Hewlett Foundation develops innovative website
The Tech Museum of Innovation recently named Rice University’s Connexions website, developed with the support of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, one of five laureate winners in the Education category of its annual awards to recognize technological use that benefits humanity. Connexions, a nonprofit founded at Rice in 1999, defines itself as “an environment for collaboratively developing, freely sharing, and rapidly publishing scholarly content on the Web.”
Through Creative Commons, a nonprofit organization that enables the legal sharing and reuse of cultural, educational and scientific works, the website was provided a license that allows authors, instructors and students an open forum—the “Content Commons”—to build and share custom-made text books, courses, lesson plans and study guides. Connexions founder Richard Baraniuk notes that “more than a half million people across the globe are already logging onto Connexions each month.”
The foundation has distributed over $60 million in grants to fund open educational resource (OER) programs, supporting projects such as MIT’s OpenCourseWare program, Carnegie Mellon University’s Open Learning Initiative, African Virtual University’s Open Distance and eLearning Initiative, and Creative Commons.
Gates Foundation and Unitus launch microfinance efficiency initiative
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Unitus recently announced the launch of a joint microfinance efficiency initiative. Unitus is a nonprofit organization that fights global poverty by using venture capital, investment banking and strategy consulting industries. The Gates Foundation and Unitus formed their new partnership to provide greater access to microfinance services for the poor. Through funding by the Gates Foundation, the initiative has hired four financial analysts to determine “ways of improving operational and financial efficiency among MFIs [microfinance initiatives] in India, Latin America, and around the world.”
Over the next three years, these analysts will identify methods to enhance efficiency, such as increased employee productivity, decreased operating costs, and the creation of systems to optimize treasury management. By lowering the cost of capital for MFIs and interest rates for micro-entrepreneurs, the financial services will become more accessible for clients, as well as more likely to ensure the microfinance industry’s long-term success.
Sandeep Farias, vice president and country director of Unitus India, explains, “This initiative was conceptualized to inculcate a culture of efficiency, not just in our MFI partners, but across the microfinance industry. The objective is to develop break-through innovations to help our MFI partners around the world become low-cost providers of high-quality microfinance products while achieving economies of scale.”
Manhattan Institute announces Social Entrepreneurship Award winners
The Manhattan Institute recently announced the winners of its 2006 Awards for Social Entrepreneurship. The Awards, presented annually to five organizations, honor “nonprofit leaders who have found innovative, private solutions for America’s most pressing social problems” with gifts of up to $10,000. Focusing on the nonprofit sector’s creative energy, the Institute seeks to recognize private social-service groups, reformative organizations, education groups, community groups and conservancies. This year’s recipients are: Richard Liebich, Project Lead the Way; Aaron Hurst, Taproot Foundation; Mary Lou Kownacki, Inner-City Neighborhood Art House; Paige T. Ellison, Project K.I.D.; and Amy Hamlin, Volunteers in Medicine Institute.
Project Lead the Way, established in 1997 by founding benefactor and Roundtable member Richard Liebich, provides schools with effective programs for math and science reform. Gateway to Technology is a five-unit middle school program designed to explore math, science and technology. Pathway to Engineering is an eight-course high school program which helps students develop problem-solving skills through exposure to “real-world” engineering problems. The project’s vocational education program, Career and Tech, trains students seeking full-time employment following high school.
Taproot, founded in 2001 by Aaron Hurst, “identifies projects that address the challenges of most nonprofits, and develops general processes for meeting those needs.” Taproot volunteer managers and their teams develop branding systems, brochures, annual reports, websites, donor databases or performance management systems. Donors issue service grants at $5,000 each, directed to a particular field or to their own grantees. Taproot estimates each $5,000 contribution delivers $30,000 to $50,000 of pro bono services. Nationally, the three offices have awarded over 400 service grants to 980 nonprofits.
In 1994 Sister Mary Lou Kownacki began planning the reuse of a vacant Goodyear tire repair garage to create a neighborhood center in downtown Erie, Pennsylvania, that would bring the arts to the poor. Today, the Inner-City Neighborhood Art House offers 30 classes in writing, music, art, dance and pottery. The Art House has enrolled 3,000 children over the past ten years, from 27 schools and social service organizations. Aside from small grants from the local arts council, the Art House’s $500,000 annual budget comes almost entirely from individual donations.
Six days after Hurricane Katrina left many children without a safe refuge, Paige Ellison created the first Project K.I.D. [Kids in Devastation] “PlayCare” site. Locating volunteers, food, water and toys, Ellison provided parents—consumed with finding shelter, applying for aid, and seeking employment—with a safe place to leave their children. The original site reached 5,600 children, utilized over 220 volunteers, and precipitated the opening of 12 PlayCare sites in Mississippi.
The concept for the Volunteers in Medicine Institute began in 1993, when Jack McConnell, a retired physician and research scientist at McNeil Pharmaceuticals, saw a drastic need for better healthcare access in Hilton Head, South Carolina. He assembled doctors and nurses to serve in what would become the Volunteers in Medicine Clinic, providing medical assistance to the uninsured. Under the leadership of director Amy Hamlin, the Institute has established an alliance of 50 clinics in 24 states. The Institute provides consulting services and plans for local groups that wish to start their own VIM-style clinic, using both retired doctors (who are still licensed) and practicing medical professionals. Hamlin hopes to have 250 clinics by 2010.