CHRISTMAS SEALS, first sold 104 years ago in a Delaware post office, transformed the treatment and control of tuberculosis, one of the most feared killers of the age.
Just as important, they produced a revolution in philanthropy. At that time, the 1 percent of the late Gilded Age, men with names like Carnegie and Rockefeller, were creating major new philanthropic institutions. Christmas Seals, in a way, was the response from the other 99 percent: by marketing something as inexpensive as a stamp and using the proceeds to attack a major disease, the founders of the Christmas Seals program demonstrated the collective power of the American public.
The idea reached the United States by chance. The Danish-born immigrant Jacob Riis, well known as a pioneer photographer of tenement life, had already seen six of his brothers die of tuberculosis by 1904 when he received a Christmas letter from Copenhagen.
In addition to the traditional postage stamp, it bore a peculiar seal, the brainchild of a Danish postal clerk, Einar Holboll. Rather than rely on a few deep pockets to pay for a new hospital for children with tuberculosis, he sold the seals for two ore (there are 100 ore in a Danish krone) each. Patrons placed the seals alongside regular stamps to raise awareness of the campaign.
Three years later, Riis reported the story of this highly successful “penny subscription” in the magazine The Outlook, urging its duplication in the United States. Riis pointed to the fact that “no millionaire” had yet come forth “to endow” the fight against tuberculosis in America, and went on to say that “no millionaire” was “wanted,” that the job would be “far better done by the people themselves.”
Emily Bissell, a member of The Outlook’s editorial board and an active fund-raiser for the Red Cross, took him up on the suggestion as a way to support a tuberculosis sanitarium near Wilmington, Del. She borrowed money from friends to print the seals, persuaded the Wilmington postmaster to sell them in the post office lobby, and sold the first Christmas Seals in December 1907. Aided by an adroit publicity campaign, she raised $3,000 that first year, 10 times her original goal.
It was such a success that the next year the Red Cross made the seals available in post offices around the country, packaged with the message, “These stamps do not carry any kind of mail but any kind of mail will carry them.” That year, Christmas Seals raised $135,000; by 1916, they raised $1 million, all through purchases of less than $1.
The Christmas Seals campaign demonstrated the philanthropic power of the grass roots. It not only raised money, but called attention to tuberculosis. In a few years, the number of volunteers for the National Association for the Study and Prevention of Tuberculosis soared to 500,000 from 5,000. In 1919, three million child “crusaders” served in the Modern Health Crusade to raise awareness of the disease.
Equally important, this people’s philanthropy mobilized public health officials, attracted the attention of politicians — President Theodore Roosevelt publicly endorsed Christmas Seals — and even mobilized the 1 percent. The Rockefeller International Health Commission joined the fight against tuberculosis during World War I.
Mass philanthropy took off in a wide variety of fields. Community chests sprang up in every major city, and the Red Cross took volunteerism and grass-roots philanthropy to new levels to support the troops abroad. By the 1930s, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt introduced the March of Dimes, volunteers knew how to canvass entire populations in large and small cities alike. Today, it is possible for practically every citizen willing to spend a little money to respond directly and almost instantly to world emergencies simply by sitting down at a computer or picking up a cellphone.
At the same time, mass philanthropy has become increasingly news-driven, as givers respond to earthquakes and tsunamis with an outpouring of resources but then lose interest as these disasters move off the front page. During the holiday season, our phones ring incessantly with appeals from scores of nonprofits. That we give to some of them is critical for our society. But the new ease with which we can transfer money does little to deepen the philanthropic spirit or generate long-term commitments.
What’s missing is both the commonality and intensity of purpose displayed by the original Christmas Seals campaign. Interestingly, these are two qualities exhibited by Occupy Wall Street, a movement that seems unable to harness its members’ sense of outrage to purposeful action.
It might be worthwhile for all those who sympathize with the occupiers of Zuccotti Park and other plazas and squares around the country to learn from the example of the Christmas Seals campaign. We have no shortage of urgent causes that will benefit from the energy of the grass roots. The seals campaign showed that the 99 percent, even when feeling disenfranchised, are hardly powerless to repair the safety net — and even influence the actions of the 1 percent.
Olivier Zunz, a professor of history at the University of Virginia, is the author of “Philanthropy in America: A History.”
December 14, 2011 11:14 pm
By Andrew Jack
Life savers: Network Rail partnered with Samaritans, which provided publicity campaigns to help reduce suicides
The chief executive of Standard Chartered has many pressing financial issues on his mind but when Peter Sands hosts a conference call with the bank’s senior executives on Thursday, one unusual item will be high on his agenda: its campaign to tackle preventable blindness.
Such sustained, top-level commitment to a charitable cause has helped the bank’s success in raising more than $37m in eight years to fund 2.7m cataract operations worldwide in conjunction with staff and partners, including a donation-matching programme for the Financial Times seasonal appeal this year for Sightsavers.
But StanChart’s Seeing is Believing campaign, which began as an employee suggestion for marking the bank’s 150th anniversary in 2003, has triggered a far broader programme that embraces volunteering and technical assistance. It has also brought substantial benefits to the bank itself and even led to changes in working practices. “It captured the imagination and commitment of staff, and plays to our culture in cementing a very diverse business,” says Richard Meddings, StanChart chief financial officer, who chairs the effort and points to its role in motivating employees and attracting recruits.
Such projects reflect a broader international trend towards more sophisticated partnerships between businesses and charities that go far beyond traditional chequewriting, a process that risks providing only short-term benefits while diverting an organisation’s limited resources.
“We’ve gone from the chairman’s wife identifying a worthy cause to cause-related marketing, with companies extending their brand by engaging with charities,” says Ben Kernighan, deputy head of the UK’s National Council for Voluntary Organisations, an umbrella body for the non-profit sector. “Companies recognise the huge range of skills they have to respond to the community”.
Mr Meddings says StanChart’s partnerships with local blindness charities around the world has led the bank to introduce “speaking” ATMs with Braille keys and to recruit from schools for the blind, especially in call-centres, where impaired vision need not be an impediment. In Uganda it has hired a former employee of a partner charity as an executive.
David Fass, Macquarie CEO for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, says the bank has partnerships worldwide, including the Cripplegate Foundation to tackle poverty in Islington, north London. “It not only provides valuable skilled resources for the organisation, it provides development for staff. They come back more motivated, more creative . . . It broadens their horizons, working with a variety of stakeholders, [and] collaborating and engaging with senior colleagues.”
● Make a partnership a high priority: consistent top management support works better than diktats.
● Match: contribute alongside employees’ donations, and make it easier and more tax-efficient through payroll giving.
● Partner for the long-term:one-off seasonal donations can be quickly forgotten and unsustainable.
● Be sensitive: employee polling to select charities may neglect less popular or well marketed causes.
● Identify shared values:common aims and objectives between a company and a charity help establish better partnerships.
● Provide time and expertise:volunteering and technical assistance can add more than money for both parties.
● Service contracts: charities’ skills and expertise can form the basis for successful commercial contracts.
These deeper partnerships reflect recognition of professionalism among charities, coupled with an urgency to seek financial support during the economic downturn and a shift in the way services are delivered by public and private sector entities alike.
Klara Kozlov, senior corporate adviser at the Charities Aid Foundation, says one shift involves businesses hiring charities to deliver services directly. “The charity/business divide is disappearing,” she explains. “There is a move away from the ‘funder’ model of companies give and charities receive, to a relationship of mutual benefit.”
Three years ago insurer Legal & General formed a unit to create links with non-profit groups. “A lot of partnerships are great for a charity of the year, but the company never learns from them,” says Graham Precey, head of corporate social responsibility. “There is a lot of intellectual property in the third sector that would really help our business. We pay charities, which allows us to deliver better services and them to develop a new income stream and build capacity to work with other corporates.”
Identifying Macmillan Cancer Support as one of the most important beneficiaries of L&G’s employee donation programme led to it paying the charity to train 90 of its “critical illness team” in how to deal with calls from customers with cancer.
L&G has negotiated a similar arrangement with Age UK, a charity advising the elderly, recognising that “we’ve got a generation gap, with our 25-year-old employees talking to customers who are mainly aged over 55”.
It also works with housing charity Shelter and funds all three groups for activities beyond its commercial contracts, such as joint advocacy work where they have common interests.
Such innovative approaches can help win funding for groups that work on less popular causes and those with fewer resources to market themselves for employee ballots. One such charity is the Samaritans. “We struggle to get corporate funding because we are not cuddly or sexy,” says Rachel Kirby-Rider, its fundraising director. So she brokered a “commercial partnership” with Network Rail. The UK rail operator has paid the charity £5m over five years to run a programme that aims to reduce the number of suicides on British railways. These human tragedies also distress employees, disrupt passengers and lead to fines for service delays. “The basis is commercial but there are wider benefits,” says Mike Carr, Network Rail’s national safety improvement manager.
The Samaritans has trained station personnel to identify and talk to people they suspect may be contemplating suicide; counselled train drivers following deaths; and run a publicity campaign targeting men aged 30-55, those judged most at risk.
Jan Levy, head of Three Hands, a consultancy advising businesses on community engagement, praises such projects but cautions that effective partnerships require shared values, which risk being forgotten if “companies treat charities like cleaners”.
Sir Stephen Bubb, head of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations, says: “[The charity] can’t just be a subcontractor. You have to be involved in the way the contract is put together, and have ways to raise and deal with issues. But the marriage could be a really winning combination.”
