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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…

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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.

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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.

Keep up with everything Jolkona by following us on FacebookTwitterPinterest and Instagram.

Crowdfunding, the process of raising money from a collective group of people, has become an exciting source of capital for artists, game developers, entrepreneurs, and others. Among nonprofits, Jolkona has used crowdfunding for the past five years to engage new donors and revitalize the way we think about giving through the ongoing development of innovative programs such as our monthly Give Together community.

This model was the subject of a recent installment of Movie Mondays for Fundraising Professionals, featuring Jolkona CEO Nadia Mahmud, along with our officemates Brad Fenstermacher of LiveStories, and Steve Schwartz of Upaya Social Ventures.

Watch Nadia, Brad, and Steve talk about crowdfunding here.

To hear more about crowdfunding for nonprofits from Jolkona, LiveStories, and Upaya, check out our joint panel discussion at the 2014 NDOA Winter Conference later this month.

Some of the key points the panel will cover:

  • Inspiration: Crafting a compelling story will help create an experience that ensures donors continue thinking about you long after they’ve left your website.
  • Cultivation: Gaining traction requires creativity, focus, and a willingness to go to your audiences, rather than waiting for them to come to you.
  • Retention: Create a loop that keeps donors coming back for more info, more inspiration, more experiences, more opportunities.

The NDOA conference is a great opportunity to learn about fundraising through workshops and panels from a range of experts. The conference is Jan. 28 at the Meydenbauer Center in Bellevue, WA. If you register before Friday, admission is $150 for NDOA members, $195 for non-members. Hope to see you there!

Keep up with everything Jolkona by following us on FacebookTwitterPinterest and Instagram.

Like many of you, I really look forward to celebrating Thanksgiving. Between spending time with my family and pets, and finding the balance between tradition and innovation on the dinner table, it’s always an enjoyable holiday. Most of all it is a good day for reflection (perhaps while recovering from all the food) on what we each have to be grateful for this year.

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At Jolkona, we also have lots of reasons to give thanks. Our donors support our partners and our mission of demonstrating that anyone can be a philanthropist. Our partners work with us to provide high-impact aid locally and globally, showing that great things can be accomplished with creativity, love, and social innovation. Our Give Together members, by joining this new donation platform, are helping us revolutionize charitable giving. And of course, we are thankful for all the volunteers and staff who have helped make Jolkona bigger and better this year by giving their time, energy and talent. Personally, I am thankful for everything that I have learned since joining the Jolkona team.

Give Together: Fighting Poverty & Helping the Philippines

Along with Thanksgiving, Hanukkah is also starting this week, and the pine-scented, carol-filled escalation to Christmas has already begun. In the meantime, we still have a couple of days left in our November Give Together campaign to Alleviate Poverty. Our partners for this month — Upaya, Dagbe, and Washington C.A.S.H. — could still use your contributions. With your help, we can reach the funding goal by Dec. 1!

Next month, in lieu of a new theme, Give Together members will be included in our major holiday campaign: Standing With the Philippines. Donations to this campaign will help Peace Winds America provide shelter, food, water, medicine, bedding, and hygiene kits to the survivors of Typhoon Haiyan (also known as Typhoon Yolanda)Contributions can also be made in honor of family and friends — a meaningful holiday gift, especially for the people on your “nice” list who already have everything. Win-win-win!

If you’re in the Seattle area, you can carry the grateful and giving spirit of Thanksgiving over into December — and cleanse your palate from the chaotic consumerism of Black Friday and Cyber Monday — by celebrating #GivingTuesday with us on Dec. 3. Head over to Facebook for event details and to RSVP. The festivities are free; anyone who donates to the Standing WIth the Philippines campaign during the party will be entered to win fabulous raffle prizes.

Celebrate Thanksgiving by Giving Together & Standing With the Philippines, and we look forward to giving through the holidays with you!

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It’s still Diwali for a few more days, so let’s start our November Partner Spotlight series with a nonprofit organization that fights poverty in India: Upaya Social Ventures.

