Earlier in the series, we featured Tim McMullen: Bill the Butcher’s Director of Operations. When we met with him at the commissary, Michael LaRoche sat to his left. Being Director of Purchasing, he is a hard-working man with an easygoing vibe. You pick up on it after talking with him for awhile. He takes his coffee black and unlimited, dabbles in music playing, sketching, reading literature, and cooks – of course he would! He is originally from Boston, and has adventured across the earth’s oceans to Amsterdam. Michael gave us plenty to laugh about during his interview. Check out what he has to say on life, giving, sustainability, and meat:

What are your thoughts on Jolkona’s Eat Local, Give Global campaign and its partnership with the Bill the Butcher shops?
It’s a very worthwhile endeavor. It’s getting people to be part of a growing community that wants to close in their food sources, to get to know it better, and to expand that to people in such challenged regions as Sudan. It gives them help in getting their food chain up and growing. The way we have it set up here, you see, is that big chains come in and control your food supply when it could be done locally.

Jolkona is a nonprofit which is centered around simplicity and visibility. How do you think Bill the Butcher fits in with such principles?
We’re certainly trying to be very visible. Simple – well, we are actually quite a complex system, while our idea is simple.

Local food, sustainable farming, grass fed beef: these have been dubbed as “megatrends.” Are these indeed just megatrends, or is there more to it than that this, is there more meat on the bone, as it were?
Corn-fed beef was the megatrend for the last 40 years. Before that it was grass-fed beef – as it was for 400 years. Or are we just back to what it used to be?

I read that Bill the Butcher shops are the “new marketplace” between farmers’ markets and grocery stores. Could you explain more about this?
Farmers used to have two options: sell their meat to the big conglomerates at a vast loss, or go sell that meat at the farmer’s markets. The first offers very little profit; the second is very time consuming. So we buy directly from the farmers at a fair price and sell it straight out of our shop.

With Bill the Butcher you’ve built “the world’s shortest supply chain.” Could explain more about this for our readers?
So for instance, take the Nelson family, I talk to Mr Nelson, and I say we need x amount of cattle and they have they x amount ready, that’s slaughtered on their farm by a mobile processor, and then we take the whole animal and sell it to you. Minimal middlemen. So now it doesn’t have to travel half way up the country to be slaughtered in one place, and then shipped – goodness knows where – to be sold  in another place.

Bill the Butcher has a very broad consumer appeal, why do you think this is?
People are starting to realize they have no idea where their food comes from. Eating is what you do three or four times a day. People want to start learning where it comes from and not that it just came from the frozen food section in the supermarket.

Which cut of meat do you think people should know more about?
Beef cheeks.

If you were a cut of meat, which would you be?
A round because I’m kind of an ass.

Empower women farmers in Sudan with farming education and sustainability efforts. Join our Eat Local, Give Global campaign! Bill the Butcher and Jolkona are the dream team making headway on this exciting project. Access the donation page online or stop at any of the shops to learn more and hold your own “interview” with the butchers!
Check out Laura Kimball’s launch post, or go the campaign page for more details.

Note from the Editor: This is a guest post written by Steve Schwartz, Director of Strategy & Operations for one of Jolkona’s newest partners, Upaya Social Ventures.

A few weeks back, we introduced Upaya Social Ventures’s work building businesses with the ability to create jobs and improve the quality of life for families living on less than $1.25 a day. Today, we want to take a look at Samridhi, a business that is building community dairies to create jobs and stabilize income for families in Uttar Pradesh, one of the poorest states in India

The majority of Uttar Pradesh’s ultra poor are dependent on subsistence farming as their main occupation, and individual dairy farmers are reliant on exploitative middlemen who routinely underpay for perishable milk. Where Samridhi can create real change is by connecting poor milk producers directly to the emerging formal dairy supply chain. Every one of Samridhi’s dairy operations creates 93 jobs, each providing an extremely poor woman with a guaranteed paycheck. Employees also receive training in all stages of the production process, including milk collection, quality testing, cooling and distribution. Based on current projections, Samridhi will be able to self-fund its expansion to five dairy units in the next three years, creating nearly 500 jobs from Upaya’s one-time investment of seed capital.

However, although we’ve created these jobs, we can’t just assume that households will see dramatic improvements in their quality of life. So that’s why Upaya works closely with the Samridhi team to benchmark and track the progress of women working throughout the organization. Each household is continuously evaluated across a series of indicators (sample table below), and the business are able to adjust operations or add services to ensure that these families are making progress out of poverty.

