These Orphans Are Growing up to Be Community Leaders

When Mun Maya Rawal, 24, travels to rural Nepal to check in on children orphaned by the 2015 earthquakes, it’s personal.
“I was an orphan just like you,” she says, sharing with them where she came from and what her life is like now: an independent young woman working towards a master’s degree in psychology.
Rawal is one of the first graduates of a program for Nepal’s poorest children established by two Americans, Bruce and Susan Keenan. Since 2000, the Keenans’ nonprofit, Himalayan Children’s Charities (HCC), has provided more than 200 children with care, education and mentorship. In March 2016, its first group of university students graduated, four of whom are currently enrolled in master’s degree programs.
“[It’s] really inspiring for these orphaned kids to see someone, from the same background, standing in front of them showing what the possibilities could be for them,” says Bruce.
Bruce and his wife, Susan, first met Rawal in 2003. She is a close friend of Nari and Chet, orphaned sisters whose schooling the Keenans started sponsoring in 1999. The Nepalese siblings asked the Keenans to help Rawal, too.

In Nepal, poverty is a crushing cycle. Poor children lack access to clean drinking water and food. They cannot attend school or see a doctor if they need to, and many are swept into child trafficking rings or forced into early marriages.
Almost half of Nepali women under the age of 49 are married before their 18th birthday. If a woman is widowed, she is often forced to get remarried out of financial necessity and give up any children from her first marriage. These kids end up living in overcrowded, underfunded and under-regulated orphanages where abuse often occurs. Worse yet, some grow up on the streets.
Determined to change the trajectory of Nari, Chet and Rawal’s futures, the Keenans started HCC, which runs several programs offering orphaned and abandoned children a loving home environment, quality English-language education (through university), and innovative mentorship and leadership training. The organization continues to mentor its students even after graduation.
“Most Nepali institutions and charities stop support when the kids turn 16 years old and finish 10th grade,” Bruce explains. “To think that these kids can then get a good job or contribute back to society, just doesn’t really work.”
After completing 10th grade, Rawal lived in HCC’s youth home in Kathmandu, known as Khushi Ghar, or “Happy Home.” Today, she works as a Program Coordinator at HCC Nepal. She has reconnected with her mother and hopes to help take care of her in the future.
“Without HCC, my life would have been hell,” Rawal says. “HCC has provided me with each and every facility that I needed.”
Another such graduate is Khil Bahadur Thapa, who came to HCC as a precocious fifth grader. At the time, he was living in a rural orphanage whose staff recognized that he was already smarter than the village teachers. Knowing that he’d greatly benefit from a more rigorous education, they contacted HCC.
“We look for children that are motivated to learn,” says Bruce.
Thapa, who has a degree in public health from one of Nepal’s leading universities, now runs HCC programs for orphaned children living with relatives in rural communities devastated by the 2015 earthquakes, and often runs health workshops and screenings in these communities.
“Though I’ve already graduated from the program, it’s not the end,” Thapa says. “It’s now the beginning of the new life – the life of giving back.”

The staff at HCC gives students individual attention, teaching each one how to budget, cook, clean, communicate, build strong relationships with their peers and help them focus on education and career planning. It’s a stable, loving environment where children thrive. There’s another key expectation from the HCC staff: community service. Children volunteer at orphanages, in rural communities and at local schools.
“My hope for these kids is that they’re happy, well-adjusted, living fulfilled lives and that they’re able to contribute back,” Bruce says. “We really encourage them to stay in Nepal and give back to their local community.”
By emphasizing service, Bruce and Susan hope to magnify the impact of their organization and disrupt Nepal’s cycle of poverty.
To accomplish this, the HCC family is actively growing a worldwide community of support that’s dedicated to making a difference in the lives of children in Nepal. Youth ambassadors like Rehna Sheth, a senior in high school from Alpharetta, Ga., whose family supports two girls at HCC, are helping to fundraise and spread the word about HCC’s work.

“When someone supports HCC, they are changing the life of a child, and this child grows into an adult dedicated to helping others and giving back to the community,” Susan says. “These kids are redefining what it means to be an orphan in this culture; they are a force and leaders helping to change the paradigm of inequality in Nepal.”

Himalayan Children’s Charities is transforming the lives of orphaned and abandoned children in Nepal by breaking the cycle of poverty and creating a generation of leaders giving back to their communities. Its mission is to provide care, education and mentorship to an additional 5,000 at-risk children in Nepal by 2020. 

