The top 20 groups that are changing the world.

The top 20 groups that are changing the world.


22.01.04


# Accion International: Boston, Massachusetts (business development)
# Aspire Public Schools: Redwood City, California (education)
# Benetech: Palo Alto, California (technology)
# BenHaven: North Haven, Connecticut (education/healthcare)
# Center For Community Self-Help: Durham, North Carolina (community services)
# Citizen Schools: Boston, Massachusetts (education)
# CityYear: Boston, Massachusetts (youth service)
# College Summit: Washington, DC (education)
# First Book: Washington, DC (literacy)
# Jumpstart: Boston, Massachusetts (education)
# KaBoom: Washington, DC (youth/community)
# MicroBusiness Development Corp: Denver, Colorado (business development)
# New Leaders for New Schools: New York, New York (education)
# NewSchools Venture Fund: San Francisco, California (education)
# PATH: Seattle, Washington (healthcare)
# Room to Read: San Francisco, California (education)
# Rubicon Programs: Richmond, California (community services)
# Share our Strength: Washington, DC (poverty)
# Witness: New York, New York (human rights)
# Working Today: Brooklyn, New York (labor advocacy)


 


Accion International


Boston, Massachusetts
Maria Otero, President and CEO
www.accion.org


We have taken traditional banking and turned it inside out,’ says Maria Otero, president and CEO of ACCION International. ACCION has pioneered microfinance–small loans used strategically to seed tiny businesses. Among its successes: Teresa, a Bolivian woman whom ACCION helped secure a loan for $100. Teresa started a business making bread using the mud oven in her one-room house. Six years and several loans later, Teresa has borrowed again–now for $2,800–to expand to five mud ovens and a backyard storefront. By forging partnerships with existing banks or creating new banks, ACCION helps lenders turn a profit while financing the most humble businesses. In three decades, it has distributed or enabled more than $5 billion in loans to more than 3 million people. And 97% have been paid back.


    * Entrepreneurship: A-
    * Innovation: A
    * Social Impact: A+
    * Aspiration: B+
    * Sustainability: B+


Return to top 20 list
————————————————————————


Aspire Public Schools


Founded: 1998
Redwood City, California
Don Shalvey, Founder and CEO
www.aspirepublicschools.org


‘Hi, my name is Jovani, and I’m your student tour guide. We’re learning about the elements of writing, and today we’re learning ‘voice,’ ‘ says a small, olive-skinned boy with his hand thrust out. Jovani Alvarez, 10, is standing before a classroom door decorated with a University of North Carolina Tarheels pennant and the words, ‘Classes of 2015 and 2016.’ Already, it is clear that Monarch Academy in Oakland, California, is no ordinary elementary school.


Monarch is one of 10 outposts of the Aspire Public Schools system, a California charter-school management group seeking to transform the American public-school system. Aspire is rooted in a commitment to small classes and schools, and the belief that every child is college material. Thus, the Tarheels banner and college graduation year on Alvarez’s classroom door and the banners for Yale, Duke, UCLA, and others along the corridor.


Aspire is the invention of Don Shalvey, a former schools superintendent who opened the second charter school in the nation while heading the San Carlos, California, district. That early foray got Shalvey noticed by the New Schools Venture Fund, which ultimately backed Aspire.


Shalvey’s goal was to become a market disrupter–to create a stir too loud for the larger system to ignore or resist. Though his model called for as many as 10 schools in a single district to effect change, it took just two to catalyze the Lodi Unified School District in Stockton. The clamor of parents who wanted their kids to attend the Aspire schools forced the district to offer a deal. ‘They asked us to sign a noncompete agreement!’ remembers Shalvey, clearly thrilled. Aspire agreed to serve no more than 1,100 students–and the system promised to create new schools based on Aspire’s model.


