Posts by aquinto

Five organizations that promote sharing


What does it mean to love in a capitalist modern society? Philosopher Yann Dall’Aglio asserts that the contemporary man lives in a constant state of anxiety where his value is constantly being negotiated and embraces a consumerist lifestyle in order to remain desirable.  See Dall’Aglio’s Ted Talk on Love.

While consumerism and material wealth accumulation is expected from a capitalist society, concentration of wealth in a few hands has an overall negative impact on society. At a time when 1 in 9 people do not have enough to eat and more than a billion people still live on less than $1.25-a-day, it is a moral imperative that those at the bottom of the economic ladder have the same access to wealth creation than the rest of the world.¹

Ever since the creation of Creative Commons licenses, peer-to-peer networks have allowed the average person  to share everything from cars, to skills and technology. Worldwide, the sharing movement has gained momentum and is redefining the way communities are strengthened, economies developed, and governments made accountable.

Five organizations seem to be paving the way for a wealth creation model based on sharing, not greed, and proving how access to products and services, trumps ownership, as Lisa Gansky has stated.

1. Social Coin

Barcelona-based Social Coin began as an experiment in generosity, promoting acts of kindness. After one year, they sparked 150,000 generous acts in over 100 countries. Their online platform allows companies and their staff to volunteer on various projects, while measuring their social impact. City governments can also collaborate with the civic sector on community-driven projects.

2. P2P Foundation

Founder Michael Bauwens is one of the intellectual minds behind this Dutch foundation whose goal is  to bring together ideas, research, people and the latest thinking on the emerging potential of commons networks. Follow their Twitter account for some stimulating thinking and ideas on peer-to-peer production.

3. Peers

Peers brings together a comprehensive listing of companies that provide income-generation opportunities for individuals. By sharing a ride, a house, or professional skills, Peers encourages its users to organize their work around their lives, not the other way around.  Its online-based platform allows people working with its partner companies to get health benefits plus life and accident insurance.

4. Shareable

This news website is a go-to source for learning about the latest news on commoning and peer-based initiatives. Its co-founder, Neal Gorenflo, has many years of experience in sharing-based initiatives, helping cities become Sharing Cities. Their website has a comprehensive toolkit for sharing, and over 50 maps of cities, that help people connect with local businesses and organizations.

5. Sharetribe

Sharetribe is a web-based service that allows anyone to create a marketplace for sharing or selling items in their local community. For people wanting to borrow or lease tools from a neighbour, or mothers looking to sell or donate baby clothes, Sharetribe takes care of the technical aspects, letting people to focus on their community-driven stores.


¹ “Richest 1% will own more than all the rest by 2016”. Published January 19, 2016. Accessed: January 25, 2016.

Blake Mycoskie: Lessons on giving and being grateful

TOMS, the socially-conscious apparel company known for its policy that gives kids in need a pair of shoes, recently announced the TOMS Social Entrepreneurship Fund. Through this fund, a group of eleven social enterprises will receive investments. Among the first group of companies supported by this fund are, the social change online platform; Andela, an African software development and training startup; and Ava, an application that allows the hearing-impaired to be included in group conversations through an application that transcribes what is being said among the group.

Blake Mycoskie, Chief Shoe Giver and founder of TOMS, launched this fund after selling half of TOMS private equity. Mycoskie has used a One for One strategies as a core business strategy. Each product line is paired with a set of life-improvement tactics. Its eyeware products ensure eyesight-recovering surgeries. Roasted coffee purchases support safe drinking water projects. Bags help fund safer birth deliveries and training.

As a supporter of an ecosystem of  socially responsible businesses, TOMS also hosts an online marketplace, where different companies can sell their ethically-produced apparel and accessories. Last year, Mycoskie joined the B Team, positioning him as an inspiring leader seeking to affect change among young company founders and companies. Inspired by Lester Brown’s Plan B book, and the B Corp movement, Team B is a group of business and world leaders implementing new ways of doing business: creating thriving businesses and communities that are net-zero energy, transparent and collaborative.

Leading up to its ten-year anniversary, Mycoskie’s new year resolution for 2016 is to show more gratitude.

