Recently, I've been putting a lot of effort into Mercy Corps, a humanitarian organization based in nearby Portland, Oregon. I've been attracted to them because of their very innovative and entrepreneurial approach. For an organization of over 3,000 employees, they are amazingly decentralized and agile. They do so by pushing power down into the field, particularly into the hands of country managers. While this makes it difficult to do "organization-wide" change, it also means that there are plenty of interesting experiments going on within the agency. We have focused on two.
Recently, Mercy Corps has moved to make sustainable resource management a central part of their mission statement. A big part of this is Climate Change. The various IPCC reports have made it clear that while the majority of Greenhouse Gas emissions have come from the developed world, the majority of the deleterious effects will accrue to the developing world.
My interest has been in the generation and sale of carbon credits, particularly as a way of promoting youth employment.
In April, 2009, I led a track on The Environmental Impact of Gifts-In-Kind for their "Gifts-In-Kind" conference.
My other interest has been with Mercy Corps's "Phoenix Fund." This is an entrepreneur-to-entrepreneur fund, started in 2005. We operate on a venture capital model, raising capital pools, then investing them in promising businesses, proposed by Mercy Corps country managers. We look for exceptional entrepreneurs with business ideas that we believe can scale, then get them the capital and training resources they need to be successful. Typically, these businesses are a bit larger than those traditionally funded by microfinance and have greater capital and training requirements. We have recently completed five pilot projects, located in Guatemala, Palestine, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, and Eritrea.
In 2006 I went on two fact finding field trips to look at these projects, one in Palestine, the other in Mongolia.
In January 2008, I went on another field trip, this time to India and Nepal.
In January-February 2010, I spent the better part of a month in Indonesia, working on, among other things, a Phoenix Fund project to introduce fuel-efficient stoves into the country.