Category: General Social Good
By Marcie Barnes
This is a live blog post from the talk entitled ”New Media Landscape Discussion” at SXSW. Speakers are former Vice President Al Gore – who now spends the majority of his time as chairman of The Climate Reality Project – and Sean Parker who is an entrepreneur with a record of launching genre-defining companies that reinvent ways to spread information online.
Gore: Our Democracy has been hacked – it no longer works for the best interest of the people. Television is a centralizing force. Average American watches TV 5 hours a day. Now it’s the central place where politics are discussed and creates a very different “public square” compared to those of the past. The news shows and debates are sponsored by coal, oil, banks, pharmaceutical companies. Wants to see “Internet Democracy.”
Parker: Is optimistic that the rise of new media can reverse the mentioned trend of corporate washing in politics. Most people have an online identity and are wired up in networks – so there is potential for new media to engage with the political process. Social networks have always been around, they just weren’t online. What changes need to happen? We need to start replicating the tools that campaigns, non-profits etc. use. Founded Causes, Votizen – very early tools but still trying to leverage the power of social media to activate people.
Gore: thanks those of us who were involved in the stop SOPA campaign. We need to protect this medium and protect it’s fantastic potential. The victory with SOPA, many similar examples of social media being used for important causes. “Need your help to solve the climate crisis” [applause].
Parker: Networks and tools available today initially have focused on rapid growth, viral, etc. Causes has been too focused on short-term goals and needs to look at more long-term goals…the system will not be transformed by government (Gore confirms) and new media will have a role in forming politics, can make it more efficient, less expensive to run for office.
Gore: on the role of money in politics has grown and grown and grown and the quality of Democratic discourse in our country has declined. It’s getting even worse – corporations are not people.
If corporations can just purchase legislative seats, the beneficiary of that is going to pay close attention. TV can be hypnotic, there is a massive audience sitting and watching TV – 75-80% of campaign budgets go to TV ad spending. They are mostly negative. The politicians that don’t have the cash have to beg. There was also an online campaign to stop debit card fees. How do we get people connected and hold those in charge accountable?
The real power of the people is truth vetted in some way – like, dislike, etc. When our country was ready to invade Iraq 3/4 of people in America believed Hussein was responsible for 911 attack – he had nothing to do with it. The senators weren’t in the chamber to discuss because they were out fundraising and at cocktail parties. “Occupy Democracy”.
Parker: We may have a window of opportunity to take back the system.
Gore: You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free. TV megaphone blasting “clean coal clean coal” is an oxymoron. We have to get back to a time when logic and reason are in the forefront. Need to create new online tools to get people together in order to call out the truth.
Parker: Need to change the way these TV-run elections happen. People don’t know much about the candidates. Social media could rectify this.
Gore: Need to create a crowdsourced site like a wiki to lay out all the issues and truths. Citizens United decision should be repealed.
www.climatereality.com – we need urgent action to address climate change. 98% of climate scientists agree. Carbon polluters are hiring actors to pose as doctors and say it’s safe…we need to fight.
By Marcie Barnes
This is a live blog post from the talk entitled ”Content As a Means for Social Change” at SXSW. Speakers are Biz Stone (co-founder of Twitter and The Obvious Corporation, which focuses on building systems that help people work together to improve the world) and Brian Sirgutz, SVP, Social Impact, AOL/Huffington Post.
Sirgutz was motivated to do philanthropic work after helping volunteer after 9/11. Part of his introduction includes Biz’s passion for incorporating value into businesses before profit.
Evan Williams (co-founder of Twitter) and Biz at one point were working on an idea to be “kings of podcasting” but realized that they didn’t really want to do that, wouldn’t make them happy. He was critiqued early by a lot of people who said twitter was not useful – and Even said “neither is ice cream, do we ban ice cream, and all joy?” It has turned into something quite useful (example: people checking in during earthquakes). It reminds him of something like a flock of birds that can allow people to move together as if they are one.
After 2007 SXSW it seemed that every world event had twitter as part of it. He worked at Google previously and learned that no matter how sophisticated machines get/algorithms we write - change is not a triumph of technology it’s a triumph of humanity – technology is the tool. Give tools to people that help them do good things, and they will exhibit that behavior for the most part.
An apprenticeship as a book cover designer taught him basics of design that led him to being a “web guy”. The lesson learned was that creativity is a renewable resource. Every challenge at work can be fun or a game.
Movie “Wings of Desire” – an angel falls in love with a trapeze artist but can’t do things that mortals can so he left his immortality. The lesson for startups is that if you want to be successful you need to be willing to be equally as unsuccessful and fail.
The Lazarus effect – example of a medicine that vastly improves the health of HIV+ people – there is a compound interest in altruism. You don’t need to be rich to help people. If you are job hunting you should go volunteer somewhere – you’ll feel great and it fills you with confidence. Altruism should be part of every startup, should be part of the culture. Weave causes and meaning into your culture and you will also be able to recruit the best talent – people want to contribute to something meaningful.
