It was a Friday night in June 2008, “guys’ night” for Mark Evans and his son.
Mr. Evans and his wife have two older daughters, but that night it was meant for just him and his fifteen-year-old son, Kent. They’d ordered pizza. The TV was on, playing a program about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"Do they have pizzas there in the Middle East?’” Evans, a resident of Elk Grove Village, Ill., remember his son asking that night about the US troops engaged in the fighting. Evans, a retired master sergeant who was in the Air Force for 26 years, was able to reply from experience when he told Kent, “No, they’re eating out of boxes.”
That's when Kent asked his dad if they could send pizzas to the troops overseas.
Evans e-mailed US Army Gen. David Petraeus, the head of US forces in Iraq, asking about the idea and, Evans says, he received a reply within 12 hours. It's a great idea, go for it, the general had said. “Only a master sergeant can do this,” the e-mail from General Petraeus read, according to Evans.
Evans, who works for AT&T, and Kent, who is now a student at the Illinois Institute of Technology and enrolled in the Air Force ROTC program there, originally wanted to raise enough money to send 300 pizzas to soldiers overseas, but were able to ship more than 2,000 for the Fourth of July that year. The shipping company DHL Express delivered the food for no charge.
Since the success of the initial program, the two have continued the effort, sending pizzas to troops for every Fourth of July and Super Bowl Sunday as well as delivering pizzas to veterans hospitals in the United States for Veterans Day. They call their effort Pizzas4Patriots.
This year, Pizzas4Patriots will send 10,000 Uno’s pizzas to troops for the Super Bowl, a number Evans said was selected in honor of the 10th anniversary of 9/11. They're calling the Super Bowl effort Operation Not Forgotten, a name Evans says was selected because, despite the war in Iraq ending, he and the other Pizzas4Patriots supporters want to show soldiers that they are still appreciated even after combat is over.
“There will always be soldiers somewhere making the world a better place,” Evans says.
Evans, who also has a daughter in the Air Force, says that after spending time himself serving in the Air Force he knows how good getting a gift from home can feel.
“When you’re in the military, you wonder, ‘Are they thinking of me at all?’ ” he says. “A letter or anything from home [is good], but pizza….”
He said pizza is a special gift because the food is such a staple of American life. “When you go celebrate, it’s always pizza,” he says.
The pizzas are delivered power-baked and cryo-frozen, Evans says. They just have to be heated when they arrive for the troops. Reaction from soldiers who received the pizza has been overwhelmingly positive, he says. “Their eyes light up,” he says. “And they say, ‘You made me think of home.’ ”
Service personnel will go up to his daughter in the Air Force and tell her, “I just had some of your dad’s pizza!”
For the Fourth of July 2012, Evans wants to send 50,000 pizzas overseas. And his goal for the next Super Bowl is to deliver 100,000 pizzas to US troops.
The best part of the volunteer project, he says, is waking up on the morning of the Super Bowl. “You’ll be drinking your coffee and ... you think, ‘The guys are going to get the food today.’ You get chills. There’s no better feeling in the world.”
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“Gradually it dawned on me that he’d broken the wetland regulations. I went to a town meeting and waited for someone to say something. Nobody did. So I voiced my opinions as best I could, red-faced, hesitant, and embarrassed. I found all these other people were thinking the same thing.”
Shortly afterward, Smith joined the League of Women Voters, and began working on wetland and recycling issues, first in Connecticut and then in Maine. She became a more confident activist with experience, and by the time the league asked her to help get a campaign finance reform measure on the ballot, she jumped at the chance.
“We’ve become so used to being disgusted with elections and politicians,” says Smith. “We assume that almost anyone who gets in will be corrupt. I didn’t know whether the initiative would pass, but I didn’t want cynicism to rule my life.”
The initiative offered a Clean Election Option, where candidates who pledged not to take private funding and who raised enough $5 contributions could receive public money to mount a competitive campaign.
Smith met with newspaper editorial boards and spoke wherever anyone would have her. “I found that as an ordinary person I had more credibility than the political professionals. When people asked why I was involved, I’d repeat over and over how if we could just break the links between money and politics, we’d begin to have a solution.”
The initiative passed with 56 percent of the vote and changed Maine’s politics. By 2010, 80 percent of the state’s candidates were participating, and Vermont, Arizona, and Connecticut had launched similar programs.
Smith now works with a new generation of activists in Maine to defend, preserve, and strengthen Clean Elections.
“One of the great things,” she says, “is that these reforms require citizen participation. For 10 years, Maine people have made the system work, supporting Clean Election candidates with qualifying contributions of $5. Without the pressures of fundraising, candidates put a premium on voter contact.
"Once elected, lawmakers know that their only debt is to the voters. Although our law has come under attack, Maine people always rise to defend their Clean Election system.
• Paul Loeb wrote this article for The YES! Breakthrough 15, the Winter 2012 issue of YES! Magazine. Paul is the author of Soul of a Citizen: Living with Conviction in Challenging Times.
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The United States has a topsoil problem.
About 75 percent of it is gone, primarily because the large, single-crop farms that dominate American agriculture rely on chemicals and synthetic fertilizers to produce their harvests, depleting natural soil systems in the process.
