Tonia Casarin, Brazil ’19, founder of Fireworks Education, is helping children and caregivers around the world confront the trauma caused by two crisis: the Syrian conflict and the COVID-19 pandemic.
While on fellowship in the U.S., Casarin met with representatives from Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit behind the beloved children’s program “Sesame Street.” Since that initial meeting, she has worked with Sesame Workshop and the International Rescue Committee (IRC) to develop curriculum for 52 episodes of “Ahlan Simsim,” a television program that teaches children to understand and manage their emotions. The Arabic and Kurdish-language program airs in Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Syria.
With children accounting for more than half of the 12 million people displaced by the Syrian conflict, there is a desperate need for coping skills to understand and manage emotions. Using Casarin’s curriculum, the IRC trains volunteers from local communities to teach parents how to use play as part of early learning. Learning essential social and emotional skills, along with reading and math skills, helps children control their emotions and resolve conflict. It also helps them persevere through times of crisis.
With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Sesame Workshop once again contacted Casarin to help children and caregivers understand and manage their emotions. Casarin is developing digital content for Caring for Each Other,a new Sesame Street platform that helps families cope with the health crisis. Casarin sees this platform as an opportunity to reach a broader audience and help children in crisis all over the globe. Sesame Workshop plans to make her content available the United States, Latin America, Europe, India and South Africa.
An author of ten books, including the bestselling children’s title “I Have Monsters in My Tummy,” Casarin’s one meeting with Sesame Workshop during her Eisenhower Fellowship has become an ongoing partnership. “I love to see the little things I do have a big impact,” says Casarin.
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.
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.
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.
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 reportthat 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Mezuo Nwuneli (Nigeria ’15) is co-founder and managing director of Sahel Capital, a private equity firm focused exclusively on the Nigerian agribusiness sector. Nwuneli is a 2015 Global Fellow and explored agricultural finance, private equity and the use of technology to minimize post-harvest loss. His goal is to increase Sahel Capital’s capacity to tailor financing to small and medium sized agribusinesses and farmers. Since his fellowship, Nwuneli has continued to work to help Nigeria reach its agricultural potential by increasing investments into businesses around Nigeria and doubling Sahel Capital’s investment funds from $33 million to $66 million in just two years.
With a population of close to 200 million people, Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa. Despite its exponential growth over the last thirty years, Nigeria continues to import a large amount of certain food products due to the predominance of small scale farming and limited access to equipment and technology. It is against this backdrop that Nwuneli used his fellowship as an opportunity to learn different farming practices, understand private equity in the agribusiness setting and also gain access to technological trends in the industry, in an effort to make Nigerian farming more productive and spur economic growth.
As one of the five major food and agriculture private equity firms operating in Africa, Sahel capital has steadily raised its profile by tripling its investment team and investing in three additional businesses. Nwuneli also said that the wide exposure and knowledge gained during fellowship continues to inform his work by providing a frame of reference and larger appreciation for the varying techniques and changing landscape of farming in the American market. From visiting farms in rural America to meeting with industry leaders at an agribusiness private equity conference in New York, Nwuneli said that the breadth of perspective offered by the fellowship was vital, even where some of the information did not directly transfer to the Nigerian market.
Nwuneli also indicated, that thanks to the fellowship, he was also inspired to create Sahel Management Training, a two-year program that offers nine month internships for college graduates. The internship offers experiences with some of the top portfolio companies in Nigeria and intensive training and guidance at the head office in Lagos. Beyond these activities, Nwuneli has expanded his influence in economic policy in Nigeria through talks he has given to high level government officials and other policy makers who have sought his insight into the agribusiness sector.
Though the economic downturn of 2016 and other events have posed challenges in the Nigerian market, Nwuneli is optimistic in his ability to continue to drive growth and to achieve his ultimate goal of poverty reduction and economic development through investment in agriculture. With invaluable ideas and networks forged during his Eisenhower Fellowship, Nwuneli has maintained consistent growth of Sahel investments, which he hopes will revolutionize the Nigerian agricultural sector.
Featured: Jennifer Hashley (USA ’16) with Nwuneli in Nigeria.