The Rx for Better Birth Control

Back in 2015, word was going around on social media claiming that Colorado — a state that battled high unwanted pregnancy rates for years — had reduced those numbers drastically by changing the way women accessed birth control.
The rumor was right.
Unwanted pregnancies among Colorado women ages 15 to 19 years old have dropped by 54 percent over the past seven years, thanks in large part to the state providing access to intrauterine devices, or IUDs, and long-lasting birth control. The move enabled another progressive bill aimed at reducing unwanted pregnancies to win universal support between Republicans and Democrats.
“I think that if I’m being really honest, we were pretty surprised at the robust bipartisan support we got on this,” says Sarah Taylor-Nanista, vice president of public affairs at Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, which oversees clinics in Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming. “We anticipated it to be a lot more controversial than it was, and it was really heartening to see it go through the way that it did.”
The bill, which was signed into law in June 2017 by Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, allows women to receive a 12-month prescription of birth control pills or patch at no-cost after an initial, one-time, three-month prescription. The bill also required the state to cover three-month vaginal rings, which also prevent pregnancy.
note from the state’s independent governing research body, the Colorado Legislative Council Staff, found that the change in the law would result in “minimal” impacts to the fiscal budget, although it could affect insurance premiums paid by the state, assuaging conservative fears that an exorbitant amount of state funding being funneled towards contraception.
“Sometimes it’s a long ways to the pharmacy,” says Sen. Don Coram, who sponsored the Senate bill and lobbied other Republican senators to view the bill through an economic lens. “The fact is that if you want to end a cycle of poverty, you prevent unplanned pregnancy.”
The bill passed the state Senate with bipartisan support, 22-11.
Coram, a self-proclaimed “redneck Republican,” extolled the social benefits of contraceptive accessibility, something usually heard from more progressive leaders.
“It’s just a common sense thing. I’m from rural Colorado where 70 percent of my district is federally owned land. I don’t have a Walgreens around the block,” he tells NationSwell. “And the fact is, birth control only works when you take it.”

Purple support

Polls conducted in 2014 by Planned Parenthood showed contraception is a nonpartisan issue nationwide — something Colorado legislators were able to use in their advantage. According to Colorado state Rep. Lois Landgraf, a Republican who co-sponsored the bill in the House, a bit of manipulative planning was required to get bilateral support.
“I’ll tell you one thing I did when [testimonies] were heard in the Senate: I asked Planned Parenthood to stay home,” Landgraf tells NationSwell. “As soon as they come to the House, people start thinking about Planned Parenthood and all the negative connotations that it has for some Republicans. Not as if their testimony wasn’t helpful, but if it leads one mind’s astray from the actual problem, there’s no value in it.”
Landgraf says that the bill was a “good bill for women and for men,” but preconceived notions about the organization needed to be erased. In their efforts to replace the ACA, Republicans on the national stage have argued for the defunding of Planned Parenthood, but swing states and districts overwhelmingly support Planned Parenthood’s mission of providing access to contraceptives.
That’s because increased accessibility is especially good for women in rural areas, says Erika Hanson, a legal fellow at the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC).
“These types of laws disproportionately affects women in rural areas, because as with many for services in rural areas, it is very difficult for women to access healthcare,” Hanson tells NationSwell, adding that the NWLC offers a hotline specifically to provide assistance to women who have a hard time accessing contraception. “We hear from thousands of women who are having troubles getting coverage or getting access to birth control and often it is as simple as they can’t find an in-network provider that’s close enough to them. Or they’re getting the runaround from their insurance company about what pharmacy to go to, which may not be close.”
After some initial pushback from Republicans in 2015, the success of Colorado’s IUD program — including a savings of $111 million in birth-related Medicaid costs by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment — was enough to convince members of both parties in the state legislature that it deserved to be expanded.

Time bound coverage?

