Cell phones are transforming lives in places like sub-Saharan Africa, where they are crucial for advancing everything from education to medicine to commerce.
The problem? Many developing countries lack access to the electricity needed to charge mobile electronics. Over a billion people lack access to electricity worldwide, about 99 percent of whom live in the developing world.
Enter SolePower. Using a basic shoe insert, SolePower allows users to charge mobile electronics simply by walking. In capturing the kinetic energy of footsteps, SolePower’s shoe insert converts energy into electrical power that is stored in a battery for later use. The battery is then used to charge electronics like cell phones.
The device has the potential to be a game-changer in places like Kenya, where 84 percent of the population owns cell phones but only 14 percent has access to electricity.
The same applies to lights: energy poverty, as its termed. $10 billion is spent annually on kerosene-fueled lighting in developing nations, which is highly polluting, inefficient, and more costly than electric lighting, particularly when the electricity is generated from a footstep. SolePower wants to address both – the cellphone and the light bulb.
Matthew Stanton, co-founder of SolePower, says the biggest challenge his team faces is making the device as efficient and compact as possible. “There are only 20 watts in a step. So if you’re losing a few percentages in efficiency, you are drastically reducing the power output in the device.”
The cost of the insert will vary depending on location. In developed regions, SolePower expects to charge between $135 and $150 per insert. Targeting hikers and backpackers, it will focus on distributing to high-end outdoor retailers like REI.
In developing nations, the insert will likely sell for $35 to $50, which Stanton says is in line with similar solar solutions that have yielded substantial sales in areas like Kenya and sub-Saharan Africa.
“It’s hard to imagine there are that many people who don’t have electricity when you consider how important things like cell phones and lights are to being able to develop and innovate at all,” Hahna Alexander, co-founder of the Pittsburgh-based startup, reflects.
It may still be beyond the reach of consumers in these $2 a day markets; that will require SolePower to develop its consumer finance model further, perhaps adapting models of micro-payments and microfinance to make it within their reach.
In this video, Alexander and Stanton explain how they came up with the idea for the insert, and how they plan to use it to put a spring in the step, and a charge in the phone, of movers across the world.
• Monica Gray is a DC-based filmmaker and the Senior Video Correspondent at The Diplomatic Courier.
Salam, a 20-year-old from Jordan, wants to improve opportunities for Syrian refugees coming to her country. Arwa, 21, from Iraq, hopes to start an organization to help street children. And Jouan, 23, from Israel, plans to engage conflicting groups in her country in peaceful dialogue.
Coming from a region plagued by conflict and high unemployment, these students have big challenges ahead. But an intensive six-week classroom-based and experiential curriculum in Portland, Ore., this summer aimed to build job-related skills and promote civic engagement in their home communities.
The youths were among a group of 18 university students and recent graduates from 13 countries across the Middle East and North Africa who came to Portland State University (PSU) and the Mercy Corps Action Center to develop leadership skills and design community engagement projects they plan to put into action after returning home.
Developing the community-based projects was a catalyst for students’ thinking about how they might make lasting change in their communities, said Kendra Manton, education and operators officer at Mercy Corps.
What the students got here was a crash course in the process of how to think about an issue and transform it into an actual action.
The classes students took at PSU focused on conflict resolution, community leadership, democratic institutions, and participation. They used those components to develop projects that will address local and regional challenges.
This was the second year that Portland State, one of six US academic institutions to receive a $500,000 two-year grant from the US Department of State’s Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) Student Leaders Program, hosted student leaders.
Student leaders came to Portland from Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Morocco, The Palestinian Territories, Syria, Tunisia, and Yemen. Although they represented widely diverse countries spanning thousands of miles, their home communities face many similar challenges, especially around youth unemployment.
Youth unemployment has reached record levels across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, and young people aged 15 to 24 account for 40 percent to 60 percent of all unemployed people, according to Nemat Shafik of the International Monetary Fund. And, as evidenced by recent events, young, educated people who want to be employed and engaged are critical to the stability of the region.
The goal of the student leaders program is to arm a rising generation of leaders with a toolkit of leadership skills and a broad understanding of civil society in order to fuel change in their home communities and countries, according to the Department of State.
And for a region in such dire need of new and continuing opportunities, the program is one step toward the broader Department of State mission of empowering citizens to build more pluralistic, participatory, and prosperous societies.
Portland State’s partnership with Mercy Corps presented an innovative platform for leadership development and the potential for lasting economic impact among the participants and their communities.
“The students gained an understanding of program creation and implementation by taking an area of interest and brainstorming around what’s causing it to happen, and then developing a framework to address it through actionable steps,” Manton told Global Envision.
The experience provided a primer of additional life skills for the student leaders. “At Mercy Corps students were in a professional setting, which is different than a typical classroom,” Manton said.
We practiced a lot of tangible things that are essential in the workplace – communication skills, how to present a message, and other hard skills like managing the planning process – that are useful and applicable across all fields.
The student leaders said their experience ignited passion to have an impact in their home countries and communities, and spoke of their visions of how they can create change.
Salam hopes to work with youths and university professors in Jordan to provide technical training and networking opportunities to young refugees flowing in from Syria.
“The refugee population is full of formerly ambitious youths who are losing dreams and the ability to be engaged,” she said.
“The first step in making peace is a dialogue between both sides,” Jouan said. She envisions people throughout Israel coming together to work toward common, rather than divisive, future goals.
