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How integrated solutions and collective action can catalyse real change



Doug Balfour, CEO of philanthropic consulting firm Geneva Global, writes about the power of collective action in tackling key international development challenges.

You can’t travel around the developing world and still feel satisfied with the job that we international aid professionals are doing, despite our good intentions and undoubted local successes. My first job at 21 was in Namibia (then part of South Africa) and my heart has ached for the continent ever since.

In the last 10 years or so I have been exploring better ways of getting more quality, long-lasting social transformation for the money. It started with the realisation that we needed both scale and sustainability to really move the needle on any particular social challenge. Often it felt like we had to choose one or the other.

Big international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) or governments provide scale, but when a programme is finished, the staff move to the next employment opportunity or other circumstances intervene. Therefore we focus on community leadership that will not migrate, but their capacity is limited and often cannot sustain the intensity and breadth of effort to really dent deep-seated social problems. We needed integrated solutions that encompass both scale and sustainability.

There is a growing conversation within the philanthropic and international development community on the topic of creating integrated solutions designed to achieve both scale and sustainability. I was interested to read the recent articles in the Stanford Social Innovation Review that featured projects in the United States that implemented a “collective impact” approach.

Those featured efforts—you can find the article here—closely correlate to the successes, lessons, and key requirements that we at Geneva Global have seen overseas in demanding both scale and sustainability from integrated programming over the last six years.

We’ve been thinking about and helping create integrated international development programmes since 2006 through a model we refer to as Strategic Initiatives. Strategic Initiatives typically seek to address a particular community development issue in a specified geographic area:  for example, getting out-of-school children back into public schools in Mali, or significantly reducing the incidence of preventable blindness in a targeted province in Zambia.

In 2006, Geneva Global started 22 integrated clusters of local, community-led projects aimed at achieving both scale and sustainability for our client, the Legatum Foundation. Of the nearly two dozen programmes, all but one provided remarkable results.

These integrated programmes clustered several (sometimes more than a dozen) independent, in-country organisations all working within an integrated strategy. Facilitated by a Geneva Global programme manager in the field, the organisations met regularly as a community of practice to collaboratively make strides against the given issue.

One cluster of projects, for example, focused on reducing trafficking of women and children across the India-Nepal border, while another Strategic Initiative in Burundi combined the efforts of 12 health-focused local organisations to reduce the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in Rutana Province.

The success of these programmes has proved the theory behind the model – that by granting to multiple organisations working together to address a common issue, the sum is greater than the individual parts.

For a community health program in Bihar, for example, we saw infant and maternal mortality rates reduced by as much as 60%. Equally significant, local community members were equipped with the skills, knowledge and resources to ensure that infant and maternal mortality rates stayed low and continued to decline.

Collaborative effort by local NGOs and community members resulted in increased access to lifesaving vaccines and reestablishment of previously defunct local health centres.  Resource and information sharing reduced costs and duplication of efforts.

But we have also realised that getting successful collective action on the part of local actors was only part of the solution. So much of the delivery on the ground is piecemeal and thus less effective than it could be because donors do not collaborate. So in 2010, Legatum Foundation and Geneva Global created an integrated donor fund called the END Fund for strategic funding aimed at ridding the continent of Africa of the scourge of neglected tropical diseases.

Perhaps with the advent of intentionally collaborative, strategic intervention on behalf of private donors, local NGOs, government and the private sector, we’ll start to see the kind of transformational change that is long overdue in so many parts of the world.  I look forward to the day that we can all celebrate that kind of success; it’s been too many decades in the making.

Doug Balfour is owner and CEO of Geneva Global. He provides expert guidance to foundations, organisations, corporations and individuals throughout the world who seek to apply a business mindset and results-oriented approach to their social impact efforts.

Further reading:

Government lauds UK impact investment as part of solution to African hunger

The six industries that are crucial to sustainable economic development

‘We need to tackle the root causes of inequality and poverty’

UN creates sustainable development group to ‘define the world we want’


How Going Green Can Save A Company Money



going green can save company money
Shutterstock Licensed Photot - By GOLFX

What is going green?

Going green means to live life in a way that is environmentally friendly for an entire population. It is the conservation of energy, water, and air. Going green means using products and resources that will not contaminate or pollute the air. It means being educated and well informed about the surroundings, and how to best protect them. It means recycling products that may not be biodegradable. Companies, as well as people, that adhere to going green can help to ensure a safer life for humanity.

The first step in going green

There are actually no step by step instructions for going green. The only requirement needed is making the decision to become environmentally conscious. It takes a caring attitude, and a willingness to make the change. It has been found that companies have improved their profit margins by going green. They have saved money on many of the frivolous things they they thought were a necessity. Besides saving money, companies are operating more efficiently than before going green. Companies have become aware of their ecological responsibility by pursuing the knowledge needed to make decisions that would change lifestyles and help sustain the earth’s natural resources for present and future generations.

Making needed changes within the company

After making the decision to go green, there are several things that can be changed in the workplace. A good place to start would be conserving energy used by electrical appliances. First, turning off the computer will save over the long run. Just letting it sleep still uses energy overnight. Turn off all other appliances like coffee maker, or anything that plugs in. Pull the socket from the outlet to stop unnecessary energy loss. Appliances continue to use electricity although they are switched off, and not unplugged. Get in the habit of turning off the lights whenever you leave a room. Change to fluorescent light bulbs, and lighting throughout the building. Have any leaks sealed on the premises to avoid the escape of heat or air.

