Sunday, December 12, 2010

Shai Agassi, Founder and CEO, A Better Place

This week, in my home state, our incoming Governor killed a long-developed regional high speed rail investment that would have helped get some travelers off of oil. So I'm looking for other signs of hope in a world that needs to transition off oil-based transportation. I found it when I heard Shai Agassi's interview with Charlie Rose - talking about how to run an entire country without oil and with no new science -- today and not 20 years from now. Riveting. This is a brilliant plan to make electric cars, ideally charged by renewable energy, affordable and convenient. The company is building the infrastructure across Israel, Denmark, Japan, and doing a pilot with taxis in the San Francisco Bay Area. This company is combining a smart business with a social mission to reduce climate change.
This is well worth your time to watch!

For a shorter interview, check out this Canadian broadcast.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Ranjana Mitra, Founder of Share-IT

If you're reading this, you're using a computer or phone right now. What do you do with your old technology when it no longer works or you've upgraded? If you live in the U.S., which isn't a signatory to the international agreement that bans the shipment of toxic waste, your upgrade may lead to someone in a developing country getting exposed to toxins from the discarded computer. Many discarded computers end up in India, China and Africa where there are few regulations to protect people who dismantle them. In 2004, Ranjana Mitra founded Share-IT to keep used computers out of the waste stream by refurbishing and donating them to poor families. The group is based in Canada, and Ranjana has an interesting story about the link between Canada and U.S. in the shipment of this waste.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Ryan Hreljac, Founder, Ryan's Well Foundation

We hear the cold facts - 1 billion people lack access to clean water - but either they fall on deaf ears or we have no idea what to do to help. Some advocate turning water into a commodity and profiting off of water scarcity and pollution, and others try to help develop local, affordable solutions, like building water wells. Ryan Hreljac heard about the need for clean water as a six year old at his Catholic School in rural Canada. Surrounded by clean and abundant fresh water, Ryan was determined to do something to make sure others also had clean water. He started by raising pocket change and raised enough money to build a well in Uganda by the age of seven. A decade later, this work has expanded through Ryan's Well Foundation to serve 700,000 people.
Here you can watch the old footage of him at six and then see the interview with him as a teenager.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Universities Teaching Social Entrepreneurship

I'm excited that my local university, Marquette University, was selected as one of three new universities added to Ashoka Foundation's 10 changemaker campuses that are teaching students about social entrepreneurship.

Campuses can be engines to promote the launching of new social innovators. I remember well the inspiration I received to start Midwest Environmental Advocates when I was a student at UC Berkeley and got to hear first hand stories from social changemakers in the Bay Area. Hearing from others about social entrepreneurship ripped the roof off my concept of the possible. And then the inventing can begin.

I hope to see these universities serving as incubators for our next generation of change makers who can take excellent ideas to scale to solve social problems.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Echoing Green 2010 Fellows

Rather than focusing on a single social entrepreneur, I'm letting you get a glimpse of the 2010 Echoing Green Fellows. I got my start as an Echoing Green Fellow in 1999 when I created Midwest Environmental Advocates, and had the pleasure of helping select this year's group of Fellows. They are each working to accelerate positive change around the world, and if you want to learn more you can watch the Fellows' individual videos.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Washington Heights Community Garden Group

Growing food in urban areas is taking off around the country. From the White House vegetable garden to vacant lots in Detroit, people are transforming formerly dormant spaces into creative places to produce food. In Milwaukee, I recently completed a similar transformation with my neighbors. Where there once stood a boarded up, condemned house, there now are 24 raised beds for vegetables, and common areas with raspberries, strawberries, asparagus, and more. Within four short months, the Washington Heights Community Garden Group put together a plan, got the necessary lease and approvals, applied for funding, and gathered volunteers to move dirt and plant seeds. Now where there had been a dead zone that encouraged crime, neighbors are coming together to talk while they tend their vibrant gardens.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Maria Gunnoe

The electricity powering my computer comes from coal, which ties me and everyone else using coal-powered electricity to the impacts of mining coal: the deaths in mines, black lung, destroyed ecosystems, climate change, and filling in valleys with the tops of mountains that have been blown apart in the quest for more. Although I wish my power company would stop burning coal altogether, while we are, I'm celebrating the EPA's announcement this week to tighten water standards for coal mines in Appalachia, which could stop the practice called "mountaintop removal." We wouldn't have gotten this change without the bravery and tenacity of people like Maria Gunnoe, who has fought this dirty practice for years, at great personal expense. In 2009 she won the Goldman Prize for North America, in recognition of her contributions to changing the world.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Geoffrey Canada, President and CEO of Harlem Children's Zone

Outraged after reading today that black fourth-graders in Milwaukee have the worst reading scores in the U.S. and the hand wringing non-solutions that followed in the article, I went looking for examples of how to build a society where everyone can be educated and can contribute. I found Geoffrey Canada, the leader of Harlem's Children Zone, providing birth to college wrap around services in a 100 square blocks of Harlem. His program rests on a foundation of building a culture of success. In 2009, they served 10,462 youth, so this is no small pilot project. Ninety-three percent of their third graders are at or above grade level in reading and 100% are at or above in math. Check it out - let's stop failing our children!

Excerpts from Mr. Canada's recent keynote speech:

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Alice Waters, Founder of Edible Schoolyard and Chez Panisse Foundation

In the depths of winter in Wisconsin, we like to dream of spring, seeds, and gardens. As I am just starting to plan a community garden with my neighbors, I've been looking at other models, and love seeing what Alice Waters has done with the Edible Schoolyard. Alice Waters is a chef who created Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley, serving organic food in season. But she brought organic food down to earth when she launched the Edible Schoolyard on one acre of public school grounds, where the students are involved in growing the food they then get to eat in their school lunches. Here, growing and preparing healthy food is part of the school curriculum, and is incorporated into other lessons on science, history, and culture. What would our childhood obesity and diabetes rates look like if most of our schools offered this for their students instead of the highly processed packaged foods that are the daily fare?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Kat Laine, Deputy Director, and Peter Haas, Founder, Appropriate Infrastructure Development Group

As the crisis in Haiti unfolded, I received an update immediately after the earthquake about how the Appropriate Infrastructure Development Group (AIDG) was springing into action to help relieve some of the suffering. I'd been following this group since its founder, Peter Haas, got it off the ground with an Echoing Green Fellowship in 2006. With people in Guatamala and Haiti, AIDG "helps individuals and communities get affordable and environmentally sound access to electricity, sanitation and clean water." Imagine smart engineers and social entrepreneurs working to develop local technology solutions to poverty that improves people's lives, and you've got the picture of what AIDG is doing. Learn more by watching Kat Laine, AIDG's Deputy Director, talk about their work against the backdrop of Haiti two years ago when it was being wracked by hurricanes.