“This is a deeply impactful program for students, not only through the academic component, but also through the cross-cultural experiences within the group that potentially extends the mission of the program more than anything else,” Manton concluded.
Kevin Kecskes, professor of public administration and the MEPI-PSU program director, agreed.
“They have the opportunity to connect on a human level,” said Kecskes, who also taught the community leadership class. “Because of programs like this we have a way to learn about our common humanity.”
As students leaders returned to their home region, they took with them a better sense of what it means to work together, and new tools to mobilize teams of peers toward common goals.
And that could be one small step toward cooperation among emerging leaders and increased stability in a volatile region.
• Get more information about the MEPI program at Portland State University.
• Read about the US Department of State MEPI Student Leaders Program.
• Watch PSU-MEPI student video of their experiences in the US.
Splaying an an elfin hand atop the wooden table, Yorm Bopha says “Five hands wide. This is all the space we have to sleep, seven ladies, in a cell four meters by four meters [13 feet by 13 feet].”
Also present were three of her neighbors – women like Yorm Bopha – who live at the edge of Boeung Kak Lake in the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh. Actually, it's a former lake, as the waters have been replaced with a landfill on which a company called Shukaku – which is owned by senator from the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) – will build offices and apartments in partnership with a Chinese investor.
The case is probably the best known of the many land grabs that have made headlines in Cambodia in recent years.
Around the once-lively lakeside, many of the array of budget hotels and nice cafes are now boarded up, and a blue galvanized barrier rings the former lakeshore. More than 3,500 families have been evicted, pressured into taking insufficient compensation for their land in what is a prime location in Phnom Penh. Some residents have stayed and been granted land title, but others – around 90 families – have not.
At Boeung Kak, residents have turned into activists, but have run afoul of powerful and wealthy interests close to the government, leaving Yorm Bopha, listed by Amnesty International as a prisoner of conscience, at the sharp end of what is a widespread problem in Cambodia.
The Cambodian League for the Defence and Promotion of Human Rights released a study last year suggesting that “land grabbing has affected an estimated 400,000 Cambodians since 2003, helping to create a sizable under class of landless villagers with no means for self-sustenance.”
Yorm Bopha was accused of egging her brothers into attacking two men in August 2012, in what prosecutors alleged was a revenge attack after her car mirror was stolen. An analysis of the case by the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) suggests that the prosecution produced little evidence to back its charges, prompting CCHR Director Ou Virak to conclude that the arrest was little more than “a creative way of putting someone in jail and intimidating the community.”
Yorm Bopha captured the public's attention while campaigning for the release of 13 women and two men – most of them her neighbors – who were jailed last year for protesting against evictions around the lake. She drew the attention of Cambodia's police, saying that before her arrest she “was on the blacklist” for her efforts on behalf of her neighbors, who are now free.
CCHR's Ou Virak told the Monitor that “once the 13 were released, they targeted her, but had to invent a new scheme.”
Now those neighbors are doing their bit for their jailed friend. Bo Chavy, one of the trio visiting her in jail, points out a bruise on her calf, the legacy of a confrontation with police two days previously, when around 150 of Yorm Bopha's friends marched through Phnom Penh to remind the public that the young woman had been in jail for a year – an injustice they feel should be righted.
A previous protest for Yorm Bopha's release, held in March, was forcibly dispersed, with police breaking several of Yorm Bopha's husband's teeth as well as knocking out an elderly neighbor.
Toward the end of the 45-minute chat with her visitors, Yorm Bopha disappears back to the cell area for a couple of minutes. Returning, she tips a small plastic bag onto the wooden table in the visitors area, revealing a half-dozen white knitted headbands.
“To wear tomorrow,” Yorm Bopha says to her friends, laughing that she didn't know how to knit before being jailed. “The white means peace, “ she explains.
The following day, Sept. 7, the three visitors attended a party rally in Phnom Penh, where the opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) protested what they contend was a flawed election held July 28.
The CNRP says that more than 1 million Cambodians were denied the right to vote, and that an independent investigation into the alleged cheating should be held – though the CPP has ignored the CNRP, saying that it will govern based on the reduced majority it won July 28.
So have the land-grab protests and opposition party politics aligned? Have the Boeung Kak protesters given their full backing to Sam Rainsy, the opposition leader?
“I don't know about him, so much, but it would be better for Cambodia to have change,” says Yorm Bopha of Mr. Rainsy. She reminds her visitor that Prime Minister Hun Sen has been in office for almost three decades and has not done enough to halt land grabs, despite announcing a moratorium on concessions last year.
The national coverage of Detroit's recent bankruptcy filing reminds me of 1967, when rebellion erupted in the city after police raided an illegal after-hours bar. It was one of the worst of the riots that roiled the country during the 1960s in Watts, Newark, Chicago, and other places.
Detroit remains a major American city.
I was away at Boy Scout camp when it happened, and radio reports I heard there made me believe the entire city from Eight Mile Road to the Detroit River was burned to a cinder. When I returned, I expected to see horrible devastation everywhere—burnt ruins, smoke in the air, and armed military personnel on every corner.
What I found was exactly what I had left behind. The modest, well-kept houses still stood in neat rows. Lawns were still trimmed and green. This was several miles from the epicenter of violence, where 41 people were killed and lots of buildings burned. But it was a far cry from the total devastation I had gleaned from the media.
