Today’s Fuel Explosion in Nairobi

September 12, 2011

I’ve got a special place in my heart for East Africa, having visited there three times and with investments in Pengo Loans and Think Impact, both with operations in Kenya. After visiting the Kibera slum in Nairobi in 2009 to see the work of Carolina for Kibera, I feel especially for those who are living day-to-day in the slums of Nairobi and other parts of the developing world.

Today in a Nairobi slum called Sinai a fuel pipeline starting leaking. Immediately hundreds of people gathered around, grabbing every container they could to capture the fuel. Soon thereafter, the pipeline caught fire and exploded. At least 100 people immediately burned to death in the explosion and ensuing house fires in the densely concentrated slums. Another 120 went to the hospital with severe burns.

Below is a news video of the story from the local Kenyan NTV. Take a look at the living conditions of these communities. Often without electricity, running water, and sewage. Yes, it’s true that 39% of the world survive on less than $2 per day (a per capita income of $730 per year), and yet so few people are aware of this. For those of us in the United States living on an average of $130 per day (the U.S. per capital income as of 2011 is $47,240), this type of existence is surely hard to fathom.

And here is another video from NTV showing some of the burn videos in the hospital (warning: graphic):

Here’s the NY Times article.

You’re Invited: A Metropolitan Safari for Rwanda at iContact

November 2, 2010

I wanted to invite Dare Mighty Things readers to a special event coming up at iContact. We are hosting a “Metropolitan Safari” on Monday November 8th at 6:30pm at our new offices in Morrisville.

We will have as guests two remarkable women from Rwanda who will share with us their perspective of the Rwandan genocide, how the country has turned their economy around through technology and entrepreneurship, and the role of women in rebuilding the country. We will also be giving the grand tour of our beautiful new space and offering rides on our new slide.

We will have African food, African music, and an open wine and beer bar.

Tickets can be purchased here. You can also RSVP on Facebook. You can use the discount code “ICONTACT” when you register if you wish. All proceeds from the evening will benefit The Akilah Institute for Women in Kigali, Rwanda. More information is in the invitation below. I hope you can come. Thanks for helping us spread the word!

You can also download a PDF invite for the event.



You’re invited to join us for a very special evening at iContact’s new offices in Morrisville, NC

What: iContact’s “Metropolitan Safari” Fundraiser for the Akilah Institute for Women Rwanda

When: Monday, November 8th, 2010 6:30pm to 8:30pm

Where: 5221 Paramount Parkway, 2nd floor, Morrisville, NC 27560

Purchase tickets here

(You Can Use Discount Code “ICONTACT”)

Join us November 8th and see iContact’s new offices in Morrisville for the first time while supporting a great cause.

We’ll be giving the grand tour of our brand new building on the Lenovo Campus that gives us room to grow to 550 employees and offering free rides on our slide.

We’ll start out with cocktails and hors d’oeuvres on the 2nd floor at 6:30pm then going upstairs for the Akilah presentation. I hope you will join us for this special evening.

Ticket Information

(Use Discount Code “ICONTACT”)

All proceeds from the evening will support the Akilah Scholarship Fund and empower young Rwandan women to become leaders in their communities.

About the Akilah Institute for Women

Akilah empowers young women to transform their lives by equipping them with the skills, knowledge, and confidence needed to become leaders and entrepreneurs in East Africa. Learn More | Make a Direct Contribution

Maximizing Social Return from The Giving Pledge

July 18, 2010

I originally wrote this post for the Social Entrepreneurship Section of You can find the original post here or read below.

A Vision in a Time of Peril

It’s hard to see the big picture in times of turmoil. Let’s go back to Wednesday, March 4, 2009. That day, Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, the richest individuals in America, wrote a letter to David Rockefeller, President of the Rockefeller Foundation. The letter suggested a gathering of their billionaire friends to discuss giving.

The letter was mailed in the backdrop of a tumultuous week. By that Friday March 6th, the Dow Jones Industrial Average reached its lowest point in twelve years, free falling 52.9% from two years before in the good ‘ole days of 2007 prosperity.

March 6th, 2009 brings back vivid memories. I was visiting the White House with a group of young entrepreneurs with The Summit Series. The White House Office of Public Engagement had put together the session to discuss their plans for the Economic Recovery Act. As Jason Furman, the Deputy Director of the National Economic Council, spoke to our group, the market was in freefall.

While the media was anointing The Great Recession and debating whether it would become a depression, Gates and Buffet had the fortune and foresight, to bring together their friends for dinner in New York to discuss how to give back.

The Launch of The Giving Pledge

Out of this meeting in New York came an initiative called The Giving Pledge, “an effort to invite the wealthiest individuals and families in America to commit to giving the majority of their wealth to philanthropy.”

So through The Giving Pledge Mr. Gates and Mr. Buffet are encouraging other billionaires to give at least 50% of their net worth away.

In fact, instead of the recommended 50%, Warren Buffett has pledged to contribute 99% of his net worth to charity within 10 years after his death, all to be used for immediate need and none for endowments. Laudable indeed. Buffet writes in his usual matter-of-fact style,

“The reaction of my family and me to our extraordinary good fortune is not guilt, but rather gratitude. Were we to use more than 1% of my claim checks on ourselves, neither our happiness nor our well-being would be enhanced. In contrast, that remaining 99% can have a huge effect on the health and welfare of others. That reality sets an obvious course for me and my family: Keep all we can conceivably need and distribute the rest to society, for its needs.”

How Much Money Are We Talking About?

Mr. Buffet will perhaps give around $50 billion to philanthropy by the time of his death. Through The Giving Pledge, he and Gates have the opportunity to leverage their influence and connections to multiply their giving many times over and set the example for other billionaires, who can no longer give away just 10% of what they have and feel good about themselves.

The total net worth of the Forbes 400 in 2009 was $1.27 Trillion. If Gates and Buffet convince 20% of these billionaires to give half of their net worth away, they’d be able to drive another $120B into philanthropy, doubling the amount of they themselves can personally give away.

So let’s say The Giving Pledge is successful and it generates another $120B in giving over the next twenty years, or about $6B per year for the next twenty years.

While an additional $6 billion per year can certainly make an impact, this amount pales in comparison to the $3.8 trillion proposed spending in the U.S. Federal Budget for 2011. It also pales in comparison to the $303B in total annual private giving by U.S. citizens.

The Goal: Sustainable Economic Prosperity

The two issues in our world today that are causing the greatest threat to a secure and stable human society with access to opportunity for all are extreme poverty and environmental sustainability. Most people don’t know that 39% of the human beings on this planet live on under $2 per day. If our goal is global stability, not to mention justice, this cannot be allowed in our world. And most of us by now get the global economic and natural disaster that will be caused if we keep increasing our annual consumption of goods without decreasing our carbon emissions.

As an entrepreneur and social entrepreneur, I believe that our mission, challenge, and opportunity as a generation is to create sustainable economic prosperity for all. We will never have a truly secure or stable world until we do. So how can this extra $6 billion per year be used to get the maximum return toward this goal of sustainable economic prosperity?

While humanitarian aid is absolutely necessary and moral, providing funds with this extra private capital for short-term gap filling needs caused by the symptoms of these issues won’t solve the issues themselves.

How Can This Money Make The Biggest Positive Impact?

So how can these funds best be used to generate the highest Social Return on Investment (SROI) and work toward sustainable economic prosperity for all?

The funds of these Giving Billionaires can either be given to address immediate need or invested to change much bigger systemic issues that are at the root cause of so much human suffering. While I do not know which will generate the highest return, I believe that by investing in changing global public policy (in a few select areas mentioned below) to reduce the incentive structures that are at the root cause of much suffering, lack of access to opportunity, and environmental damage these new Billionaire Givers will generate the highest SROI.

