8 Holiday Gifts for People Who Want to Give Back

It’s the holidays, which means it’s time to get shopping! Americans estimate they will spend an average of $885 on gifts this holiday season, higher than any projection since the 2008 recession. But instead of purchasing something destined to be ditched or quietly regifted, put your hard-earned dollars to good use on gifts that are truly sustainable, ethically produced and/or support good causes. Since greenwashing sometimes makes it difficult to determine which companies really have a double bottom line, we’ve done the work for you to ensure that the ones listed below are the real deal. Feel good about doing good by gifting from one of the companies listed below. 
Uma Oils
Uma’s oils, toners, masks and cleansers might look like something you’d buy in an upscale boutique which makes sense, since they also supply essential oils to top beauty brands like Tom Ford and Estée Lauder but you’re paying for more than luxe marketing. The company’s founder, Shrankhla Holeck, was born in India to a family known for its expertise in ayurvedic and holistic medicine, and Holeck launched her line of products to benefit women in the Central Indian community. All workers are paid fair wages on par with their male counterparts, in an effort to eliminate gaps in gender pay and encourage women to obtain freedom through financial independence. They also fund the local health clinic, where residents can obtain medical care free of charge.
Global Giving
Looking for an easy way to spark the spirit of donating to a cause in your less-than-charitable friends? Consider a gift card from Global Giving, which gives the recipient freedom to donate to a cause of their choice. Some of their most successful projects include education in Kenya via Kenya Connect, and support for life-saving vaccine programs in India. Other causes include disaster recovery, climate change and LGBTQ rights. The only catch: Gift cards expire after one year. Unused funds will be donated to the GlobalGiving Fund, which will be used to provide matching gift funds to causes listed on their site.
MORE: 5 Super-Easy Ways To Use Your Holiday Dollars For Good
One Hope Wines
What’s a holiday party without wine? Essential to provide if you’re the host; a really nice gesture if you’re an invited guest. One Hope Wines partners with eight nonprofits benefiting animals, children, education, the environment, global, health, veterans and women. Since 2017, proceeds from purchases have facilitated the adoption of 19,000 shelter pets, provided meals for more than 399,000 children and the planting of about 16,000 trees. Not into wine? No problem: You can gift coffee, kitchen accessories or food items that benefit global causes, such as access to safe drinking water.
Conscious Step
Most consumers want to buy sustainable and ethically produced goods. But while it’s easy to say you support a cause, it’s harder to prove you actually do so. Conscious Step actually walks the walk: All socks are made in India using sustainable, ethical production methods. The entire supply chain is GOTS and Fairtrade certified, and all products are made by workers who are paid minimum wage (and are compensated for overtime). Sales benefit one of 12 different causes, such as animal rescue, breast cancer prevention, treating HIV and fighting hunger.
Eighth Generation
This Seattle-based company was founded in 2008 by Louie Gong, an artist from the Nooksack tribal community. Though Gong started making shoes in his living room and launched Eighth Generation’s brick-and-mortar store in Pike Place Market in summer 2016 he wanted to ensure that indigenous artists also got the capital they needed to become successful. Through The Inspired Natives Project, Gong works with fellow natives who are weavers, graphic artists and jewelers to ensure proceeds from the sales of their wares go back to the community. The Inspired Natives Grant also ensures that 5% of profits from Eight Generation’s blanket sales go back to the artists, while also contributing to causes such as Standing Rock.
Little Loving Hands
If you’re a parent who believes it’s never too early to instill altruistic values in your children, consider purchasing a box from Little Loving Hands that you can work on together. Each kit has a theme such as Puppy Love, Military Gratitude and Wells of Love  — and contain instructions on how to make items that benefit each cause, such as leash and treat bags for no-kill animal shelters, an American flag pin for troops stationed around the world, and a collapsible water bottle that can be sent to Water Wells for Africa, a non-profit dedicated to reducing health risks from contaminated water. After sending the finished product in a pre-paid envelope, your child will receive a button and certificate of achievement as a thank-you, as well as encouragement to continue paying it forward.
MORE: The Story Behind Boxes Bringing Holiday Cheer To Veterans
Wildlife Friendly Enterprise Network
Purchase tea and help protect elephants? Or buy a sweater and save a puma? These days, it seems like everyone is selling products that also promote social good. Some of it is surely marketing mumbo-jumbo, but these guys are the real deal: The Wildlife Friendly Enterprise Network’s “Wildlife Friendly” label guarantees that any product with that designation has been produced in an animal-friendly way. For example, tea with a “Wildlife Friendly” label is sourced from plantations that co-exist harmoniously with the elephants that roam their fields. Without this protection, elephants sometimes fall into drainage ditches or are poisoned by eating fertilizer. If walking lightly on the earth is something you aspire to, look for the label next time you shop.
Launched by a former ad executive who was sick and tired of promoting crap, BuyMeOnce is simple as it is brilliant: Every product they promote must be built to last. They also research the provenance of every item: If your titanium teapot was made by slave labor, then it’s a no-go, even if it’s built to outlast Methuselah. The 2000+ products on the site include everything from earbuds and kids’ toys to silicone straws and apparel. There are also handy categories to choose from, if the phrases Zero Waste or Lifetime Guaranteed align more clearly with your values.  

