What Happens After Incarceration?

June 16, 2011 § Leave a comment

I don’t talk about my full-time job too much but I can’t tell you how lucky I am to have it. For those of you who don’t know, I work as the Director of Marketing for a fantastic organization called The Center for Employment Opportunities or CEO. To sum it up, we help formerly incarcerated people get back into the workforce.

To be honest, before working for CEO I never was really involved with anything having to do with the criminal justice field and never thought I’d be working for an organization like CEO. However, my time at CEO has been nothing short of inspiring. To be surrounded by such brilliant people who work together is the most motivating and exciting experiences ever.

Working at CEO, I hear incredible stories all the time from people who are returning home from prison or jail. Around three months ago, I decided I wanted to find a way for these people at CEO to tell their stories. I turned to three fantastic photographers and three months later Released with Conviction exists.

It’s a project that’s difficult to sum up and it’s impossible to understand until you experience it. I love that.

With that said, I’ll let you discover it yourselves.

Visit http://www.ceoworks.org/released to watch the brilliant photo essays and to learn more about the project.

Shoes with Soul (5 Places to Buy Shoes and Feel Good)

May 23, 2011 § Leave a comment

If you are female and you live in New York City there is about a 95% chance that you are a shoeaholic. Not only do you feel the constant pressure to keep up with the metropolitan stylings of New York but the city also KILLS your shoes. Seriously. You walk everywhere, there is dirt, trash, salt, sand, curbs, etc and etc just waiting to break your heels and deteriorate your soul (pun intended).

But  I am not pretending to be a fashionista  in the least. However, (due to a bout of insomnia that left me browsing the interweb until the wee hours of the night with a very abused credit card) I went on a bit of a shopping spree. I was on the hunt for cute and comfortable shoes. The real kicker (again, pun intended), I was looking for shoes that would make me feel very UNguilty for shopping for shoes (especially when my closet is literally overflowing with shoes and my bank account merely lets out a meek echo of emptiness when a purchase is made).

So here is a list of 5 places to buy fantastically practical, cute and comfortable shoes online AND make a difference.

1.Sseko Designs

I was introduced to Sseko Designs by a friend and fell in love immediately. I love how elegant and unique they are and also how you can change the straps and colors! Then I found out about what Sseko Designs actually is and immediately ended up buying a pair.  Sseko Designs is a unique company that hires female students in Uganda. In Uganda there is an odd 9 month gap in between Secondary school and University. Often it is difficult to find employment for this time. Sseko Desigsn hires these students who then work and live together while earning money. I believe more organizations should think of programmatic structures like Sseko Designs that treat temporary problems with permanent solutions.

2. Toms

This one is the one that most of you know about. They are seen EVERYWHERE and are super comfortable. Toms has done a great job in creating comfortable and stylish shoes that people want to buy while keeping them eco-friendly and helping to supply children in need with shoes as well (look out for Toms on a future What Went Right blog). For every pair of shoes you buy from Toms, they will donate a pair to a child in need. So while I ended up buying 2 pairs, I figured I really got a deal, 4 shoes for the price of 2!

3.Ecosandals

This company is one of my favorite companies ever. It is centered around East Africa, where I am personally attached to, and all of their shoes are made from completely recycled materials from the area. Their mission, “providing you with fashion forward sandals from recycled materials while providing security and financial freedom for our families” is so great and just oozes with motivation and  productivity. They are making a company with a huge market and are allowing community members to find employment and learn about running a successful business at the same time. Not to mention the shoes are cute. My favorite sandal is the Safi.

4. Keen

If you have outdoor plans this summer, Keen shoes are a great place to stock up on outdoor, adventure friendly shoes. These shoes are tough, durable and comfortable! For every shoe you buy, Keen donates $5 to Kiva, an organization that allows people to make small loans to entrepreneurs around the world. Great for women, men and kids!

5. FitFlop Manyano Sandal

Okay, to be honest I am NOT a fan of FitFlop shoes. I think a lot of times their shoes can be fugly and I mean yeah it would be nice to think that by just wearing shoes I could get in shape, but I’m not sure how much I believe it. So I was skeptical when I was about to look at one of their shoes where 100% of the profits goes to a women’s collective in South Africa where these sandals are handbeaded. However, these shoes are CUTE. Whether they help me tone up or not I would for sure wear them. So not only are you donating to a great collective, wearing cute shoes but you’re also toning your ass and calves. Really it doesn’t get much better than that.

So  if you needed an excuse to go shopping, here are 5! Go on and spend some money!

Street View Sudan: You’ve Never Seen South Sudan this Close Before

May 16, 2011 § Leave a comment

Getting and keeping someone’s attention nowadays is extremely difficult. A reason why I love working with non-profits so much is that their small budgets but fantastic causes make a great challenge for catching the attention of a diverse crowd.

