Our Sting operation

June 18, 2013 § Leave a comment

Non-profit Narrative 4’s first project, in partnership with Esquire Magazine , “How to Be a Man,” is a collection of over 100 stories from some of our best authors. They launched in Chicago last week. Wish I’d been there.

Narrative 4

We are still in a state of drunken happiness after last week’s successful launch of Narrative 4 during Chicago’s Printers Row Lit Fest.

In case you missed the festivities, get a glass of iced tea, pull up your comfy chair and click on this link to see the entire 90-minute event.

You won’t want to miss a great conversation between N4 co-founders Colum McCann and Luis Alberto Urrea about how story set them on their path.

And you REALLY don’t want to miss the incredible conversation once Sting, a member of N4’s honorary board, joined in and talk veered into the importance of story in their work.

The three, along with moderator Charles Miles from Chicago’s Youth Guidance, then gave the crowd of nearly 800 an idea of what happens during one of our story exchanges. First, Colum read a piece from a wrongly convicted (now released) inmate related his…

View original post 401 more words


NSBW: U.S. Microfinance – Making an Impact

June 17, 2013 § 2 Comments


Image Source: Accion

Back in 2010, I became massively interested in the subject of microfinance and, in particular, microfinance, or lack thereof, in the United States.  I began to research the topic online and off, reading articles, attending seminars, speaking to organizations making loans and to loan recipients.  I wrote about what I was learning.  And others appeared to be hungry for the information, as much of what I published seemed to find an audience.

While I last blogged on the topic two-and-a-half years ago, I noticed that these posts still draw readers on a weekly basis.  This realization got me thinking about what has changed in U.S microfinance in the intervening years and, given the rise of crowdfunding during this period, how it currently fits into the small business financing landscape.  Here is some of what I found.

Since November 2010:

According to a survey of 362 platforms released today by research firm Massolution, crowdfunders raised $2.7 billion worldwide in 2012, up 81 percent from 2011.  The study projected $5.1 billion this year.

Equity crowdfunding was relatively tiny, accounting for more than $116 million in 2012, up 30 percent from the year before. That’s not unexpected, given that at the moment only accredited investors can use crowdfunding to invest in companies.

More surprising is that crowdfunded loans, made over lending platforms such as Prosper and Kiva, more than doubled, to $1.17 billion from $555 million the year before.  Crowdfunding donations, meanwhile, hit $979 million last year, up 45 percent from 2011. Crowdfunding for rewards—funders put up cash, fundees offer a product they’re developing, say, in return—grew even faster, to $383 million in 2012, from $62 million the year before.”

  • Kiva launched Kiva Zip in the United States and Kenya.  Kiva Zip is a program that makes “it possible for lenders to send funds directly to the entrepreneurs they support.”  This new initiative reduces the time necessary for the money to reach the entrepreneur, lowers fees and interest rates, and provides a means of direct communication between lender and borrower. Check out the small business owners currently raising funds with this new scheme.  They runs shuttle services, florists, coffee shops, bakeries, catering businesses and more.
  • The Tory Burch Foundation continued to make loans in the amount of $500 to $50,000 through national non-profit microlender Accion.  In 2010, the foundation established a mentorship program “to support women entrepreneurs as they start and grow their businesses.”  In addition, TBF created a partnership “with Women’s Initiative for Self Employment, a national microenterprise training and funding organization, to provide entrepreneurship training and guidance for high-potential, low-income women.  In 2012, the Tory Burch Foundation launched its entrepreneurial education program in partnership with Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses, LaGuardia Community College and Babson College. Classes are customized specifically for early-stage, women-owned businesses with the passion and potential for growth.”
  • Accion U.S., the largest and only nationwide micro-and small business lending network in the United States, published that it has loaned a total of $360 million (46,000 loans) since its inception in 1994.  The organization refined it programs, adding targeted microlending programs: Green Loan; Brewing the American Dream Loan; Start-Up Loan, Transition Loan; Established Business Loan.  Further, “Accion’s 2012 microTracker study highlights the critical role that U.S. small businesses play in building our economy. Conducted in partnership with the Aspen Institute and California microlender  Opportunity Fund, the study takes a rigorous look at microloan outcomes for loans disbursed in 2010.”  The infographics included above and below show the results of the study.  You can read the report here.
  • The Opportunity Fund continued to focus on expanding its impact in California.  In addition to microloans, the organization launched microsavings and real estate programs.

