Education & Arts

The Future Will Belong to the Nature Smart – Part I

January 29, 2013

By Richard Louv

Originally published in the Winter 2013 RSF Quarterly.

For all of human history and prehistory, experience in the natural world has helped shape our species, including our brains. Yet, in recent decades, our society has looked everywhere but toward more natural environments for healthier brain development and the enhancement of intelligence and creativity. It’s time to take a fresh look at our own back yards – at nature nearby and far.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, in a speech at Henry David Thoreau’s funeral service, described his friend’s many talents: “He was a good swimmer, runner, skater, boatman, and would probably out-walk most countrymen in a day’s journey….The length of his walk uniformly made the length of his writing. If shut up in the house he did not write at all.”

These walks not only stimulated his creativity, but had practical, day-to-day application: Thoreau’s outdoor experiences made him a sought-after land surveyor; he could not only outline boundaries with exactitude, but could also explain the ecological workings of an area in great detail. An amateur stream-watcher and river-gazer, he knew the secrets of local waters long before professional hydrologists took their measures. When NPR commentator John Hockenberry reported the research that revealed greater mental acuity after a nature walk, he pointed out that Albert Einstein and the mathematician and philosopher Kurt Gödel, “two of the most brilliant people who ever walked the face of the earth, used to famously, every single day, take walks in the woods on the Princeton campus.”

Well, we’re not all Einsteins. But we’ve all experienced that eureka moment when the brain is relaxed and in a positive state. That can occur in a shower, indoors or outdoors, but in all of its complexity – with all of its loose parts and invisible connections – the natural world is by definition an incubator of creativity.

Becoming nature smart

Creative genius is not the accumulation of knowledge; it is the ability to see patterns in the universe, to detect hidden links between what is and what could be. In 1977, the late Edith Cobb, a noted proponent of nature-based education, contended that geniuses share one trait: transcendent experience in nature in their early years. Environmental psychologist Louise Chawla of the University of Colorado offers a broader view. “Nature isn’t only important to future geniuses,” she says. Her work explores “ecstatic places.” She uses the word ecstatic carefully. Rather than applying the contemporary definition of delight or rapture, she prefers the word’s ancient Greek roots – ek stasis – meaning “outstanding” or “standing outside ourselves.” These ecstatic moments are “radioactive jewels buried within us, emitting energy across the years of our lives,” as Chawla puts it. Such moments are often experienced during formative years. But, because of the brain’s plasticity, and individual sensitivities, they can happen throughout life. And they can happen for everyone, giving each of us the touch of genius.

Most studies of learning ability and creativity associated with the relationship between nature experiences and creativity involve children. In 2006, a Danish study found that outdoor kindergartens were better than indoor schools at stimulating children’s creativity. The researchers reported that 58 percent of children who were in close touch with nature often invented new games; just 16 percent of indoor kindergarten children did. One explanation, for adults as well as children, is suggested by the “loose parts theory” in education, which holds that the more loose parts there are in an environment, the more creative the play. A computer game has plenty of loose parts, in the form of programming code, but the number and the interaction of those parts is limited by the mind of the human who created the game. In a tree, a woods, a field, a mountain, a ravine, a vacant lot, the number of loose parts is unlimited. It’s possible, then, that exposure to the loose but related parts of nature can encourage a greater sensitivity to patterns that underlie all experience, all matter, and all that matters.

Other research focuses on adults. In 2012, the University of Kansas News Service reported: “Research conducted at the University of Kansas concludes that people from all walks of life show startling cognitive improvement — for instance, a 50 percent boost in creativity — after living for a few days steeped in nature.” “There’s growing advantage over time to being in nature,” said Ruth Ann Atchley, department chair and associate professor of cognitive/clinical psychology at the University of Kansas, when the results of the study were announced. “We think that it peaks after about three days of really getting away, turning off the cell phone, not hauling the iPad and not looking for internet coverage. It’s when you have an extended period of time surrounded by that softly fascinating environment that you start seeing all kinds of positive effects in how your mind works.”

Nature experiences stimulate learning and inspire creativity through ecstatic experience but also through the complexity of possibilities for play and learning, and through a kind of osmosis.

