Justice, Peace

Building tolerance in Ireland through laws and public policy

In Ireland, Eisenhower Fellows Salome Mbugua (Ireland ’10) and Oonagh McPhillips (Ireland ’16) work in separate (and sometimes opposite) areas of advocacy and government respectively.  But they have recently come together to work on developing an important new law to combat hate speech.  

Oonagh McPhillips (Ireland ’16) and Salome Mbugua (Ireland ’10) featured together at an event in Ireland.

A researcher, gender equality activist and human rights advocate, Salome was born in Kenya and has lived in Ireland since 1994. She founded AkiDwA (Swahili for “sisterhood”), The Migrant Women’s Network, in 2001 to address isolation, racism and gender-based violence.  Salome holds a master’s degree in Equality Studies from University College Dublin and is finishing her doctorate at Trinity College Dublin. In 2018 Salome was the first African woman to be appointed to the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission. 

From a working class background in Dublin, Oonagh started work as a temp at 17. Having worked her way through the ranks in the Irish civil service, she holds a master’s degree in communications and is currently deputy secretary general in the Department of Justice and Equality. Oonagh heads up the Department’s criminal justice pillar with responsibility for security, policing, prisons and criminal law. 

Part of Oonagh’s work is a review of Ireland’s outdated law on hate speech, which includes consulting the public about, among other issues, how the law might be improved and what the responsibilities of publishers should be. Salome supported the launch of the consultation and is promoting it across her network. This is one element of a series of measures across all areas of government designed to address hatred and intolerance, spanning across policies, operational areas, law enforcement and educational measures designed to support a safe, fair and inclusive Ireland, where expressions of hatred and prejudice are not tolerated, and can be dealt with swiftly and effectively where they occur. 

Salome Mbugua (Ireland ’10) plays an active role in giving public feedback to the Department of Justice and Equality.

Salome’s support is vital to this work, as is her expertise and first hand experience. “Hate speech has a chilling effect on people, particularly women, and we need to make sure that our laws support people in combatting this while balancing our constitutional right to freedom of expression,” she says. Salome’s leadership is allowing the government to hear from people who have real world experience which will be vital in helping to construct an effective, balanced law in this complex area.

Change & Innovation, Justice

Increasing access to education in Zimbabwe

CROPPED-DSCN2251-Barbra
Barbra Nyangairi, Co-founder, Deaf Zimbabwe Trust

By Barbra Nyangairi (Zimbabwe ’16)

Through the organization that I co-founded—the Deaf Zimbabwe Trust—we are currently working on increasing access to quality education for children and young people with deafness, through advocacy for policy reform and placement of deaf young people in higher education institutions. We aim to impact more than 40,000 children who are deaf and hard of hearing and, more broadly, 600,000 children with disabilities. I am passionate about the work I do because it changes the lives of people who are deaf for the better, and it enables deaf people to take charge of their future using opportunities available to them. 

We are partnering with the Open Society Foundation and IM Swedish Partner for Development for this project. I was introduced to the Open Society Foundation while on fellowship, and they have since provided financial support to Deaf Zimbabwe Trust through the Southern African Office for advocacy for the development of the inclusive education policy. 

Since my fellowship, we’ve accomplished the following goals:

  • Contributed to the development of a countrywide inclusive education policy to be rolled out by 2020. The policy will positively influence the education of over 600,000 children with disabilities in Zimbabwe, as estimated by UNICEF. 
  • Established a sign language syllabus for early childhood education up to third grade
  • Worked with Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education in developing a Curriculum for Sign Language and Sign Language Interpretation. This is the first in the country and was inspired by lessons learned during the fellowship. 
  • Created a first-of-its-kind pilot program, which has so far helped seven deaf young people enroll to study for a diploma in social work with a local university and two to enroll to study for a diploma in education. 

While my work today has not substantively changed from when I was on fellowship, the fellowship made my work richer and better. During my fellowship, I realized that each one of us has a part to play in making real the EF mission. I realized that without equality and inclusion, a just and peaceful society cannot be built. The fellowship gave me a picture of inclusion that has enabled persons with disabilities to thrive and the presence of policies for persons with disabilities that have helped create a just society. These values were exemplified by the schools for the deaf and colleges and institutions that provide support to the deaf community that I visited on fellowship. Throughout the fellowship, I realized that a prosperous world could be achieved if everyone is able to contribute effectively, and this is done through the creation of an enabling policy environment. 

