Baby boomers now give the largest share of donations to charities, surpassing every other age group, including the generation born before 1946, says a study released today [Aug. 8].
Boomers make up 34 percent of the pool of donors, but give 43 percent of all money contributed by individuals, the study found.
“Baby boomers are now the dominant source of income for most nonprofits,” says Mark Rovner, a principal at Sea Change Strategies and the study’s primary researcher.
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Together with the generation born before 1946, he says, they are responsible for the vast majority of giving to charities. The study, which is based on self-reported data, found that the two groups together are responsible for nearly 70 percent of the estimated total annual giving to charities by individuals.
However, the findings raise concerns for fundraisers: Donors at all stages of life are not poised to significantly increase their giving over the next year—and it will be harder in the future to win support from the generations that follow the boomers.
Of the four generations surveyed—“millennials,” born from 1981 to 1995; Generation X, born from 1965 to 1980; boomers; and the elderly—a majority in each group said they expected to give the same amount of money to charity in the coming year and to support the same number of charities.
Donors in their 20s and early 30s were most likely to say they planned to give more in the next 12 months and support more charities, with 21 percent saying they would give more money and 13 percent saying they would add beneficiaries.
Seventy-five percent of boomers said they would support the same number of charities in 2013 that they did last year, a higher share than for any of the other groups.
Donors under 50 showed markedly more interest than older Americans in seeing a charity’s results. Nearly 60 percent of millennials, and half of Generation X donors, said that seeing results from their contributions influenced their decision to give. By contrast, only a third of the oldest generation said the same.
Young donors were also less likely to make unrestricted gifts to charities: 43 percent of donors born before 1946 said they would make a gift that wasn’t earmarked for a specific purpose, compared with only 22 percent of millennials.
Perhaps most alarming for fundraisers, the results indicate that the younger donors are, the less likely they are to agree that cash gifts are the best way to support charities.
While 48 percent of donors born before 1946 said money made the biggest difference, only 36 percent of Generation X said the same, and only one in four millennials agreed.
Instead of cash, millennials would rather give their time: The survey found them to be the most fervent believers of all the generations in the value of volunteering. Thirty percent said they could make the biggest difference that way, compared with 24 percent of the eldest generation and 20 percent of boomers.
However, people in their 70s and beyond were the most likely to have volunteered at a charity in the past year—42 percent did so, compared with 33 percent of millennials.
The survey also asked people of all ages how they have donated during the past two years. Some key findings:
- Half of all donors have given money at a retail store’s checkout counter, making it the most popular means of giving for all except those in the oldest generation. Direct mail is the most popular means of giving for people in their 70s or older.
- Online giving is popular among all ages. Thirty-nine percent of all donors said they had given that way, including 42 percent of boomers. More boomers give online than through the mail.
- Direct mail and phone solicitation plummet in popularity among younger donor groups. While 52 percent of the oldest generation gave by mail over the past two years, only 22 percent of Generation X and 10 percent of millennials did.
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Giving by phone was much less popular overall, although 19 percent of the oldest donors reported that they gave that way. Telemarketing generated donations from only 6 percent of millennials and is unlikely to grow in popularity, says Mr. Rovner.
“If I had telemarketing stocks in my portfolio, I would sell them tomorrow,” he says.
The full study, “The Next Generation of American Giving,” can be downloaded free. Go to: blackbaud.com/nextgen.
One morning at the age of 18, fresh out of high school, Maggie Doyne awoke with the feeling that she was not yet ready to move into her freshman dorm. Instead, she wanted to defer college for a year to travel and discover her “inner self.” It was a decision that would change her life in ways she could never imagine.
Four countries and thousands of miles later, Maggie found herself in the midst of a remote, war-torn village in Nepal. She watched in despair as Nepalese children would break down rocks into gravel and then sell them for $1 a day just to buy food. Maggie was compelled to take action. One young girl in particular had touched her heart, so Maggie paid $7 to enroll her in school. That was the beginning.
One child quickly became two and then two turned into five. Soon, simply enrolling the children didn’t feel like enough. With a lack of resources but a huge sense of hope, Maggie was determined to provide these young refugees with stability, and a real foundation for life.
At age 19, she convinced her parents to wire her entire savings of $5,000 in order to buy a piece of land in Nepal. With the help of the local community, Maggie spearheaded the creation of the Kopila Valley Children’s Home for Orphans. At age 23, Maggie also opened a school, which today (three years later) serves more than 300 students from Surkhet and surrounding regions.
Maggie was only 19 years old (and 8,000 miles away from home) when she launched this project, but she never let her age impede her from reaching goals. In fact, Maggie believes that it’s essential to maintain a youthful, idealistic, and optimistic attitude in order to accomplish something seemingly impossible. In a presentation three years ago for Do It Lectures (see below), Maggie pointed out that people have the tendency to become doubtful as they age, and focus on things they don’t have. People might say, "I could do this if I had more money or if I had my Master’s Degree.” Maggie assures her audience that you don’t need to be comforted by those things: “You already have everything you need.”
After reading Maggie’s interview below, you can learn more about her work in Nepal and with The BlinkNow Foundation, which she created as a vehicle to share her mission with the world. We’re honored to be featuring you on Talking GOOD Maggie!
1. IN JUST ONE SENTENCE, WHAT IS YOUR PURPOSE IN LIFE? To give my children a happy childhood, keep them healthy, and change the model for orphan care.
