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Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2011
Whirlwind Wheelchair International has been awarded a $1.7 million grant from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) for a 2 1/2-year project to set up 7 sustainable Wheelchair Provision and Assembly Centers (WPAC) in developing countries around the world. Whirlwind is a non-profit social business based at San Francisco State University. Whirlwind was a Tech Museum Laureate in 2004 and Whirlwind’s Executive Director Marc Krizack was a member of the 2006 Global Social Benefit Incubator (GSBI) class.
The USAID award is significant in two respects. First, it gives Whirlwind the capital to expand its franchise network of wheelchair manufacturers to include distributors. By combining the benefits of large scale manufacturing with local provision, Whirlwind ensures high volumes of high quality, low cost wheelchairs that can be properly provided to the beneficiaries in accordance with World Health Organization guidelines. In many locations, the WPACs are expected to become the nucleus of a permanent rehabilitation infrastructure around which other services and programs can be built and monitored.
Second, the grant represents a milestone in Whirlwind’s own organizational development. Most non-profits are forced to shape their activities in accordance with the funder’s goals. Given the limited funding for international disability projects, for example, many organizations have to shoehorn disability projects into programs that have other goals such as development of civil society, promotion of democracy, rule of law, and conflict resolution, to name just a few. Since adopting a social entrepreneurial model in 2006, this is the first grant that Whirlwind has sought in which what Whirlwind proposed to do was exactly what Whirlwind wanted to do and had already started to do. As such, it represents a significant maturation in the organization’s journey from traditional non-profit to innovative social business.
The WPACs will result in increased sales and income for Whirlwind as well as extending the benefits of Whirlwind’s unique and in-demand active use RoughRider® wheelchair to many more people around the world. Each WPAC will make it possible to fill orders of less than a full container of wheelchairs, which is too expensive when fully assembled chairs are shipped from a distant factory. Each WPAC will be able to develop its own local market, especially in advocating for and competing for government tender offers. And many WPACs will have their own international donors and supporters who Whirlwind could not approach but from whom they can request funding to purchase the Whirlwind chairs they assemble and provide.
The USAID award dovetails nicely with Whirlwind’s other income generation effort to sell its flagship product, the RoughRider® wheelchair, in the United States, for which Whirlwind received FDA approval this past January. The wheelchairs will be sold as part of a Buy One/Give One program. For each wheelchair purchased for $800, Whirlwind will donate an identical chair to someone in the developing world. Through this program, Whirlwind hopes to attract and recruit brand advocates among wheelchair riders in the U.S. and Canada who can extend Whirlwind’s reach into every state and province, raising awareness of Whirlwind’s program. All funds generated from the sale of wheelchairs will be used to promote Whirlwind’s non-profit mission in the developing world.
The USAID grant will also allow Whirlwind to set up a U.S. Distribution Center in the San Francisco Bay Area, which will start by providing 3 jobs. The Center will serve U.S. purchasers and provide a reshipment point for nonprofits that ship chairs directly from the U.S. to other countries, and for individual travelers from the U.S. wishing to take a wheelchair to someone in the developing world.
Whirlwind is setting up a business advisory committee (BAC) to help review business plans submitted by applicants seeking to host a WPAC. Anyone interested in volunteering to sit on the BAC should contact Whirlwind Marketing Director Keoke King at email@example.com.
Marc Krizack is the Executive Director of Whirlwind Wheelchair, a non-profit social enterprise dedicated to improving the lives of people with disabilities in the developing world while also promoting sustainable local development.
Posted by Guest Blog: Marc Krizack |
Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2011
Our featured guest blogger is Eliza Gonzalez, a sophomore in the Leavey school of business at Santa Clara University and student assistant for CSTS.
In late October the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship was generous enough to sponsor Santa Clara University’s Entrepreneur Organization to attend the Collegiate Entrepreneurs Conference in Ft. Worth Texas. The conference consisted of several days of motivational speakers and amazing networking opportunities.
