29 April 2008

Salzburg Global Seminar: Seeking a Green Entrepreneurial Solution in Africa

A "Green Revolution" in Africa?

It may be a good idea; it may even be a necessity. But one hopes we learn from the lessons of the Green Revloution in Asia of the 1960s and 70s and apply those lessons to Africa.

While there were definite benefits and succeses in terms of agricultural yields and production:land ratio -- especially in certain parts of Asia -- there were also negative impacts and unintended consequences.

As I understand it, these negative impacts essentially came from three inputs: increased reliance on chemical fertilizers and irrigation, promotion of the monoculture-style farming popular in the day, and depletion of genetic diversity and soil health that put farmers at higher risk.

The environmental degradation this caused in some places (not all) is well-documented. The impacts are still being felt by people and communities in many parts of Asia.

But we've learned alot since then and part of the solution requires such inputs. We need be vigilant, however, to better monitor these inputs as we seek to increase outputs.

As important, perhaps, is to encourage the entrepreneurial spirit of Africans, both farmers and non-farm entrepreneurs.

Smallholder farmers in particular can help maintain the diversity of species and soil health, keep more of the income generated local, and respond to local changes brought about by global warming and other impacts.

Entrepreneurs working in the non-farm economy can promote access to markets and to microcredit, alternative energy development, and other livelihoods. Again, ensuring a local response to needs and impacts.

My point is, any Green Revolution in Africa must engage, invest in, and deploy entreprenurial Africans.

The continent is full of entrepreneurial people. We only need welcome them to the table and ensure they have a voice in crafting any solutions.

Africans helping Africans. Now there's a concept whose time has come.

(En route to Salburg Global Seminar.)

28 April 2008

Salzburg Global Seminar: Towards a Green Revolution in Africa?

This week I'm attending the Salzburg Global Seminar conference, "Toward a 'Green Revolution' in Africa?"

"Toward a 'Green Revolution' in Africa?" is an Initiative of the Salzburg Global Seminar, the Institute of Development Studies and the Future Agricultures Consortium.

The title is posed as a question, which of itself is an interesting statement.

I like that it's a question, because it implies the seminar organizers are not wedded to one idea or one approach to what ails Africa.

It also implies that there are lingering questions about whether a "Green Revolution" is what's needed in Africa.

A healthy skepticism is important when people come together in dialog about issues as important as the health and future of the African continent and its people. I admire the seminar organizers for sticking that question mark in the title.

At the heart of this question are two overarching additional questions:

1. How can new interest and investment in African agriculture be used to bring about real and sustainable change; and

2. How can these efforts be aligned strategically with other investments and development activities (be they from private donors, public aid, or private business) and new strategic alliances and partnerships be created to ensure success?

As the conference organizers write in an Overview provided to participants: "There is a clear need for a new vision for agricultural development in Africa that can deal with the complexities of agriculture in diverse settings across Africa and meet the conditions necessary to achieve more equitable benefits for Africa’s farmers. But whose vision should this be?"

The conference brings together "diverse stakeholders, from within Africa and beyond, who are experts (in their given areas), leading thinkers, change-makers and are, or can influence, senior decision-makers."

At last count, there are 90 participants from government, business, academia, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), "who will explore a set of issues of vital concern to the future of agriculture in Africa, and, indeed, to Africa’s development agenda."

We'll be asked to "devise the conceptual framework within which a new agricultural development agenda in Africa can be set and implemented, and to recommend specific actions," including "recommendations for policy adjustments, streamlining practice, and creating strategic alliances."

It will be interesting to see what the outcomes of the sessions will be. For now, I'm really looking forward to this dialog, both as a learning experience and for what I think I can contribute in terms of linking agriculture to biodiversity health, social entrepreneurship, and investments.

Click here for more on the Salzburg Global Seminars.

25 April 2008

Clean Tech: Kleiner Perkins raising a $400M-plus 'green growth' fund, says Venture Beat

Venture Beat reports that "Kleiner Perkins, the Silicon Valley venture capital firm that backed Google in its early days, is planning to raise a 'Green Growth' fund of more than $400 million, to invest in later-stage cleantech companies, according to PeHub.