Since Detroit filed for Chapter 9 bankruptcy in July, I've been getting flashbacks of that experience. I hear about garbage piled up in the streets and blackout conditions with streetlights out, while the national news shows images of abandoned, dilapidated buildings and vacant lots. Few of these images have people in them. Much of this coverage sounds and looks like the networks just pulled out their canned footage and commentary on Detroit and slapped a bankruptcy headline on it. Based on what I've seen, one would think that nobody lives in Detroit but a handful of marginal folks and some gangsters busy killing each other.
But Detroit remains a major American city. According to the 2010 census, there are still 700,000 people living in Detroit, making Motown the most populous city in Michigan and in the top 20 nationally. We still eat, work, and shop like people everywhere. We get married, have babies, and die. We love, hate, laugh, cry, and hope like people everywhere. Most of us are not thugs and want great neighborhoods as much as anyone else.
The bottom line is that the coverage of the bankruptcy reinforces a tired old story. But the internal narrative of Detroit has already changed direction. There are plenty of positive major economic stories coming out of Detroit, starting with the federally bailed-out General Motors and Chrysler auto companies emerging from bankruptcy with improved sales and record profits, and continuing with the likes of the booming Midtown as a flagship community of the new Detroit.
The people of Detroit are certainly not bankrupt for resources or ideas. Here are six ways that they're helping to create a stronger Motor City.
1. The powerhouse riverfront
There is a reason that Detroit is where it is. Its French name, le détroit du Lac Érie (the Lake Erie strait), describes its geographic position on a river between Lakes Huron and Erie. It's such a convenient spot on the Great Lakes that it's almost unimaginable that the area would be abandoned as a transport center.
One of the reasons the auto industry grew up in Detroit is that the needed technical expertise and facilities were already here serving the commercial ships on the Great Lakes. Basically, gigantic liner engines were downsized to become car engines.
2. At the forefront of urban agriculture
Keep Growing Detroit's garden resource program supports more than 1,400 gardens, many of them organized as community projects. That's in addition to a few dozen market gardens and numerous uncounted home gardens in yards and adjacent lots. Meanwhile, groups like the Detroit Food Policy Council, the Eastern Market Corporation, and the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network have been developing produce markets to bring more fresh nutritious food to the public.
Recently, their work has received some official support. In 2012 Detroit Public Schools initiated a program to teach agriculture at 45 schools with the expectation that jobs growing, selling, processing, and preparing food will be strong options for future Detroiters. In February of 2013, the city council passed an Urban Agriculture Ordinance that gave the nod to the phenomenon and set some rules as to how it's going to be done.
In addition to feeding people better, community gardening has proved to be a powerful community organizing tool. Organizers in the Brightmoor and Penrose areas have leaned heavily on gardening as a pathway to get people involved in their neighborhoods. As communities become used to raising their own food, it's natural for people to look around to see what other problems they can solve. Urban gardeners know that decay becomes the compost that nurtures the future.
3. Making the city council accountable to the neighborhoods
In the past, Detroiters tended to vote for well-known names, such as Motown singer Martha Reeves, former television personality Charles Pugh, and Monica Conyers (the wife of long-time U.S. Representative John Conyers). Because city council elections were held on a citywide basis, candidates had no accountability to specific neighborhoods.
That way of doing things is over. In November, Detroiters will vote for city council members in seven districts (or wards) for the first time in nearly a century. This makes it possible for candidates to win based on their work at the neighborhood level; it will also be much cheaper to campaign in a district rather than across the entire city.
After a politically dysfunctional era in Detroit with an ensconced, ineffective, bickering, and even criminal council (Conyers was convicted of taking bribes), voters want better results. Citizens chose the new system because they expect more direct accountability for what's going on in their neighborhoods. And if they aren't happy with the performance of their councilperson, it will now be easier to unseat them in the next election.
4. The Boggs factor
The James and Grace Boggs Center to Nurture Community Leadership is a nonprofit organization that has been creating community leaders since being organized in 1995. Its do-what-you-can-with-what-you-have ethos has empowered Detroiters living at ground zero for deindustrialization to truly reimagine their possibilities. The Boggs Center is a place where people meet to engage in problem-solving discussion and imaginative ideas—not to receive marching orders from a leader.
Although 98-year-old philosopher-activist Grace Lee Boggs has a kind ear and an engaging personality, her true skill is helping others see that their power lies within themselves. After a lifetime working in leftist politics, Boggs and friends have redefined revolution as personal transformation to meet the needs of where you live—be that safety, hunger, education, or artistic expression.
For instance, Julia Putnam was the first volunteer for Detroit Summer, a Boggs-related program begun in 1993. She is now a lead administrator at the Boggs Educational Center, a charter school that opened its doors on Sept. 3. Another example is Ron Scott, director of the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality and a Boggs Center board member. The Coalition had a hand in the lawsuit that brought U.S. Justice Department oversight of Detroit Police in a consent decree that started in 2003 and is still in effect. Scott is still active with the coalition and with efforts to mediate neighborhood disputes before they become violent through a program called Peace Zones for Life.
5. Grassroots urban renewal
One of the ongoing debates in Detroit has been about whether to focus on development downtown or in the neighborhoods farther from the city's center. Most of the major efforts to revitalize the city—the Renaissance Center, Hart Plaza, Campus Martius, Comerica Park—have been downtown. At the same time parks, recreation centers, neighborhood city halls, police stations, and other services in neighborhoods have steadily closed down.
