One Day on Earth founder and director Kyle Ruddick witnessed the power of people coming together from all over the world when he attended the World Festival of Sacred Music at the University of California in Los Angeles.
There were about 40 musicians onstage, Mr. Ruddick says, and they had never rehearsed together. They simply began playing, and somehow, it worked.
“We were all sort of blown away,” Ruddick says. “Somehow they found a groove, they found a rhythm.” As a filmmaker, Ruddick was inspired by the effort and began thinking of an idea of his own. “Cinema has this universal language element like music,” Ruddick says.
Now he and co-founder and executive producer Brandon Litman are heading up One Day on Earth, an organization that on Oct. 10, 2010 (10-10-10), asked people in every country in the world to make a visual record of something they saw where they were living. More than 19,000 people picked up cameras.
The footage, which came in at 3,000 hours including audio in 70 different languages, has been edited down to a single feature film, also titled “One Day on Earth,” which debuts this Sunday, April 22, which is Earth Day. Screenings will take place in more than 160 countries. The movie is the first to contain footage shot in every country in the world on the same day.
To create the film Ruddick and Mr. Litman set up a One Day on Earth website and put out word asking people to get involved. Videos taken on Oct. 10, 2010, along with those that taken the next year, on Nov. 11, 2011 (11-11-11), are available for viewing on the website, along with a geo-tagged video archive that allows website users to find who took a certain video and view the filmmakers' profile.
Through a connection with a neighbor of Litman’s who worked at the United Nations, the two were able to team with the UN, which has pledged to support One Day on Earth through 2015. One Day on Earth, which was largely funded by Ruddick and Litman themselves, except for a few grants, gave cameras to more than 95 UN country offices in an effort to allow people to film in countries where it would normally be difficult.
“They've really helped to tell a story of the entire world,” Ruddick says.
By chance, Oct. 10 was the day on which North Korean leader Kim Jong-il publicly endorsed his son as his successor for the first time, Ruddick says. Part of the footage captured by "One Day on Earth" involved speeches delivered by North Korean government officials that were very anti-American. There’s a possibility that “One Day on Earth” will be screened in North Korea, but Ruddick isn't sure what kind of reception it would get.
“We saw a lot of things about North Korea,” he says. “Not all of it good.”
The opportunity to film a country for 24 hours was invaluable, Ruddick says.
“It's this window of opportunity, to show something to the rest of the world that they didn't have before,” he says of the filmmakers, who all got to keep their cameras. “It inspired them to go deeper into their lives and the issues around them.... it's like throwing them a bottle to send a message [in].”
The finished film features songs by artists like Paul Simon. Some big name musicians were brought in simply by e-mailing their managers, Ruddick says. After Mr. Simon gave the project a song, he says, other artists were willing to do so too.
“We owe him a big debt,” Ruddick says.
One Day on Earth is also hoping to release a film of the Nov. 11, 2011, footage, Ruddick says. And it's planning to attempt the same feat again on Dec. 12, 2012 (12-12-12), compiling that footage into a feature film as well.
One Day on Earth producers are working with a Web platform called Tugg that allows people to request that films come to their local theaters.
““I hope the message is that the world is this enormous, beautiful place that we have to take care of,” Ruddick says, when asked what he hopes people will take away from the movie. “[After] watching, people feel interconnected.”
Money from fundraisers being held by One Day on Earth will go to pay for free screenings. The free showings are something that is important to Ruddick and Litman.
“The world helped us make this movie,” he says. “We do want an opportunity for people to be on the ground, see the film, have a conversation about it.”
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For the past year powerful voices around Washington have singled out programs to improve biking and walking as flagrant examples of wasteful government spending.
Since last summer, proposals have flown around the Capitol to strip away all designated transportation funds for biking and walking – even though biking and walking account for 12 percent of all trips across America but receive only 1.6 percent of federal funding.
But on March 29 the US House of Representatives – the hotbed of opposition to bike and walking as well as transit programs – voted to extend the current surface transportation bill for another three months, saving the funding of bike and pedestrian programs. The Senate followed two hours later. (This marks the 9th extension of the existing transportation bill since 2009 and another victory for the growing movement to ensure federal support for biking and walking projects.)
The political forces that want to steer policies back to the 1950s – when cars and highways were seen as the only way to go – have consistently failed to muster enough votes to shift federal transportation funding into reverse. There are several reason for this, but one of the most surprising is the emergence of bicycle advocates – and to a lesser extent pedestrian advocates – as a persuasive political lobby.
Groups like the Alliance for Biking and Walking , the League of American Bicyclists, America Bikes, Bikes Belong, Rails to Trails Conservancy, People for Bikes, America Walks and others emphasize the message that the biking and walking benefit everyone, not just folks who ride and stroll frequently. They've earned the attention of a growing bi-partisan bloc of Congress members, which makes the prospects for continued federal support of bike and pedestrian improvements much more likely than anyone expected last year.
The core of their message is plain common sense: All Americans are better off because biking and walking foster improved public health (and savings in health care expenditures for households, businesses and government), stronger communities and local economies, less congestion, safer streets, lower energy use and a cleaner, safer environment.
While congressional critics belittle bicyclists as a marginal, almost silly special interest group, others herald them as self-reliant citizens who get around without the need of imported oil and mega-highway projects that cost taxpayers billions. Instead of a boondoggle, continued funding to improve biking and walking conditions in the US represents a sound investment that saves taxpayers money now and in the future.