What makes that model so powerful? At the school level, Aspire subscribes to a distinctly business-minded philosophy of local autonomy, performance review, professional development, and collaboration. Unlike his counterparts in most public schools, for example, Adrian Kirk, principal of Monarch Academy, has control of his school’s budget. So last year, when his staff asked for help teaching multiple age groups, Kirk could allocate funding for a consultant to train teachers and then assess their performances.


And while most public-school systems prescribe a standard curriculum, Aspire administrators and teachers can adapt coursework as they see fit. That explains Monarch’s decision this year to focus on improving the weak writing skills of its mostly native Spanish-speaking students. The school’s solution: monthly writing evaluations for each class. Teachers gather in teams to grade students’ work, and then chart performance monthly and compare it to previous results, before mapping strategies for continued progress.


One result: On state tests of reading comprehension, writing, and mathematics, Monarch Academy’s scores have soared. On a scale of 1,000, the school scored in the mid-600 range last year, still below the state median but up from 464 when the school opened in 2000 (but still below the state median). That’s one reason Tom Vander Ark, the executive director of educational programs at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, calls Shalvey ‘the most important social entrepreneur in America.’ Says Vander Ark: ‘We don’t really know what good systems of schools look like. It’s one of the most important questions in America today.’ Aspire may well have the answer.


    *  Entrepreneurship: A
    * Innovation: B+
    * Social Impact: A
    * Aspiration: A-
    * Sustainability: A-


Return to top 20 list
————————————————————————


Benetech


Palo Alto, California
Jim Fruchterman, Chief Executive
www.benetech.org


‘Our common belief is that information is powerful,’ says Jim Fruchterman. ‘And we try to put information tools into the hands of people who really need them.’ Fruchterman started Benetech in 2000 to focus on new ventures with a socially conscious bent. The result is an eclectic technology conglomerate catering to the disadvantaged. Among its newest projects is Martus, a software program that helps human-rights workers document abuses using encrypted technology. Bookshare.org allows the visually impaired to download and listen to 15,000 books in six languages. In the works: a program that will help teens with disabilities learn to read, land-mine detectors for civilians, and wireless devices for the disabled.


    * Entrepreneurship: A
    * Innovation: A-
    * Social Impact: B+
    * Aspiration: A-
    * Sustainability: B+


Return to top 20 list
————————————————————————


Benhaven


North Haven, Connecticut
Larry Wood, Executive Director


Through its unique Learning Network, Benhaven has created a model program to put kids with autism in regular classrooms. Benhaven’s staff works with teachers, parents, peers, and autistic kids themselves to design a vision for a child’s life one year out, and to identify steps necessary to make that real. The team approach has allowed Benhaven to expand tenfold the number of clients it touches. That’s part of what differentiates it from other mainstreaming efforts, say experts. For autistic adults, meanwhile, Benhaven’s Real Lives employment program aims to make quality of life a target outcome–something the rest of the field has yet to embrace.


    * Entrepreneurship: B+
    * Innovation: A-
    * Social Impact: A
    * Aspiration: B-
    * Sustainability: B+


Return to top 20 list
————————————————————————


Center for Community Self-help


Founded: 1980
Durham, North Carolina
Martin Eakes, Cofounder, President, and CEO
www.self-help.org


Martin Eakes doesn’t have to look far to see the impact of his work. Outside his office window, high above downtown Durham, North Carolina, there’s a stretch of old bank buildings that, after years of abandonment, are finally occupied by nonprofits and small businesses. Next door, at the Latino Community Credit Union, immigrants line up every Friday, payday, to access their bank accounts. For most, it’s the first account they’ve ever had.


Across the railroad tracks, at the gutted red-brick tobacco warehouse, Bobbie Lucas, a 54-year-old mason who built his first house when he was in high school, is finally in business for himself, leading a large team on the construction site. And not far away, first-time home-owner Brenda Ruffin, a 47-year-old sharecropper’s daughter, settles into Durham’s Walltown, a home-ownership project that is transforming a high-crime area.


