It’s hard to believe that March is already here again, but at Jolkona we’re certainly excited about International Women’s Day on March 8. This year will be our 4th annual Give2Girls campaign, raising money to improve the lives of women and girls all over the world during Women’s History Month.

As UN Women states, “Increasingly, International Women’s Day is a time to reflect on progress made, to call for change and to celebrate acts of courage and determination by ordinary women who have played an extraordinary role in the history of their countries and communities.”

Our preparations include reviewing the past three campaigns, celebrating we have collectively accomplished with the $40,000 raised, and all that is still left to do as we work to build greater gender equality and improving health, education and opportunity for women and girls locally and globally:

Jolkona’s Give2Girls 2013 raised over $5,000 through our generous donors and a partnership with the Seattle International Foundation. Every dollar went to saving lives and improving education, health and sanitation for women and girls in more than a dozen countries, from the United States to Iraq to Nepal. Through out last year’s campaign, we also worked to bring awareness to many issues that impact women’s equality, such as access to clean water and higher education.

Our Give2Girls 2012 raised $25,000, with a big boost from Women at Google and our champions Zanoon Nissar and Jessan Hutchison-Quillian. And the inaugural Give2Girls campaign raised $10,000!

While looking forward to what we can accomplish this year, you can watch a live commemoration of the event on March 7th here, and stay tuned for our official campaign information next week. You can also get started on browsing our projects related to women and girls.

We’re excited and grateful to spend a fourth Women’s History Month working with you to help improve the lives of women and girls. Thank you for your support!

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As Jolkona gears up for International Women’s Day, several of our female supporters joined others from the greater Seattle area to discuss how improving health, wealth and community ties helps women and girls achieve personal and professional success. The Feb. 20 event, “Ignite Your Radiance,” was hosted by Michelle Wong, a lifestyle/financial freedom strategist, with proceeds benefiting Jolkona operations.

The first speaker was our CEO and co-founder, Nadia Mahmud. Opening up with a quote from Malcolm X, Nadia captured the heart of the giving spirit, and how a philosophy of generosity can improve a woman’s personal and communal quality of life:

Melody Biringer, founder of CRAVE, delighted us with anecdotes of past failures and successes, with each challenge bringing her closer to understanding of the power of authentic relationships:

Dianne Juhl, the founder of the Feminine Face of Money, offered insight into the transformative power of financial freedom for women:

The last speaker invited the audience to get up and dance, literally!  See why Jamie Silverstein, a retired Olympic ice dancer and now owner of the Grinning Yogi Studio, believes we all can be moved and inspired:

Thank you to Michelle Wong, the speakers and audience for a successful event. If you haven’t already done so, check out the event photos on our Facebook page — and stay tuned for a special Jolkona women/girls giving campaign leading up to International Women’s Day on March 8.

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Last April, an 8-story garment factory collapsed in Bangladesh, killing more than 1,000 people and injuring more than 2,500. Many of them had lost arms, legs, or both. Jolkona’s campaign to fund artificial limbs for the survivors of this unprecedented disaster raised close to $25,000 in 5 days.

Last month, Nadia and I visited Bangladesh and met with some of the survivors. One of the women had been trapped for three days under the rubble, finally cutting off her own arm to free herself. She was 21 years old. Thanks to Jolkona donors, our partner BRAC has fitted her with an artificial arm, a monthly allowance higher than her old income from the factory, and the resources to start her own business.

Nadia and I were thrilled to see Jolkona’s impact in action. There are three components to this success:

  1. Partnership: BRAC  is one of the largest NGOs in the world and one of Jolkona’s founding partners. Over the years we have developed a very strong relationship with BRAC, allowing us to partner with them and respond quickly to disasters in Bangladesh and the other countries it serves.
  2. Feedback:  Jolkona has always prioritized direct feedback to the donor. We were able to assure donors that they would receive reports of the specific people helped by their funds, leading to a high volume of donations.
  3. Impact: Working together and with others on the ground, Jolkona and BRAC had a true impact on this disaster relief effort.

I believe this model can be adopted for other types of social work, not just disaster response. What do you think?

To continue making a true impact in Bangladesh, check out Jolkona’s LiftBangla projects.

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Happy Valentine’s Day to our donors, partners and volunteers!


We love working with you to make the world better for our generation and brighter for future generations. Thank you so much for your support over the past six years.

And if you’re still searching for a meaningful gift for that special someone in your own life,  we hope you consider making a dedicated donation to one of our partners. We have dozens of philanthropy projects to choose from in Asia, Africa, North and South America. Something for everyone, whether your sweetie is passionate about education, health, human rights, job creation, animals or the environment.