Want to Change the World? Here’s Your Social Impact Cheatsheet

The role of business in the world has changed radically over the past couple of decades. No longer can companies conduct business as they did a generation ago, with an eye to the bottom line and not much else: Nearly two-thirds of Americans now believe that companies should take the lead in driving social and environmental change.
Much of the move toward social responsibility is being driven by millennials, who are by and large digital natives steeped in social media and have proven especially adept at promoting causes online. And as the sentiments of millennials continue to influence business affairs — a recent Deloitte report found, for example, that millennial workers seek out employers that share the same social values — it makes sense that social impact has been codified by academia as well.
“A decade ago, only a handful of schools invested in [social impact]; today, almost 50 percent of the top 50 business schools in the world host a social impact program, initiative, or center,” reads a Bridgespan group report on universities that offer opportunities within the social-impact sector.
Lynn Wooten, senior associate dean at University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, agrees. “[Today’s 18-21 year olds] have a depleted tolerance for the business models of old,” she writes in the Financial Times. “They do not merely expect but instead demand that the businesses they frequent as consumers, and will someday lead as professionals, are focused on affecting the greater good of their communities and the world.”
So if you’re looking for a career in the world of social impact — but don’t know exactly where to begin — here are three schools that offer social impact opportunities within the areas of art and design, journalism and entrepreneurship.  

School of Visual Arts, New York City

Master of Fine Arts in Design for Social Innovation
This two-year program revolves around the design of products and services that aim for impact within the social, environmental and government sectors. The program partners graduate students with multinational organizations to help solve social issues.

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The SVA Master of Fine Arts in Design for Social Innovation pairs graduate students with multinational organizations to help solve social issues.

Newmark School of Journalism at City University of New York

Master of Arts in Social Journalism
An intensive nine-month program spins journalism on its head, with a focus on how to measure impact and how to report on impact in a thoughtful manner. Students partner with leading news organizations like ProPublica and the Guardian to build out a project or an internship that reports on specific communities around the globe.
*Disclaimer: This writer graduated from the Newmark Graduate School of Journalism

University of Southern California Marshall School of Business

Master of Science in Social Entrepreneurship
With the option of completing your degree full-time in one year, or part-time over several years, the L.A.-based business school offers a program focusing on impact investing, environmental sustainability and global social impact. Students in their capstone develop detailed business plans with an existing organization, or get to develop a new social-impact opportunity with a new organization.

From Startup to Success

If you could get anyone on the phone to help with the biggest issue you’re facing in your work, who would you call? That’s the question posed to participants of the GLG Social Impact Fellowship, week after week, for two years. The fellowship, sponsored by the membership-based learning platform GLG, aims to help top social entrepreneurs rise to the challenges, both strategic and operational, facing their companies as they scale their reach. Unlike a cash award, the unique program, which began in 2014, gives mission-driven leaders two years of free access to GLG’s vast network of experts and events; fellows utilize GLG just as traditional GLG clients do. The process is a huge benefit to the organizations that determine which critical questions they need answered.
Entrepreneurs who’ve been through the fellowship stress how important it is to be ready to jump on this massive opportunity. They talk about how the fellowship not only strengthens their own leadership skills but those of their teams as well. (Any employee of an organization whose leader is chosen as a fellow can tap GLG’s network of experts.) The results of all that learning can be truly transformational.
Here, 10 former and current fellows reflect on the impact the fellowship has had on propelling their organizations forward.


Baird is the founder and CEO of Bloc Power, focusing on community development and energy efficiency.

“Being a CEO or founder can be quite lonely in terms of the difficulty of the decisions you have to make. So for me, the community of founders who won the GLG fellowship was really critical.
“For example, we were doing an interactive workshop setting five-year goals, and I had these audacious goals. And I got great feedback on the goals — and then the other CEOs were like, ‘Wait a second, Donnel, you don’t have a personal assistant.’ I grew up working-class, and I think that’s weird. They said, ‘You’re actually failing your organization.’ If it takes you two weeks to do something that should take an hour because you’re so backlogged, that sets your whole organization back.”


Chowdhury is the co-founder and CEO of Drinkwell, focusing on water and sanitation.

“[Key lessons include:] 1) Reach out to experts who may seem unreachable. Some may donate their time due to your social mission, so it doesn’t hurt to ask. 2) Building a board of advisors is critical to succeeding as a company, as knowledge and experience is at times much more valuable than capital alone. 3) There are a lot of lessons learned from analog industries that initially may not seem related to your industry, but have applications. In fact, such applications can create unique advantages that others in your sector have not thought of.
“[A highlight of the fellowship was] being able to connect with experts who have previously conducted business with Dhaka WASA, a new customer in the urban segment. The experts saved us significant time and money, and helped us negotiate a good operating model with sound economics from the get-go. We were confident going into negotiations with the utility in a way that we could have never done had it not been for GLG.”


