Blog

We are excited to welcome 2010 with a lot of new projects. Here are the newest projects you will find on our website:

We are excited to welcome Ashoka to the Jolkona community. You can now support an Ashoka Youth Venture project right here in Seattle to encourage youth led journalism.

Jolkona Foundation believes that we can not only feature projects around the world, but also feature local projects right here in USA. Action Against Hunger has created the Race Against Hunger program to raise awareness amongst American youth about hunger. You can now show your support by sponsoring a class in the Race Against Hunger

Madre was one of our first partners with few popular projects. Their newest projects will continue that trend. You can support midwives in the troubled West Bank and allows them to provide much needed aid to pregnant mothers who can not get to hospitals. You can also provide assistance to farmers in Nicaragua through affordable donation options.

Last but not the least, we are working with TRIFC to allow our donors to support the blind children of Nepal.

We encourage you to checkout these new projects and give generously to these worthy causes.

Imagine something that has been proven to make you happier, healthier and more confident while being environmentally friendly, and having absolutely no adverse side effects. I am not referring to a new miracle drug or infomercial for aroma-therapy candles, but simply the act of giving. People have long known that altruism carries its own rewards. History is filled with references to the fact that in giving there is also receiving, however, there is still some debate as to why.

In his latest op-ed piece Our Basic Human Pleasures: Food, Sex, and Giving, Nicolas Kristof claims that giving leads individuals to live happier, more fulfilling lives (so far so good). Yet, he goes on to argue that because of this giving is, in fact, a selfish act. He demonstrates that we give not necessarily out of our interest for others, but because we feel good doing so.

While I don’t believe it was Kristof’s intent, he has fed the flames of an old debate, that volunteers and philanthropists aren’t out to help others, but to feel good about themselves. As an economics student I have heard this argument before, that of “Homo Economicus”, or the economic man. The premise of the Homo Economicus model is that human behavior is solely dictated by self-interest, or rather everyone is out for themselves. Under this model firemen wouldn’t run into burning buildings, there would be little volunteerism, and as Kristof asserts, charity would be self-interest in disguise. Yet, firemen do run into burning buildings, we do volunteer a substantial number of hours (over 8 billion hours in 2009), and we give an immense amount to charity ($230 billion in 2008 (see Adnan’s article posted back in June). So what’s wrong with this explanation?

While there is no denying that being altruistic feels good, emerging research tells us it is for a completely different reason then self gain. It turns out we give because we are social creatures. In a recent study participants were asked to either keep a $128 research stipend for themselves, or donate part of their stipend to charity all while being monitored on an MRI. When subjects chose to give (and they often did) their brain activated “reward pathways” as if they were fulfilling a selfish act such as eating; however these pathways were stimulated by regions associated with social, not selfish behavior. The conclusion of course being that we are innately driven to give not out of selfish, but communal interest.

Within the greater context of human interaction such a behavior makes sense. Being group-oriented creatures, what tends to be in the interest of one is in the interest of all. Yet, we must admit that sometimes our selfish desires blind us to what is truly best for our community, and ultimately ourselves. Thus, our innate drive to give is our brain’s way of subconsciously combating our selfish tendencies of “Homo Economicus”, which explains why we give above and beyond what is purely advantageous to us. This research also tells us that giving to communal needs can be just as instinctively rewarding as fulfilling personal needs, such as food or shelter. This finally explains why those of us who give often are found to be much happier than those of us who don’t give at all. And, there is no refuting that happy people lead healthier, more fulfilling lives.

So what does this all mean in practice? The next time you are having a down day, happiness may not be found in another latte or a new pair of shoes, but a donation. Intuitively we know that a latte will only make us happy until we reach the bottom of our cup, but giving someone the amazing gift of a healthy child or an education will give us reason to be happy for days, months, and even years to come. When we focus on giving rather than getting we not only help others, but ironically help ourselves, which we know, buried within the depths of our brain, is the gift of giving.

Sources:
Kristof’s article:

Research:
Jorge Moll et al., “Human Fronto–Mesolimbic Networks Guide Decisions About Charitable Donation,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 103 (2006).

Volunteer statistics:
http://www.volunteeringinamerica.gov/national

Our heartfelt condolences go out to the people and families in Haiti affected by the recent tragic earthquake that has claimed thousands of lives and affected over one third of the population.  We know that there are tons of relief efforts and fundraisers going on right now to help provide assistance, and although we ourselves do not fundraise for natural disasters and relief efforts, we are very committed to helping out in these times of need.  To help direct our users to places providing relief in Haiti, here are some of the options we would recommend:

1. BRAC USA.  BRAC USA is one of our existing partners where we provide support to one of their project’s in Bangladesh.  BRAC USA supports the development work of BRAC in Asia and Africa but are now working with two partners on the ground in Haiti to help support on-going relief efforts.  All donations received that are designated for Haiti relief and rehabilitation efforts will go directly to their Hatian Emergency Appeal and work directly on the ground in Haiti.  You can donate here: https://s71165.gridserver.com/donations/view