Samridhi is the first partner to join Upaya’s Life-changing Interventions for the Ultra Poor (LiftUP) Project, a 24–36 month business accelerator program for start-up social enterprises focused on the ultra poor. The total cost for getting Samridhi off the ground is $100,000, which initially breaks down to $500 per job. However, profits from the initial dairy operation will be used to build the second, third and fourth — each creating nearly 100 jobs for ultra poor households and dramatically multiplying the impact of donors’ contributions.

Upaya first began raising funds to work with Samridhi in early August, and has already raised $66,000 for the project — over half of what is needed to fully launch the dairy initiative. Donors who contribute through the Jolkona platform are given the opportunity to track the progress of Samridhi employees across specific social metrics, and see their contribution making real change in the lives of Samridhi employees. Be a champion of change; give here.

About the author: Steve is the Director of Strategy & Operations for Upaya Social Ventures, and is one of the organization’s co-founders.  In a career that has run from Wall St. to the footpaths of smuggling routes in West Africa, Steve has long held the belief that all people deserve the opportunity to live their lives with dignity and means.


Note from the Editor: This is a guest post written by Steve Schwartz, Director of Strategy & Operations for one of Jolkona’s newest partners, Upaya Social Ventures.

Meet Upaya Social Ventures from Steve Schwartz on Vimeo.

From the U.S., it is easy to see images of households in far away countries living in a way that looks different than our own and to assume that the differences — a tin roof, a barefoot schoolboy, a pot cooking over an open fire — fit neatly within a universal definition of “poverty.” But scratch the surface and you’ll find some families never worrying about where their next meal will come from, while 100 yards away others search endlessly to find enough work to eat again tomorrow. Not all poverty is created equal, and that relative difference is what Upaya Social Ventures was founded this year to address. An estimated 1.4 billion people worldwide are classified as “ultra poor,” living on less than $1.25 a day and struggling to find work that will pay them enough to afford stable shelter, clean water and three meals a day. The ultra poor often speak of feeling trapped in miserable conditions, with such meager earnings that any progress they make satisfying one need comes at the expense of meeting another. At the very heart of the problem are informal livelihoods — a cluster of irregular activities like shoe-shining, begging, day labor, hawking of second-hand items and trash picking that generate highly unpredictable incomes for those working in them.

Day laborers breaking rocks in a dry riverbed for an average ~$.50 per day

Day laborers breaking rocks in a dry riverbed for an average ~$.50 per day

The Upaya Approach

That’s where Upaya comes in. Taking its name from the Sanskrit word that means “skilled means” and connotes a creative solution to a challenging problem, Upaya is working with local social entrepreneurs to build businesses that will create jobs and improve the quality of life for the ultra poor. It’s a deceptively simple solution — increase a family’s earning potential through steady employment, and pair those jobs with access to affordable healthcare, education, housing and financial services so that the family makes sustained progress out of poverty.

But it is not always that simple, as the ultra poor are marginalized even within their own communities and skeptical of outsiders with “too good to be true” opportunities. For the entrepreneurs, too, there is a struggle to balance social responsibility with running a profitable business, and to attract funding to test their ideas.

Mothers reliant on begging to provide for their families

Mothers reliant on begging to provide for their families

This is why Upaya has created the Life-changing Interventions for the Ultra Poor (LiftUP) Project, a 24–36 month social business accelerator program that provides management support and financial resources to entrepreneurs who create jobs or improve access to basic services for the ultra poor. As a nonprofit organization, Upaya is able to make modest, longer-term equity investments — between $25,000 and $75,000 — in local entrepreneurs with early-stage ideas (any financial returns generated by investments are re-invested in future LiftUP Project partners). In addition to providing business development support, we also help these entrepreneurs create a “social accounting” system for tracking and analyzing the impact their activities are having on the lives of their employees or customers.

An Ideal Partner

And that is what brought Upaya to Jolkona. As Upaya works with businesses to monitor their social impact, we also have a unique opportunity to give donors a forum to track the progress of the causes and businesses they support. Through the Jolkona platform, donors will be able to see quarterly updates on employees’ quality of housing, improvements in the number and nutritional value of meals, status of children’s education and access to affordable healthcare. Upaya is taking a comprehensive approach to tackling the problems of extreme poverty, and Jolkona allows supporters to be active participants in that process.