"The move is a sign of the maturation and realities of the green technology industry. Many environment-related projects, including solar thermal, electric cars and bio-fuel manufacturing, require huge amounts of capital. Kleiner had earlier raised $200 million to invest in early-stage green companies, but it doesn’t have enough money to invest large chucks of cash in more mature companies as they move to manufacturing stage.

"According to the report, which we have yet to confirm, the firm may do select public investments, carveouts and spinouts.

"Kleiner has won considerable stature in the clean technology investing area, since hiring former Vice President Al Gore as a partner last year. Gore, a proponent of stronger measures to clean up the environment, won the Nobel Peace prize for his efforts. Apparently, Gore is among those leading the firm’s effort to raise the new fund."

According to PE Hub:

Al Gore is among those pitching it to [Kleiner’s] limited partners. During a recent LP meeting in New York, KP’s John Doerr reminded attendees that the firm had invested in the first commercial web browser just 14 years ago, which prompted Gore to caution Doerr against claiming credit for creating the Internet.

Doerr is expected to be involved in the project, but KP is also hiring a dedicated team with more experience in late-stage finance.

"They recently hired a team from the Goldman Sachs Special Situations Group that did the initial deals behind First Solar and Horizon Wind," says Anup Gupta, a partner with the Virgin Green Fund. "It was like a five-person team, [but] two left for Hudson Capital."

Is this an indication that Clean Tech and Green Tech is here to stay? We hope so. Bring on the New Green Economy.

Green is Good, baby.

24 April 2008

Social Entrepreneurs: Van Jones on Colbert Report (Forgot to Post)

"When I was a kid they promised me a jet-pack," Stephen Colbert says. "Where's my jet-pack?" He's being his usual acerbic self, poking fun at his guest, Van Jones of Green for All.

I meant to post this earlier in the month, but it somehow got lost. I'm a big fan of Van Jones and his take on the "green economy." I also like the way he promotes clean and green jobs in the US as a pathway out of poverty.

His interview with Colbert keeps Van on his toes, but the point still gets across. Watch it here:

Bottom line: We need to move from a pollution economy to a solution economy.

Go Van go!

22 April 2008

Environment: U.N. Expert Calls Food Crisis "a silent tsunami"

CNN reports that a U.N. expert calls the current global food crisis "a silent tsunami."

"Those battling global warming by promoting biofuels may unintentionally be adding to skyrocketing world food prices, creating what one expert calls 'a silent tsunami' in developing nations.

"Josette Sheeran, the U.N. World Food Program executive director, illustrates the food ration for children.

"The rising prices are 'threatening to plunge more than 100 million people on every continent into hunger,' Josette Sheeran, executive director of the United Nations' World Food Program, said on the agency's Web site Tuesday.

"Sheeran is one of the experts attending a Food summit hosted Tuesday by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, aimed at determining ways to boost food supplies and identify deterrents. Also attending the meeting are scientists and representatives from the European Union and Africa.

"On the Web site, Sheeran said the increase in food prices is 'a silent tsunami that respects no borders.'

"'The world's misery index is rising ... as soaring food and fuel prices roll through the lives of the most vulnerable,' she said Friday.

"The crisis is forcing the organization to look for cuts in aid to some of its recipients, she said.

"Soaring food prices have triggered violence in some developing countries, and biofuels are bearing at least part of the blame."

Read the full article: Food Crisis

Read the Economist cover story on the issue: Silent Tsunami

21 April 2008

Earth Day: Red Sox, Green Sox; Old Sox, New Sox

This just in from the Sports Desk of The Green Skeptic (aka boston.com): The Boston Red Sox will sport a special green logo on the left sleeves of their uniforms to mark Earth Day when they play the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Fenway Park on Tuesday.

Earth Day plans also include a pre-game presentation of an Environmental Merit Award to the Red Sox by officials from the US Environmental Protection Agency, the Red Sox said.

(The green logo shown at right will be worn only for this game, a Red Sox spokesman said.)

The award recognizes the Sox for environmental initiatives at Fenway, which include the installation of solar powered trash compactors around the park and the installation of solar panels that will soon help heat water at the park, the club said. (The latter is part of $600,000 initiative to increase the city's solar energy output 50-fold by 2015, according to an earlier article in the Globe.)