Eakes’s brainchild is the Center for Community Self-Help, a kind of action tank for economic justice and a lending institution for the country’s poor. Through the center’s financial arm and policy institute, it makes capital accessible to people who have been left out–minorities, single mothers, rural families–and helps those same people protect the wealth they build. ‘We translate the civil rights gains of the 1960s into the economic area,’ says Eakes. ‘Without economic gains, the legal gains will be somewhat meaningless.’


Take home ownership, which Eakes calls the most important source of wealth. Home ownership in the United States may be at an all-time high, but minorities still lag: 48% of blacks and 46% of Hispanics own a home, compared with 76% of all whites. ‘My mother used to say that any person who has a vision to see a problem has the duty to help solve it,’ says Eakes, 49. ‘I view that as both a challenge and curse.’ To date, Self-Help has provided more than $2.6 billion in financing to small businesses, nonprofits, and home buyers.


Consider the evolution of Eakes’s 23-year-old organization, and you see how it answers unmet human needs with direct action. Operating out of Eakes’s car with $77 in seed capital from a bake sale, Self-Help began setting up worker-cooperative businesses in minority communities. It didn’t take long before lending became the real focus of the operation; people needed money more than advice. So the Center opened a credit union to make loans available to businesses that were turned away by banks and finance companies.


That same year, the center opened a venture to fund higher-risk small-business loans. Next came a home-ownership project and then a community-redevelopment arm. When Self-Help realized it could not go it alone to effect large-scale change, it joined with Fannie Mae and banks to create a multibillion-dollar ‘secondary-markets’ lending program for underserved borrowers. Self-Help tracked the loans and then took the lending data, which proved poor people are good credit risks, to the country’s largest banks in order to open up their lending practices. ‘We’re an R&D lab for the financial industry,’ says Deborah Momsen-Hudson, who manages the program.


In 1998, Self-Help began taking its ‘R&D initiative’ national. It forged an innovative alliance with leaders from Fannie Mae, Bank of America, and other major banks to use money from a $50 million Ford Foundation grant as a kind of insurance policy for mortgages issued to low-income families. In the past five years, that has unleashed over $2 billion in mortgages, opening up home ownership to 27,000 families. Recently, Fannie Mae signed on for another round, pledging to purchase an additional $2.5 billion in loans.


Now Self-Help is working to protect that wealth. In 1999, it denounced Citigroup and some of the country’s other large banks, which Eakes says were targeting poor people for high-fee loans. Self-Help led a coalition in North Carolina to fight for legislation to change such predatory lending practices in the state–and a bill was passed six months later. In North Carolina alone, Eakes estimates that the legislation will save the homes of some 5,000 families. Today, 27 states have already passed similar bills.


For Self-Help, such complex problems demand more than one approach–and a clear-eyed view of their changing context. Says Eakes: ‘Any entrepreneur needs to be 80% focused on the external world and 20% focused internally to make sure that you have an organization that’s strong enough to make a difference. Flip that scenario and the organization will rot from the inside out. It can’t survive, because it can’t adapt to the challenges that are changing every single month. If it can’t adapt, how can it be relevant to its mission and the people it serves?’


    * Entrepreneurship: A-
    * Innovation: B+
    * Social Impact: A
    * Aspiration: B
    * Sustainability: B+


Return to top 20 list
————————————————————————


Citizen Schools


Boston, Massachusetts
Eric Schwarz, President and Cofounder
www.citizenschools.org


After school, kids can go home and play video games until they can no longer blink, or they can cruise the streets aimlessly. Or, in nine cities, they can hang at Citizen Schools, an after-school program designed to teach children skills that aren’t part of their regular curriculum. In two-hour classes taught by volunteer teacher apprentices, kids study every subject from law and architecture to cooking and art. Since 1995, Citizen Schools has expanded to 20 schools across the country and now serves more than 2,000 children. The kids have produced 50 Web sites, written nine children’s books, and designed public spaces and architec-tural designs. ‘The teaching apprentices work with kids to make an amazing change,’ says cofounder Eric Schwarz. ‘For the adult, it’s a chance to connect with the energy that kids have, and for the kids, it makes learning real.’


