30 November 2007

Philanthropy 2.0: DonorsChoose on Wallstrip!

What happens when two of my favorite web gems come together?

Take a look as the lovely Lindsay Campbell of Wallstrip sits down with heartthrob handsome Charles Best of DonorsChoose.org. Charles does a fantastic job telling the story of how DonorsChoose came about and why it's successful. His enthusiasm is infectious and Lindsay, as only the best talk show hosts do, does a great job letting him shine.

I was so moved, I was the first to click the donate button on the Wallstrip Challenge. And partially funded a project in Brooklyn called "iPod as a Prize for Investing Guru," where 8th graders are learning how the stock market works by receiving a hypothetical $100,000 to "invest" over the course of the next six months.

Read more about my own recent experience with DonorsChoose: Green Skeptic Gives

You can watch Wallstrip daily from my sidebar below, right.

(Disclosure: Charles Best is an Ashoka Fellow; I currently work for Ashoka. Further disclosure: long on Wallstrip; long on DonorsChoose.)

(Updated with embedding fixed - thanks, Adam!)

24 November 2007

Blogging: Thank you, reader, for 3 Years of The Green Skeptic

I started this blog 3 years and 330 posts ago, on 24 November 2004. It's been a good run and the past year has been the best ever. Readership is up, as is my RSS subscriber list, and it would seem the switch I made a year or so ago to narrow the focus to the four areas that consume my interests -- global climate change, social entrepreneurs, microfinance, and clean tech investments and innovation -- has been a success.

Thank you, dear reader, for your continued interest, comments, emails, and dialogue. Without you, The Green Skeptic would be just a voice in the wind. Keep reading and letting me know how I'm doing.

21 November 2007

Social Entrepreneurs: Acumen Fund Launches New Web Site, Fellows Blog

We like Acumen Fund's approach to "building transformative businesses to solve the problems of poverty."

Today, Rob Katz @ NextBillion.net points us too Acumen Fund's new, RSS-compatible web site. Here's Rob's take:

"In addition to being syndication-friendly, the new site is rich with stories, photos, videos and lots of dynamic content. I like how they've organized things around their three pillars: capital, knowledge and talent. For more on this three pillars approach, check out my post from the annual Investor Gathering last week.

While you're checking out the new Acumen site - be sure to read Jacqueline Novogratz's recent Pakistan and India journals, by the way - also add Immersion to your RSS feeds or bookmarks. Immersion is the title of the 2008 Acumen Fund Fellows blog. The seven fellows - with whom I met a few weeks back - are working in India, Pakistan and Kenya, and have been blogging regularly about their work and personal lives 'in the field.' I've enjoyed the early posts, and encourage NextBillion readers to check it out."

On first glance, I like the look. It's clean and easy to navigate. There are a couple of broken links, but that will probably be worked out in the coming days. I also like the links to video content, photo essays, and stories. Wondering why it's not so easy to navigate to Fellow profiles from the list or even find such profiles. But these are minor complaints; the content is rich and the look and feel is an improvement.

20 November 2007

Social Entrepreneurs: Two Competitions with Deadlines Approaching

Emily Gertz @ Worldchanging alerted us to two leading social entrepreneurship competitions are open for applications from around the world:

The Global Social Venture Competition is seeking entrants for its 2008 competition. The winning business plan will receive $25,000 for its blend of high economic and social returns. There's a total of $45,000 in the pot; winners also get professional feedback on their ventures -- "[N]early 25% of past GSVC entrants are now operating companies," according to GSVC materials. For the 2007-08 Competition, executive summaries are due on January 16, 2008.

The deadline for initial applications for the Echoing Green Fellowship is December 3. EG is looking for "visionary idea(s) for social change – be it a sustainable energy system, a new model for middle schools, or a cutting-edge public health program." Winners get substantial seed funding, as well as technical support in developing a strategic plan and a budget, and running an organization. Funded fellows have created projects that run the gamut of social change, ranging from Teach For America, to EarthRights International, to City Year, to SKS India, to Rocking the Boat.

What are you waiting for?

18 November 2007

Global Climate Change: UN Summary Report, Dire Warnings

Associated Press reported this morning that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) successfully completed its summary report yesterday.

That's the good new. The bad news is the panel concluded that we are in deep doo-doo.