Being part of the fellowship network has influenced my work in a number of ways. Iron sharpens iron, and being part of this vibrant network has allowed me to meet with leaders in my field from whom I have drawn lessons and shared ideas. We have been able to find common ground in the area of education. I have also been able to access resources that I would otherwise not access if I were not part of the fellowship, and these have stretched me professionally. For example, I followed with interest the EF workshop on education with Angela Duckworth, of the University of Pennsylvania, and how this could apply to children with disabilities.  

Barbra Nyangairi (second from the left) with the first group of young people who are deaf and hard of hearing to train in social work at a local college, their Sign Language Interpreters and note taker.

In early 2018 and 2019, I worked on a project with Jude Udo Ilo (Nigeria ’16). In advance of the Zimbabwe election, I was part of a team that set up and implemented the Zimbabwe Election Situation Room for which I provided project management support. Jude provided technical support and mentorship support for the project, which ended up being a success. The support was in-person as well as virtual. The success of the Zimbabwe Situation Room 2018 was, to a large extent, due to his support of the process. 

Finally, the network has provided support for me at a personal level. As the political situation in Zimbabwe is not stable, and at times violent, Fellows, who have become friends, have been a source of support.

Change & Innovation, Justice

Our impact in Latin America and the Caribbean, Part 6

Turning disease into health and wellness

Dr. Antonio Eduardo Fernandes D’Aguiar (Brazil ’96) was a surgeon treating disease in the body at the time of his fellowship to the United States in 1996. He credits his fellowship for revolutionizing the way he viewed his profession and the role that he wanted to play as a doctor. When he returned to Brazil, he made a radical transition to focus on preventative health and wellness. He realized he was treating patients at the tail-end of their health concerns, and could make much more of an impact by helping individuals achieve greater levels of wellness before they even got sick. He has been working as a Healthcare Manager for a corporation, ARCADIS, where he is responsible for the health and well-being for employees. Listen below to hear his story.


Providing safe and alternative spaces for children in Chile

In Santiago, Chile, Fundación Ganémosle a la Calle (Let’s Win the Streets Foundation), an innovative urban nonprofit, will dramatically deepen and expand its groundbreaking after-school sports recreation programs to give thousands of disadvantaged children new opportunities to escape the dangers of street life. Eisenhower Fellow Maria Gracia Carvallo (Chile ’18), executive director of Ganémosle, plans to increase the number of children in the foundation’s programs from 500 to 3,000 over the next five years and expand the organization’s reach from the streets of Santiago to rural regions of Chile. In addition to providing structured, supervised recreational outlets for Chilean youth, the foundation will develop new nutritional and psychological programs to instill and reinforce healthy lifestyle habits. Maria Gracia is applying new ideas and approaches she learned in the United States during her Eisenhower Fellowship to craft new ways to tell Ganémosle’s story and attract long-term financial support. Her vision is to grow her organization across her country in a sustainable way and provide safe, alternative spaces after school doors close that nourish Chilean children’s full potential.


Creating opportunities for the youth of Buenos Aires

In Argentina, 50% of students don’t graduate from high school, 50% of graduates don’t reach minimum reading and math standards and youth unemployment is double the national rate. Fundación Junior Achievement, an innovative global nonprofit, will dramatically deepen its impact over the next five years from 7,500 to 120,000 students from the province and city of Buenos Aires to prepare and inspire them for the world of work and higher studies in a context of fast changing Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Eisenhower Fellow Noël Zemborain (Argentina ’19), executive director of JA, is crafting a robust scale-up strategy that includes deepening strategic partnerships with the private and public sector. She will apply new ideas and approaches learned during her Eisenhower Fellowship in order to create a comprehensive curriculum that includes project- and competency-based programs and performance assessments on entrepreneurship, financial literacy and work readiness. By 2021, she intends to launch pilot programs to foster internships, design a blended teacher training course and network and a robust measurement and evaluation framework. Ultimately, she envisions transforming JA into a strong advocate and research base for innovation in public education.

Change & Innovation, Justice

Our impact in Latin America and the Caribbean, Part 5: Financial reform in Colombia and Brazil

Colombia’s Minister of Housing has big plans for ending a cash-infused economy

Jonathan Malagon (Colombia ’17)

Colombia’s economic and national development has been hindered by significant levels of criminal activity: smuggling, terrorism, drug trafficking and corruption. All of these activities, which are fundamentally economic transactions, can be eliminated or mitigated by moving the bulk of Colombian economic activity away from cash and towards cashless alternatives such as card payments or electronic payments that can be traced and investigated by authorities. Additionally, the use of cash allows for a shadow economy that, while legitimate, is out of the reach of taxation, thereby hindering the ability of the state to effectively govern and provide public services.