2. HOW HAS THIS WORK CHANGED YOU? This work has made me hopeful that change is possible and 100 percent achievable in my lifetime. I see this every day in front of my eyes. I am convinced that we can end world poverty for good and we can do that by educating and caring for our world’s children.
3. WHAT DO YOU GET FROM GIVING? I get a bursting heart and 300 of the happiest, most amazing little kiddos in the universe; hugs every day, lots of laughs, family games of capture the flag, too many Birthday parties to count, and more love than I could have ever imagined.
4. WHO IS A LIVING HERO AND WHAT WOULD YOU ASK THEM IF GIVEN THE CHANCE? I love Melinda Gates and everything she is doing to change the world for women. If we ever meet, I’ll ask her to come visit us in Nepal!
5. WHAT EVERYDAY RESOURCES COULD HELP YOU ACHIEVE YOUR PHILANTHROPIC GOALS? We recently just filled six Kopila Fellows work positions. The Kopila Fellows program is designed to bring remarkable people from around the world to be part of our community in Surkhet, Nepal. We seek positive, fun, extraordinary thinkers and doers who will help inspire and nurture the children, staff, and faculty of our ever-growing home and school. You can apply at www.blinknow.org/kopila-fellows/. We also have a wish list with items we need for our home, school and clinic: http://blinknow.org/wishlist/.
6. WHAT IS A BURNING QUESTION THAT YOU HAVE FOR THIS COMMUNITY? I would ask a community of philanthropists, “It seems like we all have common dreams and goals to make the world better for our children. What are some ways that all of us with common interests can work together, partner, and collaborate?”
7. WHAT WOULD THE TITLE OF YOUR BOOK BE? If I ever wrote a book I would write up a bunch of stories about the kids and everyday life here at Kopila for them to read and remember when they are older. As for the title… I’ll have to think on that.
8. TELL US SOMETHING YOU RARELY SHARE IN PUBLIC? The children and I have a constant battle with head lice.
9. WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR OTHERS WHO ASPIRE TO BE CITIZEN PHILANTHROPISTS? Follow your heart. Do what you love. For any problem, education is usually the answer.
10. WHAT QUESTION DO YOU WISH I HAD ASKED, AND WHAT IS THE ANSWER? QUESTION: How do you find time to be a mother to 40 children? ANSWER: I have A LOT of help. I couldn’t do any of this alone. I have an amazing team to help me day in and day out. The kids call our cooks and caretakers their “aunties” and “uncles.” I have local teachers and a principal who helps me run our school, two amazing boards from both the US and Nepal, and volunteers who came from all over the world to help us.
In terms of finding time for each kid, most days I find that there really aren’t enough hours in the day. At night before bed we do something called “satsung” where we sit together in a circle and have a family meeting, sing songs, and talk about our day. It’s really helpful to have a designated time where we are all together in one space as a family. I look forward to it each and every night, and I know the kids do too.
• This article was originally posted at Talking GOOD, a series of interviews with “citizen philanthropists” who champion causes and lead by example. Talking GOOD was launched in 2012 by Rich Polt, principal of the Baltimore-based PR consultancy Communicate Good, LLC. To nominate someone for a Talking GOOD interview, please fill out this form, or email email@example.com.
The popular adage of the dog being "man's best friend" doesn't quite cut it when describing America's working canines.
For the members of the military, police officers, search and rescue personnel, and others who rely on dogs in their daily work, the four-legged partners provide protection and loyal service, along with a firm friendship.
Recognizing the value working dogs provide to the military and emergency responders – as well as the risks they face while engaged in their work – prompted Cindy Elkind to launch Kevlar for K9s, a nonprofit organization that raises funds to provide ballistic vests for working canines.
“Especially in suspect apprehension, they face getting shot or stabbed … if it’s a meth [amphetamine] lab, they face poisoning or explosion,” says Ms. Elkind, a dog lover at heart. “They face any and probably more dangers than the actual handlers, because they are sent in first.”
Whether it is a building search or the hot pursuit of a suspect in a dangerous situation, canines are typically deployed ahead of their human counterparts. Elkind uses the example of a dog sent after a subject fleeing into a dark, unsecured building or a wooded area – a working canine will take over for law enforcement officers to track, locate, and apprehend the target.
“They are actually there, being the first responders,” she says. “It is nice to know that the dogs have some protection, like the people.”
The idea came about in 2007, when Elkind, who lives in Denver, met a kennel master at Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora, Colo., through her daughter, who has served in the US Air Force. She began talking with the service member about the role working dogs play in the military, as well as the perils they confront without fear or hesitation.
“His two canines were the first two I vested,” says Elkind, who adds that the idea sparked a more organized effort to provide protection for more working dogs.
She began to work with a corporation to obtain vests manufactured specifically for canines, designed to repel both bullets and knives or other sharp implements – a capability that makes them “stab-listic” armor as well.
“It will repel a knife or an ice pick, or a shard of glass,” she says. “That’s the best vest.”
But at $1,300 a piece, Elkind says that such protection comes at a cost. Fortunately for her, the effort has also been met with a great deal of generosity.
Since 2007, Elkind has been able to raise enough funds to vest 141 canines. Of those, most serve in domestic law enforcement, though others have been trained to work with arson investigators, search and rescue agencies, and branches of the military.
