LifeStraw Purifies Water As You Drink

The LifeStraw is an invention created by Torben Vestergaard Frandsen, a Danish innovator who hopes that it will help third world countries where millions of people die from water-borne diseases each year.

Water from most sources can be drunk if done so through the LifeStraw say the makers of the product..

However, naysayers say that the economics don’t really work out that well.

“It only costs a charity like WaterAid £15 per person to provide them with water, sanitation and hygiene education, which, provided there is decent water resource management in the country, will last them a lifetime.

Its still great to see innovation and entreprenurism in the social sector so I’m all for it.

Ford Helps Their Customers Buy Emission Offsets

When companies announce a plan to get X percent of their energy from wind, solar, or other reneable energy source, it most likely means that they will do it by buying energy credits.

However, the public might perceive these announcements to imply a different story– that a huge number of solar panels were ordered and placed on the roofs of all the company’s buildings. Not likely. Realistically, the company will probably use energy that was generated via fossil fuels.

The disconnect between the two pictures might be upsetting but purchasing energy credits is theoretically the most efficient way for companies to do this.

It looks like Ford is bringing a similar model to all its drivers– CNN reports that the auto company has partnered with Terapass so that “Drivers can pay clean energy firms to remove the same amount of pollution cars create.”

Ford Motor Co. said it will give consumers concerned about harmful greenhouse emissions an opportunity to invest in clean energy projects via a new Web Site that will calculate suggested investments based on the amount of carbon dioxide produced while driving.

I think this is a great idea and it gives all those guilty SUV drivers an easy option to help the environment. Its much easier than trading up for a Prius. The model isn’t perfect though– the NY Times says the model has shortcomings:

Although TerraPass certainly works on a free-market principle, it’s lacking the element of naked self-interest that would drive a truly global change. A more exact parallel to the cap-and-trade system would be one in which drivers who saved fuel by moseying down a 60 miles-per-hour lane could accrue electronic passes they could sell the next morning on eBay to whoever needed to dart to work or the airport that morning at 70 m.p.h. The market for environmental righteousness may be growing, but surely not as fast as the market for speed.

Directionally, we’re headed in the right direction and that’s great by me.

Related Links:
Coase theorem
Energy Credits

Barefoot College– Bunker Roy Fights Poverty By Using Entrepreneurship

Barefoot College

Barefoot College was started in 1972 to help teach local Indian communities how to solve mass poverty. The organization has recently generated some buzz and Fast Company covers it in their most recent issue. (The article should be accessible to the public in a few weeks)

An Indian named Bunker Roy, 60, whose Tilonia-based group, the Barefoot College, has spent 30 years empowering India’s rural poor to innovate their way out of poverty.

Barefoot College students, “washouts, copouts, and dropouts,” as Roy fondly calls them, learn skills ranging from midwifery to computer programming, solar engineering to rainwater harvesting. There is no required curriculum, no deadline for graduation, no degree awarded. The school, which includes stipends for all students, is supported by the income generated by offering such services to villages all over India.

Roy recently received some press when he slammed the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals as a “recipe for disaster” doomed to “be achieved only on paper.” That probably didn’t win Roy too many political friends but his model has won a lot of believers, and he recently received a $615,000 Skoll Foundation grant to seed Barefoot College all over the world.

It’s a scalable, community-based model of development managed from the bottom up by the poor themselves–a decentralized alternative to the Millennium Villages launched in Kenya and Ethiopia by Sachs’s Earth Institute at Columbia University. The big difference is, it costs at least $250,000 to set up each Millennium Village… Last year, with just $100,000, [Roy] brought 10 Afghans to India to train at the Barefoot College for six months and bought 120 solar units to power five villages.