In order for this relatively small amount of additional capital to have the biggest positive impact, it must be leveraged. Philanthropic money can be leveraged by investing it in changing how other, larger, capital flows occur within our global system.

To effect real long term global change this $120B should be directed to:

1) Change U.S. domestic policy so we stop spending on the very expenditures that block access of the poorest countries to the market and creates need for more humanitarian aid and philanthropic giving in the first place (e.g. farm subsidies, trade tariffs, some military spending);

2) Influence a change in International Financial Reporting Standards and laws of nation-states so that companies can no longer off-balance sheet their negative environmental externalities;

3) As Nathaniel Whittemore has recommended, invest in social entrepreneurs who can leverage these dollars and markets (the largest capital flow of them all) to create sustainable change with dignity; and

4) Launch a campaign to encourage not just billionaires, but millionaires, to make a giving pledge and generate many trillions of additional dollars to invest in one through three.

Leverage Point 1: Invest in Domestic Policy Changes to Gain Social Return

Imagine the social good that could come from a concerted effort focused on lobbying to reduce the gargantuan $721B per year U.S. military budget (which as of 2008 was 48% of the world total military spending and larger than the next 45 countries combined) by 25% so that we could increase the salaries of every teacher in America by more than 50%.

There are 6.2 million elementary and secondary school teachers in the U.S. according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2000 Census. The average U.S. teacher salary was $51,009 according to American Federation of Teachers Survey and Analysis of Teacher Salary Trends 2007. So in total, the U.S. spends around $316 billion per year on teacher salaries. Hence a $180 billion re-allocation from defense to education would enable us to pay teachers 57% more.

Having this type of dollars and cents carrot might just enable Chancellors to negotiate out the single requirement of Teacher Unions that is the most damaging to our children’s education–the inability to fire a teacher who is not performing due to the tenure system, allowing the best teachers to be paid well above $80,000 per year.

Take a look at the below graph showing the allocation of 2009 U.S. Federal Taxes and you’ll see where our priorities seem to lie as a nation (of course noting that most funds for education come from State Taxes). A few billion dollars per year spent on influencing our Government to re-allocate this pie a bit more toward butter and a little less toward guns might just provide a huge return.

Source: Friends Committee on National Legislation Budget Chart for FY 2009

Leverage Point 2: Invest in Global Policy Changes to Gain Social Return

If these giving billionaires that join The Giving Pledge really wanted to get a large social return they would allocate dollars to change the public policies that drive the economic incentive structures that are the source causes of many of the issues.

One of the biggest problems in the world today is of course environmental sustainability. Six billion dollars per year, if the funds were focused, might just be enough to lobby the largest world governments to make a change to their accounting principles.

If companies across the world were required by law (that was enforced) to pay for the replacement of any environmental resource that they utilize such that each company had a net neutral impact on the environment, we’d remove much of the incentive structure that causes investors to seek out companies with the highest returns, which often are companies that unethically but legally have off-balance sheet environmental externalities that are simply passed on to all human beings.

Any philanthropist who can begin to create a tipping point for governments to stop accepting off-balance sheet negative environmental externalities that are not reported in GAAP or IFRS statements would enable the return on their investment to be leveraged many times over.

Change the economic incentive structure and you’ve changed the flow of trillions of dollars of private capital that billions of dollars of philanthropic capital simply cannot compete with.

Leverage Point 3: Create an Investment Fund for Triple-Bottom Line Entrepreneurs

As Nathaniel Whittemore suggested two weeks ago, some of the funds from The Giving Pledge should be directed to a Social Private Equity Fund. Nathaniel writes,

“What I can imagine is an institutional actor whose specialty is helping great social businesses with good revenues get even bigger while retaining their social and environmental missions. These types of firms would bring companies into their portfolio by acquiring some of the stock that had previously been held by investors and founders, in that way providing that liquidity that is missing from the current social finance system without compromising the social mission. This would create more incentives for early stage social investors, and provide social entrepreneurs more plausible returns that could increase the variety of the people thinking about social businesses.”

I agree with Nathaniel that late-stage capital for socially responsible businesses would be a help to provide liquidity, and thus returns, to the early stage investment funds already investing in triple-bottom line entrepreneurial companies.

I would add however, that any company that gets to $30M or $40M in EBITDA positive revenues, regardless of whether it has a core social mission or not, will be able to raise private equity and provide liquidity to shareholders. I don’t think the gap in the market is lack of funding for profitable at-scale social ventures.

The gap in the market is lack of funding and assistance for small-scale socially-responsible businesses that have the desire and dream to grow their impact and their revenues but don’t know how–both in the developed world and the developing world.

The biggest market gap I see is investment dollars in for-profit businesses in the developing world, where “microequity” investments of $5,000 to $50,000 along with some guidance and incubation can generate huge returns for a local entrepreneur who requires capital greater than a microfinance organization can provide but isn’t able to take on the $50,000 to $300,000 that organizations like Acumen Fund are able to invest.

And so, to maximize both financial return and social return for the Billionaire Givers, I would recommend not just a late-stage PE firm for social ventures, but also expanding capital investments in existing or new growth stage funds for socially responsible companies, particularly those in the developing world.

The second area of leverage I see within the world of private capital markets, is to invest in putting pressure on publicly-traded companies to implement strong CSR programs and actually live up to them. A few billion dollars spent buying mass media advertising to publicly encourage (read:shame) large MNCs so they live up to global CSR standards would be dollars well spent for social return.

Leverage Point 4: Invest in The Giving Pledge for Millionaires

While I applaud Gates and Buffet’s effort on The Giving Pledge, in order to enable this pledge to truly make a substantial impact, part of the funds should be directed to extend the effort beyond billionaires and create a new social norm where it is simply expected that anyone who makes way more than they need will contribute half of their net worth by the time they die to making the world a better place.

For the millionaires out there, it will just screw up your kids if you leave too much money to them. So why not ensure your legacy by committing now, publicly, to giving at least 50% away?

There are 10 million millionaires in the world, with a total net worth of $39 trillion according to the 2010 Merrill Lynch and Cap Gemini World Wealth Report. The average millionaire has $3.9 million.

Excluding the $1.3 trillion of the Forbes 400 from this $39 trillion, there is $37.7 trillion in assets among millionaires globally. What if there were a Millionaire Pledge?

If through a directed effort we can get 20% of global millionaires to commit to give half of their wealth, instead of an extra $120B for philanthropy, we’d have an extra $3.8 trillion. If we invest much of this $3.8 trillion in the three key leverage areas to fundamentally change our global economic and public policy system and use the rest to invest in filling short-term societal needs we can make a truly meaningful impact in the world.

Every multi-millionaire should commit to giving at least 90% of their wealth away by the time of their death. I made a commitment to do this in 2008 (in my book Zero to One Million) and will uphold this commitment. You can’t take money with you.

So who will take up this charge? And what do you think about these four areas of recommended investment?

Why Poverty?

November 20, 2009

As I sit on the 28th floor of a hotel in San Francisco I am angry, yet hopeful.

I wonder why in a world with as much wealth as we see, as much luxury that we experience, should 40% of the human species live on under $2 per day?

2.56 billion human beings, people just like you and I, live on under $2 per day. On average, 24,900 children under 5 die each and every day in the developing world, often from preventable diseases and starvation. 24,900 children under 5. Check out the sources below. This is absolutely unacceptable.

Why does no one talk about this?

Were you aware of this? Please comment…



1 – 2008 World Development Indicators: Poverty Data Supplement, World Bank

From p. 10: “…the number of people living on less than $2.00 a day has remained nearly constant at 2.5 billion. From Table 3: “People living on less than 2005 PPP $2.00 a day (millions), 2005 – 2.564″

2 – UNICEF State of the World’s Children, 2009

From p. 121, Statistical Tables, Table 1 Basic Indicators, Summary Indicators, Developing Countries “Annual Number of Under 5 Deaths (Thousands), 2007 – 9109″ We arrived at 24,956 deaths of children under 5 per day by taking the 9,109,000 total deaths per year for children under 5 in developing countries and dividing by 365.