Washington’s tug-of-war over the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has caused states to be wary of future legislation changing the existing contraception mandate, which requires insurers to cover all forms of contraception (though only from one manufacturer). That aspect of the bill has been widely praised among women for eliminating costs associated with getting birth control.
In 2015, during a heated partisan debate on whether privately-held companies should be forced to offer birth control coverage, 49 congress members signed a letter urging the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Sylvia Burwell, to provide a roadmap to insurers for 12-month contraceptive coverage for women across the nation.
No federal guidelines were issued as a result of the letter.
In response, several other states have also expanded coverage beyond federal regulations.
Traditional blue states, such as Oregon and California, have also made oral contraceptives and patches available for year-long prescriptions, a move that reduces unwanted pregnancy by 30 percent. That same study, conducted by the University of California San Francisco’s Bixby Center, reports that extended contraception coverage also lowers the number of abortions by 40 percent.
California also made it a requirement that insurance plans pay for all forms and all brands of birth control. Research shows that lack of brand choice causes two-fifths of women to go without birth control.
But women in states with expanded coverage are at-risk of losing it if their employer disagrees with the use of contraceptives for religious reasons. President Trump is expected to eliminate an Obama-era rule requiring employers to provide birth control through employer-sponsored health insurance plans. The new rule, which mirrors an earlier draft and is expected to be written any day now, would allow employers to omit birth control coverage from health insurance plans completely, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Democrats say 50 million women in the U.S. will be forced to pay for birth control out of pocket.
But the win for contraceptive rights in Colorado is not lost on Planned Parenthood’s Taylor-Nanista, who wants to continue the momentum of bipartisanship within the state and hopefully the rest of the nation, especially in a time where female contraception coverage is at stake.
“Many of our activists and patients are feeling really concerned and hopeless,” she says. “But I think this bill is a great example of what we can do when we think strategically.”

Day Jobs for Panhandlers

Coming up with a unique, innovative way to solve a problem is great, but sometimes borrowing an existing idea is just as good.
The city of Tulsa, Okla., is looking to earmark $25,000 to fund a program that will combat panhandling by offering cleanup jobs and social services to people on the streets. It got the idea from a neighbor to the west: Albuquerque, N.M.
“Certainly, we’re not trying to reinvent the wheel. We are shamelessly stealing the idea,” says Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum, a republican who was elected last December.
Tulsa’s version is a carbon copy of the Albuquerque program — even taking its name, “There’s A Better Way.” That city’s initiative began in 2015 and allocated $50,000 from the annual budget to hire 10 to 12 day laborers twice a week. They were paid nine dollars an hour for their work and given access to social service workers who could help them find more permanent employment.
The program achieved such wide success that its funding has been increased by nearly 500 percent.
With just under 400,000 residents, Tulsa has a significant homeless population. In 2016, between 6,000 and 7,000 residents lived on the streets. That number, while small in comparison to homeless populations in cities such as New York and Los Angeles, is noticeable in medium-sized Tulsa.

Former panhandlers work as day laborers as part of the “There’s A Better Way” program in Albuquerque.

The visibility of panhandlers is worrisome to those in Tulsa’s business districts, says Bynum, and city residents want change. After Bynum’s election, his social media accounts were flooded with a Washington Post article about Albuquerque’s initiative.
Prior to adopting the Better Way program, Tulsa had proposed limiting panhandling by requiring those on the streets to apply for a license. Failure to do so or panhandle in a prohibited area would result in a fine.
But Bynum says that punitive measures wouldn’t address the root of why people panhandle.
Officials in Dallas and Portland, Maine, also have plans to implement There’s A Better Way in their cities.

Fighting Poverty with Data

For nearly 10 years, New York City’s Mayor’s Office for Economic Opportunity has been an incubator of ideas designed to solve the challenges of poverty. Using research, data integration and program evaluation, the office’s staff tests these concepts to see whether they will truly work and scales them when they do.
“Evidence matters because people matter,” says New York City Deputy Mayor Richard Buery. “Most government policies aren’t driven primarily by evidence of impact; they’re driven by everything from what is politically popular to what’s been around the longest.”
Buery continues, “Being able to demonstrate to the world a real commitment to results, a commitment to changing course when a certain course of action isn’t working, becomes critical to gaining the kind of public support and credibility that are important to make sure that people are willing to invest their tax dollars to drive quality government services.”
The office is continually expanding its expertise in research, service design, evaluation and data integration to support key mayoral initiatives including Pre-K for All, IDNYC and Community Schools. It has also launched over 70 of its own programs. One of its first initiatives is also one of its most successful: ASAP, an associate’s degree program offered to students at the City University of New York.  
Watch the video above to learn how ASAP is doubling community college graduation rates.

