26 September 2007

Innovation: Hacking Philanthropy Sessions, Hosted by Union Square Ventures

Imagine a room packed with a ton of brain power, knowledge, and expertise from the world of venture capital, technology, social change, and philanthropy and you've some idea what I walked into yesterday up at Columbia's Casa Italiana.

Brad Burnham, Fred Wilson, and Andrew Parker of Union Square Ventures -- the Three Tenors of New York's Silicon Alley -- brought together an illustrious gang for a day to talk about "Hacking Philanthropy," or how to bring philanthropic pursuits into the 21st century.

The participant roster was an all-star cast, including Charles Best from DonorsChoose.org, Premal Shah from Kiva.org, nattily attired Craig Newmark from Craig's List, Graham Hill of Treehugger.com, Red Hat and Lulu founder Bob Young, Dick Costolo, co-founder of Feed Burner, Victoria Vrana from Venture Philanthropy Partners, Tom Watson of Changing Our World, my new colleagues from Ashoka, Sushmita Ghosh and Leslie Crutchfield (whose new book, Forces for Good should do for non-profits what Jim Collins' Good to Great did for the private sector), Meetup.com Founder Scott Heiferman, Tom Reis from the estimable Kellogg Foundation (the only old guard institution represented), Jason Paez from the youth-centric start-up Party 4 A Purpose, Ashoka Fellow and Idealist founder Ami Dar, and even newly anointed MacArthur genius Saul Griffith of SQUID Labs. Quite a powerful group. (Not to mention we were joined at lunch by Maya Lin, who gave us an early look at her latest work in progress.)

The collective power of the group was exemplified by the conversation, which ranged from the potential for lightweight web services to increase the efficiency, reach, and effectiveness of philanthropy to wrestling with real-life business process issues. For eaxample, how to help Kiva close the gap between the numbers of on-line lenders versus certified microlending institutions in the field or why DonorsChoose, which currently focuses on putting school teachers in need with donors, could extend its reach to include other projects and pursuits.

For me, this event was timely. I have long been concerned about the state of philanthropy, among them: 1.) big institutions are so wedded to process and priority setting that they forget it's not about what we're selling to donor-investors but about what they are buying, 2.) that traditional philanthropy is still perceived as old fashioned, inefficient and stodgy, 3.) that, in fact, perception is reality, and 4.) that we risk losing the potential for catalyzing the network effect because we're focused on the wrong things. I could go on, and so could have this group.

It was a lively dialogue and, hopefully, just the beginning of an ongoing conversation among the participants. For now, kudos to the USV gang for bringing this group together. I have the impression it could be the start of something remarkable. Perhaps the full impact of our conversation yesterday will surface down the road and we'll be able to point to this session as a catalyst.

20 September 2007

Social Entrepreneurs: Kawasaki Interviews Bornstein

One of our favorite business entrepreneurs/bloggers/authors (The Art of the Start), Guy Kawasaki, interviews one of our favorite chroniclers of social entrepreneurship (How to Change the World) and microfinance (The Price of a Dream), David Bornstein. What a cool combination: Kawasaki-Bornstein

Oh, and more good news is that Bornstein has updated How to Change the World for a new paperback edition. Looking forward to his new insights and to replacing my Penguin India edition that got mixed up in the binding process!

19 September 2007

Microfinance: PBS NOW on When Good Microcredit Goes Bad

This Friday, PBS NOW's Enterprising Ideas series puts microfinance under the microscope in an episode about the Mexican company Compartamos. A NOW producer flew to Bangladesh to talk to Muhammad Yunus about why he believes Compartamos is doing great damage to the microcredit movement he pioneered.

Compartamos is a microfinance company that once lent 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.

NOW airs at 8:30 p.m. on Friday nights. Check your local listings.

The Harvard Business Review also features a look at Microfinance this month - and that look also offers a warning to "Beware of Bad Microcredit."

