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It’s been nearly a month since our first cohort of Project Catalyst presented their business pitches after two weeks of hard work. And, in another several weeks, the Jolkona office will be busy sorting applications to select our next Project Catalyst cohort. What else to do in this down time, but reflect? Especially for a pilot project, the first session of Project Catalyst was a success. Not only did we experience overwhelming support from our community, but we also provided a positive experience for our cohort, and learned a lot about how we can improve our program for future sessions.

First of all, we would like to extend a heartfelt thank you to everyone who was involved in making Project Catalyst a success. From providing tours for Seattle’s businesses and nonprofits, to teaching workshops, providing valuable mentorship and welcoming home-stays, Jolkona asked over ninety people to help us with this program. Not a single person turned us down, and for that we are immensely thankful. In addition, we would also like to thank those who were able to attend the June 19th Showcase event. The support and donations you provided to our entrepreneurs, and to the Investor’s Choice winner, Mirah, helped Project Catalyst close on a high note.

Of course, we would like to thank the heart of this first session of Project Catalyst – our entrepreneurs. It wouldn’t have been nearly the same without the drive and enthusiasm of Nadine, Nadya, Dino, Hendriyadi and Mirah. Each brought a passion for social innovation, a clear sense of purpose, and an excitement for exploration. It was an honor to launch this exciting program with them, and spend two weeks exploring Seattle with them! According to Nadine, “Project Catalyst truly lived up to its name. I feel catalyzed to take my business and social impact to the next level.” If you would like to the perspective of a cohort member, check out Nadya’s blog post reflecting on her Project Catalyst experience.

If you would like to get involved in Project Catalyst, there are a number of ways you can make a difference:

  • Become a mentor, coach, teacher or sponsor.
  • Become a homestay host if you are in Seattle, WA.
  • Attend the Final Showcase where the participants pitch their business.
  • Support these social entrepreneurs fulfill their mission after they get back home.
  • Share Project Catalyst on your network; like us onFacebook and follow us on Twitter.

Be sure to volunteer by the application deadline on August 7th!

We are excited to see how Project Catalyst will progress, and we are so pleased that our first session went so well. Thank you again, to all who made it a success!

Project Catalyst is an accelerator for international social ventures. This 2-week intensive workshop brings social entrepreneurs from developing countries to Seattle, where they can hone their business plans, gain valuable insights, and meet prospective investors and funders.

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This Sunday, May 11, is Mother’s Day: the day we celebrate moms and what they do for us and our communities. Many of us take this opportunity to shower our mothers with gifts, cards and affection — but what about giving a gift that also impacts a mother in need?

Jolkona is here to help you find a Mother’s Day gift that honors moms in more ways than one. Your donations can support three projects that improve maternal health in Palestine, Guatemala and India.

Support Safe Births in Palestine

Your gift through MADRE will provide a “safe birth” medical kit, and help train and equip Israeli and Palestinian midwives to deliver babies in the West Bank. Due to movement restrictions, an estimated 2500 Palestinian women face difficulties on their way to hospitals and birthing facilities. With your help, midwives can reduce maternal and infant mortality, by providing the resources needed for a safe pregnancy and successful delivery.

Provide Maternal and Prenatal care in Guatemala

Your gift through Project Concern International (PCI) will help indigenous Guatemalan women living in isolated rural communities have access to prenatal care, as well as safe and clean birthing facilities. With your help, PCI will train hundreds of community health workers to make sure both mothers and babies are healthy and safe before, during, and after delivery.

Provide Prenatal care in Calcutta

Your gift through Calcutta kids will help provide six months of prenatal care, a safe birthing facility, and post-partum care for a woman living in the slums of Calcutta. Calcutta Kids uses community-based programs to optimize the health of both mother and child throughout pregnancy, leading to higher birth weights, and better immune and neurological development.

When you celebrate Mother’s Day by giving a gift in your mom’s honor to one of these Jolkona partner projects, you know you are making your own mother proud by aiding another in need. Happy Mother’s Day!

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Earth Day is less than a week away, and an excellent time to reflect on what we can do to celebrate our planet and keep it healthy.

When we focus on sustainable agricultural practices or conservation, we can improve global health and help lift people out of extreme poverty. Of course, meaningful change starts with what we do from day to day to take better care of our planet.

Here are some things Jolkona is doing to help the environment. What will you be doing?