Perspective on Poverty: A Systematized Approach to Improving Healthcare

“When you work in global health, it never feels like you’re doing enough — it’s never big enough, it’s never fast enough. People are dying for reasons they shouldn’t be for reasons that should’ve disappeared from the world 90 years ago,” says Mark Arnoldy, CEO at Possible.
As healthcare continues to be a hot topic of debate here in the United States, Arnoldy is providing an integrative system that delivers care to the poor across the globe.
Nepal is a rich environment… To try and prove that a healthcare system involving government hospitals, clinics and community health works can be successful. The country has enormous demand: 30 million people, of which 80 percent live in rural areas. After enduring a decade-long civil war [from 1996 to 2006], there’s a fair amount of political will and a lot of interest in building a system of universal health care.
Digital connectivity… Is one of the most exciting, new developments in healthcare. Five years ago, in some of these really rural, isolated areas, you couldn’t use a cell phone. Now, we’re running an integrated, electronic health system between our hospital and community health workers using an Android device.
A major, global challenge that people don’t really hear about … In a place like Nepal, there is no registration system for births or deaths. If you’re trying to understand whether some sort of intervention is effective, you don’t know who is living or who is dying. Complicating matters further is that there’s often no national identification system either.
Previously, for instance, a person would go to India for a serious operation. They would be given pamphlets and an x-ray and be expected to keep them and take them to other medical facilities as needed. When people are responsible for paper records, it’s very hard to provide quality healthcare; you can do harm to patients when you don’t have the proper history. Advancements in biometric devices — essentially machines that turn a fingerprint into a secure, digital code — enable us to rethink how we design a healthcare system. With them, we can track patients longitudinally.
It’s almost cliché at this point… But the book “Mountains Beyond Mountains” by Tracy Kidder had a profound effect on me. It’s about Dr. Paul Farmer, the cofounder of Partners In Health. It presents a very compelling narrative and challenges people around the question, What does it mean to live a moral life in the 21st century?
Reporting by Chris Peak

This Woman’s Novel Approach to Poverty Relief Is a Game-Changer

It was a 344-page book that set Sherry Riva on the path to launching Compass Working Capital, a nonprofit that provides financial services to struggling families, in 2005. “Assets and the Poor,” by Michael Sherraden, argued that poverty is a problem of wealth, not just income, and its message resonated with Riva, who had already logged a decade working with low-income women and their families.
“If you think income is the problem, then your solutions are income-based,” says the Boston-based entrepreneur. But social safety nets like welfare, food stamps and housing subsidies don’t help families build wealth. In fact, many programs geared toward those with low incomes essentially forbid them to have money in the bank, keeping them from saving, Riva says.
This new way of thinking about poverty became the blueprint for Compass Working Capital. The organization’s mission is to help struggling families build the savings and the skills they need to climb out of poverty. Compass’s programs combine financial education and coaching, with incentives for saving. The asset-based approach works: 60 percent of families in the flagship program have increased their incomes by an average of $11,000 a year, and 81 percent have seen their savings rise to an average of $2,500.
In a country where 62 percent of people count less than $1,000 in savings, that’s an impressive achievement.
Riva has been preparing for this work her whole life. Raised as a Catholic, it wasn’t until she got to college that she started to learn about the rich tradition of social justice work among the faithful. As an undergraduate at Princeton University, Riva worked with the philosopher and social critic Cornel West, and read up on the Catholic feminist activist Dorothy Day. Later, she studied American Catholics’ role in welfare reform at Trinity College in Dublin. “My own spiritual journey has been about tapping into the pursuit of social justice as a core part of my faith,” says Riva.
After earning graduate degrees from Trinity and the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, Riva relocated to Seattle, where she worked in direct-service organizations, including as the director of a women’s shelter.
“It was a really entrepreneurial job, because it was so under-resourced,” she says of running the multisite shelter. “That experience positioned me well, but I had no idea what it would be like to start an organization.” That’s not to say Riva has regrets. “I’ve really enjoyed being an entrepreneur. Sometimes it’s exhausting, but fundamentally it is a creative, problem-solving, gritty, passionate, give-it-your-all kind of endeavor.”
Compass began with a group of 10 families at a charter school in Roxbury, Mass. “We saw early on that families were engaged,” Riva says. The initial results showed not only that the program was helping them achieve important financial goals, but that it also was changing their mindsets.
Today, Compass has the distinction of being the first nonprofit to create an asset-building model, for a federal housing initiative known as the Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) program. Public housing mandates that families pay 30 percent of their income toward rent. FSS, meanwhile, allows — and encourages — those in subsidized housing to put any extra money they make into a savings account rather than upping their rent contributions. Compass’s program combines that savings incentive with financial coaching to help families accumulate wealth and assets.
It’s a model that can help families move out of poverty and build savings, which in turn helps them become homeowners and send their kids to college. “The FSS program has provided us with a really big market to do it,” says Riva. Across the U.S., 5 million families live in subsidized housing. Right now, Compass is sharing its model and experience with partners around the country. “Our hope is to help shape policy,” says Riva, who’s currently completing a Social Impact Fellowship with GLG, a membership-based learning platform, to help grow her company’s reach. Through her work with GLG, Riva has focused on plans for national expansion, positioning her organization for growth, and developing data security infrastructure to support key constituencies.