Even if you will never ride a bike in your life, you still see benefits from increased levels of biking. More bicyclists mean less congestion in the streets and less need for expensive road projects that divert government money from other important problems. Off-road paths, bike lanes, sidewalks, and other bike and pedestrian improvements cost a fraction of what it takes to widen streets and highways. It's proven that bicycling and walking increases people's health and reduces obesity, which will translate into huge cost savings for government and a boost for our economy.
Policies that are good for bicyclists actually benefit everyone on the streets. Good conditions for bicycling also create good conditions for pedestrians. And what makes the streets safer for bikes, also makes them safer for motorists.
Higher gas prices (which have topped four bucks for the third time in four years) means more Americans are looking for other ways to get around. Bikes offer people more choices in transportation. This is especially true for people whose communities are not well served by mass transportation or where distances are too far to walk to work or shopping.
Bike advocates are also working hard to dispel the stereotype that all bicyclists are young, white, urban, male ultra athletes in Lycra racing jerseys. Increased investment in safer, more comfortable bike facilities means that more women, children, families, middle-aged and senior citizens, minorities, immigrants, low-income, suburban, and rural people will ride bikes.
The number of Americans who commute primarily by bike leaped 43 percent since 2000, according to census data. The number of overall bike trips rose 25 percent.
But for those numbers to keep climbing – and the benefits for all Americans to continue accumulating – people need to feel safer on their bikes. Seventy-one percent of all Americans report that they would like to bike more than they do now, according to US Highway Safety Administration data. But many of them fear riding on busy streets with speeding traffic.
Sharing is the best way to help these people feel safer. By historical tradition and legal decree, streets are not for the exclusive use of moving and parked cars. They are shared space belonging to everyone.
The Green Lane Project, which will launch in May, is an initiative to reclaim a bit of streets for bicyclists. The goal is to pioneer 21st-century streets in six cities where bike lanes on major routes will be protected from heavy traffic by curbs, posts, parked cars, or paint. This could do for bicyclists what asphalt roads did for cars a century ago.
But it’s important to remember that biking and walking are not strictly an urban way to get around. A new report from the Rails to Trails Conservancy (which I helped write) shows that biking and walking in rural America is far more widespread than most people realize.
The report cites data from the US Department of Transportation showing that rural Americans bike only slightly less than their urban counterparts, and much more than people living in newer suburbs. Here are two particularly surprising findings:
- In towns of 10,000 to 50,000, a higher percentage of overall trips are made by bike than in urban centers.
- In towns of 2,500 to 10,000, twice as many work trips are made by bike than in urban centers.
Federal funding of biking and walking improvements play an important role in helping rural communities attract and retain young people, families, and businesses.
As the CEO of the Billings (Montana) Chamber of Commerce, John Brewer, told a congressional hearing last year: “Talented people are moving to Billings in large part because of our trail system that creates the quality of life they are expecting…. Trails are no longer viewed as community amenities; they’re viewed as essential infrastructure for business recruitment.”
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In 2008, religious historian Karen Armstrong was granted a wish. She had recently won the TED Prize, which comes with $100,000 and support in making a single “wish to change the world” come true.
Armstrong had already identified a fundamental principle that she believed united the spiritual traditions she studied: compassion. She made a wish to work with leaders and adherents the world over to create a Charter for Compassion, an overarching statement of human morality that could unite us all.
Through a web-based platform, thousands of people from more than 100 countries contributed to the writing of the charter; a multifaith, multinational council of thinkers and leaders edited and signed off on the final document. The charter has now been affirmed by more than 85,00 individuals. City governments, civic organizations, schools, and universities throughout the world are seeking creative ways to put its words into action.
But what can the charter really accomplish in a world where religion drives us into rancorous divides at least as often as it unites us? I recently spoke to Karen Armstrong about the politics and practicalities of compassion.
Heidi Bruce: One of the things that YES! Magazine covers is how to better bridge divides between seemingly opposed groups. What role can media play in helping people with very different beliefs engage one another in a productive manner?
Karen Armstrong: I think the media has a huge role to play – and has to take quite a responsibility for some of the more divisive aspects in our culture. I’ve just written a piece in the Globe and Mail about Islamaphobia in Canada, and the hostile comments that came in were ugly and disturbing – sort of fascist-style comments. Very often, the media has portrayed certain sectors of the community through endless reporting on terrorism, ignoring the wider picture. So, there’s a real challenge here to turn that around.
Storytelling is fine as long as you can encourage people to act on the stories. I don’t want this charter, for example, to degenerate into a sort of club where people exchange compassionate and inspiring stories, because there’s just too much work to be done. If we want to create a viable, peaceful world, we’ve got to integrate compassion into the gritty realities of 21st century life.
Let’s use our stories to encourage listening to one another and to hear not just the good news, but also the pain that lies at the back of a lot of people’s stories and histories. Pain is something that’s common to human life. When we ignore it, we aren’t engaging in the whole reality, and the pain begins to fester. We need to encourage full storytelling – unless people also talk about the bad things that happen, this is just going to be some superficial feel-good exercise.
Bruce: What are some of the more recent practical applications of the charter that have been most inspiring to you?
Armstrong: Pakistan is taking a leadership role in integrating the charter into civic life. This a country right on the edge of the main conflicts that could fill our world – the whole world could implode because of what happens in Pakistan. It’s got Afghanistan and Iran next door, it’s a nuclear power, and it’s had conflict with India since its inception. This is a really explosive situation.
