April 19, 2011

Help enhance sustainability in the world


The e Pack spotlights organizations & initiatives making a difference

sustainatopia-logoJD LasicaAlot of us have a hard time keeping up with organizations and initiatives that are advancing the social good. The e Pack makes it easier.

I met the impressive founder and director of The e Pack (the “e” stands for enlightenment and Earth), Alejandra Torres of Venezuela, two weeks ago at Sustainatopia in Miami.

The e Pack is a Web portal that promotes organizations and individuals who are helping to improve our world from the inside out. It offers information and resources that “help people engage take action for a more sustainable, peaceful world,” she says.

Importantly, the site lets you create a list of My Contributions outlining the actions that you’ve taken, such as attending an event, volunteering or signing a petition.

Watch, embed or download the video on Vimeo


Some of the spotlighted organizations on the site include Ashoka, The Story of Stuff, Carrotmob, the Global Oneness Project, Repower America, Cooler Planet, Green Energy, Suzlon, Green Exchange and Green Jobs — some of which I’ll bet you’re not familiar with. There’s a lot here beneath the surface.

Alejandra says she’s looking for other organizations in the areas of sustainability and corporate social responsibililty to get involved.

April 18, 2011

Sustainability starts at the local level


How the Office Sustainability is helping Miami go green

sustainatopia-logo JD LasicaAt Sustainatopia the other day, Angela Sager, an Energy Management Specialist in the Office of Sustainability at Miami-Dade County, describes how her office works with companies devoted to energy efficiency, renewable energy and community energy campaigns.

green-bicyclingWhile the federal government may be at the forefront of funding innovative programs that will take us to our shared energy future, it’s the programs at the local level that will get us there. Miami’s Office of Sustainability, for example, is administering a $12.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy and is welcoming enterprises that are demonstrating innovative approaches to energy.

Watch, embed or download the video on Vimeo

Miami-Dade recently unveiled a very cool site, green.miamidade.gov, which highlights green businesses, showcases best-of-breed projects and offers sustainability tips and rebates for some simple high-efficiency changes in the home.

Angela describes how her office is working on private-public partnerships to develop relationships to grow the market in south Florida for renewable energy or renewable fuels.


Outtakes from Sustainatopia (Socialbrite)

Fighting poverty by enhancing social entrepreneurship (Socialbrite)

April 15, 2011

Fighting poverty by enhancing social entrepreneurship


Agora Partnerships expanding its impact beyond Central America roots

sustainatopia-logo JD LasicaOne of the coolest people I met at Sustainatopia in Miami last week was Daniela Hammeken, director of strategic partnerships for Agora Partnerships, a nonprofit that works with small companies in Central America to provide access to knowledge, capital and networks.

Based in Washington, D.C., and Managua, Nicaragua, Agora (tagline: “fighting poverty by enhancing entrepreneurship”) is a 6-year-old nonprofit that’s creating an entrepreneurial community, helping small to mid-size companies connect with each other and gain access to the financing they need from national and international investors.

“It’s really about using creativity and innovation to not only sell your main product but thinking about sustainability and the values in how they’re produced.”
— Daniela Hammeken

Each of the nine companies Agora works with has an interesting story to tell. One makes toy blocks, similar to Legos, derived from woods in the Honduras rainforest; with every toy sold, the buyer has the choice of supporting reforestation or an educational program in Honduras. Another small enterprise is run by a Guatemalan woman who increases the supply chain of women artisans in Guatemala to make their products more widely available.

“It’s really about using creativity and innovation to not only sell your main product but thinking about sustainability and the values in how they’re produced,” she says.

Impact investing is just beginning to come to the region, Daniela said. Applicants that come to Agora should be profitable businesses based in Central America, their business plan must incorporate social or environmental sustainability, they need to have fewer than 100 employees and generate between $50,000 and $1 million a year in revenue, with a goal of targeting that same amount in growth capital. A second crop of companies will encompass those in Mexico as well with other Latin American countries to follow.

Watch, download or embed the video on Vimeo Continue reading

April 7, 2011

Outtakes from Sustainatopia

Barbara Guillaume


And an interesting debate: Should journalism offer calls to action?

sustainatopia-logo JD LasicaThis week I spent four days at Sustainatopia, the Caribbean-flavored conference in Miami that brought social entrepreneurs, VCs, artisans, celebrities, media activists and a fair number of Miami’s beautiful people together for a celebration of sustainability — and a call to arms over what needs to be done next to help the planet.

Above you’ll see a few of the photos from the Sustainability Honors program at Miami’s just-opened New World Center, but it will be another day before I can upload the entire set. I also conducted several interviews that I hope to share soon.