John-Paul Maxfield thinks compost can help solve this problem. Environmentalists love compost for several reasons, including that it helps divert waste from landfills – the world's largest source of human-produced methane, a greenhouse gas 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
But for Maxfield, composting organic matter isn't so much a waste-reduction issue as it is an ecological and agricultural one. He wants to create a market solution to get compost back into the soil.
He's part of a small but growing community of people and companies around the country that recognizes the lifecycle of the food supply, and the need to link the production of food with what happens to the scraps of food after it is consumed.
"We have been losing topsoil across the planet at an alarming rate over the past 50 years, largely due to poor agricultural practices," Dan Sullivan, managing editor of BioCycle magazine, said in an email. "Amending our soils with compost, basically recycling organic waste back into the earth just as natural ecosystems such as forests function, is really the only way we can correct that damage."
He said he's starting to see a transition even on conventional (nonorganic) farms from petroleum-based farming to compost, largely because of increasing costs of petroleum, but also because the advantages of compost are becoming ever-clearer.
"Compost use improves water infiltration and storage capacity, thereby protecting agricultural lands long-term from drought, while chemical farming tends to dry out the soil, deplete nutrients over time, and cause erosion," Sullivan said.
Dan Matsch, compost program manager at Eco-Cycle, put it this way: "Any land from which nutrients are harvested, whether it’s a lawn from which the clippings are removed and leaves are raked up, or a giant agricultural field, needs to have those nutrients replaced one way or another or the soil becomes depleted over time."
But the transition is relatively slow, particularly in urban areas, where farming is on the rise around the country but where soil tends to be nearly devoid of nutrients and microbial activity, which Maxfield says is the key difference between soil and dirt. Urban areas also produce huge amounts of food waste that are, in most cities around the United States, treated as trash and sent to a landfill – preventing the nutrients from ever reaching the soil again while also contributing directly to climate change.
So Maxfield started a company, Waste Farmers, that takes organic waste collected from around Denver and produces organic agricultural inputs like fertilizer, potting soil, biochar, and compost tea. Waste Farmers currently sells products in bulk and is preparing to move into the retail home and garden market in 2012.
Ultimately, the objective is to develop a stronger market demand for compost. The products that Waste Farmers make are essentially a delivery mechanism for getting compost back into the ground and part of the food-production system again.
"At the retail level most people don’t really know what to do with straight compost, so it makes good sense to package it in a more ready-to-use form as [Waste Farmers] is doing," said Matsch. "The company is "not marketing straight compost – tea, char, and castings are all ‘value-added’ additional ingredients that make it an entirely different product."
By getting compost into people's hands in these more usable forms, the company is essentially creating a closed-loop process for agriculture and the organic waste stream.
To explain the function of Waste Farmers to people without an agricultural background, Maxfield asks you to picture a farmer using biodynamic principles, which are designed to be self-sustaining:
"What he can't consume, he feeds to his pigs and his cattle, and then they poop. And then a chicken comes through and picks through the poop," he said. "That becomes a refined product that then goes back to feed the soil. We kind of play the role of the chicken in this system, refining and adding value to this soil."
Matsch, whose organization has worked with Maxfield and is the largest community-based recycling organization in the country, chose to describe Waste Farmers another way, commenting on the shared goals of the company and Eco-Cycle. "What both [Waste Farmers] and Eco-Cycle are doing is to try to create an association in people’s minds between food waste and soil fertility and to create a very local circle of resource recycling – from plate to compost pile to soil and back to the plate."
The other thing that Waste Farmers' potting soil has going for it is that the presence of compost displaces the need for peat moss, a plant material sourced from limited supplies in sensitive ecosystems – and is found in just about every retail potting soil.
Waste Farmers, now about three years old, has seen impressive growth. Maxfield said at six months, they were operating with a pickup truck and processing about one ton of compost a month. Now they're up to about 300 tons a month. But the more notable achievement is the quality of the product they're retailing. Maxfield said that side-by-side comparisons of plants grown in Waste Farmers' potting soil and in their competitors' soil have produced double yields for the Waste Farmers soil.
Maxfield said the company brought in about $500,000 this year, and expects to grow to between $3 and $5 million by 2014. He bases that largely on the growing demographic of urban farmers, the support he has received so far from the local food community and from the city – Maxfield sits on the Denver Mayor's Seeds Task Force, which is focused on developing the infrastructure for urban agriculture, and the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce named Waste Farmers the "2010 Green Business of the Year" – and on the interest that local retailers have expressed in selling his product.
"Costco said, 'Let's talk.' Independent lawn and garden centers have said, 'Let's talk," Maxfield said. "The conversation's the same: 'Tell us when you have your packaging.'"
The packaging isn't easy: "We tried compostable packaging. It composted. We tried a burlap sack, it composted the burlap sack," Maxfield said in the Waste Farmers testing lab. They expect to have a solution in time to start selling sometime this year.
For Maxfield, the big-picture plan for Waste Farmers is to expand to other cities, so that organic waste is collected, turned into compost, and put back into the soil all in a closed-loop, localized system.
Establishing smaller and more distributed systems in this way makes financial sense.