25 Facts on Global Poverty

August 1, 2009

25 Facts on Global Poverty

August 16, 2009 · Print This Article

One of the challenges I’ve faced as I’ve sought to learn all I can on global poverty over the past few years has been how challenging it is to find accurate, trusted statistics on the topic. I spent a few hours tonight beginning a compilation of stats on global poverty, which I’ve added as a new page on The Humanity Campaign web site.

What do you think about these facts? What can we do to end extreme poverty in our lifetime? Please feel free to comment at the bottom of the page.

Special Thanks:

Thank you to the site for their work in collecting verifiable facts and statistics on major global issues. Their page “Poverty Facts & Stats” was of great help in compiling these statistics. Thank you also to the World Bank, UNICEF, UNICEF Cananda, and UNDP for vital reports neccessary for the compilation of these statistics. The United Nations report “The Millennium Development Goals Report 2009” was also particularly helpful.

A Collection of Sourced & Verifiable Facts on Global Poverty

To make it on this list a statistic must be from a trusted primary source with a clear “as of” date. All statistics are sourced and cited at the bottom of the page.

  1. As of 2008, 79.8% of humanity lives on less than $10 per day. (5.15 billon people) (1)
  2. As of 2008, 48.6% of humanity lives on less than $2.50 per day. (3.14 billion people) (1)
  3. As of 2008, 40.2% of humanity lives on less than $2 per day. (2.60 billion people) (1)
  4. As of 2008, 21.7% of humanity lives on less than $1.25 per day (1.40 billion people) (1)
  5. As of 2008, 13.6% of humanity lives on less than $1 per day. (880 million people) (1)
  6. As of 2008, the world’s richest 20% consume 76.6% of private consumption (1)
  7. As of 2008, the world’s richest 10% consume 59.9% of private consumption (1)
  8. As of 2009, 25,000 children under 5 years old die each day due to poverty (2)
  9. As of 2006, access to piped water into the household averages about 85% for the wealthiest 20% of the population, compared with 25% for the poorest 20%. (3)
  10. As of 2007, every year there are 350–500 million cases of malaria, with 1 million fatalities: Africa accounts for 90 percent of malarial deaths and African children account for over 80 percent of malaria victims worldwide. (4)
  11. As of 2007, 1.6 billion people — a quarter of humanity — live without electricity (5)
  12. As of 2007, the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of the 41 Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (567 million people) is less than the wealth of the world’s 7 richest people combined. (6, 7, 8 )
  13. As of 2009, the poverty line in the USA for a single individual is drawn at $10,830 per annum or $29.67 per day. (9)
  14. As of 2006, 10.6 million children die every year from causes that are easily preventable – equal to 29,000 children every day (10)
  15. As of 2006, half of these deaths 29,000 daily deaths of children occur in just six countries – China, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, India, Nigeria and Pakistan (10)
  16. As of 2006, 2 million children die every year from pneumonia and other acute respiratory infections, making it the leading cause of death of children under five years of age (11)
  17. As of 2006, 1.6 million children die every year from Diarrhoeal disease, primarily from the resulting severe dehydration that can quickly result in the failure of vital organs in young children (11)
  18. As of 2006, 1.1 million children die every year in Africa from malaria, making it the largest cause of death for children under five in Africa. (11)
  19. As of 2006, 657,000 children under the age of 15 are infected with HIV every day, most through transmission of the virus from mother to baby during pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding (11)
  20. As of 2006, 500,000 children die every year from measles. (11)
  21. As of 2008, on the whole, people are healthier, wealthier, and live longer today than 30 years ago. If children were still dying at 1978 rates, there would have been 16.2 million dealths of children globally in 2006. In fact there were only 9.5 million such deaths. This difference of 6.7 million deaths is equivalent to 18,329 children’s lives being saved every day. (12)
  22. As of 2007, each year, more than 500,000 women die from treatable or preventable complications of pregnancy and childbirth. (13)
  23. As of 2007, in sub-Saharan Africa, a woman’s risk of dying from complications from childbirth over the course of her lifetime is 1 in 16, compared to 1 in 3,800 in the developed world. (13)
  24. As of 2005, an estimated 15.2 million children had lost one or both parents to AIDS (14)
  25. In 2008, net disbursements of official development assistance (ODA) reached $119.8 billion. That is equivalent to 0.3 per cent of developed countries’ combined national income. (15)

Global Poverty Facts in Graphs







Source: UN Millennium Development Goals Report 2009, p. 51


Source: UN Millennium Development Goals Report 2009, p. 52


  1. World Development Indicators 2008, World Bank, August 2008
  2. UNICEF State of the World’s Children, 2009
  3. 2006 United Nations Human Development Report, pp.6, 7, 35
  4. 2007 Human Development Report (HDR), United Nations Development Program, November 27, 2007, p.25.
  5. UN Millennium Development Goals Report 2007, p.44
  6. World Bank Key Development Data & Statistics, World Bank
  7. Luisa Kroll and Allison Fass, The World’s Richest People, Forbes
  8. World Bank’s list of Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (41 countries)
  9.“. The 2009 HHS Poverty Guidelines.
  10. UNICEF Canada 50 Year Progress Report 2006, Overview Sheet
  11. UNICEF Canada 50 Year Progress Report 2006
  12. World Health Organization, World Health Report 2008, p. 14
  13. UN Millennium Development Goals Report 2007, p.16
  14. UN Millennium Development Goals Report 2007, p.20
  15. UN Millennium Development Goals Report 2009, p. 48

What Jess, Bob, and I Did in Africa

July 10, 2009

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July 5th, 12pm – I’m looking out the Virgin Atlantic airplane window at Mt. Kenya as we end our twelve day trip to Kenya and Uganda. We’ve begun the twenty-eight hour journey home. East Africa is a beautiful region with substantial economic opportunity, and very worthy of a visit. This was my second trip to Uganda, but first to Kenya.

What Drew Us In

We went to learn. We went to visit some of the non-profits The Humanity Campaign has worked with in the past and those we are considering supporting in the future. We came back changed permanently having seen the juxtaposition of the beautiful rising Africa against the constant suffering of unlistened to and forgotten millions of people just like you and I. In the developing world, 2.6 billion people live under $2 per day (PPP adjusted) according to the World Bank and 49,300 people die each and every day needlessly from preventable disease and starvation according to the WHO.

Some of The Stories That Sear Themselves Into Your Memory

For just a second, imagine 139 girls from your local elementary school have been kidnapped by an armed rebel group and taken to a jungle 400 miles away. One hundred and nine of them are negotiated to be returned but 30 of them stay and are raped, abused, and are forced to be sex slaves for as long as thirteen years. Six of these thirty girls are killed attempting to escape. Imagine hiding in a snake-infested ceiling drop at your high school to avoid being kidnapped by the LRA. Imagine being 17 and living in a slum in Africa with over 1 million residents. Both your parents died of AIDS, then your grandfather was killed, then your pastor who took you in abused you. Now you’re on your own, struggling everyday to survive. These are just some of the life altering stories I’ve heard over the last twelve days.

Day By Day, What We Did

Bob Phoenix, Jess Shorland, and I left the iContact parking lot at 4:30pm on Wednesday June 24. We drove over to Raleigh-Durham International Airport for our flight to London. We arrived in Heathrow Airport on Thursday morning, took the Heathrow Express to Paddington, took the Underground to Waterloo, and were on the London Eye by 10:30am in good tourist form. In our twelve hour layover in London we rode the Eye, took photos on the lions at Trafalgar Square, ate Bangers and Mash at The Clarence, saw the changing of the guard at Buckingham, and visited the London office of Credit Suisse in Canary Wharf to visit some of Bob’s co-workers.