We need more research in this field, although we already know intuitively that nature stimulates the mind and soul and our love of place, and that there is no electronic substitute, particularly for infants and young children. Harvard’s professor E.O. Wilson’s biophilia hypothesis holds that human beings are hard wired with an affiliation with the rest of nature. Researchers suggest exposure to the natural world restores the brain’s ability to pay attention, that it not only restores us, but excites us, by stimulating all of the senses.

These ideas are not new to Waldorf teachers or other nature-based educators. But, because of recent research and a growing movement to connect children to nature, a wider public is coming to that conclusion — even as children’s daily experience is becoming more virtual.

Click here for Part II of this essay where Richard discusses the hybrid mind.

Rose Rock School, Seed Fund Grantee

January 23, 2013

In the photo above, a student of Rose Rock School waters the plants that surround her school in the Norman, Oklahoma sunshine. Her school believes that a child’s development is enhanced by taking part in daily tasks and caring for his or her learning space.

The photo captures the spirit of Rose Rock, a school serving 2-6 year olds that strives to offer innovative education in a nurturing environment. A quick glance at the wonderful photos found on Norman resident Sarah Warmker’s photography page provides a glimpse into the caring, safe and creative setting founder Shanah Admadi and her team has created for their young learning community.

“Our long-term goal is to help lead children toward conscious adulthood, in which they respect diversity, interact harmoniously with all people, nurture and protect the natural world, and give joyfully to the communities in which they live.” – Rose Rock School website

Rose Rock School is a Life Ways North America Representative Site. LifeWays Child Care proposes that childcare programs can closely resemble the warm, relaxed atmosphere of a home, and that children can benefit from forming strong bonds with consistent caregivers. An emphasis on creative play rather than structured lessons is a hallmark of the LifeWays school of thought. Every day at Rose Rock the children care for the garden, play outside, and participate in the preparation and clean-up of home cooked organic meals enjoyed family style around a small table or outside on a picnic blanket.

In May 2012, The Rose Rock School Foundation received a grant from the RSF Seed Fund to establish a biodynamic garden and apiary on the school’s new site, a historic home in central Norman. Shanah provided an update on the progress they had made on this project:

“Since Rose Rock School received the grant last May, we have utilized the money to help in us tending our new 4-acre plot of land (in the center of town) with biodynamic field sprays.We have had many Rose Rock community work days, spent trimming trees, removing trash and brush, and envisioning our future at this site. Until the rezoning and construction is finished, the bees we purchased will continue to live at an off-site location outside of town.  We chose to keep them at a quieter location, while they organized themselves and recovered from their journey through the mail.  Since their arrival, they have established a healthy hive, foraged on local wildflowers, and endured their first Oklahoma summer.  We look forward to bringing them to their new home when it is ready.”

Shanah and team plan to build fencing to surround the apiary, for the protection of the children and the bees, while planting a variety of plants on the school grounds to serve as a nectar source. The school will benefit from the produce grown and honey harvested while also facilitating critical learning about the importance and value of sustainable agriculture. Remaining honey will be sold locally, to provide a revenue stream to help support the school.

For more information about the RSF Seed Fund, please visit our website.  To make a donation, please visit our donations page.

Ellie Lanphier is Program Assisstant, Philanthropic Services at RSF Social Finance.

A Journey of Transformational Education

January 15, 2013

At RSF, we see education and life-long learning as central to the renewal of culture. The Esalen Institute and Hollyhock Learning Centre offer unique opportunities to cultivate deep change in self an society. Here, Dana Bass Solomon, Hollyhock CEO and RSF investor, and Tricia McEntee, Esalen CEO (an RSF borrower) discuss how individual change can flourish to create better enterprises, movements, and a healthier world. This article was originally published in the Winter 2013 RSF Quarterly. Catch the podcast for more of our Clients in Conversation.  Interview with Marta Abel, Communications Associate

Marta: How did each of you come to be involved with your organizations?