Ms Kirby-Rider concedes that a direct donation of £5m from Network Rail would probably have been spent on other projects for the Samaritans such as new systems to allow callers to phone the counselling service for free. But she remains very satisfied with the project. “This is a commercial partnership that saves lives and enabled us to do things we would not have been able to do,” she says. “Network Rail staff are really excited about it, so you can achieve charitable and organisational objectives.”
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2011.
August 19, 2011 6:14 pm
By Rosie Millard
Scouts test their prowess and apply their survival skills with axe, rope and pioneering pole
I am sitting on a bench in a large white tent, gingerly forking through what look like long red rectangles of Lego, swimming around pasta tubes in a greasy scarlet sauce. “Cheese?” offers a 14-year-old boy. I look at my food. It might help, I suppose. I put one of the rectangles into my mouth. It is some form of reconstituted, pre-cooked, refried protein, with the consistency of rubber. It is quite possibly the most repellent thing I have ever eaten.
This is spag bol, scouting-style, as served by the Explorer scouts of north London at the 22nd World Scout Jamboree, held this year in Sweden. And at the jamboree, great cuisine is not the point.
The north London scouts, along with 40,000 others from around the globe, have spent the past two years frantically preparing for the jamboree, which grips the Scout Movement every four years like a kind of Olympics.
So are the uniforms: the French are in red, the New Zealanders black, while the Indonesians sport head scarves and ear muffs. A brigade of Italian scouts, effortlessly cool in midnight-blue jackets and long shorts, marches past. The Italians are very big on marching in pairs.
By contrast, the British bunch, 4,000-strong, are rather relaxed in their sweatshirts and pretty pastel tents. Elsewhere, the Czechs have wooden-bottomed tents, while the Finns are up on poles. Nobody does it quite like the Germans, though, whose yurt-like accommodation is windowless, Teutonic and menacing. “Have you seen the German tents?” asks Samuel Blackman Gibson, 16, from a patrol in West Sussex. “They are awesome! They are big! They are black! They use pioneering poles!”
The famed pioneering pole
For the uninitiated, pioneering poles look like telegraph poles. There are several hundred thousand on site, freely available in giant piles. Scouts chop them up and use them for every imaginable purpose. If one had to choose a single symbol of scouting, you’d be hard pushed between a woggle and a pioneering pole. Almost every scout patrol at the jamboree has been moved to use them to construct some sort of monument, with furious amounts of clove hitches, square lashings and competitive zeal. The 8th Holborn has built a replica Tower Bridge, Paris St Germain has built the Eiffel Tower.
Anyone who thinks that scouting is on the wane should think again. The movement, founded by Lord Baden-Powell 104 years ago, is currently enjoying something of a boom. Via a smart combination of marketing, parental enthusiasm and a subtle shift of emphasis, scouting now attracts 30 million young people between the ages of 14 and 18 right across the world. In troubled countries, it keeps children out of armies.
Scouting’s founder Baden-Powell
There are now more Muslim scouts than there are Christian ones. There are Pakistani scouts and scouts from Malawi. Apparently almost every child in Indonesia is a scout. Meanwhile in Britain, an institution which seemed fated to go the same way as the Boys’ Brigade has achieved something of a renaissance, thanks in part to a wholesale dumping of the movement’s overtly militaristic and religious trappings.
“We got smart,” says Wayne Bulpitt, the UK chief commissioner, the most senior of 100,000 scout volunteers in this country. Executive director of a consultancy firm, Bulpitt spends half his time working for the cause. “We realised 10 years ago that we needed to change or we would become extinct,” he says. “It’s no good hoping to change a young person’s life if you can’t get hold of them in the first place. We urgently had to change our profile.”
The traditional uniform, with its epaulettes and buttons, has been kept for special occasions but everyday gear was updated to a hoodie and scarf. Marching was quietly abandoned. Girls, allowed in the top age range since 1976, were now encouraged to join at all levels. But more than anything, the scouts decided to focus on a single notion guaranteed to have universal appeal: adventure.
Scout groups, even in urban areas, were told to go kayaking, abseiling, hiking and mountaineering. Throttled by health and safety restrictions at school and faced with increasingly sedentary leisure pursuits at home, scouting (note: you now use the active verb, not the noun) offered empowerment through activity. And young people responded. There are now half-a-million British scouts and 33,000 on the waiting list. There is even a credible yet aspirational celebrity figurehead – adventure itself, rendered in human form.
. . .
One evening, I am at the opening ceremony of the World Scout Jamboree waiting for this figure to make his entrance. Around me are Mexican scouts in sombreros; Swedes in sensible yellow macs; and more Indonesians, this time carrying a giant webbed construction with masses of beads hanging off it. The Arab contingent is entirely hidden under a vast flag. The French insist on leaping up and dancing, much to the alarm of officials, who want to keep everyone sitting down on the grass.
This is not actually all that difficult, as these young people do not seem to be keen on disorderly behaviour, let alone rioting. I sit and watch the many thousands of teenagers, each specially selected, each of whom has raised about £1,000 in order to spend two weeks camping on a muddy Swedish field, eating reconstituted meat and constructing things from poles. A bunch of Ugandans, who flew from Kampala to Rome and cycled the rest of the way are waving their flags like crazy. Everyone looks thrilled beyond belief to be here. Then they all start singing the jamboree song, “I’m Changing The World Today”.
Suddenly, the song stops. On the huge stage, the music from Mission: Impossible booms forth. “And now!” thunders the PA system. “Britain’s chief scout!” Forty thousand scouts rise to their feet. The marshals roll their eyes but this time they are powerless. Does everyone know who Bear Grylls is? Are you kidding? Man vs. Wild, the TV series that shows the dynamic Bear triumphing in all sorts of terrifying situations in the big outdoors, is screened across the world. His books are bestsellers. He was in the SAS. He has climbed Mount Everest. He has his own game on Xbox. He advertises Sure for Men.
Bear Grylls, TV adventurer and UK chief scout
From above the stage, Bear appears, abseiling down a rope. Action Man incarnate. He is sporting a British scouting hoodie, his scarf is gripped by a giant furry chief scout woggle. The scouts go into ecstasies. “Who loves adventure?” yells Bear. A giant roar comes up. You can practically smell the satisfaction from the top brass. This is the personification of modern-day scouting.
Indeed, the combination of Bear and scouting is pretty much a marriage made in heaven. Both institutions need each other, as I learn when enjoying a bit of face time with the chief scout.
A small gaggle of wide-eyed scouts, who have managed to dodge the ropes, look on from a distance. Bear insists first that I have a cup of tea (smart man). Then he explains how life was for him in the UK before taking on the mantle of Baden-Powell.
“At first, with the British press, I was a superhero. Then you start getting killed for stuff.” What stuff? The stories in 2007 about how Action Man preferred to stay in hotels rather than bivouac in the wild? Indeed. “And then the story grows, and the seed of something becomes a huge summer story.”
Bear, clear of eye, chiselled of cheek and unshaven of chin, sighs. “Ran rang me up.” Ran, in Old Etonian adventuring circles, means Ranulph Fiennes.
“And he said to me, Bear!” shouts Bear. “Take no notice of all that rubbish in the press! I have had far worse than that! In the ’80s I was the devil incarnate! Just keep going!”
So Bear did as Ran advised. Then the scouts came knocking and all the opprobrium melted away.
The jamboree campsite
“The press stopped any nastiness since I took over as chief scout,” admits Bear (real name Edward, but he won’t answer to it). “It was like: if you diss me, you diss the scouts. And the press doesn’t want to diss the scouts. People in Britain used to come up to me in the street and talk about my TV programmes. Now they come up and go: ‘Bear! My son is a scout! Good on you!’” He pauses. “It’s like a deflection.”
He has clearly loved the organisation, though, ever since his first cub scout night when he was instructed, at the age of six, to cook a sausage with just one match. “And I thought, ‘Hang on! This match isn’t going to last long enough to cook the sausage!’ And then you think: ‘I know! I’ll use it to light a fire!’ It was a eureka moment.”
Occasionally, Bear will launch into an escapade known as “Bear in the Air”, in which he crosses the country by chopper in order to visit 10 scout patrols in a single day. “I go to council estates – say in the back end of Liverpool, or a tough area of Glasgow – and the scouts are there. And you think, gosh, this is an incredible, small group of guys. They are super-motivated, and they have found an identity and a purpose and a sense of belonging. And they are planning expeditions to Patagonia! When you give kids opportunity, they can do incredible things.”
Bear has to go. He has to be in New York. As he leaves, he stops to shake hands (left-handed, the secret scout way) with the small group of hovering fans. An Australian scout charges up. “Oh my God!” she squeals. “Our leader will kill me if I don’t get your picture!” Bear accedes graciously. A scout from Saudi Arabia comes up to me. “Is that a Swedish prince?” he whispers. But by this time Bear is out of earshot, walking away through the mud.
I chat to the scouts’ celebrity wrangler, Dan Ownby, a Texan scout who is in charge of VIPs at the jamboree. Ownby is also responsible for flags. Can his unit identify all of them? Ownby eyes me suspiciously. “By the end I hope they will,” he says. Which countries aren’t here? “China. Cuba. Laos. Myanmar. North Korea. And Andorra.” Wow. I didn’t know Andorra had a communist regime, I say. “No, purely because of its size,” says Ownby smoothly.