Not believing in spending money to advertise for her cause, Elkind relies exclusively on word-of-mouth and social media to garner support. She also posts photos and information on Facebook about every dog Kevlar for K9s puts in a vest, and says that the platform has helped to increase awareness.
And as a one-woman show running Kevlar for K9s in her spare time, Elkind has come to believe firmly in the saying that “every penny counts” – literally.
“I got a bag of pennies from two little girls once,” she says, adding how touching the gesture was. “I will accept anything [people] are willing to send.”
Lately, she says, some donations have come from couples getting married, who encourage guests and loved ones to contribute to the cause in lieu of gifts.
A lifelong animal lover, Elkind has volunteered at animal shelters and rescue groups. She has also volunteered the services of her personal pets in therapy programs in both hospices and hospitals, and additionally as “listeners” for children's reading programs. She has also taken college courses in animal physiology.
In her professional life, she has worked with a national commercial real estate service firm, as well as a healthcare organization.
While running Kevlar for K9s takes a good deal of her time, Elkind believes it is worthwhile.
“It is a labor of love,” she says. “Every time I can vest a dog, it just makes my heart feel good.”
And in at least one case, that labor paid off in a very big way.
About a week after Elkind provided a vest for one dog, she says, the canine was trying to catch a man running from police.
“The suspect that [the dog] was tracking down was trying to stab him,” she says. The suspect "did try with great vigor to stab this canine, but he couldn’t – the vest repelled it.”
• For more information, to learn how to request a vest, or to support Kevlar for K9s, visit http://kevlarfork9s.org.
Community Sourced Capital is a newly formed lender that aims to apply the crowd-sourcing model to encourage the growth of locally owned businesses.
The company's founders—Rachel Maxwell, Casey Dilloway, Brent Cochran, and Meryl McDonald—say they were inspired by the growing desire to support local businesses among their friends and neighbors.
"The hardest part is often not attracting shoppers once the project is off the ground," Dilloway said, "but securing capital to get it started."
All four founders are graduates of Bainbridge Graduate Institute, the brainchild of entrepreneur and conservationist Gifford Pinchot III and his wife Libba, and the first business school to offer an MBA in sustainable business. It was while searching for an entrepreneurship project that they noticed a gap in the thinking about how people can best support the local economy.
In 2012, the four decided to do something about that and founded Community Sourced Capital. They worked in a shared office space in a converted furniture store in the historic district of Pioneer Square, just south of downtown Seattle. Their idea was to harness the power of the connections that tie local people together—both on social media and in the physical world—to find people willing to loan money to small local businesses.
Lenders make funds available in $50 blocks, up to a maximum of $250 per project, and are acknowledged by the receipt of a pale-blue square card bearing the CSC logo, which identifies them as "Squareholders." The funds are then made available to borrowers at zero interest, and loans are paid back at a rate based on the company's revenue. CSC makes loans of up to $50,000.
After repayment, Squareholders can withdraw their funds or purchase a square in another project, allowing them to keep their money at work in their community.
In a number of ways, Community Sourced Capital's business model departs sharply from that of traditional lenders. Because the staff of CSC aims to create a model that resembles the sharing of money between friends, borrowers are not required to provide collateral. By keeping capital within the local economy and basing their lending in personal trust, they hope to strengthen ties between businesses and their communities.
"The loans are simple enough that owners won't get weighed down in complications," Maxwell said, "which doesn't make sense for a $50,000 loan anyway."
And then there's that part about zero interest. That may seem too good to be true, but president and director Casey Dilloway explains that CSC's loans aren't entirely free. Borrowers pay a campaign fee and a flat monthly membership fee when using the CSC platform, a system that Dilloway believes is more equitable than traditional lending schemes, as the fees allow CSC to make a profit without burdening their borrowers with interest payments.
That balance between making a profit and assisting its clients is essential to CSC's business model. As a "social purpose corporation"—a company with social goals written into its articles of incorporation—CSC has a mission that goes beyond just making money. As the company's mission statement puts it, "CSC provides a simple way for community members to lend money to the local businesses where they find the most value. Our unique take on crowd funding aggregates many small loans and turns them into one big loan for a business. We call those small loans Squares and the lenders Squareholders."
In May 2013, CSC successfully funded two projects: Bainbridge Island-based Eleven Winery’s campaign for the planned automation of its bottling process, and Harmon Brewing Company’s new restaurant location at the Tacoma Narrows Airport. Both campaigns raised $20,000 from more than 60 squareholders.
As of mid July 2013, CSC has two active campaigns. For one, they hope to raise $15,000 to enable the Adrift Hotel on Washington state’s Long Beach Peninsula to add solar hot water and rainwater catchment systems and thereby lower its environmental impact. That campaign was less than $1,000 away from full funding at the time of this writing. The second campaign is for a Seattle deli called Delicatus, which aims to raise $9,000 to purchase new refrigeration units, beverage storage, and new hardware for their sales system. That campaign has already raised more than $6,000.
• David Rutherford wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media project that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. David is a blogger and a graduate of Bainbridge Graduate Institute.
The poor, often unconnected to banks, can benefit from savings groups because they offer a safe place to save money, the chance to borrow small amounts on flexible terms, and a strong support group.
Saving for Change (SfC) is an Oxfam America program that operates in 13 countries throughout the world with 680,000 members, most of them women. Saving for Change works in rural areas, training women to save regularly by meeting every week to put a few cents into a savings box and to borrow from their group’s fund as needed--tiny loans that they later pay back with interest.