By Marcie Barnes
Tom Philpott is the cofounder of Maverick Farms, a center for sustainable food education in Valle Crucis, North Carolina. He was formerly a columnist and editor for the online environmental site Grist and his work on food politics has appeared in Newsweek, Gastronomica, and the Guardian. He currently writes about Food and Ag for Mother Jones.
Typically the argument is framed around “can organic feed the world” and the conventional answer. can chemical-intensive, geographically concentrated/patented seeds feed the world?
This kind of agriculture is promoted by the US government, foundations like the Gates Foundation, etc. People who promote it are so certain of it’s promise they are “cooking up” a new “green revolution” to feed Africa.
If a region can grow something relatively easily, it should focus on that thing, which is why corn and soy production are concentrated on in the US, and 80-90% of vegetables are grown in California.
This is focus on comparative advantage / geographical concentration. A few big (genetically modified) seed companies dominiate the market in order to move product – seed, fertilizers, chemicals, pesticides, etc. These practices strip the soil of nutrients. Plant breeding is adapting and some will not thrive without the chemicals. There has been an eruption of herbicide-resistant weeds.
Push on carb-heavy crops to feed people and creation of policies to “feed the world”. Push to grow corn, soy, rice, wheat in geographic centers. US is epicenter of Industrial Ag. What have we achieved? 14.5% of American households are food insecure. Over 16 million children live in food insecurity. In NC – a leading Ag state – 15.7% of households are food insecure. Even in boon years, millions and millions of people and children face food insecurity.
16% of corn grown is burned for fuel as Ethanol. The “stuffed and starved problem” – we have based our food system on corn and soy, most food is iterations of corn and soy which result in health problems like diabetes.
Study from EWG found that we are losing soil to erosion much faster than it can be created. It takes thousands of years to replace an inch of topsoil. We are squandering an incredible resource. Agro-chemicals, by the tons. are flowing to Gulf of Mexico to create giant dead zone that wipes out marine life. We are sacrificing an ecosystem for unsustainable low quality food. Also destroying the clean seafood which is healthy for us.
When you wash fields with irrigation year after year, the salts are killing some of the most productive farm land. The material base for industrial farming, fertilizers, are isolated and synthisized nitrogen by using natural gases in feedstock. The price of natural gas has spiked, the productivity of (3 or 4) natural gas companies, so they moved to other countries (mostly Trinidad and Tobago) so we’re now importing 70% of natural gas. Now they are running out. What happens next?
Hydro-fracked natural gas is available in US, but causes all manner of ecological problems. Is almost as climate-change causing as coal. China has already switched to coal, but it is one of the dirtiest energy sources in terms of climate change, putting mercury into environment, etc.
We only have a 30 year store at best of phosphorus, which creates a radioactive byproduct when mined. We’re not feeding our own people enough, making them sick with empty calories, and destroying our ecosystem at the same time.
“The green revolution” epicenters are now some of the most undernourished nations. They may be doing well economically, but not doing well at feeding their citizens. India has drawn down their water table to the point that they import food from elsewhere.
The premise that organic ag is less productive than industrial is a lie. Fertilizer is produced by recycling = composting, animal waste, etc.
Multi-decade studies (Rodale Institute, for one) showed organic produces roughly equal yields with less energy input and builds organic matter in soil, which is critical.
Our US policymakers and chemical manufacturers are still beating their drums but evidence points to the need to create sustainable methods.
ISTAAD (International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development) study sponsored by UN and world banks found that business as usual is not going to work. Criticized finding answers in GM seeds, brought up patent issues. Endorsed new vision of agriculture. The US, Canada & Australia pulled out during the Bush administration. No attention in US press, but Tom wrote about it.
Another FAO report with similar findings was published, also ignored by press, read Tom’s post here.
If we don’t cut down on greenhouse gases, there will be climate change, and it will be disastrous, scientists say.
I’m not saying if you buy my product I’m going to solve all your problems (as an agrochemical executive would). There are no easy solutions to this problem. The power of the agri-business lobby to buy the political power to walk away unscathed and maintain the status quo. This is the challenge of young folks in this room – to fight that and change that.
One of the biggest lies of all is that organic food is a luxury that can only feed the rich – a fantastic marketing job.
Eric Schlosser – Fast Food Nation author – as quoted from a recent essay:
“Pesticides are poisons. They have been carefully designed to kill insects, weeds, funguses, and rodents. But they can also kill human beings. The Environmental Protection Agency has estimated that every year, 10,000 to 20,000 farm workers suffer acute pesticide poisoning on the job — and that’s a conservative estimate. Farm workers, their children, and the rural communities where they live are routinely exposed to these toxic chemicals. And what are the potential, long-term harms of the pesticides now being sprayed on our crops? Brain damage, lung damage, cancers of the breast, colon, lung, pancreas, and kidney, birth defects, sterility, and other ailments.”
People who work with these pesticides are getting sick.
” A food system based on poverty and exploitation will never be sustainable”.
By Marcie Barnes
This post was originally published on www.crowdbackers.com.