But many Detroiters aren't waiting for the city government anymore. Among the efforts to create change from below are the Motor City Blight Busters, which started 23 years ago when insurance agent John George got fed up with the drug dealers operating out of a nearby abandoned house. One day he started boarding up the place. A few neighbors came out to help and a community group was born.
Since then, the Blight Busters have leveraged nearly 700,000 volunteer hours cleaning up, fixing up, establishing businesses, recycling building materials, and more. A recent ambitious project is to clear two full blocks to establish Farm City Detroit, an urban farm and community hub.
There are plenty of other efforts. One of them is the Lower East Side Action Plan, a community-based process focused on cleaning up and stabilizing neighborhoods, getting businesses to locate in clusters, fostering food-related development, and encouraging green infrastructure. Another, the world-famous Heidelberg Project, works to transform individuals and neighborhoods through art.
6. Regional cooperation
The wealthiest county in Michigan is Oakland County, right across Eight Mile Road from Detroit. Brooks Patterson, Oakland's county executive, has historically been a staunch defender of separation from Detroit. After the bankruptcy, he publicly discussed his concern that his area might receive a lowered bond rating due to Detroit's difficulties. If business is bad in Detroit, it's not helping things in nearby Oakland County.
However, even Patterson is beginning to soften his views as the reality of living with a burned-out hulk next door to your mansion sinks in. Plenty of others have already concluded that separation is not the answer, and hands are reaching across Eight Mile Road, long known as the divider between the city and suburbs.
The bankruptcy makes this kind of cooperation all the more important, so it's good to see these efforts multiplying. In the past decade regional cooperation has come together on funding the Detroit Zoological Park and the Detroit Institute of Arts, as well as on upgrading and running Cobo Center, a convention facility. The notion of turning the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department over to a regional authority is beginning to have an air of inevitability, as well as a regional transit system.
Detroit is a story in progress with many possible endings—which one comes to pass depends on the way the six trends discussed above play out.
It will be years, even decades, before the conclusion is known. Detroit burned down in 1805 and was rebuilt. Following the recession of 1893, it began taking off as the center of a worldwide auto industry. Detroit will rise again; it's a question of when.
If we do the right things, then it will be in the near decades. I contend that the pieces are already in place to make Detroit a modern, socially and economically diverse urban village sooner rather than later.
• Larry Gabriel wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media project that fuses powerful ideas and practical actions. Larry is a Detroit-based writer and musician. He is the former editor of Detroit's Metro Times and UAW Solidarity magazine, and was an editor and writer at the Detroit Free Press.
Have you ever wondered what happens to the barely touched bottle of shampoo left behind in a hotel room?
In Chicago, that perfectly usable product is likely to make its way to a homeless shelter or another nonprofit helping those in need, thanks to the efforts of Jud Kinnucan.
In 2009, Kinnucan founded Bin Donated, a nonprofit organization that seeks to link the excess inventories of city businesses – usable items that would otherwise be discarded – with the charities that can put such items to immediate use.
“I look at large companies, such as hotels and businesses, that have large amounts of the same thing they do not need,” says Mr. Kinnucan. Recently a company was going to throw away cases of unused paper so they wouldn’t have to move them to a new location. “Instead of throwing it away, they called me, and I went to pick it up,” he says.
Kinnucan networks with some 150 charities in Chicago, regularly soliciting their product and donation needs, and collecting items from businesses to fill those needs.
And he does so using repurposed 55-gallon bins – former candy syrup barrels that have been donated to the cause – that are placed in partner locations to collect goods.
Bins can be placed for long- or short-term periods, in locations ranging from dental offices to hotels, apartment buildings to sporting events, or private parties.
Common items collected include hygiene products – such as those gathered from hotels – as well as books, pet and baby supplies, school supplies, winter coats, and toys for the holiday season.
The goal is twofold – while saving usable items from making their way to landfills, Bin Donated works to serve organizations that help homeless and transient communities, programs focusing on education and literacy, schools, animal shelters, and American troops and their families, among others.
“I am really looking for anything and everything, and finding a different use for it,” Kinnucan says.
Partially used bottles of shampoo, or even sheets with a small tear, might be discarded in bulk by a hotel or another business, but they could also be redirected to someone in need.
Kinnucan had been working for a recruiting firm when he decided that he wanted a change.
“Frankly, I just wanted to do more with my life,” he says. “I enjoyed connecting people to new jobs because it changed their life, but I just didn’t feel like I was doing enough, and that I could do more.”
So he quit his job, and a few weeks later he hatched the concept behind Bin Donated.
The idea was in part inspired by his six-week stint in 2006 driving a van for a local food bank.
“I got to see different parts of Chicago, and how in need many people were in the city,” he says. “That, and just life experiences, just brought me to the point where I wanted to do something more.”
For two-and-a-half years, Kinnucan ran Bin Donated full time without taking a pay check. But his own economic situation has demanded that he return to work. So, although he works a job full time now, he operates Bin Donated in the evenings and on weekends.
And for the most part, he runs things on his own.
“It can get very big, very quickly if I wanted it to, but I don’t have the time or money to do it,” he admits, though he adds that the idea has already spurred action from others who have heard about it.
Those include a woman in Australia and a teenager in Indiana, two of many who have been inspired by his concept and are trying to start similar initiatives in their own communities.
“What I am doing is pretty basic,” he says, adding that anyone can do something similar if they have the time, dedication, and resources to do so.