On a related note, when shopping for gifts or other items online, you can use the Amazon Smile website to designate a nonprofit like Jolkona or our partners to benefit from a small percentage of your purchases.

Love to give, give to love.

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Since I began volunteering with Jolkona almost a year ago, I have learned a lot about the nonprofit sector, and how our team and partners are working to change the status quo of philanthropy. Jolkona has taught me that constant innovation is important not only to optimizing impact, but also to the process of democratizing philanthropy and bringing charity into the 21st century. And above all, Jolkona has shown me that anyone can be a philanthropist, regardless of income, age, or experience.

maddie pic“Philanthropist” can be a loaded term, bringing to mind major institutions like the Carnegie libraries, huge university and arts endowments, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s millions. This point of view can be discouraging to those of us who don’t have those kinds of resources, and therefore feel like we can’t make a meaningful difference. But with its crowdfunding platform and one-to-one impact reports, Jolkona has shown me that even $10 can change someone’s life, especially when combined with other people’s donations and directed to a trustworthy cause.

According to a recent New Yorker article, philanthropy is a key area where global income inequality is particularly stark, and one where the heaviest hitters do little to alleviate that problem. The 85 wealthiest people in the world hold as much combined wealth as poorest half of the world. Though the top philanthropists are part of this remarkably tiny elite group, they do little to address poverty alleviation.

That isn’t to say that some of biggest philanthropists don’t support causes that aid the poor. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has set the goal to eradicate extreme poverty on a global level, saying that there will be no poor counties by 2035. However, a 2008 study on the giving behaviors of the wealthiest imply that this is more of an exception to the rule.  When it comes to giving to causes that address the needs of the poor, households that make $100,000 or less spend 36% of their charitable giving on causes that effect the poor. In contrast, households that make a million or more only spend 22% on poverty alleviation. The top recipients of funding are colleges and universities, hospitals and medical centers, and general foundations.

All this tells me is that changing the face of philanthropy means working from the bottom up. Jolkona’s strategies rely just on that, by making philanthropy more accessible not only to all who are passionate about making a difference, but also to small but efficient high-impact organizations that create huge amounts of change per dollar. By making informed giving accessible to those outside the economic elite, even a recent college graduate like me can say, “I am a philanthropist.”

With a high-impact donation and collective giving, every drop truly counts.

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Jill Chang

Jill Chang

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in psychology a few years ago, I thought I had my heart set on a career in counseling and mental health. I’ve always had a passion for advocacy and social change, but never really knew how to best champion these causes. Gradually, I became invested in the nonprofit sector through my job at a retirement community, expanding their social media outreach. I became fascinated with the way digital tools could be used to raise greater awareness and create a call to action for a good cause.

As Jolkona’s new communications intern, I’m excited to keep bringing these elements together on a global scale.

Jolkona is fueled by team members with incredible talent, motivation, energy and drive. The organization embraces technology and has a strong and ever-growing social media presence. It’s a challenging task to successfully integrate digital and traditional outreach, but Jolkona is on the right track. Lastly and perhaps most importantly, Jolkona’s model of growing philanthropy, drop by drop, is inspiring and empowering. The combination of these characteristics greatly resonates with me.

I’m thrilled to join this dynamic group of people and help expand Jolkona’s voice, speaking for a new generation of philanthropists.

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If you go on an amazing trip and have a life-changing experience, but don’t share it on Facebook, did it really happen? This satirical story from The Onion says it all: 6-Day Visit To Rural African Village Completely Changes Woman’s Facebook Profile Picture

“I don’t think my profile photo will ever be the same, not after the experience of taking such incredible pictures with my arms around those small African children’s shoulders. Honestly, I can’t even imagine going back to my old Facebook photo of my roommate and I at an outdoor concert.”

If your Facebook photo could use a similar upgrade, check out Jolkona Expeditions. These small group trips take volunteers to visit our nonprofit partners fighting poverty in developing countries. Previous expeditions have gone to West Africa and South America; the next one is scheduled for March 16 to 30, visiting organizations in Kenya and Tanzania.

Jolkona Expeditions: Not only will they change your life, but they will definitely change your Facebook profile picture!

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A single moment can inspire great works of art, literature, engineering and even philanthropy.

Over the last two days, we have blogged about Peace Corps volunteers who strive to make a measurable impact, including how Jolkona partner Steve Schwartz mined his experience as a small enterprise volunteer in Benin to create his nonprofit organization, Upaya Social Ventures. His friend and fellow Jolkona partner, Sebastián Seromik, was also inspired during their service in West Africa — in his case, to found Dagbé, an organization that works to provide opportunity to children in crisis situations in rural Benin.