2. Mercycorps.  Although Mercycorps is not a Jolkona Partner, we do have strong connections with some of their staff.  While they do a lot of development work around the world, one of their main focus is on disaster response and emergency and natural disaster relief and are thus very experienced in this area. They deploy their own teams and experts, and have local workers there as well so are well equipt to help out on the ground. You can donate to them here:
https://donate.mercycorps.org/donation.htm?DonorIntent=Haiti+Earthquake

3. The American Red Cross. The Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters around the world and is currently on the ground and mobilizing resources to assist in Haiti.  You can make a donation to the Red Cross Haiti Relief and Development fund here:  http://american.redcross.org/site/PageServer?pagename=ntld_main&s_src=RSG000000000&s_subsrc=RCO_BigRedButton
You can also  Text the word HAITI to 90999 to give a  $10 donation to the Red Cross for Haiti Relief fund that will be charged to your cell phone bill

4. Yele Haiti.  Yele is a grassroots movement that builds global awareness for Haiti while helping to transform the country through programs in education, sports, the arts and environment.  It was founded by musician, Wyclef Jean who is now collecting donations to provide relief in Haiti.  You can make a donation to the Yele Haiti Earthquake fund here:  https://co.clickandpledge.com/advanced/default.aspx?wid=23093
You can also Text the word YELE to 501501 to donate $5 to the Yele Haiti Earthquake fund that will be charged to your cell phone bill.

Thank you ALL for your generous support and help to the people of Haiti!

Last month, I gave an interview where I discussed how I came to start Jolkona Foundation. This interview was distributed internally within Microsoft. It is my pleasure to share the article, in its entirety, with our readers.

Once again, I would like to thank my employer – Microsoft Corporation – for being so supportive of Jolkona Foundation’s work.

Trip to Cemetery Creates Life-Changing Moment

Jake Siegel
December 9, 2009 

A stranger in Bangladesh helped Adnan Mahmud realize he could help make the world a better place without much money. He did it by creating Jolkona Foundation, a nonprofit that channels small donations to specific people and causes across the world.

​

“I truly believe that in 100 years, our generation won’t be known for the technological advances that we’ve made. Rather, we’ll be known for how those technological advances were used to tackle humanity’s biggest challenges,” said Adnan Mahmud, Microsoft Research program manager.

 

Adnan Mahmud’s quest to change philanthropy started in a cemetery.

It was 2006. The Microsoft Research program manager was visiting his parents in Bangladesh, where he grew up. During the trip, Mahmud went to pay his respects at his grandfather’s grave. As he left the cemetery, he passed a man carrying his dead son. The man clearly couldn’t afford a proper funeral or the traditional Muslim burial cloth; the dead child wore shorts and an unbuttoned shirt.

Mahmud figured the man had spent all his money securing a grave for his son. Just outside the cemetery, vendors were selling burial cloth for 50 cents. “I could have helped him out with a dollar, but when I realized that, I was already home having lunch,” he said.

The recognition that even a small amount of money could make a big impact on someone’s life was a revelation, Mahmud said. He always knew that someday he would dedicate himself to giving back, but that would come after his career. That stranger in Bangladesh made him realize he could help now, even without the checkbook of Bill Gates or Warren Buffet. 

Thinking that many other young professionals must feel the same way, he set out to build a Web site where people could get excited about philanthropy without having a lot of money. In 2007, Mahmud and his wife, Nadia, created Jolkona Foundation. The nonprofit organization lets people channel small donations to specific people and causes while letting them monitor the impact of their gift.

By focusing on small-scale gifts that show a direct impact, the foundation allows donors to have direct control over where and how their donations are spent, Mahmud said. The goal is to galvanize a young generation that wants to do good with its limited resources.  

​

The foundation’s Web site lets donors see the Jolkona community’s impact around the world. Click image to enlarge.

 

Jolkona means “drop of water” in Bengali. “The idea is that every donation is a drop of water,” Mahmud said. “With a lot of them, we can have a ripple effect and change the world.”

The Jolkona Foundation site went live in June, and since then more than $15,000 has been raised for projects around the world. At the site, would-be donors can pinpoint projects in countries where they want to contribute and choose from five categories: cultural identity, education, empowerment, environment, and public health. Projects can be filtered by the amount of money needed, starting at as little as $5; and by the duration, from less than a month to six years. They can range from $5 to plant a tree in Brazil to $500 for sending a nomadic Kenyan boy or girl to high school for a year.
As far as Mahmud knows, Jolkona Foundation created the first Web site that provides donation-level feedback. Everyone who makes a donation through the site gets a report card on how that money is being spent. If a donor provides money for, say, buying books in Rwanda, he or she will get a list of the purchased titles.

