Posts tagged writing

How coastal communities are adapting to a changing weather

Polar bears in the North Pole, sighted by the USS Honolulu.

Global warming and the global climate crisis continue to make headlines in news outlets: from increasing floods, to droughts and fires. By the end of the century, global temperatures are expected to increase 4C under the current trajectory of greenhouse gas emissions.

21.5 million people were displaced each year between 2008 and 2016 by some form of weather-related incident, including floods, storms, wildfires or extreme temperatures.

There is a correlation between higher temperatures and an increase in the number of natural disasters.

With some locations becoming drier with decreased rainfall patterns, and others more susceptive to being flooded, communities that were previously unaffected by natural disasters are more likely to suffer climate-related shocks in coming years.

In the Mid-Atlantic region, cities like Wilmington, Annapolis, Maryland, Sandy Hook and Atlantic City have seen a 10-fold increase in flood frequency since the 1950s, according to the EPA.

A study on the impact of climate change on European coasts estimated a 30-fold increase in damage from coastal flooding by mid-century and a 700-fold increase by the end of the century on a current path trajectory, with a $1 trillion price tag, without any future flood protection measures.

Malé, the capital of the Republic of Maldives. Photo by Timo Newton-Syms from Helsinki, Finland and Chalfont St Giles, Bucks, UK

Coastal area residents, particularly in developing countries and small nation states, are increasingly more vulnerable to these calamities.

In 2015, India and China respectively had 3.7 and 3.6 million people displaced from disasters. It is expected that over 140 million people will be climate-related migrants by 2050 in Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Latin America.

Indigenous communities are increasingly exposed to sea-level rise in areas like Panama, Louisiana, and low-lying islands in Asia and the Pacific, where 80% of the world’s 370 million indigenous people live, forcing them to move farther and higher inland.

In the Guna Yala region, off the Atlantic coast of Panama, 49 Guna communities have witnessed a 15cm rise of sea level rise in recent years. It is estimated that 28,000 people in the region will need to relocate to the mainland in the coming years, not only due to sea-level rise, but also because of deteriorating coral reefs and a diminished fishing output that these communities rely on.

Rural communities in developing nations are also distressed by changing weather patterns. The Isle of Jean Charles, in Louisiana, once the only home of the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw tribe, has shrunk from 34 square miles, to less than half a square mile. The Biloxis have been relocating to higher ground for the last couple of decades, with support from the U.S. Housing and Urban Development agency (HUD) accompanied by a $48.3 million grant to acquire new land some 12 feet above sea level.

Adapting to sea-level rise

As global temperatures keep rising in coming years, natural disasters will steadily increase. However, the world is better prepared to handle natural disasters. According to the International Disasters Database, the number of global casualties related to natural disasters has been contracting, partly due to better early-warning systems that facilitate faster evacuations.

In 2018, nearly half of all deaths from disasters took place in Indonesia (5,510 casualties), as a result of tsunamis and earthquakes in the region. In response, President Joko Widodo presented a plan to build a massive sea wall around Jakarta’s coast to abate damage from the sea and to help reduce the ocean from further encroaching on the capital’s coast, currently at a rate of 8 inches per year.

Jakarta joins other cities that advocate for sea walls, whether in the form of massive barriers, or vegetated buffer zones and wetlands that reduce damage from flash floods and hurricanes. In the U.S., following Hurricane Sandy’s devastating impact on 13 states, many cities along the East Coast received federal funding to better prepare for hurricanes. Cities from New York to Miami are investing millions to protect their coastlines. New York is planning to build a vegetated flood-protection zone around lower Manhattan. Norfolk has a $4 billion coastal resilience work plan underway, while Miami is investing close to half a billion dollars to address sea level rise.

In addition to coastal barriers, some cities implement policies like building codes and zoning laws to ensure schools, hospitals and workplaces are located in safe areas and can withstand the passing of hurricanes and floods. In addition, some cities have other financial instruments to help them recover from hurricanes and storms more quickly — including flood insurance, resilience bonds, or municipal and federal budgets allocated for stormwater management programs.

The Maeslantkering is a storm surge barrier that automatically closes when Rotterdam is threatened by floods. Photo: Dronesupport nl. via Flickr.

Coastal communities will adapt to sea-level rise in different ways. Wealthier cities are more likely to adapt and recover from natural disasters more easily than their counterparts in the Global South, due to their increased technical and financial capacity.

Less prosperous coastal communities, despite being the countries with the least amount of greenhouse gas emissions, are more likely to depend on relocating their populations. Over 200,000 households in Bangladesh have already been forced to relocate.