Donaldson is the CEO of D-Rev, focusing on healthcare technologies.

“We are super-users of GLG. On any given week we have probably three or four calls, minimum. To be able to talk to one of the three world experts in something on the phone for half an hour is amazing. A lot of people think it’s just coaching for the CEO, but our whole team uses them.
“At a 500-foot level one of the things I’ve learned is be bold in asking to talk to experts. It’s made us bolder as an organization. And sometimes they ask questions that make you realize that you haven’t really thought through the question you think you’re asking. When someone asks, ‘Why are you doing that?’ it just makes you go a level deeper than you might otherwise in the course of a busy day.”

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Fellows have included (from left) Barbara Bush, Minhaj Chowdhury, Eric Liu, Krista Donaldson, Misan Rewane and Jake Wood.


Ho is the founder and CEO of Yimishiji, focusing on food and agriculture.

“Right from the get-go, Yimishiji has sought to achieve the highest level of sourcing standards and transparency, that no other e-commerce platform in China has done. This means there is tremendous learning we have had to do as a team, from the manager level to senior executive.
“So many teams have benefited from the program in such different ways. For example, when we were looking to set up objectives and key results for the engineering team, it was hugely valuable for our CTO to be able to talk with other CTOs with this experience from larger companies. And when we were assessing the possibility of setting up physical stores, we received great lessons on how we might approach planning and decision making. All of this access is very powerful.”


Hsu is the founder and CEO of C4Q, focusing on tech vocational training.

C4Q is at a critical stage of growth. We began as a small community startup, and we saw the opportunity to use our model to not just transform the lives of people with the most need and potential in New York City, but also across the country. So we were in need of expertise to help us achieve that large scale and sustain it.
“When we applied, our organization was just beginning an extensive rebrand. Working with GLG, we were able to receive best practices from industry leaders, and conduct research and surveys to get feedback on our direction and help inform decision-making.”

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


McAlister is the founder and CEO of Frontline, focusing on child welfare and social work.

“The group itself of fellows is tremendously diverse. In terms of bits of the planet that people come from, it’s really different. The social issues we’re working to address are really varied. The models of interventions are different. And yet there are really common challenges across the different organizations.
“A highlight is having that forced space with a group of really impressive peers and facilitators to think about the big issues you don’t normally spend much time thinking about. The example I used in Austin last year was, How do we make sure that our alumni group is a real movement for change? That is not an everyday question for us. Having that space and time with a group of people who can challenge and help you in your thinking is really great.”


Ratnayake is the founder and CEO of myAGRO, focusing on rural agribusiness financing.

“There’s this new worm that destroys maize fields in a matter of minutes. The pest wasn’t going to wait for us to develop a solution. Our agriculture team was able to tap into the GLG learning network and talk to companies in India that are used to spraying smallholder farms. We were able to find a sprayer that uses 10 times less water. We solved a problem that we didn’t even know was a problem before rolling it out to farmers.
“I’ve worked in a number of nonprofits. It’s easy to be insular. You have a problem and you really know the clients, it’s easy to think that the resources you have in front of you are the only resources. There’s a lot of learning we can get from looking at other organizations who might be doing different things but have asked very similar questions of themselves.”


Van Bergen is the founder and executive director of Nest, focusing on global artisan empowerment.

“The trend toward funding social entrepreneurs is exciting but can be limiting, because I alone could never make our work happen. This fellowship allowed my team to access it — because we had access to the GLG network, we really were deliberate. We had a calendar invite for an hour weekly for people to spend time thinking about what they were working on that GLG could help with. That was a valuable exercise.
“It was a non-monetary award, but the value you get out of two years’ worth of these incredible people we would never have been able to afford as consultants is incalculable. It allowed us to invest in things that were really instrumental, but would have been really hard for us to justify [spending money on] or to raise additional funds for.”


Williams is the co-founder of SIRUM, focusing on healthcare access.

“As SIRUM explores expansion, GLG is able to help us understand at a state and local level what are areas that might be more in need of our work. What we’re getting out of it is the ability to go very high level and understand national trends, but also go very local and be able to ask a nursing home in Missouri how they handle their unused medicine.
“Instead of taking all of the zigzags that it often takes to find an expert who can answer these questions, it is a straight shot — you to GLG to expert. It’s not only helping you make these decisions, but it also saves a lot of time. Time is money, especially in social enterprises and startups.”


Wood is the co-founder and CEO of Team Rubicon, focusing on veterans’ empowerment and disaster relief.

“The people I met through the program were just fantastic. When I travel across the country I’m always looking them up to grab beers with them and catch up. One of the things I remember us talking about was the unspoken rules that we imbue in our organization. Usually you have these explicit values and rules for how people should be conducting themselves, but there are always these unwritten rules that develop, and some of them are good and some of them are actually fairly negative. It’s useful to try to pull out what some of those unspoken rules are.
“[Thanks to the fellowship,] we’re just smarter. We have the ability to ask really hard questions and get really thorough and thoughtful answers. We’re a faster, more efficient organization.”

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. Read more about the program here.