At the end of a savings cycle, typically one year long, the fund is divided among the members, who receive not only their own savings but a portion of the profit. The yearly return on the savings is 30 to 40 percent or more. The end of the savings cycle is scheduled thoughtfully, usually during the beginning of the hungry season when members are more vulnerable. The money shared out is mainly used by the women for food, business, and livestock, with 41 percent of the total share-outs being used for income-generating purposes.
The most extensive part of the study, "Saving for Change: Financial Inclusion and Resilience for the World’s Poorest People," was conducted in Mali over a three-year period, where some villages were randomly selected to receive the savings program and others were not.
A snapshot of who joins Saving for Change:
- 82 percent of households live on less than $1.25 a day
- Financially and socially active women, usually those who run a business or own livestock
- Women who join are more likely to be in a leadership role within their household or village
- Women who are less socially connected tend to join later on, typically six months after the group first formed in their village
Women in Saving for Change villages felt positive impacts. They:
- Saved 31 percent more than women in control villages
- Took out twice as many loans from savings groups
- Were 10 percent less likely to be chronically food insecure than households in control villages
- Increased their livestock holdings, owning 13 percent more in livestock than those in control villages, or $120 more, which buys four goats, three ewes, or one calf
- Reported more village-level solidarity than non-SfC members
Many of the women in the Savings for Change study took advantage of the lending opportunity by borrowing $10 and $20 dollar loans during their savings cycles.
"Freedom from Hunger's research indicates that while some women in these groups are taking small loans to start and nurture small businesses, others are taking loans to weather the myriad challenges of life, whether an unexpected health expense or simply making sure there is enough food," states Nicki Fleuhr-Lobban in a blog post by Huffington Post and InterAction.
While the Oxfam study shows evidence of Saving for Change helping families to become more resilient against economic shocks like food price increases, any evidence of households climbing the socioeconomic ladder and beginning to reverse poverty has gone undetected so far in the reports.
But founder and executive director for Global Reach Sean Kline says that savings groups could be a significant tool for the future of the unbanked and underserved poor: "Savings-led, self-managed banking is not only a powerful phenomenon in the most remote rural areas where banks and [microfinance institutions] fear to tread, but this is a good-enough solution to many, though not all, financing needs among millions of poor people."
Seattle-Tacoma Airport is home to many kinds of flights, but we’re not just talking about Boeing 777s. The large tracts of empty land on the site are now home to a half a million honeybees, part of a project intended to improve the health of the region's pollinators.
In 2011, Bob Redmond of The Common Acre, an organization that works to strengthen community through art and gardening projects, called the commissioner of the airport with an idea. He had heard about beehives being placed around Chicago's O’Hare Airport, and thought it would be a good idea to borrow. Airport staff agreed.
Why put bees around an airport?
The loud and potentially hazardous activity at an airport does not mix well with residential or commercial development, so airports tend to be surrounded by large, bare tracts of land. The land around Seattle-Tacoma Airport is publicly owned, but access to it is restricted.
That's great for beekeepers, who prefer to keep their hives away from the general public.
The project, called Flight Path, boasts 18 beehives housing 500,000 bees. The bees will contribute to the ongoing conservation projects of the Port of Seattle, which operates the airport.
"We really see this as a win-win for the community," says Christina Faine, media specialist for the Port of Seattle.
The project is a response to the declines in the honeybee population due to a condition known as “colony collapse disorder.” Just last winter, 31 percent of honeybee colonies in the United States were lost, according a study by the US Department of Agriculture.
Redmond says he hopes that airport projects like Seattle's will breed hardy, genetically diverse bees that can later be distributed to beekeepers.
While one apiary won’t fix the causes of colony collapse disorder—which are complex and poorly understood—it will improve local pollination and hopefully inspire more individuals and organizations to keep bees.
“My dream is that this becomes a pilot project—no pun intended—that other airports can look at and replicate,” Redmond says.
Bees may seem irritating to some when they form hives near residences and sting people, but they are an invaluable part of the ecosystem.
According to Redmond, bees pollinate 70 out of the 100 plants that make up 90 percent of the human diet. Without bees to pollinate our produce, we would be limited to a narrow range of foods.
And that's not to mention honey.
In January 2014, Seattle-Tacoma Airport will host a bee-themed art and education exhibit in concourse—you guessed it—B. The exhibit will illustrate the connection between food and transportation
• Kristin Hugo wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. Kristin is a graduate of the program in journalism of California State University at Northridge. The original article is here.
Pat Hegnauer embodies the idea that to get something done, give it to a busy person.
Ms. Hegnauer is a long-time volunteer for Weir Farm, the only National Historic Site in Connecticut and just one of two National Park Service sites devoted to
American painting. Because of budget cuts and sequestration the 60-acre site relies heavily on volunteers like Hegnauer.
Three generations of American artists called Weir Farm home: Julian Alden Weir, who helped develop American Impressionism; his daughter, the painter Dorothy Weir Young; and her husband, the sculptor Mahonri Young. The painters Sperry and Doris Andrews were the last to live on the site.
As a volunteer, Hegnauer helps catalog museum collections and maintain the site’s historic gardens. She’s taught CPR and first aid to the site’s staff and volunteers, and she walks the grounds as a docent, igniting visitors’ creativity.
