Light Up Malawi Getting “Acquired” by buildOn

More and more non-profits are merging, and getting acquired and this is a practice I hope to see more of as common sense dictates – the best way of delivering change is not always to have a thousand voices yelling, but one very strong voice leading the pack. I was definitely excited when an opportunity came to practice this common sense came to the NGO I founded a few years ago.

As many of you know, my passion project Light Up Malawi has been run by Ryan Renner for the past several months as I took a job at the State Department and then at the Broadcasting Board of Governors to be their new co-director of Innovation. As a federal contractor, I could not hold any executive function with any non-profit organization, so I stepped down to an advisory role. While LUM was in good hands with Ryan – we also realized that the political environment in Malawi was not ideal. For a young organization like ours could thrive, or even survive, we needed entirely different circumstances, or years of experience. Both of which we did not have.

After a remarkably simple conversation with our first pilot partners, buildOn we were able to transfer the funds raised so far on Global Giving (the most amazing website for non-profit fundraising ever!) and put them into a community education program around clean energy. We think its a win-win situation. Thanks to everyone who supported us in the early days and fans through out. Thank you for believing that a few people can make a difference in the world, because we did! More details on the change here:

Free Energy for Everyone! Light Up Malawi’s First Pilot:

Thanks to an amazing partnership with BuildON and Energy For Opportunity we had a very successful first pilot on our renewable education tract.
Over a three day workshop we taught 17 teachers from 4 different communities in the Kasungu District how to do basic electrical, and basic solar maintenance, and a solar installation. Simon Willans of EFO led the instruction. The learnings were amazing: Malawians are hungry for knowledge – we had full attendance, attention and more people interested every day. Watching the teachers create a basic circuit for the first time was fantastic. Their understanding spread from the classroom to the installation. We left tools for each student and a professional solar instruction manual for each community and also placed this manual in the library of the Wimbe School. Every one of the teachers is committed to taking this knowledge to all of their communities, and spreading the instruction into all of BuildOn’s Community Education Programs.

The panel we installed will power the lighting for two classrooms and even a laptop. Stand by as we hear feedback from the community on how one panel is changing their lives and helping them in small and large ways.

We also placed some solar mobile charging stations and dynamo lanterns for clinics in the Chiradzulu District, and Thyolo District and gave a donation to Goods for Good CBO in Luzi and met with several ministers to begin talks about Malawi’s energy policy and tariff reduction on renewable energy products. While in Kenya we attended the Lighting Africa conference where we met with key stakeholders working in renewable energy in Africa.
All in all, a very productive time in Malawi.

Please support this project !

One5Possibly my favorite project while at Wieden + Kennedy was the re-branding and restyling of the website for ONE.ORG. The ONE Campaign seeks to raise public awareness about the issues of global poverty, hunger, disease and efforts to fight such problems in developing countries. This website was strategically redesigned to make it easy for Americans to learn how ONE works. The main focus of the campaign was to collect names, and the main focus of our jobs was to explain a complex procedure as simply as possible. Team Credits: Concepted and designed with Lu Chekowsky, Alan Buchanan, and Andy Lindblade. Role: Interactive Creative Director, Interaction Designer, Digital Strategy. View Demo

Saturday Service- Sponsoring Responsibly

charity navigator screen shot

Every Saturday I do something for someone or some living thing. I find that on Saturday mornings, its a great reason to get out of bed and take a walk looking for my ‘mark’. Its not always an intense thing – like, 3 saturdays ago, I fed some birds. The Saturday after that I dropped off a bunch of bread and jam at the Bowery Mission (who doesn’t like toast and jam?). And a few Saturdays before that I started a year long commitment and have sponsored a child through This sponsoring business however, needs to be completely re-examined in the digital age, and I plan on looking at all the major children’s charities over the next few months and see which one actually brought the most direct benefit to the children.

Websites like Charity Navigator can give you some idea, but I don’t think anything but your own experience and research can really give you the satisfaction of knowing you are not being fleeced and you are indeed HELPING someone.

So far I’ve received a letter from my (adorable) sponsor child in Ecuador (Guillermo) handwritten in spanish telling me he likes to play soccer and he likes to read. But I wonder if getting him a mobile phone might be a better use of money…and why couldn’t I just do that without the charity?

I love the emerging set of ‘do good’ sites that allow you to see the direct impact of your donation such as Jolkona. Websites like these actually serve to create a lasting connection versus a paper trail. I’ll get back to you with a more blown out point of view as I track this subject over the year.

The Little We Can Do

Last week I attended a panel at Columbia University with Jeffrey Sachs, George Soros, and Nouriel Roubini entitled “Can We Save the World Economy?”. While that question wasn’t directly answered, Sachs did give us his usual brilliant and inspiring, Occam’s razor view of how we could save the world. I’ve heard it before, but never from him directly, that our generation can be the generation that ends poverty – permanently. This set fire to a question I’ve had lately in how, in my daily work, can I work in the dual purpose of finishing the task at hand, while looking at the bigger picture of how we can add a positive aspect to every commercial project. As a start, I joined the Designer’s Accord movement, and their social network in order to find other collaborators. I highly encourage you to join, even if you’re not a designer, because manifesto’s like this need at the very least a good base of awareness before massive change takes place. Below are some links for more info on the panel, Designer’s Accord, and another manifesto that is my favorite: Bruce Mau’s Incomplete Manifesto.

Panel information and video download
An Interview with Sachs
An Interview with Designer’s Accord founder Valerie Casey
Join the Accord
Bruce Mau’s Incomplete Manifesto.