Learn more about the GLG Social Impact Fellowship, including information on applying.

Riva points to one Compass client as a prime example of that vision in action. Vilmarys Cintron was raising her daughters in the very same public housing complex she’d grown up in. But after graduating from the Compass program, she was able to buy her own home and start a daycare business. “The day that Vilmarys moved out of public housing, we received several calls from other people in her development asking, ‘What’s the program that Vilmarys did, and how can I get in?’” Riva says.
If Riva and Compass succeed in spreading their successful model around the country, there will no doubt be millions more stories like Cintron’s.


GLG Social Impact is an initiative of GLG to advance learning and decision-making among distinguished nonprofit and social enterprise leaders. The GLG Social Impact Fellowship provides learning resources to a select group of nonprofits and social enterprises, at no cost.

Artificial Intelligence Protects First Responders, How Birth Control Is Stopping the Spread of Disease and More

This NASA-Developed A.I. Could Help Save Firefighters’ Lives, Smithsonian Magazine
Disorienting scenes where a single move can be deadly is a common experience for both space rovers and firefighters. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which built an artificial intelligence system for navigating unfamiliar landscapes, is sharing its technology with fire departments — warning first responders about hazards they might not notice in the smoke and flames.

Man v. Rat: Could the Long War Soon Be Over? The Guardian
A New York City subway rat carries a host of dangerous contagions, and its reproductive capacity — up to 15,000 offspring in a year — spread disease through city sewers and alleyways. A biotech startup in Flagstaff, Ariz., has developed a humane way to deal with Gotham’s infestation where rat poison has failed: birth control.
Generational Poverty: Trying to Solve Philly’s Most Enduring Problem, Philadelphia Magazine
Can Mattie McQueen, an unemployed 52-year-old raising three grandchildren in a largely unfurnished apartment, escape the destitution that’s dogged her ancestors since the postbellum years? One Philadelphia nonprofit is using what’s being called a “two- generation” model to assuage her financial stresses to make space for the children’s learning.

Can This Data-Driven Organization Help Those Most Desperate Escape Life on the Streets?