FreePledge Lets You Donate To Non-Profits While Shopping At Your Favorite Online Retailer

FreePledge is a social venture started by Stanford alumni, students, and affiliates. FreePledge aims to strengthen non-profits by helping them tap into the power of Internet and Technology. The primary offering is an e-commerce platform that leverages marketing programs set up by retailers and turns commissions into donations: each time consumers use FreePledge for their online shopping, a percentage of their purchases is directed as a donation to a chosen charity.

Since its launch in September 2005, FreePledge has attracted more than 40 non-profit organizations, including Palo Alto American Red Cross and California Academy of Sciences. FreePledge was also a semi-finalist at the Stanford Social Entrepreneurship Challenge, a business plan Competition among socially-conscious business concepts.

I had the privilege of interviewing FreePledge founder Jonathan Xu, below is the transcript:

What motivated you to start FreePledge?
I have always strived to build things that would make a big impact. And I have found a great fit in starting a company to help the non-profits last year. It started out with brainstorming ideas on advertising and affiliate marketing. A couple of good ideas came out but we thought it was too small or not innovative. Then the bulb goes on; why not bring affiliate marketing and other innovations to the non-profit sector, where people need them.

What is your biggest challenge?
Our biggest challenge is to focus and deliver something new, innovative, and simply works. Some companies in this space have tried and did mediocre jobs. We believe in delivering truly innovative ideas that can make an impact. Online charity malls have been done before and we took a look at what are out there and decided we can do better. We also plan to offer other new services that have not been tried before and will bring new revenue streams to the non-profits.

How much help did it help to incubate this at Stanford GSB?
Stanford is absolutely the best place to start a technology company, and it is also the best place for social entrepreneurship. We are really lucky to be here and have access to the resources available for our vision that brings technology and non-profit together.

How did you discover affiliate marketing and what were your thoughts leading up to using it as a model for fundraising?
I was quite interested in online e-commerce, affiliate marketing, advertising in general and a couple friends and I were doing a few projects in those areas. We looked at companies like Ebates but we thought most people would not bother with it, as extra $20 rebate isn’t worth the effort of changing our everyday shopping behavior. We thought the impact would be much greater if the affiliate fees can be aggregated towards a bigger goal. At that time Michelle was involved with fundraising for Junior League and she talked to us about how ineffective fundraising events can be. And we thought, hey, fundraising is a bigger thing a lot of people would care about, and people wouldn’t mind 2 or 3 extra clicks to donate $5.

Professor Jim Phills has noted that “Without timely, cost effective, and broad distribution, the remarkable innovations [social entrepreneurs] had engendered would fall short of their potential.” How will you solve the problem of gaining broad distribution for your innovation?

That is a great question. The social sector is incredible diverse and segmented. Distribution builds on trust. We started with just friends and families to reach non-profits and that has been working wonderfully. And we help non-profits to reach their constituents. There are a lot of things in research and we will continuously test them out and see what works.

Are there other social ventures that are doing what you’re doing? If so, what sets you apart?

There were many ventures that offer similar affiliate marketing fundraising service. Many of them went bust. Among a few that survived, there are iGive and GreaterGood. IGive has lost its “social” touch, as they keeps most of the affiliate fees instead of giving them to non-profits; both iGive and GreaterGood have not done anything innovative since they started. A couple of things we do differently include: 50-100% higher donation rates, no account registration required to make the experience super easy, we work with non-profits side by side to promote this new way of giving. And a key differentiator is that we will continue to innovate and bring out new services.

Have you heard of Goodsearch? (Also started by Stanford alum). If so, do you have any thoughts about them?

GoodSearch is a novel idea. We started watching them last year. The idea is incredibly simple. I think their challenge is to scale. Their donation to non-profits is $0.01 per click; they need to get massive number of clicks to make a big impact. A similar challenge that we have is to get people to use our site repeatedly. Going through GoodSearch every time is not that intuitive but they have made great progress with their new search bar.

Any advice for aspiring social entrepreneurs?

Have passion – just do it. Bootstrap if you can, it does not take a big budget to start a big idea.