And yet the enthusiasm for the charter has been astonishing. I was there in 2011 for the launching of the charter; speaking three times a day, with thousands of people showing up each time. They’re concentrating on education. They’ve created a compassionate character for [the Pakistani version of] Sesame Street; this guy is really cool – not just some simp hanging out with flowers. He’s a positive role model for preschool children.
On the other side of the Gulf is Jordan, also explosive with Iraq on one side and Israel/Palestine on the other. During Ramadan, people in Jordan and Pakistan ran a web competition where participants were invited to post a compassionate action every day during the holy month. They were only expecting to have a few takers the first year – perhaps 10,000 – but 40,000 people did it every day.
I think another interesting fact is that many of the people who have come forward to help me have been businessmen. In Pakistan, for example, a leading business consultant has adapted my book, Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life, as a course for compassionate business. Google is way up in front on this – they recognize that if they treat their employees more compassionately, they get better results. They’ve looked into the abyss of 2008, when selfishness was allowed to run riot and proved disastrous for the economy. This is a very interesting development, a key one, because politicians are not going to be deflected from their course by somebody like me; they listen to business.
Bruce: They certainly do in this country.
Armstrong: They do everywhere now, because the market runs modern society. So that is the way we have to go. Next year in Seattle, for example, we’re going to have a conference on business and compassion.
Bruce: Are there examples of governments that have officially shown support of the charter?
Armstrong: The Compassionate Cities campaign is an important development in this regard. What it’s doing is taking this ideal, which could sound New Age-like and perhaps even self-indulgent, and inserting it into the gritty reality of city life. It’s no good just sitting in a glade being compassionate to somebody – it’s got to go into the cities. There are about 80 cities going through the process, as well as universities and schools. Part of where we may have to go – to be quite realistic – is to shame governments into it. If they find other cities being compassionate, saying, “Why aren’t you doing this?” they might be persuaded to begin making changes.
Bruce: Once cities affirm the charter, what concrete steps would you like to see them take in order to implement positive social change?
Armstrong: In cities, it’s got to be something that the city really needs. That will be very different in Pakistan, where people are getting blown up every day, than here in Seattle where we’re much safer at the moment. I think you need a core team of committed activists who can form a sort of “shadow city council” that shadows the work of government segments in charge of homelessness, health care, race relations, housing, or supporting the elderly – keep a weather eye on what they’re doing and hold them accountable.
One of my dreams is to create twin cities. For example, have a city in the Middle East twinned with a city in the United States. People can exchange news and form electronic friendships. Schools and universities can communicate so that some of the apprehensions and distorted views that we have of one another can be eroded. A network of compassionate cities could be a powerful force.
Bruce: In the field of conflict transformation, there’s the notion that, as a precursor to reconciliation between divided societies, a formal apology can be an important first step. What are your thoughts on apologies as necessary steps toward creating more compassionate cultures?
Armstrong: There is a real need for acknowledgement – an apology that acknowledges and demonstrates guilt. I think that is a good idea, but it has to be followed up with consistent action. In the Middle East, we British went in and transformed their societies forever – put in rulers that had no legitimacy among the people and then extracted all their resources. The terrorism we are seeing is largely a result of that massive disruption and dispossession – of people being shunted out of their homes in India, Pakistan, Israel, and Palestine. The point is that the damage has been done and an apology alone won’t set it right; one also has to recognize the irrevocability of what we’ve done.
Bruce: In your personal life, what challenges you most in striving to live more compassionately?
Armstrong: For me, the most challenging part is to constantly be talking to people.
Heidi: My apologies!
Armstrong: [Laughs]. I’m solitary by nature. I live alone and I’m a sort of hermit. Normally, I write, but that’s had to go to a large extent. I seem to be able to speak easily when I get on a platform; I feel like a weary old circus horse that hears the music, smells the sawdust, and starts prancing around and recovers its energy. But it is challenging not to get cross and snap at people when I travel around so much. That is hard. Also, I get quite a lot of abuse – some very ugly since September 11th. That’s when I have to remind myself of the Golden Rule and what it’s like for people who are continuously exposed to this kind of defamation.
Bruce: What are some of the sources of abuse that you just mentioned?
Armstrong: It’s from people who don’t like Muslims. I was speaking to someone in the US State Department whose mandate is to look at anti-Semitism around the world; yet what worries her most is rising Islamaphobia. We’re seeing exactly the same mechanism of mythology that was used against Jews. This is very ugly and worrying for our societies because it’s corrosive; it’s a gift to the extremists because it plays right into their hands. It also corrodes our spirit because it goes against everything we’re supposed to stand for in terms of tolerance.
Bruce: When people talk about the negative impacts of globalization, themes that often emerge are scale and pace. Do you feel that the tenets of the charter are more challenging to implement now than they were perhaps a hundred years ago?
Armstrong: Certainly great harm has been done in the past 100 years; two major world wars, nuclear weapons, massive displacement of peoples – it was a terrible century. But on the other hand we’ve got new ways to communicate, including social media, which is really how the charter’s operating a lot of the time. This string draws us together in a way that we weren’t all together before. We’ve created a global market where we are all connected, whether we like it or not. Poverty over there will redound on our own economies. We’re all involved.
But we can’t expect quick results; otherwise they’re going to be superficial. People in the west are not good with tha – we want things turned around fast. It will be hard work. Compassion is hard work.