Street View Sudan is exactly that type of project. I would say more, but I hate to give away the experience.

All I can say is: So. Freakin. Clever.

Originally done in Dutch, go here for the English version.

I would recommend checking out the site (http://award-entry.com/streetviewsoedan/)  first and then watching the video:

Run for the Rabbit

May 10, 2011 § Leave a comment

There are three things that I LOVE when it comes to charity. One is when it isn’t a non-profit but a for-profit raising money, the second is when they come up with a brilliant and innovative campaign idea and the third (and most important) is when it includes one of my good friends!

Lucky for me, this perfect trifecta is occurring right now! The NY famous running store, Jack Rabbit, has created a new campaign called Run for the Rabbit.  Out of hundred of candidates, they have chosen 6 New Yorkers who want to run the Hampton’s Marathon for a charity of their choice. With a running coach, numerous social media outlets and the support of their charities, these runners will spend the next few months training for the marathon and trying to raise money for their great causes.

The best part to all of this? My good friend, Cipriana, is one of the 6 runners participating in this campaign. She is running for Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) in memory for her brother who passed away from diabetes at a young age. You can see her story here:

or watch a quick video on all Run for the Rabbit:

It’s easy to see why this charity needs donations, but what I love even more is the fact that JDRF donations not only goes to research for finding a cure to diabetes, but the organization also plays a major role in educating people about diabetes and helping those diagnosed and their families have easier times in coping with the disease.

I’ve had the honor of being a part of Cip’s training by going running with her as often as I can. From personal experience I can say that she is definitely dedicated in running the marathon (in fact she’s ALSO running the NYC Marathon…that’s 2 marathons in 2 months!) and she’s definitely dedicated in JDRF‘s cause.

Help Cip  raise money and make a difference in thousand’s of lives here. Like her on Facebook, Follow her on Twitter or make a donation.

I’m Serious About Diarrhea.

May 8, 2011 § Leave a comment

Today folks, I am talking about diarrhea. Giggle Giggle!

Now to be a bit gross, we all experience it, but I think it’s rare that people think about actually DYING from it. But here’s a fact: diarrhea and pneumonia kills more children under the age of five than AIDS, TB an malaria combined. The worst part? Most of these deaths can be avoided through proper hygiene and vaccines.

I’d like to take some time to highlight two campaigns that can save millions (yes, millions) of children’s (and adult’s!) lives.  Since we all have short attention spans, these campaigns include videos to help raise awareness of solutions for diarrhea related deaths (don’t worry you don’t actually SEE any diarrhea).

1. “It’s in Your Hands”–  Tippytap.org

Complicated problems don’t always mean complicated solutions. The Tippy Tap demonstrates this fact. One way to save lives is to to simply have children wash their hands with soap. According to Tippytap.org, 3.5 million children die from diarrhea and acute  respiratory infection in developing countries every year. Hand washing with soap can save 1.2 million of these children

It’s not a high-tech solution. It’s a simple one. The Tippy Tap is simply a makeshift washing station that acts as a sink.

This video won best thrifty video from the DoGooder Non-Profit Video awards. I believe that this is the best award. Tippytap.org demonstrates that it doesn’t take million dollar budgets or million dollar devices to make a difference. Most of the time it is a simple idea and smart implementation to save millions of lives.

Small donations go a long way and in Tippytap.org‘s case their donations go to help build education and awareness of hand cleaning in developing countries. To donate to Tippytap.org go here.

2. “Save 4 Million Children’s Lives in 5 Years”ONE

It’s not often that problems this large are solvable by just a single solution. ONE often works with policy to make smart changes that have large scale effects. A reason why I like this campaign is because they’re not asking for your money, they’re asking for your voice. Signing this petition will help give the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisations (GAVI) the proper funding so that they can immunize:

  • 90 million children with the pneumococcal vaccine (to fight against pneumonia)
  • 53 million children with the rotavirus vaccine (to fight against diarrhea)
  • 230 million children against the five deadly diseases covered by the pentavalent vaccine

With these vaccines, GAVI expects to save the lives of 4 million children by 2015.

It seriously takes less than 3 minutes (including watching the video) and you can help be a part of saving over 4 million children’s lives by 2015.

There you have it. Ever thought you’d be so enlightened by a blog about diarrhea?  Especially one that includes videos? Now go on and get serious about diarrhea!

What Went Right: Invisible Children

April 12, 2011 § Leave a comment

I am happy to announce my first series, What Went Right. Every week (or so) I will discuss a new organization or venture that is doing it up right. Highlighting the good. Isn’t that what it’s all about?

This week’s What Went Right is the Invisible Children project. Invisible Children was started in 2003 by three young (think way early 20’s) filmmakers who traveled to Uganda and created a heart-wrenching documentary discussing the violence occurring in Northern Uganda and the horrible instances of kidnapping children in order to create soldiers for the LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army). While I’ve been a fan of Invisible Children for awhile, my friend, Molly, has kept me updated on the going-ons of the organization.