We departed from Heathrow that Thursday night and arrived the next morning in Nairobi. After filling out our Kenya arrival cards and swine flu papers, we made it through immigration in about an hour. Three $25 Kenyan Visas later, we picked up our luggage at baggage claim and excitedly met Mary Muhara from Africa Rising at international arrivals. We had checked into the Bush House and Camp in the South C district, which had a reasonable rate of 4600 Kenyan Shillings for a double room with an en suite bathroom (and hot showers). We left our bags and proceeded with Mary to begin what we we really there for–to visit the non-profits we were working with and learn as much as we could about extreme poverty, hunger, basic healthcare, and conflict resolution.

We visited Nairobi, Kampala, Lira, Gulu, and Mityana over the twelve days. We were there to visit the organizations that The Humanity Campaign has contributed to in the past and to scope out new organizations to invest in the the future. We were also there to learn–to venture another foot into the water of exploring what it will actually take to end extreme poverty and hunger in our lifetime. Jess’ focus was to learn about conflict resolution.

During the trip we visited nineteen social entrepreneurial organizations all told (some non-profit, some for-profit) in Kenya and Uganda. We visited seven schools, four community non-profits, three local businesses who had received microloans, two microlending institutions, one hospital, one clinic, and one technology incubator.

Our itinerary was as follows:

Day One – Fly from Raleigh to London
Day Two – In London, Fly from London to Nairobi
Day Three, Nairobi – Africa Rising, TULIP
Day Four, Nairobi – Carolina for Kibera, Trash Clean Up, Soccer Tournament Fun Day
Day Five, Nairobi – Fly to Entebbe Uganda, Car ride to Kampala to home of Louis Ntale
Day Six, Kampala, Lira, Gulu- Concerned Parents Association, Community Microlending to Young Mothers Program
Day Seven, Gulu – Invisible Children Uganda / St. Joseph’s High School, Gulu High School, MEND
Day Eight, Kampala – Bus from Gulu to Kampala, Appfrica meeting in Kampala
Day Nine, Mityana – Mityana Hospital, Mityana Secondary School, Affinet, Naama Millennium Primary School, Santa Maria Medical Clinic
Day Ten, Kampala – Faula Uganda / Opportunity International
Day Eleven, Entebbe – Bob and Ryan Flight from Entebbe to Nairobi, Jess gets picked up by Juma to go to WOMEDA in Karagwe, Tanzania
Day Twelve – Fly from Nairobi to London to New York to Raleigh

Where We Spent Our Time

Here is a report on each of the organizations we visited with while in Uganda and Kenya the past twelve days.


Africa Rising is a non-profit organization based in Durham, North Carolina that currently supports organizations in Tanzania, Kenya, and Uganda. The organization retains a representative in East Africa named Mary Muhara, a Kenyan residing in Nairobi. Mary’s job is to vet potential non-profit organizations for the group to contribute to and to follow-up with those currently in the Africa Rising network. Mary was very kind to take us around Nairobi on our first day to show us TULIP and a Beacon of Hope store.


The first organization we visited with Mary was TULIP Girls Centre. TULIP is an organization that Africa Rising supports today. TULIP was founded by Mary Munyi. Mary started by taking in five disadvantaged girls from the community around here. Today, TULIP is a private school for sixty disadvantaged girls aged 13 to 16 (form 2, 3, and 4) located just outside of the Korogocho slum, the second largest slum in Nairobi after Kibera and the most dangerous.

We met with Nicera Muriithi the Program Manager. Nicera explained that their operating budget was $30,000 per year. We learned that their teachers were paid approximately $125 per month.

When we asked why we should support a private school in the area Nicera explained that the government had not built a primary school in the area because it was a poor area and that there was no public school nearby. Nicera explained that her biggest need was to get more land so she could expand the school. She indicated it would cost $25,000 to purchase the one acre of land. She also requested textbooks and a computer so she can train the students in typing.

We had a chance to speak with the students. When we asked what they wanted to be in the future, they named lawyer, doctor, preacher, and politician. The reality was however that all these professions required a college degree and that these girls would not be able to afford to attend university.


On Sunday June 28 at 8am we showed up at the office of Carolina for Kibera (CFK). CFK has a girls center, clinic, waster management program, and youth soccer program.CFK was founded in 2001 by Rye Barcott, a friend of mine and fellow Tar Heel. Rye was a U.S. Marine Officer for five years who fought in Afghanistan and Iraq. Rye just finished a MBA at Harvard Business School and a MPA at the Kennedy School of Government.

Kibera is in Nairobi and with 1 million residents, it is the largest slum in Africa. That day in Kibera, Jess, Bob and I walked about 30 minutes to the soccer field with a couple interns from Duke and UNC and some visiting Muzungus (white people) from Vancouver. We grabbed rakes and helped remove trash from the street and sewers in Kibera as part of CFK’s ‘fun day’ in which kids did a couple hours of community service cleaning up the area and then participated in a soccer tournament.

It was an eye opening and life altering experience walking through the dirt paths of Kibera and raking clothes, water bottles, shoes, fruit, corn, and litter out of open drainage ditches filled with brown water and human excrement as part of a team of perhaps 200 that went out in the community to clean up. I had seen rural poverty in Africa before, but this urban poverty was different. The community seemed vibrant, entrepreneurial, alive, musical. Dozens of stray dogs and chickens roamed. The small one-room houses in which 6-8 slept were made of mud with a tin roof. Yet we knew we wouldn’t be safe by ourselves, especially after dark. The lack of sanitation was very visible.

Here’s an excerpt from Wikipedia on Kibera, “Kibera is heavily polluted by soot, dust, and other wastes. Open sewage routes, in addition to the common use of Flying toilets, also contribute to contamination of the slum with human and animal feces. The combination of poor nutrition and lack of sanitation accounts for many illnesses. Not only are death by disease and conflict common inside this slum, but it is estimated that 1/5 of the 2.2 million Kenyans living with HIV live in Kibera.”

Kibera was the center of many of the riots and killing that occurred following the contested Kenyan election in December 2007.

At 11:30 that morning we had to leave the soccer field and walk the 30 minutes back to the CFK office. We couldn’t find anyone who was willing to walk with us and were told we should not walk alone due to safety (and we didn’t remember the route). We finally found a wonderful 17 year old young lady to show us the way back. She was the 17 I spoke of earlier in this post whose parents had died of AIDS. She moved in with her grandfather but he shortly passed. She then moved in with her pastor, but he abused her. She was effectively alone struggling to survive and all she wanted was a small place of her own. Stories like this were all too commonly heard.

It was a life changing experience to spend four hours in Kibera, and I know I’ll return. I have a very high level of respect for everyone at Carolina for Kibera. I’d love to work to start a similar program in Korogocho, a slightly smaller but more dangerous slum in Nairobi.

Here’s a video of me dancing with the children in Kibera before a Carolina for Kibera soccer match:


After taking the Post Uganda bus to the Kamdini depot, we were picked up by Richard from Concerned Parents Association, another organization that Africa Rising currently contributes to. We met with Anthony, the Interim Executive Director of CPA. CPA started in 1996 after 139 girls aged six and seven were abducted from a local school by the LRA. Of the 139 that were taken, 109 were returned quickly in negotiations, but 30 remained. Since 1996, 24 of the 30 remaining abductee girls have returns. The other six were killed while attempting to escape. The girls today are all 19 or 20 years old. In March 2009, the last surviving girl returned. To give some perspective, in order to escape successfully each girl had to walk for one month, often alone, in the jungle of Northwest Uganda or the Garamba Forest.CPA helps these returnee abductees with counseling. Almost all of the 24 returnees girls brought with them babies. They had been made wives or sex slaves of the LRA while the bush (forest). These babies were called ‘Bush Babies’ by the local community, and often discriminated against. Today, the LRA still has over 3,000 women and child that they have abducted. July 2006 was the last abduction in Uganda. However, today the LRA is abducting children in the Congo and most recently massacred 600 over the Christmas 2008 holiday in the DRC. The people in Lira still fear the LRA returning to Acholiland (Northern Uganda) according to Anthony.