"The Earth is hurtling toward a warmer age at a quickening pace," according to the Nobel-winning UN scientific panel, and heading toward a future of "inevitable human suffering and the threat of species extinction."

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said climate change imperils "the most precious treasures of our planet."

The potential impact of global warming is "so severe and so sweeping that only urgent global action will do," Ban told the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change after it issued its fourth and final report this year.

The IPCC, following six days of sometimes tense negotiations, adopted a concise briefing paper on the science of climate change and the effects of human-produced greenhouse gases. It lays out various scenarios of future impacts, depending on how quickly and decisively action is taken.

The Summary for Policymakers, and a longer version called the synthesis report, distill thousands of pages of data and computer models resulting from six years of research compiled by the IPCC.

It will be a how-to guide for policy makers meeting next month in Bali, Indonesia, who will begin discussing a successor agreement to the Kyoto Protocol.

I'll be posting reactions to the Summary for Policymakers, which I've previously read in draft form, over the next day or so. Meanwhile, you can access the Summary here: IPCC Summary for Policymakers

16 November 2007

Philanthropy: DonorsChoose.org, a gift that keeps giving

Philanthropy can be a thing of beauty when it goes well. The donor is pleased to make a contribution to a worthy cause, those in need are helped directly, and an efficient market is created around an exchange of values.

I recently had such an experience with an innovative new approach to philanthropy called DonorsChoose.org. (In the interest of full disclosure, DonorsChoose founder Charles Best is an Ashoka Fellow and, while I recently went to work for Ashoka, I did not have any role in selecting Charles as a Fellow.)

My story goes like this: Charles came up with a new way to reach a potential new audience on line, blog readers. He approached some of the top bloggers in the U.S. and asked that they post a challenge to their readers during the month of October.

The challenge also had a competitive aspect, as the top bloggers were competing with one another to reach more readers and get them to take action. Support your favorite blogger by donating to a project on their list, thereby contributing to the cause, but also helping the blogger beat the other guy.

I'm a regular reader and fan of fellow blogger Fred Wilson, the Union Square Ventures VC, whose blog A VC is on my Google Reader feed. Of course I wanted to help him beat the competition, and I have been curious about DonorsChoose for some time.

So, when his challenge was posted, I followed the link to Fred's DonorsChoose Challenge page and found a project I could get behind, "An Invite to Write." A teacher in a rural North Carolina school, located between Hickory and Boone, wrote the proposal:

"I teach 21 3rd graders at Sawmills Elementary School. Forty percent of my third graders are considered at-risk students in reading/writing," she wrote. "I am currently attending ASU to earn a Master's Degree in Reading Education. I would like to make writing more enjoyable for my students as well as myself! In my graduate classes, I am learning new and exciting ways to integrate writing into all areas of the curriculum."

The need? To create a writing station "in our classroom which will hopefully "invite my students to write." I would like for the students to be able to write letters, compose poems, or go to the station to write freely in their journals. In the writing station, the students would have access to construction paper, envelopes, stationary, colored pencils, pens, pencils, erasers, etc."

Her idea was to prepare these students for the statewide reading test they must pass in 4th grade. "More importantly," she wrote, "it is my goal to help my students become better writers, and to instill a love for writing.

As a writer, this appealed to me right away. It's also a place I'm familiar with because my mother-in-law lives about an hour from there.

The request? The cost of an easel on wheels, a tabletop writing center and a classroom mailbox is $391, including shipping and fulfillment. My $100 contribution would help them get towards their goal, clearly having an impact. (The goal was met six days later.)

My gift had an immediate impact. I felt good and Fred was on his way to meeting his challenge and winning lunch with Jerry Yang of Yahoo. (You can read more about that story, and what Fred did with that lunch, here.)

I received a prompt receipt and thanks for my contribution; very efficiently handled by DonorsChoose.

This would have been a nice story if it stopped there. But it didn't.

A few days ago, I received an email in response to my donation. One of the DonorsChoose sponsors of the Blogger Challenge had provided a gift certificate worth $100 for me to apply to another project.

This time, we searched for a project closer to home, in Philadelphia. We found one called "Making Science Come to Life," a subject my son loves. The school is in North Philly and the request came from an 8th Grade science teacher who wanted to equip her new science lab with materials: 8 dissection instrument sets, sorting trays, a periodic table poster, and 7 rocks and minerals sets. Very cool.

