Flickr/CC/Bev Sykes

By Maria Bennici

As the leaves begin to crunch on the sidewalk and buses start to rumble up the street, it’s clear to see that the back-to-school season is upon us. Whether you’re a student or a teacher, or even if you’ve been out of school for ages, the change of the season provides excellent opportunities to be more involved in your community and to find new sustainable ways to learn and live.





Volunteer: Looking for ways to spend time with cute animals, improve your home improvement skills, or simply meet new people? Check out local organizations, including SPCA, Habitat for Humanity, and nursing homes, and ask them about volunteering and any possible training programs associated with them. Remember to choose something that you would be well-equipped to help with in terms of your own skills and availability! As a teacher, see if you can reach out to local businesses, such as restaurants or stores, to see if they would be willing to offer incentives for students who volunteer a certain number of hours (similar to the Book It! program with Pizza Hut during my own elementary school years).

Extracurricular time: Find an activity to either join or lead this year. This is a great way to meet new people and to spend time doing something that really interests you (and also bolsters your own skill sets). If you haven’t found an activity that you enjoy it, think about creating your own, such as a social entrepreneurship club, a Jane Austen appreciation club, or a foreign film club that combines the movie with its culture. You might be surprised by how many other people share your passion as well.

Skype in the Classroom: Interested in other cultures but lacking in funds to launch a full overseas experience? You can use Skype in the Classroom to communicate with other classes around the world, or even other classes within your own country. This allows students to meet their peers with radically different life experiences or to even meet special guest speakers. If using technology to interact with outside groups, be sure to check school protocol and to also design the curriculum in a way that makes this activity as personal as possible for students. Allow them the chance to write questions and guide the conversation before initiating the call.

If using bandwidth at your school is a problem or there are too many time zones to make live calls feasible, consider using Twitter, blogging, or video-logging as a way to communicate. Odds are, students are already using and enjoying this type of technology. Check out more international school partnering tips here!

Giving back: When you’ve got down time, consider heading over to websites like Free Rice, Free Kibble, and Answer 4 Earth, which are trivia websites that allow you and students to learn while also donating grains of rice, food to animals, or money towards organizations that will plant trees. You could also host a trivia tournament in which money raised will be donated towards a cause supported by the participants. No need for the trivia tournament to be limited to only Jeopardy!-style categories—feel free to structure it around things that would interest many students, from questions on Taylor Swift’s discography to the latest dystopian releases.

Flickr/CC/Peter Casier for the WFP
Flickr/CC/Peter Casier for the WFP

Current events: Standing in the front of the class while reading a paragraph about current events can be excruciatingly boring, especially for a significant duration of the class. Instead, encourage students to research current affairs and to then do an art project on the larger trend around an event that particularly interests them. Art projects need not be limited to paintings and collages—Tumblr, gif-sets, and Buzzfeed-style videos could also work as well.




Backpacks: There are loads of high-quality, eco-friendly backpacks on the market, but if you’re looking to actively give back as well, check out Just Porter, a company that donates backpacks full of school supplies to communities in need while also manufacturing the bags and buying the supplies locally. The company definitely gets a pat on the back for considering how to integrate with the community and not flooding the market with free handouts, thus putting local owners out of business. Learn more about Just Porter with this recent Business Insider article!

Charitable apps: Regardless of whether or not you’re sitting in a classroom, nearly everyone, students and teachers alike, are on their smartphones a lot. Harness your phone to help others by finding apps that give back! Charity Miles is an app that’s great for people on the cross-country team or who like to bike and run for fun—for every mile ran, a biker earns 10 cents and a walker or runner earns 25 cents. For those who are addicted to sharing photos, whether on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter, you can use Donate a Photo in conjunction, which will donate $1 per day to a charity of your choice when you post a photo on the app.

Clothes: Back-to-school shopping often revolves around buying new clothes, but you can definitely refresh your wardrobe without spending a ton of money. Head to the thrift shop if you’re in the mood for vintage supplies, or go to Plato’s Closet or Buffalo Exchange, which are lightly used clothing stores, if you’re looking for more current trends.

Flickr/CC/Thomas Hawk
Flickr/CC/Thomas Hawk

Lunchboxes: Bringing your own lunch for home, while requiring more work than buying it at school or at a restaurant nearby, is usually healthier and more economical in the long run; however, it does mean that you may end up using a ton of plastic bags and throwing away lots of pre-packaging. Consider using reusable containers for bringing lunch to school or work, and even napkins, provided you use fabric ones, can be reusable. Feel free to think outside the box in terms of containers, from using old army surplus containers to tiffins (often used in India for meals). Check this site for more ideas.


Flickr/CC/Daniel Stockman

By Maria Bennici


It has been said that a dog is a man’s best friend, but do humans really treat dogs, and its animal brethren, with the same sort of love? Unfortunately, animals receive a lot of abuse and can even face untimely deaths at the hands of humans, from the murder of wild exotic animals to 3.4 million cats and dogs being euthanized in 2013. Luckily, these organizations promote the health of animals—and humans as well—in inspiring and innovative ways.