"The current economics of compost have a lot to do with proximity to agricultural markets. Compost is heavy (and so is food waste), and most commercial composters will tell you that 100 miles is about the farthest you can haul it and have the numbers line up," said Sullivan from BioCycle.
But for Waste Farmers, setting up shop in multiple cities is also part of the quest for sustainable answers to agricultural – not just financial – problems. He said, "What we want to do is decentralize a very centralized, failing agricultural system."
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In Haiti, cash is escaping from wallets and savings accounts are breaking free from brick-and-mortar banks.
Two years after 2010’s devastating earthquake, mobile money has taken off in the island nation. While the country has seen setbacks in many areas and continues to struggle, one bright spot is the transformation of the country’s traditional banking sector.
Physical banks were wiped away by the quake and subsequent hurricane, and a mobile banking network that uses cell phones has grown up in their place.
Toting your money around on a cell phone might sound scary, but for many Haitians it’s more secure than carrying around a wallet, which isn’t protected by a PIN. The handy infographic to the left shows how a mobile money transaction works.
In the months following the quake, both Mercy Corps (our parent organization) and The Gates Foundation sponsored separate Haitian cell phone companies, Voilà and Digicel, to help mobile money take off, with the Gates Foundation offering monetary incentives for the first company to get a program off the ground and for continued improvements in order to get entrepreneurial engines revving.
For many Haitians, mobile money can open a door to personal choice. Mercy Corps has used mobile money to distribute food aid to families across Haiti and deliver payments from its cash-for-work programs. Instead of spending hours waiting in line for a cash payment or a food ration, Haitians receive a wireless money transfer on their phones once a month.
The technology holds promises for the future, too. Long-term, mobile money could be expanded so that it’s accessible to everyone for all of their personal purchases. Haitians could use mobile money to send remittances to family members in other parts of the country, according to AudienceScapes. And after visiting with Mercy Corps staff in Haiti in 2010, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote about the way that mobile money is creating a way for the poor to save money like never before. Most banks won’t accept very small deposits, but now a mobile phone could double as a savings account. It could blow the microsavings sector wide open.
Mobile money could also help make Haitians healthier. Even before the earthquake hit, Haiti’s public health indicators were the worst in the Western hemisphere, according to the US Department of State, and those problems were only compounded by the disaster.
In Kenya, one of the first countries to adopt mobile money, customers can use it to pay – and save up for – health services. Expectant mothers use it to save for health care, and in rural communities Kenyans have used the service to pay for access to clean water, reports USAID. Looking forward, a mash-up of mobile health and mobile money technologies in Haiti could lead to new insurance plans and health voucher programs, according to Health Unbound.
With mobile money quickly gaining widespread use, the developing world is leaps ahead of the developed. Mobile money launched in Kenya in 2003, according to The National Archives, but Google Wallet’s similar service in the United States wasn’t released until September of last year and has yet to truly take off. Maybe it’s time for American company executives to start taking a few pointers from Haiti.
But this January also happens to be the month that a new law in California has come into effect, the first of its kind in the United States, and one that has the potential to do more than just raise awareness of human trafficking and actually make a real dent in the problem itself.
Human trafficking and forced labor are largely hidden problems, but they persist in just about every country in the world (including in the US) whether it's in cotton fields that feed our demand for clothing or in factories where our electronics are assembled. As consumers, we are all connected to human trafficking and slavery through the goods we use every day.
But a large hurdle in eradicating slavery is how disconnected those final products are from the conditions that produced them.
The supply chains that companies rely on to bring consumer goods to the market have become so fragmented that a grocery or apparel company has no idea – sometimes by design, sometimes inadvertently – that it is enabling the forced exploitation of workers. The retail clothing chain Gap was the target of activist campaigns and got a lot of bad press in the late 1990s for using exploitative child labor in factories that produced Gap clothing. But because stores like Gap outsource labor to factories and do not own them outright (and Gap was never the only one to take this route), they can shirk responsibility for what happens within those facilities.
A new rule in California seeks to put some of that responsibility back into the corporate offices of large businesses, so that it's no longer enough for a company to say it doesn't know the conditions in which its products are grown or manufactured. The California Transparency in Supply Chains Act, which was signed into law last year but only went into effect this month, requires companies to disclose, in a prominent place on their websites, what they are doing to combat forced labor and human trafficking in their supply chains.
The law applies to any manufacturing and retail company with $100 million or more in sales that does business in California; one estimate predicted the law would impact 3,200 global companies. To return to Gap as an example – in part because a report tailored to the California legislation, Effective Supply Chain Accountability, said Gap has exhibited several model practices in terms of cleaning up its supply chain – the company created a vendor code of conduct that meets core International Labor Organization standards, followed years later by a human rights policy, and has charted its level of influence over each stage of its supply chain.
Disclosing exactly those types of efforts is what is now required by the new law. A company must indicate the extent to which it audits suppliers for trafficking and slavery, verifies supply chains to evaluate and address risks of human trafficking and whether an independent third party is used for the verification process, maintains internal accountability standards, trains employees on this issue, and certifies that materials used in a product comply with human-trafficking laws in the countries where business is conducted.