To date, Kinnucan’s hard work has led to more than 150,000 pounds of in-kind donations, valued at over $1 million, being provided to Chicago-area charities.
“Everything is local,” he says. “If people look hard enough, there is need in someone’s back yard.”
One of the benefits of helping local charities, he says, is the immediacy of the help that the items yield.
While shipping items abroad or across the country delays distribution, driving a bin of hygiene products to a local shelter down the street allows for those items to be given to those in need even the same day.
“You don’t know how things you do for people affect them,” he says, “The thing is – do what you can do.”
• To learn more about or support Bin Donated, visit www.bindonated.org.
The Tenda Atacado Group has 19 cash & carry stores in São Paulo, Brazil. By the end of 2013, we’re projecting revenues of $900 million. Every month, we serve 1.3 million clients in our stores, 25 percent of whom are entrepreneurs, representing 50 percent of our sales.
We understood that entrepreneurs at the base of the pyramid (BoP) represented a strategic client segment for the company, as well as for the development of Brazil. With this in mind, the Tenda Entrepreneurs Project was born as a pilot business model that targets the formal and informal entrepreneur at the BOP.
This new business model has its conceptual and strategic foundation on a win-win approach. Its primary objective is to take advantage of our existing distribution platform – which already has scale and economic strength – as leverage to provide solutions to help the nano- and micro-entrepreneur in the evolution of their business.
Tenda contributes to a clear market failure: a harsh ecosystem that doesn’t provide entrepreneurs the proper tools to increase their income and improve their business. In response, Tenda provides a portfolio of products, credit, and learning that support entrepreneurs and their desire to improve their quality of life.
At the same time, from a broader perspective, this project aims to build a new relationship with our value chain through the adoption of a new social, environmental, and sustainable attitude that involves suppliers, partners, the Tenda Group, and our clients.
This project assumes that a company can only last if it acts in a sustainable manner. Therefore, evolving our business strategy to reflect this principle is not charity or welfare.
Tenda’s clients are 100 percent at the BoP. They’ve been traditionally in the so-called “poverty trap,” as the system doesn’t serve them and, very often, punishes them for their condition. Our clients are nano- and micro-entrepreneurs with incomes between $250 and $1,500, low levels of education (eight years on average), and mostly informal (90 percent).
Most of these entrepreneurs are in the food retail industry, they don’t hire people and if they do, it’s usually a family member. They aren’t connected to any business network, and their only motive is survival.
The ecosystem in which they have to survive is characterized by three features: no access to productive credit; no access to information, knowledge, and learning opportunities; and no access to an entrepreneur network that allows them to share experiences and learn from others.
We have accumulated valuable experience and knowledge on the BoP in the last 20 years. This allows us to conclude that the success of a BoP business model depends on really getting to know the client’s purchasing behaviors and needs, maintain a personal relationship with them, and understand scale.
Tenda came to realize that in order to launch a sustainable business and contribute to poverty reduction, the company needed to change its paradigm: Tenda now considers clients as human beings with needs, dreams, and the desire to improve his or her family’s quality of life.
We now understand that we have to innovate, structuring a coordinated action that allows entrepreneurs access to the whole equation — credit + learning opportunities + network — all critical for their development, our future markets, and the ecosystem in which they play such an active part.
The business model is based on two characteristics: Microcredit and Learning & Network. In our 19 stores we offer credit to our nano- and micro-entrepreneurs so they can access working capital and financing to make small investments in new machinery. Entrepreneurs are also offered a learning methodology that was development jointly with them over the last two years: a platform of knowledge and interaction.
The program is implemented in one of our stores and focuses on topics such as sales, finances, logistics, production, and marketing. A third phase of the program will be implemented in 2014 with an exclusive online web portal for entrepreneurs. We’ve achieved great results with partnerships with the private sector, academia, social networks, local governments, and multilateral organizations.
The Inter-American Development Bank’s Opportunities for the Majority initiative has supported the microcredit pillar of the program with a loan of $10 million, as well as the academic component with technical cooperation with funds from the Korean Fund for Poverty Reduction.
Our work has been recognized internationally, including being part of the 15 winners of the G20 Challenge 2012 for Inclusive and Innovative Business.
Our program has proven successful not only in empowering entrepreneurs, but also in improving their quality of life, increasing their incomes, helping their businesses evolve, and educating them in business administration.
Tenda Atacado’s model is directly linked to the UN Millennium Development Goals. As the entrepreneurs’ incomes increase and their businesses grow, the program indirectly enables the creation of more jobs, of more spending on education and health, and of higher levels of women's empowerment, given that half of the clients are women who run their own nano- or micro-business.
As of July 2013, our program had approved credit lines to 50,000 formal and informal entrepreneurs. In 2012, we generated between $30 million and $35 million in working capital operations for entrepreneurs.
We expect this number to grow to $60 million in 2013 and to serve between 70,000 and 80,000 entrepreneurs. The impact of our model is evident, and its impact over poverty reduction is outstanding. Currently, the learning methodology is being taught to three groups of 25 people each. During the second semester of 2013, our goal is to teach the program to 10 groups of 25 people, and to organize five conferences with 120 entrepreneurs.
Expanding or facilitating access to productive credit, learning tools, low-cost products, and a business network, we promote the entrepreneurs’ sustainable development by creating opportunities to generate new income, more jobs in the communities where we operate, and strengthening the social capital that consequently reduces vulnerability and poverty.
