many of these products is in a way about going backward – going back to a simpler existence? Mitticool, for example, is about using basics and natural products.
Jugaad innovation goes far beyond simple de-featuring, but having a deep understanding of consumer needs and recognizing that certain features just don't provide value for money is a part of jugaad innovation.
It's interesting to think about whether removing bells and whistles is going backward, or is actually an advancement from the complexity we face today ... too many software programs on your laptop, too many buttons on your remote control – it's overwhelming and counterproductive.
MittiCool, the low-cost, biodegradable refrigerator made out of clay, is a great example of jugaad innovation – creating a product and a new industrial process with very limited education and capital, flexible thinking that allowed the innovator to use a millennia-old material like clay to create a fridge out of it, and yes, simplicity that allowed his community to have refrigerated produce and dairy for the first time ever – and in an environmentally friendly fashion Interestingly, many users of the MittiCool say that food actually tastes better when stored in it as compared to a regular fridge, because it provides moisture to the food rather than drying it out.
There's been some debate about how successful are some of these low-cost products. Tata Nano is a low-cost product but had trouble with quality control and didn't really reach as many consumers as they had hoped. Can you address the "success" element here?
I think the Tata Nano is a huge success. While they've had some challenges with safety and sales have been disappointing, the Nano has created a whole new benchmark in the global auto industry. Every car company today wants to create their own version of the Nano. The car isn't just stripped down, there were many new innovations that were developed resulting in tens of technology and design patents. It also provides an alternative to families who previously could only travel on a motorcycle – sometimes with 4-5 passengers. The Nano provides a much better option. They've also demonstrated tremendous flexibility in their sales models and even the location of their factories quickly – no easy feat for a large corporation.
You refer to a Booz & Company report that has a CEO wearing a shirt, "Spent $2 billion on R&D, and all we got was this lousy T-shirt." For companies in the West to get smarter about innovation, what do they need to do?
Companies in the West would benefit from using jugaad innovation to augment their current innovation practices, which tend to be more expensive, structured, and insular.
Typically innovation occurs in big R&D labs, with planned approaches to innovation done by those whose job it is to innovate. What we're suggesting is that rigid processes like Six Sigma can be highly effective where sameness is desired, such as manufacturing. But innovation takes place in a less linear fashion.
As George Buckley, former CEO of 3M said, "Invention by its very nature is a disorderly process. You can't put a Six Sigma process into that area and say, 'Well, I'm getting behind on invention, so I'm going to schedule myself for three good ideas on Wednesday and two on Friday.' That's not how creativity works." And that's exactly why he rolled back Six Sigma initiatives at 3M.
Companies will need to imbue frugality, flexibility, and inclusiveness into their culture to drive sustainable growth in a global economy that is more diverse, interconnected, volatile, global, and resource scarce.
Western companies traditionally have large overhead costs – complex corporate structures, large staff, etc. Are they ready to get rid of some of this? What do you find in your conversations with these companies?
There is a huge trend emerging around frugal innovation – and companies are now understanding the urgency of why they must be more frugal, flexible, and inclusive in order to succeed in today's volatile economy. This is a big shift from 3 to 4 years ago when we first started writing about jugaad innovation, when there was a lot of pushback around making these kinds of changes.
Having said that, the changes will come slowly. Typically, we see this style of innovation occurring on the edges, and through partnerships and even acquisitions. It will take some time before we see radical changes across large organizations, but it's starting to happen.
One of the ways we're helping corporations deeply understand how to do this is through workshops and interactive, hands-on innovation labs that dig deep into the principles of jugaad innovation. In our book, my co-authors and I share several examples of [how] large companies like 3M, Google, Facebook, Renault-Nissan, and GE are already using the principles of jugaad innovation to create sustainable growth in a very challenging economic climate.
There's a saying, "Keep it simple, stupid." Is that fundamentally at the core of frugal innovation – keep it simple?
Yes, simplicity is a key principle of jugaad innovation, and one of my favorites. Simplicity requires a deep understanding of consumers, their needs and their habits. Simplicity and "good enough" products deliver higher value because they are designed to do one thing exceptionally well (functional specialization), rather than doing multiple things in a mediocre fashion.
The MittiCool mentioned above is an outstanding example of simple, focused design, as is the Mac 800. John Maeda, president of the Rhode Island School of Design, points out "It's not necessarily beneficial to add more technology features just because we can. R&D engineers must make frugal simplicity the core tenet of their design philosophy." I couldn't agree more.