- Find out more about the Charter for Compassion.
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The couple reported $789,674 in income and gave $172,130 to charity.
The largest gift was a $117,130 contribution to the Fisher House Foundation, a group that provides free or low-cost housing to military personnel and their families while they are receiving treatment at military medical centers. Mr. Obama has been giving the charity the after-tax proceeds of the sale of a children’s book he wrote.
The Obamas’ giving represents a bigger share of their income than that of the presumptive Republican nominee for president, Mitt Romney, and his wife, Ann, according to an estimate of their 2011 taxes, released in January. They reported they had given more than 16 percent of their income to charity in 2010 and 2011.
According to the Romney campaign, the couple reported $21.6-million in income in 2010 and gave $3-million to charity. In 2011, they reported $20.9-million in income and made $4-million in charitable gifts.
Both of the men who want to win the 2012 presidential race have given considerably more than the share of income reported by other people at their income level.
Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill, in tax documents released today, reported that they had given about 1.5 percent of their income to charity in 2011. The Bidens, who reported income of $379,035, contributed $5,540 to charity in 2011, according to the White House.
Latin American pop superstar Shakira will be at this weekend's gathering of the Western Hemisphere's leaders advocating for her favorite issues: early childhood development and universal education.
The singer and philanthropist will attend the Sixth Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia, and meet with heads of state, including President Obama. She'll also perform the national anthem of her home country, Colombia, at the opening ceremonies.
The international celebrity and humanitarian started two groups, the Barefoot Foundation in the United States and Columbia, and the ALAS foundation in Panama, that deal with helping children reach their full potential. She's also serves as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador. In the United States, Mr. Obama appointed her to his President's Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanics.
"We’ve seen an increase in the number of programs directed at children between 0 and 6 years old, but it is still not enough and 35 million children from lower-income communities can’t access high-quality early childhood education programs in [Latin America] today," Shakira told Forbes in an interview before the summit. "We have to keep working to build more centers, to train more teachers, and to involve more parents in their children’s education. But we not only need more programs, we need better ones."
Shakira has helped to start a $36 million education project for Colombian children, an effort announced as part of the events surrounding the weekend summit. She appeared Thursday in Cartagena with Maria Clemencia Rodriguez, Colombia's first lady, to announce a program to build 13 education centers for more than 6,000 students, according to the AFP news agency. The Colombian government will contribute almost $25 million and 18 private institutions will give $12 million.
Her Barefoot Foundation, which works with impoverished children, operates five schools in different regions of Colombia.
"I believe that every single one of us, celebrity or not, has a responsibility to get involved in trying to make a difference in the world," she told a Forbes interviewer. "All of us involved [in the Barefoot Foundation and ALAS] are very passionate about education and early childhood development. We are eager for a future without so much poverty and inequality, and we are fighting very hard to make it happen.
"That kind of determination and passion is what moves the needle on important social issues, whether it comes from a celebrity or not."
“The Hunger Games,” the new film based on the popular book by Suzanne Collins, has quickly become a blockbuster. Andrew Slack, executive director of the Harry Potter Alliance, a group of fans of another popular book and movie series, is hoping it can also inspire its fans to help change the world.
Mr. Slack, who co-founded the alliance in 2005, is now working on the Imagine Better Project, an effort to help fans “turn the fictions they love into the world they can imagine.”
One of the first campaigns asks fans of “The Hunger Games” to carry a pledge sheet to join Oxfam International’s campaign to fight hunger when they go to see the film and ask other moviegoers to sign up. The pledge sheet draws parallels between the movie’s dystopian world and problems in the real world.
The Harry Potter Alliance has been using fiction to help solve real-world problems since Mr. Slack started posting advocacy messages on fan sites in 2005. He was motivated then by a lack of direction among Harry Potter fans: They were spending hours talking about Harry Potter’s character but not acting like him.
“He would fight injustices in our world the way he fought injustices in his world,” Mr. Slack says.
Within a few weeks, his messages were reaching more than 100,000 people. In the years since, the organization has donated 90,000 books around the world, sent five cargo planes of aid to Haiti, and is working on other issues such as gay rights, genocide, and fair-trade chocolate.
The organization has almost 90 local chapters and a staff of 70 volunteers.
“Just by harnessing the power of an untapped fan community,” Mr. Slack says. It’s a strategy he calls “cultural acupuncture.”
“We find where the energy is in the culture and authentically move with that energy,” he says. “Imagine looking at the movies, or looking at a sports event, and seeing all of the energy that’s already there. Then imagine taking that excitement and harnessing it toward social good.”
Any organization can use the same principles, Mr. Slack says.
He suggests nonprofits pay attention to forthcoming movies that have messages or plots that are tied to their missions. Groups can then try to connect with online fans and get them excited by creating Web pages or Tumblr pages that connect their missions and the film.
“Popular culture we oftentimes disregard, and that is at our own peril,” Mr. Slack says. “We need to be engaged.”
Across Africa, simple carbon-free technologies and local creative partnerships have the electrical juices flowing, expanding grid access and prosperity.
In countries like Kenya and Tanzania, 80 to 90 percent of the population lacks access to electricity from an established grid, according to Fast Company. Although electric grids exist in most urban areas, connecting to them and paying monthly bills is too expensive for most residents. And in rural areas, access is even rarer.