Tricia:    I came from the business world.  I’m a CPA and had held Chief Financial Officer positions in both for-profit and in non-profit organizations through my career. I came to Esalen in February of 2006 for a weekend workshop with Brother David Steindl-Rast called “The Noble Cause of Business.” At that time I had been following quite a contemplative spiritual path in my personal life. I just fell in love with Esalen—it just felt like home.  It spoke to me on a personal spiritual level, and with the beautiful physical environment here in Big Sur, I was just swept away.

photo courtesy Doug Ellis for Esalen

Dana: My story involves a bit of magic and a bit of practicality. I first heard about Hollyhock over 20 years ago when I lived in a little mountain town in Colorado. I met two of the founders who had just acquired the land which was to become Hollyhock. It sounded like an extraordinary place.  Fast forward several years. I was the general manager of a hot springs property in California when I heard from a colleague that she was coming to Hollyhock to participate in “Spirit and Business,” a precursor conference to Social Venture Institute. I made arrangements to join her.

Tricia: It’s interesting that we both came to these places for similar workshops—to explore the idea of spirituality and business, and how much impact it could have on our world if we really had noble businesses.

Dana:  Yes it is. Hollyhock was founded on the idea of positive change for a better world. One of our founders was involved in the founding of Greenpeace. We have always been focused on providing lifelong learning programs and inspiring people to create just and healthy organizations, communities, and cultures. Hollyhock’s leadership programs and conferences often include personal and professional skill development.  We think about personal development as a key factor in building successful individuals, enterprises, organizations, and campaigns.  The individual is where the growth begins. Learning how to be more skillful human beings, then taking that out into the world helps support successful enterprises and organizations.  I think that that is what we’re all doing through various methodologies, both at Hollyhock and Esalen.

Tricia: Yes it is. Our terminology for it is “From Me to We.” I think there’s a sense of urgency to take our personal growth out into the world to make positive change. We don’t have a lot of time to waste so we’re trying to put a lot more emphasis on that.

Marta: How has the work at Hollyhock and Esalen, contributed to your own personal development?

Dana: It’s re-enlivened my hope for the future.  It’s about hope for me and being part of advancing human kind. Over this last decade and a half, our demographic has shifted from mostly middle-aged women. We’ve grown the conferences as a gateway to include more young people. The growth is generative. Emerging young leaders who care about the future are gathering and creating initiatives that are stunning. I feel most fortunate to be engaged with, and sharing lives with these inspiring people. I have real hope that there’s a future for a better world.

photo courtesy of Hollyhock

 

Tricia: We have about 20,000 people a year that come to Esalen. In talking to these people I often hear, “You know, coming to Esalen has changed my life.”  There was an article recently in the San Francisco Chronicle about Esalen’s 50th anniversary that said the ideas that came from Esalen during those early years have just changed everything about our culture—how we think, how we pray, how we eat, how we work.  A lot of times people are in a hard moment, they’re in a transition in life. I think Esalen offers that respite, a renewal time.    It has a very personal impact. People are discovering great things about themselves that were already there, but after the experience here it just shines out to the rest of the world. We see people become better parents.  They’re better spouses.  They’re better teachers.  They find their purpose, their calling in life. I can see that over and over again.  Anytime I get personally down or in a negative space, I just sit down and talk to the people that are there.  And I say “Well, what workshop are you taking?  How’s it going?”  And I just hear how much of an impact we’re having on people’s lives. That’s all it takes.

Marta: What’s on the next horizon for your organizations?

Dana: The next edge for Hollyhock is to scale up our ability to reach more people so that we can have more impact. Our Vancouver programs are accessible, affordable and high impact. These last few years we’ve developed partnerships with universities, the Dalai Lama Center for Peace, Power of Hope, and other progressive institutions, seeing what we can do together to broaden our reach and to share skills and stories.

Tricia: There are two major themes that are leading the way forward at Esalen.  First we will embrace our role in social transformation with greater intentionality–going from “Me to We.”   We plan to do this by building on our distinguished track record of being a catalyst for collective and social change through private gatherings of thought leaders, spiritual teachers and progressive scholars. We plan to increase the topics and number of gatherings and expand the impact of these private gatherings by disseminating the content on our new web site.

Second, we are seeking to diversify the people we serve, reach a broader audience and new generations of leaders. An example of this is the Esalen Integral Leadership Program that is currently underway and that seeks to bring future leaders to Esalen by partnering with universities who will offer college credit for taking our courses.  Another priority for us is forging partnerships with social change organizations for public workshops and conferences that serve both our diversity and social impact goals.

photo courtesy of Doug Ellis

We are also committed to the stewardship of our Big Sur property, to transform our aging structures into a model green educational village that will enhance the visitor and staff experience.