When feminist writer Courtney Martin wanted to raise money to fund research into the future of online feminism, it made sense to turn to other women for funding.
She called in Jacquelyn Zehner, chief executive of Women Moving Millions, a philanthropic organization made up primarily of women who have donated at least $1 million each to women's causes. Ms. Zehner arranged for a conference call with a small group of wealthy women and Ms. Martin this spring.
"They responded immediately and enthusiastically," said Martin. In a month, this audience raised $24,000 to fund the research. For Martin, it was a satisfying and natural extension of some of her earlier activities. In 2006, she created The Secret Society for Creative Philanthropy, an annual gathering that began with a gift of $100 each to 10 friends, with instructions to give it away and then tell how.
Welcome to the world of female philanthropy – it's not your father's United Way.
RELATED: Meet the 10 richest women
"Women are taking ownership," said Andrea Pactor, associate director of the Women's Philanthropy Institute at Indiana University, which has found that female-headed households are more likely to give to charity than male-headed households, and that in nearly all income groups women give more than men.
Women are exerting a greater influence on how philanthropy is done as they accumulate wealth and use their clout to change the way funds are raised and distributed. Roughly 1 million women in the United States each have assets of at least $2 million, according to 2007 Internal Revenue Service data, the most recent available. Wealth controlled by charitably minded women can be expected to grow as they build careers and inherit money from their parents and their husbands.
As more women give, they are likely to change not only what is funded but how they raise money, because female philanthropists often prefer to raise money in a group.
Three years ago, the Red Cross raised the ante in its women's program, called the Tiffany Circle, to $100,000 a year, and pulled in 61 new members the first night.
"We raised over $6 million in 30 seconds," said Melanie Sabelhaus, a former deputy administrator at the Small Business Administration who heads the Tiffany Circle, "and not one of the women picked up the phone and asked her husband."
Another group, the Women Donors Network, has 175 members who combine individual gifts in the $100,000 to $200,000 range and give $200 million a year to women's causes. And Women Moving Millions, after five years, has more than 150 members.
Insiders say women have their own culture in grant-making.
"We really believe the solution lies with the people on the ground. We don't think we have all the answers," said Zehner of Women Moving Millions.
For example, the Global Fund for Women (GFW), unlike most grant-givers, accepts handwritten proposals of any length and in any language, and is unusually open to grants for general purposes rather than specific projects. It also funds meetings to create networks of women activists.
The approach demonstrated its power during Egypt's Arab Spring, said Christine Switzer, GFW's director of development. "Our women were able to mobilize together," she said, pointing to 77 grants totaling more than $1 million GFW has given to Egyptian women, young and old.
Women have also helped establish a new model for medical research grants. For example, lupus, an autoimmune disease, typically hits women of child-bearing age, and often strikes minorities. Research was at a standstill in the late 1990s, so the lupus community created the Lupus Research Institute in 2000 to give small grants to fund experimental research on projects not necessarily likely to pay off quickly.
Few private groups were doing anything like it at the time.
"We were open with each other about our frustration, and that led us to be able to take risks," said lupus activist Jennie DeScherer. Now the foundation is going international, and the small-grant approach has spread.
It is obvious that with everyone glued to their cellphones, nonprofits would miss out if donors couldn't text money. But the United States lagged Europe in mobile donations until American women broke the logjam.
A $34.7 million Red Cross text campaign to aid victims of the 2010 Haiti earthquake was put together by a team of women that included a special adviser at the State Department, leaders at the Red Cross, and Jenifer Snyder, a lawyer who created the platform with women technologists.
Snyder spent two years working out financial arrangements that are still in place with carriers. For every $100 texted, $93 goes to the charity, $6 covers costs, and $1 is donated to the mGive foundation, which Snyder co-founded to vet nonprofits and help them use texting imaginatively, not just for fund-raising.
RELATED: Meet the 10 richest women
The text-for-Haiti effort wasn't the first time that women innovated in the field of philanthropy. Giving circles were embraced in 1991 by the Ms. Foundation, and they have caught on and stuck. Members decide together where to give their dollars. Many groups don't stipulate how much each person must contribute. Community foundations often manage the money.
Female philanthropists now are also establishing private family foundations and donor-advised funds to funnel money to the charities they care about most.
But the real surge in woman's philanthropy may be yet to come.
"I'm waiting for the whole women's funds movement to come to scale, understanding the interchange between economic security and health and civil rights and violence," Zehner said.
