USA Visit

Published by ORFL on

This year I went to the USA from the 4th to the 13th of May 2018 to carry out due diligence on the projects we support and to explore some projects that we could support in the future. The projects ranged from education to skill training.

I went to Haverford College a school in Philadelphia since we support an educational programme there called Peace, Justice and Human rights (PJHR). It applies textbook theories and ethical reasoning to real-world issues surrounding PJHR both currently and historically. We met 12 students who had studied PJHR. All the students came from different majors, some being language studies, computer science and economics. We talked about why they chose PJHR, they mentioned that they thought it would be useful and relevant in their lives. What they have learnt from the course is how to see a situation from different viewpoints, hoping that seeing a situation from someone else’s view point will help them come to a common understanding and resolve the problem. The students told us this summer most of them were either going to study abroad, partake in an internship or start their own company.

Some interesting points the students brought up or were exploring were the ethics in technology, media and AI. These are hot topics today, especially this year with Cambridge analytics and Facebook tracking user’s online movements without their knowledge. Since mankind is going into a new era, there are many more ethical problems, we have seen a self-driving car kill someone earlier this year and before that the software that enabled VW to cheating its emission test.

We went to meet Professor Shannon Mudd for dinner. Shannon Mudd is the Director of Microfinance, Impact Investing and Social Entrepreneurial Programs and Visiting Assistant Professor of Economics. Every year Shannon’s students give a presentation on different potential impact investments around December time. Three different groups present three different social companies in front of a board from Haverford, Daniel Pleatman and I were also present. After the presentations were completed the students concluded that they did not think these companies were worth investing in, so this year the students have not yet engaged in an impact investment. Shannon is also trying to link previous impact investments into his current student’s curriculum so they can study them and see how they have done and why that is. Since ORFL supports Mercy Corps and has been involved with their Social Venture fund, we have shared this information with Shannon. The information gave Shannon more ideas on how to evaluate social businesses, such as looking for Breadth, Depth and Reach. Breath meaning serving significant numbers, Depth in a meaningful way and Reach, reaching underserved people.

The problem with the firms the students present is that these firms are not all the firms put forward to IC Philadelphia but only the firms during the semester Haverford students are taking the impact investing class, this decreases the choice and range of companies the students can pick. Shannon participates in IC Philadelphia meetings all year around, off semester he found out about Needslist, a social company who is working with Mercy Corps Micro-mentor Program, however he could not tell his students about this impact investment since it is outside of the school semester.

Finally, Shannon is trying to find a way to increase the number of social company’s students have to consider making an impact investment in. He is also trying to find a way to get them to study previous impact investments and the success’s or failures they have had and why.

ORFL has been supporting CPCG for a few years. So on the 8th of May 2018 we went to see CPCG and Eric, the director told us about how he organised the first Seeking Global Citizenship Symposium at Haverford College. Individuals and groups Haverford are partnered with both domestically and from around the world came to CPGC to participate in discussions surrounding ethical and effective ways to build peace and community. The key questions were “How do we recognize the dignity of all persons and communities, celebrate differences, and act in ways that demonstrate shared concern and respect around the world?” and “How do we better recognize and act upon the insight that we all share one world?”. These questions were discussed over four days through 14 different talks and activities. The panel that facilitated discussions was made up of fifteen guests from fourteen organisations from nine countries. CPGC also invited the general public to participate in the discussions. Included in the discussions were 60 interns, they discussed what questions they wanted to bring to their internships. They discussed ethical representation and power while documenting internship experiences.

We had a meeting and then dinner with Kim Benston President of Haverford where we discussed the Initiative for Ethical Engagement and Leadership (IEEL) and how it has been implemented through-out the student’s curriculum. Haverford hopes its efforts to teach ethical engagement and leadership spread to its greater community (network).

On the 10th of May 2018 to explore companies that are making a positive social impact I went to visit Voxapod. They provide an environmentally friendly solution to period care. They are a B Corp and give grants to charities with their profits. They tackle different areas such as environment, female hygiene, gender parity and female education in developing countries.

In the USA 12 billion pads and 7 billion tampons are being thrown away each year, however Voxapod can reduce this waste problem since it is a re-usable product that lasts several years, vastly reducing period disposable products.

Voxapod improves female hygiene since it is made of FDA approved silicone unlike current feminine period products which are not even required to list their ingredients, many have been found to contain harmful chemicals such as bleach, pesticides, dioxins and formaldehyde.

They aim to promote gender parity by trying to stop governments around the world from taxing period products since half the population are female and the majority of them menstruate. Taxes on period products make it less affordable to women in developing countries or poorer women, by lifting this tax, it will lift financial pressure from these women.

They have partnered with Femme international to promote their mission that all women have access to safer period care and keepings girls in school. Many girls drop out of school when they start their period since they do not have the means to control it. Femme international provide re-useable period care products to stop it being an issue.

Finally, Voxapod is a young company and while I support their cause I still need to find out more about them before deciding if they are the right organisation to support.

On the 11th of May Daniel Pleatman and I went to visit Mercy Corps to hear about the different work ORFL has been supporting. They gave us an update about the Social Venture Fund (SVF). Last year we decided to support the SVF since it finds companies in developing countries that it thinks it can bring to scale and positively impact the biggest number of people. The SVF also does this while making sure the company sticks to its values and continues to help people. This year Mercy Corps made two new investments, Pula and Vega Coffee. Pula is a company that offers smallholder farmers insurance who otherwise would have not able to get insurance due to not having a bank account or other reasons. Pula has re-thought agricultural insurance by using different metrics and technology to allow previously unbanked smallholder to obtain insurance. There website is

Vega Coffee focuses on increasing the income of small-scale farmers, the majority of which are women. Vega Coffee provides small-scale farmers with the training and equipment to roast and package their coffee beans. This cuts out the middle man and allows the farms to earn up to four times more per pound of coffee beans sold. This model is direct selling from farmers to customer. The extra income the farmer earns goes back into their communities, their children’s education and access to healthcare.

Last year we also supported Gaza Sky geeks the first high tech coworking space and accelerator in Gaza. Since 2007 there has been a blockade on Gaza, creating extremely high levels of unemployment. Gaza Sky Geeks provides training to unemployed people who want to learn code and training to entrepreneurs to help them get their business going and work around the blockade. In Gaza basic amenities are not even available or consistent to the population such as electricity, at Gaza Sky geeks centre they have a generator so when there are power shortages, this high tech coworking and educational training space can still be active. This year they pulled back on the number of people they were training in their coding academy to ensure that their graduating students had a consistent high level of training. They were expanding too quickly.

My concluding thoughts on the whole trip are that collaboration, idea and information sharing with the help of technology is key to the way forward. They are all trying to share their knowledge and create positive change.

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