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Jolkona’s co-founder Adnan Mahmud spent the last few days at the NTEN Nonprofit Tech Conference, sharing and learning how nonprofits are gathering and evaluating data to improve fundraising, operations and programs. Check out his latest Huffington Post Impact column for his insights into three Big Data challenges we need to overcome: quantity vs. quality, imperfect tools, and funding priorities.

At Jolkona HQ, our team has a mix of people from Microsoft and the nonprofit sector; let’s just say that some of us are more naturally data-oriented than others! As communications manager, my work includes monitoring our website traffic, social media analytics and audience demographics — but it’s a constant challenge, especially as we evolve from our startup phase, to keep up with all the recommended metrics and figure out what they mean. Donor data can also be a real head-scratcher: Why are some of our Give to Girls projects attracting large contributions from new donors, while others are more likely to attract small contributions from repeat donors? Why are some donors supporting multiple projects, but others just one of the nine options? When the campaign is over on March 31, we’ll have to take a look at this information and see whether it means we should structure next year’s campaign differently…

Jolkona partners and peers: What are some problems you have experienced related to gathering data about your donors, clients and programs? How can we improve, as a sector, to engage more funders and help more people?

Keep up with everything Jolkona by following us on Facebook and Twitter

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep up with everything Jolkona by following us on Facebook and Twitter.

When people talk about African safari, 99.99% of the time they are talking about the parks in Kenya and Tanzania or the ones in South Africa and Namibia. The remaining 0.01% of the time, people are talking about the 3rd park – Pendjari National Park which spans across Burkina Faso, Benin, and Niger.

Our Expedition’s last stop was Pendjari National Park. We spent about 36 hours at the park, including couple of game drives. It is clear why Pendjari doesn’t get as much love as the parks in eastern and southern Africa:

  1. Lack of diversity. Pendjari doesn’t have very diverse wildlife, unlike the safari in Kenya and Tanzania. That is a big initial hurdle that Pendjari has to overcome.
  2. Park services are not well developed. While the accommodations inside the park were great, the guide was below par, as was the vehicle we were using. We were delayed by more than an hour for our sunrise drive because our vehicle would not start.
  3. Animals are really difficult to spot. We were able to easily see elephants, buffaloes, hippos, and antelopes. However, the cats were to be really hard to find. Our guide didn’t seem very knowledgeable about locating the different animals. We did hear a lion growl, but the guide seemed unsure which direction we should head.
  4. Lack of coordination. One of the cool features in East Africa is that the different safari vehicles would communicate with each other if they spot a rear animal. This kind of communication was missing in Pendjari. While I appreciate the desire to provide an adventure feel in trying to find animals, Pendjari does need to make it easier to find the wildlife.

Pendjari might never become as big as the Serengeti or the Kruger National Park, but it has the potential of being lot more engaging than it is today. If the administrators of the park can address some of the issues I mentioned above, I believe Pendjari will be part of most West Africa tourist itineraries.

You can follow all the latest blog posts from our Jolkona Team in West Africa here

You can also help spread the word by liking us on Facebook, and by following us on Twitter,  Pinterest, and Instagram.

Our West Africa trip started with a visit to Elmina Castle in Ghana, the largest and oldest surviving slave castle. In fact, Elmina Castle is older than America. It was really interesting hearing the different periods in the history of the castle.

Unless you are physically walking around the castle, you can’t grasp the extremity of the conditions slaves experienced in the castle for three to four months before being shipped to the New World. A thousand slaves were kept in the castle, four hundred of them women. The slave dungeons were long, dark, and stuffy, while the masters’ chambers had unimpeded views of the Atlantic Ocean. The women slaves were forced to mate with the officers and if they became pregnant, they were allowed to leave the castle. The mixed-race children would be trained to also become slave traders.

This castle represents the darkest chapters in human history. I can’t imagine humans treating other humans so badly for hundreds of years. One would think that we have learned from the experience, but we continue to mistreat others. Surely we no longer have slavery in most of the world, but we still don’t have equality among all. Bias (social, race, caste, gender) still exists in many parts of the world.

So, Elmina castle is not just a relic of the past. It represents injustices that continue around the world, and reminds us that we have a long way to go before we can claim to be equal.

You can follow all the latest blog posts from our Jolkona Team in West Africa here

You can also help spread the word by liking us on Facebook, and by following us on Twitter,  Pinterest, and Instagram.