There are still some fuzzy points: Certification, for example, has no standard definition. And there is no certifier for slavery-free, the way there is for organic or fair trade. But the law is in effect, companies have started publishing the information necessary to comply – and they have been advised not to make false or exaggerated claims that misrepresent what they're actually doing. There can be legal consequences.
According to Patricia Jurewicz, director of the Responsible Sourcing Network, the area that needs the most work is the origin of a product's supply chain, in the fields and mines that supply raw materials like sugar and coltan, a mineral used in just about every gadget in the world.
The potential for significantly changing conditions in these areas falls to the number of companies involved in calling for that change.
"One company can't really impact these challenges," she said. "Some of what we're aiming to do is create industry-wide efforts to address the challenges around slavery and trafficking at the raw commodity level." She said the most egregious practices are hidden and can stay that way if there is no incentive otherwise. When there is a demand for better practices by more than one player, suppliers have greater incentive to change.
In a way, the California legislation augments efforts already under way by organizations and companies focused on this issue, and could potentially work in the same way. Jurewicz used cotton, and a coalition of companies that have been working to clean up the cotton supply chain, as an example.
"Now that we have this group of over 60 brands saying that practice is unacceptable, we can take that coalition and go to the spinners, to the traders," she said. That process and those discussions can then serve "as a driving mechanism to reward or support production, or harvesting in this case, that does not use forced child labor and to minimize the demand for the cotton that does use forced child labor."
Now, initiatives like the one Jurewicz highlighted with cotton are created on a voluntary basis, while the California legislation is mandatory. But the California law doesn't require a company to change its policies at all – it just requires companies to disclose what they are doing to identify and eliminate human trafficking from their supply chains. If a company is doing nothing and chooses to turn a blind eye, it simply has to say as much on its website.
Organizations like the Responsible Sourcing Network and Christian Brothers Investment Services (CBIS) feel that the negative public image that could result from admitting total inaction will be incentive for a company to start paying attention to this issue.
"Investors will be evaluating how companies are addressing the challenges facing workers in complex global supply chains, seeking evidence that companies are considering the long-term impact of these issues. Non-compliance with SB 657 may lead to certain legal and reputational risks," said the Effective Supply Chain Accountability report, which was released by CBIS and the socially responsible Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility and Calvert Investments.
"It's happening in everybody's factory. That's why it's so critical that the companies do this kind of risk assessment," Tanner said. "Not only for moral reasons and ethical reasons, but as an investor, we're saying for shareholder value reasons, reputational risk issues – it's so critical."
A similar bill has been introduced at the federal level that could make California just the first actor in a series of significant steps requiring companies to not only pay attention to slavery and human trafficking, but to recognize and take responsibility for their involvement in it.
If Dylan Harris isn't careful, he might find himself accused of taking a club to Western efforts to rein in countries considered international pariahs.
Almost one year after the successful inaugural DPRK (North Korean) Amateur Golf Open tournament, which he conceived and organized, the Wigan, England, adventure travel specialist is busying putting the finishing touches on a near-identical event in Iran.
According to Mr. Harris, the Iranian Amateur Golf Open 2012, set for April 20-22, will form one of the first international sporting events the Middle Eastern country has ever hosted – at a time when it is under intense international pressure over an alleged nuclear weapons program, which has raised the threat of Western military strikes.
But while Harris admits he has had to fight claims that he should not be engaging with states once branded by former US President George W. Bush as part of "an axis of evil," he sees the tournaments more as a vehicle that might help steer people away from stereotypical observations and challenge them to view such countries from a different angle.
For Harris, dealing with – from a Western point of view – out-of-favor or discredited regimes comes easily. His tour company, Lupine Travel, specializes in offbeat locations that already include general trips to North Korea and Iran as well as countries the likes of long-isolated Turkmenistan, a former Soviet republic.
"During my time traveling during my 20s, I always found the usual tourist spots quite boring, and I tended to seek out more off-the-beaten-track destinations, which I found offered a much more rewarding travel experience," Harris explains. "Iran and North Korea especially gave experiences which were completely at odds with the ones I originally expected after years of reading negative reports in the press about them both.
"I just hope to help change people's opinions of these countries. People will see footage of the British Embassy being attacked in Iran and think this is a representation of all Iranians. But this couldn't be further from the truth. This is just the same as, for example, Iranians watching TV footage of an EDL [English Defense League] march in Britain against Muslims. It's a tiny minority. The reality of the place is nothing like the images you see on the news. The hospitality you receive in Iran is like nowhere else, the people have an incredible warmth and love to meet Westerners."
Keen to promote golf in Iran, the Iranian Golf Federation green-lighted the tournament, Harris says. In three separate competitions, an eclectic field of golfers of various nationalities, including Iranians, are set to take part in the event.
The staging ground is the Enghelab golf course, a venue surrounded on one side by the sprawling Iranian capital Tehran and the picturesque Alborz mountain range on the other. Although the course contains just 13 holes – five of the original 18 were confiscated by the Iranian military – the missing holes are made up for by doubling up on holes 3 to 7.
Not long after the Iranian tournament, an expanded version of the North Korea event is on course for a second annual run in May, Harris says.