On the first day of the conference there I heard keynote speaker Dr. Gene Landrum, the originator of the concept of Chuck E. Cheese’s. He was the most motivational speaker I have ever heard. So much about his speech has resonated with me. This is an event I will never forget. His main point was: we need to chase our dreams and make them a reality. Clearly we must use our intelligence to guide our journey, but there is nothing that should be holding us back from pursuing exactly what we want to do in life. His speech sparked some ideas that have been brewing in the back of my head for sometime. I want to explore and pursue these ideas because, if anything, I will gain experience. In order for me to take on the risks of starting a company, I need to start in a safe environment, like here at Santa Clara. My goal is to do an independent study with faculty guiding me through starting my own business in my senior year. I want to conduct research about the market and what is feasibly possible to start in this economy. My interest in sustainability is sparking many business ideas that I want to go after.
The conference provided amazing mentors that I am still in contact with and who will hopefully help me down the road when I start moving forward with my ideas. I also heard about other students’ business ideas and how they have developed their dreams into realities. For example, I met Daniel Gomez Iniguez
one of the founders Solben
of a biodiesel company that serves Mexico, South America, and now India. He is only 21 years old and already owns a multi-national company! Overall, this was one of the most stimulating days of my life, and one that I will never forget.
I also met Salah Boukadoum
, the founder of SoapHope
, a new microfinance company, similar to KIVA
that is fighting to end poverty around the world. The company is giving women around the world opportunities they never thought were possible without putting lenders at financial risk. I talked to Mr. Boukadoum about The Tech Awards
and he knew all about the program. He thought that it was a great program and he hopes to participate in it in the near future. I feel honored to work at the Center of Science, Technology, and Society
because I think the mission of the Center is on that more places should promote.
Conclusively, the workshops were all very helpful and fun to attend, and the networking was amazing. I hope to participate again next year, and I felt that I was able to see the conference through a different lens because of all the exposure I have received through CSTS
and The Tech Awards
Monday, Nov. 21, 2011
Two former American presidents, Bill Clinton and Martin Sheen (President Josiah Bartlett in the television series “The West Wing”), were featured at an October 5, 2011 fund raiser in New York City to benefit the Walkabout Foundation. The Walkabout Foundation purchases Whirlwind RoughRider® wheelchairs for distribution in developing countries around the world.
The Fundraising event was the New York City premier of the new Emilio Estevez film “The Way,” starring Estevez’s father, Martin Sheen. The cost of admission was the purchase of one Whirlwind RoughRider® wheelchair. The event raised enough money to purchase about 1400 RoughRiders.
Whirlwind’s executive director, Marc Krizack, is a 2006 graduate of the Global Social Benefit Incubator. Although bringing your mission to scale takes a lot of planning, luck can also play a big part and explains how it is that President Clinton, Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez came to associate themselves with the RoughRider®, as can be seen in the accompanying photos. This is the story of how it happened.
The Walkabout Foundation raises money for research into a cure for paralysis and to purchase and properly distribute wheelchairs to people in developing countries. Walkabout was founded in 2009 by sister and brother Carolina and Luis Gonzalez-Bunster. Luis is a paraplegic from an auto accident. Their first fundraiser was a hundreds of kilometers walk on the El Camino de Santiago, or Way of St. James. The Way of St. James has been a much travelled Catholic pilgrimage route from southern France through the French Pyrenees and across northwest Spain since the Middle Ages.
After the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti, Walkabout sprang into action and purchased a few hundred standard wheelchairs. A Whirlwind colleague in another organization saw a video about Walkabout in Haiti, sent them a link to a video of the RoughRider® in action, and said that the RoughRider was the chair to buy. Since Luis is a wheelchair rider himself, he immediately recognized the RoughRider’s superiority over standard chairs. That was how Walkabout found Whirlwind. You can see a video of the Whirlwind-Walkabout collaboration in Haiti here.