For the 580 million people without grid access on the continent, that means resorting to kerosene lamps that harm health and the environment for meager amounts of light, and walking long distances for simple tasks like charging mobile phones. And as mobile technology use skyrockets in Africa, it's increasingly recognized as an important anti-poverty tool. Being off the grid not only keeps people in the dark. It also keeps people poor.
But three innovative approaches aim to brighten the future by expanding affordable grid access and harnessing renewable energy sources with minimal carbon emissions:
1. Turbines from scrap give new meaning to "local power." A Kenyan company is finding power in scrapyards. While solar energy is abundant in Africa, and solar panels are generally cheaper than wind turbines, Kenya-based Access:energy is making wind power work in rural regions. Its trick? Funded by NGOs, donors, and consumers, Access:energy teaches locals to build reliable turbines using existing scrap metal and car parts already present in communities.
That means no need to import or transport materials, and it creates design and manufacturing jobs in rural communities. Turbines are built where they are needed, minimizing the cost of tapping into existing electric grids or transporting solar panels over long distances. And replacement parts, when needed, are easily accessible.
For the 30 million Kenyans lacking electricity, Access:energy believes “the easiest way to get that power to residents is to teach them to make it,” according to Fast Company. So the organization is training local technicians to build the Night Heron turbine. One turbine can cheaply power up to 50 rural homes.
With fully local sourcing, Access:energy says it has created “the first commercially viable zero-import wind turbine,” while creating jobs, reducing waste, and increasing off-the-grid energy.
2. Solar partnership aims to brighten the future of R&D. Despite abundant sunshine on the energy-starved continent, a lack of funding and coordination has slowed African solar research to a crawl. But a new research-oriented network that now includes close to 200 scientists from 22 African and 10 non-African nations hopes to build the connections to turn that around.
ANSOLE (the African Network for Solar Energy) launched following a 2010 conference in Tunisia when scientist Daniel Egbe of Cameroon introduced unacquainted colleagues working on solar energy research in different African countries. "I said, 'let's see if us Africans can sit down and work together'," Egbe told the Science and Development Network. "We realised that we are working in related fields of solar energy, and that's how ANSOLE materialised."
According to Mammo Muchie, founding editor of the African Journal of Science, Technology, Innovation, and Development, “solar power will become the major renewable energy source on the continent only by organised research, training, design, and engineering.”
That’s where ANSOLE comes in. “Connecting researchers is key, especially in a field where the continent's scientists have little interaction with those in richer countries, a continent which is expensive and time-consuming to traverse,” according to the Science and Development network. The ANSOLE website now allows scientists to start new collaborations online, join together on funding proposals, and offers webinars at African universities.
"ANSOLE can help the movement of students from one country to the other, from poor countries to rich countries – in this way information will start to circulate between institutions," Egbe says.
3. "Netflix for batteries" delivers power where it’s needed. Sometimes, the cheapest way to get electricity into a home is to carry it. Tanzanian entrepreneur Solomon Faraji of EGG-energy has worked with co-founder Jamie Yeng to develop a low-cost subscription service for small, rechargeable batteries to provide electricity for individual homes and businesses.
"We want to move power in an inexpensive way from the grid and into homes and businesses," Yeng told the BBC. And the subscription service is inexpensive, costing around $80 for the initial installation and $60 for a yearly subscription, compared to between $400 and $800 to be connected to the existing grid. The installation includes wiring a home or business for full power access, and then allows the occupants to buy the subscription for the battery, which connects directly to the newly wired power system.
EGG, like Netflix, enables customers to exchange a drained battery for a fully charged one at charging and distribution stations as its charge runs out after three to 10 days. Then, returned batteries are recharged and re-distributed to other subscribers.
Two of the three existing EGG charging stations are connected to existing grid transmission lines, while the other is solar-powered. While the company hopes to increase the number of solar charging stations, using existing transmission networks allows EGG to “bridge that last-mile gap” between the grid and disconnected homes and businesses, according to the BBC.
And for a fraction of the cost of traditional grid access, this Netflix-like battery-sharing system is helping more people with limited connectivity see the light.
The growth of new business models that both turn a profit and do good gives those who are entering the professional world a new choice.
College graduates, for example, no longer have to choose between a career path of making profits and one of doing good. They can choose to do both.
I attended the recent Social Enterprise Conference at Harvard University to meet with young entrepreneurs who have started hybrid ventures that combine business principles with social good. I was particularly struck by the young social entrepreneurs who were a part of a keynote panel.
All of them have created interesting ventures that seek to address problems they’ve encountered in their efforts to make a difference. And their stories offer an interesting look at how and why some people are turning their passion for changing the world into for-profit ventures.
The panel’s moderator was Daniel Epstein, founder of the Unreasonable Institute, which gathers 25 entrepreneurs from around the globe in Boulder, Colo., for an intensive six-week summer program that aims to accelerate their social ventures.
Mr. Epstein is an avid believer in entrepreneurship – he had already created three ventures by the time he got his undergraduate degree. He started two others before creating the Unreasonable Institute, a social venture to gather others like him who wanted to use profit to drive change.
Joining him on the panel were three other social entrepreneurs:
Kavita Shukla, an inventor and the founder Fenugreen, the producer of FreshPaper, a product that extends the freshness of produce. Revenues generated through sales help to support the research and development of more solutions to further reduce the global issue of food spoilage.