15 September 2007

Microfinance: Silicon Valley Microfinance Network Seeks Executive Director

The Silicon Valley Microfinance Network (SVMN) is looking for a strong, entrepreneurial leader with a passion for microfinance. The Executive Director will be tasked with taking this new organization to the next level, from a growing start-up organization to a robust, professional network. The Executive Director will be responsible for the overall strategic vision of the organization as well as the day to day management. Reporting to the Board of Directors, the Executive Director will start at 25% time, increasing to a larger role as SVMN’s activity base grows.

SVMN is a membership organization consisting of more than 500 people from the Bay Area (and beyond) who are interested in microfinance. The activities of the organization include networking events, an educational speaker series, a resourceful website, and opportunities to engage in the field. The mission of SVMN is to leverage the unique core competencies of the Bay area in microfinance.

This looks like a good opportunity for a strong, entrepreneurial leader with a promising new organization in an expanding field.

For more information, see the full description: SVMN Executive Director

Or apply by email: tracey@microplace.com

13 September 2007

Innovation: Lucy Bernholz & "B Corporations"

I've been following with interest Lucy Bernholz's discussion about the idea of a hybrid "B Corporation," that mixes the social values proposition of the non-profit sector with the results-oriented, business-like approach of the for-profit sector. The goal is to create "a new designation for commercial enterprises that actively seek to produce social and environmental benefits along with profits."

Working in the nonprofit sector for as long as I have, I can attest to the description Lucy provides in her post from Tuesday of this week. It's hard to move toward sustainability when you are relying on OPM and can only provide a values exchange as return on their investment. That's why so many nonprofits (or citizen sector, if you don't want to be defined by what you're not - ugh) organizations struggle, chase the money, or just can't muster the tools to meet the high standards of accounting and transparency that we've demanded of the for-profit sector.

"Why is it so important? Everyone who has ever worked in, volunteered for, or donated a nonprofit organization knows how hard it is for these entities to raise the money they need to do their work. By creating a new type of corporate designation, organizations that focus on social, environmental goods will gain access to new kinds of capital. Once there are a few successes, the capital markets will shift accordingly. New types of financial products, new access to capital for public benefit organizations, and, eventually, perhaps, a new norm for fiduciary responsibility."

This is an innovation worth exploring, and I hope more people will join the conversation about how to move in this direction.

Read the full post @ Philanthropy 2173

12 September 2007

Clean Tech: EcoGeek Karl Schroeder on Investments in Environment & Technology

We like EcoGeek and their mission to publish stories about innovations in technology to help save the planet.

Heck, they even featured our buddy, Jonathon Colman of The Nature Conservancy's Digital Marketing Group as an EcoGeek of the Week back in July. So what's not to like?

This week's EcoGeek is Karl Schroeder the author of Ventus (2000) and Permanence (2002), which received a New York Times notable selection and the Aurora Award for Best Novel, respectively. He is also the author of Lady of Mazes, Sun of Suns (Book One of the Virga Cycle), and most recently, Queen of Candesce (Book Two of the Virga Cycle).

"Karl writes hard science fiction with a humanist twist, focusing not just on technology and discovery but on the human costs of technological development. His website is www.kschroeder.com. He is also a contributing blogger for World Changing Canada and maintains the philosophical blog Age of Embodiment."

Here is a snippet of their interview. The rest can be found at EcoGeek

EcoGeek: What new technologies do you think have the potential for the greatest positive impact on the environment?

Karl Schroeder: I like to play a little game called 'if I had a billion dollars' (with a nod to the Barenaked Ladies' song). If I did, I'd drop $200 million on Bussard (I'm sure he'd enjoy that); $200 million on kickstarting a vertical farming industry, the same on ocean iron-fertilization studies, another chunk on developing an agrichar infrastructure, and the rest on various projects that can't get funding because they have a low probability of success, but massive payoff if they do work. --Which is precisely where our investment should be flowing right now, because we don't have time for incremental development to solve the climate crisis. We need miracles, and those don't come from slow, safe R&D projects--such as ITER.