Dana:  We launched a website this year called Hollyhock Life.  It has several different focus areas, the main ones being Community, Food and Garden, and Big Ideas. Volunteers, interns, our presenters and guests are populating the site with new ideas and content. People can actually interact on Hollyhock Life.  They can post articles, or write reflections about their experiences and interests. It’s a really fabulous, interactive site that changes almost every day. That’s the cutting edge of where we are going.

Marta: We’re working with similar questions at RSF about how to scale when so much of the appeal of our work is about the personal transformative elements.  How do you really do that in a way that’s meaningful for people?

Dana: That is what we’re all working towards—all three of our organizations.  How do we remain relevant?  But, not just relevant.  How do we remain relevant, and interesting, and facilitate engagement within and outside of our communities?  Is it through a deeply personal and collaborative experience?

Centers like Hollyhock and Esalen don’t consider ourselves as competition.  The more that we can offer to each other, the more we’ll be able to accomplish. We have, for many years, really been supportive of each other—through our program and operations departments. Collaboration is key to our collective future.

Tricia: I totally agree. Our mission is the same. The next question is how can we get this impact out in the world more effectively by partnering? It is absolutely something I would want to do so we’ll definitely need to connect to further the conversation.

stone circles, Seed Fund Grantee

November 8, 2012

By Catherine Covington

What does it mean to live sustainably, particularly in regards to stewardship of land?  2012 RSF Seed Fund Grantee stone circles has made this question central to its work.  stone circles, located in the small town of Mebane, NC, has a mission to strengthen and sustain people committed to transformation and justice, and its mission comes alive through spiritual practice and principles, a sustainable relationship with the land, radical hospitality, and strategic collaboration.

Photo courtesy: stone circles

stone circles was founded in 1995 and has continually been  at the forefront of the national movement to transform social change work by creating strong and explicit links between individual and social transformation.  It does so by working at the local, statewide, and national level and provides trainings, workshops and retreats that offer transformative experiences that link commitment to sustainability and practice with frameworks for strategic action.

Since 2008, stone circles has been working to create a more equitable and just food system in central North Carolina. In 2011 the organization began researching ways to directly support local sustainable agriculture. One major discovery was the barriers that young adults of color face when trying to enter the farming profession.   In addition to training and mentoring, farmers of color oftentimes lack the access to the resources and the decision-making groups that are fueling the growing movement around local food sustainability.  The RSF Seed Fund grant is specifically intended to support a 10-day residential training program for young farmers of color at The Stone House, stone circles’ 70-acre rural retreat and training center.  The program will include practical farm skills training in organic agriculture practices, food systems education, and personal practices for self-renewal that focus on the experience of deeply resting and replenishing the body and spirit.

Photo courtesy: stone circles

In preparation for the upcoming training, stone circles has put on a number of food justice workshops.  According to evaluation summaries, beyond increasing their knowledge of food justice, participants also reported a deepened ability to relate across lines of difference. One of the highlights for many people was the opportunity to share personal stories of  race, ethnicity, and class backgrounds, as it connected them to each other and to the larger framework being presented.

To learn more about the RSF Seed Fund and how you can help support new and inspirational projects like this one, click here.

Catherine Covington is Senior Program Associate, Philanthropic Services at RSF Social Finance.

Bikes Not Bombs: 2012 Seed Fund Grantee

October 14, 2012

by Ellie Lanphier

Bikes Not Bombs uses the bicycle as a powerful vehicle and tool for social change. Each year, Bikes Not Bombs (BNB) takes in 5-6,000 donated bicycles and gives them new life through one of their many youth programs, international development projects, and retail shop/vocational training center.

A 27 year old community organization in Jamaica Plain, MA, BNB received a RSF Seed Fund grant in spring of this year to support Chain Reaction, its youth-created and run mobile bicycle shop and mechanics training center. BNB sought funding to cover the cost of parts needed to repair and refurbish donated bicycles in order to provide transportation to low-income communities as well as keep those bicycles out of the solid waste stream. Chain Reaction fixes and re-sells bikes priced between $50 and $75 and offers free bike mechanics lessons. Realizing that in low income neighborhoods people had less accessibility to bike supplies and repair shops, a key component of Chain Reaction is the capability to travel where people need them most.