Taylor Conroy, the creator of a turnkey online fundraising platform that has been successfully tested and will be made available for any individual or charity to use when it’s completed.
Lauren Bush Lauren, co-founder of Feed Projects, a company that makes and sells luxury fashion handbags and other items to help raise awareness and money for the UN World Food Program, Unicef, and other charities.
In listening to their panel conversation and speaking with each of them afterward, I was struck by the fact that none of them followed a traditional route to address problems. Specifically, Ms. Shukla initially wanted to give FreshPaper away as a charitable venture. But she couldn’t find any organizations interested in supporting it.
Ms. Lauren, a fashion design student, had the original idea for the Feed 1 bag while she was an ambassador for the World Food Program, but she found the organization wasn’t equipped to lead the effort.
While some bemoan the continual growth of the number of nonprofits and others are suspicious of the motives of for-profit social enterprises, these young entrepreneurs’ stories paint a different picture.
All of these ventures share the same desire: to create a positive social impact. While the routes are different, the goal is the same.
Perhaps it’s time for us to recognize that the proliferation of new nonprofits and social ventures is more a reflection of increasing social needs and the incumbent organizations’ inability to meet those needs using existing structures.
What do you think? What role can social entrepreneurs play in solving social issues? Is it possible to create social impact if you also want to make a profit?
The way Dara O’Rourke tells the story, the idea for GoodGuide came to him when he was slathering some suntan lotion onto his three-year-old daughter’s face.
O’Rourke, an associate professor of environmental and labor policy at University of California, Berkeley, wondered about the ingredients in Coppertone Water Babies; he did some research and learned it contained oxybenzone, a potential skin irritant. Later, O’Rourke found out that Johnson’s Baby Shampoo contained trace amounts of 1,4-dioxane, a probable human carcinogen.
“It shocked me,” he says, “that I basically knew nothing about the products I was bringing into my own house.”
O’Rourke started GoodGuide to plug that information gap. A five-year-old company backed by $10 million in venture capital, GoodGuide employs about 20 people, including environmental scientists, chemists, toxicologists, and nutritionists, who rate more than 165,000 products, including personal care items, household cleaners, food, toys, appliances, and electronics. Each product gets a numerical rating from 1 to 10 in three categories – health, environment, and society; the ratings are then made available on GoodGuide’s website, on Facebook, and on smartphones.
O’Rourke describes GoodGuide as a social enterprise, meaning the firm has a purpose that goes beyond making money: It aims to persuade consumers to vote with their wallets for environmentally friendly products and companies, and thereby help tackle big problems, including climate change, biodiversity loss, and industrial pollution.
“There definitely is a growing percentage of consumers who are aware and who care and who are seeking out products that have better environmental, social, and health attributes,” O’Rourke says. “We view those consumers who care as point of leverage over these big, big systems.” These “conscious consumers,” as they’re sometimes called, are important to the work of activist groups who bring pressure on corporations to reform their environmental or social practices; companies feel compelled to respond because they don’t want to alienate even a small share of their customers or potential customers.
It’s a reasonable theory of change. But does it work? Are there enough conscious consumers to make an impact? Shoppers may tell market researchers that they want to buy “greener” products – but can they be motivated to act?
Questions like those face not just O’Rourke and GoodGuide, but many companies and nonprofits that are betting on the power of green consumers. Greenpeace, for example, rates the world’s largest electronics companies on their sustainability practices with the hope that consumers will reward leaders and punish laggards. (This tactic is known in the NGO world as “rank ‘em and spank ‘em.”) Similarly, nonprofit Climate Counts scores big corporations on their efforts to mitigate climate change and urges consumers “to use their choices and voices” to pressure more companies to act. Taking a slightly different approach, BuyGreen.com is a shopping website that positions itself a “trusted source for green products.”
The most ambitious effort of all, a global initiative known as The Sustainability Consortium – which received startup money from Walmart and now includes retailers, consumer products companies, and universities – is building scientific tools to measure and report on the lifecycle impact of thousands of products; but its progress has been painfully slow.
No one doubts that green consumers can make difference. They can be credited for the success of a slew of small and mid-sized U. companies like Annie’s Homegrown, Seventh Generation, and Stonyfield Farm that have built brands imbued with environmental goodness. (Annie’s, best known for its organic mac and cheese, had sales of nearly $120 million in 2011 and had a successful IPO last month.)
Jeffrey Hollender, the former CEO of green-cleaning company Seventh Generation, says the success of these socially responsible insurgents has changed the practices of big companies. SC Johnson, for instance, listed all of the ingredients in its products only after Seventh Generation had done so. “Successful companies have learned to be incredibly sensitive to consumers,” Hollender says.
Since the launch of GoodGuide in 2007, O’Rourke says, more than 12 million people have visited the company’s website and used its mobile applications. Companies are paying attention, too, and taking steps to improve their product scores. “Basically, all of the consumer products companies are calling us up and want to interact,” O’Rourke says. While it’s difficult to trace any specific change to GoodGuide, Johnson & Johnson and Procter & Gamble have reformulated their shampoos to reduce toxins, including 1,4-dioxane. And Clorox created Green Works, a line of cleaning products on which it has partnered with the Sierra Club.