Meantime, here are a few outtakes from Sustainatopia’s Social Venture Capital/Social Enterprise conference:

• I loved this Haitian aphorism that a speaker shared: “A little lamp can fill the whole house with light.”

• I’ll admit that it escaped my attention that Donna Karan — one of the key award winners — has been doing some wonderful things in Haiti with her Urban Zen Foundation, including a Hope, Health & Relief Haiti project captured by the photographer Marc Baptiste.

Tom Hudson• Greatly admired the work and artistry of Barbara Guillaume (pictured at top), the woman behind A Million Hearts for Haiti, who enlisted local artists and designers to create wonderful little carved stone ornaments with elegant stylings. She and her teenage choir were the hit of the night.

• Enjoyed meeting Frank Sesno, the former CNN correspondent who now runs Planet Forward, and Tom Hudson of PBS’s Nightly Business Report. A number of the conference-goers and I questioned why public broadcasting and traditional media don’t do more to offer citizens a series of action items around issues that their newscasts cover — a set of options that lets viewers connect with organizations offering possible solutions rather than letting them feel frustrated and powerless.

“Under the very strict set of PBS rules, you’re not going to hear a call to action,” Hudson said flatly. “There’s a fundamental difference between an advocate message and a media message.”

“The average American thinks 27% of the federal budget goes to foreign and humanitarian aid, when the true number is less than 1%.”
— Frank Sesno

But there’s a difference between advocacy and giving citizens the tools to participate in the democratic process. I sense that this is part of the ongoing cultural shift in values about the news media’s role and responsibilities. Young people in the room seemed to think it should be a natural outgrowth of a story to be able to connect with sources or forces at play, while Hudson and Sesno — who admitted they came of age during a different media era — largely averred, saying that journalists shouldn’t cross the line into anything that even resembles advocacy, even if that amounted to just offering a selection of vetted options for viewers to pursue on their own without the journalists taking sides. PBS’s News Hour and the Huffington Post offer a list of resources in a limited way, but few other news organizations do — and, yes, I consider it a shortcoming in the way modern journalism is conducted. The end of the story should not be the end of the story. If newsrooms don’t have the bandwidth to do this, use a deputized, crowdsourced pool of community advisers.

• On the other hand, Sesno — who was thoroughly engaging and forward-thinking throughout — heaped praise on the model being blazed by 350.org, the climate change advocacy organization. “It’s a great idea — access to technology and the ability to reach young people and engage them with a call to action. That’s a magical mix. It’s the model of democratic media in many ways.”

• More Sesno: “Studies show that the average American thinks 27% of the federal budget goes to foreign and humanitarian aid, when the true number is less than 1%. Of course, that kind of misinformation skews and distorts the debate in this country.”

• His take on changes in the mediasphere: “I’m utterly dispirited and totally excited by what’s happening in today’s media environment.” The tough part, he said, is getting an audience — because everybody can be his or her own newspaper and TV station. “Look at partnerships — it’s the only way this works.”

• Interesting tidbit from Tom Hudson: “‘Shareholder’ is a word that doesn’t exist in Mandarin [in China]. They interpret it as stakeholder, having a much broader meaning.”

• I wasn’t aware that Clean Skies Sunday, aka “The Energy Report,” is in fact an “infomercial funded by the natural gas industry,” as Sesno put it. “It troubles me that people don’t know what’s behind that program,” which airs Sunday mornings on ABC.

• Rick Allen, CEO of Snag Films, during the Media2Movements conference: “A significant part of the public will run if they see you coming at them with an issues message.” He held up Morgan Spurlock’s “Super Size Me” as a superb example of a documentary that explored a serious subject with an engaging, lighthearted touch.

• I got to meet (briefly) tennis star Venus Williams, who attended the awards show but didn’t have a speaking slot.

February 28, 2011

The networked activist: How ‘The Story of Stuff’ went viral

The Story of Stuff from JD Lasica on Vimeo.


Filmmaker Annie Leonard offers advice on becoming a network-centric organization

JD LasicaAt the TechSoup Global Contributors Summit in San Jose on March 15, Annie Leonard, an independent filmmaker in Berkeley, Calif., gave one of the standout talks, discussing how The Story of Stuff — the film and the project — came to be.

Annie recounted that she had once worked for a traditional environmental organization that was typical of many mission-driven nonprofits: hierarchical, top down, holding its expertise close to the chest, wanting to “own” its cause. A remarkable thing happened that transformed the way she now creates and distributes projects: “The Story of Stuff,” which has received more than 12 million views in all its incarnations on YouTube.