He tells me a little bit about the Boy Scouts of America, whose character seems rather different from British scouting, an overtly inclusive, multi-faith organisation where gay and lesbian members and leaders are welcomed alongside any other. By comparison, the Boy Scouts of America has only just allowed girls in at the top age bracket, and every time I mention homosexuality, someone from PR steps in to move the conversation on.
Never mind. American scouts have been in space. “Do you know that 11 out of the 12 men to walk upon the moon were Eagle Scouts?” says Ownby.
Who’s your chief scout, then? I’ll bet he’s not as cool as Bear Grylls. “Rex Tillerson. Head of Exxon Mobil.”
The world’s scouts prepare to be entertained
. . .
Gumboots would be in order: rain is now tipping down across the churned-up fields. Police cars drive slowly past. This is a week after the Norwegian massacre, and security is tight. The flags whip in the wind. I stumble down the main thoroughfare and after walking for what seems like a couple of miles, eventually arrive for a cup of tea at the Northern Ireland unit.
Here, Matt Morrow, 17, from County Tyrone, is tying final knots on the kitchen, which is made out of pioneering poles. Why does he love being a scout? “People always go on about the stereotypes,” he says, “but, you know, when you are abseiling down a 140° cliff face, or kayaking across the longest loch in Ireland, that doesn’t matter.”
“Without the scouts I wouldn’t ever have been able to leap off bridges with a rope tied around my waist.” Not necessarily a crucial skill, even in the wilds of County Tyrone, but one that Morrow insists has given him a great deal of confidence.
While all the young people I talked to said that scouting had increased their self-esteem, they also seemed content to operate within the abidingly top-down nature of the organisation. Explorer scouts might be adventurous, but they are also compliant to adult authority. (This does not extend to adult abuse. Indeed, the scouts are very hot on police checks for volunteers and the cover of the jamboree handbook includes a card about child protection.)
A strong sense of discipline, however, is still apparent. That this can be maintained alongside the notion that every Tuesday at the Hut promises an adventure, is an extremely clever feat. Unsurprisingly, it has also made the scouts wildly popular with parents. “My mum is so proud of me being a scout,” says Charlotte Admans, 17, from Romford. “She wishes she’d done it herself.”
Its conformity also means, despite all of Bear’s magic, that in Britain at least, scouting still isn’t particularly cool. “The first time I met someone I wouldn’t tell them I was a scout,” says Charlotte. “People are aggressively inquisitive. They think it’s still like it was in the 1950s: all knots and Dyb Dyb Dyb, whereas in fact we are canoeing and abseiling.” Charlotte also has another card to play. Scouting looks great on that personal statement for university entrance. “If it was you against someone else, you’d have the upper hand,” she says.
The next morning I visit “Quest”, a pioneering pole assault course lashed together with 5km of rope donated by the Irish Electricity Board. Hundreds of young people appear to be enjoying the process of hurling themselves over wooden bridges and swinging across woodchip paths. Quest is one of the seven or so formal activities which the scouts are expected to complete during the jamboree. More informal activities include meeting scouts from other countries, swapping badges, swapping entire outfits, smoking quietly in corners and rolling around with one another underneath the pioneering poles at night time. Is this frowned upon? “There are 40,000 young people here,” says my official scouting escort, Stuart Card. “You’re not going to stop it.”
Tyler, US; Lisa, Finland; David, UK; Marie, Rwanda
Indeed, dating seems to be a scouting byproduct. Most of the officials I chatted to appeared to be married, or at least partnered up, with fellow scouts, and apparently nine months after every jamboree, there is something of a scouting population blip.
“We learn about friendship,” says Floris de Brabandere, a tall, archetypal Belgian scout from Ypres. What else, I ask, does scouting teach you? We already know about mating. What about survival in the wild? “Of course I could build a shelter,” says Floris. “Of course I could trap an animal and eat it.”
Sadly the British contingent is not so confident about its ability to kill and eat a small animal. “I can make pancakes and salad,” says Lawrence Brand, from west Lancashire, “but I don’t want to harm any animals.” But could his unit put up a shelter and last at least one night in the open? No sweat.
Shreni, India; Paul, France; Marie, Hong Kong; Flo, Germany
“I can build a bivvy. And I would put a saucepan out with clingfilm to gather water,” says Jessica Dent, 17.
“Where’d you get the clingfilm from?” asks Lawrence. Never mind. It was a good idea.
Another incidental thrill of the jamboree is that because it falls in July-August, the annual family holiday goes by the board. “This is much better than sitting on a beach,” says Liam Mills, 15, from West Sussex. “Or sightseeing around Venice,” chimes in his mate Jack Sharp. “Or walking around the streets of Crawley.”
That night I join several thousand scouts on “Dream”, a midnight adventure walk through part of the forest which surrounds the campsite. The idea is that you should walk backwards through your life, starting with Death.
Death is perceived by the scouts as dark, with green light filtering through dry ice and some accompanying spooky music. After this comes Old Age (Gandhi and Mandela), Middle Age (pictures of weddings), Childhood (big building bricks) and, finally, Birth.
Birth is represented by two widening lines of illuminated lights, through which we, the participants, must walk. As I stroll down what is presumably meant to represent a birth canal, and hence out of a vagina, I vaguely picture the spectral figure of Lord Baden-Powell hovering over the 22nd World Scout Jamboree. At first I imagine the author of Scouting for Boys would be horrified to see what had become of his creation. Then I think, actually, he would be quite proud.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2011.
August 13, 2011
CORPORATE social responsibility efforts have always struck me as the modern equivalent of John D. Rockefeller handing out dimes to the common folk. They may be well-intentioned, but they often seem like small gestures at the margins of what companies are really trying to do: make money.
As well they should, an argument most famously made by the Nobel laureate Milton Friedman decades ago. He called social responsibility programs “hypocritical window-dressing” in an article he wrote for The New York Times Magazine in 1970, titled “The Social Responsibility of Business Is to Increase Its Profits.”
But Michael E. Porter, a Harvard Business School professor, may have an answer to the Friedman principle. Mr. Porter is best-known for his original ideas about corporate strategy and the economic competition among nations and regions. Recently, however, he has been promoting a concept he calls “shared value.”
Earlier this year, Mr. Porter and Mark R. Kramer, a consultant and a senior fellow in the corporate social responsibility program at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, laid out their case in a lengthy article in the Harvard Business Review, “Creating Shared Value: How to Reinvent Capitalism — and Unleash a Wave of Innovation and Growth.” Since then, Mr. Porter and Mr. Kramer have been championing the shared-value thesis in conferences, meetings with corporate leaders, and even a conversation with White House advisers.
Shared value is an elaboration of the notion of corporate self-interest — greed, if you will. The idea that companies can do well by doing good is certainly not new. It is an appealing proposition that over the years has been called “triple bottom line” (people, planet, profit), “impact investing” and “sustainability” — all describing corporate initiatives that address social concerns including environmental pollution, natural-resource depletion, public health and the needs of the poor.
The shared-value concept builds on those ideas, but it emphasizes profit-making not just as a possibility but as a priority. Shared value, Mr. Porter says, points toward “a more sophisticated form of capitalism,” in which “the ability to address societal issues is integral to profit maximization instead of treated as outside the profit model.”
Social problems are looming market opportunities, according to Mr. Porter and Mr. Kramer. They note that while government programs and philanthropy have a place — beyond dimes, Mr. Rockefeller created a path-breaking foundation — so, increasingly, does capitalism.
The shared-value concept is not a moral stance, they add, and companies will still behave in their self-interest in ways that draw criticism, like aggressive tax avoidance and lobbying for less regulation. “This is not about companies being good or bad,” Mr. Kramer says. “It’s about galvanizing companies to exploit the market in addressing social problems.”
The pair point to promising signs that more and more companies are pursuing market strategies that fit the shared-value model.
Several years ago, executives at General Electric began looking across its portfolio of industrial and consumer businesses, eyeing ways to apply new technology to reduce energy consumption. They were prompted by corporate customers voicing concerns about rising electrical and fuel costs, and by governments pushing for curbs on carbon emissions.
The result was G.E.’s “ecomagination” program, a business plan as well as a marketing campaign. In recent years, the company has invested heavily in technology to lower its products’ energy consumption, and the use of water and other resources in manufacturing.
To count in the program, a product must deliver a significant energy savings or environmental benefit over previous designs. G.E. hired an outside environmental consulting firm, GreenOrder, to help in measuring performance. To date, more than 100 G.E. products have qualified, from jet engines to water filtration equipment to light bulbs. In 2010, such products generated sales of $18 billion, up from $10 billion in 2005, when the program began.
“We did it from a business standpoint from Day 1,” says Jeffrey R. Immelt, G.E.’s chief executive. “It was never about corporate social responsibility.”
Technology has opened the door to markets that have shared-value characteristics. For decades, I.B.M. sold its computers, software and services to city governments around the world, though mainly for back-office chores like managing payrolls. But the Internet, the Web, electronic sensors and steady advances in computing have helped transform I.B.M.’s role, as it now helps cities track and analyze all kinds of data to improve services.
“We’ve moved from the back office to the core mission of cities — managing traffic, monitoring public health, optimizing water use and crime-fighting,” says Jon C. Iwata, a senior vice president.
