If you’re just joining us, this is part two of our three-part series on social innovation. (Part one can be found on the B2C site or ANTVibes blog) Social innovation can be broadly described as new ideas that meet a need of society, and today we highlight some of our favorite social innovation programs and contributors. We feel these programs are making a particularly significant impact in society today, although there are many other worthy programs we won’t get a chance to mention.
Micro-financing provides financial services to people lacking regular access to banking, such as those living in rural or poverty-stricken areas. Micro-finance can include nearly any financial service, such as money transfers, loans, savings, insurance, or advising. The idea behind micro-finance is that by providing banking services not normally available, the poor will have better opportunity to pull themselves out of poverty.
A giant part of micro-finance is micro-credit, but the two terms are not interchangeable. Micro-credit mainly provides small loan opportunities to individuals or groups hoping to start or expand their business, or who are looking to make upgrades to their homes. If not for micro-credit efforts, the majority of these borrowers would never get the opportunity to start their own small business, whether it be to sell household items, make pottery, or operate a restaurant. This economic boost is the intended goal of micro-credit.
Muhammad Yunus, a Bangladeshi economist, is largely recognized as the present-day father of micro-credit. He founded Grameen Bank, which originally provided the poor of Bangladesh with small loans, promoting economic activity and growth from the bottom up. Yunus and Grameen Bank were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 for their efforts in micro-finance, and still believe that the poor can pull themselves out of poverty if given the opportunity.
Kiva (http://www.kiva.org/) is a non-profit organization that provides a platform for individuals to make loans in $25 increments to thousands of people from around the world. Since 2005, Kiva has provided over $300 million in loans to needy people in 60 countries, with a repayment rate of 98.9%. Choose a new loan recipient today!
2) Clean Energy
Earth Day 2012 is less than a week away, and in honor we would like to recognize some of our favorite clean energies. Clean, green, or renewable energy is finally getting the look (and some of the investment) it deserves. Over the past few decades, technology has increased the availability, efficiency and affordability of many energy sources that were once widely untapped. Although cost of implementation will always cause concerns, clean energy sources like these are sustainable and offer ample opportunities for expansion.
Solar power: The concept and practice of harvesting the sun’s energy is an age-old tradition, but modern technologies and policies can push solar power to a new level of impact. The grasp of solar power is immense; the amount of solar energy absorbed by the Earth in one hour is more energy than the entire world uses in a calendar year. And even better, this sun is an inexhaustible source (in the foreseeable future).
According to a 2011 report by the International Energy Agency (IEA), “if effective support policies are put in place in a wide number of countries this decade, solar energy in its various forms can make considerable contributions to solving some of the most urgent problems the world faces: climate change, energy security, and universal access to modern energy services.”
Solar energy is versatile, and is well-suited for a variety of applications. Some popular uses include solar lighting, heating, water heating, water treatment, and cooking. Even solar vehicles are being developed, and as technology advances, a owning a solar-powered car may not be too far-fetched. For the big picture, experts at the IEA estimate that if we follow, embrace, and implement a global solar-power regimen, in 50 years it is possible that 1/3 of all global energy can be supplied by the sun.
Wind energy: Like solar power, harnessing the wind’s energy is not a new practice. Windmills have long been used as water pumps and grinding stations, and in the late 1800’s, the first electricity-producing windmill was created. Today, clusters of modern windmills, generally called wind turbines, constitute wind energy sites, or wind farms.
Global wind usage for electricity is still relatively low, currently providing approximately 3% of Earth’s electricity demands. However, the rapid growth of wind farms has already made a significant difference in many countries. For example, in Denmark, nearly 1/3 of all power is wind-generated, and nearly 1/5 of Portugal’s electricity is wind generated.
One main problem with wind energy is the aesthetic value. Since windy areas are generally raised or elevated, the wind turbines are usually visible to people in the surrounding areas. Although considered eyesores, wind turbines cause no emissions or fuel consumption, and are compatible with other land uses such as agriculture. If all goes well in the next decade, by 2020 hopefully 10% of Earth’s power can be wind-generated.
Geothermal energy: Electricity that is made using the Earth’s underground heat is known as Geothermal energy. This relatively unknown energy source does not constitute a significant amount of the world’s electricity supply, but certain regions such as North America are good potential suitors.
Geothermal energy capitalizes on the excess heat that escapes from inside the Earth. Some of this heat is residue from the planet’s formation billions of years ago, and now the majority of heat results from the radioactive decay of minerals. In the past, geothermal power stations were geographically limited to areas along tectonic plate borders, such as around the Ring of Fire in the Pacific. However, technological advances have expanded the capacity and potential for geothermal electricity.
Although less than 1% of US energy comes from geothermal sources, some countries utilize considerable amounts of geothermal energy. For example, about 25% of energy in the Philippines, Iceland, and El Salvador come from geothermal sources.
A large part of what energy sources are used depends on the geography and location of the site. Obviously some locations are better than others for certain types of energy harvesting, and a large part also depends on the amount of investment and funding that goes into the projects.
In addition to solar, wind, and geothermal energy, other worthy clean energy sources existsuch as hydroelectric, tidal, methane, wave, and biomass energy. With due investment and policy, perhaps one day the majority of all Earth’s power consumption will be clean and renewable.
Even small differences can add up to large changes. An array of personal power supplies exists, and http://personal-solar.com/ offers some interesting ways to charge your electronic gadgets, while http://windenergy7.com/turbines/ offers family-sized wind turbines for individual residences or businesses.
3) Women’s rights
It’s been about a hundred years since women have been allowed to vote in the US, and although many women are now viewed as equals in politics and business, a constant strugglefor rights and equity remains. The situation is dire worldwide, especially in developing nations where an unsettling number of women aren’t viewed as equals, but as property.
Whether it be domestic violence, human trafficking/prostitution, or lack of education and healthcare, monumental struggles for women take place everyday, on almost every front. The right to vote, the right to choose whether or not to reproduce, and the right to pick one’s own significant other are just a few major issues, and they cannot be solved overnight. In fact, mainly due to tradition, the worldwide acceptance and support for women’s rights is mediocre at best.
However, there is a positive side. Progress is being made, and the value of women participating in economic activities has stirred some thought and action. It has been demonstrated that women’s education can increase not only economic activity, but the overall standard of living. And while many women around the world still struggle for equity, there are programs and people dedicated to helping. Each of the following organizations are wonderful places to start.
In the US, the National Organization for Women (NOW) is the largest feminist organization, comprising over half a million contributors. Their goal is clear: “To take action to bring women into full participation in the mainstream of American society now, exercising all privileges and responsibilities thereof in truly equal partnership with men.” Learn and get involved today at their website, http://www.now.org/.
The Association for Women’s Rights in Development, http://www.awid.org/, is multi-generational, international organization dedicated to gender equity, sustainable development, and women’s rights. The AWID offers up to date information and resources for current issues, activities, and ways to get involved.
Part three of our social innovation series will be available soon on the ANTVibes blog, www.antvibes.com/blog. Check in soon for our final piece of the series, cross-cultural communication.
Have something that you would like to share? Please feel free to comment here or contact me directly at jonv [at] antvibes [dot com].