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July 31, 2007

A Very Social Enterprise

Last week, NOW reported on an affordable housing cooperative run by Coin Street Community Builders in a prime section of London. Coin Street provides 220 homes for moderate or low-income tenants. Click here to watch the show. Coin Street operates commercial ventures, the profits of which it plows back into its core operation—providing affordable housing. Coin Street calls itself a "social enterprise," which it defines, as:

... a business which does not distribute profits from its commercial activities but uses them to cross-subsidise activities which otherwise would not be viable. Thus income from letting space to commercial businesses partly finances the space but also funds community facilities and programmes, as well as staff to maintain the riverside walkway, clear litter, tend Bernie Spain Gardens and organise festival events.

The people behind Coin Street hope others will learn from their success:

You don't have to look far to find neighbourhoods where planners and developers have ignored the needs of existing communities and created 'regenerated' areas with neither heart nor soul. This need not be so. After reading this booklet we hope you will agree that there is another way...
Check out their booklet, A Very Social Enterprise, to learn how they did it.

July 26, 2007

Living in the Heart of San Fran

In NOW's latest Enterprising Ideas broadcast segment, we cross the Atlantic Ocean to report on a unique housing development in downtown London. Unique in part because it allows people of moderate means to live in the bustling downtown, which in many cities around the world has become too expensive for all but the wealthiest residents.

So we wondered: Can you make less than the median income and live in the heart of one of America’s finest cities? Turns out you can if you live in San Francisco. North Beach Place is a project similar to London’s Coin Street. North Beach Place provides affordable housing for low-income residents in one development close to the city’s famed Fisherman’s Wharf, the Powell Street trolley, and the popular North Beach. North Beach Cable CarThe three-story townhomes of North Beach Place comprise 341 units priced below market rate. Like the housing developed by Coin Street, North Beach Place sits on prime real estate near hotels and expensive neighborhoods.

Because it combines mixed-income housing and trendy retails shops, affordable housing developers around the United States look to North Beach Place as a model. The group behind the project, BRIDGE Housing Corporation , managed to bring in retail tenants like Trader Joe's and a Starbucks. The profits from these rental fees will be set aside for an “incubator center,” where residents can get help starting their own businesses.

North Beach Place represents a new breed of subsidized housing in the United States. The tall, ugly housing “projects” that rose up in cities around the country in the 1950s and 60s segregated residents from the rest of the world. Coincidentally, the spot occupied by North Beach Place formerly housed one of those dismal housing projects. Poorly managed, rife with rodents and crime, the project was demolished. Now, many former residents of that failed housing project have moved into the “clean, well-lighted place” created by North Beach Place.

BRIDGE is one of California’s biggest developers of affordable housing and differs from many conventional public housing developers in its use of creative financing to support its projects. In order to support projects like North Beach Place, BRIDGE uses a combination of grants, donations, and income generated by fees it gets from its property management and developer services.

In addition to being close to public transportation, North Beach Place includes a child care center, a computer room and a place for teenagers to hang out. No doubt these innovative features are the result of the fact that, from the get-go, BRIDGE involved residents of the former public housing project in the design of North Beach Place.

What do you think? Is North Beach Place the future of affordable housing? Have you seen it? Know someone who lives there? Let us know by leaving a comment in the form below.

Working to End Child Labor: RugMark USA

Recently, I posted a preview of our interview with Nina Smith, the head of a fascinating organization that is stomping out child labor in the handwoven carpet industry. Smith, who had worked for years on fair trade issues, says she was drawn to RugMark USA because the group's "single issue, single industry approach creates greater opportunity for market penetration, enabling faster results on the ground." Read more about RugMark USA in Smith's full interview here. And let us know what you think about RugMark's approach to eliminating child labor. Do you share Smith's optimism about eradicating this problem? Do you know of any similar projects operating in other industries? Have you ever purchased a certified rug? Scroll down to post a comment.

July 11, 2007

Competing to Change the World

Okay, maybe the nominees for our Project Enterprise Contest aren't changing the world—but they are working to change their corner of it. And we here at NOW are pleased to announce that Ashoka, the much-esteemed global association of "social entrepreneurs," is going to help us choose among these nominees to select finalists for the Project Enterprise Contest. Learn more about Ashoka by visiting their website.

