cinncinati_recyclebankSome people claim that we are living in revolutionary times. With terms like Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street becoming part of our everyday lexicon, it’s hard to argue otherwise. But one revolution occurring outside the lens of the mainstream media involves young, tech-savvy entrepreneurs applying creative solutions to solve problems associated with everything from environmental cleanup to access to higher education.

Those studying this rapidly evolving phenomenon refer to it as the “Solution Economy.”

These solution revolutionaries are challenging old business models and developing products or services that deal directly with social problems. To accomplish this, these entrepreneurs combine technological knowledge with creative business planning and behavioral incentivizing. Generally speaking, the new solution revolutionaries are not in it so much for the money–they’re in it to solve problems.

William Eggers and Paul Macmillan–co-authors of a recently published book on the subject–claim that these solution revolutionaries, “develop fundamentally different operating models that are fostering new relationships between services and clients, government and citizens, managers and workers, and neighbors and strangers.”

Many enterprises in the Solution Economy benefit from the collaboration of government, private businesses and non-profit organizations. One example is an organization called Recyclebank, which rewards households that recycle by issuing points that can be redeemed for prizes or discounts on products.

Recyclebank relies on collaboration with small municipalities, waste haulers and large, for-profit corporations. Neighborhoods that have partnered with Recyclebank have witnessed a large increase in consumer recycling. In some parts of Philadelphia, for example, rates have gone from 7 percent to 90 percent.

Traffic congestion is another problem area where social entrepreneurs are competing to develop solutions. According to Eggers and Macmillan, Americans lose 4.76 billion hours a year to delays resulting from traffic congestion. The annual opportunity cost of these delays is nearly $160 billion.

To solve this problem, entrepreneurs have developed a variety of apps that pair commuters with drivers to utilize empty seats in automobiles. One app–Carma–actually transfers a mileage-based fee from the passenger’s account to the driver’s account, making the transaction simple and efficient.

Examples abound of social entrepreneurs collaborating with public and private partners to develop creative solutions to collective problems here and across the globe. In an age of growing frustration and discontent, it may be comforting to know that solution revolutionaries are utilizing their minds and talents to promote a new kind of economic progress.

This brand of revolutionary does not seem concerned with rhetorical bickering about government, corporations or corruption. Instead, they are driven by a more tangible and immediate goal–innovative solutions to difficult problems.

– Daniel Bonasso

Sources: PBS, Huffington Post, Fast Company
Photo: Urban Cincy


Australian actor and filmmaker Hugh Jackman is producing a documentary about converting livestock manure into clean methane to be used for cooking and lighting in Ethiopia.

84% of Ethiopians burn wood for lighting and cooking, which has resulted in massive deforestation across vast swaths of the country. But because coffee requires shade, coffee-growing regions of Ethiopia are lushly forested. And because trees are needed to provide shade for a valuable crop, local farmers have developed a special kind of technology to convert livestock manure into a cleaner source of energy.

During a 2009 visit to the coffee-producing Kochere district of Ethiopia, Jackman was inspired by the work of a 27-year-old coffee farmer named Dukale, whose innovative technology holds the potential to make tangible improvements to the environment, local economy, and lives of Ethiopians.

Besides providing a cleaner source of energy and offering a solution to the respiratory problems of children who have grown up in smoke-filled huts, Dukale is able to devote more land to coffee farming by not using wood for fuel. This enables him to grow more coffee, use the proceeds to buy more land, hire more workers, and he can afford to send his kids to school instead of to labor in the fields.

Impressed by Dukale’s efforts, Jackman has sought to find distribution for their coffee, forming Laughing Man Worldwide (LMW), which operates coffeehouses in Lower Manhattan and devotes all proceeds to education, community, and new business development.

Laughing Man Coffee Shops have opened to rave reviews at various locations in Lower Manhattan and feature an array of products made with crops from Ethiopia, Peru, Guatemala, and Papua New Guinea, among others.

Since his initial visit to Ethiopia in 2009, Jackman and a small group of filmmakers have been documenting their work. A final film is planned for distribution later in 2013.

– Michael DeZubiria

Sources: PandoDaily, Uncommon Union, Mother Nature Network, Yahoo! Lifestyle


Since the start of 2013, a huge focus in the humanitarian world has been on the benefits of small entrepreneurial endeavors in developing countries. Due to global financial crises and budget cuts, especially here in the United States, investors are becoming more picky with where and to whom they are sending their money to. In many cases, they have opted for private organizations that directly put the money in the hands of local men and women who are making immediate and visible changes in their communities.

Ana Cecila Acuña is such woman. Despite her meager circumstances, having grown up in a small village in Nicaragua, her parents instilled in her a confidence that would help her dictate her own life and propel her towards success. A big obstacle that Acuña and many other women in her position have been able to overcome is making a name for themselves in a patriarchal society where not only does man dictate home life but also all outside business and negotiations.

Ana established a small home business selling oil and rice with the help of microloans from the nonprofit Opportunity International, managing to expand her business as well as to incorporate 20 other women and their ideas into the project. This venture led her to gain a seat on the board of the La Laguna Community Cooperative. A local political organization run exclusively by men, the Community Cooperative was in charge of handling the village’s affairs. When Ana recognized a fault with the way things were going, she decided to make the change herself.

Opportunity International, which started in the 1970s, is a microfinance nonprofit that has been providing loans, saving opportunities, insurance, and finance training to entrepreneurs in over 20 countries. After working with Ana and her small business, they funded the Cooperative with a $10,000 loan. The money was used to build a well in the village, providing close access to water for over 200 families, a luxury that the Cooperative was not able to figure out on their own. Instead of walking four miles by foot each day, the water is sent directly to the village homes through a piping system that was also installed.

Acuña’s achievements are remarkable for two specific reasons: the first is because of her socioeconomic standing prior to forming her business and joining her village government and the second, because she is a woman. Women in developing countries are being looked at to lead the escape out of poverty for their families and communities. Gayle Tzemick Lemon of the Huffington Post recently reported on the increase of female entrepreneurs and that “when women have income coming in research shows that the entire family benefits in the form of better nutrition and health”.

It is important to keep in mind the potential that every single human being possess. Whether they live in Angola or Arkansas, the entrepreneurial spirit is embedded in all of us; it simply needs encouragement, a bit of hope, and of course a little bit of money.

– Deena Dulgerian

Source: Huffington Post