How we touched the lives of 16 people and 1 dog in one hour

This month we went on a giving spree. In one hour and armed with 100 pesos per person (about six US dollars), six people from our team headed to the streets around our Mexico City office. Our goal was to reach out to as many people as we could who needed some kind of support.  We broke into three teams. Team 1 (Dania and Fernando) soon went to glorieta de insurgentes where many homeless youth hang out.

They bought lunch kits (sandwiches and bottled water) and handed them out to seven hungry teenagers who started eating right away. Team 2 (Nancy and myself) were buying popsicles from an older man who sells candy on Reforma Av. to supplement his income. We then headed towards Team 1 and also bought six lunch kits. We handed three lunches  teenagers who didn’t get a lunch from Dania and Fernando’s team.

Our team then met a blind teenager. We asked her if she needed help. She asked us to describe to her what we saw around us. Then she asked to be escorted to the bus station, which we did. She had eaten already but gladly took a sandwich and a drink from us.

We then spotted an older lady who looked around 90 years old. Her skin was dark like she’d spent most of her daytime out in the sun. By her plain checkered blue dress she looked like she lived most of her youth in a rural part of Mexico. She’d just come out of the public toilets and before Nancy finished her sentence offering a lunch, she quickly grabbed it and gently smiled at us without saying a word and kept going.

We also ran into an older man crossing the street. He was limping from his right leg. His shoes with no socks or shoelaces looked liked they’d been used for decades. We talked to him and said he was heading to his house about five kilometers away. He told us most of his income comes from begging on the streets and the rest comes from his government pension of around 1,000 pesos (less 60 dollars per month). Team 3 (César and Miriam) decided to feed street dogs. They bought dog food with their money and walked around looking for dogs, but only found one.

They gave him a small pouch of wet food that disappeared right away. With 80 pesos left we headed to Pixza, a restaurant that donates every sixth slice of pizza it sells to teenagers who are living on the streets. The manager told us they don’t receive cash donations but they encourage people to treat themselves to a pizza knowing eventually one will be donated to someone who can’t buy one. Their program ensures teenagers do some form of community work and get job training in order to receive the support from the restaurant. All the waiters employed at Pixza are former street youth. 

What we learned from this exercise: It was a very touching experience for many of us. We had a chance to speak to people we normally ignore on the streets. Just asking if they need anything, or offering help opens up a conversation we wouldn’t have had otherwise. While the lives of those 16 people probably didn’t change from our quick exercise, it encouraged us to not be fearful and approach others who might need help.

A generous year for Mark Zuckerberg

On Tuesday, December 1, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan published a letter addressed to their newborn daughter Max. In this letter, the couple commits to doing their part to ensure the lives of young children and future generations advance their potential as human beings. The Bay Area couple stated 99% of their Facebook shares would go to philanthropic causes, the equivalent of around 45 billion dollars.

Monday November 30th, the previous day, a group of twenty-five investors announced on the week leading to the COP21 discussions in Paris, a joint program to invest in early-stage companies in renewable energy, transportation and agriculture industries. Zuckerberg again, was part of this climate-change fighting group of investors called the Breakthrough Energy Coalition.

Earlier that month, Chan and Zuckerberg joined the Giving Pledge, a global campaign started by Warren Buffett and Bill Gates to encourage the world’s top billionaires to give most of their wealth to philanthropic causes.

“We believe that in the next generation, all of our children should grow up living even better lives and striving for even more than we think is possible today.”
— Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg. Nov. 9, 2015. Giving Pledge Commitment Letter.

What would 45 billion dollars buy you? We did some estimates (see infographic below). 26 million children living in poverty in Mexico could be fed for three years. 75 billion trees could be planted. Or, 6.4 million water wells could be deployed in Africa.

At a time when wealth inequality levels are higher than ever, Oxfam, has called urged world leaders to end extreme wealth by 2025. At the same time, the world has committed to ending extreme poverty by 2030. Promoting that the world’s billionaires invest their assets on the welfare of the world’s majority can only help reduce poverty even faster. We applaud the Zuckerberg family for doing their role in sharing their time and resources for various causes benefiting millions of adults and children.

