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.
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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."
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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).
IN PICTURES: Celebrities aiding Africa
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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IN PICTURES: Celebrities aiding Africa
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
Picture this: a nearly independent city-state – a Hong Kong in one of the Western Hemisphere’s poorest countries.
Sound far-fetched? Maybe so, but one country has high hopes for a changing urban future.
According to the Economist, Honduras wants to outsource development of a new city. The idea is to create a ‘charter city:’ a semi-autonomous zone with everything from governance to a separate currency managed independently and overseen by experts outside of the Honduran government.
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But Honduras faces the question of whether a ‘clean slate’ of separate rules and management can spur economic growth that has been largely elusive in the region.
The political wheels are rolling, but the road to a charter city is long and uncertain.
The national legislature recently legalized the creation of “special development regions,” although the ensuing steps are taking longer than anticipated. In December, Honduran President Porfirio Lobo began appointing a "transparency commission" to oversee the project, despite mixed opinions of the initiative held by other government officials.
Yet charter city supporters remain enthusiastic about the steps taken so far and optimistic about the direction of the project.
According to Paul Romer, an economics professor at New York University who proposed the concept, charter cities represent a “new type of special reform zone,” building on the idea of a special economic zone by “increasing its size and expanding the scope of its reforms.” His idea is to create internal start-ups, akin to the way that businesses often set up new divisions free to operate outside of old rules. Mr. Romer believes that the clean slate will allow government authorities to experiment with laws and governance.
And people in developing countries like Honduras, Mr. Romer says, will respond to the initiative by embracing opportunities in charter cities. “The worldʼs poor know that better rules prevail elsewhere,” he says, citing the Gallup report that 630 million people would like to move permanently to another country.
Charter cities, Romer claims, should also be of interest to rich countries, such as the United States, struggling with illegal immigration, as they offer an alternative to residents of poorer countries seeking to migrate.
“The new entity’s open door gives the huddled masses an alternative," Romer told The Economist. "Instead of risking their lives on perilous journeys to cross borders illegally, they can move legally to a charter city.”
But many do not agree with Romer’s plan for building cities from scratch in the world’s poorest nations and outsourcing their design and government to rich countries. Duncan Green of Oxfam has been critical of Romer’s idea for several years, and writes that “the underlying motive seems to be to liberate development from the supposedly dead hand of dysfunctional and corrupt states, transferring it instead into the hands of benign and honest technocrats” in Honduras.
As Green points out, the Trujillo charter city proposal is incomplete at best. Even with significant outside investment and oversight, charter cities would likely suck talent and resources away from their surrounding nation-states. And even with private security forces protecting the land of new development and investment, the presence of a wealthy, employment-generating city could create huge slums outside its borders.
The allure of a Central American Hong Kong may sound appealing to some, but officials must address many questions. After all, Hong Kong was a longtime colonial outpost before becoming a semi-autonomous economic zone. Is that really what Honduras wants? Or can Trujillo skip the colonial stage?
Honduran officials have a long road ahead to bring change to the Caribbean coast. But Mr. Romer’s vision has people talking. And for Honduras, it may just have a promising direction in store.
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Forget his on-field genuflections, the Bible quotes, and the fourth-quarter "miracles."
Let's look at Tim Tebow, the philanthropist.
For all the controversy around his public prayers or his readiness to lead an NFL team to a Super Bowl, few can fault Tim Tebow's acts of kindness.
Just before each football game, when most pro-athletes put on their "game face" and ignore teammates and family members, the Denver Broncos quarterback makes it a point to visit with a struggling fan.
Minutes before the start of last Sunday's game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Tebow took time to chat with 16-year-old Bailey Knaub, a girl who has had 73 surgeries. In Buffalo, on Dec. 24, Jacob Rainey, a young football player who had lost his leg, was the beneficiary of Tebow's pre- and post-game attention. This Saturday, Tebow will meet with 20-year old Zack McLeod on the sidelines as part of The Tebow Foundation's Wish 15 program that grants requests for young people with serious medical issues.