    * Entrepreneurship: B+
    * Innovation: A
    * Social Impact: A
    * Aspiration: B+
    * Sustainability: B


Return to top 20 list
————————————————————————


City Year


Boston, Massachusetts
Alan Khazei and Michael Brown, Cofounders
www.cityyear.org


Alan Khazei and Michael Brown had a powerful idea while roommates at Harvard Law School: Recruit diverse young people to devote a year to community service in exchange for an educational stipend. In 1988, the two launched a 50-person pilot in Boston. Since then, City Year has grown to 14 sites nationwide, and 6,000 17- to 24-year-olds have logged nearly 11 million hours of service. Now, City Year faces its biggest challenge yet: a surprise 45% cut in funding, the result of last year’s decimation of AmeriCorps. In response, City Year has limited enrollment to 750 kids, down from 1,000, for the 2003-2004 program–and, as of early November, it had only enough money for 550 of them. The setback seems temporary, though; Congress reinstated funding to support 1,000 corps members next year.


    * Entrepreneurship: B+
    * Innovation: A
    * Social Impact: A+
    * Aspiration: A-
    * Sustainability: A-


Return to top 20 list
————————————————————————


College Summit


Washington, DC
J.B. Schramm, CEO and Founder
www.collegesummit.org


Each year, an estimated 200,000 American high school seniors are ready to go to college but don’t. Enter College Summit, which works with schools and colleges to help low-income students make the leap. In the spring, partner schools appoint and train influential juniors as peer leaders to work with teachers to help other students complete college applications. Schools then share student data with colleges seeking more diverse classes. Now, says founder J.B. Schramm, 79% of College Summit’s participants have enrolled in college–nearly double the national rate of seniors at the same income level–and 80% of them have graduated or are still enrolled within six years. ‘The young man who is the first in his family to go to college ends poverty in his family line forever,’ Schramm says. ‘It is irreversible progress.’


    * Entrepreneurship: B+
    * Innovation: A-
    * Social Impact: A-
    * Aspiration: B+
    * Sustainability: B+


Return to top 20 list
————————————————————————


First Book


Washington, DC
Kyle Zimmer, President and Cofounder
www.firstbook.org


‘The only difference between First Book and business is what we do with the product,’ says Kyle Zimmer, a former corporate lawyer and now president of the organization, which enables disadvantaged children to own their first book. ‘The laws of economics are not suspended when you step into the nonprofit world.’ To that end, First Book has developed partnerships with companies such as Walt Disney and Lincoln Mercury. First Book gets money; the companies get publicity. The results: a ‘pipeline’ that supplies books to after-school programs at poor schools, and the National Book Bank, which distributes publishers’ surplus books through literacy-building programs. In the past two years, First Book has provided 15 million books in more than 800 communities.


    * Entrepreneurship: A
    * Innovation: A-
    * Social Impact: A-
    * Aspiration: A
    * Sustainability: A-


Return to top 20 list
————————————————————————


Jumpstart



Boston, Massachusetts
Rob Waldron, President and CEO
www.jstart.org


How do you solve a national teaching shortage and help disadvantaged preschoolers at the same time? Try a Jumpstart. Jumpstart pairs college students with 3- to 5-year-olds who need help with reading and social skills. Its strategy: Give tots one-on-one mentoring, encourage college students to become teachers, and involve families in their kids’ education. Jumpstart’s 1,600-plus student teachers now work with more than 6,000 children in 44 communities. And Jumpstart kids show an average 20% improvement in reading and social skills. President and CEO Rob Waldron aims to have 25,000 kids in the program by 2006. ‘I hope that in 20 years,’ he says, ‘people will look at Jumpstart as they look at Habitat for Humanity and the Girl Scouts today.’