Stephane Alexandre, one of BNB’s Youth Employees explained her participation in the program: “giving back feels good because I am actively making a difference in one person’s life.  If I can just help one person see, I mean really understand, the possibilities that a simple bicycle can bring, then I would have done my job that day.”

Through Chain Reaction, BNB seeks to reinforce academic learning, build critical thinking skills, provide unemployment training, and cultivate leadership while solidifying a lifelong commitment to environmental and social justice.

For more information call Sarah at Bikes Not Bombs at 617-522-0222 x104, email sarah@bikesnotbombs.org or visit https://bikesnotbombs.org/chain-reaction. If you would like to find out more about the RSF Seed Fund, please visit http://rsfsocialfinance.org/services/giving/seedfund/.
Ellie Lanphier is Program Assistant, Philanthropic Services at RSF Social Finance.

Building the Next Economy

October 8, 2012

You’ve probably heard of the “new economy,” which often refers to social media, sharing-based businesses, and sometimes socially responsible businesses. RSF Social Finance is working to build the next economy: one that’s rooted in community, considers everyone’s needs, and restores trust in financial relationships through transactions that are direct, transparent and personal.

Through our innovative investing, lending, and giving programs, RSF provides critical access to capital for path-breaking social enterprises working in Food & Agriculture, Education & the Arts, and Ecological Stewardship. We collaborate with like-minded organizations to create a financial infrastructure that will support the next economy. And we’ve democratized impact investing with our Social Investment Fund (SIF), which allows anyone with a $1,000 minimum investment to participate in building the next economy.

This is incredibly ambitious. We’re asking you to help spread the word as we promote our “building the next economy” stories on our website, Facebook, Twitter (#nexteconomy) and elsewhere. We’re focusing on these points:

  • RSF provides critical access to capital for path-breaking social enterprises.
  • RSF collaborates with like-minded organizations to create a financial infrastructure for the next economy.
  • RSF has democratized impact investing with the Social Investment Fund, which allows anyone with a $1,000 minimum investment to participate in building the next economy. More information on opening an account: here

Read our latest borrower stories on the Reimagine Money Blog:

Guayakí Pioneers Market-Driven Restoration

Common Market Boosts Urban Access to Fresh Food, Helps Local Farms Thrive

Indigenous Sets Out to Remake the Apparel Industry

B Lab Seeds a Movement Toward a New Kind of Corporation

Strong Vision Helps Pine Hill Waldorf School Persevere and Lead

RecycleForce Keeps Electronic Waste Out of Landfills and Ex-Felons Out of Prison

 

Strong Vision Helps Pine Hill Waldorf School Persevere and Lead

September 24, 2012

Building the Next Economy

Fire is a defining element for Pine Hill Waldorf School—as both metaphor and history. In a sense that’s true for RSF as well.

The old New Hampshire farmhouse the school had occupied since shortly after its founding in 1972 burned to the ground in 1983. Determined to rebuild, the school formed a fundraising team. Among those they approached was Siegfried Finser, who at that moment was reviving the Rudolf Steiner Foundation (now RSF Social Finance) as a social investment vehicle.

“Our situation ignited the rebirth of RSF,” says Arthur Auer, then a Pine Hill teacher and now director of the Antioch Waldorf Teacher Training program, located during the summer on Pine Hill grounds. “Forces and people coalesced and created a comprehensive school master plan and one of the most striking examples of Waldorf school architecture in the U.S.”

INSPIRATION

“I saw an education for children where their whole beings were tended to and cared for—bodies, minds, spirits—and people coming together who all wanted that,” recalls Sherry Jennings, who has been a Pine Hill teacher from the beginning. “I was very inspired to tend that flame.”

She notes that Pine Hill was at the forefront of a surge of interest in Waldorf schools, which numbered only about a dozen at the time, most of them started in the 1940s. “Parents were looking for a new kind of school community, where they could be part of it and have connections with other adults who shared similar values.”

A similar “hunger” arising again today gives the school fresh inspiration, she says. “We’re coming full circle, in a way. I see that parents are really longing for deep connections.”

INNOVATION

That intense parent connection to the school was an important aspect of an innovative $1.1 million rebuilding package that included $500,000 in pledge loans and loan guarantees through the newly minted RSF and an innovative parent bond program. To spread costs, parents of new students were required to purchase a $1,000 bond that could be redeemed upon graduation; at that point many opted to donate their bond to the school, producing an ongoing asset-building stream.