Mahmud realized the power of that feedback as he started searching for ways to contribute after his trip to Bangladesh. He had always been put off by large nonprofits because it was difficult to choose specific programs or know exactly how his contributions were used. When he found an organization in Bangladesh that provides artificial limbs for $200, he asked them how he would know that he was doing the right thing with his money. They told him, “What if we send you a before and after photo of the person who received the prosthetic limb?”

He loved the idea of seeing the impact of his donation. Many of his friends were also excited when he reached out to see whether others wanted to help. “They said, ‘Normally we don’t know where our money goes, and we don’t have a lot of money to give. If this organization tells me that my $200 will buy someone a limb, and then shows me a picture of the person it helped, then yes, I’ll give them my money.'”

 

​

Because of the generosity of a Microsoft employee, this person in Bangladesh received prosthetic limbs. The donor received these photos as the proof of impact.

 

Being a self-described technology guy, Mahmud thought about putting together a Web site to track his friends’ donations. It wasn’t just a problem with one organization, though. “I realized that what people in my generation were seeking was donation-level feedback that was traditionally reserved for the big donors,” he said.

Jolkona Foundation was the result. Half a year after the site went live, Mahmud said he’s proud of the response so far. He hopes to continue to add more partners and projects and to spread the word about the site. He encourages all Microsoft employees to try the site out and make a gift this holiday season.

 
Silverlight and Bing Maps help power the site, Mahmud said, adding that technology lies at the heart of what Jolkona Foundation is trying to accomplish.

“I’ve always loved technology. I truly believe that in 100 years, our generation won’t be known for the technological advances that we’ve made. Rather, we’ll be known for how those technological advances were used to tackle humanity’s biggest challenges.”

Visit Jolkona Foundation. 

 

This guest post contributed by Robert Rose, Executive Director of one of our partner organizations – TRIFC.

Last year on my yearly project/programs visit to Nepal we had an unusual experience with a group of Nepali Rotarian friends.

We all got together in the early evening at a new restaurant that at that point in time was going to open in several weeks named ‘Chop-Sticks’. We were going to get a ‘sneak-preview’ to try out the location, ambience and snacks.  The restaurant had a trendy look with interesting and colorful lighting/décor.  We all sat down and were about to be served some ‘finger-food’ and tea/coffee.  Just before the food arrived, our TRIFC.org board member, Rabendra announced, “I have an interesting idea that I’d like to see if you are all game for…why don’t we turn off the room lights, close our eyes and experience just a bit of what it’s like to be without sight?  When the food and drinks arrive, keep your eyes closed and try to navigate the different dishes and choices onto your plate and into your mouth!”

We had about twenty Rotarian friends surrounding the coffee tables in the comfortable lounge chairs and they all agreed to give it a try.  The restaurant staff were a bit confused by the whole thing, but they agreed to turn every light off except a cell phone light which they used to bring the food in and set it down in the right place. 

It was quite illuminating being without sight and trying to locate where food had been placed and then trying to place it on your plate! I slowly passed my hand over the table, like a magician casting a spell.  The first thing I noticed was the warmth that radiated from the heated food.  You could figure out where to drop your hand, crane-like over the plate where you could feel the heat.  My first ‘catch’ was some French-fries which I scooped up and placed on the plate I managed to get under the food.  I decided not to press my luck and try to put some ketchup on the plate, however!

The others were experiencing similar thoughts and feelings.  Without the sense of sight your other senses pick up different information and feed it to the brain to fill in the gaps.  Eating became a much more tactile experience with shape, texture, temperature and size telling us the story of the food item we currently held in our hands.  Other food items were quietly placed on the table by the waiters, whose presence could only be perceived by the sound of their footsteps and gentle placement of the plates on the table.  I managed to find a different food item which I found to be shaped like a French-fry in length, but more textured on the outside.  This I found to be a breaded chicken-strip, which I proceeded to consume and then reached out to find more! 

What I ate tasted different…more vibrant and vivid.  The taste sensations in my mouth were working overtime to help overcome the absence of sight.  Then Rabendra suggested, “Now let us just sit quietly for one or two minutes and focus on what we are eating, hearing and feeling.  Let us experience and appreciate this moment by living ‘in the moment’.”  This was a magical minute or two, as we sat together in the darkness with our eyes closed, living ‘in the moment’, with me from half-way around the world sharing such moving experiences with my Nepali Rotarian friends. 

Of course, this was but a ‘taste’ of living without sight (no pun intended!) but it was definitely an educational and enriching experience.  I would encourage all of you reading this post to give it a try at home with your family.  It was truly illuminating, bringing the light of understanding out of darkness.

TRIFC.org is about awareness, empowerment and tangible programs to help the ‘differently-abled’ in Nepal.  Our “Backpacks for the Blind/Visually-Impaired” program currently listed on Jolkona.org is a high-impact program that can help blind children in Nepal have a better chance to succeed in school.  Please check it out!