Today the Concerned Parents Association is focused on improving children’s rights and fighting/reporting rape and domestic violence in their tribe of Lango around Lira, a city of 62,000 people. They have sixty employees and work with over sixty parent groups at schools in the area. They amazingly operate on an annual budget of $350,000 per year. They currently receive funding from Save The Children Uganda, The Mennonite Central Church, the Christian Aid, UNICEF, and the European Union, –although the EU funding is likely to run out in October. They do and can give out condoms in their area as part of their reproductive health and family planning efforts even though they are funded by some Christian organizations. They have four offices including the main headquarters in Lira and branches in Gulu, Kitgum, and Oyam.

Anthony noted that while most of the Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps have dissipated in Lira and Gulu, there are still people in IDP camps in Kitgum, due to concern about the return of the LRA and an especially ruthless Ugandan tribe of cattle-raiders, the Karamajong.

We asked why Anthony chose to be involved in CPA. Anthony himself was almost abducted by the LRA. He told us that the LRA once attacked his school in 1995 when he was 17. In order to avoid being abducted, he hid in a snake infested ceiling drop.

Anthony indicated that CPA’s needed include additional assistance with report writing and documenting in English and funding.


After visiting with Anthony at the Concerned Parents Association, we were taken to visit one of the programs that CPA supports, the Lira Girl Mothers Microfinance Program (LGMMP). We met with two advisers and eleven young single mothers, who seemed to range in age from about 15 to about 24. We met with them sitting in blue plastic chairs under a tree outside of a primary school about 2km away from the center of Lira.One of the things that struck me immediately was how softly these women spoke. One could literally not hear them from eight feet away. Even their advisers and our female guide from CPA spoke extremely softly. I found it challenging to decide whether to ask them to speak louder and risk offending them. Eventually I did. The women mostly spoke Luo and not English, so our guide translated for us.

The LGMMP had twenty-eight girl mothers involved in its programming and eight advisors. They sang a song for us at the beginning with the lyrics, ‘we will never forget you, please don’t forget us.’ They were involved in five different types of microbusinesses that they had been trained to start. Initially they were given $75 each to start their businesses (as a grant not a loan). They used $17 of this to purchase ‘trading licenses’ so they could start their business legally, so they were left with $58 to begin.

They had started a grinding business, a distillery, a sewing company, a charcoal company, and a bakery. They indicated their biggest challenges were:

  1. Transporting of their goods to the market
  2. The expense of trading licenses ($17)
  3. The fluctuating price of food
  4. Finding space for their businesses and paying rent
  5. Inability to sell their whole product before it goes stale

As an example of their issue with transport costs, the mother running the charcoal business would pay 10,000 UGX ( ~$5) for her charcoal bushels at wholesale, then pay 4500 UGX (~$2.25) and then be able to sell her charcoal 15,000 to 20,000 UGX ($$7.50 to $10). On a bad day she would work all day to make $0.25. On a good day she might make $2.50, depending on the retail price she could negotiate.

When they had the opportunity to ask us questions, their first question was whether we would be able to help financially support them so they could expand the program to other young mothers in the area. They indicated their morale was low as they had held meetings with potential donors before but hadn’t yet received any outside support. They also requested assistance in finishing their formal education.

Their biggest business needs was capital–particularly a grinding machine ($35) and a sewing machine ($75). In the four months the program had been operational, the twenty-eight women had successfully been able to save 800,000 UGX ($200).

I found myself struggling whether to attempt to give the ladies helpful business advice based on my experience (group supplies together in one shipment to reduce transport costs, use savings to reinvest in capital now rather than later, etc.). With Bob as an investment banker from Credit Suisse and me an entrepreneur we naturally wanted to. Yet at the same time we recognized we knew so little about their businesses and environment.

We ended up choosing to use questions to inquire why they were or weren’t doing certain things. They had good answers. We asked why they didn’t use these savings to invest in the capital necessary to reduce their renting costs and earn a higher profit. They responded that they had committed to saving for one year or until they got to 5,000,000 UGX ($2,500), whichever was first. Once they reached this mark they would consider whether to use their savings to allow other mothers into the program and/or invest in necessary machinery.

Overall the ninety minute meeting gave us a fairly good understanding of the business and personal challenges these women faced and left with an appreciation of the work that CPA was doing and an even greater respect for organizations like Opportunity International and FAULA who follow a slightly different model of providing small loans instead of small grants. It is truly amazing what $75 can do, whether as a loan or grant. It can give a woman her freedom.


I first heard about Invisible Children in the summer of 2008 while visiting Uganda. I learned much more about IC while meeting their co-founder Bobby Bailey and CEO Ben Keesey at The Summit Series event in Aspen in April. Invisible Children began in 2003 as a documentary after three young filmmakers from Southern California visited Gulu. They rather courageously filmed and released a documentary about what was happening in Gulu in 2003 (children being abducted, attacks by the LRA, children being forced to walk miles every night to find a safe place to sleep).Today, the Gulu region and the Acholiland region of Northern Uganda is peaceful and relatively safe (and very worth visiting!). However, Joseph Kony and the LRA have moved on to the Garamba Forest in Northeast Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and continue their abductions and raids into Sudan, East Congo, and the Central African Republic. Since 2003, Invisible Children has produced six additional short videos telling the challenging stories of individuals there around Gulu. In 2005 IC registered as a U.S. non-profit organization and in 2007 they registered as an NGO in Uganda. They work primarily in Gulu, Pader, Amulu, and a bit in Kitgum.

In the United States, Invisible Children raises money, mostly through high school and college students, to fund both their on the ground efforts in Uganda and to fund legislative lobbying events and rallies (to encourage the U.S. Congress and State Department to work with Uganda, the DRC, and the ICC to pursue and capture Kony and stop his abductions and mass killings.

In 2008, Invisible Children had an overall annual budget of $7M, of which approximately $2M went to fund projects on the ground in Northern Uganda around Gulu.

Jess, Bob, and I arrived at the Gulu office of Invisible Children Uganda at 9am on June 30th. We met first with Erika who worked in communications. Erika was extremely nice and helpful and share a lot with us about IC Uganda.

In Uganda, Invisible Children has three on the ground programs. These are

1. Economic Development Iniatives (EDIs) including:

  1. Bracelet Making – IC started out their EDI programs by hiring 182 bracelet makers to produce bracelets that would be included in the Invisible Children DVD packs. They now have a surplus of bracelets, so have transitioned this individuals to a training program on income generation.
  2. Savings & Investment Program – These 182 individuals are now part of a savings and investment program which provides a six to eight month curriculum on income generation
  3. MEND – A new for-profit arm of Invisible Children that produces messenger bags and purses with the brand MEND from a nice factory near Gulu that we visited under the director of a talented and energetic designer named Marie. MEND started with 10 women and now has 13. Almost all of them are former abductees.
  4. Cotton – A program to provide organic cotton to Bono’s wife’s organization Eden, to help assist people in moving out of the IDP camps and back to their ancestral homelands.

2. Visible Child Scholarship Program (VCSP)

  1. Secondary Scholarship Program – Provides scholarships to 650 secondary school students in and around Gulu and Pader
  2. University Scholarship Program – Provides scholarships to 59 university students in Uganda and 1 who earned a full-ride to Boise State University in Idaho
  3. Mentorship Program – Providing 24 mentors to local students

3. Schools for Schools (S4S) –

  • A program through which schools in the United States support a school in Northern Uganda. IC provides assistance to ten schools in the area.
  • They work to rehabilitate structures and classrooms, install running water and water tanks, add toilets, and put in computer labs.
  • We visited St. Jospeh’s College (A High School), Gulu High Schools, and another primary school which I cannot recall the name of to see the work that Schools for Schools had accomplished.

