Manhattan Institute’s Social Entrepreneurship Awards
The Manhattan Institute’s Social Entrepreneurship Initiative has recently announced the winners of its 2007 Social Entrepreneurship Awards. Dan Biederman, co-founder and president of the Bryant Park Corporation, is the first recipient of the William E. Simon Award for lifetime achievement in social entrepreneurship and will receive a prize of $100,000. Through private funding and initiative, the Bryant Park Corporation has transformed Manhattan’s Bryant Park from a “dangerous and depressing place” to one of the most popular urban parks in the world, with over 1,000 visitors per acre daily.
The institute is also awarding five additional prizes of $25,000 each to nonprofit leaders “who found innovative, private solutions for some of America’s most pressing social problems, with little or no government financial aid.”
Social Entrepreneurship Award winners include Robert Chambers, co-founder of Bonnie CLAC, who helps low-income customers buy basic, reliable cars at a reduced price, from lower monthly loan payments to fewer maintenance costs. CLAC has helped over 900 people buy new cars.
Catherine Rohr’s Prisoner Entrepreneurship Program (PEP) “constructively redirects inmates’ talents” so they can re-enter society as productive, value-based entrepreneurs. PEP has graduated 300 former inmates with a recidivism rate of only five percent.
Reclaim A Youth (RAY), founded by Addie Mix in 1992, provides education and counseling for lower-income urban children and seeks to empower youth through its school and scholarship programs on Chicago’s South Side.
Rabbi Levi and Bassie Shemtov’s Friendship Circle and its 400 volunteers aid the developmentally disabled in practicing life skills that will help them become independent adults.
Dr. Toni Henneman founded A Home Within to connect volunteer therapists with current and former foster children in the San Francisco Bay area. The organization has since spread to Chicago, Washington, Los Angeles, and New York, and has helped some 400 children.
Supported by the William E. Simon and JM Kaplan Foundations, the Manhattan Institute’s Social Entrepreneurship Initiative recognizes leaders who exemplify the American tradition of volunteerism and nonprofit action to “improve American society.”
The Social Entrepreneurship Awards will be presented in New York City on Tuesday, October 23.
Enhancing Coral Reef Fish Conservation Policies
The David and Lucile Packard Foundation has granted the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) nearly $500,000 for three years to study the spawning and migratory behaviors of coral reef fish. Using a chemical tagging technique called Transgenerational Isotope Labeling (TRAIL), WHOI’s research team, led by scientist Simon Thorrold, can measure the extent by which grouper and snapper disperse and return to their native breeding grounds. Mature female fish are injected with a harmless barium isotope that is passed on to their offspring, serving as a chemical identifier for these juveniles.
The study has important implications for traditional conservation management policies, and especially for Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). It has been commonly held that sustaining fish populations in regulated fish zones, or MPAs, has positive spillover effects for surrounding, unregulated, areas. But no empirical evidence had yet demonstrated population connectivity until Thorrold and colleagues tracked butterfly fish and clownfish larval dispersal from an MPA in Papua New Guinea.
The study found that 60 percent of the two species returned to their natal reefs. This high self-recruitment rate led scientists to conclude that “self-sustaining populations might be smaller than previously thought, so marine conservation might be better off with more, slightly smaller MPAs,” suggests Thorrold. “The optimal size [of MPAs] should be big enough to sustain itself but small enough to promote larval spillover [into non-MPA areas], or else there is no net benefit to fishing.”
Thorrold emphasizes that MPAs are a necessary but insufficient conservation measure. “People want MPAs to be able to solve every problem—that’s clearly not going to happen.” If an area is closed to fishing, then fishing is simply going to relocate to other areas. According to Thorrold, marine conservation policies will combine MPAs with other fisheries management methods in areas outside of MPAs.
Thorrold sees much potential in free-market, incentive-based management tools. “The ownership question is like an elephant in the room. If we can solve the ‘tragedy of the commons problem,’ then economic ways of dealing with over-harvesting certainly could work.” He says, however, that understanding how to design and optimize the use of MPAs is in many ways a prerequisite to other policy prescriptions.
The phenomenon of virtual worlds has caught the attention of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Through its $50-million Digital Media and Learning initiative, the MacArthur Foundation has begun a year-long examination of philanthropy’s role in virtual worlds, computer-simulated environments that enable users to interact via cyber-characters called avatars. Led by the over nine-million-user-strong Second Life, virtual worlds have swelled in size, expanding beyond recreational use to business, educational, and, most recently, nonprofit functions.
“Virtual worlds offer three unique features for nonprofits,” says Connie Yowell, MacArthur’s director of education for its Human and Community Development program. “They are multi-modal—audio, visual, speech, text; synchronistic—multiple users interacting at the same time; and have a distinct ‘presence’—the only place online that the presence of others is felt.”
Among MacArthur’s virtual world investments is a $550,000 grant to the University of Southern California’s Center on Public Diplomacy at the Annenberg School for Communication. MacArthur is also hosting a $2 million competition to identify and inspire new ideas about learning in the digital world.
Yowell admits, “There’s a certain amount of hype surrounding virtual worlds. We quickly have to move past advocacy to agnosticism. We haven’t even begun to explore.”
MacArthur is also funding Global Kids, the first nonprofit to build land within Second Life’s “Teen” grid as a location for youth program activities.
“Our grantmaking is based on the assumption that kids who have grown up digital are much more fluent in virtual worlds. Digital media writ large stands to learn a lot from adolescents,” says Yowell.
Global Kids’ cyber-environment has functioned as a forum for young users’ essays on their relationships with digital media and involved youth in ongoing leadership development programming.
Chinwe Onyekere, a program officer at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, believes virtual world platforms have the potential to innovate RWJF’s philanthropy.
“We’re interested in Second Life video games as new media forms to improve health and healthcare,” says Onyekere, “to engage different types of audiences and think about new ways to fundamentally change the way we can help.”
One RWJF project, Youth Venture, is creating online youth collaborations to spur real-world activism in combating health issues such as diabetes. RWJF will soon go active with another Second Life virtual platform designed to lend itself to addiction treatment.
Onyekere agrees with Yowell that the link between conveying ideas in virtual space and translating them into real-world actions is an unknown. “Philanthropy can really help to test and build this knowledge base,” says Onyekere.