  1. Jolkona HQ is getting new recycling bins, thanks to Partner Coordinator, Ross Polk. Now we can be more responsible with our office waste. Perhaps a compost bin is in the future?
  2. Aparna Rae, our Development Manager, receives a CSA box (community supported agriculture) where she gets a variety of fresh produce directly from local farmers. Learn more about CSAs in her guest post tomorrow!
  3. Nicole, our Communications Manager, is taking a thermos everywhere she goes, so that she can avoid using disposable coffee cups.
  4. Give to educate farmers in Kenya in bio-intensive farming, so they can better feed their families, farm sustainably, and support bio-diversity.
  5. Give to conserve the rainforest in Tanzania, and reduce poverty by empowering local villages to maintain and protect the forest.
  6. Give to conserve Rainforests in Bangladesh through Lift Bangla, by restoring water supply to the indigenous community so they can continue to farm sustainably.

Whether you make small changes in your own life, like getting a CSA box and reducing waste like Aparna and Nicole, or you donate $10 to a nonprofit project that supports our environment, you will make a difference for our planet. With only a couple days until Earth Day, why not start now?

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What do mosquitoes, freshwater snails and ticks have in common? All three are vectors – critters that transmit deadly diseases like malaria and dengue fever – and therefore major villains in this year’s vector-borne disease themed World Health Day, the April 7th World Health Organization observance that raises awareness of serious global health problems.

Three facts to think about over the weekend:

  • More than 1 billion people are infected and more than 1 million die from vector-borne diseases every year.
  • Vector-borne diseases account for more than 17 percent of all infectious diseases.
  • Malaria causes more than 600 000 deaths every year globally, most of them children under 5 years old.

Many of these diseases are preventable, primarily by improving access to clean water and sanitation. Jolkona’s partner MADRE works in Kenya to provide sources of clean water in rural, indigenous communities. This project builds communal collection points in villages in schools, and trains local people in hygiene, health, and water system maintenance.

Along with preventing and treating vector-borne diseases, our health partners also work hard to improve access to prenatal care, lifesaving surgeries and prosthetics. You can make a difference, too, by supporting any of these projects:

You can observe World Health Day on Monday by learning more about vector-borne diseases and contributing to a global health project — even with just $10. As we say here at Jolkona: every drop counts.

Photo Credit: WHO/S. Hollyman

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Jolkona’s mission is to engage a new generation of philanthropists, by making giving easy, meaningful and transparent. Millennials like me (ages 22-35) yearn for something more when it comes to philanthropy: we want to go beyond making donations, to be truly engaged with social change. According to Nonprofit Quarterly, while older generations value giving time and financial support to organizations, we millennials want to be excited and passionate about a cause — learning new skills and expanding our networks along the way.

The evolution of Jolkona’s Give Together campaign, our monthly giving program, reflects our mission and millennial perspective. Starting at $10/month, members are invited to our private Facebook group, where you can view project proposals from our nonprofit partners, discuss the pros and cons, and lobby for your favorite. It’s a unique way to learn about different causes, engage in the grant-making process, and network with a community of passionate, like-minded donors.

In the same way that engaging millennials is the driving force in 21st century philanthropy, empowering women is the driving force of global development. This month’s Give Together theme is “Women & Girls,” tied to our March Give to Girls campaign, with nine projects targeting women’s education, maternal health and empowerment. Give Together is our bonus tenth option: we’re considering three proposals to change girls’ lives in Afghanistan (Barakat), Nepal (Bo M. Karlsson Foundation) and Nicaragua (MADRE). Join Give Together before March 31, and help us choose which innovative project gets this month’s grant.

When you Give Together, you can be part of the changing face of philanthropy. You can give with a network of other passionate philanthropists, and be more knowledgable than ever about the projects you support. Give Together for Girls.

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Jolkona’s Give to Girls campaign revolves around the idea that the world’s women — over half the global population — are a significant untapped resource. Women represent 70 percent of the world’s poor, disproportionately suffering in times of crisis: natural disasters, economic downturns, wars. On the other hand, as more women gain equality in the workforce, the faster a country’s economy will recover and grow.

This doesn’t only apply to the developing world; America’s GDP would jump by 9 percent if we had equal pay. Empowering women, along with giving them access to better healthcare and education, is the key to local and global development.

You can help three Jolkona partners empower women:

Give Life and Tech Skills to Homeless Women in the U.S.

Many homeless women in the U.S. can’t get back on their feet because they lack the skills needed to find jobs in today’s economy. Jolkona’s partner the Jubilee Women’s Center, works to help Seattle women transition out of extreme poverty, with a comprehensive life and tech skills program including classes in Microsoft Office, interview and job retention practices.

Support Rape Survivors in Haiti Displacement Camp

Four years after Haiti’s catastrophic earthquake, more than 100,000 people are still living in tent camps — unstable conditions that have made women even more vulnerable to sexual violence. Jolkona’s partner MADRE provides peer-counseling groups to help rape survivors empower each other and heal together, and works with local organizations to build effective community anti-violence strategies.