Microlender Loans and Dollar Dispersed

Who Microlenders Serve

It seems something is going on and it’s something good.  What have you experienced, learned, heard?  Let’s keep this conversation going.

What’s the Best Thing Your Dad Has Ever Told You?

June 15, 2013 § Leave a comment

TIME: Letters from Dad

For Father’s Day: Touching letters from dads to their daughters. Aaron Sorkin, Ethan Hawke, Michael Bloomberg, Rahm Emanuel, Tom Brokaw and more.


[time-rebelmouse sitename=”time/LettersFromDad” skip=”about-site,following,also-on-rm”]

View original post

Win-Win. Fresh Artists

May 23, 2013 § Leave a comment

Fresh Artists

Win-Win.  Part III.  Fresh Artists.

An NBC mainstay for over 27 years – “Today Show” correspondent and then co-host, creator of “Real Life with Jane Pauley” which morphed into weekly news magazine “Dateline” – veteran reporter Jane Pauley returned to the network fold with a monthly series, in partnership with AARP, “Life Reimagined TODAY.”  Each month, she tells the story of an intrepid soul who has started a new, life-changing career after the age of 50.  As you can imagine, the stories are meant to inspire, and they do.  With that said, the tales told do not shy away from the challenges and difficulties inherent in what amounts to a metamorphosis.  Put bluntly, they’re worth watching.

Last week, she profiled Barbara Chandler Allen, co-founder, along with her son Roger, of Philadelphia-based, nonprofit organization Fresh Artists.  Facing a divorce, the stay-at-home-mother, who had been out of the workforce for twenty years, was in search of a second act.  A local radio station delivered it.  While volunteering at her son Roger’s school, she heard a radio interview with the new school superintendent.  She pulled to the side of the road, called into the station and invited the superintendent to visit the school.  He returned the invitation and offered her a job.  “Fill an 850,000-square-foot space with children’s art.”

Given the enormity of the school headquarter’s space, hanging small, framed paintings would not cut it.  That’s where her son Roger comes in.  He suggested photographing the children’s pieces, enlarging them as much as possible and printing them using large format digital printing.  The result was big, bold, colorful art.  And other people wanted it – corporations with massive office spaces to fill.

That became the start of Fresh Artists, where they are tackling an urgent problem – the lack of funding for arts education in local public schools.  Here’s how it works:

  • Creative kids donate images of their artwork to raise funds to help other kids.
  • Businesses donate funds to keep art making alive for kids in under-funded public schools.
  • Kids give large-scale digital reproductions of their artwork to corporate donors as thank-you gifts.

Teachers win – they get supplies and arts instruction.  Children win – they receive arts education that may otherwise not be possible.  Child artists win – they see their pieces blown up and on display, they maintain ownership of their work, they get the thrill of helping other children.  Corporations win – they acquire fabulous works of art by children, the payment of which goes to help educate the students.

In response to Jane Pauley’s comment towards the end of the segment, “Win-Win,” Ms. Allen counters with, “Win-Win-Win- Win.  The wins never stop.  I saw a problem and we had the toolkit to fix it.”  And in doing, she so has accomplished something that many others have failed to do: she has found a way to have the private sector help with the challenges facing public education.  Creativity defined.

What is your quadruple win?

Win-Win. goods for good

May 22, 2013 § Leave a comment

goods for good

Image Source: goods for good

win-win, part two.  goods for good.  melissa kushner.  raging fan.

And I have been a raging fan for awhile.  I was first introduced to goods for good (GFG) while working with a New York-based fashion technology startup, Afingo.  The “introducer” was our PR consultancy, LLR Consulting, known for  connecting for-profit and not-for-profit businesses in a way that is organic and beneficial for both parties.  It was.

Back then I was blown away by goods for good’s business concept: take excess fabric from the production of apparel and home goods, use it to supply the raw materials for tailors-in-training (the GFG program in Malawi), who produce schools uniforms for orphans and vulnerable children who would otherwise not be able to afford them and, thus, not receive an eduction, and distribute the goods through local community centers.  I lost track of the wins.

Reduce waste going to landfills.  Provide skills training and a means of making a living for young adults who lack an education and have no other means of earning money.  Give school uniforms to children who need them.  Partner with on-the-ground, local organizations.

Founded in 2006, goods for good has distributed 23,000 school uniforms and garments through the African community centers.  And building on the original concept, they have also delivered 1.4 millions pens (a child needs something with which to write) and 116,200 shoes (a child needs shoes to protect her feet from cuts, infections and diseases on her walk to school).