"Just the opposite," Tebow said. "It's by far the best thing I do to get myself ready. Here you are, about to play a game that the world says is the most important thing in the world. Win and they praise you. Lose and they crush you. And here I have a chance to talk to the coolest, most courageous people. It puts it all into perspective. The game doesn't really matter. I mean, I'll give 100 percent of my heart to win it, but in the end, the thing I most want to do is not win championships or make a lot of money, it's to invest in people's lives, to make a difference."
Tebow doesn't just shower attention on these "coolest, most courageous people." He flies them and their family to the game, pays for their hotel and meals, gets them pre-game passes and visits with them after the game, often walking to the car with them.
Veteran sports writers, often a cynical bunch and not easily won over, are impressed by Tebow, the philanthropist.
"I'm a 100 percent believer," writes ESPN's Rick Reilly. "Not in his arm. Not in his skills. I believe in his heart, his there-will-definitely-be-a-pony-under-the-tree optimism, the way his love pours into people, right up to their eyeballs, until they believe they can master the hopeless comeback, too."
Raised by Christian missionaries, Tebow has for years now said that football is simply "a platform" for bigger things. He may be referring to preaching Christianity, but his actions suggest otherwise.
He told NFL Today co-host James Brown: "My Mom and Dad preached to me when I was a little kid that just because you may have athletic ability and may be able to play a sport doesn't make you any more special than anybody else, doesn't mean God loves you more than anybody else ... at the end of the day, it's [football] a game."
Tebow's NFL fame is giving a big boost to his foundation - with donations doubling since he took the helm of the Broncos. The Tim Tebow Foundation expects to meet the fund-raising goal of $2.5 million in March, ahead of its June fiscal-year end target.
For $25, donors get a Team Tebow T-shirt, car decal and information on where to volunteer at a foundation community function. "Before the [Pittsburgh Steelers playoff] game, we had done 100 people," foundation president Erik Dellenback told the Huffington Post. "In 48 hours after the game, we had over 4,000 members."
Dellenback also said that Tebow pays all of the foundation staff and administrative costs, so that all donations go to the outreach efforts.
Many athletes and celebrities contribute their time and money to charitable causes. Tim Tebow is not unique in that sense. His charitable foundation is by no means the biggest or most influential. But what impresses is the authentic priority Tebow places on this work. Charity appears to be central to his character and his life, not an "extra" or an activity incidental to his football career.
And that is worthy of attention.
I tell my children, ‘Watch who you marry,’” says 53-year-old Christian Bethelson. “I married an AK-47, and it stole 27 years of my life. Bad marriage.”
He flashes a smile. One of his front teeth is missing, knocked out during a torture session in military prison. He’s also got a scar from a bullet in his right leg, and a host of terrifying stories from the front lines of Liberia’s civil war, one of West Africa’s most brutal conflicts in recent history.
Like the nation itself, Bethelson is trying to leave behind decades of military rule and no-holds-barred warfare. It hasn’t been easy. Even in a quiet living room in sleepy Santa Fe, N.M., where he has come to develop his peacebuilding work and further his personal studies in meditation, Bethelson does not seem entirely at ease. He sits on the edge of his chair and gesticulates broadly, his heavily accented voice rising as he describes how he stumbled into the life of a soldier – a life he might still be living today, if not for the chance encounter on a muddy road that set him on a path to transformation.
Today, Liberia’s Grand Cape Mount County is a roll of forested hills, cleared in no obvious pattern to make room for rice fields, rutted dirt roads, and clusters of palm-roofed homes. Somewhere, a bird is always singing.
In many ways, the region has changed little since Christian Bethelson was born there on Jan. 1, 1958. Then, as now, its residents were mostly poor families, descended from any number of the 16 tribes that were living in the area when freed black slaves from the United States arrived in the early 1800s and – despite sharing a skin color – established a two-class, colonial society that left families like Bethelson’s with scant political power or opportunity for economic advancement.