"After the success of last year's event in North Korea, I was looking to help set up a similar event elsewhere," he says of the Iran venture. "I was aware that golf in Iran had recently started to take off, particularly with women. They were very keen on the idea, as they are very proactive in trying to increase the profile of the game inside Iran.
"They had held two tournaments previously, which had locals and foreign diplomatic staff taking part. But they were interested in developing this into a fully fledged international affair with people traveling in to take part, both men and women."
Ultimately, Harris hopes anyone who might want to take part in the Iranian event will not be put off by politics. Long term, he hopes to spark more travel in the opposite direction by people living in states such as Iran.
Among the next group of targets for his self-styled travel diplomacy is Transnistria, a breakaway region of the Eastern European country of Moldova. Declaring independence in 1990, the reportedly crime-ridden former Soviet outlier has yet to gain any kind of recognition for its self-declared statehood in the international community.
But, evidently, that does not put off Harris.
"Walking around it feels almost like a mini North Korea," he muses, "but right in the middle of Europe."
"I am also currently planning a tour of northern Iraq but it may be a year or two until I am able to offer this trip," Harris says. "Hopefully soon in the future the rest of Iraq will be safe enough to allow the entire country to be a major Middle Eastern tourist destination, like it was in the 1960s."
When Mark Zuckerberg, the 27-year-old co-founder of Facebook, announced last year that he was giving $100-million to set up a foundation to help Newark, N.J., public schools, he became one of the highest profile examples of an increasingly common type of big donor: the Internet geek gone good.
Those entrepreneurs and company officials listed on this year’s Forbes ranking of the richest Americans – who represent Amazon, eBay, Facebook, Google, Salesforce.com, Yahoo, and others – account for at least $1.54-billion in gifts announced to the public over their lifetimes, according to a Chronicle tally (and that’s not including Bill Gates, who has given more than $28-billion).
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Many more young Internet entrepreneurs are giving big, setting up foundations, building charity into their companies, and serving on boards relatively early in their lives. They give to causes such as education and health care as well as projects designed to create economic opportunity and expand access to technology.
And they aren’t waiting to make a difference.
“Internet entrepreneurs work in real time and see results in real time,” says Marc Benioff, the founder and chief executive of Salesforce.com, who has given at least $101-million to charity. “It’s not a group that’s going to wait until they die to make a difference.”
The traits that make these entrepreneurs successful in business color how they approach philanthropy, says Leigh Stilwell, who works with Internet entrepreneurs regularly as senior vice president for donor experience and engagement at the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, in Mountain View, Calif.
“They are really good at the skill of association, drawing themes and finding solutions and connecting ideas across areas and problems that seem unrelated,” Ms. Stillwell says.
That may be why many of these donors say they want to support charitable efforts that solve problems on a large scale.
Reid Hoffman, a venture capitalist and co-founder of the professional social network LinkedIn, says he considers the same question whether he’s approaching a business or a charity: How can a fixed amount of money reach the most people?
Mr. Hoffman says he donates to and serves on the boards of organizations like the microlender Kiva, the entrepreneurship charity Endeavor Global, and the volunteerism group Do-Something.org, because he believes they help change society by creating self-sufficiency, businesses, and sweeping changes.
“It’s an investment in order to achieve a result,” Mr. Hoffman says.
Mr. Hoffman’s board positions – all at relatively young organizations – highlight another trend among Internet entrepreneurs. They often want to be on the cutting edge, says Ellen Miller, executive director of the Sunlight Foundation, a Washington group that promotes open government.
“They aren’t afraid of new ideas and new ways of thinking of old problems,” says Ms. Miller, whose charity received $50,000 from Mr. Hoffman in 2010.
Naveen Jain, founder of the online background check site Intelius and other companies, is among the donors seeking new solutions. He created a $1 million prize for anyone who creates a low-cost tablet computer that children and adults can use to diagnose and treat common illnesses in places without easy access to a doctor.
Entrepreneurs “want to engage in solving a problem,” Mr. Jain says. “What’s an entrepreneur? It’s somebody who sees a problem, thinks of a solution, and goes and executes on that solution.”
Craig Newmark, who started Craigslist as a hobby in 1995, has recently given to Internet connectivity projects in Kenya, Haiti, and veterans centers in San Francisco. He pledged $100,000 to a similar project for vocational schools in the West Bank.
Even if the solution is more traditional, the emphasis is on quick results. When Biz Stone, a co-founder of Twitter, set up a charity last year with his wife Livia, they focused on small, local projects to produce results.
“It feels like we are making an impact,” Mr. Stone says. (See the related article.)
Mr. Stone’s personal charity complements the work he did at Twitter to support social causes. He helped set up the “Hope140” page to feature charities’ use of the site and sold a Twitter-theme wine called “Fledgling” that raised more than $12,000 and brought a lot of attention to Room to Read, a children’s education charity. That work led AOL to appoint him as its social-impact adviser, to help the company assist the communities it serves.
Even the company he runs now, the Obvious Corporation, a relaunch of the technology company that popularized Twitter, seeks to create “systems that help people work together to improve the world.”
“When you align your company with meaning, you attract more sophisticated consumers, you attract more talented employees,” Mr. Stone says.
