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October 19, 2007

Wheelchairs and Websites

For anyone following our Project Enterprise Contest, one of our finalists has a new website. Intelligent Mobility International, which is such a new project they didn't have a website when we launched our contest, now has an online presence. Visit them at:
Today our votes topped 4,000. There's still almost 2 weeks left to vote so cast your vote today at:

September 21, 2007

Watch it: The Giving Channel

Bill Clinton, the Google founders, Jacqueline Novogratz and a lot of equally smart people you may not have heard of. They're all at The Giving Channel -- the new place online to watch leaders in the field talk about philanthropy, entrepreneurship and the business of giving. The Giving Channel features videos of people talking about the "changing nature and roles of philanthropy in our global society." Have you tuned in? What did you think? Comment below in our comment form.

August 30, 2007

A Tale of Two Businessmen

In this week's broadcast, NOW investigates the work of two very different projects. Both were started by businessmen. And both are battling community problems. In the case of inner-city Boston, the problem is high unemployment. So Glenn Lloyd opened City Fresh Foods to give good jobs to residents in the neighborhood and good meals to children and senior citizens. In Montana, the problem Tom Siebel takes on is meth addiction among teens. He started the Montana Meth Project to run an edgy ad campaign that tries to prevent meth use by giving kids the unvarnished—and often quite grisly—truth about the drug. Learn more about City Fresh here and Montana Meth here. Video will be posted online a few days after the show airs.

August 27, 2007

When Disaster Strikes: Beyond Tent Cities

Relief efforts are in full swing for the August 15 earthquake that killed several hundred Peruvians and left tens of thousands homeless. Instead of erecting flimsy, temporary housing in response, a group called Architecture for Humanity is appealing for a sustainable reconstruction plan to aid Peru. Peru Rubble As indicated by their motto—"Design Like you Give a Damn"—the group tries to bring architectural and design solutions to aid humans affected by various crises.

They reason that many houses in the developing world collapse during natural disasters because they are so poorly built—and that rebuilding efforts should improve on the housing stock that was there before the disaster. And the good news, says co-founder Cameron Sinclair at the Worldchanging blog, is that sturdy, affordable housing solutions already exist:

Of course the solutions are available and in the places where you'd expect them most: those prone to natural disasters. From the stabilized earthen block homes of Auroville, India, to the sandbag shelters by Cal Earth (used after the Kasmir Earthquake), and even in Peru with earthquake-resistant homes designed by Estrategia and Practical Action. After the 1976 Guatemala earthquake, Fred Cuny created Housing Pictographs for rebuilding efforts.

The problem, Sinclair goes on to explain, is that solutions created after one disaster aren't always shared so that they can be applied in response to another. Thus, in their appeal for funding to help the people of Peru they pledge also to make sure the solutions are shared:

[Architecture for Humanity wants to] create solutions that are appropriate for the people of Pisco and where they live, and can be scaled within the region. And those innovations can then be shared globally. Architecture for Humanity is currently running an appeal focused on long-term reconstruction in Peru. Instead of creating tent cities, we want to build safer structures that contribute to a sustainable future for Pisco, as well as other towns and cities damaged by this earthquake.

AfH has a track record in the area of post-disaster reconstruction, as explained in their latest newsletter:

In the last 24 months Architecture for Humanity has responded to Hurricane Emily, with temporary shelters in Grenada, after the South Asia Tsunami, with a series of housing, transitional school and community building solutions in India, Indonesia and Sri Lanka, and after the Kashmir Earthquake, where we supplied architectural and engineering support. Since October 2005 we have worked on transitional structures in Bay St. Louis and Waveland, MS, helped to build sustainable homes in East Biloxi, MS and supported the inception of community design centers in Biloxi, MS and New Orleans, LA.

Read more about these and other projects on their website.

August 14, 2007

Hitch a Ride, Green the Planet

Ever look around when you're stuck in traffic at all the cars spewing exhaust with only one person inside—the driver? Robin Chase, a social entrepreneur and transportation design expert, wants to change this familiar scene. Having founded the popular Zipcar, Chase recently launched a new project called, an online service that helps people quickly arrange to share rides. In its profile of GoLoco published this week, BusinessWeek reports that "nearly 80% of the American workforce drive themselves to work each day." GoLoco logoGoLoco's mission is simply to reduce that number. By linking "the worlds of social networking and transport design" through GoLoco, Chase hopes to overcome the challenges that have caused other carpooling projects to fail. In her bid to make GoLoco convenient to use, Chase created a GoLoco application especially for Facebook. In just a few weeks, 542 Facebook users interested in reducing their carbon footprint by carpooling have joined GoLoco.

GoLoco is a great idea but needs participation to get off the ground. Next time you're driving somewhere or need a ride, check GoLoco first.

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.

Continue reading "Living in the Heart of San Fran" »

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 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.

June 28, 2007

More on the Boomer Entrepreneurs

Earlier this week, 15 people over the age of 60 who lead projects to solve a pressing social problem were selected as finalists for the $100,000 Purpose Prize. Recently, I mentioned the prize in a post about "encore careers," a term coined by Marc Freedman, the head of Civic Ventures, which just so happens to be the group awarding the prize. Prize SealThe range of issues addressed by these finalists is impressive: humane treatment of farm animals, better care for foster children, saving energy for low-income home owners, and many others. And one of the finalists is 91!