I.B.M. is now working with about 2,000 cities worldwide as part of its “Smarter Cities” business, which began three years ago. One advanced project is in the sprawling city of Rio de Janeiro, where I.B.M. is designing a computerized command center. It is intended to pull data from dozens of city agencies, as well as weather stations and webcams. One assignment is to closely track heavy rainfall and to predict its impact — where flooding might occur, how traffic should be rerouted, and what neighborhoods may need to be evacuated. The goal is to predict and prepare for the kind of mudslides and floods that killed hundreds of people in April 2010 and left 15,000 homeless.
THE evolution of low-cost Internet and mobile phone technology has also let Intuit pursue opportunities with shared-value attributes. The company offers free online income-tax preparation software and filing services for lower-income households (now earning $31,000 or less). Since 1999, nearly 13 million people have taken advantage of the service.
The cost is relatively inexpensive for Intuit, as the service exploits the efficiency of online distribution; the charge for paying customers is $20 to $50. And the program blurs the line between charity and marketing, because millions of people who are sampling the company’s product, may well become paying customers as their incomes rise.
In India, Intuit has begun offering a free information service for farmers that can be accessed on any cellphone. Part-time workers check crop prices at local markets and send the information to Intuit. The company then relays the latest, local price quotations in text messages to subscribing farmers. As a result, the farmers can make smarter decisions about when and where to sell their produce.
The service in India began last year, and 300,000 farmers now use it. In follow-up surveys, farmers report that their earnings are up 25 percent, says Scott Cook, the founder of Intuit and chairman of the executive committee. The company, he adds, is testing ways to make money off the service, perhaps with text ads for simple tractors and fertilizers.
Mr. Cook points to other new business forays that are part of the same strategy. One is an Intuit health debit card for American small businesses that want to pay for some of their employees’ medical care but cannot afford conventional health insurance.
“We look for places we can use our strengths as a company to help solve big problems,” he says. “You can call that shared value if you like. But I look at it as the business we’re in.”
13 November 2011 – Save the date for the inaugural Project Happy Feet Slipper Race 2011. More details coming your way!
To know more about Project Happy Feet, please click http://www.projecthappyfeet.org/
Apt illustration of team work. Enjoy!
At least once a year, PHF returns to the countries that they have been supporting to feel the ground, perform their audits and relook at the programmes it hopes to embark to support the local community. This ensures that we are not only kept up to date with the latest developments in the country and note the changes that have occurred but also to ensure that our programmes and projects are most relevant and helpful to the local community.
The following chronicles our trip to Siem Reap from 21 – 26 June 2011:
Our trip started out with a meeting with ConCERT (Connecting Communities, Environment and Responsible Tourism) – a non-profit organization based in Siem Reap that connects local NGOs that need help to the people who can provide the help they need. ConCERT not only provides information about these local NGOs, but also ensures that these NGOs are well managed, financially transparent and work in partnership with the local people – key criteria for PHF as we are selecting the NGOs we plan to support.
Through its Founder and Chairman, Michael Holton, we find out about the realities of the ground and how some NGOs have been set up but have soon exploited the system to benefit themselves instead of the local community. He shared with us tips of caution as we proceeded to identify organizations we hope to work with (on top of those we already have planned to support).
Read here more about Responsible Tourism as shared by ConCERT.
Visiting Angkor Thom Village with Shinta Mani
We started out Day 2 of our trip bright and early with a trip to the villages in the Angkor Thom district – the villages that touched the hearts of co-founders, Grace and Deborah on their first trip to Siem Reap, that got PHF all started.
Shinta Mani, a boutique hotel that runs itself as a social enterprise, arranged the visit for us. It was a surreal experience for all of us once again as we went from family to family to understand the situation they were in and how Shinta Mani has helped them improve their lives by installing water pumps or building a concrete home for shelter over their heads.
Through the visit, we learnt that majority homes in the Angkor Thom district look old and dilapidated because the Apsara Authority (which protects the area in and around the Angkor Wat area) forbids any form of construction in areas that fall within the zone surrounding the Angkor Wat. Since the Angkor Thom district falls within this zone, the villagers thus can only do minor repairs to their homes.
Making a Difference with MaD Cambodia
Lunch was one with a difference as we headed to the MaD Eatery to meet up with Founder of MaD Cambodia, Phillip Starling.
Not only was the lunch wonderfully delicious, it was also one without any price tag on the menu. We simply paid what we thought was worth the price, and the money goes towards funding the activities of the MaD Cambodia. A novel idea indeed.
Our lunch meeting with Phillip and his partner, Concetta, was not only informative but delightful. One who speaks his mind and believes in approaching problems in a non-conventional way, Phillip shared with us the good things they were doing for the Prolit Village – ranging from providing after-school programmes that teach not only life skills but also stimulates the mind, to introducing a novel idea of compost toilets that not only prevents pollution, but also provide a rich source of organic fertilizers for the local farmers.
Phillip welcomed us to visit the Prolit Village anytime we wanted. “We don’t have to get the poor people to show you that there are really poor people there,” he said in a tongue-in-cheek manner, referring to some NGOs who stage poverty in order to benefit from unassuming kind hearts.
Purchasing Slippers at Phsar Ler (All Market)
Rattana from Shinta Mani picked us up from our the MaD Base Camp and together, we headed with her to the local’s market where things are whole lot cheaper than if we had gone to the old market (where tourists typically visit). There, she efficiently made her bargain and we purchased 130 pairs of slippers (sponsored by staff members at Robinsons) for the school children we were planning to visit the next day.
Getting in Touch with Siem Reap Hostel
We had recommended some of our friends who had made the trip earlier to Siem Reap to put up at Siem Reap Hostel since it provided very affordable and clean accommodation. Not only was the location pretty near the Old Market, the hostel also has recently put together programmes that are helping the local community and we wanted to find out more.
Tiani, General Manager at the hostel, met up with us and briefed us of the small programmes they have begun to undertake, specifically supporting the efforts of Green Gecko, a home for street kids, as well as their micro-financing project for Tuk Tuk drivers.
She highlighted that perhaps one of the needs for the local community was to provide skills-based training to ensure they not only are equipped with technical skills (e.g. construction, electrical, plumbing), but also the safety awareness so that they do not harm themselves.
Slippers for Sambour School
Our friends from Shinta Mani met with us, and together we made our way to the Sambour School in the Angkor Thom district. Shinta Mani supported the construction of the school previously and has been supporting the school in whatever ways they can since.
During the long (and very rocky) journey, we learnt more about our Shinta Mani friends, Kol (Front Office Manager) and Saoline (Culinary Instructor). Both Kol and Saoline were beneficiaries of the programme at Shinta Mani. Years ago, they had undergone the training provided at Shinta Mani which selects individuals from underprivileged communities, and puts them through a training programme in either culinary or front of house skills. During the programme, they had also learnt the English Language.
Today, both Kol and Saoline are both very successful individuals who have managed to escape the poverty cycle and even managed to bring their parents from the village to stay with them in the city. It was certainly heartening for us to see them now trying to give back to the community in what way they could.
At the Sambour School, we promptly unwrapped the slippers and put them on the feet of the 130 children there, something we were glad we were able to do since at least 95% of the children were without footwear. Some even needed our help to put on the slippers – it seemed it was the first time they were wearing footwear in their lives.
Sala Bai with Shina Mani
Since Shinta Mani was under renovation (it is expanding its hotel to accommodate more guests and a bigger training school for its trainees), Kol recommended we have lunch at Sala Bai, a restaurant with a concept similar to Shinta Mani (or KOTO in Hanoi).
We invited our friends at Shinta Mani to join us for lunch, during which we learnt more about their lives, and their future plans.
Grace collected a load of industry related books from her colleagues from Temasek Polytechnic, and these were donated to Shinta Mani to stock up their new library for its trainees. Kol and Saoline received the books with gratitude, commenting that they were really good books for the trainees who were to come in.
Meeting with This Life Cambodia
If there was an organisation that we’ve met that was the most structured, we’d say it was This Life Cambodia (TLC).
During the meeting with Mr Sen Se, TLC’s Assistant Director, Ms Chea Borany, Programme Coordinator and Mr William Brehm, Research, Evaluation and Monitor Officer, we learnt about the comprehensive programmes that they had, in particular the lower secondary school development programme where they empower the community to better the education provided at the public schools. We loved the idea that whichever programme TLC embarked on, there was an exit strategy – which meant they plan to make the system self-sustaining, or one that allowed the local community to continue the work themselves.
The programme came complete with a breakdown of objectives, tasks and checklists, complete with who in the community was responsible for each task. The local community was held accountable and for that reason, gave them a sense of ownership of the programme.
Taom is Developing Well
We headed to the St John’s Church in Siem Reap to meet up with Fr Stephanus and Thon, who was overall in charge of the developments of the 6 villages that the church supported. In particular, we had wanted to know about the developments in Taom, the village that received the most support from friends of PHF since 2008.
We were heartened to know that the library that was built there was utilised not only by the children in the Taom village, but those in the nearby regions as well. The two ladies who were receiving our scholarship to be trained in pre-school education will be graduating and will be starting lessons for the younger children in the village.
The next plans for the village is to look into a water sanitation project as well as to equip the area with electricity – perhaps using solar panels. It gave us room to think about how we could support their efforts.