Dear Jolkona Foundation Supporters,

 

Jolkona Foundation (www.jolkona.org) is a startup nonprofit organization based in Seattle that lets people choose how to impact the world through small donations with tangible proofs of impact.

 

When we launched Jolkona Foundation to the public in June 2009, we were very excited at the potential of Jolkona Foundation to make giving more fun, transparent and engaging for all donors. Since then, we have seen a tremendous response to our service. Over 350 donations have been made through Jolkona Foundation thus far. We now have over 50 projects in more than 30 countries and continue to add new projects on a weekly basis. We have received a lot media coverage as well, including a front page article in Seattle Times. Most importantly, together we have made very tangible impacts around the world:

 

  • Supplied more than 250 books to schools in Tibet
  • Educated over 25 girls in Afghanistan
  • Provided more than 15 artificial limbs in Bangladesh
  • Supplied over 25 desks to schools in Zambia
  • Trained over 15 children in computers in Guatemala
  • Planted over 4,000 trees worldwide
  • And much much more…

I would like to start this holiday season by thanking you – our biggest supporters. Your support has played a crucial role in making Jolkona successful in our first 5 months. We will continue to look to you to help reach out to more philanthropists and change the lives of more people on the ground. This holiday season I have 4 specific asks of you:

 

1.    Make at least one more donation to the Jolkona Foundation. Whether it is $5 to buy a malaria net in India, $30 to train a low income individual in USA, or $40 to buy a solar stove in Tibet, please make at least more 1 donation through Jolkona Foundation this holiday season. Check out our projects at http://www.jolkona.org/projects/?view=list and give.

2.    Vote for Jolkona Foundation in the Facebook Chase Giving Challenge and help us win $25,000 and a chance to win $1,000,000. It just takes one click to vote for Jolkona Foundation. Just follow this link – http://apps.facebook.com/chasecommunitygiving/charities/339790, login into Facebook, and vote today. Once you have voted, please get at least 10 of your Facebook friends to also vote for us. We will be planting a tree for every vote we get in this challenge.

3.    Please tell at least 5 people about Jolkona Foundation and give them the opportunity to feel empowered by the difference they can make by giving to a project that inspires them. The more people we can get to give, the more impact we can have around the world.

4.    Stay tuned for our holiday giving features. Give the gift of making a difference to your friends, family, or co-workers.  Holiday gift cards will be available on our website shortly and will make great holiday gifts, stock stuffers, etc.    

 

We started Jolkona Foundation with a vision to galvanize a new generation of philanthropists – young people who want to see the difference their small donations can make. This message has resonated very well and as a result, our team has grown from just Nadia and I to a team of 20 capable, passionate, young people. We have been able to accomplish a lot because of this team and we are looking to accomplish a lot more in 2010. However, we need your help in helping us reach more people and get them to use Jolkona Foundation. I look forward to your continued support this holiday season and in 2010. If you have any questions/comments, please feel free to contact me any time.

 

Happy Holidays from Jolkona Foundation!

 

All the Best,

Adnan

 This guest post was written by Yifat, on behalf of Madre, a Jolkona Foundation partner.

Fatima Ahmed, the president of the Sudanese women’s organization Zenab for Women in Development, recently stopped by the MADRE office with exciting news.  The ground-breaking women farmers union led by her organization had harvested a successful crop-and the results are changing people’s lives.
Founded by Zenab in 2006 and supported by MADRE, this project has brought together women who make up the majority of farmers working on small-scale organic farms in Sudan.  Amplifying their voices, they have been able to demand access to seeds, better tools, and assistance in farming.

Women have been able to share knowledge on how to better prepare their land for cultivation and how to manage weeds that destroy the crops. Fatima was excited to share that these women have not only been successful in providing food for their own families but have also been able to provide crops for other regions in Sudan.

Fatima shared with us a story about one village where the women had been denied access to education. With her help and with the resources generated by their successful farming projects, they organized a much-needed adult education program. The women built a center where they could host their school and opened the space for community meetings.

Their improved farming has increased production and has enabled them to generate an income, in some areas even allowing them the chance to bring in electricity.  In yet another village, three women farmers were able to raise enough funds to send their daughters to university, a victory that would have been otherwise impossible.

Together, women farmers are creating new possibilities for themselves, their families and their communities.

Microsoft announced a contest inviting non-profits to submit videos about 7 ways that PCs are changing the world. We thought we would be a great fit, except there was one catch. It needed to be made by folks outside of Microsoft. We were lucky enough to have enthusiastic supporters who came together to put together this video in a very short time.

Special thanks to Henry, Cheryl, Matthew, Kalid, Lindsay, Gaffer, and Raymond!

Let us know what you think about the video and feel free leave your comments!