The Paris Agreement stipulated developed countries would provide aid to developing nations to better prepare for climate change, amounting to $100 billion every year in technical and financial assistance — a responsibility mostly being led by the European Union after the U.S. withdrew from the agreement, and a commitment that has yet to materialize.

Kiribati’s former president Anote Tong, bought land in Fiji as contingency for evacuating the country’s population and to send a message to the rest of the world that the survival of their country is at risk, including the lives of around 100,000 Kiribati citizens. Without adequate funding and technical capacity, more countries might follow suit, relying on relocating their coastal populations, as a way to adapt to coastal flooding.

Is Mexico paying for Trump’s wall?

During his 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump declared that if elected he’d build a wall along the US-Mexico border and have Mexico pay for it.

Trump publicly announced various estimates for his border wall. The cost estimates ranged from $8 billion to $25 billion in 2018, a figure that was requested to US congress that year, and one of the reasons for declaring one of the longest government shutdowns lasting over a month until January, 2019.

Some of Trump’s arguments pointed at how a new USMCA trade agreement with Canada and Mexico would somehow cover the costs for the wall. Or that adding a tax on remittances would cover the cost of his border wall.

The math behind Trump’s Mexico will pay for the wall arguments may be flawed and we may never know the actual cost of a 2000-mile fortified wall. However, Mexico has been pressured to comply with Trump’s anti-immigrant demands.

Three of eight border wall prototypes installed near San Diego in 2018. Images: Prototypes

Mexico becomes the wall

Through different strategies, the U.S. federal government has reduced the number of asylum seekers and migrants coming through its southern border.

U.S. asylum requests have been denied more frequently in recent years, reaching their highest denial rate since 2012. In 2018, 65% of asylum requests were denied in courts.

In June, President Trump threatened to impose import tariffs to its southern neighbor if Mexico didn’t drastically curb the flow of immigrants through its territory within a 45-day period.

This “deal” also required Mexico to begin talks with the U.S. on a “safe third country” agreement that would obligate asylum-seekers from Central America to request asylum in Mexico⁠—forfeiting the possibility of asking for asylum in the U.S. for Guatemalan nationals, for example. Such agreement has yet to go through Mexico’s Congress and be approved. The U.S. government has sought the same agreement with Guatemala.

Mexico, coerced by Trump’s tariff threat, sent 6,000 army troops to detain and deport Central American migrants headed north. Forty-five days later, Mexico reported how the migrant flow was reduced 36%, temporarily avoiding import tariffs.

By that point, the U.S. had returned over 50,000 asylum-seekers to Mexico to wait for their court hearings, for a period that can last months with the current backlog in asylum applications.

Having U.S. asylum-seekers wait their hearings in Mexico increases the vulnerability of many migrants who are often targeted by criminal groups in Mexico. In late August, a dozen of migrants who had just been sent from the U.S. to Nuevo Laredo, just south of Texas, were picked up by criminal groups directly from the bus were they were transported across the border.

Mexico has deported more Central Americans in recent years than the U.S. Source: CATO.

Mexico at a crossroad

Mexico, threatened with imposed tariffs by the Trump administration and overburdened with the recent influx of migrants from Central America, is at a crossroads for finding solutions with its neighbors north and south.

Between January and July, Mexico received nearly 40,000 asylum requests, the highest number in recent history.

Foreign minister Marcelo Ebrard has acknowledged the poor and overcrowded conditions where migrants are held in one of 60 detention centers in the country — in some facilities nearly 5 times over capacity. In a Chiapas detention center, some 400 migrants were detained in a space designed to hold 80 persons.

Mexico is also facing increasing pressure to ensure the protection of human rights for migrants and asylum-seekers passing through the country. In order for Mexico to sign a “safe third country” with the United States, both countries should pay attention to the current human rights violations migrants are exposed to as they transit through Mexico.

Seeking to address a core reason for migration, Mexico is investing $100-million dollars in agricultural and forestry projects in Central America to create jobs. A similar program is currently being tested in Mexico’s rural regions called Sembrando Vida (Planting Life).

In its first year in operation, the program is employing over 250,000 agricultural workers in a combined area of over 500,000 sq. km. to grow maize and other products, including fruits and wood using sustainable agriculture methods.


Although the construction of a wall has not come to fruition under Trump’s presidency, political pressure on Mexico has proved to be a good strategy to curb migrants from coming into the U.S., at least temporarily.

In recent weeks Mexico has been pushing back, capping the number of U.S. asylum-seekers that can be sent into Mexico to wait their court hearings.