We’re convinced that if entrepreneurs are guided by a logic of development rather than subsistence, we change their paradigm of living. This inevitably impacts their lives and that of their families.
• Marco Gorini is executive director of VoxCred S/A.
• This article originally appeared at the Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship, the premier international platform for accelerating entrepreneurial approaches and innovative solutions to the world’s most pressing social issues.
Detroit may have declared bankruptcy, but Motor City Blight Busters is fighting to bring the city back one abandoned building and one vacant lot at a time.
For 25 years the nonprofit has demolished abandoned buildings that are beyond repair, renovated homes that are not, and cleaned up parks and illegal dumping sites. Blight Busters created a community garden that it hopes to expand to a full-blown urban farm when it finishes clearing a two-block area of abandoned housing.
“Sometimes before you can create you have to destroy,” says John George, the organization’s founder. “So we’re in a constant, almost yin-and-yang thing where we’re tearing something down and fixing something up. When the smoke clears, that’s going to add up to a new Detroit.”
RECOMMENDED: 10 biggest US foundations and what they do
Blight Busters grew out of the experience of Mr. George and his neighbors living near abandoned properties. When Mr. George’s son was two and his wife was pregnant with their daughter, a vacant home in their neighborhood was taken over by crack dealers. On weekend nights, the dealers would set up shop in the building, leading to fights and frightening residents.
Mr. George thought about moving, but instead he and two neighbors boarded up the house, painted the boards, and cut the grass.
“When the drug dealers returned that evening, they couldn’t get in,” he says. “They got into their Jeep and they left.”
Blight Busters now works with more than 10,000 volunteers, including employee groups from companies like Ford, Chrysler, Quicken Loans, and Starbucks. Support from corporations and foundations accounts for roughly 70 percent of the organization’s $300,000 budget. Most of the rest comes from the sale of donated cars and real estate.
RECOMMENDED: 10 biggest US foundations and what they do
As Detroit has continued to hemorrhage residents, the problem of blight has only gotten more daunting. Current estimates put the number of abandoned properties at between 50,000 and 80,000.
But Mr. George says he remains optimistic as residents band together to revitalize the city.
“Detroit has an opportunity with the bankruptcy to recreate itself,” he says. “Basically, my theory is that if you have a clean and safe city, people will stop leaving and might even come back.”
I grew up in rural Kentucky, where deteriorating mobile homes ruled – and spoiled – the landscape. When I grew up, I vowed, I would do something about it.
Little did I realize the solution – one that would help the environment and benefit thousands of families – would involve the very thing I once railed against: manufactured housing. It's been a remarkable journey.
When I became head of an affordable housing organization 13 years ago, I quickly realized the daunting problem I faced: Roughly 2 million families still live in mobile homes built before 1976. These homes produce more greenhouse gases than newer homes and waste significantly more energy – sending utility bills skyrocketing for families that are already struggling to get by.
RECOMMENDED: 10 organizations that protect the environment
When these families came to me for help, I would urge them not to buy another manufactured home. I told them these homes weren't constructed as well as traditionally built homes. Worse, many manufactured homes lacked a permanent foundation – meaning buyers could not qualify for a low-interest mortgage under federal rules. That left buyers paying much higher interest rates.
Yet despite all my efforts, families were snapping up manufactured homes because they were affordable, easily financed, and could be constructed in a matter of weeks. Site-built homes were simply too expensive and took too long to build for many families needing a home.
I was getting killed by the lure of factory-built homes. Of the families who came to us for help, some 90 percent bought a manufactured house. I was fighting a losing cause.
Then it hit me: What if manufactured homes weren't the problem, but rather the solution? What if I worked with the manufactured housing industry to get low-income families into well-constructed, energy-efficient homes built with the right foundations?
I started a new organization called Next Step to connect the manufactured home industry with affordable-housing organizations across America. I found a partner in Clayton Homes, the largest maker of factory-built homes in the nation.
What I learned: Manufactured homes can be attractive, grow in value, and open the door to home ownership for millions of families. These homes can truly change people's lives.
But they must be built the right way. That's why Next Step partnered with Clayton Homes to put families into homes that are carefully designed to increase energy efficiency; engineered to be affordable; built to the highest standards; and placed on a permanent foundation so the home buyer qualifies for a low-interest mortgage.
Not surprisingly, some affordable-housing advocates are more than a little skeptical of our efforts. Here's what I tell them: Clayton is the nation's biggest manufactured-home builder, so they can buy high-quality materials in bulk and pass along the savings. And because their homes are built inside a factory, they have far less construction waste and don't suffer weather delays like conventional builders.
Best of all, we're getting families out of older mobile homes – something that's critically important for all of us.
Mobile homes constructed before 1976 – when the federal government began regulating factory-built homes – are deteriorating and increasingly problematic for the environment.
Our goal is to get these families into manufactured homes that are far nicer and far more energy efficient. So far, more than 100 families have moved into these homes under our nationwide program.
We work with Clayton Homes to build all of our homes to Energy Star qualifications – saving homeowners significant money on their utility bills. Each home features energy-efficient heating and cooling systems as well as high-performance windows and insulation– resulting in energy savings of up to 30 percent over standard factory-built homes.
RECOMMENDED: 10 organizations that protect the environment
So far, we've helped more than 100 families purchase manufactured homes that we project will save them almost $4 million on their utility bills and $12.5 million in interest over the life of their 30-year loans– while reducing greenhouse-gas emissions by more than 9,000 tons.
