INTERVIEW by JESSICA PANDZIC | PHOTOGRAPHY by ESTHER HAVENS
Have you every felt like the cash that you pour (or maybe, trickle) into charity is entering a broken system? Becky Straw, Jody Landers, and friends are trying to change the way we give by supplying entrepreneurs with venture capital to 1.) fix a broken system and, 2.) become a part of the end of poverty. The Adventure (add-venture) Project focuses on the environment, water, hunger, and health — providing an opportunity for people to get involved based on their interest and passion. Becky and Jody are constantly growing their tribe of people attempting to add venture into Social Enterprises that affect billions of people living below the poverty line.
Tell me the beginning of the story. How did the dynamic duo, yourself and Jody Landers, meet and decide to “change how we give”?
We met in Liberia, West Africa — kind of a funny place to meet for two women from the States! Jody had spent years in Iowa growing as a mom; she was engaged just after high school and had her first kid at nineteen.
I was just browsing her website. Such a beautiful family!
I know, adorable! She and her husband had this epiphany when they had their ten-year anniversary. They were planning on going to Hawaii because they had never taken a proper honeymoon, but decided to instead use that money to adopt a pair of twins from Sierra Leone — Zeke and Kora. They were in need of a family and had been given up because their mother died in childbirth due to lack of access to proper medical care. Obviously, going to Sierra Leone after living a very comfortable Midwestern life was a very eye-opening experience. They said, “Okay — we need to make our family more worldly and globally-conscious.”
She’s a very popular blogger and used that passion to raise money with friends around her kitchen table for water projects through charity: water, which was the organization where I was working at the time. I was managing all of the projects, spending 30 percent of my time in the field in Africa, Haiti, and India. I met her in Liberia and showed her all of the water projects that she had helped to support. We stayed in touch and talked a lot about the most effective ways to end poverty and how to change the way people give.
We found that there wasn’t an organization out there dedicated to channeling ordinary Americans’ small gifts into social enterprise and to job-creation activities that impact local economies. I had met amazing entrepreneurs as I was funding water projects and wanted to amplify their impact by raising awareness for what they were doing.
Currently The Adventure Project partners with International Lifeline Fund, Water For People, KickStart, and Living Goods. Do you choose one organization per cause — environment, water, hunger, and health?
Right now, we are focused on one organization per cause. Hopefully as we grow we will diversify that portfolio. Each of those organizations and their products, low-cost technologies such as the stove, could potentially impact a billion people living at the bottom of the pyramid.
So many organizations deserve more support. How do you choose the organizations that The Adventure Project supports?
We are definitely looking for impact. We ask ourselves if their technology has the opportunity to impact the broadest range of people. We are also looking for robust organizations that have sound organizational activities and are positioned to scale.
Can you give us a short description of each Social Enterprise and tell us why you’ve chosen it for The Adventure Project?
Lifeline Fund is implementing a fuel-efficient stove program in Port au Prince, Haiti. The number one cause of death in children isn’t AIDS or hunger or water: it’s actually respiratory illness, usually developed when a mother is cooking and her baby is strapped to her back or nearby. The baby breathes in the toxic smoke, which can cause pneumonia. A fuel-efficient stove drastically reduces the emissions of toxic smoke, which is good for health as well as the environment. It reduces carbon emissions as well as deforestation. In Haiti, about 95 percent of forests have been deforested, which raises the price of charcoal. Many poor families that live on less than two dollars a day are now spending 40 percent of their income just on charcoal to cook with. The stove cuts the amount of charcoal used in half.
The Adventure Project partners with Lifeline Fund to provide Haitian families with fuel-efficient stoves
Water For People is currently doing something very entrepreneurial and innovative. One-third of all wells are broken in Africa, India, and most developing countries. Wells often break within the first two years because there are no trained mechanics, spare parts, or tools to maintain them. Water For People is providing local people the tools, training, and resources to become well mechanics. Commonly, a really inexpensive part causes wells to break. If those wells are maintained, it will prevent major breakdowns.
Our hunger campaign with KickStart provides irrigation pumps for rural farmers in Kenya. The majority of Sub-Saharan Africans who are poor are subsistence farmers. 75 percent of those farmers don’t have enough food to feed their families — obviously that’s a production issue. These irrigation pumps increase the crop yield by 1,000 percent in one season. You’re literally giving people the ability to grow more crops, so they can not only feed their families, but also sell the excess in local markets.
And then send their children to school?
Absolutely! We’ve met families that now have a motorcycle, have their kids in private tutoring, and are using their transportation to export to the UK twice per week. Its really remarkable what people can do when they have access to the appropriate technology.
In the rural communities that Living Goods serves, children often die of preventable illnesses. They don’t have access to basic preventative medicines. Living Goods elects one woman per village, approximately 700 people total. If those women pass a health test and receive the needed training, they become health care promoters. They sell health care products to their community and provide maternal health care. Most of them are women leaders who have had several children, are experienced, and are trusted in the village. In Africa, drugs are often marked up by 350 percent compared to what the market rate should be, because of access. Living Goods has created a supply chain to make the drugs affordable. Since they are buying them in bulk and distributing, they are able to keep the costs down.
Before The Adventure Project, you were a part of charity: water. How is Water For People different?
Yes, I funded both. Water For People and charity: water have always had a great relationship. Water For People focuses on entrepreneurial efforts to end poverty. There will always be issues with access to water. There is a misconception that once you drill the well, it’s going to be there for at least twenty years, which is not accurate. I just wanted to provide a different perspective. The focus is on entrepreneurs and creating dignity: “teaching someone to fish.” Projects will be more sustainable if you’re supporting local economies and providing tools and training.
You were recently a part of a huge fundraising campaign for World Water Day. How many well mechanics will you be able to train?
Oh my gosh. That was crazy! I’m still recovering. We put out the challenge to raise $25,000 for well mechanics in 24 hours. Every $550 would give the tools, training, and stipend to employ one mechanic. The Prem Rawat Foundation proposed to double that $25,000. We used our collective voices on World Water Day, and both organizations passed the mark around 11:00 p.m. That was phenomenal. $50,000 went into the program, and I think we’re at $66,135 this morning. That’s 120 mechanics to implement Water For People’s well mechanics program in rural India.
The Adventure Project’s promotional video for World Water Day 2012
Sounds like things are going well for The Adventure Project! How can Daily BR!NK contribute to your success?
Really getting people to join our email list to learn more about us and find out how they can get involved. We want to channel venture from people that are passionate about social issues, whether it be water, hunger, the environment, or health. There are four ways that people can get plugged in and really learn more about these issues. That would make me very happy — and, of course, donate to the causes!