At the end of the meeting, Deborah presented USD 790 – part proceeds from the Chefs for a Cause project to Fr Stephanus to support the rice soup programme that runs once a week across 8 learning centres for 6 villages.
Innovative Ideas from Trailblazer
Our meeting with Mr Rattana from Trailblazer Foundation turned out to be one which was highly informative.
Mr Rattana promptly brought us to their backyard after a brief introduction – it was here that all their hard work laid.
Trailblazers help the local community (specifically the Sras Village, which was identified as one of the poorest villages in Siem Reap) by introducing innovative ideas that help them sustain in their own environment. For example, they research and experiment on crops that can grow well in their local soils, and if successful, introduce the crops to the community of mostly farmers, who can either grow them for sustenance or for sale. They take into consideration things like duration of growth, ease of growth and cost of growing the crops. They look into possible demands from restaurants and hotels to ensure that while they are producing a supply, there is also a corresponding supply. We were especially impressed to see how they have begun to experiment the growth of mushrooms using saw dust from rubber trees.
Mr Rattana also showed us how they produce a filtration system at their backyard that allow villagers to gain access to potable water. The innovative invention requires no electricity and provides clean water almost instantly, thereby reducing illnesses relating to drinking unclean water. Costing USD 50 each to install, Trailblazers charge USD2.75 per filtration system to the household that requires it. This money however doesn’t go towards Trailblazer but towards a community fund that functions as a micro-loan facility to villagers who need it.
MaD Cambodia’s Outreach at Prolit Village
We had arranged to visit the Prolit Village after our meeting with Phillip from MaD Cambodia. Rith, our local guide, came to pick us up on his jeep and brought us to the MaD Base Camp. From there we met up with General Manager, Songhy, who led the way to the Prolit Village in the Puok District some 25 km from the Siem Reap city centre.
The journey brought us to feel the air of the country side (literally!) as we were duly bathed in a cloud of red dust on the way to the village.
Once there, Songhy showed us how their team, who have been working at the village for the past 8 months, installed water pumps, a task we learnt that wasn’t as easy since it wasn’t always that they could find a water source. Sometimes, even after hours of drilling and finding a water source, the water cannot be used as it contains harmful substances. The team will then have to find an alternative source and the drilling begins all over again.
Songhy also showed us how the compost toilet worked. We were surprised that the toilet wasn’t foul smelling despite not having any means of flushing.
At the village, we also visited the learning centre, as well as saw the growing of the Moringa plants, which offered a rich source of protein, minerals and vitamins to the villagers who were more often than not malnourished.
Visiting Little Angels
Our guide Rith invited us to visit his farm after our visit to the Prolit Village. On the way there, we stopped by the Little Angels Orphanage, set up by his friend Sery Rathana, an orphan himself who had lost his parents during the Khmer Rouge regime.
Sery had set up the orphanage to help mostly boys who have lost either one or both parents. Besides ensuring they go through school, have three meals a day and a bed to sleep on, Sery also teaches the boys the Khmer art of carving on cow’s hide. It was clear that the boys there loved what they were learning as they earnestly punched through the cow’s hide, creating pieces of art. “I tell them, if they don’t go to school, I won’t teach them,” Sery said smiling.
We scoured through the place and took our notes. It was clear that Sery had a heart for these boys he is genuinely helping. But he could do with more help from us, and we were eager to create a better learning and living environment for him and the boys at the orphanage. We were inspired by him – a local who felt that he was in a better position than others and wanted to help those who were worse off then he.
Visiting a Friend’s Farm
After a visit to the Prolung Pottery and Weaving Centre, Rith drove us towards his farm.
“Welcome to my farm,” he said proudly as he drove us into the compounds of his farm. Off the main road, the one hectare piece of land was surrounded mostly by large fields and a flowing river. The breeze was surprisingly cool as we stepped out of his jeep.
Rith proudly introduced us to his wife and then, his family of poultry – from chickens (at least five different breeds!) to ducks, to geese and even a turkey! He explained how he bred his free-range poultry, and how he had learnt to rear the poultry himself by attending free courses conducted by NGOs.
“That’s my fish farm,” he pointed to a big pond of still water.
“There’s fish?” we asked.
Rith began beating his drum and all of a sudden hundreds of fish started splashing out of the water. We learnt that Rith beats his drum each time he feeds his fish with a mix of feed he cooks himself.
We were surprised when Rith invited us to sit in a hut by the fish pond.
“Let’s have lunch,” he said, pointing us to the hammocks he had bought on the way to his farm.
Within a few minutes, lunch was served – Char-grilled chicken with rice and black chicken soup – a meal that was simple but homely and delicious. We were touched by his gesture of hospitality. It was clear that Rith didn’t treat us like a usual client, but as friends.
Over lunch we learnt of Rith’s plans to use his farm as a means to train less fortunate Cambodians in farming. His daughter came to join us and we were glad to hear that he has invested much in her education. “Big investment,” he chuckled as he looked at his two daughters.
Rith came to pick us up from the hotel to send us to the airport.
“Thank you for helping us Cambodians,” he put his hands together in gratitude as he waved us goodbye. “Please keep in touch and come back. We can do a lot more together.”
Our trip this time didn’t involve us visiting village after village giving out handouts, yet it was equally if not more fulfilling and inspiring. We noticed a change in the local scene since our visit to Siem Reap in 2008. The local community is a lot more motivated to get their fellow counterparts out of the poverty cycle.
At some point, the credible NGOs realised that handouts could possibly create a culture of reliance. They realised that it made no sense to develop a system that was imposed on the local community, or went against the government. They realised that if they really want to help, then they should do so by empowering the local people – teach them a skill, give them a job, let them have a sense of ownership, let them make decisions as a community, provide platforms for change to better their lives, let them try, let them experiment and through that process, allow the change to take place.
What this means for us is that we need to re-look at how we support our friends in Cambodia. Sometimes, it’s not as simple as giving slippers or donate clothes, or decide to build a library or paint a wall of a village school. When we do extend ‘help’, perhaps we should first ask ourselves, “Are we really helping them?”
We can certainly do more together. But first to think of the best way how.
Visit the photo gallery of our trip on our Facebook Page here!
My feeble effort in helping to spread the word for Project Happy Feet via this blog.
Excerpt: Giving help is easy, but giving the right kind of help – just like finding a pair of slippers that fit at that point in time of a growing child’s life – requires a lot more.
“I think size 8,” Deborah calls out, and Grace quickly unwraps a smaller pair of slippers. The other pairs on the floor are sizes 8, or 8 and a half, or 9 – too big for this little girl standing before them with her toes wriggling gingerly in anticipation. She’s been watching the other kids get their pair and awaiting her turn.
Deborah fits the pair of slippers on, and though this is not your regular Cinderella fairy tale, it feels equally magical to see her little eyes light up. A perfect fit!
“Aw-kung,” the little girl shyly whispers the Khmer word for ‘thanks’ with her palms together, and with a quick bow of her head, runs back to her seat…
Project Happy Feet had returned to Siem Reap, Cambodia in June 2011. Like previous trips to Siem Reap and Hanoi, the team brought money raised through its fund-raising efforts to support education-related programmes run by local NGOs. And of course, to buy slippers for school-going children without footwear.
So prior to visiting Sambour Primary School in the Angkhor Thom district supported by Shinta Mani, the team made a trip to Psar Ler (‘All-Market’) with a list of feet sizes and a matching quantity to buy 130 pairs of slippers with all the money collected by staff members of Robinsons in Singapore.
The next morning, in no more than an hour, the 130 pairs of slippers were given out to all the students of the school who came from within 5km – all of them barefooted.
Indeed, giving slippers has become an easy way for us to communicate what Project Happy Feet does (and what a great way to start the whole conversation about giving aid to the underprivileged in developing countries). Afterall, that is how Project Happy Feet started in the first place – with an inspiration to have every little pair of school-going feet covered and protected on their way to getting an education, which hopefully helps them get out of the poverty cycle. And truth be told, slippers – along with other school supplies like uniforms, stationery, scholarships, nutritious meals and bicycles – are still very much appreciated and needed. And they go a long way in giving relief.
But we all know that slippers and other gifts are really just short-term relief.
To alleviate the problems of poverty, we know the community needs to carry out sustainable programmes that empower themselves through capacity-building. They need to find a way to work together amongst themselves and with their government towards being self-reliant and independent of foreign aid.
And that’s why apart from giving out slippers, we’re really all about supporting organisations that have sustainable programmes that make real impact. We want to know what the community really need, and find a way to help them, not just give for the sake of giving.
On this trip, we’re glad to have met with several organisations that seem to fit what we are looking for, many of which have great programmes that are sustainable and create real impact.
For instance, This Life Cambodia has clear 3-year plans to help the community take ownership of their own problems, and supports them by teaching them how to lobby and press the government for accountability. It even has an exit strategy so that the organisation can diminish its own presence within the community over time.
MaD Cambodia drills the ground for families to have clean water and grows Moringa plants for transplanting onto village soil so families can have access to nutritious meals by growing them in their own backyard.
Trailblazer Foundation conducts various research and development programmes into agriculture and water filtration to help families increase the success of their crops and have access to drinking water (removing up to 98% of bacteria).
Still there are others like The Little Angels Orphanage and Leather Carving Workshop (run by a former orphan) and Prolung Khmer Pottery and Weaving Training Centre in Bakong Village teach traditional Khmer handicraft skills which not just give the underprivileged youths a means to make a living, but also preserves their heritage.