Continue reading "More on the Boomer Entrepreneurs" »

June 21, 2007

Encore Careers: Or a Worthy Life Begins at 60

The next time you hear someone complain about their life being "over" because they're turning 40, tell them about Robert Chambers. Robert Chambers At age 62, after working for years as a software engineer, Chambers is enjoying a second career as a social entrepreneur. He is now transforming the lives of hundreds of low-income people in New Hampshire by helping them get a car they can afford, in a rural state where cars are essential. NOW will profile Chambers and his innovative organization—Bonnie CLAC—on our June 22 broadcast [the video will be posted after broadcast here]. Chambers is just one of many older Americans who are starting or getting involved in projects with a humanitarian mission.

As the population ages, a growing number of older and retired Americans are viewing their talent and experience as an asset to be invested through service and advocacy. According to an October 2006 Business Week article, older social entrepreneurs

… are starting companies and nonprofits that apply new business solutions to intractable social problems in the fields of housing, education, health care, and the environment, among others.
Anecdotally, this rings true—it seems the bios for many people leading social entrepreneurial projects begin along these lines “Jane retired from such and such industry…”

Helping create more opportunities for older Americans to get involved in philanthropic work is one of the goals of Civic Ventures [disclosure: Civic Ventures has received funding from the Skoll Foundation, which also supports Enterprising Ideas]. The group gives out a $100,000 “Purpose Prize –-Chambers was a finalist in 2006—to people over 60 who are helping solve society’s problems. They also run a number of programs designed to get baby boomers involved in public interest projects.

Are you over 50 and looking to spice up your life with a volunteer gig or even a new job at an enterprising social organization? To learn about other organizations that take advantage of older Americans’ talents, check out this list from Civic Ventures and this list from AARP.

In a video of Chambers produced by Civic Ventures, Chambers talks about how his inspiration for Bonnie CLAC "grew over time." The kind of insight and imagination necessary to conquer an intractable social problem is often borne from experience. And it's not so surprising then, that some of the leading social innovators have a half century or more of life and work experience under their belt. [UPDATE: Read more about the new generation of social entrepreneurs in this interview with Marc Freedman, founder of Civic Ventures.]

June 12, 2007

Campaigning to End Child Labor

Today, June 12, human rights groups around the world are observing the World Day Against Child Labor. They hope that by raising awareness of the prevalence and devastating impact of child labor on children and on societies they can begin to make a dent in the problem. Stigmatizing child labor creates the kind of pressure that recently prompted the organizers of the Beijing Olympics to cancel contracts with Chinese companies for using child labor.

Child WorkingThe chairperson of the Global March Against Child Labour, Kailash Satyarthi, said in a press release on June 11:

It is unethical to eat delicious food and wear expensive clothes which are produced by half fed, half naked and even enslaved children trapped in agriculture world-wide.

Heavy stuff. The causes of child labor are simple, mainly poverty. Yet eradicating the use of children as laborers is a complex task, involving economic, cultural and other strategies. But as grim as the facts are—for instance, one in every eight children 5 to 17 years old works in the worst forms of child labor—there’s reason for hope. Corporations are increasingly sensitive to their customers finding out they use child labor. Recent surveys show a decline in the global number of child laborers. And there are more organizations and campaigns to advocate for these children and run programs to help them.

One of these programs is run by a social entrepreneur in India previously profiled on PBS who created an innovative model for increasing poor children’s access to education. Groups like UNICEF have long argued that education is “a powerful means of preventing child labour.” Because homeless children are among the most vulnerable to being exploited, Inderjit Khurana set up schools in Bhubhaneshwar, a city in the northeast, on the railway platforms where these children congregate. Khurana founded the Ruchika Social Service Organization in 1985 to bring schools to the children. Watch a short clip of a video narrated by Robert Redford about Khurana’s groundbreaking work with children here.
Or check out a series of photographs of the train platform students here.

Besides learning about child labor, we can each take concrete steps to stop it by removing ourselves from the marketplace for goods produced with child labor. Coop America has created a list of products that are fairly traded, cooperatively produced, or produced in a unionized factory.

May 29, 2007

Inventions to End Poverty: Solar Kitchens, Wi-fi Mopeds and More

Today's New York Times carries a brief article worth reading called Design That Solves Problems for the World's Poor. While many social entrepreneurs take traditional businesses and use them for social benefit, some, like the man profiled in this article, actually invent new ways of doing things. Dr. Paul Polak, who runs an organization that helps rural farmers around the world, explains his focus on design for the world's poorest citizens: "All of the people who design things in the world spend all their time designing things for the richest 10 percent of people in the world." There's also a nifty video called "Tools for Better Living" where you can see some of the inventions. And you can see them in person if you visit the Cooper-Hewitt Museum in Manhattan.

May 22, 2007

Eating for Change

If you've heard the term "social entrepreneur" at all, it's likely been applied to people and projects outside the United States, like the microfinance visionary Mohammad Yunus. You may be surprised that there are social entrepreneurs using innovative projects to address pressing social problems right here in the U.S. of A. For example, meet Denise Cerreta of Utah who runs One World Café.

Cerreta is a social entrepreneur who developed the idea for One World Café—a restaurant that serves tasty, organic food to the hungry, eliminates waste in the food industry and pays employees a living wage. In this video interview posted on YouTube, Cerreta talks about how she is expanding the OneWorld café model to other cities around the country. Inventing a program that is replicable to other communities is a hallmark of social enterprises. Watch this inspiring interview with the founder of One World Café:

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