In opinion surveys, large majorities of consumers consistently tell researchers that they care about environmental and social issues. But the numbers that really count – those at the cash register – tell a different tale. While hybrid cars are trendy, their market share peaked in 2009, at less than 3 percent of all new vehicles sold. Green laundry detergents and household cleaners make up less than 5 percent of sales in their categories, industry insiders say. Organic foods provide an impressive growth story – their sales have ramped up from $1 billion in 1990 to $26.7 billion in 2010, according to the Organic Trade Association; but their popularity is driven more by health concerns than by environmental awareness.
This debate isn’t new. Joel Makower, the founder of media company GreenBiz, is skeptical about the power of green consumers – to whom he has been paying close attention since 1991 when he was co-author of a book, The Green Consumer. “A small percentage of consumers, by changing their habits, can move markets,” Makower says. “It’s an incredibly compelling notion. I just haven’t seen it in the market.”
The idea of buying green simply doesn’t seem to drive consumer behavior, Makower notes. “Why we can’t move people to a greener household cleaner or a recycled bathroom tissue or an energy efficient light bulb in greater numbers than we’ve seen so far is one of those enduring mysteries,” he says.
In an interview at GoodGuide’s offices in San Francisco, O’Rourke admits that the company still has a lot to prove. (The 44-year-old academic is now chief sustainability officer at GoodGuide; the board hired George Consagra, a longtime technology executive, as CEO last year.) “I want to be honest about hard this is,” O’Rourke tells me. “Originally we thought that information will set you free. But we’re going up against millions of dollars of marketing.”
And yet marketing isn’t what it used to be, he notes. No longer can companies control their message. More than a decade ago, O’Rourke learned firsthand how putting a spotlight on corporate malfeasance can drive change. As a graduate student at Berkeley in 1997, he was researching pollution from factories in Vietnam when he came across a leaked internal document about a Nike shoe supplier. It showed that workers were exposed to carcinogens that exceeded legal standards, suffered from respiratory problems, and were forced to work 65 hours for just $10 a week. He provided his findings to The New York Times and posted a report on the Internet, setting off a controversy that led to a turnaround at Nike, which is now seen as a corporate leader on environmental and social issues.
His experience with Nike “showed both the potential of a new way to distribute information, and, for me, how important it is to get my research out to the public,” O’Rourke says. “GoodGuide is basically an extension of that.”
GoodGuide began with a mobile phone app that required consumers to photograph bar codes to get data on individual products. It then posted reams of information on its website. Now it offers a popular iPhone app, as well as software called a Transparency Toolbar that attaches to a Web browser. When shopping online at Amazon, Walmart, Target, and other sites, shoppers can see how products perform, according to GoodGuide, on issues they care about. A GoodGuide app can also ride atop Facebook, rating the products and companies in any ads that appear. GoodGuide intends to make money by providing specialized data to retailers or institutional buyers, such as hospitals; it currently generates revenues when consumers go through GoodGuide’s website or toolbar to make purchases on Amazon.
The company’s goal is to “get into the flow of the shopping experience and try to provide the right information at the right moment,” O’Rourke says. GoodGuide has offered to make its data available for display on supermarket and drugstore shelves, but so far it has found no takers. Some retailers may worry about how their store brands would perform; others make money by selling prime shelf space to specific brands, so negative ratings could get in the way of that business.
Still, it’s only going to get harder to keep consumers in the dark. Environmental groups and consumers are pressing to learn more about how and where things are made. Campaigns around palm oil in Kit-Kat bars, BPA in baby bottles, and, most recently, the ammonia-treated ground beef extender known as “pink slime” have all triggered rapid reactions from business.
“Spikes of information, or misinformation, in social media can pressure business practices in a big way,” says Jonathan Yohannan, an executive vice president at Cone Communications.
In such instances, the consumer doesn’t need to act. Merely the fear of exposure and a backlash can spur change. Says O’Rourke: “Transparency is moving forward. That’s unstoppable. Our big bet is that transparency is going to motivate change.” It’s too soon to say whether that bet will pay off.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Marc Gunther is a contributing editor at Fortune, a senior writer at Greenbiz.com and a blogger at www.marcgunther.com. His book, "Suck It Up: How Capturing Carbon From the Air Can Help Solve the Climate Crisis," is available as an Amazon Kindle Single.
Foraging for food – whether it's ferreting rare mushrooms in the woods, picking abundant lemons from an overlooked tree, or gathering berries from an abandoned lot – is all the rage among the culinary crowd and the D.I.Y. set, who share their finds with fellow food lovers in fancy restaurant meals or humble home suppers.
But an old-fashioned concept – gleaning for the greater good by harvesting unwanted or leftover produce from farms or family gardens– is also making a comeback during these continued lean economic times.
In cities, rural communities, and suburbs across the country, volunteer pickers join forces to collect bags and boxes of fruits and vegetables that find their way to homeless shelters, soup kitchens, and food pantries, as well as senior centers, low-income homes, and school lunch programs.
Where some may see excess, others see opportunity – the chance to make a difference, feed the hungry, and avoid waste. It's a win-win-win all round: Growers who have surplus or seconds find a good home for these edibles beyond the compost pile; financially strapped aid organizations get much-needed fresh food for free for their patrons; and the gleaners get to give back in their communities.
"I've been surprised at how emotionally rewarding this is," says Andrew Sigal, an avid gardener in Oakland, Calif., who started Food Pool last summer to share the abundance from his prolific 800-square-foot garden with local food pantries. "It's one thing to give someone in need a dollar or a donation, but seeing someone get excited about beans from my backyard has been deeply fulfilling."