After studying business at the University of Michigan, Sebastián felt driven to volunteer and give back to the global community. Several unforgettable moments during his Peace Corps experience cemented his path to becoming a lifelong philanthropist. In his own words:

When we were in Abomey [Benin] doing our training, I stayed with a host family… they had a little girl that was a domestic servant. I was obviously a little thrown back by it. But, Peace Corps explained to me that this was something that happened in the country and that I had to be ready for it. Obviously it was a delicate situation where you couldn’t just speak up and say to your host family, “oh, you shouldn’t be doing this.” And, you know, sometimes you had to understand the situation. Sometimes the girls would come from, you know, you never knew where. Maybe it was part of the distant family or some relatives that were taking care of her.

But, in this case the girl was a domestic servant maybe eight or nine years old,  and she was sent to bring water to my room. Water was a quarter mile away, and people had to pay for it. It cost about the equivalent of five cents to get a bucket of water from the tap that was a number of houses down. She went out and five cents is actually a decent amount there, especially for water which you’re using every day to cook, to clean clothes, to shower, just about anything you can think of and then you drink water — you need water to stay hydrated.

She was bringing it back and when she got closer to my room, she was maybe about 10 paces away — she had been carrying the bucket by the metal handle. The handle ended up ripping through the plastic from the weight of the water and three quarters of bucket spilled all over the ground before she quickly picked it up and saved the last quarter of the bucket. And the father of my host family came out, took one look at her, and he just hit her over the head several times.

I was just frozen. I didn’t know what to do. And to this day, there is still something in me that feels awful for not having said or done anything in that moment…

These kids are put in these situations, either because of poverty or because of their parents passing away and they don’t know what to do. They don’t get a chance to play, to go to school, to do the things that other kids do — the things that we take for granted here in the States…

When I got to Ouesse [near the Nigerian border], these practices were prevalent. You saw girls serving as domestic servants, boys out in the fields all the time used as extra labor…

I learned that there wasn’t a single facility dedicated to caring for children in crisis situations: orphans, vulnerable children, victims of trafficking, victims of abuse, victims of extreme poverty. I was approached by a couple of people in town — a couple of community leaders working in social services. They wanted to build a center that would care for these children.

That is where it all began. I walked into the Peace Corps director’s office in Benin and said, ‘Look, I have this project. I know most projects are around $3,000; this one is at least ten times that. I’m prepared to stay in country, extend my Peace Corps service for as long as it takes to get funded, and then complete it. She told me a couple years later, ‘I wasn’t sure what to think then, but you had this look of determination in your eyes. I thought, ‘I’m going to trust him, and go with it.’

Today, Sebastián continues to make an impact in Benin with Dagbé in four key areas: Care for Children and Families; Human Rights and Anti-Child Trafficking; Education and Youth Development; and Social Enterprise and Business Training. We can thank Upaya’s Steve Schwartz for facilitating Dagbé’s partnership with Jolkona.

To help Sebastian and Dagbé continue making a difference, you can provide care to keep Beninese children from being further victimized by trafficking, or help cover tuition fees for public secondary school in Benin.

We hope you have found these stories inspirational. At Jolkona, and the rest of the nonprofit sector, volunteers and donors make our work possible. Whether you decide to join the Peace Corps, make a gift through Jolkona’s programs, or find another way to donate your time, skills or money — you can make an incredible, measurable impact.

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Everyone’s lifelong philanthropy journey is different, but most start off with small steps: making a single donation, volunteering your time. Some lead to starting your own nonprofit — which, in turn, guides other donors and volunteers on their philanthropy journeys.

In yesterday’s blog post, we noted that the founders of two Jolkona partner organizations coincidentally served together as Peace Corps volunteers in Benin six years ago. This life-changing experience inspired Steve Schwartz and Sebastian Seromik to create their own nonprofit organizations — Upaya Social Ventures and Dagbé — and empowered them with the tools they needed to make these organizations successful in fighting poverty at the grassroots level in South Asia and West Africa.

Starting Small, Scaling Up

Many Peace Corps volunteers begin their service after university, but Upaya’s Steve Schwartz joined after several years of working in international communications, including some projects for Lawyers Without Borders. From there, his two-year Peace Corps commitment in Benin, developing cooperative enterprise models with village craftsmen and tradesmen, taught him how a whole region’s economy could benefit from creating small grassroots partnerships, then scaling up. In his own words:

These guilds were set up — you can think of a horizontal line. All of the welders in town are going to join the welding guild. But really, they have the same resources, the same training and in a lot of cases, set up shop next to each other – so you have a welding district or the carpenter’s district or an electrician district within the town.

