The Last Mile – Helping to turn prisoners into entrepreneurs


I normally like to listen to podcasts (yes I still listen to podcasts) when I go for my long runs on the weekend.  One of my favorite podcasts is the Stanford University entrepreneurial thought leaders podcast.  It is an audio recording of live lectures given to some of the brightest young and aspiring entrepreneurs in Stanford’s undergraduate engineering program.  In addition to having top names come and give lectures it also often features some very thought-provoking material from the social impact space.  So I figured it might be interesting to share the story of one of the NGOs it recently featured.  The Last Mile is an entrepreneurship accelerator for prisoners in San Quentin state penitentiary in California.  It is a program designed to help ex-offenders become technology entrepreneurs.  Sounds interesting, right?  Well it has also gotten a lot of positive attention having been written up in the likes of Forbes Magazine, Tech Crunch and the Atlantic Monthly.  It also has been successful enough that they now plan to expand the program to 5 other prisons.  With a final goal of partnering with the government and technology luminaries to launch a nationwide program to alleviate the financial mess in prisons once and for all. Read on to find out more.

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BigBelly Solar – Building a smarter, solar powered trash can


Yesterday I heard a talk from Hult Business School on Greenovations or examples of companies innovating to create a more sustainable world.  It profiled various initiatives from the large to the small.  It was an interesting talk with many good examples of businesses sustainably incorporating green agenda into their business models.  One of the ones which most struck me was a company called BigBelly Solar – a company focused on using big data and machine to machine (M2M) communication to improve our waste management systems.  It is a very innovative company which has been featured in the BBC and Forbes Magazine and won accolades such as the World Smart Cities award.   Even cooler is when I found out its system has been launched in more than 30 cities worldwide including helping my hometown Philadelphia, PA to save more than $1 million annually and was recently launched in NYC in a big event hosted by Mayor Bloomberg.  Read on to find out more.  

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Cuyana – highlighting indigenous fashion and giving back


This week I would like to profile a San Francisco based company which shares with me the distinct honor of having a Quechua name.  Cuyana which means “to love” in the traditional Andean language of the Inca people is a socially driven fashion company that designs and manufacturers clothing and accessories inspired by the stories, craftsmen, and finest materials of the world; country by country.  So far it has designed collections from Ecuador, Peru, India, Argentina, Japan and most recently Mexico.   Its products have also been profiled in Elle, Conde Nest Traveler, People Magazine and others. Lets now take a closer look.

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Raise Labs – Reinventing college scholarships in the United States


This week I would like to profile an emerging social venture being built by a friend with a very novel and important idea and objective, that the US scholarship system  is broken and needs to be reinvented to make it more accessible, transparent and fair.  Raise Labs which last year was one of the winners of Facebook and Gates Foundation College Knowledge Challenge, and recently won $75K at the UPenn GSE and Milken Family Foundation Education Business Plan Competition is beginning to turn heads as it has developed an interactive online platform bringing together experienced educators and technology professionals to reinvent college scholarships. Continue reading

Empower Generation – Providing clean energy through women entrepreneurs in Nepal


This week I want to profile a social venture which was shared with me by a reader.  Thanks for sharing.  I hope more of you will by filling out this online form. The idea is one which was started by a couple who both had a passion for something different – one for women empowerment and the other for clean technologies.  But together they shared a passion for making the world a better place and decided to merge their ideas into one common cause.  The result was Empower Generation, a non-profit which is spreading clean energy in Nepal one woman at a time.  They are still small but growing, to date they have sold 825 solar lights reaching more than 4000 homes in Nepal. They have also been featured in Scientific American and other blogs.

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Samasource – creating jobs for the rural poor by impact sourcing microwork


Have you ever wondered who does those annoyingly repetitive tasks of data validation, number checking and content moderation?  I may have found the answer.  This week I’d like to profile a technology company which has come up with an innovative “win-win” solution to connect some of the world’s biggest and most sophisticated tech companies with the jobless poor in developing countries.  The company Samasource which means “equal” in Sanskrit does this through a concept called microwork or the division of big tasks into smaller ones which can be performed by unskilled labor online.  It is a brilliant idea that proves people from villages and urban slums can be reliable parts of the global knowledge economy supply chain.  It is so good that it has as the Financial Times described really taken off and thrust the company and its creator into the limelight being labeled Wired magazine as one of the 50 people who can change the world and by the Wall Street Journal as one of businesses rising stars.

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