Some gleaners have even made a national name for themselves. Take The Lemon Lady, aka Anna Chan, a stay-at-home mom who began collecting excess fruit in suburban Clayton, Calif., while driving her then-baby daughter around to nap. Ms. Chan, who knew hunger as a child and how it felt to wait in food lines for canned goods, was shocked to see so much fresh fruit – such as oranges, apricots, and apples – left rotting in her neighbors' front yards. So she started a single-handed campaign to do something about it.
Three years on, and hundreds of tons of produce later, Chan, who is now a regular fixture at local farmers' markets where she collects unsold fruits and vegetables that she hauls to a local food pantry and Salvation Army site, has been featured in People, The Huffington Post, and Civil Eats. While the press attention has helped her cause, she keeps a laser-like focus on her mission to feed those in need.
“Many people don’t know where their local food pantry is located and don’t realize that food banks will gladly take fresh produce,” says Chan, who encourages people to get started by picking excess fruits and veggies in their immediate area and passing it on.
From California to New York and places in between, communities are finding creative, local ways to get fresh food to the residents who have the most challenges accessing such food. Glean for the City in Washington, D.C., for example, has a three-pronged approach: picking surplus produce from regional farms, gathering leftover greens from farmers' markets, and harvesting excess residential edibles.
Since 1988, Friendship Donations Network (FDN) in Ithaca, N.Y., has worked with local farmers to "rescue" thousands of pounds of produce that would otherwise go to waste and distribute it to low-wage workers, the elderly, and the young. Gleaned produce donated by the organization serves 24 programs that feed more than 2,000 people a week. The model just makes sense, says FDN program coordinator Meaghan Sheehan Rosen, who points out that there's no reason perfectly good food should go uneaten if farmers are willing and people are needy.
Some gleaning efforts have grown out of religious organizations – not surprising, since the term has Biblical origins. In the Book of Ruth, for instance, the poor are permitted to pick grain leftover from the harvest. The Society of St. Andrews, based in Virginia, has gleaning groups in several states including Arkansas, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania that have collectively gleaned millions of pounds of produce.
Faith Feeds, a Lexington, Ky., gleaning group that grew out of a church meeting, has picked up more than 111,000 pounds of produce since the summer of 2010, from farmers' markets, farms, and private residences.
"It is not hard to feed the hungry," says Jennifer Erena of Faith Feeds, an interfaith group not affiliated with any particular religion or church. "The word is spreading, and there's a wonderful energy among different people and organizations that is both collaborative and community oriented."
There are gleaning programs that connect homeowners overwhelmed by an abundant harvest with volunteers willing to pick produce and take it to local food banks, such as Portland Fruit in Oregon. But many gleaning efforts are simply started by an individual who sees a need and wants to fill it.
"I particularly like picking fruit for seniors, many of whom can no longer climb a ladder or aren’t able to do physical labor anymore," says North Berkeley Harvest founder Natasha Boissier, who started solo but now works with a group of volunteers. "They come out and talk with me while I work, and I appreciate and respect their wisdom and experience, and hearing about the ups and downs of having lived life. These moments of connection have brought me – and I hope them – a great deal of unexpected joy."
Ms. Bossier's first stop with fresh food is often the local men’s shelter.
"These men are often blamed for what’s wrong with them," says the clinical social worker. "I see them early in the morning standing out in the cold after enduring a night of who knows what, and I want to give them a piece of fruit to offer a moment’s respite from their pain and suffering. That’s my hope: to provide something tangible, simple, and sweet in their lives."
Some gleaning programs have become an integral part of their community. Take the Novato Unified School District Gleaning Program. Every week for the past six years, parents, students, and members of this Marin County, Calif., community glean excess organic produce from a participating local farm. (There are about 15 in the program.) Through a partnership with Marin Organic, a cooperative association of local growers, that fresh chard picked by a volunteer on Monday finds it way into school pasta sauce later in the week.
The gleaned fruits and vegetables now offsets up to 25 percent of the district's weekly produce, according to Miguel Villarreal, the director of food and nutrition services for the small school district, where some 4,000 meals a day are dished up at 13 schools.
For Mr. Villarreal, who has worked in school food for 30 years and grew up helping pick crops with his parents in the fields, the program is a no-brainer.
"There is so much beautiful abundance in this area, and our school food program can use all the help it can get," says Villarreal, who sees educational and community-building benefits to the program, as well.
Others raise some unexpected benefits of gleaning. Melita Love, of Farm to Pantry in Healdsburg, Calif., found a community of people in her new hometown when she started gleaning. Ms. Love has collaborated with local preservers to extend the shelf life of the bounty she and her crew harvest in such staples as applesauce and tomato sauce – think canning for a cause – that food pantry patrons can pick up along with gleaned fresh goods.
She's also worked with local groups to explain to patrons how to use produce that may be unfamiliar.
"The first time we dropped off kale to a food pantry nobody took it because they didn't know what to do with it," Love says. "So we did cooking demos for kale salad, kale chips, and a winter soup with kale, and we handed out recipes, too. Education is an important part of any gleaning effort."
Food Pool's Mr. Sigal points out that a group of gardeners who share their backyard bounty with less fortunate folk in his community have gone a step further, funding and constructing a community garden at a local food pantry where there was once an unused piece of land.
"A year ago, most of these people didn’t even know there was a food pantry there," he says. "There's this incredible value in creating community that goes beyond just sharing surplus fresh food."