As was common at the time, Bethelson’s father had multiple wives – nine of them – and Bethelson’s earliest memories are not of playing, but of working the fields with his many brothers and sisters, scrambling sun up to sundown to scratch out enough food for everyone. From an early age, Bethelson intuited that education would be the surest path out of such a hardscrabble life. With dogged persistence, he trudged long morning hours to get to the nearest school – when his father would permit it – and then hustled home in the afternoons, lugging firewood he would pick up along the way.
Studying mostly on an empty stomach, he managed to graduate from the high school in the county seat. He knew he needed more.
“I had to go to college,” he says. “Education is the oxygen of the world. I was choking without it.”
When he learned the government was offering university scholarships for young men who enlisted in the army, he immediately signed up – only to find out the scholarships had run out. He was obliged to serve anyway.
That was 1978. Two years later, tensions generated by a century of injustice came to a head when a young sergeant named Samuel Doe murdered the Americo-Liberian president and installed himself as the nation’s first indigenous leader. Liberians flooded the streets of capital city Monrovia in jubilation, celebrating what seemed a step toward a more inclusive, democratic society.
But Doe soon proved ill-equipped to lead the nation into a more enlightened era: He conducted a macabre firing squad execution of several prominent Americo-Liberians, allowed his soldiers unchecked power, and grew increasingly corrupt. He played off Cold War tensions to stay in favor with the Americans and cracked down on political dissidence at home by sending Bethelson and other elite soldiers to places like Israel and Libya for the latest training in anti-terrorism tactics.
The oppressive measures backfired. Powerful rebel forces rose up, stormed the countryside and destroyed Monrovia, sending some 500,000 Liberians – 20 percent of the entire nation – into foreign refugee camps. By mid-1990, Doe and 500 of his remaining soldiers had retreated into the Executive Mansion, where they held out for months under unimaginable conditions.
Bethelson was among them, and even today, his voice breaks as he tries to describe those final months of Doe’s regime.
“People were drinking blood. People were eating people. Chickens were more valuable than humans. I kept a round in my AK-47 – I knew that if the rebels caught me, it would be better to be dead.”
Bethelson survived on chicken bouillon and hot water until international peacekeepers brokered a ceasefire, and he and others escorted Doe to the port for peace talks. But no sooner had they laid down their guns than a rebel faction broke the accord and opened fire. Many were killed; Bethelson scrambled aboard the peacekeeper’s ship, a bullet in his leg. (Doe was soon after tortured and executed in the Executive Mansion by a rebel named Prince Johnson, who caught international attention by releasing graphic video of the event.)
Bethelson was taken to a military hospital in the neighboring country of Sierra Leone. Slowly, his physical wound healed. The emotional damage did not.
“I would get drunk, smoke dope, listen to Bob Marley. I was never in a good stage, never experienced happiness. I had been driven from my family, from my country, from my dignity.” He pauses, and then adds: “I had no conscience.”
What he did have were years of military experience and training – assets that quickly led him back to Liberia, now plunged into full-out civil war. Under the nom de guerre General Leopard, Bethelson spent the next 13 years leading rebel forces in ruthless battle against warlord Charles Taylor. He was imprisoned for three of those years, but managed to escape and return to the front lines.
It was not until 2003, when an uncertain peace arrived, that he finally set down his AK-47. His first move was to find his wife and children, whom he’d not seen in four years. He found them living in an unfinished house, half-starved to death. But the country’s infrastructure was destroyed, and there was no work to be found. The joy of being home soon faded before a crush of impotence, shame, and anger.
“My wife and kids would insult me, cuss at me, ask why I could not find food for them. I would leave early in the morning, go to the beach and get high, and return late at night, when they were asleep.
“At that point I hated myself for having no education, for having gone into the military, for having participated in the ways that I had, for having been a rebel general. I saw myself as a criminal.”