With so much to do and can be done for the underprivileged in Cambodia, and with limited resources and sometimes limited information, we need to work very hard to decide which organisation and programme(s) to support. But which one should we choose? Which one meets our stringent selection criteria of having strong foundation, strong track record, strong corporate governance, and more? Which is more needed by the community? Why this one and not the other – which seems equally crucial? Which one should we support? Which is the right fit? Deciding on an organisation and a programme to support is certainly no walk in the park.
Giving help is easy, but giving the right kind of help – just like finding a pair of slippers that fit at that point in time of a growing child’s life – requires a lot more.
Apr 28th 2011 | from the print edition
FRIEDRICH ENGELS said in “The Condition of the Working Class in England”, in 1844, that the onward march of Manchester’s slums meant that the city’s Angel Meadow district might better be described as “Hell upon Earth”. Today, similar earthly infernos can be found all over the emerging world: from Brazil’s favelas to Africa’s shanties. In 2010 the United Nations calculated that there were about 827m people living in slums—almost as many people as were living on the planet in Engels’s time—and predicted that the number might double by 2030.
Last year Vijay Govindarajan, of Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business, along with Christian Sarkar, a marketing expert, issued a challenge in a Harvard Business Review blog: why not apply the world’s best business thinking to housing the poor? Why not replace the shacks that blight the lives of so many poor people, thrown together out of cardboard and mud, and prone to collapsing or catching fire, with more durable structures? They laid down a few simple guidelines. The houses should be built of mass-produced materials tough enough to protect their inhabitants from a hostile world. They should be equipped with the basics of civilised life, including water filters and solar panels. They should be “improvable”, so that families can adapt them to their needs. And they should cost no more than $300.
Mr Govindarajan admits that the $300 figure was partly an attention-grabbing device. But he also argues that it has a certain logic. Muhammad Yunus, the founder of Grameen Bank, has calculated that the average value of the houses of people who have just escaped from poverty is $370. Tata Motors has also demonstrated the value of having a fixed figure to aim at: the company would have found it more difficult to produce the Tata Nano if it had simply been trying to produce a “cheap” car rather than a “one lakh” car (about $2,200).
The attention-grabbing certainly worked. The blog was so inundated with positive responses that a dedicated website, 300house.com, was set up, which has attracted more than 900 enthusiasts and advisers from all over the world. On April 20th Mr Govindarajan launched a competition inviting people to submit designs for a prototype of the house.
Why has a simple blog post led to such an explosion of creativity? The obvious reason is that “frugal innovation”—the art of radically reducing the cost of products while also delivering first-class value—is all the rage at the moment. General Electric has reduced the cost of an electrocardiogram machine from $2,000 to $400. Tata Chemicals has produced a $24 purifier that can provide a family with pure water for a year. Girish Bharadwaj, an engineer, has perfected a technique for producing cheap footbridges that are transforming life in rural India.
Another reason is that houses can be such effective anti-poverty tools. Poorly constructed ones contribute to a nexus of problems: the spread of disease (because they have no proper sanitation or ventilation), the perpetuation of poverty (because children have no proper lights to study by) and the general sense of insecurity (because they are so flimsy and flammable). Mr Govindarajan’s idea is so powerful because he treats houses as ecosystems that provide light, ventilation and sanitation.
Numerous innovators are also worrying away at this nexus of problems. Habitat for Humanity, an NGO, is building durable houses of bamboo in Nepal. Idealab, a consultancy, is on the verge of unveiling a $2,500 house that will be mass-produced in factories, sold in kits and feature breakthroughs in ventilation, lighting and sanitation. Philips has produced a cheap cooking stove, the Chulha, that cuts out the soot that kills 1.6m people a year worldwide. The Solar Electric Light Fund is demonstrating that you can provide poor families with solar power for roughly the same cost as old standbys such as kerosene and candles.
These thinkers, like the advocates of the $300 house, must solve three huge problems to succeed. They must persuade big companies that they can make money out of cheap homes, because only they can achieve the economies of scale needed to hit the target price. They need to ensure sufficient access to microloans: $300 is a huge investment for a family of squatters living on a couple of dollars a day. And they need to overcome the obstacle that most slum-dwellers have weak or non-existent property rights. There is no point in offering people the chance to buy a cleverly designed house if they have no title to the land they occupy. Solving these problems will in turn demand a high degree of co-operation between people who do not always get on: companies and NGOs, designers and emerging-world governments.
However, the exciting thing about the emerging world at the moment is a prevailing belief that even the toughest problems can be solved. And a similar can-do moment, in the late 1940s, offers a striking historical precedent for the application of mass-production techniques to housing: as American servicemen flooded home after the second world war to start families, Levitt & Sons built Levittowns at the rate of 30 houses a day by mass-producing the components in factories, delivering them on lorries and using teams of specialists to assemble them.
Some emerging-world governments are beginning to realise that providing security of tenure is the only way to deal with the problem of ever-proliferating slums. And big companies that face stagnant markets in the West are increasingly fascinated by the “fortune at the bottom of the pyramid”. Bill Gross of Idealab reckons the market for cheap houses could be worth at least $424 billion. But in reality it is worth far more than that: preventing the Earth from becoming what Mike Davis, a particularly gloomy follower of Marx and Engels, has termed a “planet of slums”.
A well executed commercial for a mobile phone in Japan - Johan Sebastian Bach's 'Jesu Man of Joy Descending' played on a really wide xylophone and a ball. Enjoy :)
Mary and Max: Funny, lovely, dark and sad - all in one movie. Love it.
A tale of friendship between two unlikely pen pals: Mary, a lonely, eight-year-old girl living in the suburbs of Melbourne, and Max, a forty-four-year old, severely obese man living in New York.
I SET out from my home in the port city of Yokohama early in the afternoon last Friday, and shortly before 3 p.m. I checked into my hotel in the Shinjuku neighborhood of Tokyo. I usually spend three or four days a week there to write, gather material and take care of other business.
The earthquake hit just as I entered my room. Thinking I might end up trapped beneath rubble, I grabbed a container of water, a carton of cookies and a bottle of brandy and dived beneath the sturdily built writing desk. Now that I think about it, I don’t suppose there would have been time to savor a last taste of brandy if the 30-story hotel had fallen down around me. But taking even this much of a countermeasure kept sheer panic at bay.
Before long an emergency announcement came over the P.A. system: “This hotel is constructed to be absolutely earthquake-proof. There is no danger of the building collapsing. Please do not attempt to leave the hotel.” This was repeated several times. At first I wondered if it was true. Wasn’t the management merely trying to keep people calm?
And it was then that, without really thinking about it, I adopted my fundamental stance toward this disaster: For the present, at least, I would trust the words of people and organizations with better information and more knowledge of the situation than I. I decided to believe the building wouldn’t fall. And it didn’t.
The Japanese are often said to abide faithfully by the rules of the “group” and to be adept at forming cooperative systems in the face of great adversity. That would be hard to deny today. Valiant rescue and relief efforts continue nonstop, and no looting has been reported.
Away from the eyes of the group, however, we also have a tendency to behave egoistically — almost as if in rebellion. And we are experiencing that too: Necessities like rice and water and bread have disappeared from supermarkets and convenience stores. Gas stations are out of fuel. There is panic buying and hoarding. Loyalty to the group is being tested.
At present, though, our greatest concern is the crisis at the nuclear reactors in Fukushima. There is a mass of confused and conflicting information. Some say the situation is worse than Three Mile Island, but not as bad as Chernobyl; others say that winds carrying radioactive iodine are headed for Tokyo, and that everyone should remain indoors and eat lots of kelp, which contains plenty of safe iodine, which helps prevent the absorbtion of the radioactive element. An American friend advised me to flee to western Japan.
Some people are leaving Tokyo, but most remain. “I have to work,” some say. “I have my friends here, and my pets.” Others reason, “Even if it becomes a Chernobyl-class catastrophe, Fukushima is 170 miles from Tokyo.”
My parents are in western Japan, in Kyushu, but I don’t plan to flee there. I want to remain here, side by side with my family and friends and all the victims of the disaster. I want to somehow lend them courage, just as they are lending courage to me.
And, for now, I want to continue the stance I took in my hotel room: I will trust the words of better-informed people and organizations, especially scientists, doctors and engineers whom I read online. Their opinions and judgments do not receive wide news coverage. But the information is objective and accurate, and I trust it more than anything else I hear.
Ten years ago I wrote a novel in which a middle-school student, delivering a speech before Parliament, says: “This country has everything. You can find whatever you want here. The only thing you can’t find is hope.”
One might say the opposite today: evacuation centers are facing serious shortages of food, water and medicine; there are shortages of goods and power in the Tokyo area as well. Our way of life is threatened, and the government and utility companies have not responded adequately.
But for all we’ve lost, hope is in fact one thing we Japanese have regained. The great earthquake and tsunami have robbed us of many lives and resources. But we who were so intoxicated with our own prosperity have once again planted the seed of hope. So I choose to believe.
Ryu Murakami is the author of “Popular Hits of the Showa Era.” This article was translated by Ralph F. McCarthy from the Japanese.
When America is under stress, as is happening right now with debates about where to pare the budget, we sometimes trample the least powerful and most vulnerable among us.