Upaya logo

As one of three organizations in this month’s Give Together campaign for Poverty Alleviation — and also our neighbor in Jolkona’s new downtown Seattle office! — Upaya is creating silk weaving jobs in northern India for skilled workers living in extreme poverty. In his own words, Steve Schwartz, Upaya’s director of strategy and operations, explains why it’s important to support this project:

What’s your mission, and why? What inspires your organization?

Upaya Social Ventures builds businesses that create jobs and improve the quality of life for people living on less than $1.25 a day. We do this because we believe that giving someone a change to earn a stable and dignified living is the best way to ensure that everyone has a chance to permanently break the cycle of extreme poverty.

What’s your project for this month’s Give Together campaign?

Upaya is working with a Bhagalpur, Bihar-based startup that trains Tasar silk weavers on new skills, techniques, equipment and designs. By contributing to this project, you are supporting Upaya’s ability to provide both the startup capital to launch the business and the management support to create new jobs and remain competitive in the marketplace.

If Jolkona’s Give Together members raise $250 for your organization, what’s our impact?

Based on the program costs for its current portfolio, we estimate that Upaya spends a mere $250 for each job created — a job that can continually support a family for a lifetime.

In a nutshell, why should Give Together members support your project this month?

The real question is “If a job is the key to providing food security, housing stability, and a chance to invest in children’s education to families living in extreme poverty,” the question really becomes “Why shouldn’t Give Together members support the Upaya project this month?”

We love impact reports at Jolkona. Do you have a favorite story you can share about how your organization changed someone’s life?

Just one? I’d encourage everyone to check out the Face-to-Face section on our website to hear all about the folks who are having their lives changed by their first stable job.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I am not just representing a Give Together project; I’m also a member!

Join Give Together, and check back on the Jolkona Blog for more installments of the Partner Spotlight series this month!

Keep up with everything Jolkona by following us on FacebookTwitterPinterest and Instagram.

With November, we welcome not only the holiday season, but also a new Give Together theme: Poverty Alleviation.

This month’s Give Together partners help vulnerable people lift themselves out of extreme poverty in Benin, India and Seattle. Through Give Together, providing education and training to empower people to gain financial independence and live and work in dignity may be the most important gift you can give this year.

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Upaya

Upaya Social Ventures works to improve the lives of silk weavers in India, who live on less than $1.25 a day. The nonprofit works with a local startup based in Bhagalpur, Bihar, to teach the silk weavers new techniques, equipment, and designs so the weavers can earn a stable and dignified living. In addition, your donation also provides capital for their partner start-up to expand their business and create new jobs in their region. Every $250 our community raises through Give Together will help Upaya create a new job for one of these talented weavers.

Dagbé

Dagbe2

Dagbé works in  the West African country of Benin, supporting orphans and children who have been victims of human trafficking. This grassroots nonprofit organization provides food, safety, healthcare, schooling and social stability so that children in crisis situations can grow up to be healthy, educated and productive. In addition to aiding children, Dagbé also educates communities about human trafficking and child labor, and what they can do to prevent it. Every $250 raised by our Give Together community will help Dagbé reunite a trafficked child with his family, and fund his education or vocational training for the next year.

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Washington C.A.S.H.

Community Alliance for Self-Help, also know as C.A.S.H, is a Washington-based organization that helps low income entrepreneurs develop their own business. Through their Business Development Training program, they help ambitious individuals who face obstacles such as low income, language barriers, and limited education and literacy develop the skills and training necessary to launch their own business, and become financially self reliant. For every $100 raised by our Give Together community, Washington C.A.S.H. can send one entrepreneur to an 8-week business training program.

The Giving Season

To learn more about these amazing projects, keep visiting this blog to read November’s Partner Spotlight series.

As we look forward to spending time with family and eating holiday meals (and stocking up on Trader Joe’s seasonal snacks), it’s also a great time to get into the holiday spirit by giving back, locally and globally. Check out Jolkona’s events through our website, Facebook and Twitter feeds for upcoming campaigns related to the holiday season — including our #GivingTuesday Seattle party on Dec. 3.

Start out your holiday season right, and Give Together for Poverty Alleviation today!

Keep up with everything Jolkona by following us on FacebookTwitterPinterest and Instagram.