EcoGeek: What are some of the advantages that vertical farming would provide? Do you think that vertical farming can realistically replace current farming practice, or do you think that it would serve more as a supplement to existing farming? Does concentrating food production raise the risk of those structures being future terrorism targets? What does vertical farming provide that justifies the massive allocation of resources it would require?

Karl Schroeder: There's no new innovations required to begin vertical farming. The issues are financial and in engineering the system for maximum efficiency. One recent study found that a 47-story tall, one city-block square vertical farm could feed 50,000 people at competitive prices, while recycling most of its resources internally and producing most of its own power. From that study you can calculate that a set of vertical farms 25 blocks square could feed the entire population of Canada. What does it provide? Nothing less than the ability to "rewild" as much of the countryside as we want, by taking the burden of agricultural production out of the continental ecosystem.

(Ed. Note: You can see more about this idea in Karl's article about "Rewilding Canada" from WorldChanging.)

EcoGeek: You mention 'agrichar' in your Billion Dollars wishlist. That's not something I was very familiar with (though I think I got the gist of it after a little quick Google search). Can you tell us a little more about it (and why it's important or useful), or suggest a good website or link for more information for readers who would like to learn more about this?

Karl Schroeder: Agrichar is a modern version of "Terra Preta" which was used centuries ago in the Amazon basin to allow the nutrient-poor soils there to produce lavish crops. It's basically a burn-and-bury process that sequesters carbon, replaces commercial fertilizers, revives dying soils, and all in all is a perfect technique for long-term sustainable soil health. Simple enough that the Mayans could perfect it, with the potential to be used all over the world. It's a pretty new process so there's not too many sources of information out there about it, unfortunately. But it's precisely the sort of transformative technology we need.


(And, by the way, I've reached a milestone with this post: 300 posts since I started The Green Skeptic in November 2004. 300 posts over 3 years, is that a good measure? Thank you for reading, tagging, digging...)

Microfinance: Silicon Valley Microfinance Network Hosts Kiva & Prosper

Check out these presentations by Premal Shah of Kiva.org and Chris Larsen of Prosper.com from the recent Silicon Valley Microfinance Network Meeting. Worth a look:



For more on Silicon Valley Microfinance Network

07 September 2007

Global Climate Change: Polar Bears Could Be Gone by 2050?

This news just in: Two-thirds of the world's current polar bear population could be gone by midcentury if predictions of melting sea ice hold true, the U.S. Geological Survey reported on Friday.

The fate of polar bears might be even more imperiled than that estimate, because sea ice in the Arctic might be vanishing faster than the available computer models predict, the geological survey said in a report aimed at determining whether the arctic bear should be classified as a threatened species.

"Projected changes in future sea ice conditions, if realized, will result in loss of approximately two-thirds of the world's current polar bear population by the mid 21st century," the report's executive summary said.

"Because the observed trajectory of Arctic sea ice decline appears to be underestimated by currently available models, this assessment of future polar bear status may be conservative."

In January, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed listing the polar bear as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act, noting polar bears depended on sea ice as a platform to hunt seals. Projected sea ice loss due to global climate change was believed to jeopardize the bears' range. (Reuters)

Here's my son on the situation (he'll be 54 then; I won't say how old I'll be...yikes): "People aren't doing enough to stop this. This is not good." I agree. I can't imagine a world without polar bears.

Global Climate Change: APEC Rift Causes Deadlock

Reuters reported this morning that "Leaders at an Asia-Pacific summit appeared deadlocked on Thursday over what their 'Sydney Declaration' on climate change and cutting greenhouse gas emissions should say.

"China's President Hu Jintao gave only qualified support to Australia's initiative on climate change, while some developing nations criticised Australian and US moves to put climate change at the top of the agenda of the APEC gathering in Sydney.
US President George W. Bush raised climate change with Hu during a bilateral in Sydney and said he would support a strong climate statement by the 21 leaders and urged Hu to do the same.

"'They concluded the importance of addressing this pressing problem cooperatively and responsibly ... and in a manner that did not stall or stunt economic growth,' said Dan Price, Bush's deputy national security adviser for international economic development.