As climate change, a lagging economy and social unrest continue to be leading causes of migration in in Central America, both the U.S. and Mexico may be better off joining forces to address root causes of migration, instead of considering building walls, and whether Mexico will pay for those walls.

Measuring the value of design

In the 20th century the role of designers was majorly understood as that of shape-makers, skilled folks who refine the way objects look. Think car-styling, or how the fashion industry delivers new clothing styles every season. Beyond surface and form, design is a skill that creates new products or services. Design has been embraced by business schools, like Rotman School of Management, and even governments, like Singapore or South Korea have incorporated a design culture to improve on public services.

However styled, or invisible the outcomes of design might be, design has the ability to deliver financial value. For many years the Design Management Institute tracked how design-driven companies, like Apple, IBM, Nike, Starbucks, or Procter & Gamble outperformed others in the Standard & Poors 500 index by over 200% between 2005 and 2015. In their studies, designers have a seat at the C-level of these corporations and are able to consistently innovate across their industries.

Graph of Design Value Index 2005-2015
Design Value Index 2005-2015

 

How can designers demonstrate the value of the work they do?

Ultimately, designers can demonstrate value on a before-after basis, before and after a product re-design. For instance, increase in sales of a product, customer satisfaction, overall revenue growth.  The Design Management Institute has a tool to help frame how designers add value in four parameters: revenue, customer experience, organizational learning, and processes. 

In another project I was personally involved in (The Sustainable Design Standard), a cohort of designers created a framework for evaluating the value of design incling metrics beyond financial value. Based on the premise that designers can also create social, cultural, and environmental value, we created metrics to determine whether designers are helping create products that are healthy, that promote human rights, or that do a lesser damage to the environment. Spoiler alert: Virtually all products designed today are not sustainable.

Provenance is a good example of how designers can gauge the performance of the things they design. The Provenance tool enables both consumers and companies to trace who and how products were made. The tool visualizes the supply chain of participating products and is connected to a verifiable database that rates suppliers and materials.

Provenance app

Designers are known for their skills to create attractive products. As the design practice continues to evolve this century, we can expect the design industry to lead the way in making complex information easy-to-understand and actionable.

Advertising in cities: Learning from Netflix, Intel and Google

When it comes to the visual landscape of cities, advertisements and billboards have played an important role across the world. Take Times Square. It is the world’s most visited place. This New York intersection provides a spectacle to over 300,00 visitors and tourists who pass by everyday.[1] These signs, designed to insert brand names in our minds to increase sales, play a role as entertainment with their flashing lights and moving images. Times Square is an example of Robert Venturi’s “less is a bore” dictum. The more signs, the more entertaining.

Times Square

Times Square. By Terabass (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

In dealing with outdoor advertising, cities negotiate both sides of the visual noise spectrum, either relying on advertising to bring in tax revenue to the city, despite the visual saturation it produces. Park benches, bus stops, trash cans and even wifi kiosks, like in New York, are subject to being covered with advertisements. On the other hand, some cities have opted for a visually clean and ad-free urban environments, like Sao Paulo that in 2007 removed 15,000 billboards and 300,000 over-sized storefront signs, or Chennai, India that banned new billboards in 2009. [2]

no-advertising billboard

A “no-advertisement” billboard by Lead Pencil Studio, installed on the US-Canada border.

The attention people put on an outdoor billboard is now challenged by online ads, as more people have access to mobile devices with internet access. Whether riding a subway, or sitting through traffic, our attention throughout the day is grabbed by screens large and small, at work and while traveling.

Google continues to dominate the online advertising industry through ads placed on websites, search results and other Google products like Gmail and YouTube. Google, along with other websites that rely on advertising, like Facebook and Yahoo, have contributed to build an ad-based model for a great part of the online content we consume. If the world wide web had a physical representation, like a city, it might very well look like Times Square, except with a population of over three billion, the equivalent of the current number of people with internet access.

The City is the battleground of the values of the culture

—Max Lerner, 1958

Learning from Netflix: An ad-free world for cities is possible

Netflix is the 35th most visited website in the world.  In 2013 Netflix began producing its own shows, reducing the need to rely on third-party produced content. Every year Netflix commissions dozens of shows, documentaries and films. Its original content produced by world-famous directors, producers and actors. Since Netflix began streaming movies, it did so without any ads. All content is paid for by the fees paid by the 74 million users it currently has.