Funding the Social Causes Worth Fighting For

Kim Syman has lofty ideas about how New Profit, a social-impact funding organization that she helped get off the ground 20 years ago this week, can do better work. Much of it involves changing perceptions around the role of business in social enterprises, which can be a daunting task. Case in point: New Profit’s mission to finance nonprofits in an unconventional way — that is, with venture capital funding. But venture capital is usually designed to make the rich even richer, while social-innovation organizations tend to address systems of inequality and oppression — systems that can be exacerbated by those very same investments.
Yet Syman is a firm believer that the tools of business can and should be used to propel people toward social and financial stability. So when New Profit founder and CEO Vanessa Kirsch proposed the idea of the organization to her, as a way to bridge the gap between investments and impactful nonprofits, Syman jumped onboard.
Part of the problem is that investing for social good is still a relatively new idea. “Venture capital, as a concept, wasn’t known in the philanthropy world, especially 20 years ago,” says Syman, New Profit’s managing partner overseeing field leadership. She also helps with the nonprofit’s annual Gathering of Leaders, taking place this week in Boston. “The idea of venture capital for nonprofits still sounds kind of crazy for a lot of people.”
Syman’s ambitious goals include getting nonprofits to refocus how they deploy their funding. Syman worked in media before transitioning into a role at the education nonprofit City Year, so she knows firsthand how hard it is for fledgling social-impact companies to create capital (spoiler alert: it’s not easy).
“There was this mind-set that the best way [traditional funders and philanthropists] managed risk and made sure their dollars were well used was to support direct service provision instead of, say, building internal capacity to grow and achieve more impact,” Syman, a NationSwell Council member, says. “Overlooking the latter can be a huge barrier to success on the former, but capacity-building is still an under-leveraged and underfunded approach in philanthropy.”

Kim Syman 2
“The idea of venture capital for nonprofits still sounds kind of crazy for a lot of people,” says social-impact investor Kim Syman.

Typically, nonprofits have relied on creating their own endowments — be it from fundraising or donors — that amass principal over a number of years and help finance the organization for the long term.
But even with endowments and other grants, there are often restrictions imposed by donors, such as only being able to spend the principal or only spending specific amounts on certain programs.
The problem with that, Syman says, is that the conventional wisdom where philanthropists double down on funding specific programs doesn’t help solve problems on a larger scale.
The reality New Profit found was that nonprofit organizations — just like their peers in the for-profit business world — needed to scale their brand and operations in order to be effective, but that requires lots of money, with fewer restrictions than what is typical with grants.
Besides challenging traditional funding models, Syman is focused on increasing diversity in the social-impact space. And she is doing this in part by formally recognizing her own organization’s lack of diversity.
“We saw that implicit biases come from within our sector and we needed to begin to tackle them, which meant holding a mirror up to ourselves and really asking the question of how much are we paying attention to this, each of us?” she tells NationSwell. “It’s clearly a work in progress on every level, but I will say that we have changed every aspect of how we work to prioritize diversity, equity and inclusion, and we’re working to make continued progress.”
To that end, New Profit is making a concerted effort to partner with organizations that are actively engaged in the communities they serve; they’re also taking into account gender and racial diversity with almost everything they do, says Syman.
But a lack of diversity is hardly unique to New Profit. Studies show that despite overwhelming representation of women in the nonprofit workspace — which bodes well for general gender equality — the majority of executives in those companies are white men, with minimal representation of black or Hispanic men and women in top roles.
Syman says there are ways to fix that, even for organizations that have little capital to invest in diversity action plans. One idea is to partner with other organizations to help provide mentorship on hiring or training — a concept inspired, in part, by a NationSwell Council event — or use firms that specialize in helping companies achieve more diversity.
Syman says her biggest lessons haven’t come from New Profit’s numerous challenges, but rather from the joy of the work she does, and from the connections she’s made with other people in the field. “It wasn’t a total surprise, but how deep and consistent those relationships have been with our [organizations] is the engine that really drives our work. It’s always a little bit surprising. But it’s always very real.”

This post was produced in partnership with the NationSwell Council, a membership community of service-minded leaders committed to moving America forward. To learn more about the Council, its members and signature experiences, click here.

6 Social Impact Apps Designed With You in Mind

There’s an app for just about anything these days. And whereas sometimes it feels like many of them lack any real reason for being — like these, um, “wonders” of technology — there are several that serve a very legitimate purpose, which is to drive social change.
And just as technology has become personalized and accessorized, the ways in which you can donate your time or money is equally as diverse and seemingly tailored just to you. Here are a few choice apps to put on your radar, whatever the type of mission-driven person you are.