Alfonso Vegara (Spain ’87), featured on the right, with Jonathan Malagon (Colombia ’17) meeting in Spain to discuss urban development and how Colombia can advance its housing policies in the newest political administration.

Jonathan Malagon (Colombia ’17), as then-vice president of Colombia’s National Banking Association, ASOBANCARIA, one of the most influential business associations in Colombia, used his Eisenhower Fellowship to develop a national plan to transition the country’s economy towards cashless transactions. During the fellowship, he developed a number of actionable steps, including a revised regulatory framework that will allow for new technologies and players to participate in electronic banking, best practices in preventing money laundering in the banking system and a set of research initiatives aimed at cultural and other systemic barriers to encouraging electronic payments by consumers, merchants and the banking system.

Jonathan Malagon (Colombia ’17) learns from seasoned urban developer and visionary Alfonso Vegara (Spain ’87) in Europe.

 Access to affordable personal loans makes weathering financial challenges possible in Brazil

Thiago Alvarez (Brazil ’14) at work with his team at Guiabolso.

Thiago Alvarez (Brazil ’14) started an online platform to make personal financial management possible for the middle class in São Paulo and beyond. As CEO of Guiabolso, Thiago came on his Eisenhower Fellowship to learn about U.S. financial markets, fintech innovations and other tools that he could bring back to Brazil. The result was making personal loans available to those in need at a substantially lower-rate than the existing market. Average personal loans cost more than 320% per year in the Brazilian market, but Thiago’s company is able to offer loans with a rate of 58.3% per year that users are able to access online through an app. Access to lower-cost loans protect families in crisis who may take out loans to take care of emergency medical expenses and other unforeseen monthly expenses.

Listen here for his lessons learned and unique Eisenhower experience.

Change & Innovation

Our impact in Latin America and the Caribbean, Part 4: The Digital Forest

Mauro Rebelo (Brazil ’14) hangs suspended from the trees collecting DNA samples of rain forest species.

The Digital Forest, led by Mauro Rebelo (Brazil ’14), Professor at Instituto de Biofísica Carlos Chagas Filho, aims to sequence all of the species from the Atlantic forest, one of the main biodiversity hot-spots in the planet. The estimated market of pharmaceuticals derived from this tropical forest is US$110 billion, yet the life-saving potential of the forest remains untapped. The goal of the Digital Forest is to digitize endangered species, document their genetic code to protect them, and open up opportunities to address the sustainability goals of the United Nations to guarantee our existence on the planet in the future.

The Digital Forest solves this problem by digitizing the forest: converting the chemical and biological information of plants to digital data. With that data, they not only use artificial intelligence to find and select metadata that validates and aggregates value to the biological data, but also run simulations that save time and money in product development.

In 2017, Mauro won the EF iLab competition in Malaga, Spain, at the Future of Work Global Conference for his breakthrough work with the Digital Forest project. He connects the acceleration of product discovery and development for pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and biotech from the Atlantic rain forest with the growth of PhD scientists contributing to the overall GDP of Brazil. Watch him deliver his winning project talk here.

Mauro Rebelo (Brazil ’14) presenting his winning project, the Digital Forest, at the EF Future of Work Global Conference in Malaga, Spain.
Change & Innovation

Our impact in Latin America and the Caribbean, Part 3: Expanding educational opportunities for gifted, innovative students in Peru

Sheyla Blumen (Peru ’11)

The year before Sheyla Blumen (Peru ’11) left for her fellowship in the U.S., Peru only had one school that served the needs of highly gifted students throughout the entire country. In less than a decade, Sheyla has influenced public policy in her country so that gifted children from rural poverty conditions can learn from attending one of the 25 schools serving a total of 8,000 students now in place. Through her foundation, Mente Futura (translated as Future Minds), she is able to work directly with gifted learners from vulnerable conditions and their families and provide emotional support, creativity, skills and talent development. 

Mente Futura is one of three recognized Associated Talent Centers of the European Council for High Ability in Latin America. Mente Futura is leading the way to bringing high quality educational opportunities for gifted young people throughout not only Peru, but the continent.