With Pine Hill as a model, RSF has continued to support Waldorf schools, not only by providing capital but also by helping them to build communities willing to commit financial and other resources to a project’s success.

At Pine Hill, the school community also was integral to designing the new building. The architect interviewed teachers, friends, parents and children, and the children drew pictures of what they thought the building should look like. The result was a building that appears to emerge from the land itself.

“We wanted the building to arise out of a sense of place in the forest, on that granite hilltop,” Auer says, “and we wanted it to be not just environmentally friendly but also to fit into the environment. Its main gesture is a big heart of an auditorium in the center and two classroom wings embracing the children as they stream into the building.”

The auditorium was completed several years later in a second building phase, and unbelievably, a second fire struck as the last coat of finish on the stage was drying. It destroyed the auditorium and damaged both classroom wings. Insurance covered the cost of rebuilding, but “that fire was extremely painful,” says Auer. “That building was built with love by a whole team of parents.”

Now Pine Hill is building again, and again with help from RSF. The Children’s Village, an early childhood education center that fulfills the school’s master plan, is taking shape next to a biodynamic community farm. “We’re really excited about The Children’s Village,” says Jennings. “This is a space where we can protect and honor the needs of the really young child. We’re also doing publicly accessible parent education, which is a way to contribute to the whole community.”

Pine Hill child care center

IMPACT

“Without RSF we would not have been able to develop as full a master plan and model school,” says Auer, adding that the impact is not just local: The Children’s Village speaks to other Waldorf schools about the value of establishing their own early childhood education centers.

“One could become very anxious about taking such a risk in a recession,” Auer says. “But I think The Children’s Village is the right decision, to have the courage to go outward and serve the community. Others might say this is not the time to do it, but we are not doubting. Having gone through two fires has proven that Pine Hill has a strong body of life forces. I always have had confidence that those forces will prevail and bring us through to another new phase.”

VITALS

Organization name Pine Hill Waldorf School
Impact area Education & the Arts
RSF relationship Loan recipient, RSF investor
HQ Wilton, New Hampshire
Annual budget About $2 million
Employees 20+
Students 180 children, 125 teacher trainees (summer campus)
Communities served Local area and Waldorf education nationally

 

2012 May and June Grantmaking Activity: Global Greengrants

August 16, 2012

By Catherine Covington

 

Many of our donor advised fund clients recommend grants to domestic organizations that they have a close connection to.  Perhaps they have volunteered with the organization, know someone on the staff or board, have seen the impact of the organization’s work in their own community, or are passionate about an issue or problem the organization is tackling.  However, what does one do if you are passionate about supporting causes outside the U.S. but don’t know where to get started or what support is needed and where?

One of donor advisors recently recommended a grant to Global Greengrants, a domestic non-profit with international grantmaking expertise.   The mission of Global Greengrants is to mobilize resources for global environmental sustainability and social justice. It does so by raising money from individuals, foundations and corporations then donating those funds to worthy charitable causes around the world.  One might ponder the direct impact a gift to a regranting organization but Greengrants is able to add tremendous value to its donors’ gifts through its unique grantmaking model—small grants recommended by local experts.

Bidhichandrapur Chetana (BCC) is a community organization in West Bengal, India. The group has used 4 small grants from Greengrants to spread organic farming in their community. Photo by Tamsin Green.

Greengrants acts as a bridge between donors and local groups on the ground, and it does so through a model of activist-led grantmaking.  Greengrants has strong, local connections with extraordinary community leaders and activists around the world.  Journalists, lawyers, scientists, academics and a variety of other individuals act as advisors on nearly 20 advisory boards.  The advisors provide local knowledge and on-the-ground details, which are two key ingredients for making impactful grants at the grassroots level.  These advisors are often on the front lines enabling Greengrants to find promising grantees and ensure success through active monitoring and mentoring.   To learn more about Greengrants’ grantmaking model and the important challenges it is confronting in areas such as biodiversity conservation, climate justice, and food and agriculture, please check out its website.  My favorite page is the grantee highlights section!