During my journalism career, I spent more than six years covering religion, and you would think that being married to an Indian American would have helped whenever Hindu news stories came up. Unfortunately, my husband is clueless about his family’s faith, so my research generally involved a basic Google search, then a quick call to his parents or sheepish Facebook chat with his cousins. Eventually, I grasped the basics — at least, enough to understand that the giant pink swastika wall hanging we received as a wedding gift was truly well-intentioned! (We left it in Pune. Auspicious or not, no way was that thing going on display in our Upper West Side apartment.)Diwali_Diya

Maybe it was a stretch in looking for new angles while covering longstanding belief systems for so many years, but I always got a kick out of finding similarities in unexpected places, such as between Muslims and Mormons. And despite my initial whiplash over the swastika symbol, I still notice common themes between Hinduism and Judaism. Both religions have a plurality of adherents who barely practice the basic rituals, yet still strongly  identify with these traditions on an ethnic-cultural basis. Both have a “festival of lights” around this time of year. And both have a confusing range of calendar start dates and English spelling options for every holiday… not exactly helpful for a journalist!

In any case, the major Hindu holiday of Diwali / Deepavali starts this weekend. (Some say it starts today; some say it starts Nov. 3. Bloggers get to be vague!) And for the first time, we are attempting to host a Diwali party. Our festivities will consist of serving food from an Indian restaurant, lighting candles, playing Bollywood films and soundtracks, and asking guests to make donations to Jolkona’s Upaya project in lieu of bringing us bottles of wine or some other kind of host gift.

Here are some other worthwhile nonprofit projects related to India, if you’d like to make a charitable gift in honor of Diwali this week:

Happy Diwali!

P.S. Forgot to add: this holiday is also observed by Buddhist, Sikhs and Jains! If that’s you, please feel free to share how you celebrate Diwali, either by posting in the Comments section or on our Facebook wall.

Keep up with everything Jolkona by following us on FacebookTwitterPinterest and Instagram.

The definition of ‘Upaya’ is any endeavor or practice that is used to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles to achieve a goal. Upaya Social Ventures, the Seattle-based non-profit, exemplifies this mission of determination and due diligence.

In a nutshell, they work to build businesses and improve the quality of life for families. Upaya focuses on helping the ultra poor – the World Bank defines the ultra poor as a family unit living on $1.25/day or less. Extreme poverty is marked by the lack of even the most basic, essential necessities to live.

From now through December 31st, a tremendous matching campaign is going on for Upaya’s Jolkona hosted campaigns. Any and all donations made to either of the two projects will be matched on every dollar (up to the first $10,000) by the Skees Family Foundation. It is a wonderful opportunity to double your impact with a few dollars.

Jolkona Partnership and Projects

Steve Schwartz, Upaya’s Director of Strategy & Operations and Co-founder, has been closely linked with Jolkona since the latter organization began in 2007. His friendships with Jolkona founders Nadia and Adnan blossomed into a non-profit alliance following Upaya’s start in 2011. The two organizations have collaborated in making several Upaya projects available through Jolkona’s platform.

You can help Delhi’s poorest earn a dignified living by making a gift of $250. The meaningful, long-term impact such an amount can make on a family is incredible. The gift will help create a stable and dignified job for someone; this is will greatly increase their family’s income, food supply, and overall quality of life.

Upaya has also teamed up with a startup in Bihar; the startup trains silk weavers in the community to improve their skills, resources, equipment and more. Once again, with a one-time gift of $250 one new job will be created and maintained. Create Stable Jobs for Silk Weavers in Bihar and change the lives of a family for the better, forever.

A Gift of Life and Prosperity

Every person deserves the dignity of a job to call their own to provide for their family’s needs. Upaya is devoted to empowering individuals with skills and stability, thereby influencing their friends, families and communities for the better.

This holiday season, every dollar counts twice. The matching campaign makes it an ideal time to give. These are solvable problems with dedicated means to solve them. Consider giving the gift of impact by supporting one of Upaya’s projects. Doing so will voice your love and support for their mission, Jolkona’s, philanthropy’s and – most importantly – for the hope and happiness you will impart to others.

Like Jolkona on Facebook, follow us on Twitter , and check us out on Pinterest to keep up with all of our ongoing projects.

 

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.
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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.

www.upayasv.com

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.

 

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