Rosanne Haggerty grew up going to church in downtown Hartford, Conn. Her parents, both schoolteachers, never outright explained why they took their kids to church in a poor neighborhood full of single-room occupancy hotels and boarding houses. Haggerty, however, learned the lesson her folks were trying to instill. “My parents were both very devout Catholics in the social justice wing of the church,” Haggerty says, describing how the family visited fellow church members when they were sick and invited them over for holiday meals. Haggerty grew up with a sense that “we all can be doing more to provide that kind of support system for others.”
Today, Haggerty is a social change agent in her community, serving as the president of Community Solutions, a national organization that aims to end homelessness. Taking an entrepreneurial approach to address the problem, Community Solutions uses technology to capture data and tailor interventions to meet the needs of a region in the most effective way possible. At its heart, Community Solutions’s mission is the same as Haggerty’s parents’: helping people, one person at a time.
Community Solutions works in neighborhoods around the country to provide practical, data-driven solutions to the complicated problems involved in homelessness. The organization has already achieved great success: its 100,000 Homes campaign, which ran from 2010 to 2014, helped 186 participating communities house more than 105,000 homeless Americans across the country.” (Chronically homeless individuals make up 15 percent of the total homeless population, yet they utilize the majority of social services devoted towards helping them, including drop-in shelters.) To do this, it challenged the traditional approach of ending homelessness: requiring those living on the streets to demonstrate sobriety, steady income or mental health treatment, for example. Instead, it housed people first, an approach that has demonstrated overwhelming success: research finds that more than 85 percent of chronically homeless people housed through “Housing First” programs are still in homes two years later and unlikely to become homeless again.
“Technology played a critical role in the success of the 100,000 Homes campaign because it enabled multiple agencies to share and use the same data,” says Erin Connor, portfolio manager with the Cisco Foundation, which has supported Community Solutions’ technology-based initiatives. “By rigorously tracking, reporting and making decisions based on shared data, participating communities could track and monitor their progress against targets and contribute to achieving the collective goal.” As a result of this campaign, the estimated taxpayer savings was an astonishing $1.3 billion. Building on this achievement, its current Zero 2016 campaign works in 75 communities to sustainably end chronic and veteran homelessness altogether.
Technology and data gathering is critical for local and nationwide campaigns since homelessness is intimately connected to other social problems, like unemployment and poverty. One example of the local impact Community Solutions has had is in Brownsville (a neighborhood in Brooklyn, N.Y., that’s dominated by multiple public housing projects) via the Brownsville Partnership, which is demonstrating that these problems can be solved — to create “the endgame of homelessness,” as Haggerty puts it.
In Brownsville, the official unemployment rate is 16 percent, “about double that of Brooklyn” as a whole, Haggerty says, noting that the statistic excludes those not currently looking for work. In response, the organization works with existing job training programs, digging into their data and analyzing it to improve effectiveness and achieve success.
“Data is at the heart of everything we do, as far as understanding where to focus our efforts and how to improve our collective performance,” Haggerty explains. Analyzing usage data, Community Solutions works with health care providers, nonprofits, and city and state governments to figure out where the most vulnerable populations live, what systems they interact with and what help they need.
Because of this emphasis on data, Community Solutions increasingly thinks of itself as a tech company, Haggerty says. Since 2010, it’s partnered with Cisco to help bring practical, data-driven solutions to communities around the country, opening doors to innovation and progress. When the collaboration began, Community Solutions was a local New York City-based organization. Today, it works with communities throughout the United States. By looking at the problem more nationally and taking an entrepreneurial approach when it comes to applying technology, Community Solutions is now solving homelessness on a much larger scale and having greater impact — producing real social change.
One person benefitting from this tech-driven approach is Toni Diaz. In and out of homeless shelters since the age of 17, Diaz had three children and a fourth on the way by the time she was 23 years old. Escaping from an abusive partner, Diaz took her kids to a homeless shelter. “I didn’t have anywhere to go,” she says. Right when Diaz realized that she needed to make a change in her life, opportunity arrived in the form of a caseworker from the Brownsville Partnership.
Diaz’s journey out of homelessness took years, but Brownsville Partnership walked with her every step of the way. Today, she’s part of an innovative solution that helps people like her connect to the services and training programs that will help them break that same cycle. Stories like Diaz’s are one of the things Haggerty loves most about her work. “It’s especially satisfying when people we initially encountered in a time of crisis end up in a position where they are paying it forward,” she says. Diaz, Haggerty says, shows “what kind of resilience exists in people in this neighborhood” and communities like Brownsville around the country.
This was produced in partnership with Cisco, which believes everyone has the potential to become a global problem solver – to innovate as a technologist, think as an entrepreneur, and act as a social change agent.
Editors’ note: The original version of this story misspelled Rosanne Haggerty’s name. It also erroneously stated that Community Solutions’s 100,000 Homes campaign housed more than 105,000 chronically homeless people in 186 communities across the country. NationSwell apologizes for these errors.

The Newspaper That Tells Tales of Homelessness, How to Help the Poor Build Credit and More


On the Streets with a Newspaper Vendor Trying to Sell His Story, CityLab

It can be uncomfortable shelling out change to a beggar living on the street, but would you be willing to pay $2 for a newspaper about homelessness and poverty? Robert Williams, a Marine Corps veteran who writes for Street Sense, a biweekly broadsheet in Washington, D.C., hopes so. For every copy he sells, he keeps 75 percent, his only source of income.

Banking on Justice, YES! Magazine

In the impoverished Mississippi Delta region, most locals can’t borrow from large banks such as Citibank, Wells Fargo and JPMorgan Chase because small loans don’t make enough interest to be worthwhile. Instead, residents are increasingly turning to Community Development Financial Institutions, known as CDFIs, which receive federal assistance in exchange for making capital available in low-income areas.