During the months of March and April, RSF’s donor advisors recommended 66 grants from their Donor Advised Funds for a total disbursement amount of $1,002,334!  Donor Advised Funds are a unique charitable giving vehicle offered by RSF that allow donors to make tax-deductible contributions to RSF and then recommend grants from their fund to qualified nonprofit organizations of their choice.  A donor can be an individual, group, family, corporation, trust, or a foundation, and they benefit from access to RSF’s innovative Impact Investing Portfolios.  Unlike other Donor Advised Fund investment programs, a donor’s contribution is invested directly in enterprises and funds with core social and environmental missions to ensure greater mission-alignment and the deepest impact possible.

Catherine Covington is Senior Associate, Philanthropic Services at RSF Social Finance

Education & the Arts

Allgemeine Anthroposophische Gessellschaft
Inquiring Systems, Inc.
Villa Esperanza Services
Global Citizen Year
GreatNonProfits
Democracy Now!
Global Purpose
Duke University
Community School for Creative Education
Camphill Soltane
Tides Foundation
Collective Heritage Institute
Awakening Entelechy
Ecole Rudolf Steiner-Montreal
Marion Institute
Center for Biography and Social Art
Rose Rock School Foundation
Women’s Resource Center
Charter Foundation
Spirit Rock Meditation Center
Truthout
Maine People’s Resource Center
The University of Maine System, Inc.
Christian Community in New England
Christian Community – New York City
Consumers for Dental Choice
Pacific Zen Institute

 

Ecological Stewardship

Daily Acts
Science House Foundation
Bikes Not Bombs
Tengri School for Spiritual Ecology
The Cultural Conservancy
Georges River Land Trust
Amazon Conservation Team
Global Greengrants Fund

 

Food & Agriculture

New World Foundation
Filmmakers Collaborative
Dancers’ Group
stone circles
Trust for Conservation Innovation
Adelante Mujeres
Food Chain Workers Alliance
Creative Visions
Oakland Institute
Waldo Community Action Partners
Bay Area Center for Waldorf Teacher Training
Biodynamic Farming & Gardening Association
Spikenard Farm
Michael Fields Agricultural
Rockland Farm Alliance
 

Social Finance

Villgro Innovations Foundation
Commercial Fisherman of Santa Barbara
 

Other

Mali Health Organizing Project
Stanford University
Camphill Communities California
National Peace Corps
Southern Poverty Law Center
American Himalayan Foundation
 

Presenting: Equal Access International

July 5, 2012

By Reed Mayfield

Equal Access International (EA) is an innovative non-profit organization using media and community-building to overcome some of the most critical challenges affecting millions of underserved people in the developing world including women’s &  girls’ empowerment, youth life skills & livelihoods, human rights, health, civic participation, peace building &  governance.  Working in Afghanistan, Nepal, Cambodia, Chad, Niger, India, Laos, Pakistan and Yemen, EA combines the power and broad reach of innovative media with direct community mobilization to provide people with life changing information and education inspiring them to overcome obstacles and improve their lives.

Founded in 2000 by Ronni Goldfarb, the organization has grown significantly as a trusted voice and community resource for millions of people.  Today,  with a broadcast reach to 90 million, EA produces annually over 1700 hours of award winning programming such as serial dramas, magazine features, youth chat shows, street theater, online platforms and “voices from the field” segments in 19 languages.  Every day,   youth, women and whole communities take new actions inspired by EA’s media programs; they participate in trainings, theater events, youth club discussions and community roundtables. By sharing success stories and ongoing burdens through radio call-ins, SMS texting and interpersonal dialogue, local solutions emerge – unleashing the power of positive change.

With a lean staff of 10 at SF HQ, EA has 120 worldwide staff , with 90% being trained in-country nationals and community reporters.  Equal Access has received considerable acknowledgment for their positive impact such as the Tech Award in Education for Technology Benefiting Humanity, the prestigious UK One World Media Special Award. They were also cited by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for their Women’s Rights as Human Rights in Afghanistan project, and were chosen by the UN Trust Fund to present “Voices” ( see below) during the week of panels during the launch of UN Women.

Here is a glimpse at two of their major programs:

VOICES: Reducing HIV/AIDS and Violence Against Women – Featuring the award winning radio show, Samajhdari (Mutual Understanding), and The Most Understanding Husband Campaign,” VOICES addresses the intersection of violence against women (VAW) and HIV/AIDS and explores daunting dilemmas faced by Nepali women and girls.  With one million listeners and 300 listening groups and legal literacy trainings, Samajhdari’s candid on-air dialogues teach Nepal women to think critically, speak unhesitatingly, and organize collectively to protect their rights. Breaking the silence, VOICES has shifted the social landscape by increasing national awareness on VAW, provides new definitions of masculinity, and encourages mutual understanding between men and women.