Last month, David Roodman, a research fellow at the Center for Global Development, set off a storm with a post on Kiva’s model. His post received tons of comments, a reply blog post from Matt Flannery (Kiva CEO), and a revision of the Kiva website. Couple of days ago, even the New York Times published an article about this issue. We have received lots of emails from our supporters asking us what is our response to this public discussion.

Before I get into our thoughts, here is some background info:

Transparency has been a problem in the nonprofit sector for years. We have tried different approaches to tackle this problem. For example, World Vision provides photo of the child a donor is supporting. Charity Navigator gives the donor information about the financial efficiency of an organization. However, donors still feel that they don’t have a true grasp of exactly how their gifts are being utilized. This is especially true for donors who give small amounts of money.

With the technological advances of the past decade and rise in popularity of social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) smaller donors are now demanding more transparency.  If you add the current economic conditions, there is increasing pressure on non-profits to show how every dollar is being spent. It is not easy for non-profits to change their models overnight to meet this new demand. It requires significant investment in building an infrastructure and requires more manpower – something that is hard for many organizations to justify. So, what you have are these organizations (non-profits and MFIs) with very good intentions building make-shift solutions that never quite meet the donors’ needs. This leads to the inconsistencies that Mr. Roodman pointed out in his blog post.

Before I continue, it is important, to make couple of observations here:

  1. Organizations like Kiva and GlobalGiving have been real pioneers in this field. They have shown that there is a really high demand from the everyday donor to feel connected to the change that their small donations are making. For the recent criticisms facing these organizations, we can’t forget the tremendous impact they have had so far.
  2. There isn’t a perfect system and it is impossible to devise one. There will always be people who will try to find the loopholes and abuse the system. However, we shouldn’t let perfect get in the way of the good. We should try to explore as many of these models as possible and try to take them forward as much as possible.

The challenge facing all of us in the nonprofit sector is how do we effectively provide transparency to donors without burdening the organizations excessively? To meet the donor demand for high-impact and high transparency, we believe the following conditions have to be met:

  1. Make donors feel like he/she is a Changemaker by showing the impact for their every donation, including the small ones. Every dollar truly does count.
  2. Give donor choices. Not every person wants to give a loan or feed a child. However, most people want to make a difference. Give them as many choices as possible.
  3. Measure the impact so that everyone involved feels like we are making progress. No one wants to see money being thrown into a black hole.
  4. Connect with the smaller donors. Individually, they do not have a lot of money to donate, but, as a group they can provide critical support to a cause. Nowhere was this more evident than last year’s US presidential elections.
  5. Provide affordable tools to nonprofit organizations so that they can engage the donors in an efficient, cost-effective way and more importantly, learn from each other and knowledge share best practices.

I founded Jolkona Foundation with the goal of meeting the conditions outlined above. Jolkona Foundation seeks to inspire a new generation of philanthropists to make high-impact changes through low-cost solutions. The key differences between Jolkona Foundation and Kiva or Global Giving is that we provide donation level feedback – i.e. every donation gets a unique feedback. We work with our non-profit partners to develop rich, meaningful feedback for the donors. For example, with $40, a donor can provide year-long accelerated education to a girl in Afghanistan. In exchange, the donor receives a photo and background info about the girl at the time of donation and a report card at the end of the year. We spend a significant amount of time working with each of our partners to create the feedback type that would be cost-effective for them, compelling for the donor, and not be detrimental to security and privacy of the beneficiary. It is important to note that our partners’ implement the donations in 1 of 2 ways:

  1. Once the donation is received, the partner actually goes and implements the gift. For example, if you provide books in tibet, our partner actually goes to the local market and buys books once the donation is received.
  2. The donations are used to release “locked” funds for the partners so that they can go and use those funds for other purposes. Let’s say our partner already has plans to educate 100 girls for a cost of $40 per girl in Afghanistan this year. That means they have $4,000 dedicated for this purpose this year. If they receive donations for educating 10 girls, then, that would free up $400 from their allocated funds for other purposes.

Rich feedback for donors is not our only focus. We are also building the infrastructure that other nonprofits (i.e. our partners) can leverage, thereby, allowing them to focus more on the job that they are good at – making a difference on the ground. For example, our partners are able to connect with each other through a private discussion group and share best practices with each other.

We are still a very young organization and we still have a long way to go. However, we are encouraged by the trends in the philanthropic sector. We will see an increasing number of non-profit organizations embrace tranparency and provide donors with an experience that is richer than anything we have ever seen before. Jolkona Foundation will continue to do our best to meet the needs of both the donors and the partner organizations.

I invite your comments and thoughts on this post as part of the ongoing dialogue. We are eager to learn from people who are passionate about this topic.

Last month, David Roodman, a research fellow at the Center for Global Development, set off a storm with a post on Kiva’s model. His post received tons of comments, a reply blog post from Matt Flannery (Kiva CEO), and a revision of the Kiva website. Couple of days ago, even the New York Times published an article about this issue. We have received lots of emails from our supporters asking us what is our response to this public discussion.