Meeting with Jolly, Country Director for Invisible Children Uganda

After meeting with Erika outside under a thatched reception area, we went inside to speak with Jolly Okot, the Country Director for Invisible Children Uganda. Jolly indicated that the LRA was abducting children as a human shield. She indicated many in the LRA had been brainwashed to believe that Kony had spiritual powers. Today, she said, the LRA was abducting many more children in the DRC, Central African Republic, and Sudan. Jolly spoke of the political discussions between the DRC and Uganda about allowing Ugandan forces into the Congo to go after Kony. She indicated that Kony was being supported by President Bashir of Sudan, who also has an ICC warrant out for his arrest.

The other major NGOs I saw represented in Gulu were World Vision, Samaritan’s Purse, African Revival, UN, UNICEF, and UNHCR.


Appfrica (on Twitter at @appfrica) is an technology entrepreneurship incubator and custom software development firm run by Jonathan Gosier, an American living permanently in Kampala with clients including Google and the Grammeen Bank. Jonathan currently has 8 programmers. He pays $900 per month for an internet connection of 192 kpbs, equivalent to DSL and about 1/10th the speed of cable broadband we get in the U.S. for $40/month. He spoke to us about the EACOSS, EASSY, SEACOM, and O3B (by Google) initiatives to bring faster broadband access to Africa. Jonathan was a big believer in making change through business. He felt there was a wealth of programming talent (especially with Python, Ruby, Symbian, Java, and C+) but a lack of opportunity in Kampala.

On Thursday July 2 we had the chance to visit Mityana, a town about an hour to the West of Kampala. We visited five organizations that day, the first being the Mityana Hospital.The hospital was built in 1947 and serves the 288,000 people who live in the district and many from surrounding areas. It has 6 doctors, 100 beds and 4 wards: maternity, male, female, and children. It has an HIV/AIDS clinic that serves 4,000 regular patients with the help of Population Services Internatational. It also has an x-ray lab and a dental office.

Funding from the hospital comes from the government, with some additional funds coming from NGOs. According to their Director, their biggest needs are surgical and diagnostic equipment and an ambulance. They have an operating budget of 23,000,000 UGX per month ($11,500).


Mityana Secondary School is one of two high schools that iContact and The Humanity Campaign have started a scholarship program for. I visited the school for the second time on this trip and had a chance to speak to their entrepreneurship class. Their principal indicated their biggest challenges are parents paying school fees, orphan students, and transportation.They indicated building additional dorms for some of the students would be very helpful to the children without parents and those for whom the school is a many miles away. One of their biggest needs is getting internet access to their computer lab, which is currently outside of their budget.

The school has 1,350 students and 70 staff members. The government pays the teacher’s salaries and parents pay school fees, which are 468,000 UGX ($234) per year normally and 900,000 UGX ($450) per year for students who live at the school.


AFFINET stands for the African Friends in Need Network. It is the second school that the iContact/Humanity Campaign scholarship program will be benefiting. It is a vocational school in Mityana, Uganda. It was started in 2000. It has a strong social justice mission. It provides classes on sewing, fashion design, carpentry, and home economics. It has 111 students and focuses its efforts on girls who have been left behind. It has had 195 graduates so far since the first class graduated in 2004.Over lunch with the Bishop, we learned that AFFINET would like to start classes in bricklaying, IT, and livestock. They need computers, sewing machines, and funds to complete their bathroom and ceiling in the girls dorms.

Namma Millennium Primary School was founded in 2000 by Dr. Christopher Kigongo, a Ugandan who now works at Duke University. I’ve worked with Christopher over the past year to set up a scholarship program for students at the school that is providing funds for students who attend Naama Millennium Primary School in Mityana, Uganda to continue on to secondary school at either AFFINET or Mityana Secondary School.I first visited Naama in 2008 and fell in love with the children. Last year, they danced and drummed. This year, students from Duke had developed a play on nutrition and hygiene that the students performed for us, followed by the amazing popping and locking hip hop dancing of a five year old boy (followed by Bob, Jess, and I doing a dance for them).

In 2008, a number of students from Nourish International worked at the school to put in cement floors, windows, doors, and a rainwater harvesting system. The improvements were very visible this year.


Our final stop in Mityana was the Santa Maria Medical Clinic. The Clinic is a for-profit private business, started and run by Dr. Paul Mugambe. The clinic today sees 60 patients per day. They provide more available and better care than Mityana Hospital according to Dr. Mugambe. They most commonly treat malaria, respiratory issues, diarrheah, and HIV/AIDS. They have 30 beds today.The clinic’s biggest challenges are people who need care but cannot afford it and thus do not pay their bills, high taxes, and a lack of surgical room. The clinic charges 60,000 UGX ($30) for a normal baby delivery and 300,000 UGX ($150) for a c-section delivery. Dr. Mugambe would like to expand the clinic but is currently renting so cannot make additions to the property. He is looking to get a loan of 75,000,000 UGX ($37,500) to purchase the property, but loan interest rates are currently too high at 20%.


On our final day in Kampala on July 3 we visited with FAULA and Opportunity International in Kampala. Both are microfinance organizations that are working together in Uganda. Jess, Bob, and I had the chance to meet with the CEO of Opportunity International Uganda.They have 200 staff members in the country, nine branches, and a $6 million microloan portfolio. Their average client takes out a loan of $150 and makes repayments weekly. They have a 2.4% default rate. They work through a group system in which a group of at least ten takes out a loan together (the peer pressure and accountability provides higher repayment rates). Once an individual pays back their group loan they can obtain a larger individual loan.

Opportunity prices their loans at 3% per month interest (compounding to be equivalent to 43.5% per year). While this is high, they indicated that the return from the use of their capital that is otherwise unavailable is much higher. They’ve developed an impressive, sustainable model.

We visited three of Opportunity International’s clients in Kampala, the owners of a banana stand, a metalworking shop, and a small conveyance store.

Opportunity International also has a partnership with Compassion International in Uganda.

After Bob and I left to go back home, Jess was picked up by Juma Masisi who runs WOMEDA in Karagwe, Tanzania. Jess has been at WOMEDA for a few days now. She is studying conflict resolution and women’s rights there.WOMEDA stands for WOMen Emancipation and Development Agency. According to their web site, WOMEDA “promotes the status of marginalized groups by creating and strengthening equal opportunities for women, men, and children through the provision of socioeconomic, legal, and human rights activities in order to attain sustainable development.”

We are hoping that Mary Muhara from Africa Rising will have a chance to visit WOMEDA in the coming days and consider supporting the organization.

Overall we very much enjoyed our time in Kenya and Uganda. I wanted to especially thank Louis Ntale and Rebbecca Ntale who allowed us to stay at their house for three nights and their son Kenneth Ntale for driving us in Uganda. Thanks to all for reading. Comments are very welcome!

The Great Challenge of Our Generation

February 1, 2009

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I write as my roommates watch the sci-fi movie Anti-Body through the amazing new Xbox/Netflix partnership in a cold and icy Chapel Hill…

This weekend I had the opportunity to speak at StartingBloc’s Greater New York Institute for Social Innovation at Yale University in New Haven. I had the chance to speak after Tom Szaky, the 27 year old CEO of TerraCycle, who is good work on upcycling waste into usable products.

In attendance were 150 of the smartest, most ambitious, and most caring individuals I’ve met, all from age 19 to 30. 25% were undergrads, 25% were grad students, and 50% were young professionals from firms like Goldman, JP Morgan, Acumen, Ashoka, McKinsey. They were all social entrepreneurs or future social entrepreneurs. If you’re under 30 and interested in social responsibility you should apply for their future Institutes in New York, Boston, or London.