Here’s what they did right:

  • Started with Focus: As young as the founders were when they first went to Uganda (Laren Poole was only 19 at the time), they saw a problem that existed and focused on that one specific problem. In other words, they didn’t just go to Uganda and come back saying “there are poor people suffering from this war happening, let’s give them money.” Instead they pinpointed the issue that innocent children were being abducted and used as child soldiers.
  • Kept it Simple: When Invisible Children first started they never thought they would make millions of dollars to “make it rain” in Uganda. Instead, they knew their own capabilities and did what they (as individuals) could do to make a difference. In this case, they picked up a video camera. That’s it. From that simple task they have affected thousands of lives.
  • Created a clear mission: Once you become involved on any level with Invisible Children you understand their mission immediately and you never see them deter from it. Invisible Children wants to stop Joseph Kony and his Lord Resistance Army from creating violence and taking in child soldiers in Africa. The end.
  • Clear Plan: Invisible Children has a plan to help stop Joseph Kony and once they succeed with one plan they move onto the next. They were key factors in passing the LRA Disarmanent and Northern Uganda Recovery Act in 2010 and now have a Tri Protection Plan that helps create Congo Early Warning Radio Networks.
  • Factored in emotion: Invisible Children is as large as it is today because they got people to stop for just a moment to learn more about their cause. They did this through a documentary that was done so well it demanded people’s attention. This documentary created a huge buzz within America’s youth and essentially spread by itself by word of mouth.
  • Targeted an audience: As an organization made up of young individuals it only made sense to focus on other young individuals. Invisible Children isn’t targeting large donors who are often above the age of 50, instead they realized how focusing on youth can best affect their organization.
  • Made the war stylish: This may sound wrong, but Invisible Children made their issue a hip and cool thing to support. They’ve almost created a club. How did they do this? They kept up things new (new tours happen, they address new issues, new documentaries) and let’s face it, our youth loves new things. And they kept things well designed and edgy. The site intrigues people and gives of the right vibe that it is a fun organization addressing a serious issue. Their t-shirts are shirts you want to wear around, their products are ones that you want to buy as a present. These little things make people proud to talk about what they’re supporting.
  • Receive money without asking for it: Especially as a New Yorker, I feel like everyone is always asking for money ALL the time. I am true believer that the best way to get money as a non-profit is to NOT ask for it. I mean, always give an option to ask for donations, but as Invisible Children demonstrates, you need people to first hear of your cause, to believe in it fully and then money will follow. Invisible Children covers these points fully. They understand that the most important way to make a difference is to spread the word. To make the issue apparent and important. When you go to the Invisible Children’s website or screening or event, they don’t first ask you to donate, instead they ask you to become involved.Right now, they are launching a campaign called “25”. On April 25th, they are asking you to “speak up without speaking” for 25 hours. After the silence, if you have raised at least $25 you can attend the “Break the Silence” event where you are able to attend a concert in your city. Already, they have over 25,000 people participating and have made over $420,000. They never once told anyone to donate, instead they asked for people to take a stand, and from that they were able to raise almost half a million dollars.
  • Gave opportunities to the youth to make a difference: Invisible Children are known for their “Roadies”. In fact, there was a time I came really close to applying to become one. These Roadies travel around the country in a van showing screenings across the U.S. and getting the youth involved. Every group travels with a Ugandan who shares their stories at each stop. They go to colleges, concerts, homes, etc. It is an amazing and tough experience for many of these roadies. There are members of our youth today who are so passionate about the world and want to do something that makes a large impact. Invisible Children not only gives them this opportunity, but also shows the world that our youth can make a difference. This attracts young individuals to not only apply for Roadie positions but also inspires other young individuals to become involved in the project.
  • They don’t rely on social media to spread the word: All you hear nowadays is Social Media, Social Media, Social Media. Don’t get me wrong, social media is a fantastic tool. However, I see many non-profits relying on Social Media as their only form of communication or advocacy. Yes, we are in the age of social media, but Invisible Children proves that it takes people in motion to make change. To advocate an issue, you cannot just sit in front of your computer and message people. Social Media is a tool, not an action.

I have only really touched upon what Invisible Children does right. Check out a screening near you of their newest documentary called Tony, visit their website or read more about the horrors of Joseph Kony and the LRA to find out why Invisible Children does what they do and how they do it so freakin’ right.

5 Design Ideas that Can Save the World

March 31, 2011 § 3 Comments

In today’s world, our heads are spinning with new technologies. It is what surrounds us in our society and often it’s hard to think about life without it. However, our power to change the world doesn’t come from technology, it comes from the simplest and most basic ideas. These ideas are based on using what is around us in strategic, useful and innovative ways, i.e. design. Design is much more than aesthetics, it is a plan, a way to intelligently build with our resources; it is an execution of an idea in a strategic way. Design will always be what changes our world.