GLOBAL CITIZEN: Probably best known for the insanely packed festival it puts on in New York’s Central Park each year, Global Citizen rewards users for taking action on such issues as global hunger, poverty and climate change with free concert tickets.
Past performers at Central Park’s Great Lawn have included big names like Beyoncé, The Killers and Stevie Wonder. Coldplay’s Chris Martin, the festival’s curator, reportedly has his sights set on Johannesburg for another musical celebration later this year to honor Nelson Mandela, who would’ve turned 100 years old in 2018.
By simply tweeting a message of action or signing a petition, users earn points and are then entered into a lottery to win tickets to Global Citizen’s network of worldwide festivals and concerts.
WE DAY: The WE movement began life as a Canadian nonprofit and eventually grew to international status. Through after-school programs designed by WE, students are encouraged to take measurable actions on issues ranging from cyberbullying within their community to improving access to clean water in developing countries.
After a year, students who participate in the program are invited to attend a We Day festival, where they might catch appearances by bold-faced names like Kelly Clarkson, Selena Gomez and Andre De Grasse.
But for students who don’t have a WE Schools program, the WE Day app allows them to earn festival admission through volunteer work. So far, the organization has galvanized over 1 million youth to volunteer more than 27.6 million hours.

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Apps like Charity Miles let users track their workout progress and donate per mile to charities of their choice.


CHARITY MILES: Sponsored by Johnson & Johnson and Humana, Charity Miles tracks how many miles you walk, bike or run, and then donate to charities of your choice.
Bikers receive 10 cents per mile to donate, while joggers and runners get 25 cents per mile. There are dozens of charities to choose from, including The Wounded Warrior Project, Stand Up to Cancer and the Alzheimer’s Association.
While the amount you can raise for any one training session is small — completing an Ironman triathlon would only donate a bit over $15, for example — the more you exercise, the bigger your impact.
MAXIMUSLIFE: Thrive on a little friendly competition? MaximusLife allows you to enter fitness challenges and compete against friends, all in the name of raising dough for the causes you most care about.
The platform pairs with your wearable devices to track your exercises, along with your sleeping habits, and rewards you points that corporate partners will accumulate and donate on your behalf. Participants can take on daily challenges to increase their points as well as join a team to up their rewards.


EATWITH: Sampling food from different cultures is a sure-fire way to expand your knowledge of the world and better your relationships with people who are different from you. (It also makes for envy-inducing vacation posts.) In fact, culinary diplomacy has even warranted its own field of study at the University of Southern California’s Center on Public Diplomacy.
The Eatwith app allows you to search dinner parties, food tours and cooking classes by location and matches you with local hosts who will serve up one-of-a-kind meals (and experiences) right in their home. The result is an authentic cultural adventure that just can’t be replicated in a restaurant.


FORWARD: Spring has officially sprung, which means that for many people, clearing out closets, garages and dresser drawers tops their to-do list. But instead of relegating household items and clothes to the curb, adding to the growing 12.8 million tons of textiles dumped into landfills each year, Forward lets you offload goods and do good in the process.
How it works: Simply upload a pic of the thing you no longer want and choose a charity. If someone decides to take it, they’ll “buy” it via donating to the charity of your choice. And if that’s not a win-win, we’ll just go back to sticking our smartphones in our mouths.

The Other Dreamers

February 15 was a heavy day for students at the New York City Lab School for Collaborative Studies. The previous day, 17 people were killed at a Florida high school, and the tragedy left them with just one thing on their minds: What can they do to enact change?
It’s a familiar, if new, refrain for many teenagers across the country as they look to make their schools safer. And as demonstrated at the recent March for Our Lives, which occurred simultaneously in 800-plus cities around the globe, these students are seeing firsthand how voicing their concerns can lead to a powerful movement.
But for the kids at the Lab School, having a voice isn’t something new. In fact, treating students as customers — where they, not the faculty, are always right — has become something of a mantra at the school, thanks to an ongoing program housed there called The Future Project.
The initiative, which focuses on giving students a say in how they want their schools run, is a response to their complaints that schools don’t give them enough agency. At a time when student engagement is problematic across the nation, The Future Project reignites interest in school by allowing students an undeniable voice in shaping their community.
“Schools were designed for one purpose — teaching the basics of math or English — and they’re not catching up with the needs and wants of young people,” says GLG Social Impact Fellow Kanya Balakrishna, co-founder of The Future Project. “You often imagine that students are dropping out of school because of performance, but what we’re seeing is those students just aren’t making the connection between the life they’re living now and what they’re seeing in school.”
Inspired by her mother, a former educator, Balakrishna worked with high school students while studying anthropology at Yale. She found that despite teachers’ best efforts, students often reported feeling bored at school and disconnected from the issues they really cared about.
“It makes such a powerful difference when someone believes in students unconditionally,” she says.
So Balakrishna took an anthropological approach to solving student disengagement: observe, analyze, then take action. She also received executive guidance through her participation in the GLG Social Impact Fellowship. Through GLG, Balakrishna and her team have explored a range of topics, from how to be better managers and build a sales team to engaging with students’ parents and driving cultural change within schools.

The Future Project co-founder Kanya Balakrishna thinks there’s a better way to engage high school students.