When Teachers Take A Breath, Students Can Bloom, NPR

Educators have it rough. If keeping up with children’s energy levels for six hours isn’t enough, they also need to help students cope with difficulties outside the classroom and meet the rigors of state testing and federal standards. That can lead to a lot of stress, which is why CARE for Teachers trains educators in meditation techniques proven to reduce anxiety and burnout.

MORE: Mindfulness at Work: 7 Places Where Employees Benefit from Meditation

Being a Great Leader Means Being in Service to Others

It’s hard to decipher a through-line in Shaifali Puri’s 13-year career that spans the New York State Attorney General’s Office, the Empire State Development Corporation, the nonprofit Scientists Without Borders and the Nike Foundation. But look a little deeper and you’ll see that Puri has the spark of spontaneity that allows her to leap at opportunities and a core mission to improve people’s lives. Currently a visiting scholar at New York University’s journalism school, Puri is researching how technology can be harnessed to benefit the developing world. She spoke to NationSwell about the lessons she’s learned from her eclectic career.

What’s the best advice you have ever been given on leadership?
When I got hired at Fortune (a Time Inc. magazine), they only hired young people, and the only job you could get was to be a fact-checker. What was really great was that these kids came from [top] colleges and universities, and [the company started] them all at the bottom of the totem pole, in a job that required you to do what felt like menial work. Later, when I got a federal clerkship after law school, I was incredibly proud of myself. On day one, when the judge came into the chambers and said hello, she said she had a very important lesson to impart: the proper way to staple memos in her chambers, which was at a 45-degree angle in the top left-hand corner. Some people might say that’s crazy. But I’m grateful for having had those jobs — where you had to pay immense attention to detail — because so much of our focus today is on leadership. But it’s hard to be a great leader unless you also know how to be great at not being the leader, and how to be great in service to others in the organization.

What’s on your nightstand?
I usually have one fiction and one non-fiction book going at all times. My fiction book is called “The Flamethrowers,” by Rachel Kushner. The nonfiction book I just started is called “The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires,” Tim Wu’s book on net neutrality.


What do you wish someone had told you when you started this job?
Worry less about the title and much more about the skills map. What are you learning in each job? Sometimes in my career, it was learning how to be a deputy, how to manage big projects, how to be a boss. You’ll get a career in which you’re doing meaningful work. It’ll be eclectic enough to expose you to many different things, and you’ll get to learn a variety of skill sets so you can figure out which ones you truly want to run with. I wasn’t smart enough or didn’t have the foresight to plan out my career, but looking over my shoulder, I’m glad that without knowing what I was doing, I was jumping at opportunities that had something to teach me, more than I was worrying about a particular industry. Ultimately, by total chance, I think it served me better than had I tried to plan my way here.

What’s your perfect day?
One that has a lot of serendipity in it. Something that I love but don’t do enough is ramble around New York. [So I’d] get up when the mood strikes (I’m usually a pretty early riser), have that cup of coffee, read The New York Times totally unrushed and head out with my boyfriend in tow to leisurely see where the day takes us. It might involve museums, the park, just staring at the architecture through Chelsea or the West Village, checking out what endlessly new thing is happening in the Lower East Side or going through Chinatown (which is one of my favorite parts of New York). Just walking and taking it in without a plan, ending at one of my favorite, not-overrun, neighborhood West Village restaurants. Then, a perfect evening stroll back home. When I forget why I love this city, a good walk always reminds me.

What’s your proudest accomplishment?
I want to preface this by saying, I’ve been very lucky because I have been very privileged. I did not have to worry about financial circumstances when I came out of college. The thing I feel most proud of isn’t any individual accomplishment. I’ve really tried to build a career of purpose. When I went to Scientists Without Borders, I didn’t know the field. The New York Academy of Sciences took a chance on me, and I’m really proud of having built something. It was like being a tech startup CEO: taking a germ of an idea to a full organization. I made a lot of mistakes, and it wasn’t always clear we were going to have the funding. It felt really important to me, because the promise of what the organization could achieve: eradicating global poverty, trying to bring science and technology resources to solve the challenges of the world’s poorest people. So I’m really proud that, in the face of a tremendous amount of terror and self-doubt, I persevered. That’s been something I’ve tried to do in my career, which is take on things that have scared me and do it anyway.

What don’t most people know about you?
I was, at some point, a certified bartender. I got my certificate in college. I figured if you ever needed a fun back-up career, that was it.

To learn more about the NationSwell Council, click here.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
MORE: Participants Claim This Program Boosts Them out of Poverty. Should Other Cities Implement It?