    * Entrepreneurship: B+
    * Innovation: B+
    * Social Impact: B+
    * Aspiration: B+
    * Sustainability: A-


Return to top 20 list
————————————————————————


KaBOOM!


Washington, DC
Darell Hammond, Founder
www.kaboom.org


When he was young, Darell Hammond lived in a Chicago orphanage with seven brothers and sisters. Now, he’s giving kids in hundreds of ‘playground-poor’ communities a place to play. KaBOOM! works in low-income neighborhoods to create common space for children and adults. Its projects start with a design day, when children map out their dream playground. A neighborhood group spends four months planning construction. Then in a single, explosive day, residents join with corporate volunteers to build the new facility. So far, KaBOOM! has completed 576 playgrounds, 6 skate parks, and 1,300 neighborhood-restoration and park clean-up projects in 43 states.


    * Entrepreneurship: A-
    * Innovation: B+
    * Social Impact: A-
    * Aspiration: A-
    * Sustainability: B


Return to top 20 list
————————————————————————


MicroBusiness Development Corp.


Denver, Colorado
Kersten Hostetter, Executive Director
www.microbusiness.org


Soon after Kersten Hostetter became executive director of the MicroBusiness Development Corp., a teen named Lizard approached her. ‘I can make $1,200 a week selling drugs,’ he said. ‘What can you offer me?’ A lot, as it turned out. Lizard joined MBD’s staff and now mentors other teens. In addition to helping youths, MBD provides loans and training to minority and low-income Denver entrepreneurs. Since 1994, it has helped create 3,278 jobs and disbursed more than $2 million in loans to 550 entrepreneurs. It says 96% of its loans have been repaid, and 464 of its 550 borrowers are still in business. Most important, Hostetter says, MBD seeds self-sufficiency. ‘Our job is, the next time they need a loan, they don’t need us,’ she says. ‘That’s creating opportunity, not charity.’


    * Entrepreneurship: B+
    * Innovation: B+
    * Social Impact: A
    * Aspiration: B
    * Sustainability: A-


Return to top 20 list
————————————————————————


New Leaders for New Schools


New York, New York
Jon Schnur, Cofounder and CEO
www.nlns.org


In his six years working on education for the Clinton administration, Jon Schnur learned this: Great principals make great schools. So his New Leaders for New Schools recruits would-be principals to undergo intensive leadership training, a yearlong residency, and on-site coaching. By the end of next school year, NLNS will have placed more than 200 principals in Chicago, New York, San Francisco, and Washington, DC, affecting the education of almost 100,000 kids in urban areas. By 2012, NLNS hopes to have 2,000 principals and 1 million children nationwide. Says Schnur: ‘One day, adults will look at schools that aren’t performing and instead of saying what’s wrong with these kids, they’ll ask what’s wrong with us.’


    * Entrepreneurship: A-
    * Innovation: A-
    * Social Impact: A+
    * Aspiration: B+
    * Sustainability: B+


Return to top 20 list
————————————————————————


NewSchools Venture Fund


Venture Fund
San Francisco, California
Kim Smith, Cofounder and CEO
www.newschools.org


Kim Smith, a Stanford MBA and CEO of the NewSchools Venture Fund, is determined to make private-public partnerships work for America’s sagging education system. Her model? Venture capital. NewSchools has started two investment funds, totaling about $65 million, which focus on charter schools and performance. It has committed $22 million to 11 for-profit and nonprofit ventures–from GreatSchools.net, an online service offering performance data to parents, to Teach for America, the well-known nonprofit that places talented college graduates as teachers in needy schools. To win investments, groups must show that their projects will have not just immediate impact, but also longer-term systemic effects. They also have to prove a viable bottom line.


    * Entrepreneurship: B+
    * Innovation: B+
    * Social Impact: A
    * Aspiration: B
    * Sustainability: B


Return to top 20 list
————————————————————————


Path (Program for Appropriate Technology in Health)


Founded: 1977
Seattle, Washington
Christopher J. Elias, President
www.path.org


When Chris Elias describes what success looks like to him, he speaks as though he is willing the disparate parts of his organization–employees, chunks of plastic, silicon, brick, and data–to become a living, organic thing.