Unlike afterschool programs that enlist adults as mentors, The Future Project embeds a full-time employee, known as a dream director, in a school to conduct interviews and perform annual assessments to uncover the issues and obstacles facing students — all from the perspective of the kids themselves. From there, dream directors utilize a strategy called “practice of possibilities” in which students develop projects that motivate their fellow teens to get involved and become more active at school.
The program is purposefully vague on appropriate actions to take because each student population requires a unique approach.
“There are 30,000 high schools in the country, and we can’t design different services for each one. So we created a model that was focused around listening and learning and could be customized to each school,” Balakrishna explains.
The Future Project operates in 50 schools nationwide and has helped approximately 30,000 students. Of those schools, four out of five report better relationships between students and teachers.
“There is rigorous science that backs up everything we’ve been doing, even the little details like the random icebreakers that dream directors do with a student,” Balakrishna says.
At the Lab School in New York, students told resident dream director Scotty Crowe that despite a student population of just 500 there was a looming sense of detachment.
“Students were saying they didn’t know what sports teams won; they didn’t know any accomplishments of other students. We want to make people feel connected because they have common interests,” says Crowe, adding that all of the initiatives The Future Project helped create — including a school newspaper and assembly days focused around diversity — were targeted toward building a stronger community.
“Our modern school system was created over 100 years ago, and yet we’re still using it despite cultures, technologies and courses changing since then,” says Eleanor Jewel, chief dream director for New York City and New Jersey schools. “We’re still asking, ‘Why are students checked out of school at 15 or 16 years old?’ That’s what we’re trying to solve here.”
Faculty members attest to The Future Project’s effectiveness. Kay Rothman, a college advisor and psychology teacher at the Lab School, says that the program “gives real credence to what students are saying when they talk about what they need in school.”
One alumna of the program, Justice Hatterson, has leveraged the skills she learned from a photography project six years ago and turned them into a career as a model manager for her own company, Daring Imagery Model Management.
“I took what I learned in that project and started a photography business. I became an event photographer doing baby showers and weddings, and then started taking photos of people. I’ve used what I learned about marketing, leadership, supervision and coaching, and pushed those things in my business,” Hatterson, now 23, says. “I get to coach people every day and build them up. It’s kinda like I’m their dream director, and they’re my dreamers.”
Hattersonis far from alone in being inspired by her experience with The Future Project, Balakrishna says. Ninety percent of participants told the organization that they feel more connected after working with a dream director.
“As a society, we often look at school as the problem,” Balakrishna says. “But we believe school can be the solution for young people to get an experience and learn or discover their strengths, passions and purpose.”
A previous version of this story misspelled Justice Hatterson’s last name and mischaracterized Balakrishna’s work with students while at Yale University. 

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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.

Build Your Nest Egg, Support an Organic Farm

Making money and doing good aren’t mutually exclusive.
When it comes to investing, earning a significant profit is typically the No. 1 goal. For stockholders looking to do more than simply earn financial returns, impact investing can allow them to generate social and environmental impact while increasing the balance of their portfolio.
With 85 percent of Millennials stating that it’s important for their values to align to their investment decisions, impact investing is growing in popularity. A recent poll finds that more than half of Americans ages 18 to 34 plan to put money towards socially responsible and impact investments in the future but haven’t done so yet, while 24 percent already own socially responsible investments.
Here’s how to sink some cash into the companies, organizations and funds that are doing good and providing a financial return for their efforts.

1. Know your values.

Investors can make a difference in a number of different areas.
Some of the most common sectors for investing include sustainable agriculture, renewable energy, conservation, microfinance, and affordable basic services including housing, healthcare and education, according to the Global Impact Investing Network, a nonprofit dedicated to increasing the scale and effectiveness of impact investing around the world.
Nonprofits are also open for investment dollars. “The nonprofit sector has [previously] been excluded from impact investing where the focus is investing in for-profit social enterprises or rebranding past investments with an impact lens,” says Catarina Schwab, NationSwell Council member and co-founder and co-CEO of NPX, a company that partners with clients to pioneer new ways of financing impact. “Until recently, the financial products that enabled investment in a nonprofit organization were largely limited to loans.”

2. Understand potential returns.

Impact investments aren’t more volatile than traditional investments — but there are inherent financial risks involved. As with all portfolio holdings, diversifying is the best way to minimize your exposure.
According to GIIN, most investors pursue competitive market-rate returns, although some intentionally invest in causes that align with their values but will likely deliver returns below market rate.
Impact investors also have access to another type of return not available with traditional holdings: the social performance and progress of their investments. Values-based investments measure these in several ways, including the setting of performance metrics and targets, monitoring and managing the performance of investees against those targets and reporting on the social and environmental accomplishments that stakeholders establish as relevant to their goals.