Today, Melissa has taken the concept (at least) two steps further, “economically empowering communities to transform orphan care:”

Now GFG is making those same community centers financially sustainable, by launching small on-site businesses that generate income and fund orphan care programs for education, health, and nutrition.  These businesses, which include chicken farms, agriculture enterprises, and tailoring co-ops, create jobs, stimulate the local economy, and ensure Malawi’s children have every opportunity to thrive.

goods for good is now delivering the ultimate win — giving people the skills and means to help themselves.

Ask yourself, what’s your ultimate win?  You may be surprised by the answer.

Win-Win. Ground Operations: From Battlefields to Farmfields

May 21, 2013 § Leave a comment

Ground Operations: From Battlefields to Farmfields

Ground Operations: From Battlefields to Farmfields on Indiegogo

I am a big fan of enterprising people solving pressing problems, and getting really creative in the process … so that in the end they create a win-win, or even a win-win-win.

This happens in the for-profit world (think: Edun, Tom’s Shoes, Warby Parker, Maiyet, Patagonia), but often the most interesting examples are birthed in the not-for-profit world, where in order to be successful, the need to think outside of the proverbial box is paramount.  As is the need to create business models where there’s not just one beneficiary, but two, or more.

For the next three days, that’s the focus – organizations solving big problems and helping or enabling multiple constituencies, as the solution and the result.

With Memorial Day less than a week away, and because there is a live Indigogo fundraising campaign with just six days left on the clock, I am starting with the documentary film Ground Operations: Battlefields to Farmfields.

I learned about this amazing program, which helps military veterans become gainfully and meaningfully employed now that they’re back from the battlefield, via Twitter, specifically via Ellen Gustafson (@ellengustafson).  Currently co-founder of Food Tank, I have been an admirer of Ms. Gustasfson’s from a few years back, when she launched two innovative food programs, ChangeDinner and 30 Project (not to mention that she was co-founder of FEED, along with Lauren Bush Lauren).

And she’s also part of the Ground Operations documentary, a sponsored project of From the Heart Productions.  Here is the film’s tagline and the organization’s mission:

America needs a million new farmers. Veteran’s want the job.

The mission of Ground Operations is to strengthen the growing network of combat veterans transitioning into new careers in sustainable farming and ranching. Let’s help them get started and build their resources, so that they can create healthy new lives for themselves and food security for communities across America.

Why Does This Matter?

Our warriors are returning from battle. They’re having a really tough time coming home to high unemployment, PTSD and pain killers, delayed disability claims, and astronomical suicide rates. They need better alternatives. They need a new mission.

At the same time, we are losing half of America’s food producers to retirement. The USDA is calling for one million new farmers and ranchers to fill the gap.

Agriculture’s problem is the veterans’ solution. 


Can you think of a way to do the same in your business?  Is there a problem you want to solve that could benefit from some radical re-thinking?  Is there a company you can work with who can help you solve it in a way that you both win – big?  A solution where the win-win is inherent in the partnership as the solution?

Chew on these questions while you’re on your drive to the beach or the lake or wine store and grocery store.  And for inspiration, visit the Ground Operations Indiegogo campaign, watch the fundraising video and contribute if you can. This is a fantastic program with serious potential, but they need the means to spread the word to the veterans.  This program funds that solution.  You can be a part of it.  Another win-win.

Words from 6 of Fast Company’s 100 Most Creative People in Business 2013

May 15, 2013 § Leave a comment

Fast Company - Bryan Cranston, Actor, Breaking Bad

Image Source: Fast Company

It’s that time again.  Time for Fast Company’s list of the “100 Most Creative People in Business 2013.”


Each year I find the list to be a fascinating mix of the known (and indeed reknowned) and the never-heard-of-but-wish-I-had.  The draw is in the details: what these individuals are doing (who knew there was such a thing as a “Futurist” at Ford Motor Company?), and how they are doing it (recognizing the change in the music industry and forging a deal to get musicians royalties for radio play on Clear Channel).

To give you a sampling, here are six of the members of this elite group, three women and three men, along with their words.  While I didn’t complete an exact tally, the list appears to be fairly evenly weighted with both sexes.  I’ve omitted the ranking for each, and instead listed them in alphabetical order, because, let’s be real, if you’re on this list, it doesn’t matter your number, it just matters that you’re there.