‘Success means that we set clear goals and milestones for individual and company performance,’ he says. ‘It means we make plans and hold ourselves accountable to them. It means building, as much as is possible, a virtuous cycle of innovation leading to execution, producing results. Success is achieving the perfect entrepreneurial culture.’


By Elias’s measure–and nearly anyone else’s–the success of Program for Appropriate Technology in Health (PATH) over the past 25-plus years has been stunning. The organization has broken ground in the global public-health arena by adapting existing medical tools to the financial and cultural realities of developing nations from Kenya to Cambodia, India to the Ukraine. Where easily adaptable solutions were lacking, PATH has simply invented new ones.


PATH has created such technologies as the SoloShot, a syringe that automatically disables after a single use, preventing accidental transmission of disease from needle-sharing. Now licensed and manufactured by Becton Dickinson, the SoloShot is packaged with every vaccine that the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations delivers to the 74 poorest countries in the world. A more recent invention (and descendant of the SoloShot) called the Uniject device is a prefilled, single-dosage syringe designed for easy use even by those with little or no medical training. Uniject will be used this year to immunize all 5 million newborns in Indonesia against hepatitis B.


The pantheon of PATH’s innovations seems endless: There is the no-prescription, one-size-fits-most diaphragm and a newly designed female condom. There’s the Ultra Rice product, fortified with vitamin A, iron, zinc, thiamine, and folic acid to meet nutritional needs in areas where rice is the primary food source. And there’s the effort to circumvent what the public-health community calls the ‘cold chain’–the need for continuous refrigeration from a drug’s origin to the point of delivery. Rather than creating cold chains in remote rural areas lacking refrigeration, PATH instead has developed stable, heat-resistant vaccines for diseases such as polio and hepatitis B.


But what sets PATH apart from other global health initiatives is not simply its mission or its capacity for creating new technologies. Even more impressive is its strategy for teaming up with private companies, bringing them into the solution. ‘We are bridging the gap between public and the private industrial sectors,’ says PATH technology vice president Michael Free. ‘We bring value to both the commercial side and the health arena. We can broker relationships, develop partnerships, and together effectively move technology forward.’


Indeed, PATH is just as likely to work with U.S. Agency for International Development (on containing a tuberculosis outbreak in the Ukraine) as with international pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline (on development of a pediatric malaria vaccine in Mozambique). Its partnerships with the private sector have resulted in production and distribution of inexpensive, rapid-result HIV testing kits by local companies in India, Argentina, and Indonesia, and of a similar testing kit for hepatitis B in both India and Indonesia.


These kits capture the beauty of PATH’s approach. Where people travel hours–sometimes days–to see a doctor, they don’t have the option to return two weeks later for test results. In such places, there are rarely even labs to process the test results. The answer: a test that gives on-the-spot results. For PATH, the magic lies not just in the ingenuity of the science, but in the simplicity of the solution.


    *   Entrepreneurship: A
    * Innovation: A+
    * Social Impact: A+
    * Aspiration: A-
    * Sustainability: A-


Return to top 20 list
————————————————————————


Room to Read


San Francisco, California
John Wood, Founder and CEO
www.roomtoread.org


In 1998, Microsoft executive John Wood, trekking through Nepal, was dismayed to find a 45 % literacy rate, few schools, and barren libraries. Two years later, he returned, this time as founder of Room to Read. Since then, his group has helped build 700 libraries, 63 schools, and 20 computer and language labs. The organization has donated more than 300,000 books to villages in Nepal, India, Cambodia, and Vietnam. And it has given 412 scholarships to girls who otherwise couldn’t afford to go to school. Participating villages become co-owners of projects, often providing up to half the resources. ‘My personal goal,’ Wood says, ‘is to help 10 million children to gain an education. I don’t see any reason why we need to think small about this.’