And they serve the same sort of function that any sort of trade association would, in representing the interests of the welders to a government body or to other institutions. But what they’re not really good at, helping the members to crosscut the different skills and the different sectors that they are in, along business lines. For example, you would have six truck welders and the association they’re in, and six truck electricians, and six truck painters, and six truck mechanics all in four different associations. But there was no way for one truck welder, one truck electrician, one truck mechanic and one truck painter to come together and form a single company to do truck restoration…


Steve and Sebastian presenting a meal in Azove during training

That was really what I spent a lot of my time doing. How do you create the kind of collaborative environment where you’re building a company with partners, versus thinking of yourself as a single tradesman. Some of that went well, and some of it didn’t.

That continues to be really important in transitioning developing economies in general, but in particular with what we saw in a lot of West Africa where everything is so driven by the individual being a sole proprietor entrepreneur. A lot of that thinking definitely influenced when it came around to Upaya, which is really there to build business which can be employers for large numbers of people.

Founded in 2011, Upaya has collaborated with five entrepreneurial partners to create jobs for more than 1,000 of India’s poorest workers, focusing on regions with the highest rates of child malnutrition and other markers of extreme poverty. It’s the natural progression of what Steve learned in Benin: that a collaborative approach to building enterprises not only encourages the growth of developing economies, but is also an effective strategy to lifting people out of extreme poverty.

Through Jolkona, you can support Upaya’s project to create jobs for silk weavers in Bihar, India.

Check back tomorrow for Sebastian Seromik’s story about how his Peace Corps stint inspired him to create Dagbé.

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Everyone likes a superhero origin story. How about a philanthropist origin story? At Jolkona, our superheroes are the donors and volunteers who save lives by fighting poverty, especially far from home.

In this effort, we are privileged to partner with Upaya Social Ventures and Dagbé, two nonprofit organizations founded by volunteers who served together in the Peace Corps six years ago, in the West African nation of Benin. In a recent conversation, Upaya’s Steve Schwartz and Dagbé’s Sebastian Seromik discussed how this shared experience inspired and empowered them to create their respective organizations.

According to Sebastian, who primarily worked with social workers during his service, it’s crucial for volunteers in developing countries to find the balance between idealism and realism, and establish personal connections. In his words:

We leave the U.S. with some idea, grandiose or not, of the kind of impact that we are going to make. And when we get there, we realize that we can’t make the change and impact that we had in mind. Because we didn’t know the culture, we didn’t know the people, we didn’t know the communities we’d be serving, we didn’t know the challenges we would be facing, we didn’t know the personal stuff that we would be dealing with…

At a certain point, you feel useless as a volunteer. Especially in the first few months, when you’re getting up to speed. Maybe you had a couple projects that have failed, and you’re not quite sure what’s going on. I got to this point… And I realized, you know, I’m not here to move needles. I’m not here to make the poverty rate drop by a certain amount in Benin. If I think of it that way, then I’m never going to have an impact. If I look it as ‘I’m here to serve the person, the human person, that’s in front of me at this very moment,’ then I can have an impact.

If you think about it, that’s often the way we go about our daily lives. Whether at home with our families, or with our coworkers, oftentime it’s responding to the needs of the people we know. It’s often these personal relationships that we have a familiarity with, and that’s why we can be effective.

But when you go thousands of miles away and think that you’re going to be effective without knowing anybody, then it’s really hard to do that. I realized that you need to take advantage of relationships. Once you get to know people, and really determine their needs, then you can really start having an impact.


Villagers in Tchaourou, Benin

Check back over the next few days to read more about how Sebastian and Steve used their Peace Corps experiences to start their own nonprofits, fighting poverty in Benin and India.

If, like Steve and Sebastian, you’re looking to make a major commitment of your time and skills, the Peace Corps is an excellent opportunity. In Seattle’s nonprofit and global development sectors, from Jolkona’s grassroots partners to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Peace Corps alumni seem to be everywhere. And we keep exporting volunteers, too: last year, our state’s University of Washington, Western Washington University, and Gonzaga University led their respective categories for most Peace Corps participants.

If you aren’t ready or able to take a step as big as a two-year commitment, however, you can still get a taste for this kind of work by visiting our partners in developing countries through a Jolkona Expedition. (We still have some spots available for the next one: March 16-30, in Kenya and Tanzania.) And of course, you can always make a high-impact contribution by supporting organizations like Dagbé and Upaya through Jolkona’s donation programs.

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