With global competition and constant advances in technology, companies need to innovate to make their product or service stand out. After all, you won’t see people lining up to buy first-generation iPhones (or the now museum-worthy original Blackberry). New and innovative is what sells.
Leveraging innovation to stand out is just as important in the charitable sector where competition for donor dollars is at an all-time high – there are over 1.1 million public charities in the U.S. alone. And just as in business, charities that use innovative tools and methods to further their mission can do more, with less. Old-era charities that spend too much of their funding on administration and overhead are going the way of the flip phone: they still work, but they aren’t very efficient and are less and less relevant every day.
Beyond keeping their administration rates low, innovation lets charities improve and expand their impact. By thinking outside of the donation box, charities are creating new revenue streams through social enterprises; using technology to let donors to see the impacts of their gifts – often in real time; and connecting people in remote regions to aid, health and even financial services.
Here are some of the most innovative charities doing good in the world today:
BRAC is a Bangladesh-based organization operating in eleven countries in Africa and Asia that works to alleviate poverty by running programs in microfinance, education, healthcare, and girls’ empowerment among others. In 2018, BRAC was ranked first among the world’s top 500 NGOs by Geneva based NGO Advisor, which assesses NGO performance in terms of impact, sustainability and innovation.
BRAC is supported by a suite of social enterprises – including a bank. The social enterprises allow the majority of BRAC’s programmes to be self-financed. In Bangladesh, more than 75 percent of BRAC’s budget comes from its own social enterprises.
BRAC Bank is one of the world’s largest providers of financial services operating in seven countries across Asia and Africa. It’s microfinance division offers low interest loans, insurance and savings services to people often excluded from the formal banking system like small-scale farmers, micro entrepreneurs and low income migrant households. The bank also helped launch bKash, a mobile banking system built for the 70% of Bangladesh residents who live in rural areas of the country. While most have mobile phone network access, only 15% had access to traditional banking services. bKash was created to provide secure banking services to those rural and remote residents, via their phones.
WE Charity and its sister agency ME to WE Social Enterprise has been a model of constant innovation. It started as a small, grassroots organization trying to free children from forced labour in the developing world. In just over two decades it’s grown into an international charity and social enterprise to make “doing good, doable” operating on 4 continents.
In 2009, ME to WE Social Enterprise was launched to support WE Charity by selling sustainable products like hand-crafted jewelry and Fairtrade chocolate to create employment for people in developing countries and provide funding for WE Charity. ME to WE also offers Trips, for youth, schools, families and companies, giving travelers the chance to visit WE Villages partner communities, and hopefully become supporters of the charity after seeing its impact, firsthand.
All ME to WE products are stamped with a unique Track Your Impact code that consumers can enter online to see exactly what and who their purchase supports. From water projects in Ecuador, to new schools in Kenya, buyers can see right from their phones the impact they’re making with each purchase. A minimum of 50 percent of the social enterprise funds generated by ME to WE go to WE Charity, which allows it to grow while keeping a low administration rate of approximately 10%. The rest of the funding is reinvested to grow the social enterprise and its purpose.
U.S.-based charity, Give Directly, joins the list thanks to its forward-thinking implementation of a Universal Basic Income (UBI) – direct cash payments to individuals to pay for their basic living needs – in communities in rural Kenya.
The twelve-year initiative began in 2017, and is the largest trial of UBI to date, both in terms of size and duration. All 16,000 residents from 120 rural Kenyan villages will receive some type of unconditional cash transfers during the initiative.
While there have been smaller-scale UBI pilot projects in Finland, Canada and the Netherlands, UBI has never been thoroughly tested in a modern, large-scale, academically rigorous trial. So why UBI? According to the Brookings Institution, it would take about $80 billion in cash transfers to boost the all 700 million people living in poverty around the world, above the poverty line. While that amount sounds enormous, the world currently spends almost double that amount in global aid each year. So UBI might just be the answer, and Give Directly is working to provide the evidence.
Two out of three children in South Africa grow up in poverty, which leads to malnutrition and disease, and virtually eliminates their opportunity for an education. The Afri-CAN Children’s charity works to support children under the age of six, when they are most vulnerable. The charity provides nutritious breakfasts for students and teachers; water, sanitation and hygiene training for teachers and children; and even a fashionable track suit for kids to wear to school. The charity also helps upgrade privately run Early Childhood Development Centres/Nurseries (ECD Centres) located in the poorest and most underprivileged townships of South Africa, where education is critical to emerging from poverty. Through training and mentoring, the charity works with EDC owners to teach them business and technical skills to promote self-sustainability, and teaches them how to obtain access to government grants to further infrastructure upgrades, creating long-term, sustainable education centres for children.
It’s among the most basic of human needs, but 1 in 10 people (that’s 663 million) still don’t have access to clean water. charity: water is working to lower those numbers by partnering with local communities in Africa, Asia, South and Central America, to address each community’s unique water needs. From wells, to water filtration or piped in water, charity: water creates a local Water Committee to design, build and maintain the best solution for communities. Thanks to an innovative partnership with Google, sensors are installed on each water system to monitor its performance and let donors see the impact of their gift by accessing GPS and water flow data, online. To date, Charity: water has built almost 30,000 water systems bringing clean water to over 8 million people.
Kiva is an organization that facilitates small microfinance loans, as little as $25, to entrepreneurs, social businesses, schools and other non-profit organizations in the developing world to help lift people out of poverty, expand small businesses like local farms, or fund education opportunities for those who can’t afford them. 81% of Kiva’s borrowers are women.
Kiva partners with microfinance institutions to screen-in valid applications and connect them to individual lenders through Kiva’s website. The loans are zero interest and 100% of the loan amount goes to the lender – Kiva chargers no fees to either party. Kiva’s operating costs are covered by voluntary donations made from Kiva lenders, made in addition to, or instead of loans, and through grants and donations from supporters.
To date Kiva has facilitated 3.1 million loans in 82 different countries with a value of $1.24 billion, with an astounding repayment rate of 96.9%.
With a billion fans worldwide and participants in almost every country, few pastimes have the global reach of soccer. Seeking to leverage that popularity to do good, Common Goal was founded in 2017 with Manchester United’s Spanish soccer star Juan Mata leading the way. The charity seeks to sign up members of the global soccer community to pledge one percent of their salaries to a collective fund that supports charities around the world. Since its inception, the Spaniard has been joined by more than 50 fellow players from 17 countries, including other players from the England’s prestigious Premier League. And non-millionaire soccer fans can team up with their heroes to provide their make a pledge of their own.
Most people know 2014 Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai’s heroic story, but they might not know about the Malala Fund, founded by Malala and her father, Ziauddin. The fund works to provide access to education for girls in developing countries who are denied it because of war, poverty, child marriage and gender discrimination. Through targeted investments, the fund supports educators and activists fighting for girls’ education in countries where they are most likely to be out of school, including Pakistan, the Syria region, Nigeria, Afghanistan and others. And the fund’s leaders advocate at the local, national and international levels for resources and policy changes needed to give all girls access to education.
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