Before I get into our thoughts, here is some background info:

Transparency has been a problem in the nonprofit sector for years. We have tried different approaches to tackle this problem. For example, World Vision provides photo of the child a donor is supporting. Charity Navigator gives the donor information about the financial efficiency of an organization. However, donors still feel that they don’t have a true grasp of exactly how their gifts are being utilized. This is especially true for donors who give small amounts of money.

With the technological advances of the past decade and rise in popularity of social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) smaller donors are now demanding more transparency.  If you add the current economic conditions, there is increasing pressure on non-profits to show how every dollar is being spent. It is not easy for non-profits to change their models overnight to meet this new demand. It requires significant investment in building an infrastructure and requires more manpower – something that is hard for many organizations to justify. So, what you have are these organizations (non-profits and MFIs) with very good intentions building make-shift solutions that never quite meet the donors’ needs. This leads to the inconsistencies that Mr. Roodman pointed out in his blog post.

Before I continue, it is important, to make couple of observations here:

  1. Organizations like Kiva and GlobalGiving have been real pioneers in this field. They have shown that there is a really high demand from the everyday donor to feel connected to the change that their small donations are making. For the recent criticisms facing these organizations, we can’t forget the tremendous impact they have had so far.
  2. There isn’t a perfect system and it is impossible to devise one. There will always be people who will try to find the loopholes and abuse the system. However, we shouldn’t let perfect get in the way of the good. We should try to explore as many of these models as possible and try to take them forward as much as possible.

The challenge facing all of us in the nonprofit sector is how do we effectively provide transparency to donors without burdening the organizations excessively? To meet the donor demand for high-impact and high transparency, we believe the following conditions have to be met:

  1. Make donors feel like he/she is a Changemaker by showing the impact for their every donation, including the small ones. Every dollar truly does count.
  2. Give donor choices. Not every person wants to give a loan or feed a child. However, most people want to make a difference. Give them as many choices as possible.
  3. Measure the impact so that everyone involved feels like we are making progress. No one wants to see money being thrown into a black hole.
  4. Connect with the smaller donors. Individually, they do not have a lot of money to donate, but, as a group they can provide critical support to a cause. Nowhere was this more evident than last year’s US presidential elections.
  5. Provide affordable tools to nonprofit organizations so that they can engage the donors in an efficient, cost-effective way and more importantly, learn from each other and knowledge share best practices.

I founded Jolkona Foundation with the goal of meeting the conditions outlined above. Jolkona Foundation seeks to inspire a new generation of philanthropists to make high-impact changes through low-cost solutions. The key differences between Jolkona Foundation and Kiva or Global Giving is that we provide donation level feedback – i.e. every donation gets a unique feedback. We work with our non-profit partners to develop rich, meaningful feedback for the donors. For example, with $40, a donor can provide year-long accelerated education to a girl in Afghanistan. In exchange, the donor receives a photo and background info about the girl at the time of donation and a report card at the end of the year. We spend a significant amount of time working with each of our partners to create the feedback type that would be cost-effective for them, compelling for the donor, and not be detrimental to security and privacy of the beneficiary. It is important to note that our partners’ implement the donations in 1 of 2 ways:

  1. Once the donation is received, the partner actually goes and implements the gift. For example, if you provide books in tibet, our partner actually goes to the local market and buys books once the donation is received.
  2. The donations are used to release “locked” funds for the partners so that they can go and use those funds for other purposes. Let’s say our partner already has plans to educate 100 girls for a cost of $40 per girl in Afghanistan this year. That means they have $4,000 dedicated for this purpose this year. If they receive donations for educating 10 girls, then, that would free up $400 from their allocated funds for other purposes.

Rich feedback for donors is not our only focus. We are also building the infrastructure that other nonprofits (i.e. our partners) can leverage, thereby, allowing them to focus more on the job that they are good at – making a difference on the ground. For example, our partners are able to connect with each other through a private discussion group and share best practices with each other.

We are still a very young organization and we still have a long way to go. However, we are encouraged by the trends in the philanthropic sector. We will see an increasing number of non-profit organizations embrace tranparency and provide donors with an experience that is richer than anything we have ever seen before. Jolkona Foundation will continue to do our best to meet the needs of both the donors and the partner organizations.

I invite your comments and thoughts on this post as part of the ongoing dialogue. We are eager to learn from people who are passionate about this topic.

This guest post was written by Derya Rose, on behalf of Yachana Foundation, a Jolkona Foundation partner.

Evenings in rural Ecuador are often filled with the familiar whirring of diesel generators, providing a little bit of power to communities off the country’s main electricity grid. When these machines are off, the soft glow of candles fills the night. Families cooking, students studying and children playing – all by candlelight.