After two frustrating years, Bethelson weighed his options. He had not worked the earth since childhood. His high school diploma was worth little, and his dream of going to college as distant as ever. He had only one marketable skill to which he could turn. Like so many other Liberian veterans, he set out to offer his soldiering services to the highest bidder in the newest regional conflict, in the neighboring Ivory Coast.
He’d not quite reached the border when the car in which he was traveling got stuck on a road turned to mud by the rains. Several other cars had gotten stuck along the same stretch, and drivers and passengers stood about in small groups, working at the tires with makeshift tools, or chatting as they waited.
Bethelson was drawn toward the conversation of a nearby group, which included some white Westerners. He overheard them talking about peace, and was struck not only by the words, but by the tone of their voices. He realized he was hearing something he had not heard in a very long time – a sense of hope.
He knew his eyes were bloodshot, and he looked haggard, even threatening, but he stepped up to the group and introduced himself as a former rebel general.
“I was afraid they’d reject me,” he recalls, “but instead they gathered around me, told me they loved me, even hugged me. I didn’t expect that. That someone could love me after all that I had done, could come up and hug me … I could not have dreamed it being possible.”
The group was called the everyday gandhis, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping war-torn communities rebuild. They quickly recognized that Bethelson could be a key ally in their work, someone who was ready to embrace peace and could help other veterans do the same.
They asked if he would consider joining them. At first Bethelson declined, believing he would be unable to meet the challenge. But after a longer conversation with a charismatic group member who went by “Uncle Jake,” Bethelson agreed to give it a try. The group gave him $100 as a token payment. He accepted it gratefully, found a car heading back, and arrived home proudly bearing bags of food for his family. He’s never looked back.
“It’s significant that this happened from me being stuck in the mud,” he says. “Being physically stuck like that created an awareness in me. I can see now it was a sign that something was about to shift in my life.”
For the next few years, Bethelson worked with Uncle Jake and the everyday gandhis, and in 2008 traveled with them to a conference inn orthern California, where he was moved by a meditation ceremony led by Buddhist practitioner and teacher Cynthia Jurs:
“I saw her sitting on the ground, very focused, and I thought, if I can be focused and quiet like her, I can recover.”
When Jurs traveled to Liberia the following year to conduct a healing ceremony through the Earth Treasure Vase Global Healing Project, Bethelson began to formally study a type of meditation called “engaged Buddhism” with her. The practice, he says, has completely “remolded” who he is: “Meditation brings me back to my true self, to my real conscience and sense of humanity. With a deep breath, my heart feels a sense of relief, like you are thirsty, and you drink a very cold glass of water.”
Today, Bethelson and Uncle Jake have embarked on an ambitious project with Jurs’ nonprofit, Alliance for the Earth, to build “peace huts” throughout the nation. A callback to the traditional “palaver huts,” where elders once gathered to resolve civil and tribal conflicts, the circular, open-walled structures offer a way for the wounded communities to unite, and like Bethelson, rediscover who they were before the conflict. The first peace hut has been built in hard-hit Lofa County; here in the United States, Bethelson and Uncle Jake are raising funds to start construction on the second.
“The government’s doing what it can,” he says, referring to the administration of recent Nobel Peace prize winner Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, re-elected this November. “But the tribes have been divided. We all fought for different factions, and in order to have one nation, one destiny, and one people, we need to create the peace huts, where we can leave our ethnicity behind us and come together.”
As this article is being posted, Bethelson is back in Liberia, working on the peace huts, furthering his own mediation practice, and inviting former combatants to share their stories, to dance and sing, to play soccer, and to take a moment to breathe. He still dreams of attending university to pursue a degree in counseling, so that he can build his capacity as a peacemaker, and do even more to help Liberia recover.
But for now, he’s taking it slowly, enjoying his new life as a peacemaker, a civilian, and a member of his family.
“I love washing the dishes,” he says. “I love doing the laundry, playing with my kids. It sounds foolish, but I’ve got a lot of time to redeem.