So maybe we can learn something from Japan, where the earthquake, tsunami and radiation leaks haven’t caused society to come apart at the seams but to be knit together more tightly than ever. The selflessness, stoicism and discipline in Japan these days are epitomized by those workers at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, uncomplainingly and anonymously risking dangerous doses of radiation as they struggle to prevent a complete meltdown that would endanger their fellow citizens.
The most famous statue in Japan is arguably one of a dog, Hachiko, who exemplified loyalty, perseverance and duty. Hachiko met his owner at the train station when he returned from work each day, but the owner died at work one day in 1925 and never returned. Until he died about 10 years later, Hachiko faithfully went to the station each afternoon just in case his master returned.
I hope that some day Japan will erect another symbol of loyalty and dedication to duty: a statue of those nuclear plant workers.
I lived in Japan for five years as the Tokyo bureau chief for The New York Times, and I was sometimes perceived as hostile to the country because I was often critical of the Japanese government’s incompetence and duplicity. But the truth is that I came to cherish Japan’s civility and selflessness. There’s a kind of national honor code, exemplified by the way even cheap restaurants will lend you an umbrella if you’re caught in a downpour; you’re simply expected to return it in a day or two. If you lose your wallet in the subway, you expect to get it back.
The earthquake has put that dichotomy on display. The Japanese government has been hapless. And the Japanese people have been magnificent, enduring impossible hardships with dignity and grace.
As I recalled recently on my blog, I covered the 1995 Kobe earthquake that killed more than 6,000 people, and I looked everywhere for an example of people looting merchandise from one of the many shops with shattered windows. I did find a homeowner who was missing two bicycles, but as I did more reporting, it seemed as if they might have been taken for rescue efforts.
Finally, I came across a minimart owner who had seen three young men grab food from his shop and run away. I asked the shop owner if he was surprised that his fellow Japanese would stoop so low.
“No, you misunderstand,” the shop owner told me. “These looters weren’t Japanese. They were foreigners.”
Granted, Japan’s ethic of uncomplaining perseverance — gaman, in Japanese — may also explain why the country settles for third-rate leaders. Moreover, Japan’s tight-knit social fabric can lead to discrimination against those who don’t fit in. Bullying is a problem from elementary school to the corporate suite. Ethnic Koreans and an underclass known as burakumin are stigmatized. Indeed, after the terrible 1923 earthquake, Japanese rampaged against ethnic Koreans (who were accused of setting fires or even somehow causing the quake) and slaughtered an estimated 6,000 of them.
So Japan’s communitarianism has its downside, but we Americans could usefully move a step or two in that direction. Gaps between rich and poor are more modest in Japan, and Japan’s corporate tycoons would be embarrassed by the flamboyant pay packages that are common in America. Even in poor areas — including ethnic Korean or burakumin neighborhoods — schools are excellent.
My wife and I saw the collective ethos drummed into children when we sent our kids to Japanese schools. When the teacher was sick, there was no substitute teacher. The children were in charge. When our son Gregory came home from a school athletic meet, we were impressed that he had won first place in all his events, until we realized that every child had won first place.
For Gregory’s birthday, we invited his classmates over and taught them to play musical chairs. Disaster! The children, especially the girls, were traumatized by having to push aside others to gain a seat for themselves. What unfolded may have been the most polite, most apologetic, and least competitive game of musical chairs in the history of the world.
Look, we’re pushy Americans. We sometimes treat life, and budget negotiations, as a contest in which the weakest (such as children) are to be gleefully pushed aside when the music stops. But I wish we might learn a bit from the Japanese who right now are selflessly subsuming their own interests for the common good. We should sympathize with Japanese, yes, but we can also learn from them.
TOKYO-BASED bank manager Yusuke Suzuki, 37, a family friend, told me this week that many of his fellow Japanese are on the brink of despair following the earthquake and tsunami of March 11.
More than 15,000 may have died, many are facing food, fuel and power shortages in the bitter cold, the economy is in bad shape, tax rates may be hiked and the country will slip deeper into debt, said Mr Suzuki, reeling off his nation's collective list of woes.
And there is the biggest threat of all, of a nuclear emergency.
'There has been no good news,' said the father of three young children. 'I hope our people can emerge stronger from this, but I am not sure we can.'
Life for Mr Suzuki and his compatriots right now looks bleak indeed.
Television stations have been beaming unending footage of empty supermarket shelves, hospitals on power back-up, rescue workers sifting through rubble in blinding snow - and elderly survivors letting on that there isn't enough food for everyone. Half a million are believed to be homeless.
And then there are those haunting images of giant waves swallowing homes, cars and people and crippled reactors spewing smoke.
But if any country can face calamity with courage and emerge stronger, it is Japan. It has history on its side.
It remains the one nation that has endured an atomic bomb - something that many elderly survivors remembered this week. At least 250,000 died within the first four months of the twin bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.
But within a generation, through dedication, discipline and a communal can-do spirit, Japan regained its pride of place as Asia's richest nation.
As it faces what Prime Minister Naoto Kan called its worst crisis since World War II, it seems naive to suggest that Japan can emerge stronger.
However, my experiences visiting communities that faced another mammoth tragedy - the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami - give me faith. But Japan needs our help.
Big tragedies, I have learnt, don't always break the human spirit. They can burnish it, spawn resilience - and a determination to overcome.
Days after that Boxing Day disaster, I visited Nagapattinam, India's 'ground zero' in the multi-nation tragedy. As I drove to villages and relief camps dotting the azure coast, I saw none of the breast-beating I expected.
Yes, there was horror and heartbreak - and the ineffable stench of death. But the tears were drying fast and being replaced by a quiet determination among survivors to look not back, but forward.
One afternoon that week, on the beach at the wrecked hamlet Nambiar Nagar, I encountered some fishermen sitting on the rubble of their homes, eyeing the sea longingly.
They needed to repair their boats and go back to fishing, said Mr S. Palaniasamy, who lost his mother and an aunt in the tsunami. 'The relief camps will wind up one day,' said the 28-year-old, whose wife was pregnant at the time. 'If we don't go back to sea, who will feed us?'
In places which were devastated by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, such as Aceh, many survivors who had rebuilt their lives acknowledged that they could not have done it alone. -- ST FILE PHOTO
At Nagapattinam, India's 'ground zero' in the Boxing Day tsunami, there had been a quiet determination among survivors like fisherman Goin Raju to look not back, but forward. In the days after the disaster, they longed to repair their boats and resume their livelihoods. -- PHOTO: RAKESH SAHAI
What I realised that afternoon - and in subsequent trips to tsunami-hit coastal communities in India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Thailand - was that unlike city people protected from the forces of nature, death is a frequent visitor to coastal hamlets. The sea brings life and sustains livelihoods. But all too often, it also kills.
On the surface, the affluent Japanese are a world away from those poor coastal folk in south and south-east Asia. But they do share one important bond. They are all no strangers to calamity.
Government data shows that Japan was hit by around 730 natural disasters - including typhoons, tsunamis and earthquakes - between 1970 and 2005. The cumulative death toll? More than 25,000.
While the world now remains gripped by Japan's radiation crisis, we must not forget what started it all: the mega earthquake and tsunami.
Within days of the 2004 tsunami, countries had pledged more than US$1 billion (S$1.27 billion) in aid. Japan was the first to pledge a substantial sum: US$500 million.
But pledges of aid now have been relatively few. Some even argue that Asia's richest nation does not need donor dollars. But Japan is already one of the most indebted nations in the world.
My interviews with survivors of the 2004 tragedy taught me that empathy and generous help from the global community are essential in smoothening any disaster-hit country's road to recovery.
When I visited Nagapattinam for a second time in late 2005, I met Mr K. Paramesvaran, whose three children and 10 other relatives had been swept away that sad Sunday morning a year earlier.
He and his wife had since adopted 16 tsunami orphans and he took two weeks' unpaid leave every month to volunteer as a counsellor helping survivors. 'How can I not help my own people when people from all over the world have gathered here to offer help,' he said, expressing gratitude for the generous support of strangers elsewhere.
In Sri Lanka and Aceh, I met survivors who had succeeded in rebuilding their lives and acknowledged that they could not have done it alone.
In Meulaboh, a small Acehnese town which lost a quarter of its people in the tsunami, government official Teuku Dadek told me how Singapore, which sent in helicopters with relief supplies within days of the disaster, was the first foreign government to offer aid.
By last year, the town, once reduced to rubble, had been rebuilt, with generous support from Singapore and Japan. They had lost everything, but found new friends, Mr Teuku told me. 'That kept us going despite the tragedy.'
Today, as the nuclear crisis deepens and foreigners flee, millions of Japanese like Mr Suzuki feel nervous, isolated, alone. Media speculation that their authorities are deliberately downplaying the nuclear threat has also dented their confidence.
Japan has always stood by nations struck by catastrophe in their greatest hour of need. As the country faces its darkest days in 65 years, it is our turn to stand by it.
A very touching piece. Pray and hope that Japan will pull through this difficult time.
FOR three desperate days, Ms Michiko Otsuki and her colleagues put their lives on the line to control the disaster at Japan's Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.
As the technicians and specialists fought to restore cooling systems and prevent a full meltdown of the reactors, hindered by airtight suits and plagued by exhaustion, they faced one inescapable fact: It was a suicide mission.
Bombarded by radiation leaking from the crippled reactors, many knew that they might not survive the ordeal, nor escape the host of radiation-caused diseases likely to hit them in the future.