In part two of this series, we will profile Samridhi, a community dairy initiative in one of the poorest states in India that is creating jobs and providing regular salaries to women in households without any other form of steady income. Upaya has already raised $45,000 for Samridhi since the beginning of August and is looking to double that amount by the end of September.

About the author: Steve is the Director of Strategy & Operations for Upaya Social Ventures, and is one of the organization’s co-founders.  In a career that has run from Wall St. to the footpaths of smuggling routes in West Africa, Steve has long held the belief that all people deserve the opportunity to live their lives with dignity and means.


Global Partnership, MDG 8; Jolkona in Africa

Develop a global partnership for development

The final of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals is developing a global partnership for development. This does sound a little recursive, but it is actually significant for the achievement of the other seven goals.


The UN identifies 6 targets as metrics for achieving goal 8.

  1. Develop further an open, rule-based, predictable, non-discriminatory trading and financial system
  2. Address the special needs of the least developed countries
  3. Address the special needs of landlocked developing countries and small island developing states
  4. Deal comprehensively with the debt problems of developing countries
  5. In cooperation with pharmaceutical companies, provide access to affordable essential drugs in developing countries
  6. In cooperation with the private sector, make available new technologies, especially information and communications


At its heart, the focus of goal 8 is getting everyone on the “same page” when it comes to development work around the globe. This a solution to the fact that many of the problems faced by people in the developing world today are too big or complicated for a single actor–whether an NGO or a government–to take on alone. The aim of goal 8, then, is to demonstrate that organizations can better serve others when they can focus on one area of strength and find partners in other areas. One common disconnect for organizations is between donors and the field: many organizations excel at doing work in the field but struggle with how to connect with donors who can fund their projects.

Small donations having measurable impact

Part of what makes Jolkona so unique as a foundation is that ability to connect individual donors to the larger picture of progress being made on the Millennium Development Goals on many fronts. This is one MDG where Jolkona is directly involved in meeting the targets. By connecting donors and development organizations, not only is Jolkona funding important projects around the world, Jolkona is fostering partnerships.

How you can help

Since Jolkona is directly involved in building these essential partnerships, you can help achieve goal 8 by donating to the Kona fund. This is what keeps Jolkona operating, allows us to add new partners, and allows us to have staff, volunteers and interns working to achieve all of the MDGs.

  1. Donate to the Jolkona Kona fund
  2. Sponsor a volunteer meeting
  3. Add a new project to

For more information on Jolkona and its mission (especially if you haven’t already!) take a look at our about us page.

Ensure environmental sustainability

As we near the end of our series on the United Nations Millennium Development Goals and how they relate to Jolkona, we look this week at environmental sustainability.


There are four targets the UN sets for achievement of goal 7:

  1. Integrate the principles of sustainable development into country policies
  2. Reduce biodiversity loss
  3. Halve, by 2015, the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation
  4. By 2020, to have achieved a significant improvement in the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers

Expansive scope

With the exception of the first goal of eliminating extreme hunger and poverty, perhaps no other goal is as broad reaching as goal 7. Any one of the targets of goal 7 could likely be a goal unto themselves. Sustainable development and the preservation of rain forests has a huge impact on environment and economics of the developing world. And there are in fact hundreds of millions of people living in slum conditions around the world today. But the target we will focus on today is that of clean drinking water and sanitation.

Clean water

What makes clean water so important? Quite simply, water is life. While it varies somewhat, the average human can only survive three days without water. Because water is so vital to life, many people are forced to drink unclean water because that is all they have available. The problem is a host of horrible diseases–like Cholera and Hepatitis, for example–can be contracted through consumption of dirty or polluted water.

On top of the risk of disease, a huge economic drain is created when people (most often women and children) are forced to walk long distances to acquire water, whether it is clean or not. This travel time is time spent out of school or work. Some estimates place the economic cost, for Africa alone, at $28 BILLION dollars per year.

The good news is that many organizations are doing a great job of drilling wells and working on other clean water projects. The bad news is that even as there are many organizations working on this, it remains a huge issue for billions of people around the globe.

How you can help

Here are a list of Jolkona projects supporting goal 7:

  1. Plant trees in Ethiopia
  2. Provide clean water in Kenya
  3. Provide ceramic water filters in Kenya

For more information about the issue of access to clean water, check out Charity: Water’s great “Why water” page.