Support Women Farmers in Sudan

Women in Sudan grow 80 percent of the food crops, yet are excluded from government farm aid programs. The country’s farmers also struggle to survive the ongoing war, environmental degradation from unsustainable practices, and droughts and floods from climate change. Jolkona’s partner MADRE provides women farmers with tools, seeds, and ongoing training — enabling them to feed their families and achieve financial independence.

With the right set of tools, any woman can become empowered, and empowered women are one of the greatest potential forces for global change. Give to Girls today!

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Giving birth is one of the most dangerous things a woman can do, especially in a developing country. But with your help, Jolkona’s Give to Girls campaign is raising funds this month for programs focused on improving maternal health in Palestine, Guatemala, and India.

According to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, around 300,000 women die in childbirth every year; according to the World Health Organization (WHO) nearly 5 million babies die before their first birthday every year. This doesn’t include the women and children who suffer permanent injuries, malnutrition and physical and neurological under development. The good news is that many of these deaths and injuries are preventable, if we can improve access to adequate prenatal and maternal health services.

Each of these Give to Girls projects aim to help women have safe pregnancies and healthy babies:

Support Safe Births in Palestine

Due to its status as a conflict zone, Palestine is a difficult place for a woman to give birth; maternal health conditions have actually been in decline since 2000. Jolkona’s partner MADRE works to provide prenatal care and safe births and prevent unnecessary deaths for women in West Bank, who are unable to access a hospital or adequate care.

MADRE works with Palestinian and Israeli midwives to provide training, prenatal supplements, portable ultrasound devices and birth kits, so that as many women as possible can deliver their babies safely.

Reduce Infant Mortality in Guatemala

Guatemala has the highest infant mortality rate in South America. The majority of these deaths occur in rural indigenous populations, among the poorest 20 percent of people in Guatemala. Jolkona’s partner Project Concern International provides an integrated infant and maternal health program to bring proper clinical care for women, and and low-tech care techniques to parents and care-takers to ensure a higher chance of infant survival.

Effecting over 1500 women and children, your donation to PCI will provide a clean environment and clinical care to the mother, as well as transportation to a hospital for her birth.

Provide Prenatal Care in India

Even though India is rapidly industrializing, it has an infant mortality rate 100 times higher than other industrial nations. Adequate prenatal care not only helps thousands of babies survive their first year, but also reduces susceptibility to malnutrition, disease, and underdevelopment. Jolkona’s partner Calcutta Kids is focused on increasing access to health and nutrition services, providing health information and encouraging positive health-changing behaviors.

Calcutta Kids provides six months of prenatal care for a pregnant woman in the slums of Calcutta, as well as delivery in a private facility, and follow up care for two years following birth.

When you Give to Girls to support maternal health, you not only help women and babies survive delivery, but also set them up for a healthier future. Please Give to Girls today!

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Everyone knows that educating girls improves their career opportunities. But did you also know that educating girls reduces child mortality and kickstarts developing countries?

The Global Education Fund reports that each year that a girl spends in secondary school, her future income increases by 15 to 25 percent. An educated girl invests 90 percent of her income in her family and community. When a mother has received a basic education, her children are 40 percent more likely to survive past the age of five. When looking at the 50 million girls that currently live in poverty, just imagine the impact that educating these girls could have on the world!

Through Jolkona’s Give to Girls campaign this month, you can support education projects in Afghanistan, Liberia and Nepal. For these three countries, which have some of the lowest GDPs and literacy rates, improving education for girls is absolutely essential.

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Improve Female Literacy in Afghanistan

Only 11 to 13 percent of girls and women in Afghanistan are literate, due the distances to travel to schools, caring for infants, and the social and cultural taboos related to attending co-ed schools, having contact with male teachers, and female education in general. But educating and empowering Afghanistan’s women is essential to lifting the country out of decades of war.

Barakat, Jolkona’s nonprofit partner on the ground, has an innovative curriculum that enables girls and women to become literate in a safe environment: all-female classes and teachers, community spaces, no restrictions on age or bringing babies to class. Barakat already engages 3,000 girls and women with their literacy programs. A Give to Girls gift of $60 will provide a Lower Level Literacy Education for one girl. 

Educate Girls in Liberia

More than 60 percent of Liberia’s school-aged children are not in school, including the most vulnerable girls in the country: orphans, homeless children, sex workers, and children of single parents. Jolkona’s nonprofit partner More Than Me believes that these low rates of education are directly related to the low life expectancy and other health problems Liberians face.

MTM’s program provides vulnerable girls in Liberia the opportunity to go to school, while also learning about nutrition, disease prevention and vaccination — giving them the tools they need to lead fuller, healthier lives. A donation of just $25 will provide two girls with school supplies, and $100 will provide a whole semester of education.

Educate Enslaved Nepali Girls

Struggling with extreme poverty, many families in Western Nepal take their daughters out of school and sell them into bonded service, known as Kamlari. The Nepal Youth Foundation works to rescue these girls by returning them to their family, helping the family develop another source of income, and prevent future trafficking through education.