 

 

To be lasting, behavior change on sensitive issues must emerge from within the culture.  CEO Goldfarb emphasizes EA’s practice of deep listening, culturally appropriate approaches, and interactive feedback loops at every stage of program implementation.  “While providing vital information, our real success lies in empowering beneficiaries with the education and skills to interpret and apply new information, while inspiring their imagination and belief in their inherent power to improve and transform their lives.  ”

Chatting with My Best Friend

“You have provided a base for the poor, helpless and hurt people like me. I will study and do something good for everyone with my self confidence. I will stand on my own two feet.”  -A young girl listener to Chatting with My Best Friend, Nepal

In the developing world, weak government, poor education and lack of livelihoods leave youth (who comprise over 50% of the population) tremendously vulnerable. To empower young people, EA pioneered a media and youth engagement model, which they implement in five countries.  For example, in Nepal, through a nationally broadcast youth-led radio series, leadership trainings, discussion groups and more Chatting with My Best Friend instill vital life skills as foundational support for healthy development, informed choices and positive engagement. EA elevates young voices on air, builds self-esteem, provides livelihood training, and empowers young people as creative change agents. Chatting with My Best Friend has a regular audience of 6.5 million young people and receives SMS feedback as high as 5,000 messages per month, while 1200 self-formed youth groups meet to discuss the program and take actions. Surveys by AC Neilson and the Nepal Health Demographic survey demonstrated that regular listeners are more likely to complete schooling, are more informed about HIV, and practice less risky behaviors.

To experience all EA youth programs in other countries, check out this link.

RSF is honored to have Equal Access as a borrower since 2008. RSF’s credit line assists EA to bridge timing gaps between contract and grant payment receivables from diverse organizations such as UN Women, US Institute for Peace, Open Society Institute, USAID, and others enabling continuous implementation of programs such as the VOICES and Chatting to reach rural, underserved populations.  Please visit equalaccess.org for more information.

Reed Mayfield is the Lending Associate at RSF Social Finance.

 

Seed Fund Grantee: Shining Rivers Waldorf School

May 4, 2012

By Catherine Covington

“When the world wearies and society ceases to satisfy, there is always the garden.”
- Minnie Aumonier

Shining Rivers Waldorf School located in St. Louis, Missouri, was awarded a RSF Seed Fund grant last spring to support its biodynamic garden program.  We receive many applications for school gardens, but we found this project particularly unique in its purpose. This garden is intended to not only educate and engage students, but also to demonstrate that it can be self-sustained through a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program.

Shining Rivers had historically maintained a large vegetable garden space at the school, and with the hiring of a Garden’s Keeper with 10 years of urban farming experience at the end of 2010, the school’s goal of kicking off a CSA program became attainable.  Not only did the school receive support from the RSF Seed Fund, it also received parent and faculty donations, and support from Slow Food St. Louis and the Webster Groves Women’s Garden Association.  I recently corresponded with Ann Wiedemann, the school’s director, and she reported that while they knew the community was excited about the program, they had no idea that the 10 available CSA shares would sell out in less than 2 hours!

While the children are not specifically responsible for aspects of the CSA program, they are exposed to the entire process from planning, planting, caring, harvesting and prepping the CSA shares, and the Garden’s Keeper is responsible for coordinating curriculum with the classroom teachers.  The school is currently expanding its garden space and starting the second year of the CSA program, with plans to develop a guide to starting school CSA projects.  In June, the garden will be part of the St. Louis Sustainable Backyard Tour!

Shining Rivers was founded in 1992 and is a developing school member of the Association for Waldorf Schools of North America, currently serving 85 children through grade 6.  To find out more about the school, please visit their website.

To learn more about the RSF Seed Fund and how you can help support new and inspirational projects like this one, click here.  Also stay tuned in the coming weeks for the announcement of our 2012 Seed Fund Grantees!

Catherine Covington is Senior Program Associate, Philanthropic Services at RSF Social Finance.

 

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