“My great Buddhist teacher tells me, ‘Slowly, slowly, step by step, we’re going to arrive.’ I believe that. We’re all going to arrive.”
• Seth Biderman wrote this article in partnership with The Academy for the Love of Learning for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. Seth is a writer and teacher researching transformational education. He has reported on sustainability, education, and personal transformation. The Academy for the Love of Learning is an organization dedicated to transforming our culture and has developed a wide range of programs, including Profiles in Transformation, which collects and publishes stories of people who have reconnected to their humanity, and in doing so activated their lives and the lives of those around them. Among the most dramatic of these profiles comes from post-war Liberia, where Christian Bethelson’s transformation from career soldier to spiritual peacemaker stands as a testament to the human potential for positive change.
When Julie Leven and her musician friends prepare to play classical music at the Kitty Dukakis Treatment Center for Women in Boston, they noticed that everyone looks tired.
Discussion and therapy sessions take place right before Ms. Leven and her fellow musicians perform. The sessions can leave the women at the center drained.
But once the music starts, that changes. “It's like watering a flower,” she says. “They come to life.”
Leven, the founder, executive director, and artistic director of Shelter Music Boston, performs at the Kitty Dukakis Treatment Center for Women and the Shattuck Shelter – both in Boston's Jamaica Plain neighborhood and both part of the organization hopeFound – once a month with two other musicians. They play classical arrangements on the violin and viola in a conference room at the Kitty Dukakis Center and in the common area at the Shattuck Shelter, a homeless shelter for men and women.
Leven is a violinist, a member of the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra, and a member of Boston Baroque, the professional ensemble for Boston University’s Historical Performance Program. She was inspired to start the nonprofit organization Shelter Music Boston in May 2010 after hearing about a similar program in New York.
Violinist Julia McKenzie and violinist Rebecca Strauss play with Leven at the shelters every month. At their first performance, Leven says, she was bowled over by the interest the women took in the music – and their attentiveness.
“They were extremely responsive,” she says.
At every monthly session Leven and the other two musicians also discuss the history of the music they’re playing and encourage the listeners to share their thoughts about the music. They stress that there are no wrong answers. Some words come up frequently in listeners’ responses – “hope,” “I feel happy,” “calm,” Leven says. She's never had anyone say they didn’t like the music.
Certain musical selections seem to prompt specific feelings in the listeners.
“People often comment on feeling very elegant,” Leven says of listeners who hear Mozart. The women say they feel like they’re wearing a beautiful gown in a ballroom, she says. Staff members have told her there are fewer fights at the shelters after the performances.
But performing at shelters can provide some unique challenges, Leven adds. One night an intoxicated man walked back and forth while she was playing a violin solo and knocked over her music stand.
“I just told the other listeners, 'Well, I guess I have to start over,’ ” she says. “And everybody just smiled.”
The fact that she and the other two musicians keep returning has played a large part in winning over their audiences, Leven says. “We are back every month. That consistency has been a huge aspect of the success of this program.”
The trio plans to perform a series of concerts at Rosie’s Place, a women’s sanctuary in Boston, in February as well as starting monthly performances at Boston's Pine Street Inn, a shelter with many programs, in February.
In order to get more training in running a nonprofit organization, Leven has enrolled as a student at the Boston University School of Management.
Cindy Cummings, a friend of Leven’s and a fellow member of the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra, once played with Leven as a guest performer at a shelter. She was amazed by listeners’ reactions.
“I felt uplifted by the audience, because they were totally attuned to what we were giving them,” Ms. Cummings says. She was surprised how responsive the listeners were to the classical selections, a genre of music she would have expected them to regard with disdain.
“They're not like, 'Eew, it's not what I usually listen to,' " Cummings says. “They're very open.” She would love to perform with Shelter Music Boston again, she says.
Meanwhile, Leven's ultimate dream is for the program to spread nationwide. It could work well in any city, she says. “Everyone in these shelters needs their soul nurtured in some way.”