Nadia and I first met Wiclif at a conference in Mexico in 2010. He had arrived a full day late because he didn’t have the right visas – it was his first time flying. Then, in December, Nadia and I had a chance to spend a day with Wiclif getting to know his organization, Kito. Since then, we have developed a great friendship – I have talked about Wiclif in many talks and in 2012, Kito was added as a Jolkona partner. Kito teaches street kids life and entrepreneurial skills through a focused training program. The kids learn about business by running a social enterprise where they produce custom branded shopping bags for local stores. They learn everything from marketing to sales to finance.

I had a chance to visit with Wiclif in Nairobi this week and I was able to meet some of his newest students. They are still working in the Kwangware slum out of the same two rooms as we saw them 2 years ago. Now, they are selling 1,000 bags a month and just last year, for the first time, three of their graduates have started college.

Wiclif’s goal is to get to 4,000 bags. We spent a good portion of my visit brainstorming how they can get to that goal. Armed with a budget of only $25,000, it is amazing how much of an impact such small organizations can have in their local community.

I encourage you to support Kito’s work through Jolkona here.

You can follow all the latest blog posts from our Jolkona Team in West Africa here.  

Find out more about Jolkona by liking us on Facebook, and by following us on Twitter and Pinterest.

For the past 3 years, Jolkona volunteers have traveled to different parts of the world visiting our amazing partners and getting a deep understanding of how their work is having a lasting impact in the local communities. I am sure I speak for our volunteers when I say that these trips have been life-changing. Whether it is learning about a teacher who has taught in a Rio favela for 27 straight years, or learning about a family supporting an entire village in Kenya, or understanding the difficulty Myanmar refugees face in Thailand, these first hand experiences have really helped us appreciate the impact our partners are having on the ground, amongst some difficult circumstances.

First public trip: West Africa

Over the last 3 years, we have learned about how to design a successful trip that engages the participants through deep interactions with our partners on the ground. This year we are opening up our trip to the public for the first time. We are heading to West Africa in early April. We will be visiting 4 countries – Ghana, Togo, Benin, and Burkina Faso – and the trip will take exactly 2 weeks. We will be visiting 4 partner organizations and learning about everything from large scale urban waste processing to education in remote villages to microfinance and small business investments. I will be joined by these 5 folks on the trip:

Sue Jin Kim

I am currently living in San Francisco, working as an interaction designer for Amazon(Lab 126). I lived in Masan (my hometown in South Korea), Seoul, New York, Chicago and Seattle previously. I spent five years in Seattle working for Xbox, living in Capitol hill, drinking a lot of coffee, eating pho and listening music.

I have background in design research, design strategy and interaction design. I love travel- the latest trip I took was to Colombia last December by myself. That hat was an amazing time. I love new experiences, learning about new cultures and meeting people. It constantly challenges my perception about how things should be.

This trip will be an amazing opportunity for me as I’m deeply interested in topics like women and education; however, I haven’t participated deeply in these areas, other than going to women’s conferences.

Lena Alfi

Right now, I am spending few months traveling the world before starting my graduate school in the fall. Previously, I worked as a Development Coordinator at an international health and humanitarian aid non-profit, Project Concern International (PCI). I mostly work on the business development side (proposal writing) for a women’s economic empowerment program in 16 countries.

I was born and raised in Los Angeles, and my parents are from Egypt and Syria. I speak Arabic and little bit of Spanish and I enjoy hiking and yoga.

This trip sounds like a great opportunity to learn about the innovative ways people have generated resources for themselves, and to immerse into a new culture and part of the world I’ve never been to. As I’m starting graduate school in the fall in International Development, I would love to bring a new and fresh perspective about West Africa.

Monica Mendoza

Never underestimate the power of social media. I was introduced to Jolkona via Twitter when they mentioned a project in the country of my birth, Bolivia. I am now volunteering with Jolkona to apply my marketing experience to the work Jolkona is doing. Professionally, I love the audience engagement aspect of marketing and I am excited to help Jolkona seek out individuals who want to make a difference. I have wanted to visit Africa for quite some time and I am excited for the opportunity to see first hand how the mix of contributions and passion is having a positive impact.

Punit Java

I am passionate about finding new ways to connect people with technology to enrich their lives. I have several years of experience building mobile and embedded products with Microsoft, Amazon and through my own private ventures. I have a Bachelors degree in Computer Engineering from the University of Waterloo. I have been volunteering with Jolkona to help with technology strategy including building the web and mobile experiences.

This trip is a great opportunity for me to observe social innovation and technology in developing nations, and hopefully figure out a way to make an impact.

Nancy Xu

I’ve been working with Jolkona for 3 years on various creative endeavors like the Hulu commercial, event posters, and at the moment the website redesign. I’ve loved volunteering, social and community work since I was 11, but it was really the first Jolkona trip 3 years ago that changed my life. I’m looking forward to another life changing journey to see the amazing innovations, this time in West Africa.