    * Entrepreneurship: A-
    * Innovation: B
    * Social Impact: A-
    * Aspiration: A-
    * Sustainability: B+


Return to top 20 list
————————————————————————


Rubicon Programs


Founded: 1973
Richmond, California
Rick Aubry, Executive Director
www.rubiconpgms.org


Bite into a Rubicon Turtle Cake, and the first thing you taste is the light, creamy caramel–followed by hints of rich chocolate and a pecan crunch. In that ecstatic moment, the matter of who actually made the confection seems utterly irrelevant. And that’s exactly the point. These cakes are the latest creations of a unique team of bakers–formerly homeless, often mentally ill people or recovering addicts from communities in the San Francisco Bay Area who come to Rubicon Programs looking for a way out.


Rubicon hands these folks measuring spoons–and explains how to use them. It trains them in the tools of the baking trade, then starts them on easy tasks, such as peeling apples or washing pots. From there, bigger jobs: mixing batters, then supervising a line. At every step, these employees relearn (or learn for the first time) what it takes to hold down a job, to do work that inspires pride, to advance and feel a sense of accomplishment.


The cakes themselves are out of this world. ‘We can’t be the best nonprofit cake in the display case,’ says executive director Rick Aubry. ‘We just have to be the best cake. Period.’ But to Aubry, it’s about more than that. ‘We are not only creating a wonderful product but also a range of jobs on a path to sustainability for these people. It is helping them move out of poverty and disenfranchisement, and back into the community with skills.’


The bakery, which grosses $300,000 in its busiest month, is one of two businesses run by Rubicon. The other is a landscaping service, also staffed by hard-to-employ people, that does $4 million a year in services that range from mowing grass to installing irrigation systems. Both businesses pay their workers living wages, and the landscaping unit brings in enough to reinvest in operations–and spin off small surpluses to support other Rubicon programs.


Together, the operations account for half of Rubicon’s budget, which otherwise funds an eclectic menu of community programs. There’s the career center, which provides career counseling, interview preparation, and email and voice-mail service to jobless and often homeless clients looking to enter the workforce. In 2003, it provided 800 people with job training and placed 400 clients in new jobs. Rubicon also supports substance-abuse counseling, horticulture therapy, money-management programs, and a host of other offerings.


Rubicon forged this strategy 30 years ago: create operating subsidiaries that deliver on the organization’s social mission while generating a revenue stream to augment other funding sources. It’s an approach that social enterprise organizations across the country have strived to replicate since. Rubicon still does it better than almost anyone.


And Rubicon does one more thing: It tracks results, almost ferociously. In 1999, staffers completed an in-house information system that charts the status of each client according to individual assessments completed every three months while enrolled, then biannually once they have left. The database has current information on participants’ housing status, their finances, substance-abuse counseling, and employment status.


The reports may sound intrusive, but they enable clients to see their own progress in black and white. They also allow Rubicon to measure the effectiveness of its programs and simplify financial reporting to major donors. No wonder other not-for-profits are eager to adapt the technology. Rubicon isn’t ready to share just yet–but the organization that pioneered the revenue stream can always smell a nascent business opportunity. ‘We’re still in talks,’ says Aubry. ‘It’s under consideration.’


    *  Entrepreneurship: A-
    * Innovation: A-
    * Social Impact: A+
    * Aspiration: B
    * Sustainability: A-


Return to top 20 list
————————————————————————


Share Our Strength


Washington, DC
Bill Shore, Founder
www.strength.org


If you don’t recognize the name Share Our Strength, you’ll certainly remember its most successful campaign: Charge Against Hunger, wherein a portion of your restaurant tab went to hunger-fighting causes. With such campaigns, Share Our Strength has distributed more than $70 million to more than 1,000 programs in 20 years. Bill Shore, a former staffer for Senators Gary Hart and Robert Kerrey, founded and still runs SOS. Shore says his organization creates its own wealth. In other words, he has mastered the art of partnering for serious profit. Now, with partners ranging from Evian to Yahoo! (and American Express, which backed Charge Against Hunger), Shore says he doesn’t have to compete with other nonprofits for a share of the philanthropy pie. Rather, his organization works to expand it.