The results are plain to see. One elderly woman, for example, had lived in an older mobile home for years before moving into a Next Step home. In the next few months, her utility bill dropped so much that her power company thought she had passed away. Contacted by a utility worker, she was happy to report that she was, in fact, alive and well, living in a nicer, larger, and more energy-efficient home.
Growing up, I never imagined I'd be extolling the virtues of manufactured housing. But things change. People change. And even a deeply held prejudice is best left in the past.
• Stacey Epperson is president and CEO of Next Step, a nonprofit program that connects the manufactured homes industry with affordable-housing organizations across America. You can learn more at www.nextstepus.org.
Every year 1.2 million American youth leave high school without a diploma. One-third of all students nationwide, and one half in low-income communities, do not graduate.
Some students leave to make money to support their family, but most will say they left because nobody in the school actually cared about them. Nobody cared to help them learn, to overcome problems, to take themselves and their futures seriously.
As a result, there are 6.7 million young adults between the ages of 16 and 24 who are out of work and out of school in the USA. About half of them grew up in poverty. This cohort of young people will directly cost American taxpayers $1.3 trillion over their lifetimes, and will generate a social burden of $4.7T. Worldwide this problem is even greater and deserves enormous attention and investment. For now, this article will focus on the USA.
While millions of young adults can’t find jobs, there are many companies that cannot find employees qualified for available jobs. Millions of jobs in health care and technology are going unfilled. The US military is similarly affected. Young people without diplomas are not eligible. Furthermore, over 350,000 youth aged 16 to 24 are behind bars, many for nonviolent offenses. Sixty-eight percent of inmates in state prisons lack a high school diploma, showing a profound correlation between lack of education and crime.
Without a diploma, it is hard to get a job. Add to that a criminal record, and it is virtually impossible. Living in families with no food in the refrigerator and no parent with a job, in neighborhoods filled with drugs, gangs, and police, what do we expect young men and women to do? It looks to them like the only door open to making money leads to selling drugs. It also looks like the most welcoming community is made up of gang members.
As a result, many young men in low income communities expect to be dead or in jail by the time they are 25. In fact, there are more young men dying on our streets than dying in military service in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Overall, this is a shameful picture. The talent being wasted by extreme inequality of income, education, job training, family supports, and community-based opportunities is enormous. The young people who are out of school and out of work have recently been called “opportunity youth” by researchers in the United States, because they are seeking opportunity and they offer society an enormous opportunity, if only we would invest in them.
We know exactly how to empower disconnected “opportunity youth” to turn their lives around. They do not want to end up dead or in jail. They have dreams, and talents, and if you reach an inch below the surface you find they are simply yearning to belong to a family or community where someone cares enough to guide them in the pursuit of happiness, in the creation of a life worth living. So far, their families, schools, and communities have failed them.
Various community-based and publicly funded programs have emerged to welcome them into supportive pathways to opportunity, enabling them to overcome serious obstacles and get on track to high school and college degrees. For example, in the YouthBuild program that has been supported by the Skoll Foundation, over 120,000 low-income young people who had previously left high school without a diploma in 273 American communities have produced over 23,000 units of affordable housing while attending a YouthBuild school where they study for their high school equivalency diploma.
On a panel at the Aspen Ideas Festival, Xavier Jennings, a graduate of the YouthBuild program in Denver, Colorado, described the difficulties of his life living in public housing with his grandmother who was sick with heart disease and had lost her food stamps because she could no longer travel to renew them. Surrounded on the streets by opportunities to make money selling drugs, he entered “the lifestyle,” got in trouble with the law, and was expelled from school.
Nobody moved to help him, until a friend told him about YouthBuild, where he could earn money building affordable housing in the neighborhood while earning his diploma and preparing for college. A way to earn money, a diploma, and skills, sounded good. He joined.
He described a transformative moment that occurred in the first week. He went with a crew of YouthBuild AmeriCorps students to renovate the back yard of a senior citizen. She didn’t welcome them warmly. He felt their baggy pants caused her to stereotype them. But after the young people had restored her yard, she came out the back door with tears in her eyes, carrying a tray of cookies she had made for them, thanking them from the bottom of her heart.
Xavier also began to tear up, experiencing for the first time appreciation and respect rather than blame and rejection, from the same woman who seemed to scorn them on first view. That moment triggered his decision to seize the opportunity to turn his life around and become a person who helped others.
This is a common transformational experience for young people in YouthBuild, Making a difference for other people is a universally inspiring human experience that works miracles for young people who have been seen as the troublemakers in their neighborhoods.
“I used to be a hoodlum,” they say. “Now I am a hero.” Many move into long-term leadership roles to improve their communities and diminish suffering. Recent research from Tufts University documents this phenomenon at YouthBuild.
Speaking after Xavier, Ernesto Aguilera, a graduate of the Los Angeles Conservation Corps, and Rayonna Hall, from Gateway to College at Durham, N.C., also told their stories of how these programs valued their abilities, helped them set and achieve goals, and made it possible for them to succeed in college. They contrasted the caring relationships with staff to what they experienced as uncaring and punitive approaches in the public schools they had left.
Clearly, the public schools need to change. Every principal and teacher needs to be trained in how to show respect and caring to every student, how to create a safe community committed to the success of every member, and class sizes need to make that possible. This would be a decisive step toward diminishing the drop-out rate. But meanwhile, we must invest in the second-chance programs that are succeeding with the young people who have already left high school.