In late Spring 2011, father Rolando Gonzalez-Bunster had a serendipitous meeting with actor and director Emilio Estevez on a flight between London and New York. Emilio told Rolando about a nearly completed movie he had written and directed about a father walking the Camino de Santiago and spreading his son’s ashes along the way. Rolando told Emilio about the Walkabout Foundation and its first fundraiser on the Camino, and they agreed to make the New York City premier of “The Way” a benefit for the Walkabout Foundation.
It was also fortuitous that Rolando and Bill Clinton had been good friends since 1965, and so when Rolando asked President Clinton to appear at the event, he agreed to do so without hesitation. President Clinton described to the attendees the importance of providing RoughRiders: “Until you have seen somebody hauled around in a wheel barrel, until you have see a person, a human being like you stuck in a shopping cart, until you have seen someone trying to maintain dignity crawling along on the ground by his or her knuckles, you can’t imagine what this little chair will do,” Clinton said.
“For $300, it’s very sturdy, and I think of practical things. In a poor place without a lot of sophisticated repair shops you need something that will last and that can be easily repaired. This is the best bargain you will ever have if you help one or more people to get one of these,” Clinton added.
See the full 7-minute video of President Clinton’s speech.
Also at the event were celebrities Chelsea Clinton, fashion designer Donna Karan, and Haitian musician Wyclef Jean, among others.
Good planning and hard work are essential to successfully going to scale, but a little luck never hurts.
Posted by Guest Blog: Marc Krizack |
Friday, Nov. 4, 2011
By Andy Lieberman
Posted: 11/02/2011 08:00:00 PM PDT
This week the world hits 7 billion in population, just 12 years after we reached 6 billion.
Virtually all of these new billion live at the so-called Base of the Pyramid -- that segment of humanity that, by virtue of economic and political circumstance, struggles to meet basic food, water and energy needs on incomes of around $2 a day.
Here at the Center for Science, Technology, and Society, we are confronting this problem every day and have come to the conclusion that the old ways of meeting the needs of this new billion -- and the next and the next -- will not be met with methods that have attempted to serve the underserved in our old world of 6 billion. Instead, we believe that the needs will be met with something many consider counterintuitive: social entrepreneurs selling -- not giving away -- vital products and thriving on unusual business and financing models.
The 140 entrepreneurs we have trained over nine years demonstrate the range of problems that can be addressed through social entrepreneurship. One example, Solar Sister, is a nonprofit organization eradicating energy poverty in Africa by dispensing solar lamps and other clean-energy products using an Avon-style direct-sale distribution network of women entrepreneurs. This network takes advantage of the fact that African women control the family's kerosene budget and uses women-to-women social relationships to allow them to replace polluting, dangerous kerosene lamps with solar lamps.
The entrepreneurs admitted into our programs understand local needs and identify or develop appropriate solutions. A recent IFC and World Bank study, Lighting Africa, concluded that current solar lighting technologies can pay for themselves in as little as eight months. With technological improvements, increased production and the rising cost of kerosene, the payback period could go down to as little as two months by 2015.
We believe that the old ways of serving the Base of the Pyramid, international aid programs and charities, have not had the impact that was hoped for and will fall even further behind with rapid population growth and the increasing speed of innovation. Those mechanisms will continue to play an important role in addressing many issues in education, human rights and other areas that cannot be readily solved with market-based solutions. However, with $5 trillion of purchasing power, according to research done by the World Resources Institute, the Base of the Pyramid can indeed finance much of their own development.
Even with such compelling payoffs for the consumers upon switching from kerosene to solar lamps, there are numerous challenges to reaching all 1.5 billion people living off the grid. Solar Sister has 130 entrepreneurs in its network today and, through the training and mentoring we provided, has developed a plan to reach 2,500 entrepreneurs, providing clean energy to 2.5 million Africans by 2015.