Progress in poverty reduction

This year marks a halfway point in world poverty reduction. In 2000 a global goal was declared halve extreme poverty by 2015, based on levels present in 1990. This goal was reached in 2010, five years ahead of schedule. By 2030 the new goal set by the majority of countries is to end extreme poverty. This would mean just 3% of people in the world would be considered extremely poor.

This 2030 projection requires a continuous economic growth of 4% per year worldwide. This optimistic scenario would have its peaks and valleys. The African continent, for example, would still have a 14% extreme poverty level. Other countries would have poverty rates well under 1%.

One of the key challenges to end extreme poverty is to de-couple economic growth from environmental degradation. The countries with the highest poverty levels just happen to depend on the exploitation of natural resources, whether in the form of forests, agricultural products, minerals or fossil fuels.

From a sustainability standpoint, the greatest challenge these countries have is to diversify their economies to achieve economic growth and reduce their contribution to global warming that would result in even more damage to the natural resources they depend on before they get hit by drought, hurricanes or other natural disasters.

The annual cost of environmental degradation — stemming from air, water and land pollution — increased 50% between 1990 and 2010. Only 25% of world’s countries, mainly the richer countries, achieved economic growth while reducing their environmental impact.

Source: Ending Extreme Poverty and Sharing Prosperity: Progress and Policies. World Bank Group. October, 2015.

Sustainable economic development assessment (SEDA)

Since 1934, Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has been the single metric used to evaluate countries’ progress. This year, the Boston Consulting Group created a new progress evaluation system called Sustainable Economic Development Assessment (SEDA). Based on 50,000 different types of data points publicly available in areas like health, environmental protection, and freedom of expression, and grouped in ten different categories, SEDA measures people’s well-being, not only their country’s economic output.




In their third SEDA edition 140 countries were compared. Poland showed a stronger sustainable growth than China. The European country performed well in employment, governability, civic society and the environment. Its Asian counterpart, showed a strong economic growth. However, it has one of the lowest scores in environmental protection.
Out of the top ten highest ranking countries, with the exception of Singapore, all are European countries. These top countries have been capable of turning economic gain into tangible benefits for their population. Countries like Mexico and the US fell behind other countries in their capacity to create progress for their citizens.

MIT IDEAS Global Challenge

Since 2012, i’ve had the privilege of volunteering for the MIT IDEAS Global Challenge, ran by MIT (Priscilla King Gray Public Service Center), designing the visual identity of this group, plus the program’s award ceremony every year.

The visual identity is composed of various dots that represent the different activities undertaken by students, as they propose innovative solutions to global challenges in agriculture, water, environment, health, mobile, education,  and economic development in countries around the world.

Exploring the nature of generosity

We often equate a large donation to a cause as a generous act. We praise the funds coming from donors with deep pockets that finally arrive at non-profit organizations that allow them to carry on with their missions.

Donors expect to know whether their financial contribution will actually improve people’s lives, thus insist the recipient organizations develop metrics to measure the effects of impact investing. These efforts are laudable since donors can be transparent about what happened to their money and how it was used to improve others’ lot but has little to do with the nature of generosity. A small coin can be a generous donation if it is given with a sense of compassion.

When comparing Bill Gates with Mother Theresa, one might argue that the latter had just as much impact than Gates but had a budget of zero. This Christian leader indiscriminately spent the only commodity she could spare–her time–with the most neglected members of Calcutta’s society, never expecting to be paid back.

At my previous office, E Buró, we did volunteer design and communications projects for non-profit organizations working on a variety of areas like rural development, education and sustainability. Through that experience, we met one of our favorite clients, but in summary doing volunteer work as part of the business was not financially sustainable for the office. However, doing it on our own personal timeframes, made more sense.

Designing a gift-based economy

In my effort to keep understanding the concept of a gift-based economy, this time i’m sharing some reflections on Nepun Mehta’s work. I first heard of him last year, when I read about his commencement speech given at the University of Pennsylvania.  As of today, it’s been read 176,884 times. You can read it here.