Sheyla talks about the ripple effect that investing in these particularly gifted students has on their communities. “They think about how to improve the living conditions of their own towns, their home towns. Many of them go back and never disconnect from their families…because family is very important here in Peru.” The students go on to study medicine, engineering and science, and think about ways to go home and increase living conditions for their families and loved ones living in poverty.

Sheyla believes that “education is the best tool to transform civilization,” and we see that through the investment in the gifted students. Her efforts have given her the recognition needed to become a general member of the International Association of Applied Psychology, one of the oldest associations in the world dedicated to psychology. She is the first and only Peruvian member to be elected. She is also a professor of psychology at Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú.

Finding her voice as a woman in a patriarchal society was no easy feat, but she overcame this challenge thanks to the people she met while on fellowship. The greatest lesson she learned was how to “convince people to do what has to be done. Not for me, but for my country. I have a voice, and I need to use it.”

Sheyla persisted with her advocacy for gifted children through three different federal government administrations that wanted to shut down the schools, but instead influenced them to build ten more each time, overturning the criticism that the schools were seen as a service for the elite and against national egalitarian efforts. She was able to convince those in charge that every child deserves to reach their potential, and the answer isn’t to hold people back from learning, but to give them an opportunity to do so.

Now her objective is to expand this across her country to rural areas and across the Latin American and Caribbean region. Listen below for her story.

Fellows from Peru at the home of Sheyla Blumen (Peru ’11) in February 2019. Sheyla, featured in the center, stands with George de Lama, Eisenhower Fellowships’ President on the right.
Change & Innovation, Prosperity

Our impact in Latin America and the Caribbean, Part 2

Eloy Oliveira (Brazil ’19)

Strengthening the public sector in Brazil

Brazil has more than 12 million civil servants. According to a 2017 research study, Brazil is the world’s second least satisfied country regarding the quality of public service. In spite of this, the Brazilian Government has no assessments or data regarding its civil service engagement, and does not consider this problem to be part of the public agenda.

Eisenhower Fellow Eloy Oliveira (Brazil ’19), CEO of Instituto República, an organization focused on promoting professional development within Brazil’s public-service sector, will develop a workplace assessment survey to diagnose issues within the public sector and provide valuable insights about current engagement of civil servants. The ultimate aim is to improve the quality of the country’s civil service and the service delivered to citizens.

Prior to starting his fellowship, Eloy initiated a collaboration with the Office of Personal Management at the Brazilian Federal Government to discuss the possible implementation of this new workplace assessment tool. Eloy shared early findings with them during his fellowship and has already started refining the plan to get the first survey up and running. He also involved scholars and experts in the discussion. The idea is to start with the Brazilian Federal Government, which has 1.2 million civil servants and could directly impact the lives of the over 200 million inhabitants of Brazil. He plans to launch the first survey later this year and expects to process its results within the next 12 months.


Changing the innovation landscape in Latin America

Bruno Rondani (Brazil ’13), CEO of 100 Open Startups, is masterfully changing the innovation landscape in Latin America through the platform he created, 100 Open Startups. As an accomplished engineer and entrepreneur, Bruno had started and already sold his company by the time he became an Eisenhower Fellow. What he took away from his experience was the knowledge and vision that helped him to try something completely new: scale up his startup know-how and expand it so that many, many others could benefit as well.

Bruno Rondani (featured at the far right) is a 2013 Fellow from Brazil.

The new platform he created brings together entrepreneurs, universities, large multi-national corporations and investors so that startups can be evaluated and ranked by leading corporate executives and matched with appropriate partners. Often, corporations might be looking for innovative solutions that entrepreneurs have already created, and just need to be connected. Some of the problems that need solving are broad and have included public services, healthcare and well being, sports, retail, energy and future of education to name a few.

Based in São Paulo, Bruno expanded his platform to nine other cities in Brazil and has expanded to Bogota, Lima, Santiago and Mexico City. His goal is always to first connect those who are in the same city and then he helps connect cities with other cities for cross-pollination. The ripple effect of innovation can be felt all the way to Miami, the gateway to Latin America where he operates a U.S. hub.

With success of this model in his region of the world, Bruno is also piloting the model in Bangalore, India, where he says the city is similar to São Paulo, including the number of universities, investors and entrepreneurs. The aim is to eventually take 100 Open Startups across the Latin American and Caribbean region.

Listen to Bruno tell his story below.


