Thursday, August 26, 2010

Small Dollar Lending Receiving Federal Support

By Josh Engle, Summer Associate and MBA Candidate at Northwestern University

The inclusion of a loan-loss-reserve provision in the recently passed Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act signifies increasing federal-level interest in small-dollar lending. These loans, unsecured and under $2,500, offer low- to moderate-income individuals a safe alternative to predatory lending. The still undetermined amount of funds will provide lenders with bandwidth to begin or expand small-dollar programs. It will be particularly useful to smaller community development financial institutions that will only have to put up an equivalent of 50 percent of the distributed dollars

Additionally, the legislation authorizes technical assistance grants that will help organizations get their staff and technology up to speed while demonstration grants will focus on small-dollar alternatives bundled with financial literacy and education.

Meanwhile, the FDIC just wrapped up its small-dollar loan pilot and will be focusing on technology and guarantees from this point forward. This shift reflects a mood of supporting the marketplace mechanisms that are nearly ready to provide access to under or unbanked people.

The federal environment seems to be moving quickly in the direction of supporting small-dollar lending and Emerge Workplace Solutions, Inc., New Foundry Venture’s first portfolio company, is well positioned to help lending institutions take advantage of this trend with its integrated technology and education platform. Through lining up employer partnerships and facilitating the loan, repayment, and education process for lenders, Emerge strives to make it as easy as possible for financial institutions to grow their small-dollar loan programs.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

GETS Energy Services Launches!

In our work to create social businesses that address significant problems in the U.S. we both create businesses ourselves (such as Emerge Loans) and we also work with community partners to find the best business models for creating a scalable solution. At New Foundry Ventures we are fortunate to work with many great partners in creating and scaling social enterprises. One of those partners is Rising Sun Energy Center, a Bay Area nonprofit with whom we have been working with this past year to help create an energy efficiency social enterprise. Rising Sun is now ready to launch the fruits of our collective efforts as a new social business. Here is some information about this exciting project!!

Please join us in celebrating the launch of GETS Energy Services, the pilot model of our Energy Efficiency Enterprise! We are excited to be piloting an enterprise in the energy efficiency space as we see this business model as a viable and sustainable social enterprise that can be replicated across the country (learn more).

GETS Energy Services is a triple bottom-line social venture that provides subsidized energy upgrade services to moderate-income residents in Berkeley and Richmond, California, while also providing transitional employment to graduates of Rising Sun's GETS (Green Energy Training Services) workforce development program. The workforce development program is a part of RichmondBUILD, an organization that seeks to meet the particular job training and support needs of Richmond residents, 40 percent of whom live in public housing and 30-40 percent of whom have a history with the criminal justice system. RichmondBUILD's goal is to provide job skills to people between the ages of 17-35 who are facing barriers to employment.

Our Partnership
In partnership with Rising Sun Energy Center, a Berkeley-based nonprofit, New Foundry Ventures is building on the growing market demand for home retrofits and the$625 million the government has already invested in green job training. This venture uniquely addresses the need for transitional jobs, hands on experience, and a more supportive work environment for green jobs graduates in the energy efficiency space.

Rather thanduplicate efforts, our two organizations decided to collaborate in early 2010 when we realized we were both working on an energy efficiency social enterprise that could be replicated in multiple communities. This partnership combines our proven ability to create successful and sustainable social enterprises and Rising Sun's expertise as a leading green workforce development and energy retrofit services organization, with over 15 years of green jobs training experience. This pilot will help us refine our Energy Efficiency Enterprise model and develop a turnkey 'business plan in a box' that can easily be replicated in other communities. We will then work with
Rising Sun to begin scaling this model through partnerships with other organizations across the U.S.

GETS Energy Services enterprise sets out to achieve three goals: improve moderate-income homeowners’ quality of life by lowering utility bills and making their home more comfortable, healthy, durable, and energy efficient; provide qualified graduates of Rising Sun’s GETS (Green Energy Training Services) with their first experience working in the green sector; and finally to reduce CO2 emissions.

How You Can Get Involved
Want to help create jobs in the green sector, help moderate-income homeowners reduce their energy bills, and help reduce CO2 emissions from the atmosphere - then call us about how we can help you start your own energy efficiency enterprise!

To learn more about GETS Energy Services, and determine if you or your friends can potentially benefit from its services, please contact Rising Sun at 510-655-1501 extension 17 or visit the website.

Stay in touch with us during this exciting stage of our development by following us on Twitter @GETS_ES and @newfoundry, and on Facebook at GETS Energy Services and New Foundry.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Greening Our World, One Job At A Time

By Ashima Sukhdev, Summer Associate and Junior at University of Pennsylvania

The term “green collar economy” first made a lasting impact on me when I heard Van Jones speak at Penn during my freshman year. Van Jones, who has been known as the green jobs czar, is an environmental and human rights activist who served as the green jobs advisor in the Obama White House in 2009. He champions the idea that we can solve the two greatest challenges facing us today, the environment and unemployment, with one solution known as the green collar revolution. He’s not the lone voice that supports this idea either.

For those of you less familiar with all this terminology, the green collar economy refers to the creation of jobs that solve both socioeconomic inequality and environmental problems. Green jobs offer the opportunity to create thousands of low- to medium-skill jobs for the unemployed and under-skilled that help solve a number of environmental problems. For example, insulating old homes and buildings to conserve energy, installing renewable energy sources, waste management programs, urban gardening projects, etc. These are all local jobs that can't be exported, and that can provide real opportunities for the worst off groups (such as urban youth) to acquire skills, professional experience, and to become a part of the community again. Hearing Van Jones speak on this simple and powerful idea ignited a desire to figure out how this could work on a national, and international, scale – and whether it would indeed be successful. It was to my delight that I ended up working with a social enterprise heavily involved in the green economy just two summers later.