Diana Balmori, Principal, Balmori Associates

“The Architect Working Against the Tide,” who has addressed flooding issues in Memphis and Minneapolis.

“Landscape architecture,” says architect Diana Balmori, “is an agile tool kit for dealing with the complexity of the city.”

Next up?  Devise a way “to buttress New York for the next Hurricane Sandy.”

Bryan Cranston, Actor, Breaking Bad

In a wide-ranging, lengthy interview with Fast Company, award-winning actor Bryan Cranston talked “about how he helped create Walter [White on Breaking Bad] and how he’ll move beyond what may be the single best performance in the history of TV.”  When asked, “How do you and the writers keep things flowing as the show progresses?”, Cranston responded, in part:

It’s about the writing. I will stop in the writers room and say hello and bring donuts and just see how we’re doing. Things like that. Good writers will watch actors and pick up little innuendos, sensibility, tidbits that trigger something in their psyche and will start writing that in…

It’s the same relationships with actors, writers, directors–that triumvirate of creativity–we have to rely and trust each other to be able to get the final product. It’s no one dictator over the other. It’s truly a collaboration … when it’s working well.

Graham Hill, Founder, CEO, LifeEdited

In 2010, TreeHugger founder Graham Hill established “a socially conscious real estate startup,” LifeEdited. He designed a 420-square-foot, every-inch-used, more than fully-functioning apartment as his prototype  of minimal living – and yes, he lives there.

In reference to Sarah Simmons, the City Grit chef who prepared the food for a Fast Company-co-hosted dinner at Hill’s apartment (the other seven guests being the most creative folks who share a passion and concern about the future of cities), Fast Company writes, “This is how creativity in cities tends to happen: Con-straints become opportunities.”  As for Hill’s mission:

“One of the easiest ways to go green is to go small,” Hill says. “I want to show people that there’s an amazing modern green future, and make it easy for them to step into it.”…

“One of the areas where I think we’ve gone wrong as a society,” Hill says, “is that we’ve developed this thing where what you want to aim for is your own castle, gated away from everyone–and even within that castle, lots of space.”

Max Levchin, CEO Affirm, Board Member, Yahoo

Fast Company called Max Levchin the “Endless Idea Man,” having co-founded PayPal, he now starts companies out of R&D lab HVF, which stands for Hard Valuable Fun (love that).  Levchin has a seven-step plan for generating ideas for startups, which includes speaking with random creative people, asking questions, making lists and forgetting lists.  Steps number 3 and 4:

“Step 3.  I always carry around a device that runs Evernote. I have this massive notebook called IDEAS and another one called PERSONAL IDEAS and another one called CRAZY IDEAS.”

“Step 4. I make it my business to go back and reread the stack of ideas quite frequently. I’m up to 1000 notes or something crazy like that. When I get together with a friend to brainstorm ideas, I bring, as a conversation starter, like five ideas I have in a field they might be interested in talking about.”

Ruchi Sanghvi, Head of Operations, Dropbox

Ruchi Sanghvi, “The Optimizer,” was the first female engineer at Facebook.  Talk about cool (and financially rewarding).  Now she’s made a shift, broadening her expertise and influence at Dropbox, where she oversees recruiting, communications and marketing.  Of her her leap from coding to operations, Sanghvi says:

“Engineers love to optimize problems. Now I optimize logistical problems. I ask: ‘What’s the goal? What are our constraints? What is the optimal, elegant way to get to that goal within those constraints?’ I break it down in terms of a data funnel: ‘Where in the funnel are we inefficient?’ That analytical background really helps.”

Lara Setrakian, Founder, Syria Deeply

Correspondent Lara Setrakian founded website Syria Deeply after experiencing a lack of reliable, consistent information and reporting from the war-torn country.  Dubbed “The Crisis Explainer” by Fast Company, “Setrakian and her team add interactive timelines and maps, post news briefs on SoundCloud, arrange Google Hangouts for experts to compare notes, and invite a community of op-ed writers to give an up-to-the-second snapshot of the country.”  In her words:

“I want to redesign the user experience of news,” says Setrakian, who boasts that 50% of her audience visit the site again…

“Every time someone comes to Syria Deeply, I feel like they’re coming over to my house for dinner,” she says. “What will I serve them today?”

Where Am I?

You are currently browsing the Astonishingly Talented & Concerned Individuals category at The Epicurean.