NYF has rescued and educated more than 10,000 girls since its inception in 1990, and with your help, they can help even more. A gift of $100 will rescue one Nepali girl. Even just $5 can make a huge difference. 

Here at Jolkona, we are excited to support women’s education this month, since so many other causes hinge on the education and professional success of girls. Join us, and Give to Girls today.

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In honor of International Women’s Day, March 8, Jolkona is launching our 4th annual Give to Girls campaign. All month long, we will bring you opportunities to help girls and women in nine countries.

By supporting women’s education, health and empowerment, we can create sustainable economic development and reduce poverty locally and globally. By working with Jolkona and our Give to Girls partners, you can help, too — starting with just $5. As U.N. Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon states:

This International Women’s Day, we are highlighting the importance of achieving equality for women and girls not simply because it is a matter of fairness and fundamental human rights, but because progress in so many other areas depends on it.

Welcome to Give to Girls 2014! This year’s projects:

Education

Maternal Health

Empowerment

Give Together Bonus

Starting at $10, you can also Give Together — contributing to a collective grant and helping us choose which project related to women and girls gets the community’s pool of donations this month.

With your support in these three key areas, not only will more women have social and economic opportunities, but the whole world will benefit from a ripple effect of change. Thank you for your support!

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This holiday season, we were thrilled to support Peace Winds America‘s relief and recovery efforts for the survivors of Typhoon Haiyan (also known as Typhoon Yolanda) in the Philippines. Jolkona donors gave PWA a good start at our holiday party, and have continued giving to fund long-term, high-impact aid to those devastated by the storm.

Jon Ehrenfeld, PWA’s Civil-Military Program Manager, has sent us an impact report on the ongoing efforts to help thousands of Filipinos get back on their feet:

Relief on Busuanga Island: Updated Information on Typhoon Damage and Relief Activities

It is now three months since Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) struck the Philippines. After the initial rush of relief died down, Peace Winds America has been able to work with its partners on the ground to gain a clearer picture of damages as well as relief activities. Presently our relief remains centered on Busuanga Island (Palawan Region), a rural community in the far from the media spotlight still centered on Samar and Leyte.

Busuanga Island – A Picture of the Damage

Ongoing situation reports and needs assessments have brought the effects of Haiyan into sharper focus. Through the efforts of local governments, the Citizens’ Disaster Response Center (CDRC) and the Southern Tagalog Peoples’ Resource Center (STPRC), multiple Damage, Needs, and Capabilities Assessments (DNCAs) have been carried out. The picture they paint is stark. All 14 barangays on the island were damaged, affecting 28,640 people and rendering 4,405 families homeless. Significant damage was done to rice paddies and fishing boats as well as tourist sites (primarily scuba diving). In the targeted communities of Salvacion, Cheey, and Buluang alone there are nearly 10,000 affected people. Between crop damage, loss of housing, loss of major buildings (e.g., schools) and destruction of stored goods, these communities were selected for intensive relief efforts.

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Disaster Relief – A National and Community Effort

PWA knows from experience that disaster relief works best when local expertise guides the procurement and provision of needed items. In Busuanga local organizations, volunteers, businesses, and support groups helped generate the needs assessments and direct relief. This enabled CDRC and STPRC to procure goods in Manila (they were unavailable locally), ship them via Coron, and repack and distribute them upon arrival in Busuanga.

Thanks to CDRC and STPRC efforts to obtain discounts, PWA’s relief funding provided for 1,050 families, 50 above the targeted number. In total PWA provided:

• 210 cavans of rice (approximately 23,100 lbs.)

• 1,015 kg of dried fish

• 63 boxes sardines

• 2,100 packs cooking oil (200 ml)

• 1050 sleeping mat kits

• 1050 blankets

• 1000 sets kitchen utensils (1,000 kettles and 6,000 plates)

These goods were packed into kits and distributed by CDRC/STPRC staff as well as members of the local government and volunteers. Prior to each distribution the relief recipients were given a brief training session on emergency response and preparedness for future disasters.

Looking Ahead – Toward Recovery

The damage and needs assessments painted a picture of acute and long-term need in these communities on Busuanga. Moving forward, there will be serious efforts in the areas of shelter and livelihoods. Peace Winds America has committed to providing support for these recovery efforts. Together with our partners on the ground we will explore housing repair and rebuilding, fishing boat repair, and support for rice farmers whose fields, tools, and seed stock were damaged in the Typhoon.

We thank all of our donors for their generosity. Together, we have been able to provide desperately needed relief. Together, we can continue to help these communities recover: Standing With the Philippines.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Starting Small, Scaling Up

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

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

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

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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.

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