In that respect, I’d like to introduce 5 design ideas that I believe have the power to change our world. These ideas did not depend on the invention of the iPad2 or the use of hi-tech robots. Instead these ideas were based on simplicity and resourcefulness. They are merely well thought out solutions to problems around the world.

1. The Hydropack

More than one billion people lack access to safe water worldwide, and for this reason, water borne illness has become the leading cause of death. On any given day, over 50% of the world’s hospital beds are occupied by people suffering from water-borne disease.

The Hydropack is a product that uses a type of natural equilibrium in order to filter water. By dropping the pack in any water, the pack separates the liquids through a membrane that only allows water to pass. This product can literally be dropped in any contaminated water and can self hydrate and filter to become drinkable water. One of the best parts is that the Hydropacks are small products that are easy to pack and ship. They are huge life savers in major disasters and I am excited to see how these packs can open the doors to replacing water systems in developing countries.

2. Self-Adjustable Glasses

I have horrible eyesight and during my travels I remember wondering what I would do if I didn’t have any access to glasses or contacts. I am actually pretty sure I would be unable to survive. According to the Centre for Vision in the Developing World (CVDW), over one billion people lack proper eyesight. The idea I am about to explain is just plain awesome. The basic gist of self-adjustable glasses are that these glasses are able to change by the viewer themselves and then can be sealed to keep the prescription. The way they do this is by filling the lenses with fluid that then changes the shape of the lens thus changing the refractive power. It can be used for either short-sightedness (by creating negative power lenses) or long-sightedness (by creating positive lenses).

These glasses are easy, quick and cost effective ways to give proper eyesight to those in need. We often forget how problems like eyesight can affect those without access to proper healthcare. Self-adjustable glasses can really change the world and how we see it.

3. Solar Sanitation

In developing countries, sanitation is one of the biggest issues. Plumbing is often limited and waste can often stick around creating toxic situations that endanger lives. The solar sanitation system project started by Emory University Center for Global Safe Water heats waste through a solar unit. Since the unit is able to produce temperatures in excess of 140 degrees Fahrenheit, it can destroy most disease causing micro-organisms and bacteria within the water. After a few weeks, it can be used as a fertilizer for various crops.

The design is user friendly and most importantly is low maintenance and effective. It will be interesting to see how they plan on implementing these solar sanitation systems and if communities are capable of installing and maintaining these systems by themselves. If it is a success, these systems can save some of the 2 million people who die of diarrheal disease and help the 2.5 billion people without proper sanitation.

4. Stoves for Solar

It’s a solution to a problem many of us have never thought about. In many areas of the world finding fuel for cooking is an every day issue. Many people are forced to cut down trees in order to use wood as a stove. Often these “stoves” can cause respiratory disease, degrade soil quality, soil stability and contribute to extensive deforestation.

Bob Lange’s stoves cut carbon emissions and use one third less wood. However his design idea does not stop there. Lange wants to see these stoves helping out communities thus he has created a minuscule non-profit that works with Masai villages to implement these stoves and also gives them solar panels. For every four stoves that the village implements, they receive one small solar panel capable of charging a cellphone. He calls it an “informal carbon credit market.”

Not only has Lange introduced a product that saves trees and improves the lives of villagers, but he has allowed the villagers to take control of these changes. By doing this, Lange has created a new currency that is truly sustainable within communities.

5. Uniject Device

The Uniject Device was brought to my attention by a friend as an innovative design idea that has already changed several lives. The idea of this device is to create a way where health workers around the world could give vaccines with little training and with little risk. It is merely a needle with a small plastic bubble filled with a dose of the vaccine. The device takes less than 2 hours of training and it is impossible to reuse therefore eliminating any risk of disease transmission.

This is a device that exemplifies the use of simple ideas to create big impact products. While the focus is just on vaccines right now, it can later be used for numerous other lifesaving drugs in the future.

Honorable mention:

JustMilk Nipple Shield prevents HIV transmission from mother to baby. A simple nipple shield allows the baby to still drink breastmilk from the mother but reduces the risk of HIV by adding a non-woven disk with a virucidal agent that inactivates the HIV virus. It can also be used as a way to deliver therapeutic drugs to the baby. With over 50,000-100,000 babies in the sub-Saharan Africa contracting HIV from breastfeeding a year, the simple plastic nipple shield can save thousands of babies every year.

Even as cars begin to drive themselves, computers become the size of a cigarette boxes, and the internet becomes accessible in every nook and cranny of our lives, it is a relief to see that solutions still exist in the simplest of forms. It doesn’t take a team of scientists to figure out how to save our world, it just takes a great ideas.