The Outside Blog

Dispatches : Nov 2011

World Bicycle Relief

BY THE NUMBERS: More than 88,000 bikes distributed and sold in developing nations since 2005
WHO'S IN CHARGE: F. K. Day, 51, executive vice president of SRAM Corporation, the largest bicycle-component manufacturer in the U.S.
WHAT IT DOES: Shortly after the 2004 tsunami hit, Day traveled to Sri Lanka, saw the apocalyptic devastation firsthand, and realized there was a simple, brilliant invention that could speed reconstruction and improve lives: bicycles. Bikes are at least four times as fast as walking and can carry up to five times as much cargo as a person. They improve access to health care and education and facilitate commerce. To put more of them in service, Day created a virtually indestructible, easily fixable bike that costs about $134 to produce. By 2006, World Bicycle Relief (WBR) was born and, in partnership with the NGO World Vision, had distributed more than 24,000 free bikes to Sri Lankans. Since then the organization has built assembly plants in Kenya, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, trained locals to construct bikes, and taught some 700 local mechan­ics how to maintain them. Now it partners with reputable NGOs already in the field to identify populations in need and create contracts with individuals who promote using the free bikes for productive purposes like getting to school. In 2010, they spent $2.5 million on bikes, plants, and programs.
EXTRA CREDIT: WBR tracks the effects of its programs through third-party studies. Day was picked as one of the top 25 philanthropists by Barron’s and the Global Philanthropy Group last year.
LOOKING AHEAD: The bikes are so sturdy that volunteers at organizations like the World Health Organization and Catholic Relief Services in Africa requested to buy them. Two years ago, World Bicycle Relief initiated a program to sell bikes to organizations; proceeds benefit WBR charitable ­programs. In 2012, WBR will open a fourth ­assembly plant, in South Africa.

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Water for People

BY THE NUMBERS: The group helped more than 188,000 people gain access to clean water in 2010.
WHO'S IN CHARGE: Ned ­Breslin, 46, formerly a Mozam­bique country representative for WaterAid, health and hygiene education manager for Mvula Trust, and development director for Operation Hunger
WHAT IT DOES: It’s estimated that 884 million people lack ­access to a reliable supply of clean drinking water. Each of Water for People’s projects, carried out in countries from India to Peru, is based on the organization’s four guiding principles: everyone in an aided community gets access to water and sanitation; representatives from local government, NGOs, and the local business community all must sign on to the plan; commitments must span at least ten years; and solutions, such as wells, storage tanks, gravity-fed piping systems, and latrines, are designed to last and grow as populations expand. In an ongoing project in Malawi, 48 new water kiosks were constructed. A local entrepreneur returns regularly to purchase the compost. His family earns enough to pay off the loan and save money, and the businessman sells the compost to farmers for a profit. To support the programs, which cost nearly $10 million per year, the organization has devised innovative fundraising initiatives. The ­latest: mountaineer Jake Norton is climbing each continent’s three highest summits to raise $2.1 million in donations.
EXTRA CREDIT: For seven years in a row, the project has earned a four-star rating from Charity Navigator.
LOOKING AHEAD: Water for People just released a beta version of FLOW (field-level operations watch), a new monitoring system in which field workers use a cell-phone app to update the WFP website with the status of clean-water access in remote areas. Donors and staffers can chart progress on an online map updated in real time, sending money and volunteers to places that need it most.