Because her message resonated so deeply with me and the packed audience, I took her aside a few minutes later and recorded this 7-minute video interview that provides the backstory of how “The Story of Stuff” went viral and lessons that nonprofits, businesses and other organizations can take away.

Watch, embed or download the video on Vimeo

The networked approach to getting stuff done

Over time, Annie says, she became “obsessed with all the environmental, social and health costs” of the way in which consumer goods are produced, and so she developed an hourlong presentation that she gave at schools, churches and community groups for four years. She took her passion and decided to turn her slide show into a film (an approach that reminded me of Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth”). With the help of Free Range Studios, a creative services firm, and backing from the Tides Foundation, they created a 21-minute documentary short that put it online for free in December 2007.

“(The film) has just exploded the conversation on how we make, use and throw away stuff and, most importantly, how we could do it a lot better.”
— Annie Leonard

“Our goal was to have 50,000 people see this film,” she says. “And to our total amazement we got that in one day. It’s now been over three years and we have over 12 million views in over 200 countries and territories around the world. It’s just exploded the conversation on how we make, use and throw away stuff and, most importantly, how we could do it a lot better.”

The film shows the damaging consequences of consumerism on the environment, developing nation, personal well-being and happiness. The Story of Stuff Project was created to extend the film’s impact by creating a network of people who are discussing the issue in the hope of creating a more sustainable world. The film has inspired ballets, puppet shows, entries in parades, high school and religious curricula and sustainability programs. It has been shown on several national television programs and translated into dozens of languages. One tactic they used that paid off handsomely: a Creative Commons NonCommercial No Derivatives license that allowed almost anyone to reuse it. “We wanted this to be a community-held resource,” she says.

“If you really want to make long-lasting change in the world, you’ve got to utilize the network-centric model because the problems are too big for any one person or organization to address.”

After years of going it alone, Annie came to a realization: “I need to turn the volume up on this work. I need to inspire and engage millions of people so that the issues I care about are not just my personal pet project. So I turned to a more network-centered model and it has been so valuable. A network-centered model has been very different from an organization-centric model. Networks focus on collaborations and connections, on being inviting and engaging so that we’ll take anyone who wants to help on any terms they want.

“With the previous environmental organization I worked with, really the only way people could help was to write a check, and that’s really not [effective]. With a network-centered model, people have a lot more skills and talents and energies to contribute. Network-centered models are more about building those connections than building a big infrastructure. They’re more resilient, they’re more flexible, powerful and long-lasting.”

It’s a lesson many organizations and activists would do well to internalize. Adds Annie: “The real lesson is that if you want to get something done, you really have to work in networks rather than trying to go it alone.” Continue reading

February 22, 2011

How we’ll fund innovation & sustainability

Snapshot of sustainabilitiy in the 50 largest U.S. cities (photo by whiterice).

Guest post by Joe Brewer
Cognitive Policy Works

It’s time to solve a fundamental problem that plagues progressives everywhere – the lack of seed money to get innovative projects off the ground and the absence of workable funding models to scale up the ongoing efforts to create systemic cultural, economic and political change.

Every major economic paradigm shift throughout modern history has been propelled forward by the influx of financial capital to build institutions that support the new framework. In the 1850s and ’60s it was investment in cheap steel to lay down railways. A century later there were massive capital projects to build the interstate highway system and the explosion of suburban landscapes that accompanied it.

Now we face a deeper challenge. Not only must we cultivate technological breakthroughs that drive us toward sustainability – a huge challenge in its own right – but we must also create a different paradigm for finance that liberates us from the consumer culture threatening the ecosystems of the world.

In other words, we need new models for funding social change that lead us toward a more livable world. This is the central crisis of the progressive movement. We cannot enact our vision of widespread prosperity and human security until we change the equations that dictate how wealth is measured and how it is used.

We are standing at a crossroad where our next steps will have tremendous consequences. And the wave of unrest has begun to ripple across the globe through the populist uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and this week in Wisconsin. Progressives have been crafting solutions for decades in anticipation of a major change. Now is the time to lay the institutional foundations that we’ll build upon after we cross the tipping point. We can’t wait any longer.

Out with the old, in with the new

The funding models of the last century are no longer serving us. Our non-profits struggle to stay afloat. Our governments have been stripped of the wealth created through investments in societal infrastructure (like roads, schools and courts), and now face major budget shortfalls. Wealth has been aggregated into the hands of a small “super elite” reminiscent of the Gilded Age of a previous era. Continue reading