It will take many more Solar Sisters to turn the tide on the energy problem. Yet, because the data show that it is a critical need that can be met with money people are already spending, the United Nations has declared 2012 as the International Year of Sustainable Energy for All, entrusting entities including ours to form a practitioner network and share what works.
Looking across the entrepreneurs we have trained and the 74 million people whose lives they have touched, we predict the next billion will buy clean water from a local kiosk instead of waiting for an aid agency to drill a well, they will use solar lamps and cellphone chargers instead of wondering when the electric grid will reach their village, and they will thank the local entrepreneurs who serve them.
ANDY LIEBERMAN is GSBI online program manager at Santa Clara University's Center for Science, Technology, and Society, which for the past decade has trained over 120 social entrepreneurs through the Global Social Benefit Incubator. He wrote this for the Mercury News.
Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2011
The Tech Awards Nexus Conference brought together a diverse, passionate group from the social enterprise (SE) community. The annual conference is always uplifting, and this year’s theme of successful social entrepreneurship made it even more so. But, that doesn’t mean that we got a sugar-coated view of easy it is to build an organization that positively impacts the lives of thousands or millions of people. The rock stars of the SE world we heard from spoke from the heart and the brain, and they told us how messy it can be.
My current focus is on enabling CSTS to help more entrepreneurs help more people, so I was listening for insight on mentoring and capacity building that we can provide to help SEs scale their impact.
My main takeaway from the day was a reaffirmation that the social entrepreneurship movement is reaching a certain level of maturity and credibility, and that we have enough collective experience to learn from each other. Most of us in this space learn the most from practical examples and guidelines, which was the hallmark of the day. The quotes that resonated the most with me were:
- If your users are not your customers, then your users are part of your products and you are selling them to your customers. -- Joel Selanikio, DataDyne
- Our disruptive technology is communication—listening first, giving voice to others, letting people take action. We come in to each country with a beginner’s mind and give people the chance to take action. -- Ronni Goldfarb, EqualAccess
- Don’t underestimate the power of unleashing youth to work on real-life problems – Lisa Jobson, iEARN
- People make incredibly important decisions based on guesses if they don’t have access to information. – Kristine Pearson, Lifeline Energy
- Corporations aren’t yet organized to work with the social enterprise space, so you end up going around with the corporate social responsibility division to the emerging markets to the foundation to who knows where else. – Al Hammond, Ashoka
And, as in any good conversation about social entrepreneurship these days, the speakers proudly discussed their failures as an indispensable element of their success. Joel told this story:
We started charging our users for Episurveyor out of financial necessity, but once we did, it aligned us with our customers’ needs, which made us stronger. The failure is that it took us seven years to figure that out.
Radha Basu from Anudip summed up the discussion on failure with her usual exuberance by stating simply that “bruises and scars build character. You pick yourself up and go forward.”
To do this requires mental flexibility, accompanied by the willingness and ability to adapt. On this point, Joel Selanikio popped open his laptop and quoted Marie Curie: “Life is not easy for any of us. But what of that? We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves. We must believe that we are gifted for something, and that this thing, at whatever cost, must be attained.”
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Tech Awards Nexus conference without this year’s laureates sharing their innovations to benefit humanity. At every break, the laureates positioned themselves at their showcase booths and passionately described and demoed their work. We see the tremendous potential in each of these 15 innovators and hope that the Tech Awards can be as pivotal for their organizations as it was for Kristine, who told us that, “without The Tech Awards, we would have gone under. Instead, we brought in Vodaphone and other new donors, and we went on to distribute 215,000 radios and touch the lives of 12 million people.”
The problems we are working to solve are daunting, and we have a long way to go. But, in the words of John Kohler, “everyone in the room has their heart in the right place. That will let us go more quickly.”
After spending the day with such a thoughtful, committed, and sincere group of people, I am more committed than ever to going the distance. Are you?