Although this environment may seem charming (after all, candlelight often inspires romantic thoughts), it presents a real burden to the rural poor. Families not only pay up to $270 per year for candles, they also encounter frequent burns as well as accidentally set fire to their houses on occasion. Add strained eyes from reading in dim light to the equation, and one can see that this situation isn’t quite as charming.

Founded by Douglas McMeekin, the Yachana Foundation has been operating in the Ecuadorian Amazon since 1991.  Recently, Douglas found out about an innovative, flexible mini solar panel that was designed specifically for use by the rural poor, or who Douglas calls, the people that live at the base of the economic pyramid.  This solar panel, which contains no glass and is virtually unbreakable, provides clean power to four useful accessories. The first is an LED lamp, which can be recharged over 500 times and can last between six and thirty hours per charge, depending on the intensity selected. This product alone can easily solve many of the economic, health and environmental problems posed by candle use. Other accessories include rechargeable radio batteries, a mobile phone charger and a spare battery pack, each with its own set of economic, social and environmental benefits.

We at Yachana found in these products an opportunity to operate a triple bottom line distribution business. First, the end user would enjoy the benefits described above (and more), allowing them to invest more money on their kids’ educations, health, clothes, businesses and so on.  Next, the environment would benefit from tons less spent on the disposal of wax as well as millions of used batteries being discarded.  Lastly, 100% of the business’ profits would go to support the Yachana Technical High School.

Right now, with the help of various government agencies, we are rolling out this product regionally and aim to offer it in all regions of Ecuador within the next year. 

If you would like more information about how you can support Yachana and it’s various community development initiatives, please contact Hugh Yarbrough at hugh.yarbrough@yachana.org.ec

Submitted by Jorji Knickrehm, Grants Manager at Washington Community Alliance for Self-Help (or Washington CASH).

Figuring out how to foster new small businesses in low income communities is an ongoing passion here at Washington CASH. Yesterday, all twelve of our program staffers packed themselves into a small conference room, and tinkered for 4 hours with the curriculum of our core business development class. Maybe if we add a weekly lab to each of our classes, it will help more of our clients build businesses that will be around five years from now — businesses that will provide them with a living wage income and the happiness that comes from being self-determined. We’ve helped a lot of people, but we know there’s more out there with unfulfilled hopes.

Many times it is people who are new to the U.S. who encounter barriers as they try to get their feet under themselves financially. Tri Nguyen, for example, moved to Washington as a refugee from Southern Vietnam when he was 22 years old with his parents and two older brothers. “Before coming to America, we went overseas from Vietnam to Malaysia where we lived in a refugee camp for 7 years. We were then sent back to Vietnam for two more years, where we continued to await acceptance into the United States as political refugees. Finally, the United States government opened its doors and welcomed us to America, a free country we had been seeking for almost half of our lives.”

After spending two years learning English, he attended Highline Community College where he received his Associates degree before transferring to Washington State University and graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in education. While an undergraduate, Tri worked for two years with a cleaning company where 99% of employees were Vietnamese. His fluency in English allowed Tri to take on a management role within the company, which ultimately provided him the experience and knowledge necessary to start his own venture. “I started my own business to help fellow Vietnamese people by providing job opportunities here in America.”

Tri completed Business Development Training with Washington CASH in June 2009 and has since entered Business Groups, a program providing business support and access to capital in the form of peer loans. His new business, Tri Mountain Cleaning Services, Inc., offers both commercial and residential cleaning services, using only non-toxic products to create a safe environment for pets and children.

The name of his business, Tri Mountain Cleaning Services, Inc., stems not only from his first name, but for the three mountains he says complete his business: himself, family & friends, and Washington CASH. “My company cannot stand by itself. Before CASH, I didn’t know how to do the things necessary to open a business. Now I’m ready to go.”

While he currently has about ten regular customers and employees as needed, Tri envisions expanding to include about five new customers every month, opening more commercial accounts, and hiring more employees. “I was so excited when I got my first customer with Tri Mountain. In that moment, I knew I was going to be successful. Even though it was a small contract, it was a big moment. Owning my own business has given me confidence I never knew I had.” Figuring out how to help more people get that great feeling of empowerment; that’s what gets us out of bed in the morning at Washington CASH.

This post was contributed by Ian Anderson, Machik Intern and Summer Enrichment Program Coordinator

A mixture of excitement and uncertainty hung in the air as the volunteers for the Machik Summer Enrichment Program (SEP) met in Chengdu for the first time before students arrived and classes began. We were volunteer teachers and facilitators from diverse backgrounds: Tibetans, Chinese, Canadians, and Americans. We were high school, university, and graduate students as well as working professionals. Students came not only from the Chungba Schools and Litang County, as in the past, but from all over the Tibetan plateau. This was the first summer for the scaling up of the SEP, and this time the program incorporated almost a hundred volunteers and students in total.