Each 20 year old who is unemployed and out of school will directly cost taxpayers $236,000 over his or her lifetime and will produce a larger social burden of $704,000 unless something is done to open a door to education and employment.
On the other hand, it costs just $22,000 to give a YouthBuild student a life-changing year in a paid job producing valuable affordable housing for the community while earning his or her GED or high school diploma, gaining industry-recognized credentials, belonging to a positive peer group, experiencing the respect and dedication of caring adults, internalizing positive values, and preparing for college or a career. Research on YouthBuild has shown that the direct return for every dollar spent is a minimum of $7.80. The social value is even greater.
Can we afford not to invest in comprehensive programs that provide reliable pathways to success for all American young people? It would be stupid and self-destructive not to invite every unemployed, out-of-school, young adult into comprehensive second chance opportunities to build a productive life-style. What are we waiting for? Some kind of an irresistible uprising or threat? We already know it’s damaging and wasteful to ignore the problem. Furthermore, we have proven solutions.
Every solution for every problem faced by our great nation is subject to political decisions. The twin challenges of improving our public schools to lower the drop-out rates, and expanding our second-chance programs to reconnect those whom the schools have failed, require public funding. Elected officials of all persuasions need to hear this loud and clear from their constituents. Even skeptical legislators can often be won over through listening to the testimonies of the youth, seeing what they produce, and reviewing the data.
We need to invest in the education, well-being, inspiration, and character development of every young person born, including those who were born into poverty through no fault of their own.
They will grow up to be responsible, productive, caring citizens if society recognizes their value and invests in opportunities for them to realize their full potential.
• Dorothy Stoneman is founder and president of YouthBuild USA.
• This article originally appeared at the Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship, the premier international platform for accelerating entrepreneurial approaches and innovative solutions to the world’s most pressing social issues.
Would you sell a stake in your future for a college degree? Oregon just joined a number of private companies making the idea a reality, and the solution could mean more underprivileged youth get the education they need to get ahead.
College graduates can earn 84 percent more over a lifetime than those with a high school diploma, but most poor youth can't afford the hefty price tag. Crowdfunding higher education may inspire a brighter outlook.
In July, Oregon legislators passed a bill that would allow residents to pay for a college education without undertaking a traditional loan, according to The New York Times. Students would agree to pay back the cost of their education by promising a percentage of future earnings after graduation.
Though Oregon is the first US state to attempt to institutionalize the idea for its in-state students, private companies have been helping the idea gain traction for years, matching competitive students and "impact investors" pursuing both social and financial returns.
Pave and Upstart, both recently launched companies in the US, have raised millions using the unique crowdfunding model, "promoting equity-like investments in young folk," says The Economist. But Lumni is among the first to target low-income parts of the world.
And according to the International Labor Organization, unconventional ways of financing ever-increasing costs of education couldn't come sooner: 73.4 million young people--12.6 percent--are expected to be out of work in 2013, an increase of 3.5 million over the last five years.
With operations in Peru, Chile, Colombia, Mexico and the US, Lumni seeks underprivileged students who may otherwise lack the financial resources necessary to pursue higher education. Like Oregon's new legislation, Lumni asks students to repay their "loan" with a percentage of future earnings for a given term. And, like traditional student loans, those payments don't begin until after graduation.
Armed with a freshly acquired college degree, Lumni-financed students can establish greater financial stability by accessing higher earnings, but they're also free from the growing risk of default that often results from accruing interest and rigid payment terms under traditional financing arrangements. With income-based repayment, no income means no payments.
But what if a Lumni-financed graduate becomes the next Mark Zuckerberg? It’s clear that under income-based repayment, students with greater total income will make larger payments to their investors. The Economist notes that Upstart caps total payback at five times the amount invested, yet few other programs offer such caps. For this reason, the most financially successful graduates will pay much more for for their college degrees.
And tinkering with the future of our youth always raises concern. Lumni's average term of repayment – 10 years – is a long-term financial commitment that students may not have the resources and experience to assess. As promising prospects and financial incentives drive an expanding pool of profit-seeking investors, it will be equally important that companies like Lumni ensure the financial education and protection of the students so they make the best decision for their futures.
Still, the idea of social financial agreements has sparked the interest of many youth and investors. Lumni has helped fund more than 2,000 students and holds more than $15 million in financial commitments from over 100 investors. Because students pay a percentage of earnings, investors have a great incentive to ensure the success of investees' postgraduate futures, which promises larger returns.
For this reason, many companies like Lumni are beginning to witness investors adopting a more active approach, often providing additional resources and professional advice to students as they advance their professional careers. According to The Economist, a student using Upstart reported that one of her investors sent her subscriptions to study materials she needed to get into law school.
The fundamental difference between Oregon legislation and social investment companies is where the the students' payments end up. Oregon plans to establish a state fund to collect payments, which would fund higher education for future generations.
Companies like Lumni direct payments back into the pockets of investors as return. Yet, as economics professor Nancy Folbre notes in the New York Times, obtaining larger payments from higher earners can improve educational opportunity and ideally help reduce income inequality. Both the Oregon legislation and social investment companies are successfully capturing this key component.
Though well-deserved skepticism toward Lumni's model remains, the untapped potential of financing higher education by offering complementing terms of repayment could create radical change. In a world of growing inequality and mounting barriers to education, it may require this sort of unconventional innovation and creative thinking to uncover an approach that offers a more promising future for youth across the globe.