EPA administrator Stephen L. Johnson and John H. Adams, founding director of the Natural Resources Defense Council, are scheduled to take part in a ceremonial first pitch, the Red Sox added.

In September, the Sox, in partnership with the Natural Resources Defense Council, announced a five-year plan to bring green practices to Fenway Park; the plan is scheduled to culminate in 2012 in time for Fenway's 100th anniversary celebration.
(By Chris Reidy, Boston Globe staff)

20 April 2008

Global Climate Change: Times' Kristof Challenges Bush and Candidates on Climate

Nicholas Kristof challenges President Bush's latest statement about climate change in today's New York Times. According to his Facebook page, he was inspired to write the opinion piece by a recent study in the journal Nature, titled "Dangerous Assumptions" by Roger Pielke, Jr, Tom Wigley, and Christopher Green.

"Imagine if President Bush announced a plan for Iranian and North Korean nuclear programs that declared: They will cease accumulating nuclear weapons by 2025. We will accomplish this through incentives and voluntary action, without mandates.

"Mr. Bush would be ridiculed, but in essence, that’s the plan he announced for climate change on Wednesday. He set a target for halting the growth in carbon dioxide emissions by 2025, without specific mandates to achieve that, and in the meantime he blasted proposed Senate legislation for tougher measures as unnecessary.

"Unnecessary? When scientists detect accelerating melting in the Arctic and confidently predict centuries of coastal retreats and climate shifts, endangering the only planet we have?"

Kristof closes his piece with a call for a new green economy, even if he doesn't call it that:

"So the next president should start a $20 billion-a-year program (financed by a pullout from Iraq) to develop new energy technologies, backed by a carbon tax and cap-and-trade system. Each of the presidential candidates favors some form of a cap-and-trade and would mark a step forward from President Bush’s passivity — although John McCain’s recent proposal for a summer holiday from the gas tax would be a deplorable step in exactly the wrong direction, unless he hopes to turn his land in Arizona into coastal property.

"The bottom line is that none of the candidates focus adequately on climate change, for this will be one of humanity’s great tests in the coming decades — and so far we’re failing."

Read the full opinion piece here: Kristof

18 April 2008

Microfinance: The 2008 Penn Microfinance Conference in Philadelphia

The Penn Microfinance Club is hosting the Second Annual Microfinance Conference: Global Assets: Local Access today (Friday, April 18th) at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.

Speakers include Overstocks CEO Patrick Byrne, Sam Daley-Harris (Director of the Microcredit Summit Campaign), Nicola Armacost (founder of Arc Finance), and kiva.org's Matthew Flannery and Premal Shah will be the keynote speakers.

Will try to live blog from the conference or microblog via twitter ("greenskeptic").

(Disclosure: I am on the advisory board of Green Microfinance, LLC, a panelist on "Social Indicators and Sustainability: Environment, Gender, Poverty.")

17 April 2008

Clean Tech: Bush Speech; Economy Can't Dim Solar's Bright Rising Star

Venture Beat's Chris Morrison reported yesterday on President George Bush's "environmental speech," indicating that "despite a lack of any real substance, Bush’s speech gave several cleantech stocks a substantial boost."

"The most notable of Bush’s statements," according to Venture Beat, "was that greenhouse gas emissions within the United States should peak in a decade or so, with a total halt in their growth in 2025 and a decline thereafter. Bush also stated that the United States would join an international accord and commit to binding targets if other countries, including developing economies like China and India, also do so."

Bush also suggested that "instead of the climate bills currently on the table, a combination of incentives and caps should be used to avoid 'harming the economy' as legislation forcing emissions cuts would — in effect, a suggestive nudge for industries, rather than an aggressive push. He also noted that a federal approach is needed, rather than state-by-state rules."

Meanwhile, VB's Jeremy Jaquot suggested that "while the market for silicon solar panels appears to be growing at a healthy clip, several factors could either retard or speed its development. A worldwide silicon shortage, government investment credits, energy prices and the existing financing and installation models for solar panels are all in flux. But recent developments in all of those sectors suggest a positive outlook for the sector.