When that day comes, expect a mobile-giving campaign, and a whole lot of lucrative conference calls.
Former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is all about action, whether it’s on a film set or working to terminate fossil fuels.
“When I was governor, I believed in the important role government played in reducing greenhouse-gas emissions, but I also knew that leadership was not going to come at a national level,” now former Governor Schwarzenegger said in a statement to The Christian Science Monitor.
This idea – that local and state-level efforts can more effectively combat climate change than complex international agreements – led Schwarzenegger to found R20 Regions of Climate Action. The nonprofit organization counts states, cities, financial institutions, foundations, and various United Nations programs as its members, partners, and observers.
The year-old group isn't waiting for political gridlock to break free or national laws to be passed – obstacles that can block needed actions in the United States and around the world, Schwarzenegger says.
Not that Schwarzenegger opposes government action. While governor, he signed legislation for several environmental initiatives, including the Hydrogen Highway, the Million Solar Roofs Initiative, and the Global Warming Solutions Act.
“I worked with governors in other states to create the Western Climate Initiative, and then I worked with leaders in the European Union and Canada to launch the International Carbon Action Partnership. And the results were unbelievable,” Schwarzenegger says.
These efforts have made a difference, he says. The average Californian now uses only 6,700-kilowatt hours of electricity per year, compared with the national average of 12,000, Schwarzenegger says.
State, local, and private climate initiatives are important. According to the United Nations Development Program, between 50 percent and 80 percent of the actions to reduce carbon emissions happen at the “sub-national level.”
Enter R20. Through its Green Finance Network, the nonprofit helps state and local governments, as well as financial institutes, pair with green technology companies to increase energy efficiency and sustainability. More than 100 financial institutions, including the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank in the Philippines, participate in R20.
“We are the marriage brokers between government, finance, and green technologies. It’s a well-kept secret that what’s good for the environment is good for the economy,” says Terry Tamminen, strategic adviser to the founding chair of the R20.
[Editor's note: The original version of this story misidentified Mr. Tamminen's role at R20.]
For example, General Electric plans to build the largest solar-panel factory in the United States. GE is already one of the world’s primary manufacturers of wind turbines. In China, WestTech just joined R20. Its solar-thermal products are about 60 percent more effective than any other products out there, Mr. Tamminen says.
The Chinese "recognize their future is in saving energy. They know they can’t gobble up fossil fuels without choking to death,” says Tamminen, the
former Secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency under Schwarzenegger.
“Companies and organizations were frustrated with so many years of inaction – or slow action – at the political level,” says Jeffrey Hunter of Sustainia. “They agreed a new approach was needed. Sustainia is that new approach – a sustainability movement that's attractive to normal people.”
Sustainia aims to dissuade people from imitating Edvard Munch’s painting “The Scream” when they think about climate change. In short, it doesn't talk about melting polar ice caps and rising sea levels. Instead, Sustania wants people to realize sustainability won’t lower their living standards and is economically viable.
“A stronger 'bottom-up' movement is needed if we want sustainable societies faster than the world's governments are giving them to us,” Mr. Hunter says.
While eco-friendly and energy-efficient technology may initially cost more, prices come down as production steps up. Renewable energy and energy efficiency result in more long-term savings.
“And that’s what R20 is all about: It’s about action,” Schwarzenegger says.
It’s easy to talk about the importance of the commons in grand terms – vast stretches of breathtaking wilderness, publicly funded advances in science and technology, essential cultural and civic institutions, the air and water which we all depend on for survival.
But let’s not forget the lowly commons all around that enliven and enrich our lives. Things like sidewalks, playgrounds, community gardens, murals, neighborhood hang-outs, and vacant lots. Especially vacant lots.
Modern society’s obsession with efficiency, productivity, and purposefulness sometimes blind us to the epic possibilities of empty spaces that aren’t serving any profitable economic function. The word “vacant” itself implies that these places are devoid of value.
In many places today commoners are working to make sure that vacant lots can delight successive generations of kids.
But think back to all the imaginative uses you could discover for vacant land as a kid. In my neighborhood we squeezed a baseball diamond, 6-hole golf course, horseshoe pit, and vegetable garden (right behind the third base line) into the lot behind my house. My dad mowed the expanse of weeds every week, but it belonged to every kid in the neighborhood. All summer long, we’d gather there after breakfast to plot our adventures for the day.