Cities that adopt a Netflix model would eliminate outdoor advertising altogether, and invest in cultural production that would in turn attract companies and retain the city’s talent. As urbanist Richard Florida proclaims, cities with a strong “creative class” attract talent and investment. Cities with a strong cultural agenda and tolerant to people of different cultures, sexual orientation, or viewpoints, are more attractive than cities without such an offer.

The piece “Perception” by Tunisian-French artist eL Seed spans over numerous brick buildings in Cairo’s neglected Manshiyat Naser neighborhood. (Photo: eL Seed; Image via egyptianstreets.com)

Learning from Intel: Collaborating with content creators 

While some public transit systems post poems and artwork on their advertising spots in subway trains and buses, much more can be done to output creative work in cities. What if cities followed the steps of Intel to create novel cultural projects? In 2009, Intel partnered with VICE to produce a series of events and creative works. Since the beginning of Creators Project, both brands have made possible 600 collaborations with artists involving the likes of Daft Punk, Spike Jonze, Michel Gondry, Ai Wei Wei, Pharrell, and other innovators that combine art and technology. Intel has tapped into VICE’s experience curating content in order to deliver cultural projects that entertain millennials and adults all over the world.

If Intel’s Creators Project promotes the use of products that bear their computer chips to a young audience, then cities that follow their steps could partner with like-minded companies. If Intel appointed will.i.am as its director of creative innovation, then cities could also bring chief creative leaders into government. If the Creators Project reaches a global audience of over 85 million, then cities could promote their brand globally.

Learning from Google: Relevant information in the right place

The world’s biggest company has expanded its revenue year after year thanks to the growing rates of internet adoption across the world and the increase of mobile devices users. One of the keys in providing a successful service is Google’s relevance of search results, whether searching on a desktop, browsing maps or videos on a mobile device. What might cities be like if their outdoor advertising was run by Google? Would the aggregate preferences of people passing by in a given street corner, determine the type of ads that are delivered to that group of people, based on their tastes, surroundings or destination? The same billboards could at other times deliver information about the city’s services.

The way Google has managed to continue bringing in more cash is not by its ability to place ads on websites, but by deciphering the relevance and value that an ad has to its target audience. It is only a matter of time when we will see new developments in advertising, now experienced in small screens, brought to large screens in physical spaces. In public spaces, like Times Square, we might soon see advertisements  delivered by the aggregate interests of people passing-by at any given time. Or cities could tap into Google’s data to deliver relevant information: maps and information for tourists, reminders about the city’s services, invitations to government-citizen dialogues, statistical data about a city block, etc.

The conventional advertising model based on displaying a single message to as many people as possible is no longer the only, or even most effective model to promote brands or products. Cities will continue to be working experiments for how advertisements and cultural expressions intertwine. Cities can learn from Netflix the importance cultural production plays to add value to public life without the use of ads or billboards, creating a clean visual culture of their cities. Mayors can also learn from Intel as a model for collaboration with like-minded companies and how to promote a city to a global audience. Or following Google’s model of relevant advertising, cities could deliver the right messages to the right people in the right places.

—-

Notes:

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Times_Square

[2] Can cities kick ads? Inside the global movement to ban urban billboards. Arwa Mahdawi, The Guardian. August 12, 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/cities/2015/aug/11/can-cities-kick-ads-ban-urban-billboards

US Clean Power Plan halted by Supreme Court

The COP21 meetings in Paris this past December were applauded by some as an historic event that would allow the 195 signing countries to collaborate on a plan to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions and  avoid global temperatures from rising 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels.[1] That is the estimated threshold that would ensure low-lying nation states like the Marshall Islands don’t disappear due to rising sea levels and hotter temperatures in the coming decades.

Last year, in preparation to the COP meetings, the US announced in April its proposed emissions reduction plan: to lower greenhouse gas emissions up to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025.[2] This target would imply improving energy efficiency in areas like electricity generation, transportation, and energy use in housing and commercial buildings. Four months later, in August, President Obama announced the final version of the Clean Power Plan, a document that outlined a path to reduce carbon dioxide emissions 32 percent by 2030, based on 2005 levels.[3]

Earlier this year, on February 9, the US Supreme Court halted Obama’s plan to regulate power plants’ carbon dioxide emissions, as outlined in his Clean Power Plan, responding to a challenge placed by twenty seven states, some companies and lobby groups,[4] including major oil producer Texas, and coal-dependent West Virginia, where over 95% of its electricity comes from coal[5,6]. This judicial process could delay the implementation of the Clean Power Plan as late as 2017.

What does delaying the Clean Power Plan amount to? 