"The Senate’s recent approval of the Clean Energy Tax Stimulus Act of 2008, which will provide an additional $20 billion to fund renewable energy projects, could, if ratified by both the House and president, encourage further investment. The House passed its own standalone bill, H.R. 5351, to renew an existing tax credit for renewable energy sources set to expire at the end of this year; the bill had previously been struck down twice by the president and faced resistance within the Senate, because it pulled investment credits away from oil companies.

"Supporters in the Senate are applying pressure toward ratification of the new bill, but the lack of a clear funding source for the credits puts it at risk both before the House. However, if passed, the measure will give solar manufacturers and installers a 30% investment tax credit and provide up to $500 to consumers looking to invest in energy-efficient products for their homes."

Read the complete articles: Here and here.

16 April 2008

Clean Tech: First Solar Rising on SoCal Edison Potential Contract

The Toledo Blade reports this morning that "shares in First Solar Inc., (FSLR) the largest U.S. solar-power manufacturer, surged to a record yesterday on the possibility the company will win part of an $875 million contract with a California utility.

"First Solar, which has its only North American solar-panel factory in suburban Toledo, climbed $13.22, or nearly 5 percent, to $287.32 a share on Nasdaq. The Phoenix company first sold shares at $20 each in November, 2006.

"The stock has gained 30 percent since March 26, just before Southern California Edison said it was seeking suppliers of rooftop solar panels to help the utility, California’s second-largest, comply with a state law requiring reduction of greenhouse-gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020."

Schaeffer's Research also reported that Broadpoint Capital has reiterated its buy rating for First Solar with its price target lifted to $315 per share.

(Disclosure: I hold a long position in FSLR. This post is for informational purposes only and is neither intended to be investment advice nor an offer, or the solicitation of any offer, to buy or sell any securities.)

14 April 2008

Global Philanthropy Forum: My 3 Take-Aways

As I mentioned after the Aspen Environment Forum, someone taught me to leave a conference with 3 Take-Aways; three things you learned, want to remember, and maybe even act on.

Here are my 3 from last week's Global Philanthropy Forum:

1.) We need to change the way we market Africa; to change the perception of Africa by changing the search image. Instead of poverty and backwardness, we should be sharing success stories of Africans helping Africans of which there are a growing number of examples. (Avoid the "broken window syndrome.")

2.) We are not being ambitious enough in attacking poverty and our vision of a world without poverty is not yet big enough. (BRAC's Fazle Abed made some comments that were particularly enlightening in this regard.)

3.) "Climate change takes the oxygen right out of the air," in the words of Google.org's Larry Brilliant. It affects everything and impacts all. We need to rethink how we approach climate change: it's not solely an environmental issue or an issue of reducing carbon emissions. (More on that later.)

I'm sure I will have additional thoughts as I begin my rounds of follow-through from the conference, but these are my 3 Take-Aways from 39,000 feet above the US.

Oh, yeah, and "Watch the Street Hacks!" (Thanks, Jan Chipchase from Nokia)

11 April 2008

Global Philanthropy Forum: Another Perspective

Okay, so where and when am I going to get a hug and kiss from Annie Lennox again? Did that make this conference for me? Maybe. But there where many other discussions and dialogues of note that made this conference worth attending.

One was the dialogue I facilitated -- a Table Talk Conversation -- about social entrepreneurs consisting of a very engaged and interested group of people. It included two social entrepreneurs and a round of phenomenal people. There are phenomenal people throughout this conference, on stage and off.

Another was the technology discussion on rapid response featuring Mark Smolinski from Google.org and Jan Chipchase of Nokia; another was Fazle Abed (BRAC) and Larry Brilliant (Google.org) in conversation with Judy Woodruff. Stimulating.

Is it worth it? Or is it just another conference? Lucy Bernholz had this to say on her excellent blog, Philanthropy 2173:

"Conferences are what they are. Good ideas, lots of conversations, some entertainment, (hopefully) some provocation, and always that question of whether or not it was worth the time. Here's what is worth it - we are in this together. This is so simple, yet runs counter to so much of what we have claimed for philanthropy. Philanthropy fails when it separates givers from doers, them from us, and uses words likes 'unto' or 'for.' Change relies on all of us. Giving and doing with others requires us to recognize that we have a self interest in making change happen -- not hiding our solidarity, but working from it."