Hegnauer is also the director for the G&B Community Cultural Center in Wilton, Conn., a sort of annex to Weir Farm that often exhibits art depicting the site.
Giving of her time is something the septuagenarian says she learned growing up in Hyde Park, N.Y.
“I still remember when Eleanor Roosevelt came to visit my school,” Hegnauer says. “I can also still remember Roosevelt’s fireside chats. Not what was said, but
that everything revolved around community and how we can help each other; what can we do for each other.”
However, sequestration meant the site, which is one of 400 national parks, saw its basic budget cut 5 percent, or $51,000. The cuts effected programming, publicity, and hiring. For example, the summer Take Part in Art program normally features two artists who help and encourage visitors in their artistic pursuits. Only one artist is on site now. Also, Weir Farm couldn’t rehire a seasonal maintenance worker.
Hegnauer says the cuts forced more creativity when it comes to staffing programs or tending to the site’s gardens. She credits her ability to do more with less as
having been raised by Depression-era parents.
Hegnauer discovered Weir Farm one winter in the 1990s when she sought a place to cross country ski. The stone walls that bisect the gently rolling fields; the red buildings with white trim, and the silhouette of the trees regardless of the season awakened her inner artist.
“I was immediately blown away by the landscape,” she says. “As a docent it’s my job to awaken new curiosity" and make the same awakening happen for visitors "that has happened to me.”
Today Hegnauer paints and encourages others to do so as well, no matter the results. She says grownups seem more inhibited because they have a preconceived idea of what art should be.
Thousands of people visit the site each year. Weir Farm’s fields, hardwood forests, and wetland areas make it a favorite spot for nature lovers. History buffs and
artists enjoy the spot for its 16 outbuildings, two farmsteads, and hundreds of letters to and from J. Alden Weir. Of course some come to collect a stamp in their National Park passport books as well.
“It’s an oasis in a very congested part of the country,” Hegnauer says.
Over at the G&B center Hegnauer's “ever-present easel” stands in a corner of her study. Bookshelves line the cozy space, framed art hangs on the walls, and postcards are pinned to cork boards. Classical music plays and a pot of hot coffee remains at the ready.
Standing in a room full of rain-soaked volunteers just back from delivering food to people hit by Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar in 2008, Erik Johnson remembers trying to train them in the various standards that apply to aid work, "and just watching their eyes glaze over as we threw one acronym at them after another".
This was a moment of realization for the board chair of the Sphere Project, which produces and promotes a popular humanitarian handbook. Five years and a considerable amount of consultation later, Sphere and two other key international organizations concerned with the quality of emergency response are beginning work on a new common core standard that aims to unify and simplify the maze of existing guidelines.
"The idea is actually really straightforward - simple tools are easier to use, and if they are easier to use, they are more likely to be used, and if they are likely to be used, our belief is that they will make a difference in response," said Johnson, who is also head of humanitarian response at DanChurchAid, a Danish aid group.
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The need for standards in aid operations was widely recognized after the brutal conflicts in Rwanda, Somalia, and Bosnia in the first half of the 1990s. An international evaluation said around 80,000 deaths, mainly from cholera and dysentery, in camps for those fleeing the Rwandan genocide could have been avoided if the humanitarian response had been more effective.
Efforts were launched to stop such mistakes happening again by identifying basic principles and minimum standards aid workers should adopt when delivering relief, including food, clean water, shelter, and health care, and trying to protect people from violence and other dangers.
"Since then, we have come a long way but we are still not performing well enough," Johnson said, noting that the aid sector has expanded and become more professional in the intervening years.
With more agencies on the ground – a growing number of them based in conflict and disaster-hit countries themselves – common problems have centered on poor coordination and duplication between aid efforts, as occurred with the 2010 Haiti earthquake, for example.
There is also a much bigger focus on involving affected people in emergency response: understanding their needs, providing them with information, listening to and acting on their complaints, and helping them avoid crises in the future. But this isn't happening to the extent it should, Johnson said.
Matthew Carter, CAFOD's humanitarian director and a board member of the Humanitarian Accountability Partnership (HAP), which is involved in the project, said he hopes the new standard will make clearer how aid agencies are supposed to operate across the board. This, in turn, should improve the experience of communities receiving assistance and enable them to demand a better service.
"I think the big change is that there's a commitment from the aid sector to buy into this," he said. "While recognizing our diversity, we have to do this together to improve the system and delivery of [humanitarian assistance]."
Carter said the common core standard will be built around the essential humanitarian principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality, and independence, and will also have more detailed technical guidelines for different areas of aid response, such as water provision and child protection, attached to it.
Unexpectedly, talking with hundreds of aid workers revealed that they didn't think there were too many standards out there. Rather they said the different codes of conduct should be harmonized and made easier to use, Carter added.
"Instead of the field workers we've all seen turning up with a suitcase full of guidelines, or lack of such a suitcase, there will be one standard that everyone will work to," he said. "It's already looking quite clear where there is going to be instant agreement, where there's overlap, and how we go about developing it."
The nitty-gritty of hammering out the standard starts this week, with the directors of HAP, Sphere, and People in Aid charged with producing a usable version by the beginning of next year. It will be tested in the field, and aid workers around the world will have the opportunity to provide feedback and shape the final product, which will evolve in line with new realities.
Sphere Project manager John Damerell told Thomson Reuters Foundation the aim is to draw on existing guidelines, which are already familiar to many aid workers, bring them under one umbrella and present them in plainer, consistent language. "We are not starting from zero," he emphasized.