It equals the reduction of anywhere between 652 and 870 million tons of carbon dioxide. That amounts to the annual emissions of up to 166 million cars.[7]  It also equals nearly half of the US commitments in greenhouse gas emissions reductions declared for COP21.

Countries that joined COP21 in Paris now have until April 21, 2017 to sign the agreement, and have even more time to ratify the agreement, meaning they have to pass the necessary laws in order to fully commit to COP21 targets. Although COP21 can go forward without the US, halting the reduction of greenhouse gases from electricity production, puts in jeopardy the Obama administration’s legacy on climate change and delays the feasibility of preventing global temperatures from rising 1.5 degrees, as outlined in the COP21 negotiations.

CPP-ing

 

[1] Adoption of the Paris Agreement. United Nations. Framework Convention on Climate Change. Dec. 12, 2015. http://unfccc.int/resource/docs/2015/cop21/eng/l09.pdf

[2] US Climate Commitment Should Spur Other Countries to Act.  and http://www.wri.org/blog/2015/04/us-climate-commitment-should-spur-other-countries-act

[3] Climate Change and President Obama’s Action Plan. https://www.whitehouse.gov/climate-change

[4] US Supreme Court puts Obama climate regulations on hold. Jeff Tollefson. Feb. 10, 2016. http://www.nature.com/news/us-supreme-court-puts-obama-climate-regulations-on-hold-1.19346

[5] U.S. Supreme Court Blocks Obama’s Clean Power Plan. Lawrence Hurley and Valerie Volcovici. Feb. 9, 2016. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/u-s-supreme-court-blocks-obama-s-clean-power-plan/

[6] West Virginia. State Profile and Energy Estimates. http://www.eia.gov/state/?sid=WV

[7] Estimates based on EPA’s 2016 Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory (http://www3.epa.gov/climatechange/Downloads/ghgemissions/US-GHG-Inventory-2016-Chapter-Executive-Summary.pdf), and EPA’s Clean Power Plan factsheet (http://www.epa.gov/cleanpowerplan/fact-sheet-clean-power-plan-numbers).

 

Book: Spanish edition of Do Good [Design], by David Berman

Haz el bien diseñando, the Spanish edition of Do Good Design, by David Berman, explores the ethical implications of communication design and the role designers play as accomplices in mass media production. The author has decades promoting social responsibility among design professionals and has been influential in the adoption of web accessibility legislation and ethical rules of conduct for design associations in his native Canada and internationally. In the first part of the book, Berman invites designers to question whether the things they design prompts people to do good things or whether they help craft visual lies and biased messages that incite irresponsible consumption.

In his book, Berman argues that by designing marketing campaigns, ads and packaging, designers play a crucial role in influencing people’s decisions. He presents several examples of posters, ads, found street signage, packaging and billboards from his trips across different continents. These examples act as short visual literacy lessons that shed insights on major brands’ messaging tactics: How children incidentally recognize the cartoon character behind Camel, the famous cigarette brand, more easily than Mickey Mouse; how sex and the female body are used to sell water, magazines, phones, servers and even political campaigns; how Coke is the world’s second most recognized word after OK, among many others.

“We live in a time where it’s easier to leave a more influential legacy popularizing our ideas than spreading our genetic material” — David Berman

The book presents a plethora of examples that demonstrate how communication design can have a big impact. One of the more famous case studies is the design of the US presidential election ballots in 2004 that affected the election results that put President Bush in power. Or how the design of tabulated sheets, designed by Herman Hollerith to compensate for his cognitive deficit, led to the invention of computing and the founding of IBM. Designing for the extremes, or for people with all cognitive or physical levels of dexterity and visual cognition is a strategy that creates better products that function for everyone, explains Berman.

Toward the book’s final pages, several tips and practical advice for designers to “do good” at a strategic level: To consider cultural, social, environmental and financial sustainability at the beginning of each project; to commit to the design profession and join professional associations,  implying these organizations require a minimum ethical commitment from its members, just like doctors and lawyers abide to certain rules of conduct; to donate 10% of our time to worthwhile causes on a volunteer basis.

This well-researched and visually compelling presentation is a thought-provoking call to action for all designers, not only communication designers. The book’s marginalia includes brief case studies of design professionals who are already “doing good” in their own work. Rather than providing answers, the book invites designers to create their own solutions based on their local context.

Five organizations that promote sharing

FIVE-ORGANIZATIONS

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. https://www.oxfam.org/en/pressroom/pressreleases/2015-01-19/richest-1-will-own-more-all-rest-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 Change.org, 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.