A big part of these trips is the discussions and reflections that go on outside of the partner visits. I am thrilled about the background and experiences the individuals in this group bring to this trip. It will be exciting to see how each of us personalize the experiences over the two weeks and what these experiences mean for each of us. We will be blogging from the trip continuously and so check back often with the Jolkona blog to see our latest updates

Join a future expedition

We are going to be opening up our future trips to the public as well. We are planning expeditions to Central America, East Africa, and Southeast Asia in the next 12 – 18 months. Spots are limited and if you wanted to stay informed about upcoming expeditions, please send email to expedition@jolkona.org

During our recent trip to Bangladesh we visited Greenovation Technologies – a small social enterprise that was founded by 4 fresh graduates from Dhaka University. An inventor, Dr. Mahbubul Khan, is also involved with the startup. Greenovation Technologies is trying to commercialize one of Dr. Khan’s inventions, called jutin. Jutin is created by combining jute with resin. Alternating layers of jute and resin are placed together. Between each layer or jute and resin a special “glue” (invented and patented by Dr. Khan) is added. The more number of layers there are the stronger the final jutin sheet is. The entire stack is than placed outside in the sun and allowed to bake for 20 minutes. The resulting material is called jutin.

 

Greenovation Technolgies team with one of their model homes made from jutin.

Jutin is more durable than tin, lasting for almost 20 years. The team expects jutin to be cheaper than tin, once economies of scale is achieved. The team also believes jutin can be a great alternative to other building materials, especially those used for cheap construction. There are millions of families in Bangladesh who live in very weak structures made from low-quality tin or hay. Greenovation Technologies believes that jutin will make a far better alternative for such homes, being cheaper and stronger and hopefully, therefore, far more sustainable. They are passionately focused on making that happen.

However, the team faces significant challenges:

  1. Lack of funding. The team has very little capital. They have taken part in business competitions and have done very well. However, the winnings from these competitions are not enough to offset the full cost of setting up a production service. This issues effects all the other issues below as well.
  2. The need to do more research. The team needs to do more research into the long-term effects of jutin. Jutin contains resin (a polymer). The team needs to find out the environmental effects of its long-term presence.
  3. Find the quickest way to scale. The team wants to set up a manufacturing plant to create jutin sheets. However, that is a extremely risky undertaking, especially for a team with little capital and no experience in manufacturing. They will be looking at other options like licensing the technology to other existing manufacturers.

Greenovation Technologies serves as a great example to all of us that the social entrepreneurship journey is filled with challenges and setbacks. Like other social entrepreneurs, this team has to prove that they have the resilience and the creativity to overcome these problems.

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Earlier today we visited ADCAM in Manaus. Manaus is the 4th major economic zone in Brazil after Sao Paolo, Rio de Janeiro, and Minas Gerais. The factories of major companies Suzuki, Sony, and Nokia are driving the growth of Manaus. Favorable tax rates have attracted many companies to this region over the last 30 years. As companies set up their factories, the opportunity for labor positions surfaced. Many people from the surrounding regions migrated to Manaus in hopes for a job. However, they faced very difficult circumstances. Many of them didn’t get hired due to lack of experience or qualification. Those who did get jobs did not earn enough income to provide basic necessities to their families.

Non-profit organizations started springing up in Manaus to help support these workers and their families. One such organization is ADCAM. Since its inception in 1984, ADCAM has grown from a small daycare to an education entity. Spanning a high school, a college, and a vocational institute, the organization is providing education services to over 5,000 students every day. We had a chance to spend an entire day at ADCAM in Manaus. We spent time with some students, some of the teachers, and the founder. Many of the students had started working as early as 14 years of age, the legal age in Brazil. They receive vocational training at ADCAM which then can be used when they pursue their career.

One of the questions I had during this trip was to understand how the boom in industries over the last 30 years is affecting the environment thus, and the impact in the future. While both the teachers and founder acknowledged the challenge, I felt they did not provide a clear answer about how their program will specifically address this challenge. They also mentioned that they will start environmental training courses soon.

Over the last 30 years, ADCAM has responded to the needs of the Manaus community and growing number of factories. I am confident they will continue to evolve, preparing the next generation to answer the environment challenges I had hoped to gain insight into.

The future of Amazon might not be decided by board rooms in New York or London. Rather, if organizations like ADCAM expand, the future of Amazon may be determined in the classrooms in Manaus and other areas.

Want more on the South America trip? Adnan Mahmud and Nancy Xu are also blogging about their experiences with the team. Follow Adnan here. Follow Nancy here. Keep up to date with us also on Facebook.

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