Many tech entrepreneurs share Mr. Stone’s view and include philanthropy in their businesses.
The Craigslist Foundation focuses on connecting people and training nonprofit leaders through programs like its annual Bootcamp conference.
Mr. Benioff used what he calls a “1/1/1 model” at the beginning of Salesforce.com, a company that provides databases that help companies and charities keep track of clients and donors. He set aside 1 percent of the company’s equity, products, and time to charitable causes through the Salesforce.com Foundation.
That foundation has given more than $24.2 million to charity and recently announced it would match donations to College Track – the foundation co-founded by Laurene Powell Jobs, wife of late Apple founder Steve Jobs – up to $500,000.
It has also offered its software to 11,525 nonprofits free or at discounted rates, and employees have volunteered at least 265,681 hours.
The program gives employees six days a year of paid volunteer time and matches grants of up to $1,000 to the charities employees support.
That’s a big draw for talent, says Barbara Kibbe, the foundation’s chief operating officer who explains the foundation’s services during new-employee orientation.
“The people in the room are essentially thrilled,” Ms. Kibbe said.
Giving name recognition
Many Internet entrepreneurs see their work with nonprofits as central to their philanthropy.
“Philanthropy isn’t just about big gifts; it’s about participation,” Mr. Benioff says.
While Mr. Benioff and his wife once gave to a wide number of nonprofits anonymously, they now focus on one organization that these days bears their name: the University of California at San Francisco Benioff Children’s Hospital. They gave $100 million to the hospital for a new building because of research breakthroughs at the hospital and concerns about lack of facilities in the region.
His public announcement of his support for the hospital and a social-media fund-raising challenge drew $25-million more from other supporters, he said, including big-name technology bloggers and investors.
Rather than simply giving money, Mr. Newmark says he also wanted to use his expertise and name recognition to help nonprofits. That led to Craigconnects, a blog he runs to discuss nonprofits and causes he cares about.
“Sometimes the first thing you do is to bear witness,” Mr. Newmark says.
In seven months, he’s used the blog to bring attention to veterans causes, journalism, diplomacy, and open government. He studies how nonprofits use social media and shares the results in infographics.
He also held a contest to spur donations to charities that serve military families by promising to match up to $105,000 in gifts to those organizations and to match up to $25,000 of what people give to Donorschoose.org to support schools that serve military families.
His goal, he says, is to showcase effective charities. “I’m finding that the more effective a nonprofit is in helping people, sometimes those are the [organizations] who need the most help getting a good story out there,” Mr. Newmark says.
Success and empathy
Mr. Newmark says that his philanthropy jibes with what he calls the ethos of the Internet: that people work together, get along, and get things done.
A version of that ethos is especially strong among people who work on consumer Internet sites, Mr. Stone says.
Because the goal of those Web projects is to improve a person’s life, it creates a deep empathy. When a site becomes profitable, something happens to its founders, he says.
“When you’ve unlocked empathy, and you realize you can have an impact, it’s hard to not start doing that. You feel that your impact and your effectiveness are real and that you as a person have a very unique and powerful chance to make a difference,” Mr. Stone says.
Ultimately, the effect could be huge, Mr. Benioff says. “We’re talking about a significant amount here, hundreds of billions [of dollars] over a few decades, and the potential – when you are so driven towards impact – is spectacular,” he says. “We are living in a very exciting time.”
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Margarita Barry, a 26-year-old Detroit native, was tired of hearing nothing but dismal news coming out of her city.
In response she developed I Am Young Detroit, a blog that profiles changemakers in her hometown. Today, the site has become a popular hub, illustrating the transformation of Detroit from an economic graveyard to a city of innovators.
Barry is a true entrepreneur with three start-ups under her belt: Detroit Design Lab, a web-based company that provides web-design services for small mom & pop businesses; 71 POP, a collaborative pop-up retail shop for emerging artists in Detroit; and Bohomodern, an online shop and brand that carries an eclectic mix of fashion, home decor, art, and more.
IN PICTURES: Detroit retooled
Dowser: Most people think that everyone has left or is leaving Detroit because of the economy, but you're profiling young people who are staying. What compelled you to stay and would you leave at any point?
Barry: The opportunities that I saw here to live and create affordably are what kept me here. In Detroit I own three businesses that are well-received and growing, I bought a beautiful house for under $10,000 that I'll get to live in and enjoy, and I've been able to meet and connect with hundreds of people who inspire me on a daily basis. Besides that, the community that I have gotten to know and love, they make me feel welcomed, supported, appreciated – what more could I ask for really?
Who's one of the most inspiring young Detroit changemaker that you've encountered? Anyone that just amazed you, knocked your socks off?
Lauren Henrikson really blew me away, she was I Am Young Detroit's second profile. Lauren started the "Free Store," a roving weekend store for Detroit's homeless community that travels throughout the city. Before I even started the blog, I was inspired by her efforts.... I think she was 18 or 19 when she began the venture as a student at Wayne State University, and I read about her on the college website. Right then and there I knew I had to help in some way, so I volunteered to design the Free Store website and have been following her story every since. It's still very grassroots and going strong!