Mama River: Strengthening and expanding the work of community health advocates in rural areas across Peru

Magaly Blas (Peru ’18), Director of the Mama River Program at Cayetano Heredia Peruvian University, trains community health advocates to work in remote areas along the Amazon River with an emphasis on newborn and maternal care. The Mama River Program is a health outreach program that uses smartphone technology to deliver educational content and documents and that monitors vital records and health statistics of pregnant women and newborns residing in remote rural areas of the Amazon region of Peru. In the program’s first year, Mama River workers brought community education videos and safe birth delivery kits to 799 women of childbearing age in 13 riverine communities. In 2016, she received the Elsevier Foundation Award for “early career women scientists in the developing world.” While on Fellowship, Magaly expanded on the creation of a Mama River Program spin-off called Ikara: Innovation and knowledge to improve health.” Her goal is to scale-up Mama River so it can be deployed more widely, including in the border area between Peru and Colombia, where a common interest in improving health could spark a better relationship between the countries.

The program also enhances access to health care and other social services for these under-served communities. Within the three years after completion of Magaly’s fellowship, Mama River will have diversified sources of revenue by testing these four models of sustainability identified during fellowship meetings:

  • Adoption of the program by the government (Ministry of Health and regional governments)
  • Adoption of the program by companies working in rural areas (e.g. extraction companies working in the Amazon or Andes)
  • Creation of a social enterprise that will allow generation of program revenue
  • Application to private funders that may include: grants, charity donations, crowdsource funding, sponsorship models, corporate social responsibility, and endowment.
Change & Innovation, Justice

Our impact in Latin America and the Caribbean, Part 1

In fall 2019, EF will host the first regional program dedicated to Latin America and the Caribbean in more than ten years. Before these 23 new Fellows arrive, get to know just a few of the 257 Eisenhower Fellows living in Latin America and the Caribbean and learn what they are doing in their communities to make a difference.

Laura Alonso (Argentina ’08)

Government watchdog for anti-corruption in Argentina

A former head of the Argentinian chapter of the global anti-corruption coalition Transparency International, Laura Alonso (Argentina ’08) was appointed to the lead Argentina’s anti-corruption office in 2015 by President Mauricio Macri. He also encouraged her to run for a seat in the country’s House of Representatives, which she won in 2009. While serving as a watchdog at home, Laura represents Argentina on global anti-corruption initiatives at meetings of the G20 and the Organization for Economic Cooperation Development.

Listen to Laura tell her story below.

Laura Alonso (Argentina ’08) featured above center.

Advancing economic opportunities for Jamaican youth through music education, emphasizing reggae as a national asset

Imani Duncan-Price (Jamaica ’18) featured with a local teacher who attended the train-the-trainer workshop.

Employing new technology and artificial intelligence, Imani Duncan-Price (Jamaica ’18) leveraged a Jamaican cultural treasure and partnered with MusicQuest, a software app that allows students to create original songs using the computerized sounds of more than 40 instruments. Leading the company’s pilot program in Jamaica, she brought it to 1,100 students in five schools, trained 22 teachers in the technology and anticipates expanding to one-fifth of the nation’s schools over the next three years.

Featured (L-R, front row): G. Nagesh Rao (USA ’17), Imani Duncan-Price (Jamaica ’18), Yasmine Abdel-Razek (Egypt ’18), Jerry Kuo (Chinese Taipei ’18). (L-R, back row): Jack Bienko (USA ’16) and Temitayo Etomi (Nigeria ’18).

University leader got his start as scientist and museum director

Marcelo Knobel (Brazil ’07) is the rector of Universidade de Campinas.

Marcelo Knobel (Brazil ’07) is the rector at the Universidade de Campinas in Brazil. Just 12 years ago, he came to the United States on his Eisenhower Fellowship to think about ways to grow the museum he directed at the time, which focused on science and science education, into something bigger and more impactful. He now leads one of the consistently top-ranked universities in Brazil and Latin America. Unicamp is responsible for 15% of Brazil’s research and is a publicly-funded university offering tuition free undergraduate and graduate degrees.

Listen below for his story.

Justice, Peace

Thirty years in the making: keeping the peace on the Island of Ireland

Securing and preserving the peace between the governments of Northern Ireland and the Ireland Republic (Fellows and their spouses from the 1989 Island of Ireland program)

2019 marks 30 years since EF’s historic Single-Area Program brought together Fellows from Ireland’s North and South. Choosing cross-community conciliation in a divided society, they played key roles in the negotiations that produced the Good Friday Agreement and the efforts to preserve the peace on the Island of Ireland since then.