The common core standard will remain a voluntary instrument – like the current Sphere humanitarian charter – but aid groups will be able to verify their implementation of it, if they wish, and will be offered guidance on how to do this.
One big issue the three bodies working on the standard are grappling with is how to include smaller, local organizations in developing countries, as well as the national staff of bigger networks, in both crafting and using it. There will be a need for more training and new ways of communicating – helped by the spread of mobile phones, the internet, and social media to most corners of the globe.
"What we really need to be sure we don't create is just another northern-centric set of standards that have little relation to the south – we are global citizens, and we are all responsible for providing aid," HAP board member Carter said.
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While methods of delivering the standard have yet to be decided, better use will likely be made of electronic media, with an online one-stop-shop for aid workers wanting to get up to speed fast. Training efforts may be consolidated, with experts sent out into emergency situations to help apply the standard in practice.
Its success will ultimately be judged on whether communities caught up in conflicts and natural disasters feel satisfied with the aid they receive, Sphere's Johnson said.
"They will see – I would hope – fewer white Land Cruisers filled with foreigners struggling to keep up and not always making good on their promises, and they will actually see more locally driven and owned responses, more meaningful participation from their side ... and hopefully more consistent quality in the aid response we are delivering," he said.
• This article originally appeared at Thomson Reuters Foundation, a source of news, information, and connections for action. It provides programs that trigger change, empower people, and offer concrete solutions.
Kur-Yang Maasofaa is a business man. He’s keen on detail but keeps to the facts, and he speaks English with the slow, dry precision of someone who values his education in a district where more than 70 percent of adults cannot read or write.
He keeps meticulous notes at every community meeting, and the power of the pen he wields makes him a respected character in the community. He’s also elderly, disabled by a badly arthritic knee, and walks with a cane that he props on the frame of his orange flame-colored bicycle to zoom around Dazuuri village in Ghana’s Upper West region.
When subsistence depends on your ability to toil in the fields or travel long distances to market, the elderly and people with disabilities are among those most vulnerable to the threat of food insecurity. The risks are heightened by the impacts of a changing and increasingly variable climate. But if anyone could have figured out a way to confront these challenges, it was bound to be Kur-Yang, armed with his trusty notebook.
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Dry-season gardening has become an increasingly important adaptation option for Dazuuri’s inhabitants. The extra income derived from selling vegetables during a normally unproductive time of the year has benefits far beyond the nutritional boost the fresh produce offers.
Normally the activity is reserved for those with access to land close to the river, or enough time and labor to put in the effort required for a garden. But Kur-Yang and a handful of Dazuuri’s other disabled residents have managed to get around these obstacles by forming their own group and petitioning for help from their district assembly.
The legitimacy conferred by having group status meant their petition was recognized, and the local government teamed up with several NGOs to make their dry-season garden a reality.
“There are five blind people in the group, and 15 disabled, including me,” Kur-Yang explains. “During the dry season we cultivate vegetables, and in the rainy season the garden is converted into a rice plantation. Each member of the group takes care of his or her own portion of the garden, but the whole group decides which crops to plant in a certain year. Whatever comes from your portion of the land belongs to you, and you can do what you like with it.”
His crop of choice is a practical one: onions. “I prefer them to other crops,” he says, “because I can make a good profit even if I only carry a few to market.”
The CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) is taking a look at climate-smart practices like dry-season gardening and some of the barriers that prevent them from being adopted in places like Dazuuri village.
Though help has been remarkably forthcoming for this resource-scarce region of Ghana, the disabled group’s garden is not without its challenges.
The difficulties have been exacerbated by the changing climate, as Kur-Yang is quick to observe.
“Water is one of the biggest challenges that we have in the garden. When we first started work in the garden we got our water from shallow wells that we dug during the dry season. Because the rains used to be reliable, there was always water in the wells to support the work in the garden, but not anymore,” he explains.
Although outside assistance has supplied the group with much-needed boreholes, even these valuable assets are not a fail-proof solution to water scarcity.
“Even now that we have boreholes in the garden, that water becomes scarce at times too. Not only that, but if the borehole stops working we must go and fetch the people in town that installed it so they can come and fix it. It’s not something we can repair ourselves, which means we often go without the boreholes altogether,” says Kur-Yang.
In response, he and his companions have tried to adopt measures to stop the soil drying out so quickly. “One thing that we have started doing is mulching using groundnut leaves. When we do that it takes a longer time for the water to dry out, which means we don’t have to water as many times in a day,” he says.
RECOMMENDED: How to create a better food system in 2013 (+video)
Although the potential for dry-season gardening to facilitate climate change adaptation is clear, gardens are input-intensive. They need a reliable source of water and labor, structures such as fences to keep out wandering livestock, and a steady supply of technical advice and know-how.
Kur-Yang is fortunate to be part of a group that has a high degree of ongoing institutional support, but farmers who are not as organized or well connected may not be so lucky.
Nonetheless, the example of Dazuuri suggests that if more communities commit to similar climate-smart endeavors, we can expect to see considerable advances in the adaptive capacity and food security of some of Africa’s most vulnerable individuals.
• Caity Peterson is a visiting researcher based at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) in Colombia, working in the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS). From July 15-20, CGIAR and its partners participated in the Africa Agriculture Science Week (AASW) in Accra, Ghana.
• Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.
• This article originally appeared at Thomson Reuters Foundation, a source of news, information, and connections for action. It provides programs that trigger change, empower people, and offer concrete solutions.
Adam Lowry is the co-founder and “chief greenskeeper” of Method, a small but rapidly growing company that has been a leader in the field of manufacturing environmentally friendly cleaning and personal care products. Indeed, it was Method that pioneered the use of concentrated laundry detergent, an innovation that has been embraced by all the giant brands and has had significant environmental benefits by reducing use of plastic and slashing transportation costs.
Before starting Method in 2001 with his childhood friend, Eric Ryan, Lowry — who has a degree in chemical engineering from Stanford University — worked at the Carnegie Institution for Science developing software to study climate change. By 2012, the pair had grown the business to more than $100 million in sales, placing its products in retailers like Target and Whole Foods. That year, the Belgian-based green cleaning products company Ecover acquired Method, although Method, which is based in San Francisco, continues to sell its products under its own name.
In an interview with Yale Environment 360 contributor Marc Gunther, Lowry discusses how his company has managed to profit from sustainability, why major corporations have been slow to embrace environmental innovations, and how plastic trash in the Pacific Ocean made its way into Method’s bottles of hand soap. Early on, said Lowry, “we recognized that our little business had the ability to catalyze much bigger change.”
Yale Environment 360: Why did you leave climate science to become an entrepreneur and start Method?
Adam Lowry: In the course of working at Carnegie for about four years, I learned that there were really two things that frustrated me. The first was that I was preaching to the converted. We were writing articles in scientific journals, but they were read only by scientists that were already concerned about environmental issues. And at the time I was trying to be a green consumer. This was the late ‘90s, and every brand that I patronized asked me to make a sacrifice for the good of the environment. The products were inferior. They didn’t work as well, they cost more, they were brown, they smelled bad, they were totally uninspired. And I just could not think of a brand in history that had ever been truly successful based off of a proposition of sacrifice.
This is when I started talking to my co-founder, Eric Ryan. I had this idea that you could use business as the most powerful institution on the planet to create positive social and environmental change, but I wasn’t quite sure of what kind of business and where. That’s when Eric started sharing some of his ideas about why this cleaning category is so uninteresting and the brands are so similar. We came up with this idea of a brand that combined high design and sustainability. We started making it in our bathroom and started selling it door to door.
e360: What did you set out to do? I assume the first significant innovation was the concentrated laundry detergent, which is a simple idea, right? You’re just taking out water.
Lowry: That was the first time we radically changed the format of a product. One reason that we did that is laundry is the biggest and the toughest category that we compete in. It’s $5 billion in the U.S. alone. If we were going to enter the category, we couldn’t enter it with a jug just like everybody else. We had to do something different.
We had the idea that the No. 1 cause of consumer dissatisfaction at the time — this was back in 2003 — was the jug. It’s heavy, it’s unwieldy, it’s hard to measure a cup. That was fertile ground for reinventing the product experience. So the first product we came out with was a triple concentrate where we just made it three times more concentrated, one third as much volume of detergent to do a load. That obviously has efficiency savings in terms of packaging, water, materials, cardboard, and fuel.
It was not insignificant given the scale of that category. But what was really interesting is that this is the first time we recognized that our little business — it was really little at that time — had the ability to catalyze much bigger change.
e360: Why? Because others followed?
Lowry: Yes, Unilever owned the All brands at the time. We launched in 2004. In 2005, Small and Mighty All launched as a triple concentrate. Then Wal-Mart really started to key on to the idea of what they called compacted laundry detergent because as a retailer, as you can imagine, taking up less shelf space is way more profitable. They started pressuring other manufacturers to compact their laundry detergent as well. Ultimately, the category netted out a slightly less green position of 2X [concentration], but nonetheless twice as concentrated as laundry detergent has been. Now you can’t buy a non-concentrated laundry detergent anymore. The least concentrated you can get is 2X.
e360: Why do you think the big companies like P&G [Proctor & Gamble] didn’t come up with this relatively simple idea that would save money and have a lighter environmental footprint?
Lowry: Incumbency, in a word. When you have the leading market position, you have the desire to maintain it. That is a disincentive against disruptive innovation.
Sustainability is predicated on progress. It is predicated on taking what makes you money today, and throwing it out the window for something that’s greener and better but a lot less certain. So it’s a tough spot if you’re the incumbent. In order to really disruptively innovate, you have to take far more risks than your business is structurally allowed to take. We killed our 3X laundry businesses even though it was 30 percent of our business. The role an innovator like Method can play is to disruptively innovate and force our competitors to follow us.
e360: You replaced the 3X product with an even more concentrated version, right? In the small pump bottle that dispenses little squirts of detergent?
Lowry: It’s eight times concentrated.
e360: Was that harder to do?
Lowry: Yes, you cannot get to 8X just by concentrating it more and more. The analogy I would use is imagine you like insanely sweet coffee. You can only put so much sugar in your coffee before it settles to the bottom. With laundry detergent, you can only put so much detergent in water. You can’t get to 8X that way. We developed a patented technology to put what would be the equivalent of tiny amounts of coffee on the inside of sugar, or in this case tiny amounts of water inside of detergent. That has the effect of being able to concentrate it to 8X because it’s no longer a water-based solution. It also has great performance benefits; they get a tiny bit technical, but the short version is that the business end of the cleaning molecules are now kind of facing outward towards your clothes. The detergent actually works better.
e360: And the environmental benefits?