In the back of my mind I always knew that someone else owned the land and that some sad day a house would rise where we swung five-irons on bumpy fairways and picked ripe cantaloupes, but I am so grateful it was ours for a while.
Thankfully, in many places today commoners are working to make sure that vacant lots can delight successive generations of kids.
Jonathan Rowe, who wrote with keen insight and love about the commons until his death last year, became a champion of shared public space in his town, Point Reyes, Calif., where several vacant lots on Main Street serve as social hubs for the community.
The 596 acres website offers detailed information on how to begin the process of turning vacant lots into community commons.
Rowe and his colleague Elizabeth Barnet of the West Marin Commons highlighted the importance of these privately owned spaces, and the threat that one day they may disappear from the public realm. Just a few months before his death, the group secured a long-term lease for land at the corner of Main and 4th, which is now commonly called Jon Rowe Park.
Even more ambitious is the 596 Acres project, which identified every last parcel of publicly owned vacant land in Brooklyn with an eye to opening them up to the community for gardens and informal parks. The project is now expanding across the city, and the 596 acres website offers detailed information on how to begin the process of turning vacant lots (including those now locked behind fences or privately owned) into community commons.
• Jay Walljasper is a contributing editor to YES! Magazine, author of All That We Share, a contributing editor to National Geographic Traveler, a senior fellow of the Project for Public Spaces, a contributor to Shareable.net, and editor of OnTheCommons.org, where this article originally appeared.
When it dawned on Milo Cress that restaurants were constantly serving drinks with a plastic straw, whether he wanted one or not, he thought about what a waste that was – and decided to do something about it.
But he was not your average activist or even restaurant consumer. He was nine years old.
In February 2011, Milo set to work. He approached Leunig's Bistro in Burlington, Vt., where he lived, to see if it would consider offering straws to customers instead of serving them automatically.
"The goal is to reduce the use and waste of plastic straws that go into our landfill, and to encourage restaurants to adopt an "offer-first policy," says Milo, now 10.
Leunig's said yes immediately, and Milo's' BeStrawFree campaign has snowballed ever since.
"Now there are restaurants all over. There's a big restaurant chain in Canada, and restaurants across the country. Thousands of restaurants," he says. "People in more than 30 countries are interested and are participating."
Giving out disposable plastic straws is so common that, according to Simply Straws, more than 500 million of them are used in the United States every day. (That doesn't include straws attached to juice boxes.)
To put it another way: Over a lifetime, the average American will use nearly 40,000 straws. That's a lot of plastic, considering the material never breaks down, is made from the same stuff that fuels our carbon-spewing vehicles, and its chemicals are turning up in the most unexpected places, including remote ocean locales and in human bloodstreams.
Trine Wilson of Leunig's estimated that between 5 and 10 percent of its customers – who range from about 250 to 700 daily, depending on the season – do ask for a straw. Otherwise, she says, "Most people are really fine with it and supportive of it, or don't even notice it. And then if they do ask for a straw, they certainly appreciate the effort [to reduce plastic waste]."
That's typical. Once restaurants start offering straws first, Milo says, they see a reduction of about 50 to 80 percent – which means a cost savings as well as a reduction in plastic use.
At least one restaurant has taken the practice a step further: Sneakers Bistro in Winooski, Vt., simply doesn't offer straws, although it does keep them on hand for people who request them.
In the last year and a half, Milo has met with the mayor of Burlington and members of Congress, persuaded the National Restaurant Association to recognize "offer-first" as a best practice, and spoken at conferences across the country. He has an inexplicably large following in South Korea: His mother, Odale Cress, says he will be featured in next year's edition of a textbook there.
The Cresses are even more excited about the latest development for BeStrawFree: a partnership with Eco-Cycle, a Boulder, Colo.-based waste-reduction organization. The goal is to expand the campaign even further.
Just how far BeStrawFree has reached to date is hard to say. Ms. Cress says they've stopped keeping track because the letters of interest, and the restaurants participating, have skyrocketed.
"People will email us when they go traveling and say, 'I was in this little tiny town, and people said there was a little kid in America who started this,' " says Ms. Cress. "That’s so cool to hear, but we don’t keep track anymore."
It's a win-win for restaurants and the environment because when straws are served to customers who don't want them, Milo says, "they simply become very expensive plastic trash."
"I'm not out to ban plastic straws," he said in June at a conference in Boulder, Colo. "Just cut back on them. Way back, if possible."