But that’s not all, when we went to make the donation last night, we found the project was 85% of the way toward its goal, meaning our $100 gift certificate could complete the funding!

In other words, my original contribution was leveraged three times: 1.) funding the first project; 2.) helping (however modestly) Fred rise to the Challenge and get the Jerry Yang lunch (and you have to read about what he did with it -- awesome; and 3.) funding this science project in North Philly. Wow.

I can't express how this makes me feel. My gift was leveraged, the projects are funded, the teachers will inspire their students, and students in two classrooms will have a better educational experience this year. Who knows? Some of the students may become writers or scientists, as a result.

An efficient market for philanthropy recognizes that donor-to-recipient exchanges are not just about cash contributions or transactions; they are an exchange of value and values. Kudos to DonorsChoose for making this possible -- and to Fred for rising to the challenge.

DonorsChoose is now supporting public schools in all 50 states. You can even create a Gift Registry, as I've done to encourage family and friends to give a gift that keeps giving.

This holiday season, consider donating through DonorsChoose.org. You won't regret it.

Clean Tech: Another Record-breaking Year for Investments

The Financial Times reports today that 2007 was another record-breaking year for investments in Clean Technology:

"Nick Parker, chairman of the Cleantech Group of analysts, said: 'There is no doubt this year will break records in terms of the amount invested. But this year will also be notable for the amount of commercial take-up of clean technologies.'

"Last year, more than $4bn (£1.9bn) of venture capital was invested in environmental technologies such as renewable energy, water technologies and carbon reduction technologies. The sector is now the biggest recipient of venture capital funds in the US, and in the first three quarters alone about $3.8bn of venture capital was invested, Mr Parker said."

"Such large flows of capital are now pouring into clean technology in response to record high energy prices and governments' perceived willingness to regulate carbon. Total investment, not just venture capital, in 'clean' or low-carbon technology reached $74bn last year, according to Michael Liebreich, founder of New Energy Finance, a consultancy."

Read the full article: Financial Times

14 November 2007

Innovation: 13 Days Left to Give One, Get One XO Laptop Per Child

Only 13 days left to give an XO laptop to a child somewhere in the world and get one for your child -- or to give away to someone needy in your neighborhood. This is a great idea I've blogged about before.

One learning child. One connected child. One laptop at a time.

The mission of One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) is to empower the children of developing countries to learn by providing one connected laptop to every school-age child. In order to accomplish our goal, we need people who believe in what we’re doing and want to help make education for the world’s children a priority, not a privilege. Between November 12 and November 26, OLPC is offering a Give One Get One program in the United States and Canada. During this time, you can donate the revolutionary XO laptop to a child in a developing nation, and also receive one for the child in your life in recognition of your contribution.

Find out more: One Laptop

12 November 2007

Clean Tech: Al Gore Joins Kleiner Perkins as Partner

VentureBeat reports that Al Gore has joined Kleiner Perkins, the well-known venture capital firm that backed Google, Netscape, Sun, Amazon and many others.

Former Vice President and Nobel laureate Al Gore will join Kleiner Perkins as a partner, in what VentureBeat says is a "continued effort to ramp up its investments in the area of green technology. It’s the firm’s latest big name addition. It hired former Secretary of State Colin Powell two years go, and has an arrangement with former eBay executive and California politician Steve Westly, who works out of the firm’s back office."

"There’s an exclusive story in Fortune about Gore’s move, which contains a detailed description of the collaboration between Gore and Kleiner’s leading partner John Doerr. It’s a great piece, written in the classic, engaging style of author Adam Lashinsky." Here’s the opening, as quoted by VentureBeat:

After “a conversation that’s gone on for a year and a half,” according to Gore, he has decided to join his old pal [Kleiner Partner] John Doerr as an active, hands-on partner at Kleiner Perkins, Silicon Valley’s preeminent venture firm.

The move is more than another Colin Powell moment (the former Secretary of State signed on as a Kleiner “strategic limited partner” two years ago and has hardly been heard from since). Gore is joining the firm as Kleiner makes a risky move beyond information technology and health-care investing into the fast-growing and increasingly competitive arena of “clean technology.”

According to Doerr, by 2009 more than a third of Kleiner’s latest fund, which was raised in 2006 and totals $600 million, will be invested in technologies that aim to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide. Already Kleiner has invested more than $270 million from various funds in 26 companies that make everything from microbes that scrub old oil wells to electric cars to noncorn ethanol. Twelve of Kleiner’s 22 partners now spend some or all of their time on green investments.