Watch pioneers from the Good Friday Agreement and Eisenhower Fellows from the 1989 Island of Ireland program share their story here.

Northern Ireland Fellow Tom Frawley (’89) shares his life lessons learned and how he made an impact after his Eisenhower Fellowship here in an interview conducted by Eisenhower Fellow Rabia Garib (Pakistan ’07).

2019 Island of Ireland Fellows while on fellowship in the U.S.

Listen to 2019 Northern Ireland Fellows experts Katy Hayward and Stephen Rusk discuss what Brexit means for Northern Ireland in this podcast conducted by our partners at Knowledge@Wharton.

Read Trudy Rubin’s article in the Philadelphia Inquirer on how Eisenhower Fellows were involved in building the Good Friday Agreement.

Prosperity

Economist increasing global connections and growth for the heart of North America

El Paso, Texas

Patrick meeting with the Shanghai International Shipping Institute during his fellowship to China in 2018.

An economist specializing in international trade and leading a university-based research center, Patrick Schaefer (USA/Zhi-Xing ’18) forged a partnership with China’s premier government think tank, the Shanghai International Shipping Institute. Patrick’s center — the Hunt Institute for Global Competitiveness at the University of Texas, El Paso — produced research for the Shipping Institute that put the bi-national Paso del Norte region (which includes Texas, New Mexico and northern regions in Mexico) on the map as a major influential trade hub that is significantly impacted by recent trade wars between China and the U.S. The data will be used by local, state and federal decision-makers who are at the helm of opening opportunities that will strengthen economic growth in the U.S. and China.

Every morning, Patrick watches the shipping containers from Chinese and other Asian companies pass by his office window on the Union Pacific rail lines. With nearly 48% of all import products arriving at the Los Angeles port coming from China, this lion’s share of goods eventually makes its way into the rest of North America by passing through the Paso del Norte region. This hub represents connection points between the U.S. and Mexico and between the east and west coasts of the U.S., and has historically been a point of convergence for many people of different backgrounds, continuing through today’s times. A border town of recent U.S. news spotlight, El Paso in particular prides itself on being a city where two different cultures, languages and ways of life can live in easeful confluence.

Maritime trade routes between Asia and the U.S.

How do these cultural lessons influence international trade agreements and relationships?

With cultural knowledge and awareness of how to effectively and respectfully approach a foreign government, Patrick came prepared to hit the ground running in China. Before arriving in China, his center produced a report that analyzed U.S.-China maritime trade flows, and had it translated into Chinese. With the Chinese version of the report in hand, Patrick successfully convinced the Shanghai International Shipping Institute to consider a partnership or agreement with his center. The result was the commissioning of a follow-up report that shows the specific effects of recent U.S.-China trade policies and tariffs.

This relationship with China brings a new dimension to his work at the university that goes beyond bi-nationalism. Patrick has not only exposed China to the importance of the Paso Del Norte region, but he has brought China to El Paso, including to the students that he works with at the university, lawmakers and government administrators. The ultimate goal is to use data to “break away from isolation” and help “distant parties to learn about each other,” according to Patrick.

Patrick piloting a vessel simulator into the Port of Hong Kong at the Shanghai Maritime University
Patrick with his China-based Program Coordinator, Li Dong

Learn more about the importance of the Paso del Norte region here through Patrick’s TED talk.

Watch Patrick in action with counterparts in Beijing and Shanghai while on his #EFjourney.

Change & Innovation, Prosperity

Financier invests for environmental and social good

San Francisco, California

Ted Levinson (USA ’14) visits an organic egg farm in Thailand, a prospective borrower.

Ted Levinson (USA ’14) specializes in pairing values-driven financiers with socially responsible businesses in emerging markets.

On Fellowship in India and Indonesia he learned that access to capital was the biggest constraint on growth for sustainable-agriculture, alternative-energy and other renewable-resource companies that generally are too large for microfinance loans but too small for development-bank financing.

From his professional background at the intersection of philanthropy and investing, Ted also knew that family foundations and donor advised funds in the U.S. sit on almost $1 trillion dollars – an ideal pool of money to tap to support international social enterprises.

To bridge the gap he created Beneficial Returns, an impact investing fund that loans money for equipment purchases to enterprises advancing the quality of life by combating poverty in Latin America and Southeast Asia. Beneficial pools capital from U.S.-based family foundations and donor-advised funds to make loans in the amount of $50,000 to $500,000.