StartingBloc has now reached 1000 fellows who have gone through their program. I first met their founder, the 27 year-old ebullient Kenyan Jo Opot last May in New York. She and their Director of Programs Taryn Miller-Stevens are examples of committed, driven, caring world changers.

I challenged the group to over the next 50 years, work together to create a world in which…

  1. There is no killing of humans on a mass scale (genocide or warfare);
  2. All humans have access to the basic human needs of clean water, nutritious food, shelter, and primary education;
  3. We end preventable diseases like malaria, TB, and measles; and
  4. We are environmentally sustainable

This challenge was based on the key simple principle from the Gates Foundation that all lives have equal value. I first shared the great challenges we face in the world including the most difficult economic news we’ve seen in our lifetimes, then the great opportunities (subsequent post on these coming soon) to frame the debate.

So, can we actually end genocide, warfare, starvation, and preventable disease in our lifetimes?

And can we actually provide accessible clean water, food, shelter, and primary education to every human in our lifetimes?

Your thoughts?

Sustainable Capitalism and The Role of Aid vs. Trade in Prosperity Creation

October 23, 2008


I picked up a glossy investment prospectus from a firm called Legatum Group at up at the Fortune Brainstorm Tech conference today. A statement inside caught my eye. It stated:

“While aid can play an important role in alleviating immediate needs, its impact is naturally limited since it is neither sustainable nor scalable.” Separately, it states, “Quite distinct from the limited scope of charitable initiatives, businesses are both self-sustaining and scalable. Legatum directs its attention towards promoting entrepreneurship and business for all its social benefits within developing communities.”

I wanted to to take a chance to think more about the nuance of the right type of aid vs. the right type of trade and investment.

I feel presently that the answer to reducing poverty and increasing access to opportunity and prosperity in developing nations is three fold. The answer is A) for-profit private capital investment into sustainable companies that are socially responsible (or at least not socially irresponsible) AND B) direct “aid with standards” to community-based non-profit organizations run by local social entrepreneurs that are efficiently serving the needs of their communities AND C) efficiently run transparent government that creates and protects a system of law and property rights.

The question that should be asked cannot be as black and white of aid vs. trade. It’s not aid OR trade. It’s accountable aid AND sustainable trade AND efficient goverment. It’s a public/private/community partnership that does not succeed without participation from each sector. The questions that we as a society should be asking is how to make direct aid measurable and accountable AND how to make trade and investment sustainable AND how to make government efficient and transparent.

These methods of human and capital investment are on the spectrum of socially responsible venture philanthropy that builds human capital, infrastructure, and standards of living through education, medicine, nutrition, and technology that enables us to do more with less resources. At the end of the day–all private sector and public sector investment should come back to efficiently serving the needs and desires of the local population in a sustainable manner.

What the answer to prosperity creation seems not to be is the traditional bi-lateral government to government aid (read: loans that local populations will have to pay back to buy our stuff from our companies) nor traditional private capital investment in companies that are not socially responsible and end up hurting local environments. This of course is the very common and very key “aid vs. trade” question that so many like Sachs, Easterly, Collier, Stiglitz, Pralahad, and Gates have debated.

So what is the import of this debate and why is a tech CEO talking about it? The great war of ideas of the 19th and 20th Century between pure communism (total state control of the economic sector) and pure capitalism (total market control of of the economic sector) is giving way to an “end of history” state that could be simply called “Sustainable Capitalism.”

Sustainable Capitalism could be defined as a state in which competitive market economies that are based on environmental sustainability, democracy, transparency, communication technology, an educated populace, and a government with a limited but very important role in setting the rule of law, thrive while efficient social entrepreneurs with services that produce a public good are invested in with capital with measured returns and public servants integrate the same communication and ERP systems of the best-run companies in the world.

In this new Zakarian model of economic system, companies that destroy the environment, provide a negative net benefit through off-balance sheet externalities, or exploit their populations are video blogged and written about and pressured through market forces to reform or wither. This is perhaps somewhat idealist today–but it is the path I believe we are on. The fact that all companies must be sustainable soon enough for the system to scale and prosperity to be possible for all humans is clear. This trend will accelerate as we enter into the coming age of ubiquitous broadband and improved technology of the citizen blogger and as resources become less available. Governments, non-profits, and businesses will have a much higher level of accountability. This assumes of course people have incentives to work toward shared prosperity that can continue beyond the short-term, and I think that is a fair assumption and a vision shared by the global connected youth of today that I know.

What’s the common denominator for human invesment in either the public or private sector? Return on invested capital, as long as the definition of return is broadened to include social returns and the definition of cost is broadened to include environmental degradation. This is the Net Domestic Product (NDP) approach versus the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) approach.

So am I criticizing the Legatum brochure statement? No, not really–I just hope they share the belief–and I am sure they do–that prosperity in the developing world and continued sustainable improvement can only be possible if we find methods to enable entrepreneurs, social entrepreneurs, and public service entrepreneurs to transparently, efficiently, and sustainably make investments that maximize individual utility, return on investment, and the public good.

The effort toward sustainable capitalism and efficient government requires an improved ability to communicate, collaborate, and measure results. There’s a digital generation of entrepreneurs and social entrepreneurs that gets this who will be the global leaders sooner than you might imagine.

Thoughts on Uganda

July 10, 2008

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I was in Uganda from June 29-July 6. I was there to visit two non-profit organizations I have been involved with and contributed funds to in the past. It was my first visit to Africa, and definitely will not be my last.

Uganda really is a beautiful country. It has lots of challenges, yet lots of real opportunities. Seeing the extreme poverty that exists there first hand was difficult, yet instructive and very helpful to my understanding of the issue. 89% of Ugandans are currently subsistence farmers, so a great majority of the population lives in rural villages. It was very common to see families of 6 to 8 living in mud and stick one-room shacks with tin or grass roofs with dried dung floors with no running water, toilet, or electricity. The primary school we visited in Mityana in the West had neither windows nor doors and had dirt floors.

Even more difficult is the realization that the difficulty of the living conditions I saw in the rural areas pale in comparison to those in the refugee camps 300 miles to the north in Northern Uganda, centered around Gulu which was the center for the LRA activity, which has significantly calmed since the 90s. I was amazed at the extent to which the children and most adults living in these most difficult conditions maintain such a level of happiness and non-complaint.

It was a bit unnerving to see out front of every bank and gas station an armed security guard with a rifle or shotgun. The traffic is absolutely insane, enhanced by the pavement ending at times. At one point we were passing a car that was passing another truck, and got driven into the shoulder on the other side of the road. That type of experience was common. There are no medians and the highways are all two lanes. There are just three stop lights in Kampala and none elsewhere in the country.

The thousands of Boda Bodas (motorcycles) and Matatus (bus taxis) all over and the pedestrians crossing allover add to the confusion. And not to mention the cows, which are often in the road calmly walking across. Cows and goats tend to be tied up to the side of the roads so they can be used for mowing. Babies run around naked or just wearing shirts, often with no parents in sight, and kids from 3 to 12 wearing bright purple, yellow, green, or blue school uniforms can be seen walking along the side of the roads for miles around 8am and 5pm each day. The kids would often smile and yell out “Muzungu” which means white person when we drove by.

The current Museveni administration has been in power since 1986 and while it seems to be succeeding in providing some basic services, the roads are still very spotty and the electrical grids shut off a few hours per day outside Kampala. Many are calling for him to leave, not because he’s doing a horrible job but because he’s been in power 22 years. They seem to have a good freedom of speech there and an opposition newspaper. People we spoke to were not shy to offer their criticisms. Many people were speaking about Mugabe and his visit to the African Union last week and hoping for his ouster.

The economy is growing. The competition between CelTel, Warid, Uganda Telecom, and MTN for cell phone was intense. All the services sell Airtime Credits rather than monthly subscriptions since most Ugandans do not have a fixed postal address nor a credit card. These four companies advertise literally everywhere, including painting in exchange for compensation thousands and thousands of buildings and homes along the side of all the roads.