A Green Jobs Field Trip

A few weeks ago a group of us from New Foundry Ventures (previously known as Rubicon National Social Innovations), arrived in the City of Richmond for a field trip to see this green collar economy in action.

The US government has already invested approximately $625 million in green jobs training. One of the many programs that has benefited from this funding is that of RichmondBUILD, the site that we were visiting that day. The RichmondBUILD Pre-apprenticeship Construction Skills and Green Jobs Training Academy was developed to create employment and career opportunities in construction for Richmond residents aged 17-35 who face barriers to employment. RichmondBUILD has crafted its free training programs to meet the particular job training and support needs of Richmond residents, 40% of whom live in public housing and 30-40% of whom have a history with the criminal justice system.

The Green Energy Training Services (GETS) workforce development program is an optional energy efficiency training module that participants of RichmondBUILD can apply to participate in. Some of the participants of the GETS workforce program will go on to work for GETS Energy Services (the Energy Efficiency Enterprise that NFV and Rising Sun have launched), and some will go on to work for other energy efficiency retrofit companies. This is a perfect example of an industry helping to create “green jobs” in an urban community that needs them badly. The GETS program provides a particularly supportive training atmosphere for those who are perhaps seeking their first stable job to escape the traps of inner-city life or trying to get back into employment after long periods of economic stagnancy.

While at the RichmondBUILD site, we were able to sit-in on one of the energy efficiency training classes (most of which was far beyond my comprehension!), a large class of about 30 students from a variety of backgrounds. We also walked around the “mock house” which has been built in their warehouse where the green jobs trainees are able to gain experience and practice their newfound skills. Our tour of the site was conducted by Ramon, a graduate of the Green Energy Training Services Program. Ramon was clearly a wonderful mentor for the current students, and a perfect example of someone from the Richmond community who had clearly benefited from the training program. Having come from a rough background himself, he explained to us the impact such a training program and stable employment can have on an urban youth who needs guidance and a path to avoid getting involved in drugs, violence, and crime. What struck me most was Ramon’s awareness of the larger environmental movement he was a part of. He spoke of the importance of energy efficiency, and how exciting it was to know that he was involved in the process of reducing CO2 emissions in the residential sector. The visit re-instilled the sense of excitement I’d felt for the green jobs movement when I’d heard Van Jones speak, and I returned to my desk at the office reminded of the importance of the work I was doing.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Our Sweet Home Hub SoMa: A Haven for Social Innovators

By Ashima Sukhdev, Summer Associate and Junior at University of Pennsylvania

Rubicon National. SOCAP. Reach Global. Adaptive Edge. SustainAbility. Acumen Fund. Kiva. Triple Pundit. Mercy Corps. Feel Good. . Singularity Institute. Benetech. Numi Tea. Equal Exchange. Good Capital. Architecture for Humanity. Terrapass. Investors Circle. B Lab. Green Chamber. Alter Eco. Better World Telecom.

Sound like a list of some of the nation’s most exciting green ventures, social enterprises, and development organizations?

That list is just my average day at work.

One of the many fascinating aspects of my summer here in San Francisco has been the office space where New Foundry Ventures is located. New Foundry Ventures' office can be found in a small nook in The Hub: Bay Area – a collaborative workspace located in the SoMa district of San Francisco. The above mentioned are some of the many organizations that we share the space with on any given day.

Aptly labeled “where change goes to work,” the Hub seeks to bring together and engage social enterprises, socially-minded organizations and individuals who dabble in similar ventures. The Hub’s network extends across 5 countries and 24 cities, with work spaces such as the one I spend my week in located all over the world. Members can either choose to have a private office (such as the one New Foundry Ventures occupies) or general membership to the common area.

When my mentor emailed us with the details of the new workspace that they would be moving into, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. The idea seemed riveting, but what did this place look like? What did it feel like to work somewhere like this? Examining the floor map from various angles and scouring the website provided no preparation for the first day.

Firstly, everything is on wheels. Furniture exists to encourage the synergy of the place. You can write on walls in the meeting rooms. The d├ęcor is expectedly on the natural, woody side; my favorite is the conference table that is essentially a tree trunk with a piece of glass on top. There’s a “nest” (literally – you have to climb up a ladder to get to it) with bean bags, cushions and blankets for impromptu meetings and brainstorming sessions. Free flowing fair trade (obviously) coffee and tea are available to re-energize the weary entrepreneurial mind. As a visitor very insightfully exclaimed as she walked into the space – “Is this a library for adults!?”.

And it seems like it. Except this library is filled to the brim with global thought leaders, with a common aim to change the world. While the Hub is still experiencing a few growing pains (Hub SoMa can still be considered a toddler in comparison to the rest, at only 12 weeks), this place holds promise. The extent of the collaboration in the first few weeks was basic: what item should each of us bring to contribute to the group’s “Sexy Salad” Thursday lunches. Now, however, as members are beginning to get familiar with each other, the real synergies coming out of this space are obvious. Members reach out to each other for help both formally and informally: from legal services to logo advice. They learn about new opportunities through each other, and continue to broaden their networks. At night, the Hub transforms into a host space for events, and members (myself included) are beginning to experience the benefits of being able to attend events such as “Social Enterprise from Scratch”, “The Kiva Social” and the “Unreasonable Institute’s West Coast Pitch Fest” without really stepping away from their desks.

A seasoned “Hubber” now, I do wonder what it’ll be like having to adjust back to cubicles, white walls and an office full of people working for the same organization as me. In the mean time, the Hub Bay Area makes my 9 to 5 just that bit more exhilarating.

See the Fast Company photo (above) and read their feature article on Hub Soma.