3. Choose your investments

In the U.S., responsible investing assets have more than doubled to 8.72 trillion from 2012 to 2016, reports the Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment.
Because of this, investment options are plentiful.
You can opt to invest in a socially responsible mutual fund or an ETF sold by an investment firm, such as Fidelity, Vanguard or Merrill Lynch. Or you could purchase individual stock in, say, a sustainable farm or a wind power project. The app Stash allows investors to choose from more than 30 ETFs to create a portfolio that reflects their beliefs.
Tools like NPX’s Impact Security, as well as Social and Development Impact Bonds, provide new ways to invest in nonprofit organizations.
Impact investments can also be made through specific companies that specialize in socially responsible investing. One such organization, Wunder Capital, connects individuals, institutional and corporate investors with commercial scale solar energy projects across the U.S. To date, it’s completed more than 120 financings in 18 states.
“In most cases, the businesses who are transitioning to solar have in the past exclusively bought their energy from the local utility,” said Ilyas Frenkel, director of growth for Wunder Capital. “The local utility in most cases burns fossil fuels — natural gas or coal — to create that power. When a business is able to add solar to their energy mix, they’re reducing their reliance upon fossil fuels.”
For investors, this means their money is helping small businesses transition off fossil fuels and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, all while making up to 7.5 percent annually on their investment.
If you’re not sure where to start, check out GIIN’s ImpactBase. Potential impact investors can use the searchable, online database to learn more about the businesses and organizations working to create a better future.

From Blight to Beauty in the Motor City

In 1988, John George moved his family into a house five blocks north of the Old Redford neighborhood in Detroit. Shortly there after, a crew of drug dealers took up residence in a derelict property behind his home.
“My instinct as a father was to flee,” says George. Instead, he grabbed some nails, a hammer and plywood from a hardware store and boarded up the house.
Almost 30 years later, George is still fixing up deserted properties. Watch the video above to see how his organization, Detroit Blight Busters, is revitalizing the Motor City — one building at a time.
“If you never quit, you can’t lose ’cause you’re still in the game,” says George. “And Detroit is still in the game.”

How Next-Gen Leaders Are Turning Passions Into Progress

It’s hard to imagine Ari Afsar ever losing her tune. But the “Hamilton: An American Musical” actor, who plays Eliza Schuyler in the Chicago production, spent several years as a tween, then teen, perfecting her craft at a senior living center. Those long afternoons practicing were filled with lost tunes, forgotten words and cracked notes, but “they wouldn’t care at all,” she laughs, describing them as “the best people to perform in front of.”
Those performances sprang from a troubling insight: “When I would visit my grandma, it seemed like I was the only visitor,” she told a packed audience at the Social Innovation Summit in Chicago. “We’re afraid of getting older, so we put older people in the back of our minds.” A young Afsar decided to change that, and at the age of 13, she started Adopt a Grandfriend, a social club that brings theatrical performances to nearby senior centers. After the curtain closed on productions, the performers would spend time with residents. According to Afsar, the results extended beyond the stage, and several long-term friendships resulted from their work.
In a social media landscape that encourages young people to scroll through endless cause posts and calls-to-action every day, it’s easy to wonder if online exposure translates to actual action. But according to DoSomething.org CEO Aria Finger, the next generation isn’t just engaged — they’re highly engaged: 62 percent of Gen Z and millennial respondents have volunteered in the past 12 months, and roughly half volunteer every single month. And, despite the volume of cause-related content presented to young people, tomorrow’s leaders appear to have a knack for targeting the opportunities that are most relevant to them.
That was true for Afsar, who combined her passion for performance with her desire to improve the quality of life for local senior citizens. It also was true for summit speaker Marley Dias, a diehard bookworm who discussed her frustration at her library’s limited selection of books about “white boys and their dogs.” Dias, then 11, reacted by creating a book drive called #1000BlackGirlsBooks, and turned her passion into social action. The hashtag — and initiative, which focuses on books that feature black girls as protagonists — went viral. Since the launch in 2015, the New Jersey tween has collected more than 10,000 books and landed her own book deal. “I want to raise awareness and consciousness,” she says, about her mission to bring inclusivity to bookshelves. “It’s not about just knowing the problem exists, but having the consciousness to want to make a difference.”
Despite stereotypes that Millennials are lazy, self-involved, digital addicts, there is equal — or more — evidence that positions them as nascent innovators. Millennials are more inclined to launch their own initiatives that align their passions with social, economic and civic good, rather than join older organizations aimed at solving the world’s broadest problems.
For a generation that grew up with technology and access, it makes sense that their ventures are often responding to trending or topical issues. Maria Yuan, a NationSwell Council member, was managing a political campaign in Iowa when she realized that citizens also wanted to engage between election cycles — when the real work that affects our lives is done — but there was no venue to support that need. Yuan launched the nonpartisan platform IssueVoter to give everyone a voice in democracy by making civic engagement accessible, efficient and impactful.
“The focus on issues makes sense because 40 percent of voters are independents and 48 percent of Millennials don’t identify with a political party, according to Pew,” says Yuan. IssueVoter also helps turn slacktivism into activism: Users can read legislation in layman’s terms, check out what both sides are saying, look at a personalized scorecard and also send their opinions to representatives in one click.
The Millennial generation’s proclivity for independence and solution-driven work shows no sign of slowing. Market research firm Millennial Branding found that 72 percent of high school students want to run their own initiative one day. Researchers at Northeastern University dubbed Gen Z the most entrepreneurial generation alive.  
“I’ve realized life is long,” says Hamilton’s Afsar. “Yes, I want to accomplish things in my career in the arts, but I also see other areas that I can be involved in. There’s a connection between being an artist and being an activist, and we have to open our eyes to all opportunities.”
Presented by Social Innovation Summit. NationSwell is a Social Innovation Summit partner.
Social Innovation Summit is an annual global convening of black swans and wayward thinkers. In June 2017, more than 1,400 Fortune 500 corporate executives, venture capitalists, CSR and foundation heads, government leaders, social entrepreneurs, philanthropists, activists, emerging market investors and nonprofit heads convened in Chicago to investigate solutions and catalyze inspired partnerships that are disrupting history.

