Social change work is hard and frustrating and wonderful and terrible; it is also, at times, funny, quirky and just plain fascinating. With this blog we hope to capture all that goes into what we do at Capital Good Fund, and we invite you to join the conversation!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Our Strategy For Growth: 4 Competitive Advantages

We find it unfortunate that non-profits tend not to think about competitive advantage as it relates to social impact and growth: far too many social change organizations view competition as something reserved for the unseemly, for-profit world.  Yet it doesn't take long to see that this way of thinking doesn't make sense.  Non-profits like us compete for clients, who have the option of getting their financial needs met by credit card companies, payday lenders, rent-to-own stores, etc.  We also compete for funding and, lastly, for ideas.  Yes, ideas!  After all, lots of people have thoughts on how to tackle poverty (and even more people don't think about it at all), and so we are in a kind of market place where the good we are selling is opportunity and an approach to fostering a more equitable American society and economy, and our customers are policy makers, business leaders and the general public.

So once we start thinking in terms of competitive advantage, the next step is to identify what, exactly, ours is!  I believe that we have four (4) qualities as an organization that will set us apart and propel us to becoming a national organization that makes a significant dent in American poverty.  These traits are: 1) Products and services; 2) Beautiful design; 3) Culture; 4) Data mining.  What follows is a description of what each of these mean, how we will carry them out and why they are so crucial.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Large-Scale Renewable Energy - A Conundrum?

Photo Credits: Jamey Stillings

This photo is of a solar thermal power plant that, once fully operational in 2013, will be able to power 140,000 homes.  Solar thermal plants generate energy from the sun by using thousands of heliostats (basically, curved mirrors) to concentrate sunlight onto a central tower (seen in the center of the circle on the photo) so as to generate steam.  The steam is used to spin a turbine, which generates electricity--all without the use of fossil fuels.  What's more, through the use of molten salt, the heat can be stored and released at night, generating power 24/7.

The problem is that this project, and most large-scale renewable power plants, use a lot of that is often untouched and home to endangered flora and fauna.  Below is a photo of the land on which this power plant was built before work began:

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Malala: A Poem

About a month ago three Taliban hit men shot 15-year-old Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai in the head on her way to school.  Not only did she survive, but she is expected to fully recover and has already asked for her schoolbooks so that she can continue her studies.  The Taliban, who tried to kill her because of her outspoken support for the education of girls, have vowed to finish the job; undeterred, she has vowed to return to school.  Malala has become an inspiration for millions around the world, and today the United Nations delcared a "global day of action" for her.  We penned the following verses to voice our support for her and for every girl around the world that struggles to receive an education so that she can better her life and make the world more beautiful, just and wonderful.


They board the bus, sound the alarm:
Their terror is but fear
Of a little girl they cannot harm,
Whose valor the world reveres.

The leaf falls, the bullet pierces:
A patch of earth, a patch of sky
Bear witness to her fierce
Refusal to comply.

History has a right side and a wrong:
Righteousness does not reside
In the machinations of the throng...
She is the hero's bride!

O, for all this time we've been led
To believe that good can come from dice,
Even as from her convalescing bed
She quietly reveals our cowardice. 

Now we have no choice
But to give freedom her voice,
For once we take a moral stance
We no longer leave justice to chance.

A Beautiful Thermostat: How Beauty Can Better the World

Source: Cooper Hewitt

Last week, we looked at the link between Joy and Justice, and this week we consider beauty, beautiful design and their connection to a beautiful world.

Here's a simple fact that may be surprising to many: beautiful design is essential to a beautiful world.  Smartphones, tablets, the Internet...all are useful for gaming, keeping us in touch with others, and so on, but they can also be essential tools for bettering the world.  One of the points I most often make is that when Exxon Mobile explores for oil, they use the most advanced imaging technologies operated by the most brilliant geologist in the world, yet when a social entrepreneur seeks to solve a social or environmental problem, she is forced to make due with underpaid and overworked employees and subpar technology.

How, when those of us fighting for social justice are already facing an uphill battle, are we to achieve or goals when we are further handicapped by technological and personnel limitations? Fortunately, good design and the continued advancement of technology can make it easier for us to overcome these challenges. For instance, a recent exhibit, called Design for the Other 90%,  focused on how good design can transform the world for the better--projects included low-cost irrigation pumps, easy-to-use water filtration systems and solar powered street lamps for rural areas.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Joy and Justice - The Sublime Link

If you spend enough time around people that are even remotely interested in social or environmental issues, you are almost certain to sense in them a kind of melancholy tinged with cynicism and frustration.  Of course, this is not surprising, for the vast majority of people have enough difficulty thinking about their own lives--schooling, money, love, friendships, family--let alone tackling larger issues.  And so those that have chosen to take a different path are almost inevitably left fighting an uphill battle.

I want to write this short blog post for the changemakers in this world to say to them that there is a sublime link between joy and justice.  You must love the world to make it better; love humanity to serve it; love nature to protect; love justice to fight for it.  If you bring joy to your work, your employees will feel more motivated, less likely to burn out, and more able to think creatively.  Your joy will squash cynicism and awaken even the most jaded soul.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The DoubleGreen Loan and Superstorm Sandy

I decided to start Capital Good Fund (CGF) in response to the 2008 financial collapse because I feel that, in the face of calamity, it is far better to take action than to lament.  From day one--indeed, from the time I moved to Providence, RI for a masters program in environmental studies at Brown--my interest has been the intersection of poverty and the environment (my masters thesis deals with this very topic--you can check it out here).  Why?  Because it turns out that the poor bear the brunt of environmental destruction.  Consider this: low-income Americans spend 17% of their income on energy, compared to 4% for the rest of the population.  This makes them far more vulnerable to energy price volatility.  At the same time, low-income families are more likely to live in neighborhoods with poor indoor and outdoor air quality.  What's more, by virtue of more often living in low-lying areas, they are more vulnerable to the effects of climate change (something Hurricane Katrina clearly demonstrated) and less able to evacuate from and rebuild after a storm.

Unfortunately, for the first couple of years as Executive Director of CGF, I've had to focus my efforts on the more immediate challenges of fundraising, building infrastructure, developing policies and procedures, and so on.  In addition, I've had to accept that just tackling poverty is hard enough without incorporating an environmental justice component.  That said, I never gave up on the idea of using equitable financing in order to tackle poverty and redress environmental degradation.