A team from Guayaki harvest its prime ingredient, yerba mate.

Since its founding in 2017, Beneficial has loaned $1.4 million to five companies, including Guayaki, a popular U.S.-based beverage company that sources its main ingredient – yerba mate – from the Atlantic Rainforest in South America. Yerba mate is one of the world’s six most commonly used stimulants (coffee, tea, kola, cocoa, and guarana, being the others), and claims many health benefits.

Through its market-driven restoration model, Guayaki provides a powerful economic incentive for its suppliers to preserve and restore the rainforest. The model has led to the creation of hundreds of jobs in Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina. A loan from  Beneficial Returns helped outfit a new factory in Brazil.

Being exposed to new experiences on fellowship, said Ted, gave him the courage and international connections to quit a rewarding job at RSF Social Finance and launch Beneficial, where he works internationally and leads a small team.

By providing prospective borrowers, investors and collaborators, the Eisenhower Fellowship’s global network has been instrumental in advancing his work.

Sistema Bio produces biogas and fertilizer out of manure and farm waste.

Featured: Ted Levinson (left) and Edward Mungai (right) discuss their investments in a social enterprise in Kenya where Mungai is based.

Ted worked with Fellow Edward Mungai (Kenya ’16) to invest in a Mexican company that recently expanded into the Kenyan market with low-cost biodigesters that convert manure and farm waste into biogas and fertilizer. In Chile he partnered with Fellow Roberto Guerrero (Chile ’07) to extend Beneficial’s first loan in that country.

To learn more about Beneficial Returns, click here.

Kuda Chitsike
Change & Innovation, Justice

An activist who is breaking the glass ceiling in politics

Kuda Headshot

Kudakwashe Chitsike (Zimbabwe’15) is a women’s rights activist who is committed to changing the culture in Zimbabwe so that more women can run for political office.

Harare, Zimbabwe

In the midst of a global movement of women taking strides towards political leadership, Chitsike uncovered the barriers that prevent women from succeeding in her country. After her fellowship ended in the fall of 2015, Chitsike secured funding to research why women were reluctant to take on political leadership roles. Even though Zimbabwean women make up 52% of the population, government, political parties and decision-making bodies fail to engage and encourage women to participate in politics. Despite the Zimbabwean constitution’s clauses on gender equality and quotas in place, the number of women in the National Assembly has not dramatically increased.

Why is it so hard for women to enter into politics in Zimbabwe?

According to Chitsike, factors that stopped women from running for office include attitudes towards women in politics, lack of support from spouses and family, domestic responsibilities, the absence of the rule of law, and lack of resources for campaigning.  Chitsike discovered, however, that fear and violence, both real and perceived was the most significant barrier.

The real and perceived threat of violence emerged this year when four women ran for the office of the President of Zimbabwe, out of 23 candidates in total. Working with organizations like Women in Politics Support Unit, Women in Politics Incubator Zimbabwe and GenderLinks through the Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe, Chitsike helped deliver programs to raise the number of female leaders in parliament and councils. These female candidates and organizations came up against a fierce battle with hate speech, slander, online bullying, body shaming, sexual harassment and threats of physical violence. According to Chitsike, government and other political parties did not do enough to condemn these acts of violence against women. The election results showed a disappointing 15% support for women candidates despite women constituting 52% of voters.

With the #metoo movement as a backdrop, new strategies were used to fight the backlash facing women running for political office. Some candidates used social media hashtags to reclaim words such as “prostitute” that were once used to wound and target them. Chitsike explains that “if you haven’t been called prostitute in your quest to promote and protect women’s rights, then you haven’t been doing a good job. If you embrace the term, it cannot be used to hurt you.”

In the future, Chitsike plans to continue to work behind the scenes to encourage and support women to run for office. Chitsike’s counsel to those who stand with her for women’s rights is this: “The fight against a patriarchal and misogynistic society is not for the fainthearted. Women’s rights activists and women in leadership in any sphere must be prepared for the long haul as changes are not going to happen overnight. Although ground was lost in the July election, there are lessons to be learned that can bring about the desired result, increased women’s political participation. These lessons should include supporting the few women that did make it into parliament in whatever way possible. Challenges will continue along the way but anything worth fighting for doesn’t come easy.”

Listen here for Chitsike’s words of wisdom.