But they persevered nonetheless, aware that they were the nation's only hope of preventing a catastrophic nuclear disaster.
'If we act now,' one man told his family, 'we can change the future of the nuclear power plant. I will go there with this mission.'
Such poignant messages sent home by the crew dubbed the Fukushima 50 reveal both a sense of doom as well as the courage keeping the workers there.
One said he was accepting his fate 'like a death sentence'. Another, having absorbed a near-lethal dose of radiation, told his wife: 'Please continue to live well, I cannot be home for a while.'
Yet, when Ms Otsuki was finally evacuated on Monday, she was surprised to discover that her countrymen did not seem too grateful for such acts of heroism, and decided to speak out this week.
In a blog translated by The Straits Times, she described the harrowing hours that followed last week's quake and tsunami.
'In the midst of the tsunami alarm at 3am in the night when we couldn't even see where we were going, we carried on working to restore the reactors from where we were, right by the sea, with the realisation that this could be certain death,' she wrote.
'The machine that cools the reactor is just by the ocean, and it was wrecked by the tsunami. Everyone worked desperately to try to restore it. Fighting fatigue and empty stomachs, we dragged ourselves back to work.
'There are many who haven't got in touch with their family members, but are facing the present situation and working hard.'
While Ms Otsuki has been evacuated - as have most of the plant's 1,800 employees - a small number of workers continue to soldier on at the plant, in a desperate bid to prevent a full-scale disaster.
Known as the Fukushima 50 for their 50-person shifts, the nameless, faceless group is believed to number 180 to 200, and has become a national symbol of bravery and self-sacrifice.
Prime Minister Naoto Kan personally acknowledged their crucial presence, telling them: 'You are the only ones who can resolve the crisis. Retreat is unthinkable.'
Experts have said that radiation levels at the plant are high enough to kill the Fukushima 50 soon, or cause them appalling illnesses in the years to come. The full-body jumpsuits with hoods that they wear are not enough to stop the contamination.
Believed to be made up mostly of front-line technicians and firemen who know the plant the best, they have been fighting fires and trying to restore cooling systems to prevent spent fuel rods and the reactors from heating up, exploding and spewing deadly radiation into the air.
Heartbreaking messages to their families, reported on Japanese media, show that they are under little illusion about the risks they face,
'My father is still working at the plant,' said one worker's daughter. 'He says he's accepted his fate, much like a death sentence.'
Another woman said her father, a 59-year-old veteran power plant worker, volunteered to stay on despite being due to retire in September.
'At home, he doesn't seem like someone who could handle big jobs,' she wrote on microblogging site Twitter. 'But today, I was really proud of him.'
Another woman said of her husband: 'I didn't want him to go. But he's been working in the nuclear industry since he was 18 and he's confident it's safe.'
Making it even harder for the families is the knowledge that the workers are labouring in severe conditions.
Working in shifts and taking turns to sleep and eat in small decontaminated areas, they are reportedly running out food, according to one worker's daughter.
Already, five workers have reportedly died, two are missing, and at least 21 have been injured. Twenty are said to have been exposed to excessive radiation.
In her blog, Ms Otsuki refuted accusations that the nuclear plant's workers had shirked their responsibilities.
'Everyone at the power plant is battling on, without running away,' she wrote. 'To all the residents who have been alarmed and worried, I am truly deeply sorry...there are people working to protect all of you, even in exchange for their own lives.'
Another woman whose father worked at the plant wrote on Twitter: 'People at the plant are struggling, sacrificing themselves to protect you.
'Please, Dad, come back alive.'
'Everyone at the power plant is battling on, without running away. To all the residents who have been alarmed and worried, I am truly deeply sorry...
There are people working to protect all of you, even in exchange for their own lives.'
Ms Michiko Otsuki
'Please continue to live well, I cannot be home for a while.'
One of the Fukushima 50 to his wife
'My father is still working at the plant. He says he's accepted his fate, much like a death sentence.'
Daughter of one of the nuclear plant workers
NEW Year’s resolutions often have to do with eating more healthfully, going to the gym more, giving up sweets, losing weight — all admirable goals aimed at improving one’s physical health. Most people, though, do not realize that they can strengthen their brains in a similar way.
While some areas of the brain are hard-wired from birth or early childhood, other areas — especially in the cerebral cortex, which is central to higher cognitive powers like language and thought, as well as sensory and motor functions — can be, to a remarkable extent, rewired as we grow older. In fact, the brain has an astonishing ability to rebound from damage — even from something as devastating as the loss of sight or hearing. As a physician who treats patients with neurological conditions, I see this happen all the time.
For example, one patient of mine who had been deafened by scarlet fever at the age of 9, was so adept at lip-reading that it was easy to forget she was deaf. Once, without thinking, I turned away from her as I was speaking. “I can no longer hear you,” she said sharply.
“You mean you can no longer see me,” I said.
“You may call it seeing,” she answered, “but I experience it as hearing.”
Lip-reading, seeing mouth movements, was immediately transformed for this patient into “hearing” the sounds of speech in her mind. Her brain was converting one mode of sensation into another.
In a similar way, blind people often find ways of “seeing.” Some areas of the brain, if not stimulated, will atrophy and die. (“Use it or lose it,” neurologists often say.) But the visual areas of the brain, even in someone born blind, do not entirely disappear; instead, they are redeployed for other senses. We have all heard of blind people with unusually acute hearing, but other senses may be heightened, too.
For example, Geerat Vermeij, a biologist at the University of California-Davis who has been blind since the age of 3, has identified many new species of mollusks based on tiny variations in the contours of their shells. He uses a sort of spatial or tactile giftedness that is beyond what any sighted person is likely to have.
The writer Ved Mehta, also blind since early childhood, navigates in large part by using “facial vision” — the ability to sense objects by the way they reflect sounds, or subtly shift the air currents that reach his face. Ben Underwood, a remarkable boy who lost his sight at 3 and died at 16 in 2009, developed an effective, dolphin-like strategy of emitting regular clicks with his mouth and reading the resulting echoes from nearby objects. He was so skilled at this that he could ride a bike and play sports and even video games.
People like Ben Underwood and Ved Mehta, who had some early visual experience but then lost their sight, seem to instantly convert the information they receive from touch or sound into a visual image — “seeing” the dots, for instance, as they read Braille with a finger. Researchers using functional brain imagery have confirmed that in such situations the blind person activates not only the parts of the cortex devoted to touch, but parts of the visual cortex as well.
One does not have to be blind or deaf to tap into the brain’s mysterious and extraordinary power to learn, adapt and grow. I have seen hundreds of patients with various deficits — strokes, Parkinson’s and even dementia — learn to do things in new ways, whether consciously or unconsciously, to work around those deficits.
That the brain is capable of such radical adaptation raises deep questions. To what extent are we shaped by, and to what degree do we shape, our own brains? And can the brain’s ability to change be harnessed to give us greater cognitive powers? The experiences of many people suggest that it can.
One patient I knew became totally paralyzed overnight from a spinal cord infection. At first she fell into deep despair, because she couldn’t enjoy even little pleasures, like the daily crossword she had loved.
After a few weeks, though, she asked for the newspaper, so that at least she could look at the puzzle, get its configuration, run her eyes along the clues. When she did this, something extraordinary happened. As she looked at the clues, the answers seemed to write themselves in their spaces. Her visual memory strengthened over the next few weeks, until she found that she was able to hold the entire crossword and its clues in her mind after a single, intense inspection — and then solve it mentally. She had had no idea, she later told me, that such powers were available to her.
This growth can even happen within a matter of days. Researchers at Harvard found, for example, that blindfolding sighted adults for as few as five days could produce a shift in the way their brains functioned: their subjects became markedly better at complex tactile tasks like learning Braille.
Neuroplasticity — the brain’s capacity to create new pathways — is a crucial part of recovery for anyone who loses a sense or a cognitive or motor ability. But it can also be part of everyday life for all of us. While it is often true that learning is easier in childhood, neuroscientists now know that the brain does not stop growing, even in our later years. Every time we practice an old skill or learn a new one, existing neural connections are strengthened and, over time, neurons create more connections to other neurons. Even new nerve cells can be generated.
I have had many reports from ordinary people who take up a new sport or a musical instrument in their 50s or 60s, and not only become quite proficient, but derive great joy from doing so. Eliza Bussey, a journalist in her mid-50s who now studies harp at the Peabody conservatory in Baltimore, could not read a note of music a few years ago. In a letter to me, she wrote about what it was like learning to play Handel’s “Passacaille”: “I have felt, for example, my brain and fingers trying to connect, to form new synapses. ... I know that my brain has dramatically changed.” Ms. Bussey is no doubt right: her brain has changed.
Music is an especially powerful shaping force, for listening to and especially playing it engages many different areas of the brain, all of which must work in tandem: from reading musical notation and coordinating fine muscle movements in the hands, to evaluating and expressing rhythm and pitch, to associating music with memories and emotion.
Whether it is by learning a new language, traveling to a new place, developing a passion for beekeeping or simply thinking about an old problem in a new way, all of us can find ways to stimulate our brains to grow, in the coming year and those to follow. Just as physical activity is essential to maintaining a healthy body, challenging one’s brain, keeping it active, engaged, flexible and playful, is not only fun. It is essential to cognitive fitness.
Oliver Sacks is the author of “The Mind’s Eye.”