Why Behavioral Science Has Become the Next Big Thing for Solving Society’s Problems

Ever since Dr. Stanley Milgram conducted his notorious experiment in the early 1960s, in which he asked participants to obediently administer a high-voltage “shock” to a victim, researchers have uncovered a wealth of fascinating insights into the human mind. But much of this study has been confined to laboratories and academia. As managing director at ideas42, NationSwell Council member Alissa Fishbane is bucking that trend by applying the lessons from behavioral science to the social sector. At ideas42, her team advises governments and nonprofits about how to better structure their programs in education, healthcare, criminal justice, finance and energy based on what we know about human psychology. NationSwell spoke to Fishbane at her office in Lower Manhattan.
What is behavioral science, and why is it so important for policymakers to understand?
Behavioral sciences are really pulling together all the research in social psychology, neuroscience and behavioral economics. This field is so important because people often behave in ways that are strange and peculiar. You want to go to the gym five times a week, you want to stay on this diet and you want to save more for retirement. Why isn’t that happening? We all tell ourselves what we want to do, then it doesn’t quite happen. Why not? We as human beings struggle to follow through on certain decisions, particularly things that are very important to us. But programs and policies in the social sector are often created in ways that don’t account for this fundamental aspect, how we behave as humans. That’s really where we come in.
What’s an example of how this looks in practice?
One thing we’re looking at is how to help students complete college. There’s been a lot of great work in this area, but we’ve taken a different approach, which is the holistic student experience. How do we take the pulse of a student as they go through the process, day-to-day and semester-to-semester? How do we understand their various decisions, actions, habits? Knowing that there are constant hurdles a student needs to jump over — “Did I apply? Did I matriculate? Did I get my aid? Did I study? Did I pass?” — even a small one can trip them up. The solution isn’t any one piece; it’s creating a system that supports them throughout all of their college years.
It can be very simple, like reminders to complete the FAFSA. With something that small, we almost doubled the early application rate at one university we worked with. We also take on tougher problems, like working with a college to figure out how to keep students from dropping out in the first year. We realized a big part of the problem for students was feeling like they didn’t belong on campus. For that, we embedded a video into orientation showing how lots of other students went through similar challenges, the way they overcame them and how thrilled they are now to be there. We were able to raise the retention rate from 83 to 91 percent, which is pretty amazing, just by understanding what these students experienced.
What kinds of issues have you worked on locally, in New York City?
Summons are tickets for low-level infractions that people get for things like having an open container of alcohol in public or riding a bike on the sidewalk. Lots of people are getting these tickets — big city, you know, lots going on — but what’s really scary is that if you get a ticket and don’t show up to court, a bench warrant is put out for you. The next time you have any sort of encounter with police, you will be arrested immediately and put in jail. Almost 40 percent of New Yorkers aren’t showing up, which is an extraordinarily high number. That’s really concerning because for families that don’t have flexible jobs, it’s hugely disruptive. Even if you’re out in 24 hours, you could lose your job. And it’s even worse if you’re undocumented.
We partnered with the mayor’s office, the NYPD and a state entity, the Office of Court Administration, to change what the ticket looks like. Even changing the title makes it clearer. Before it said “Complaint/Information”; now, it says “Criminal Court Appearance Ticket.” Instead of a date and time in chicken-scratch on the back, that info is now at the top along with writing that says that you will get an arrest warrant if you don’t show up.
Then, their next touch point is 12 weeks later. Most people think they have plenty of time, but they forget, lose the ticket or don’t put the date in their calendar. We’re coupling the revised form with a series of text-message reminders. We know people need to ask for time off work, so it comes a week ahead of time to help them plan. In case they forgot, it comes three days before. Then, it comes the day before.
Are there any ethical dilemmas to watch out for in applying behavioral research to policy?
No matter how you design anything, consciously or unconsciously, you create an outcome. The way anything is built, just in its structure, is nudging people one way or another. We try to de-bias that and help people make the decision they want to be making. In the social sector, we’re really focused on how we help people move from intention to action. So we’re not trying to tell people, “Now, do this,” but rather, helping them follow through.
How do you apply these insights to your own life?
We don’t realize everything else that’s going on in the lives of others; we don’t see the full picture of anyone’s environment. It’s easy to say, “I can’t believe you didn’t make it to the gym five times,” but then you don’t either. I can make these assumptions like, “Oh, she doesn’t have discipline,” but then come up with an excuse for my own lack of discipline. Understanding human behavior makes us more generous about others and ourselves. I’ve become much more forgiving of myself, knowing that lots of these things are funny quirks about human behavior.
To learn more about the NationSwell Council, click here.