    * Entrepreneurship: A-
    * Innovation: B
    * Social Impact: B+
    * Aspiration: B+
    * Sustainability: A-


Return to top 20 list
————————————————————————


Witness


Founded: 1992
New York, New York
Gillian Caldwell, Executive Director
www.witness.org


Behind an anonymous, graffiti-pocked door in New York’s TriBeCa neighborhood are 3,500 videotapes of some of the worst human-rights transgressions in the world, an archive that expands relentlessly. These are the offices of Witness, human-rights videographer of the world.


Here is the footage that arrived one October morning: A naked boy at Paraguay’s National Psychiatric Hospital is squatting against the bars of a 6-by-6-foot cell. Jorge, diagnosed as autistic, has been detained in isolation for at least five years, according to Alison Hillman, a human-rights attorney who shot the footage. Outside Jorge’s pen, patients wander unclothed. One man urinates in the courtyard. Another laps up water from a puddle.


Gillian Caldwell, Witness’s executive director, is watching the raw footage for the first time. She’s also watching me–because ultimately, Witness is all about the reactions it helps provoke. She hopes this tape, like all those Witness sponsors, will spark enough outrage to advance the work of human-rights defenders. As Caldwell puts it, ‘the camera is both a tool and a weapon’ to fight injustice.


Witness was the organization that put a video camera in Hillman’s hands in the first place. And now, it’s helping her get results. Within days, the video will be edited for submission to the Organization of American States’ Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. It will accompany a petition filed by Mental Disability Rights International, where Hillman works, for precautionary measures to protect Jorge and another boy, Julio.


Witness has created more than 150 such partnerships since its founding 12 years ago by the musician Peter Gabriel. The idea came to Gabriel while on a world tour sponsored by Amnesty International. ‘I met people who had watched members of their family being murdered in front of them and then found that their government was effectively able to deny that those people had ever been murdered,’ Gabriel says. ‘There was this sense of powerlessness. I thought if there was strong video footage, it would be so much harder to bury the facts.’


Today, Witness faces the challenge of keeping up with demand. Its response: to scale back the number of current partnerships from 25 to 10–but also to ‘seed’ video advocacy via short-term, high-impact training kits for 300-plus organizations. ‘Ultimately, we can have more impact if we take an open-door approach,’ says Caldwell. ‘It’s about supporting movements for social change.’ That is, Witness is committed less to its own survival than to the power of video advocacy–and to a unique vision that Gabriel describes. ‘I’ve always dreamt that opposite the UN there would be a house of shame. On one side of the road governments could mouth off [about] their achievements, and on the other side, there would be the history of the realities. I hope that Witness could be the conscience where the reality of human rights and abuse history is preserved, available and accessible to all.’


    *  Entrepreneurship: A
    * Innovation: A
    * Social Impact: A+
    * Aspiration: B+
    * Sustainability: A-


Return to top 20 list
————————————————————————


Working Today


Brooklyn, New York
Sara Horowitz, Founder
www.workingtoday.org


Working Today acts as an insurance- benefits manager for people who don’t have one. Since 2002, about 4,000 freelancers, part-time employees, and contractors in New York have tapped into its Portable Benefits Network to pay insurance rates similar to what full-time employees at big companies do. Sara Horowitz, Working Today’s founder and executive director, says that as America’s employees grow more mobile, their safety nets have become more porous. Working Today establishes logical groupings of mobile workers–by geography, industry, or both–to advocate on behalf of members. It’s the next union–and, some argue, the future of the labor market.


    * Entrepreneurship: A-
    * Innovation: A
    * Social Impact: B+
    * Aspiration: B
    * Sustainability: B+


Return to top 20 list
————————————————————————