Read Lucy's entire post: Philanthropy 2173

10 April 2008

Global Philanthropy Forum: Live Blogging Continues

Day Two of Global Philanthropy Forum started with stirring, impassioned, and inspirational speech on Human Rights and its many abuses by Kerry Kennedy.

She was kicking off a plenary on the issue with Kenneth Roth from Human Rights Watch, Paul van Zyl, who founded a transitional government consultancy, Sidney Harman of Harman International, and Keith Leisinger from Novartis.

Van Zyl practically put the current administration on notice when he suggested the potential need for a review of the human rights abuses of the past eight years.

Roth spoke mostly about Human Rights successes, until he was challenged by two audience members: one from northeastern India, where the indigenous people are "legal targets," based upon a 1958 law, and the second who asked whether governments should boycott the Beijing Olympics. His answer: they should not go to opening ceremony, but not boycott the games.

But Sid Harman was the most engaging, telling stories about his own journey of ensuring the rights of his employees at Harman's various industries.

Harman's story of the Oliver, TN, autoparts plant and its transformation is worth hearing again. And they've been proactive in addressing domestic violence issues in their company.

Great to have an example of an enlightened leader among captains of industry -- and among more policy oriented activists.

09 April 2008

Global Philanthropy Forum: You Call This Live Blogging?

I'm at the Global Philanthropy Forum this week, in Redwood City, and thought I'd try my hand at "Live Blogging," which is a buzz word I keep hearing.

First impressions:

Most international gathering I've seen. Usually, the ratio of Americans to Other Countries is pretty out of whack. Not here.

Also, plenty of representation from developing countries, which is a refreshing sign.

And a great showing of next generation reps, which explains why I am writing this now.

I wanted to be in the session on "Web-based, purpose-driven social networking." It was packed to the rafters. (Obviously a trend worth watching.)

Finally, there are the "Celebractivists" like Desmond Tutu, Peter Gabriel, and Annie Lennox.

Okay, more later.

08 April 2008

Changemakers: GeoTourism Competition Deadline Approaches, Get Your Ideas Heard!

Tourist or traveler, which do you prefer?

Do you like to see the sites and follow the herd or go off the beaten path on this lonely planet? Perhaps you are the kind of traveler who wants to leave no trace or perhaps you want to make some change happen by your presence.

Whatever you prefer, Ashoka's Changemakers.net wants to hear from you -- and now you have an opportunity to join the conversation.

People from all over the world are posting their comments and reactions to descriptions of geotourism projects in the Changemakers/National Geographic GeoTourism Challenge competition happening on-line. Right now. Really, go see for yourself.

There are currently 132 entries from 53 countries -- enough to inspire your travel for the next decade.

And while you're there you can vote for your favorites whether it's from Madagascar or Mongolia, Uruguay or Vanatu, an island nation archipelago in the South Pacific.

Three winners will each receive a cash prize of $5,000 and an opportunity to present their innovations at a Geotourism Challenge Summit this fall.

Check out the story of posted by a female German travel professional who moved to the Arkansas River Valley -- deep in Colorado's Rocky Mountains -- to establish "Real West Travel," an eco-friendly rating system for everything from motels and B&Bs to boutique hotels.

There's also "Lemon Tree Tours," a travel company that promotes "voluntourism" to promote health and cultural exchanges.

And one of my favorite places, Camp Denali and the North Face Lodge in Denali National Park, even has an entry.

The Geotourism Challenge is Changemakers’ 15th collaborative competition and draws on Ashoka’s 27 years of experience in identifying leading social entrepreneurs around the world. To date, the competitions have sourced over 2,000 local innovations on various themes from more than 125 countries.

Anyone can participate in this global search for innovations in tourism that sustain, enhance and preserve local culture and the environment.

Nominate a place that you enjoy and help recognize their innovative work in sustainable, responsible, holistic tourism.

You can also ask questions, comment, debate, collaborate on ideas, and learn more about how you can get involved.