In this humble but very inspiring speech, Mehta talks about a pilgrimage him and his wife did in India relying entirely on strangers” kindness for food and shelter on their 1,000 kilometer long journey for three months. Throughout this trip Mehta describes how people like vegetable vendors, shared the little they had to support him and his wife. Mehta calls this process inner transformation, referring to how giving becomes an act of love and brings joy to the person giving, despite of how fair that exchange might be. In this video below you can hear him talk about ”designing a gift economy”.

These acts based on self-less generosity is what makes Mehta”s organization, ServiceSpace, stand out. It started as CharityFocus in 1999, an organization that provided free web services to non-profits.Since then it has evolved into ten different initiatives that share volunteerism as its common thread. Amit Dungarani, a volunteer with ServiceSpace, describes in a video interview how “by giving I”m getting something back and both parties are mutually benefited”. Mehta seems to emphasize this process of giving as an ongoing personal transformation that happens every time an act of generosity is made. Dungarani also describes how ServiceSpace is intentionally run by volunteers, as opposed to being an organization that relies on raising funds to pay for staff salaries.

All of ServiceSpace projects are run with a $0 overhead.ServiceSpace’s work is very much related to communications and technology. Besides CharityFocus, other initiatives include works & conversations, a magazine with touching stories of artists” lives;; a website that hosts resources and news related to development work in South Asia;; a site and mailing list of good news delivered daily to nearly 130,000 people.  Only one project has a store-front presence: Karma Kitchen, a pay-it-forward restaurant where guests pay $0 for their meal but are invited to pay for the next people coming in. Dungarani has some insights on the value of volunteering small acts. “Focusing on the small is something everyone can do and seems less daunting,” he explains. ServiceSpace relies on these small acts that amount to millions of dollars of work in public service. Mehta calls these successive acts of generosity “giftivism” (gift-iv-ism).

The takeaway: Nipun Mehta has done a great job at starting a great organization, but also communicating the great joy that acts of love and generosity bring to those who donate their time and skills without expecting any reciprocity (communicating generosity can also be an act of generosity).

In one of his TED presentations, Mehta asks, “what designs emerge when we assume people want to behave selflessly?” That is the premise behind a gift economy, relying on people’s trust, as opposed to a rational evaluation of what might be a fair trade. How can we as designers and communicators begin experimenting with small acts of generosity?

And finally, the biggest takeaway I get from ServiceSpace is that we can all do more for others if we’re nudged a little by love, and like Mehta says, and move “from isolation to community” a little more.



The poetry behind caregiving

Recently featured on FastCo Create, I read the great story of Caregifted, an organization that supports caregivers, people who spend decades, if not a lifetime looking after their relatives with  some form of disability like autism or Alzheimer’s. These unexpected conditions require family members to re-structure their lives around their relatives’ special needs, often leaving successful careers and personal goals behind in order to assist their relatives.

This Seattle-based organization gives, in the words of Caregifted, “respite in the form of all-expense paid getaways to full-time, lifelong caregivers of severely disabled family members.” People who are selected by this organization can spend some time away in different coastal locations like California, the Pacific Northwest, or Maine in order to rest, reflect and recover their much-needed strength to carry on.

Caregifted was founded by poet Heather McHugh, who used her McArthur genius grant to start this project. McHugh’s godson was found in a similar situation as his son was born with a rare condition that required him and his wife to change their careers, and move back to the US from Cambodia in order to give their baby the special medical attention he needed.

The decision to found Caregifted shows a lot of compassion on McHugh’s side toward her godson, and extends it to other families in similar conditions. It reminds me of Walt Whitman, also a poet, who spend many years visiting thousands of sick and wounded soldiers during the Civil War, listening to these anonymous young men and writing letters to their parents. You can read more about Whitman”s Civil War years here.

What struck me about Caregifted is the fact that it is using communication as a tool to bring awareness to caregivers. When travel grantees go on their vacations, they are asked to do some form of documentation of their time away. McHugh is partnering with filmmaker Adam Larsen, to help share the stories of these ”undersong heroes” during their retreat. Below is a trailer of their Undersung documentary.

The Takeaway

How can our efforts as designers and communicators inspire others to give a voice to those who typically don’t have a voice? Can our work be rooted on compassion? Let me know what you think.