Uganda now has GPRS service which allowed me to access my Blackberry email without a problem most of the time even in very rural areas.

They also are deploying 3G service in the major cities. I saw a number of iPhones there among lawyers and professionals. The biggest employer in Uganda is interestingly Coca Cola. There are tremendous opportunities to invest in alternative energy production, especially in regards to biomass. Roey and I had a chance to visit Torero Cement, the largest cement factory in Uganda on Friday as he’s working with them to supply biomass so they can reduce their coal usage. The economy remains a cash economy. I did not find a single store or company that accepted credit cards outside of the airport.

We stayed with an investment banker who runs Daro Capital on Friday night in Kampala. He help a get together of a group of technology execs and professionals on Tuesday night, including a gentleman who is starting an SMS marketing service. I spoke to a number of people to get a sense of the ripeness for email marketing. Rough statistics, but it seems right now about 25pc of Ugandans have email addresses, though most check them via Internet Cafes. Broadband access is only available via Satellite at a cost of USD$1000 per month, so even the professional class and wealthy have only dial up or GPRS access. A T1 is being installed in Uganda in 2009 after which access will go substantially up.

We visited Entebbe and Kampala on Day 1, Mityana on Day 2, Mbale on Day 3 and 4, and Torrero on Day 5, and Mukono on Day 6. We also drove though Jinja and saw the source of the Nile river.

In Mityana, we visited Nourish International Students working at Naama Millennium School, a school funded by Dr. Christopher Kigongo, who now lives in Durham most of the year and was the former Director of Health Education for Uganda. In Mbale, we visited the Foundation for the Development of Needy Communities (FDNC) which has a vocational school and special needs school founded by Samuel Watulatsu, who presented at a Entrepreneur & Social Entrepreneur Meetup at our house in Chapel Hill last October.

On the way there I spent a day layover in Dubai. Dubai is one of the 7 emirates in the United Arab Emirates, so it’s the size of a county and has 6-7 cities in it, that have names like “Internet City, Media City, and Sports City.” The amount of construction and cranes there was immense. The Emirate boasts an indoor skiing area, and man-made islands in the shape of a palm tree and one in the share of the world. They have built the largest building in the world, the Burj Dubai, shown in picture 4. It is still being finished. When it is done next year it will be 166 floors and 2100 feet tall.

Bottom line, the experience has caused me to be even more dedicated toward spending the rest of my life working to increase access to education, healthcare, food, and technology and working toward ending warfare and ensuring sustainability. I look forward to going back again soon.


Project Polaroid: Giving A Child Their First Picture | Dare Mighty Things

May 23, 2008

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How do you get the attention of a large global company (Polaroid) and convince them to reverse a key strategic decision? Hopefully, like this…

The Birth of Project Polaroid

Nine months ago, in early January, I was hanging out in Charlotte with a friend of mine named Carly. Carly is just 20 and a junior at UNC-Chapel Hill. She is an entrepreneur and a social entrepreneur who runs a photography business, Carly Brantmeyer Photography. We were brainstorming. She wanted to do more than be a student and photographer. She wanted to use her talents and abilities to give back.

Carly had just returned from a Christmas family trip to Costa Rica. There, she took lots of beautiful digital photos. The children were eager to see the picture she just took of them on the back LCD display. She wanted to be able to give the children a copy of their photo, but couldn’t. There was no easy way.

She thought, “If I had a Polaroid camera with me I could give them a copy of the picture right now.”

She returned and while brainstorming at her house in January she came up with Project Polaroid. She would bring hundreds of Polaroid instant film with her to developing countries and give children a picture of themselves–something most of them would never seen before, yet alone owned.

Project Polaroid in Colombia

Carly had the opportunity to visit Colombia over the summer to try out Project Polaroid for the first time. She borrowed my Polaroid camera that was given to me as a gift in 2007 and bought some film. Here are some of the inspiring pictures she took. Take a look especially of the one of the mother, holding a picture of her beautiful young daughter for likely the first time:







Project Polaroid in Uganda

In July, I went to Uganda for a week. Carly had returned from Colombia so I got my camera back the night before. Here are some of the pictures I took.





I was able to take about 60 pictures there while in Uganda while in 4 different locations. Each time I noticed an interesting phenomenon. In one of the locations, I found myself in a small village near the Mirembe Kawomera Peace Coffee Cooperative. This place was about 30 minutes down a dirt road from Mbale, Uganda. I took my first photo of a child and gave it to her. She was very confused as to what it was. I told her to shake the picture. She then ran away, nervous it seemed.

Exactly, on the dot, 3 minutes later, a group of at least eight kids came running around the corner jumping up and down with excitement. The picture had developed! Each time I began taking photos with just one or two children. They would go away, wondering what I had gave them (most Ugandan children in villages speak little English), then come back with their whole crew just 2-3 minutes later when they realized what had been given to them. This run away, see the photo develop, and bring back more children would happen every time. Sometimes, as Carly has experienced, you get surrounded by as many as 40 or 50 children within minutes.

In the village outside of Mbale I also gave away some of the soccer jerseys and shorts that had been donated by Sports Endeavors of Hillsborough, NC, the owners of and Eurosport, through the U.S. Soccer Foundation Passback Program. The children created such a commotion that the villages lone police office came over hurriedly, thinking the children were stealing from the van.

Project Polaroid in Ghana

This fall semester, Carly is living and studying in Legon, Ghana at the University of Ghana, with a study abroad program from UNC. She has received a number of donations to help expand the program and has brought dozens of packs of film. Here are some of the photos she’s taken so far in Ghana:




Polaroid Will Stop Selling Polaroids in Early 2009

For background information, back in 2001, Polaroid Corporation, the makers of the famous Polaroid Cameras and instant film filed for bankruptcy. It’s assets ended up being purchased by a private investment firm, Petters Group Worldwide, in 2005.

Very unfortunately for Project Polaroid, Polaroid announced back on February 8 that it will be phasing out production of its instant film and that it will be completely off the shelves by early 2009. We were of course a bit saddened by this announcement. Polaroid will no longer sell Polaroids. It’s a travesty of sorts and will certainly make the project difficult to scale. Polaroid has said that it will be willing to license its instant film technology to another firm should another firm be interested. Here’s hoping Polaroid somehow comes across this story and they realize the immense value that Polaroid film has to their brand.

Carly writes on her detailed travel blog.

“The idea is simple. $1=1 Polaroid photo, for 1 kid, that will last a lifetime. So many children around the world have never even owned a single photo of themselves. What could be more precious of a memory than a photo of you/your family?”

How You Can Help

When she left, Carly raised money from her family and community. She was able to take a few dozen packs of film with her. A month into the trip, Carly is now running out of film. If you would like to contribute, the best way would be to mail her a pack of two of Polaroid 600 film. She would very much appreciate any help. She will be at the following address until December:

Carly Brantmeyer
University of Ghana
c/o International Programs Office
International Student Housing II
Room #127
Legon, Accra, Ghana

Update: If you’d prefer you can send them to Charlotte where Carly’s mom Lisa has offered to collect them and mail them in one package to Ghana. The address is: 14803 Davis Trace Drive, Charlotte, NC, 28227.

Overall, I am excited to see Project Polaroid in Ghana and look forward to her getting back in January and brainstorming how to scale the project to many more developing countries. Being in Uganda myself in July and seeing the impact owning a simple picture can have in the life of a child and the parents of that child has made a lasting impact on me. One of the children was 3 and didn’t have pants–just a long shirt. He lived in a thatch hut near a school Roey and I were speaking at with his brother, sister, and mother. He didn’t have pants but he was overjoyed with happiness to have the picture. Hopefully we can convince Polaroid to sponsor the project in the future and keep producing instant film.