Lowry: You save over 90 percent of the plastic packaging, you save over 90 percent of the carbon footprint in the packaging, you save over 40 percent of the total carbon footprint of the liquid, you save over 90 percent of the water associated with laundry detergent, and I’m forgetting the numbers for fuel to truck it around, but they’re massive because it’s more concentrated. But the most compelling thing about the product is you can hold it in one hand and it gives you both a precise dose as well as the control for using a little bit less or a little bit more.
e360: Where else have you innovated?
Lowry: Packaging would be another example. Many years ago we were told it was absolutely impossible to make clear plastic out of post-consumer content. That’s all we do now. We’re 100 percent post-consumer content. Post-consumer recycled content is 70 to 85 percent lower carbon footprint and so we just build that in.
e360: Have others followed?
Lowry: Here, unfortunately, not as many have followed as quickly. Manufacturers have opted to stay with virgin plastic, or make a portion of it out of a renewable feedstock, like sugar or corn. That’s not nearly as good, from a waste or carbon perspective, as simply using the plastic that is already on the planet — post-consumer plastic.
e360: Anything else?
Lowry: You know wipes is a convenient category that is really wasteful. Wipes are made out of plastic, 99 percent of them are made out of polypropylene or polyethylene plastic. We were the first to get in there with a biodegradable, a compostable wipe material that was made out of natural fiber. That was 10 years ago.
e360: Let’s talk about the soap bottles that were made out of the plastic collected from the coast of Hawaii. What was that about?
Lowry: No. 1, I wanted to challenge industry and show them that there is no excuse to not be using the plastic that’s already on the planet to make all this stuff. So Method is a world leader in the use of post-consumer recyclable material. Essentially we make tens of millions of bottles a year and nearly all of it is completely free of virgin plastic. So the idea that big manufacturers can only use up to 25 percent or even not use any at all made me angry. So I said, what if we use what is the ultimate recyclable material as far as thinking about the ocean plastic problem? If we can take that crap and up-cycle it into a recyclable bottle that you can recycle again and again, then we have done the ultimate in recycling and no longer can industry use this excuse that, “Oh, there’s not enough recyclable material or we can’t create high-quality stuff out of it.”
e360: There’s no worse quality, right, than ocean trash?
Lowry: We’re getting plastic that’s been floating in the ocean for 10 years or more. It’s awful, you know, covered in barnacles, and we’re recycling that into a high-quality bottle that can be recycled again. So if we can do it, they can do it. So that is the industry side. On the consumer side, we wanted to give people a little bit of hope. So along with the product that we put on shelves, we did four documentary films and a lot of social media to tell people about the problem, the recycling process that we developed, and what we were doing with our partners in Hawaii.
We’re not going to clean up the ocean by making bottles out of ocean plastic, but that’s not the point. Scientists studying this problem will tell you the best solution is prevention. The point is to change people’s minds about their relationship with plastic and turn it from something they just chuck away to something that is a valuable resource that can be used again and again.
It just so happens that the beaches in Hawaii act as sort of a natural sieve for that type of material. The first bottles that we made we worked with partners and three or four of us went out to Hawaii and over several days we picked up a couple of tons of plastic ourselves. We shipped it to our recycler in southern California, Vision Plastics, where we developed with them a special recycling process. But that is not economically viable. So now we’re taking it to the next level.
We have a 20-foot container that lives on the North Shore of Oahu, and we have expanded our partnerships to include beach clean-up organizations on Oahu and on the island of Hawaii, the Big Island. We’ve got a chipper that allows us to chip this plastic up and make it much more compact, and we’ve scaled the operation so that when we ship it we’re going to be shipping a full container of the stuff — 9,000 pounds. The proceeds of this product we funnel back to our partners in Hawaii.
e360: So you are really trying to create more demand for recycled plastic.
Lowry: Yes, we’re trying to make a thing out of it. And ultimately what I’d like to do is create a commodity that is called ocean plastic, or ocean post-consumer plastic, that anybody could buy. In order to do that we would have to build to a certain scale. I mean, it’s not going at the scale that the plastics industry operates at. Where you want to use it is frankly not in a place like a Method bottle, where the plastic in a bottle is a relatively high percentage of the cost of the item. What you want to do is use it in a laptop computer — fifty cents of plastic in an item that costs $2,000.
e360: How do you think about the tension between growing a business and lightening our collective environmental footprint?
Lowry: I think the answer is moving from products of consumption to products of service. Ultimately we need to get to close to zero resources used in order to get the job done, in order to be truly sustainable. But for me that is not a business that depends on selling more and more liquid no matter how concentrated. It’s a business that makes money every time somebody’s clothes get clean. It’s probably a format where a laundry detergent lives in a washing machine. When dirty, soapy water comes out of the back of the machine, the soap and the water get separated from the dirt and the soap and the water go back in the front of the machine and the dirt that comes out is compost. And we would get a little fee for the usage of the detergent.
The technology to do that is actually not too far off. The key element is getting consumers to adopt those innovations and then having a business that can adapt. The business of the future will be a business that is supremely adaptable.
• Marc Gunther, who conducted this interview for Yale Environment 360, is a contributing editor at Fortune, a senior writer at Greenbiz.com, and a blogger at www.marcgunther.com.