With such a large number of volunteers, our programming opportunities were virtually limitless. Each of the volunteers had a unique background and skill-set. While some volunteers taught English and Chinese classes, some turned out to be expert seamstresses who taught students how to fabricate pillows and clothing in a North American style. Others shared their knowledge of yoga, painting or dramatic improvisation. I was lucky enough to be one of the leaders of a music section, where the students learned how to perform basic songs on the recorder. To teach this class was a joy. The students were excited and engaged, absorbing the notes and melodies with ease. By the time the end of the week came and our small group was ready to perform, all the students had obtained the fundamental skill of reading music and were able to transform the notation they saw on the page into something beautiful.

Teaching is not a one-way street. The students who arrived from various communities on the Tibetan Plateau brought with them different backgrounds and experiences that they were eager to share. Through day-to-day interactions and chats, visits to local museums, and Tibetan sites, the students took great pride in instructing us, the volunteers, in multiple aspects of their cultural heritage.

The students, who came from very dissimilar and often remote parts of the Tibetan plateau, would also often compare notes about differences among each other’s experiences, underlining the richness and variety of Tibetan culture. I think the magic of the SEP came from the sharing of these unique experiences. Volunteers and students alike forged friendships and new connections that not only enriched and changed how we perceive the world, but also created new channels to engage in the important task of talking and thinking together about how to create a better future.

What Machik does–and does well–is to open the door to a new and hopeful future by helping to build the capacity of communities on the Tibetan plateau. The Summer Enrichment Program is an important part of Machik’s efforts to help improve education in rural Tibetan communities, and will touch the lives of an even greater number of students as it continues to grow in the future. I’m so proud to have been a part of this amazing and important work.

I’m heading out for Peru tomorrow to check out Cusco and Machu Picchu, completely sans guilt about missing a week of class.  Being an anthropology major allows me to justify just about any sort of travel as “experiential learning,” especially in this case since I have a test on Incan culture and religion the day after I get back, so what better way to prepare than by seeing the Sacred Valley in person? Right? Right. Anyway, I’m feeling economical today, and so before my somewhat feisty Internet goes out again I want to start a conversation about the economic situation here, especially as related to poverty and inequality. The following information come from the 2008 United Nations Human Development Report website, so pop on over and brush up on your global statistics if you are so inclined.

  • Using the UN’s Human Development Index (a combined measure of education, life expectancy, and income), Chile ranks 40th out of 179 countries, just between Poland and Slovakia
  • There is a high degree of income inequality: using the UN Gini coefficient as a measure, Chile ranks 40th in the world (as in, 39 countries have less income inequality than Chile).
    • A Gini coefficient of 0 represents absolute income equality, while 100 represents absolute inequality. Chile’s is 54.9.
  • The GDP per capita is $12,997 (56th in the world), compared to $41,890 in the U.S (2nd in the world).
  • According to a study on socioeconomics conducted by the Chilean government in 2006, 13.7% of the population was living in poverty as compared with 38.6% in 1990 and 45.1% in 1987 during Pinochet’s military regime.
  • The minimum wage is $144.000 pesos per month (about $260 US dollars)

The Concertación government, a center-left coalition that has been in power since 1990, has made significant social and economic progress since the end of Pinochet’s regime, and Chile is one of the most economically and politically stable countries in Latin America. However, it still faces significant problems with poverty and inequality. One article I read for my Chilean Politics and Economics class (“Chilean Economic Policy under the Concertación: The Triumph of the Market?” by Lois Hecht Oppenheim if you want a bit of policy analysis) holds that the “Chilean miracle” that resulted from a decade and a half of militant neoliberalism under Pinochet, followed by only minor adjustments has left a market-and-export based economic model that has overlooked other areas of social improvement like education and access to it, gender equality, and classism. Furthermore, Chile’s economy is almost entirely based on primary products: fruit, wine, copper, and nitrates. Unless Chile can eventually diversify it’s economy to include services, it is unlikely to see much more economic growth.

Along with this, chilenos I’ve talked to have mentioned a fairly rigid system of social classes. The other day, my host mom was describing the difficulty of moving up from lower middle class as a direct product of a lack of educational access. College tuition is prohibitively expensive for many students, even those with great academic potential. Scholarships exist, but are limited. Families that can afford it send their children to private schools, though public schools and state-subsidized private schools (similar to charter schools in the U.S) are more common, and suffer from underfunding and overcrowding. Classism is a much bigger problem in Chile than racism or ethnic discrimination, since 90% of the population shares Mestizo (mixed European and indigenous) heritage. Friends that volunteer at Cerro Navia Joven, a nonprofit community organization that serves the a poor area in the western sector of Santiago, reported that many of the people at the center need to lie about where they live in order to get hired anywhere. To admit to being from a bad neighborhood would doom them to unemployment.

Much, much more on these topics to follow. I just wanted to put a few themes up for now, so stay tuned!

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