Reducing the common paper waste

paper waste

Shutterstock Licensed Photo – By Yury Zap

Modern technologies and state of the art equipment, and tools have almost eliminated the use of paper in the office. Instead of sending out newsletters, brochures, written memos and reminders, you can now do all of these and more by technology while saving on the use of paper. Send out digital documents and emails to communicate with staff and other employees. By using this virtual bookkeeping technique, you will save a bundle on paper. When it is necessary to use paper for printing purposes or other services, choose the already recycled paper. It is smartly labeled and easy to find in any office supply store. It is called the Post Consumer Waste paper, or PCW paper. This will show that your company is dedicated to the preservation of natural resources. By using PCW paper, everyone helps to save the trees which provides and emits many important nutrients into the atmosphere.

Make money by spreading the word

Companies realize that consumers like to buy, or invest in whatever the latest trend may be. They also cater to companies that are doing great things for the quality of life of all people. People want to know that the companies that they cater to are doing their part for the environment and ecology. By going green, you can tell consumers of your experiences with helping them and communities be eco-friendly. This is a sound public relations technique to bring revenue to your brand. Boost the impact that your company makes on the environment. Go green, save and make money while essentially preserving what is normally taken for granted. The benefits of having a green company are enormous for consumers as well as the companies that engage in the process.

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5 Easy Things You Can Do to Make Your Home More Sustainable




sustainable homes
Shutterstock Licensed Photot - By Diyana Dimitrova

Increasing your home’s energy efficiency is one of the smartest moves you can make as a homeowner. It will lower your bills, increase the resale value of your property, and help minimize our planet’s fast-approaching climate crisis. While major home retrofits can seem daunting, there are plenty of quick and cost-effective ways to start reducing your carbon footprint today. Here are five easy projects to make your home more sustainable.

1. Weather stripping

If you’re looking to make your home more energy efficient, an energy audit is a highly recommended first step. This will reveal where your home is lacking in regards to sustainability suggests the best plan of attack.

Some form of weather stripping is nearly always advised because it is so easy and inexpensive yet can yield such transformative results. The audit will provide information about air leaks which you can couple with your own knowledge of your home’s ventilation needs to develop a strategic plan.

Make sure you choose the appropriate type of weather stripping for each location in your home. Areas that receive a lot of wear and tear, like popular doorways, are best served by slightly more expensive vinyl or metal options. Immobile cracks or infrequently opened windows can be treated with inexpensive foams or caulking. Depending on the age and quality of your home, the resulting energy savings can be as much as 20 percent.

2. Programmable thermostats

Programmable thermostats

Shutterstock Licensed Photo – By Olivier Le Moal

Programmable thermostats have tremendous potential to save money and minimize unnecessary energy usage. About 45 percent of a home’s energy is earmarked for heating and cooling needs with a large fraction of that wasted on unoccupied spaces. Programmable thermostats can automatically lower the heat overnight or shut off the air conditioning when you go to work.

Every degree Fahrenheit you lower the thermostat equates to 1 percent less energy use, which amounts to considerable savings over the course of a year. When used correctly, programmable thermostats reduce heating and cooling bills by 10 to 30 percent. Of course, the same result can be achieved by manually adjusting your thermostats to coincide with your activities, just make sure you remember to do it!

3. Low-flow water hardware

With the current focus on carbon emissions and climate change, we typically equate environmental stability to lower energy use, but fresh water shortage is an equal threat. Installing low-flow hardware for toilets and showers, particularly in drought prone areas, is an inexpensive and easy way to cut water consumption by 50 percent and save as much as $145 per year.

Older toilets use up to 6 gallons of water per flush, the equivalent of an astounding 20.1 gallons per person each day. This makes them the biggest consumer of indoor water. New low-flow toilets are standardized at 1.6 gallons per flush and can save more than 20,000 gallons a year in a 4-member household.

Similarly, low-flow shower heads can decrease water consumption by 40 percent or more while also lowering water heating bills and reducing CO2 emissions. Unlike early versions, new low-flow models are equipped with excellent pressure technology so your shower will be no less satisfying.

4. Energy efficient light bulbs

An average household dedicates about 5 percent of its energy use to lighting, but this value is dropping thanks to new lighting technology. Incandescent bulbs are quickly becoming a thing of the past. These inefficient light sources give off 90 percent of their energy as heat which is not only impractical from a lighting standpoint, but also raises energy bills even further during hot weather.

New LED and compact fluorescent options are far more efficient and longer lasting. Though the upfront costs are higher, the long term environmental and financial benefits are well worth it. Energy efficient light bulbs use as much as 80 percent less energy than traditional incandescent and last 3 to 25 times longer producing savings of about $6 per year per bulb.

5. Installing solar panels

Adding solar panels may not be the easiest, or least expensive, sustainability upgrade for your home, but it will certainly have the greatest impact on both your energy bills and your environmental footprint. Installing solar panels can run about $15,000 – $20,000 upfront, though a number of government incentives are bringing these numbers down. Alternatively, panels can also be leased for a much lower initial investment.

Once operational, a solar system saves about $600 per year over the course of its 25 to 30-year lifespan, and this figure will grow as energy prices rise. Solar installations require little to no maintenance and increase the value of your home.

From an environmental standpoint, the average five-kilowatt residential system can reduce household CO2 emissions by 15,000 pounds every year. Using your solar system to power an electric vehicle is the ultimate sustainable solution serving to reduce total CO2 emissions by as much as 70%!

These days, being environmentally responsible is the hallmark of a good global citizen and it need not require major sacrifices in regards to your lifestyle or your wallet. In fact, increasing your home’s sustainability is apt to make your residence more livable and save you money in the long run. The five projects listed here are just a few of the easy ways to reduce both your environmental footprint and your energy bills. So, give one or more of them a try; with a small budget and a little know-how, there is no reason you can’t start today.

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