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Climate Counts

BY THE NUMBERS: 150 major companies, from Disney to General Electric, are rated annually on their climate practices
WHO'S IN CHARGE: Mike Bellamente, 35, who led a team from the U.S. Economic Development Administration to study how communities were affected by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill
WHAT IT DOES: Launched in 2007 and operated by a small team of sustainability experts and more than a dozen independent researchers, Climate Counts uses a scorecard for corporations, rating them on 22 criteria in four areas: carbon footprint, efforts to reduce impact, support for climate-friendly legislation, and public transparency. With a $350,000 annual budget, the group now looks at companies in 16 high-visibility industries, including airlines, hotels, electronics, food products, and toys. The goal is to encourage consumers to vote with their dollars—­ratings are available through the website, a pocket guide, and a mobile app—and to spur executives to reduce their companies’ carbon output. Many firms have embraced the ratings concept; some have even hired corporate sustainability directors as a result.
EXTRA CREDIT: The group leverages a tiny staff’s efforts into positive changes on a large scale. Renowned sustainability journalist and consultant Joel Makower as well as Gary ­Hirshberg, founder of Stonyfield Farm, a corporate sustainability leader, sit on the board.
LOOKING AHEAD: In 2010, Climate Counts began offering audits, verification ratings, and workshops for smaller, unrated companies that elect to be scrutinized. The group is expanding its ratings with a new scorecard on water use.

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IOBY

BY THE NUMBERS: IOBY (In Our Back Yards) has raised more than $130,000 for 100 neighborhood environmental projects in New York since 2009.
WHO'S IN CHARGE: Erin Barnes, 31, a former community organizer for the Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition
WHAT IT DOES: In 2007, Barnes, Cassie Flynn, and Brandon Whitney—all recent grads of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies master’s program—moved to New York City and noticed a curious trend in the environmental movement. Movies like An Inconvenient Truth had galvanized people to take action, but the problems seemed so large and distant that the energy was channeled mainly into green consumerism. Using a digital platform from DonorsChoose.org, the three launched a pilot website that posts environmental projects in the city that could use money and volunteers. Soon, locals in all five boroughs were posting projects like urban farm startups in empty lots, beach cleanups, and beautification days for city parks. With help from IOBY, a group called Velo City raised some $3,000 to support an urban-education program called Bikesploration.
EXTRA CREDIT: IOBY is a young startup but readily supplies financial reports. It’s backed by more than a dozen foundations, including the Kresge Foundation and the Jack Johnson Ohana Foundation.
LOOKING AHEAD: After the successful NYC pilot—this year IOBY expects to raise ­another $100,000 for neighborhood environmental projects there—plans are afoot to expand to up to three more U.S. cities in the next two years, using $250,000 in seed money from foundations.

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American Trails

BY THE NUMBERS: The world’s largest advocacy group for planning, building, and managing trails and greenways
WHO'S IN CHARGE: Pam Gluck, 54, former state trails ­coordinator for Arizona, ­recreation director for Pinetop-Lakeside, Arizona, and ­cross-country ski guide
WHAT IT DOES: Chances are, if you walked any new trails in the U.S. in the past 20 years, American Trails (AT) played a part in establishing them. The 20,000-member outfit is the only national organization dedicated to building, expanding, and safeguarding trail systems for all users, from hikers, ­bikers, runners, and equestrians to dirt-bike and ATV riders. Oper­ating on an annual budget of $295,000, AT provides hundreds of member organizations with guidelines on how to plan trail systems, write grant proposals, negotiate rights of way, and manage urban and backcountry trails. (For example, the Sacramento River National Recreation Trail in California and the Arkansas River Trail in Little Rock were recently built with help from AT.) It secures funding for trail building and maintenance by knocking on doors on Capitol Hill and at numerous federal agencies, including the Forest Service, the National Park Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Bureau of Land Management. AT contracts with these agencies to run training sessions for trail crews and sponsors an annual national symposium for trail builders and advocates.
EXTRA CREDIT: A host of ­government agencies, including the Forest Service and the ­National Park Service, endorse AT, which supports some 22,000 members and 500 grassroots trails organizations.
LOOKING AHEAD: Two years ago, manufacturer GameTime, research firm PlayCore, the Natural Learning Initiative, and American Trails launched Pathways for Play, a program designed to keep kids outside and to help fight childhood obesity. The pilot project, PlayTrails, debuted in an urban park in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in 2010 with six play areas on a half-mile trail. PlayTrails have since debuted in Missouri and North Carolina, and more than a dozen communities nationwide plan to build them.

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