"Bush indicated the US would support a 'strong leaders' declaration on climate change' and encouraged the Chinese leader to do likewise, as well as consider eliminating tariffs on environmental and clean energy technologies, said Price."

Read more: Climate Rift

02 September 2007

Social Entrepreneurs: Kiva on Oprah; Matt Flannery's Take

Over at Kiva Chronicles on Social Edge, Matt Flannery has an impassioned post in reaction to Kiva's appearance on Oprah, which is scheduled to broadcast on Tuesday. Ever wondered what it would be like to be on Oprah? How about sharing the stage with Bill Clinton? Imagine Matt and Jessica getting a two-fer. Here's a snippet of Matt's take on the taping. It's worth following the link to the full description.

We were in the audience. The show was focused on President Clinton's new book -- Giving. We assumed our seats in the front row. The President and Ms. Winfrey entered to great applause. There we were, in the front row, about arm's length away as the interview began.

We were in the 5th segment. I think that's right. The President and Oprah ushered us through 4 segments of emotional conversation and specials. I could almost touch them. Even so, it felt like I was watching a movie -- however more frightening because the characters could call on you at any time. You better be ready.

I couldn't pay perfect attention. About 45 minutes into the show, the Kiva segment began. A tape rolled highlighting Anne Brown, an artisan in Seattle who lent money to a seamstress in Ecuador. I didn't watch too closely because I didn't want to be too emotional as the biggest interview in my life would begin.

Then she called on us. Our most likely scenario was that Oprah would focus on Jessica, given that is a women-centric show. We were wrong -- she focused on me. How much has Kiva loaned so far? How does it make you feel? How long does it take for an entrepreneur to get funded? I could answer these questions in my sleep. However, they came out in slow motion. I didn't make any big mistakes. I was serviceable, not incredible. Since that time, I've replayed the answers in my head, second guessing every word. I'll probably never get the chance to address that many people again in my life. Thinking about it too much can drive you crazy.

She turned to Jess and asked about her inspiration. Jess got emotional. It was an emotional moment. She delivered a heart felt account of how we began Kiva. It was one of the more moving parts of the show.

The President and Ms. Winfrey spent the next few minutes talking about the power of the Internet and "the Kiva model." Watching this was truly surreal. If you had told me a year ago that I would watch these two people discussing Kiva in front of millions on TV, I would have laughed. I cannot tell you how ridiculous it would have seemed. It still seems imaginary.

Here's the link to Matt's full story: Kiva on Oprah

We'll be watching Tuesday.

01 September 2007

Global Climate Change: Vienna Ends; Little Progress (Of Course)

I don't know why we continue to trust that the world's governments will ever get anything accomplished by holding big talks like the one this week in Vienna. Nothing much ever seems to happen other than grandstanding and minor-league agreements.

AP reports that "negotiators from 158 countries reached a basic [emphasis mine] agreement yesterday on rough [me again] targets aimed at getting some [and again] of the world's biggest polluters to reduce emissions of the greenhouse gases blamed for global warming." [Sounds like a statement written by committee, doesn't it? There are more hedges in there than in my garden!]

"The weeklong UN climate conference concluded that industrialised countries should strive to cut emissions by 25%-40% of their 1990 levels by 2020.

"Experts said that target would serve as a loose guide for a major international climate summit to be held in December in Bali, Indonesia." [Don't hold your breath...]

"'We have reached broad agreement on the main issues,' said Leon Charles, a negotiator from Grenada.

"The 2020 targets are not binding, [of course not] but they were seen as an important signal that industrialised nations are serious about slashing the amount of carbon dioxide and other dangerous gases to avert the most catastrophic consequences of global warming.

"Yesterday's agreement sought to ease concerns the emissions target might be too ambitious for some nations, noting efforts to cut back on airborne pollutants are 'determined by national circumstances and evolve over time.'

"But the agreement made clear that greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced to 'very low levels' to guard against potentially deadly flooding, drought and other fallout."

Hot air, yet again...next up: the President's meeting in late September.