We've received dozens of nominations so far for the Project Enterprise Contest. And they're an impressive bunch. They're launching or running projects that use innovative solutions to tackle intractable social problems: poverty, lack of affordable housing, homelessness, environmental degradation, among many more. Some of these solutions may indeed have the power to transform the world in the sense that they can be adapted to help different types of communities around the world, thus maximizing their impact.

We've extended the nomination period until July 31st, so there's still time to nominate an up-and-coming social change pioneer. Read our Project Enterprise Contest page to learn about the specific qualifications we're looking for. We will announce the finalists in August and open up the selection process to YOU to help us choose the winner! The winner will share the joys and challenges of their project on this website and also appear on the NOW weekly broadcast.

July 6, 2007

Green the Ghetto

The Live Earth Concerts—on 7/7/07—present a good opportunity not only to take the Live Earth Pledge but also to highlight a social change pioneer who's helping the environment. Majora Carter is a social entrepreneur who advocates sustainable, community-friendly urban development. Carter works to restore the environment in an unlikely place—the South Bronx. As the founder of Sustainable South Bronx , Carter led the development of the first waterfront park in the Bronx. Majora Carter She established Sustainable South Bronx to show that "solutions for persistent urban public health and economic problems and looming global climate change concerns" are possible. SSB creates these solutions by building a "beautiful physical environment, demonstrating cool and green roof technologies, working to replace an underutilized expressway with positive economic development, and implementing the Bronx Environmental Stewardship Training program."

In a powerful speech at a TED conference, Carter talked about why she is dedicated to "greening the ghetto," as she puts it. She explained the links between the health of the community and the environment and why economic development and environmental protection must be coordinated: "Economic degradation begets environmental degradation begets social degradation."

She's currently criss-crossing the country and making many public appearances. To find out if you can catch her, check her speaking schedule .

July 5, 2007

You Could Save 100 Kids Today, But Tomorrow 100 More Would Take Their Place

Some of the most devastating problems in our world have a battery of laws designed to prevent them—think human trafficking, child labor, drug trafficking. Despite being criminalized by an elaborate web of local, state, national and international legal prohibitions and punishments, these problems persist. Why?
Rugmark Logo Because the economic forces behind them are just too entrenched. That's why the idea behind the RugMark Foundation USA—which seeks to prevent child labor by changing the market dynamics that support it—is so brilliant.

The handmade rug industry is one of the worst offenders when it comes to the use of child labor. So the RugMark Foundation set out to eliminate the demand for handwoven rugs made by children. Of course, no one is out there looking for a carpet woven by a child. But they are searching for cheap and beautiful handwoven rugs. Enterprising Ideas talked to RugMark's executive director Nina Smith this week to learn more about this innovative project. The full interview will soon be posted in our profiles section, but we wanted to give you a sneak preview here.

RugMark works to eliminate child labor—a problem that affects 1 out of 7 children worldwide—by focusing on the countries that produce most of the handwoven rugs sold in the United States. These are Pakistan, India and Nepal. When RugMark was founded 12 years ago, the Indian founder, Kailash Satyarthi, had been rescuing children forced to work and rehabilitating them. He realized that he could, in Smith's words

... rescue 100 kids today and tomorrow 100 more kids would take their place. So he came up with the idea to change the marketplace.

RugMark's innovation is a system of certifying rugs exported from those South Asian countries as child-labor free, charging exporters a license fee to be certified, working with retailers and customers to pay more for the certification, and channeling the proceeds back to the source countries to help children. RugMark funds a variety of programs to help children get education and vocational training, because, according to Smith:

If we are going to be requiring that no children are working it’s crucial there are alternatives provided for them.

Like one of the other innovative projects we've profiled on Enterprising Ideas from Appalachia, RugMark counts on the power of the educated consumer to change the marketplace. Smith explains:

If we can educate the marketplace – consumers, retailers, architects – about what they can do, then ultimately the message is sent to the manufacturers that child labor won’t be tolerated. In essence eliminating the demand.

We’re trying to inculcate the marketplace with this message: 'When a rug is made by child labor, it’s ugly no matter what it looks like.'”

RugMark has some powerful evidence that the U.S. market is ready to pay more for cruelty-free carpets. Smith says that, while the overall rug market is flat, sales of RugMark rugs rose almost 30 percent from 2005 to 2006. Find out why Smith thinks RugMark can reach a "social change tipping point" in her lifetime, what some of the myths about child labor are and the challenges RugMark faces when we post the full interview next week. In the meantime, learn more about RugMark's campaign against child labor and find out who is selling RugMark-certified carpets at their website.