"Doerr, in turn will join the advisory board of Generation Investment Management, the $1 billion investment company Gore started three years ago in London with David Blood — to invest in publicly traded “sustainable” companies, and Lashinsky’s piece has more."

Read the full article: VentureBeat

09 November 2007

Global Climate Change: Virgin Money to Launch Climate Change Fund

From Citigroup (NYSE:C)to Wells Fargo, (NYSE:WFC) the financial services industry is taking a hard look at climate change as an investment opportunity. The latest entry is Virgin Money (VM), Richard Branson's play to help people with a range of investment, insurance and loan products, including securing loans from friends, family and others.

In January, VM will launch the Virgin Climate Change Leaders Fund, a product to support green companies or companies that are working toward environmental challenges.

"Customers will be able to invest in companies at the forefront of reducing their environmental footprint...without having to compromise on performance," said CEO Jayne-Anne Gadhia in a statement.

GLG Partners LP, the largest independent alternative asset manager in Europe, will advise the fund.

"The Virgin Climate Change Leaders Fund provides investors the unique ability to combine a commitment to environmentally sound investing with the competitive advantages of the GLG Partners investment process," said Ben Funnell, a GLG co-founder.

Virgin Money is a subsidiary of Virgin Group.

For more on Virgin Money, read this article from the Times of London.

07 November 2007

Microfinance: Silicon Valley Microfinance Network Hosts Calvert Foundation & eBay's MicroPlace

I wish I lived in Silicon Valley, if only to attend the meetings of the Silicon Valley Microfinance Network (SVMN). Better still, perhaps someone should start a Greater Philadelphia Microfinance Network. Any takers?

Meanwhile, I can live vicariously. SVMN is sharing slides from their meetings on their web site. Here is a link to slides from the November 5th SVMN meeting, featuring Shari Berenbach from the Calvert Foundation, and Karl Wiley from eBay’s MicroPlace: SVNM Meetings

06 November 2007

Clean Tech: Cramer's Mad Money Green Week

I'm a Cramer fan and was pleased to see he's hosting a Green Week series on his favorite Green stocks, including one of my favorites, First Solar (FSLR) and a surprising feature, Wells Fargo (WFC).

Check it out if you haven't already on CNBC (cnbc.com). (I'll update this post with a real link and tags when I get to my computer.)

And one of these days I'll post a model Green Skeptic portfolio.

P.S. Here's the link: Mad Green

05 November 2007

Microfinance: CNN Interview with Mohammad Yunus

CNN's Talk Asia features an interview with Muhammad Yunus, who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 for his pioneering work in microcredit. Readers of The Green Skeptic will be familiar with Yunus and the Grameen Bank he founded, which brought financial services to the poor, and which as of September, 2007, has 7.31 million borrowers, 97 percent of whom are women.

His main points:

"Women have a long-term vision, she wants to move up to something."

"It's not Grameen Bank came and told them to do that; it is in their hearts."

"We developed a system which doesn't need collateral, guarantee, legal."

"We citizens, we individuals, are capable people addressing social issues."

Read the full interview here: Talk Asia

02 November 2007

Clean Tech: A VC Going Carbon Neutral

Neal Dikeman, founding partner at Jane Capital Partners LLC, a boutique merchant bank advising strategic investors and startups in cleantech, and founding contributor of the Cleantech Blog, writes about Bessemer Ventures' new carbon friendly initiative.

"Their logic is simple, if they are investing in cleantech because they believe in being part of the global warming solution, not only making money, then they should practice what they preach. While still early days, they are targeting both their power and travel usage, and expect they will likely implement an internal reduction plan as well as purchasing offsets...Bessemer is also going to be buying offsets for their smaller portfolio companies (those under 50 people)."

"'The goal is that when these companies grow into bigger companies and leave the nest, they will continue the tradition. We want them (our portfolio companies) to lead the next generation environmentally responsible enterprises,' said Bessemer's Ted Lin, who also told Neal that they are looking for a good offset provider, because as with any venture capitalist, they are looking for the 'best of breed'."

If you can help Bessemer, Neal suggests emailing Ted at Ted@bvp.com.

Let's hope this is a trend, not just among cleantech VCs, but others.