So, what are you waiting for? Stop being an armchair traveler, go to:
Changemakers/National Geographic Geotourism Competition

[Disclosure: The author is a vice president with Ashoka, but does not work directly for Changemakers or National Geographic, although he has friends at both organizations.]

07 April 2008

Microfinance: How Big Can Micro Get?

To profit or not to profit? That is the question. Whether it is nobler to make microloans with donor money or with investor capital is being hotly debated in the development community these days.

The question surrounds Compartamos, which means "let's share" in Spanish, and whether its principals -- known as the two Carloses -- should be sharing the spoils of their microlending institution cum commercial bank. According to a study cited in the New York Times, Compartamos enjoyed a 19.6 percent return in the 4th Quarter.

Part of the issue is profit, but another is about shareholder return. Will shareholders or investors keep the best interests of the poor in mind? Or are the interests of the poor better served by the donor community, who have typically funded microfinance?

For the record, among the largest shareholders in Compartamos are Accion Gateway Fund (Accion Gateway Fund L.L.C), IFC (International Finance Corporation), Oikocredit (Oikocredit), PROFUND (ProFund International, S.A.), Triodos-Doen Foundation (Triodos-Doen Foundation). Not exactly cutthroat capitalists.

There is certainly a need for more capital. According to a Deutsche Bank study, cited by The Times, "the global demand for microfinance loans [is] about US$250 billion, 10 times the amount that has been lent."

Banco Compartamos went public last year in an attempt to gain access to a broader capital market rather thank rely on the limited pool of philanthropic capital. That got the attention of Wall Street and drew some ire from more traditional microfinance institutions.

Some of the criticism stems from the roots of microfinance as a tool for eradicating poverty. A play like Compartamos seems to take microlending in a completely different direction, which, to some, strays from the mission.

But the question remains, is there room for traditional banks and other lending institutions to offer financial products for the poor?

What if Compartamos had not started as a non-profit (it was founded by a Catholic social action group called Gente Nueva, according to the Times), but had started with a different approach?

It seems like microfinance is feeling some growing pains. Some 20 years after the concept first sprouted -- and only two years since one of its originators, Muhammad Yunus and Grameen Bank, won the Nobel Peace Prize for the innovation -- its best practitioners have demonstrated it works. Now others want in the game.

I suspect there has to be room at the table for players like Compartamos, as well as commercial banks and other investors, alongside the small "mom-and-pop" shops and the Kiva.orgs, the latter of which connects lenders directly with borrowers through an online interface. The problems of poverty -- extreme as well as low- and mid-level -- are just too great to be limiting approaches now.

As I've argued before in this blog, the poor need better access to the full range of financial services -- and they need it now more than ever.

We need to remain vigilant as big institutions enter this space or we may end up with something like the mortgage crisis on our hands. We don't want people, as microfinance consultant Charles Waterfield told the Times, "making obscene profits off poor people."

But who decides when micro gets too big to be called micro any more?

For more on this issue, read the New York Times article by Elizabeth Macklin, "Microfinance Success Sets Off a Debate in Mexico."

01 April 2008

Aspen Environment Forum: My Three Take-Aways

Many years ago, someone offered me a piece of advice when I was suffering from information overload at a conference: don't try to absorb or act on everything; just make sure to write down your "3 Take-Aways" before you leave.

This approach has worked out pretty well for me over the years, and last week I dispatched this piece of advice to a young participant of this year's Aspen Environment Forum.

Then I took my own advice. So, here are my 3 Take-Aways from the Forum:

1. There is much to be done and we need all energy options (and plenty of patience) to make progress and ensure prosperity.

2. There are plenty of solutions and plenty of opportunities, but the window to act is now (especially regarding energy efficiency, alternative energy technology, and along the value chain).

3. The New Green Economy needs to be inclusive, especially mobilizing training and redeployment opportunities for disadvantaged and poor people in stressed communities -- to move from pollution and prison culture to solution and social uplift environmentalism.

That seems like a lot, but really one flows to the next. We can do this if we just get our butts in gear. What are we waiting for?

And, I don't remember who you were, but if you're out there, thanks for the good advice!