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November 1, 2007

Can Tobacco Farmers Go Green?

On this week's episode of NOW, we look more closely at an innovative project previously profiled on Enterprising Ideas. Anthony Flaccavento is the dynamic leader behind Appalachian Sustainable Development. Flaccavento started ASD out of a desire to bridge the gap between environmentalists and people working for economic development. He wanted to show that you can create jobs and protect the environment. Charles Foster

ASD has launched two social enterprises with a "triple bottom line"—meaning they have three goals: economic, environmental and social. NOW investigates the ASD enterprise that encourages tobacco farmers in Appalachian Virginia to start growing organic produce. Can you teach an old dog new tricks? And improve their standard of living at the same time? Find out. NOW airs Friday nights at 8:30 p.m. Check local schedules.

September 25, 2007

Compartamos Close-Up

The online video of NOW's investigation into Mexican microcredit giant Compartamos is available for viewing. Click here to watch the show, featuring interviews with Compartamos founders, their satisfied customers—and critic, Muhammad Yunus. After the show aired on September 21, some viewers denounced Compartamos as unethical, while others said that other microcredit organizations should move into Mexico and compete with them by offering lower interest rates.

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.

September 18, 2007

Friday Night: Selling Out or Scaling Up?

NOW's next show in our Enterprising Ideas series takes a hard look at microfinance and the controversy surrounding a successful social entrepreneur in Mexico. Compartamos is a microfinance company that started out lending small sums of money to poor, indigenous Mexican women to start businesses. Today it's a for-profit bank with more than 600,000 clients in Mexico. NOW interviews people who passionately believe their lives have been transformed by the loan they received from Compartamos. Our production team also talks to critics of Compartamos, including Muhammad Yunus, who pioneered the microfinance approach to helping people out of poverty. NOW airs at 8:30 p.m. on Friday nights. UPDATE: Click here to watch NOW's report online.

Among other complaints, the critics charge the bank's interest rates are way too high. This criticism has been leveled against other microfinance operations, as discussed in an earlier blog here. If you miss Friday night's episode, you can watch it later online. Check back here for a link.

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.

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 .

June 26, 2007

A Giving Nation

Giving is big business. And a new report just out this week on philanthropy in the United States shows why. There's a lot of money floating around. Americans are giving at record rates—both as individuals and through foundations. Hands GivingIt's a wonderful sign of our altruistic nature. And for some, an ideal business opportunity. “Every major bank, every major mutual fund…is promoting the act of giving,” said philanthropy expert Lucy Bernholz over coffee recently, as we chatted about innovative projects and the generous people who fund them.

Continue reading "A Giving Nation" »

June 18, 2007

Robert Redford Raps Green

Robert Redford

The actor who's played both the Sundance Kid and Bob Woodward, won an Oscar for directing movies and created an innovative film festival can also add dedicated environmentalist to the top of his long resume. In this podcast with NOW host David Brancaccio about a new environmental documentary, Redford talks about how the changing politics of the environment are creating a "whole new group of social entrepreneurs." He praises the emergence of what many are calling “double-bottom line” businesses—projects that both make money and do good, in this case, by protecting the environment. And he discusses Brancaccio’s pitooties. To hear the whole interview, click here.

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

The 'Biggest' Change Since the Agricultural Revolution?

That's what Bill Drayton told NOW Senior Correspondent Maria Hinojosa in an interview last week. Drayton was talking about how social entrepreneurs -- people with innovative solutions to vexing social problems -- fit in to today's global situation. Drayton, often credited with coining the term "social entrepreneur," founded Ashoka, an organization that fosters social entrepreneurship around the world. In an interview posted on NOW last week, Drayton talks about how social entrepreneurs give governments some healthy competition, why the number of such innovators seems to be expanding exponentially right now, and more. To listen to the interview, click here.

Below are some more excerpts from Hinojosa's interview:

“I think we're in the middle of the biggest structural change in society since the agricultural revolution, and the social entrepreneurs and business entrepreneurs are right at the heart of it."

"What does an entrepreneur do? The first thing is they've given themselves permission to see a problem. Most people don't want to see problems ... Once you see a problem and you keep looking at it you'll find an answer."

"It's the combination: big idea with a good entrepreneur: there's nothing more powerful. That's just as true [for] education and human rights as it is for hotel or steels."

"The citizen sector is now growing jobs at three times the rate of the rest of society."

"The social entrepreneurs are governments' best friends ... Yes the social entrepreneurs are challenging the governments, but that's very healthy."

"Two of the last three Nobel [peace] prize winners have been social entrepreneurs. This is a recognition that our field is maturing."

May 24, 2007

NOW on YouTube: Thousands Served

Friday night's episode of NOW on PBS marks the beginning of the broadcast version of Enterprising Ideas. Host David Brancaccio and producer Dan Logan traveled to Kenya to report on an inspiring project that uses a franchise model to deliver accessible, affordable and reliable healthcare. There's a great clip of the show on YouTube right now: Watch it, recommend it and watch the whole thing on Friday night!

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