Why am I a social entrepreneur? I see a possible future based on our current system, a future that encompasses happiness, sustainable business practices, and environmental responsibility. I see many non-profits struggling, while at the same time I see many non-profits with ties to big business, in the form of corporate sponsorship and partnerships who are thriving. I am happy to have the opportunity to share with you my experiences and thoughts on how it can be possible to make the world a better place within the framework of the current system – along with some other tips and advice on creating a sustainable, and profitable social venture.
Things to consider when organizing your social venture, compared to a traditional business venture:
I spent many months researching and pondering how to establish my own company and eventually decided to go with a traditional C-corp (with plans to convert to a B-corp later). In short, the B-Corporation structure gives legal protection to traditionally structured corporations such that they are not solely held accountable for making profits for their shareholders, and makes room for environmental and social considerations. In addition, the B-Corp certification helps consumers identify companies that have a vested interest in social/environmental concerns, which is something that more and more people are looking for in the products and services they buy or support.
In my case, the nature and scope of my business (and personal status as a non-millionaire) required that I seek investors to fund my idea. So, forming a non-profit was not a viable option for me. 501(c)(3) structures also come along with a lot of extra paperwork. However, if the type of business you are starting is more conducive to being funded mostly via donations, then the non-profit status will be what your customers are looking for.
There are many similarities between social ventures and traditional business. Here is a list of some of the common things you’ll need:
- A core group of people who are willing to live the vision and be passionate about the cause, to include support from your friends and family.
- A solid business plan/model that outlines how you will make money in order to make your business sustainable.
- A real market need – it can even be a non-social need. For example, iContact is an e-mail marketing service and also a certified B-Corp that gives back to its community and other charities.
- Time and sweat equity investment before you get started in order to test and prove your business model. This is critical before you decide to make any personal or monetary investment yourself.
- Some form of start-up capital – you’ll need have money in the bank in order to make a few purchases to start your business and pay people…even if you are planning to bootstrap.
All ventures have pitfalls to look out for, some of the ones specific to social ventures are:
- Some people won’t care about your social mission – most people are looking for the cheapest price (if you’re selling an actual product) and/or some kind of personal connection (if you’re soliciting donations). Always consider how you can make your customer feel good about breaking out their wallet by offering a product or service that gives them the proverbial warm-fuzzies. Also consider dividing up your marketing efforts into two camps: one for the more philanthropic-minded customer and one for the more, you know, self-minded customer.
- Some people will be more judgmental about your product/service because of your social mission (yes, really) – especially if you are championing a cause that is controversial or politically charged. You can’t please everyone all of the time, so my advice in this case is to stay strong and use humor as much as possible (as opposed to taking jabs or being defensive towards other people’s stances or beliefs). For example, one of my favorite non-profits, grist.org, does a great job using humor and/or satire when writing about environmental issues. In addition, consider focusing on the core customers that truly do get and enjoy your cause/product/service and don’t focus on or worry about the rest.
- Do not lose sight of the business side. Again – you must have a viable business in order to accomplish your charitable goals. Until something changes, making money must be priority #1 in order to stay afloat.
- Be very aware of risks and liabilities. For non-traditional structures, like the B-Corp, remember that this is a new type of organization that has not been fully vetted through our legal system. There’s always a risk in terms of liability in any venture, and it would be best to consult with an experienced business attorney regarding the best way to proceed with yours. In fact, there are many out there who have plans in place for working for business ventures on a deferred-compensation and/or equity stake basis.
And finally, some of the wonderful benefits of running a social venture:
- You’ll have more freedom in how you use funds to achieve the benefit of others as opposed to a typical 501(c)(3). Most investors, should you seek investment, tend to be more “hands-off” these days (and apparently are more interested than ever in social ventures) so you should not feel like you will eventually lose control by choosing this path.
- You’ll build a company with happy employees who love going to work every day. Their jobs helps make a difference in the world. These kinds of jobs are also far more attractive for obvious reasons.
- You may enjoy a competitive advantage over other products/services since many people are choosing to support socially responsible companies over others.
- You will sleep well at night. Although it’s always stressful being an entrepreneur, you can take a break now and then and pat yourself on the back for creating something that helps others, sustains you, and again, makes the world a better place.
In conclusion, I would like to note that I am by all accounts a creative person and do not have an MBA or much formal business training. I came up with my idea when my son was three years old and made a decision to educate myself and surround myself with people who could help guide me and support me along the way. If I can do it, so can you. If you see a need in the world, in your state, or in your community, and you have the passion, spirit and resources to help fill the need, go for it. It’s a great time to be a social entrepreneur!
Marcie Barnes – Marcie is the Founder and Site Architect of Spherre, Inc. – an early stage social venture based out of Raleigh, North Carolina. You can also get more information by reading What the Heck is Spherre or, by checking out their fundraiser on www.crowdbackers.com.
Laura Kallus – Laura is the Executive Director and Founder of PanZOu Project Inc., a nationally recognized and award-winning gang prevention and intervention agency in Miami Dade County, Florida. She also runs PanZOu Productions, a screen printing and custom transfer business.
Chris Plough – A seasoned software application architect and startup veteran, Chris recently filmed a 10,000 mile journey to Mongolia in an ambulance – all to raise funds and awareness for children’s charities.