If you could change the mainstream news coverage of Detroit, how would you do it?
I think I Am Young Detroit has already contributed to changing mainstream news coverage of Detroit. The mainstream media has been looking to us to source material for their stories; to find out what cool things are happening on the ground floor and who's doing it. There was a point – especially back in early 2010 – where the news coverage was just backwards. Since then we've definitely seen more positive coverage. But now we're at a point where the news is either extremely positive or extremely negative. It would be great to see more balance. It's nice to see more local voices in the media, too, what with Huffington Post Detroit and some of the larger news sites creating local pods.
What were you doing before the site? Have you always been so entrepreneurial?
Before publishing I Am Young Detroit, I worked as a web and graphic designer and sometimes freelance writer. My last "regular" gig was working as a web & social media designer for a small advertising firm. Working there really inspired me, as the firm was owned by a female entrepreneur who's extremely successful in the traditional sense of the word. I've always been doing my own thing, dabbling in entrepreneurship. In my college days I started a multicultural women's magazine and social network called Tint and, before that, experimented with online retail, webzines, and 'zine-making.
You've been doing this blog for over a year now: What's your intent for the coming year? Are you doing any new programs or features that you're excited about for 2012?
I've been publishing I Am Young Detroit (IAYD) on my own for about two years now and to date have featured over 20 profiles of Detroit's young doers, many of which have gone on to receive substantial investments, support, and notoriety. As IAYD moves past its beta incarnation, I hope to publish more frequent and in-depth features and directly connect our readers with additional resources, funding, and growth opportunities.
If you could be the mayor of the city for a day, what would you do to improve it? Any grand ideas that you'd like to implement?
That's a loaded question. For starters, I'd want to address the major issues that were found in this survey. [The survey results indicate that while 55 percent of young people under the age of 25 would consider moving to Detroit, there are a few factors that need to be addressed first. The most important is the crime factor: 78 percent of respondents said that lower crime would compel them to think about living in the city, along with better neighborhoods and access to better schools for their children.]
Do you think small businesses, like the pop- up ones you featured on the blog, have a shot at surviving and competing with the big guns? Are you seeing the tide reverse?
That pop-up is my business! And I don't think the goal is to compete with the big guns, because quite frankly we don't really have any big guns. (Detroit doesn't have a Target, H&M, Meijer, or major big box, department, or retail store.) Detroiters appreciate smaller, unique, locally owned businesses, and many of us agree that we could use a lot more of them to create retail density. There's certainly a place in Detroit for the larger retail chains, but what we're not going to do is sit around and wait for them to come.... We're doers so we get out there and create our own where we see the need. The small businesses that are successful in Detroit are the ones that really know their communities and decide to put them first by providing relevant and valuable products and services.
• To read more about Margarita's take on this new "pop-up" industry, go to http://www.huffingtonpost.com/margarita-barry/detroit-pop-city-a-case-f_b_1115442.html.
IN PICTURES: Detroit retooled
In 2010, when Antonio Martin, a 36-year-old husband and father of three who lives in a suburb of Cleveland, was laid off from his job at a Verizon retail store, he could no longer afford his $1,132 monthly mortgage payments.
This is no longer a unique position in the United States. “Home values have dropped so far, so fast, that nearly 25 percent of mortgage holders today owe more than their house is worth,” reported a recent episode of "60 Minutes."
Martin had previously struggled with his mortgage, years ago, when he found that the adjustable-rate loan he had taken on was making his payments skyrocket.
The organization ESOP (Empowering and Strengthening Ohio’s People) had helped Martin renegotiate that loan. Now, unemployed and in fear of losing his family’s home, he turned to ESOP again.
The result, after Martin enrolled in a principal reduction modification loan from Ocwen Financial Corporation, was that his mortgage payment went down to $640 per month. On top of that, the principal loan on the house – which is rapidly depreciating in value – will be reduced by $34,000 each year for three years, for a total reduction of $112,000.
“I went to ESOP and filled out the packet for the loan-modification program offered by the Obama administration – we had to try that first. But I didn’t get approved for that, for some reason. Then ESOP told me that they would approve me for a modification to my loan,” Martin explained to Dowser. “It was pretty simple because the relationship that ESOP has built with these loan companies – working with them on behalf of homeowners – makes the process easier. This is the easiest process I’ve gone through in dealing with the loan companies.”
The Obama administration created the Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP) to help underwater homeowners, but not all who need assistance are eligible (such as Antonio Martin).
ESOP is charting a new path for helping underwater homeowners by striking a deal with the lenders that benefits all parties.
ESOP is an Ohio-based HUD-certified foreclosure-prevention counseling agency. It works by engaging loan servicers or lenders and borrowers, and acting as a good-faith intermediary between the parties.
There are two unique aspects to ESOP’s work: one is how it holds lenders accountable, using a “tough love” approach and having a strict policy regarding homeowners’ compliance to information requests. The other is getting large companies (including Bank of America, CitiMortgage, Ocwen Financial Corporation, and Litton Loan Servicing) to see the element of human experience behind all the paperwork of a mortgage.
ESOP provides this human element by bringing executives from banks and loan servicers on community tours, where they get to meet their homeowners and see the effects of their policies. In one case, reported by David Bornstein in the New York Times last year, the lending agency Countrywide “signed an agreement after senior executives took a tour of Slavic Village, an area on the east side of Cleveland where a third of homes, many of them foreclosed by the lender, remain vacant, boarded up, stripped and ransacked, demolished, or occupied by squatters and drug dealers.”
Once lenders have seen these neighborhoods with their own eyes, they are more apt to agree to ESOP’s “fair-lending agreements,” under which they enter into a working relationship with underwater homeowners.
For Martin, Ocwen’s principal-reduction loan plan wasn’t just the best option – it was also the only one available, since he wasn’t approved for the government’s HARP. Ocwen began offering its principal-reduction loan plan about a year ago. The Washington Post reports that “79 percent of the customers who were offered the test program signed up, and the re-default rate has been 2.6 percent – far below the 40 to 50 percent rates within similar periods in some federally sponsored loan-modification efforts.”
Ocwen hopes to take the program national, and is close to having regulatory approval in every state.
ESOP would also like to see its unique approach go national. But there are barriers to expanding the lending agencies they work with.
“The main reason this can’t happen on a large scale to make a significant impact on the housing market is because FHFA, the conservator of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, will not use principal reduction on mortgages that it owns or underwrites," Deonna Kirkpatrick, ESOP’s director of communications, told Dowser.
But the FHFA's position is being contested. "Some members of Congress are challenging the acting director, Ed DeMarco, on this [with a letter and a YouTube video asking DeMarco to change his position on principal-reduction loans],” she said.
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization reports that an estimated one-third of the food produced worldwide for human consumption is wasted annually. In the United States, an estimated 40 percent of edible food is thrown away by retailers and households. In the United Kingdom, 8.3 million tons of food is wasted by households each year.
To make the world more food secure consumers need to make better use of the food that is produced by wasting less.
Today, Nourishing the Planet presents five ways that consumers can help prevent food waste:
IN PICTURES: Baltimore's food czar addresses hunger and obesity
1. Compost: In addition to contributing to food insecurity, food waste is harmful to the environment. Rotting food that ends up in landfills releases methane, a potent greenhouse gas, that is a major contributor to global climate change and can negatively affect crop yields. Composting is a process that allows food waste to be converted into nutrient-rich organic fertilizer for gardening.
Compost in Action: In Denver, the city contracts with A1 Organics, a local organic-recycling business, to take people’s waste and turn it into compost for local farmers. Similarly, a new pilot program in New York City allows patrons to donate food scraps to a composting company that gives the compost to local farmers.
2. Donate to food banks: Donating food that you don’t plan to use is a great way to save food while helping to feed the needy in your community.
Food Banks in Action: In Atlanta, Georgia, the Atlanta Community Food Bank relies on food donations to supply 20 million pounds of food to the poor each year. In Tennessee, the Second Harvest Food Bank works to reduce waste resulting from damaged cans by testing the cans to make sure that they don’t have holes in them that would allow food to spoil. For more on how you can donate food that would otherwise go to waste, visit Feed America, a national network of food banks.
3. Better home storage: Food is often wasted because it isn’t stored properly, which allows it to mold, rot, or get freezer burn. By storing food properly consumers can reduce the amount of food they waste.
Better storage in Action: The National Center for Home Food Preservation is a great resource for consumers to learn a range of techniques to increase the shelf life of food. For example, they recommend blanching vegetables – briefly boiling vegetables in water – and then freezing them. They also stress canning fruits and vegetables to protect them against bacteria.
4. Buy less food: People often buy more food than they need and allow the excess food to go to waste. Reducing food waste requires that consumers take responsibility for their food consumption. Instead of buying more food, consumers should buy food more responsibly.
Buying Less Food in Action: Making a shopping list and planning meals before shopping will help you buy the amount of food that is needed so that you don’t waste food. There are a number of services that help consumers shop responsibly – Mealmixer and e-mealz help consumers make a weekly shopping list that fits the exact amount of food that they need to buy. Eating leftovers is another great way to reduce the amount of food that needs to be purchased. At leftoverchef.com, patrons can search for recipes based on leftover ingredients that they have. Similarly, Love Food Hate Waste, offers cooking enthusiasts recipes for their leftovers.
5. Responsible grocery shopping: Consumers should make sure that they shop at places that practice responsible waste management. Many grocery stores are hesitant to donate leftovers to food banks because they are worried about possible liabilities if someone gets sick. But consumers can encourage grocery chains to reduce food waste by supporting local food banks in a responsible manner.
Responsible grocery shopping in Action: Safeway and Vons grocery chains donate extra food to Feeding America. Additionally, Albertsons started a perishable food recovery program that donates meat and dairy to food banks. The Fresh Rescue program, which partners with various national supermarkets, has also helped food banks with fundraising in 37 states.
• Graham Salinger is a research interns for the Nourishing the Planet project.
• To read more about food waste, see: Reducing Food Waste: Making the Most of Our Abundance, Innovation of the Week: Reducing Food Waste, and Fresh Ideas for Food Waste.
IN PICTURES: Baltimore's food czar addresses hunger and obesity