  1. WOOF Program (San Francisco, CA): During the economic recession, the San Francisco Animal Care and Control and its rescue partners were overwhelmed by the number of dogs left at their centers, causing a rise in overcrowding and risk of euthanasia for dogs that could have been adopted if they received more training. As a result, Wonderful Opportunities for Occupants and Fidos (WOOF Program) was born, pairing dogs that need special attention and care in order to become more adoptable with foster parents who had been homeless and/or had lived in a shelter before. Although there has been controversy over pairing animals in need with homeless people, the WOOF Program is only open to foster parents with stable housing, and the parents are forbidden from panhandling. Furthermore, the program gives parents essential dog training, such as housetraining and basic obedience, as well as more human life skills, such as job readiness and banking tips.
  1. Virginia Woof (Portland, OR): This doggie daycare is a non-profit which operates with Outside In, a Portland-based organization that provides opportunities to homeless and at-risk youth. At the daycare, youth are properly trained to be able to help and supervise the dogs, eventually becoming eligible for internships at the center and potentially jobs in the animal care field afterwards. Not only do at-risk youth gain job experience and have the chance to form bonds with animals, but the dogs also get quality care, providing a safe place to socialize with other dogs.
  1. n:philanthropy (Los Angeles, CA): Launched by Yvonne Niami in 2015, this womenswear clothing line is in its second collection, and 10 percent of sales are donated to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Los Angeles (SPCALA) and Children’s Hospital. This giving spirit is showcased inside the pants, which says “BTW—you just helped a child and animal in need—good work!” in the lining.
  1. Heartland Farm Sanctuary (Madison, WI): This idyllic farm, a non-profit which began in 2010, offers support to both animals and humans in need. Dozens of abused and abandoned animals, such as chickens, pigs, ducks, and goats, have been rescued by the sanctuary, which either provides a home for the animals for the rest of their lives or finds the animal an adoptive family. Additionally, the sanctuary provides therapeutic animal-assisted services to adults and youth with special needs or a background of trauma, giving them a chance to form a bond with creatures that will neither judge nor harm them.
  1. Rescue Chocolate (Brooklyn, NY): This chocolate company uses an annual beneficiary model to donate its proceeds to various animal welfare organizations, but it also partners with rescue organizations by either giving back $1 on every item sold or allowing the organizations to re-sell the chocolate, earning about $2 in profit on each product sold. The chocolate is vegan and kosher, and the company is B Corporation Certified.
Flickr/CC/Compassion Over Killing
Flickr/CC/Compassion Over Killing


Flickr/CC/Njambre Coworking

By Santiago Martínez


In Latin America, the increasing role of social enterprise has resulted in rising hope for a population seeking change. Influenced by a lack of faith in public institutions; the growing disparity of wealth distribution in par with a daunting perpetuity of major social issues regarding security, extreme poverty, education, and health; an increasingly participating citizenship have pushed towards a different way of approaching public issues through private and collective efforts. Alternative businesses have been growing since the late 1980s in which the main objective is not reduced to making profit, but is the means towards addressing the pressing social issues that have haunted Latin Americans for decades.


Countries like Brazil, Argentina, or Colombia have been major players in the development of social enterprises in the region. In 1986, for the first time in the region, Brazil opened a local chapter of Ashoka, the largest of social entrepreneurship network in the world. Now, almost 30 years later, this chapter has almost 370 entrepreneurs, or “fellows” affiliated with the network, which represents about 10% of the total affiliated fellows in the world. In Mexico and Central America, 219 more fellows have joined after two decades of work. Together, they represent around 1/5 of Ashoka’s total fellowship.


Excitement over the social business model is not a baseless one. What does social entrepreneurship offer to the Latin American people? Here are four core reasons why social entrepreneurship is a viable alternative for pushing society’s development.

  1. To counter the inefficiency of the public sector.

Governmental inefficiency in the region has been characteristic for decades. Hand-out programs, development of high-dependency on papá gobierno (daddy government), high bureaucratic apparatuses coupled with a varied level of corruption, has proven a failure to address the issues effectively and profoundly. These top-down approaches rarely are effective to address local problems in the most marginalized sectors of society, as seen in the Mexican government’s effort of “Cruzada Contra el Hambre” (Crusade Against Hunger), in which the millions of dollars invested in the program have not been effectively reflected in results after two and a half years.

Therefore, it can be the social enterprise’s mission to change the prevailing relationship between the government and its citizenry, as it stands for the bottom-up approach and using an a-politicized market as a tool to address these deepening issues. As part of the main objectives of the business model, by empowering the beneficiaries the project; as they are the ones that profit from the change and the ones that really know their needs; they will gain an independence much needed to further their social and economic development. It works locally and specifically, instead of broadly and superficially.

  1. To fight the prevalent social inequality.

The rift of social inequality has proven to be one of the biggest challenges in Latin America today. Although it has been some decline from in the last decade, the region still holds staggering numbers when thinking of inequality. As previously mentioned, public policies have proven ineffective, and the process of liberalization in most economies of the region has even increased the rift in the past decades. The local Colombian farmer cannot compete with better-priced products coming from the United States.

However, social business aims to disrupt these trends allowing that same farmer to enter the market and proceed to make money. Micro-financing, for example, aims to give small loans to small enterprises in order for them to become a productive force and impulse development. The producer enters the local market and bridges a small bit the gap of income inequality. Pro-Mujer, Kubo Financiero, and Grameen Argentina are just some of these companies that give microloans to small entrepreneurs.

  1. To alleviate NGO’s dependence on funds. 

NGO’s have traditionally been the organizations with a social goal that emerge from an engaged civil society. In Latin America, these organizations are even postulated in the legal framework of most the countries, in one form or another, and so it can be easy to create one. However, these are characterized by their non-profit approach, which can be problematic for a sustainable financial model. These organizations are traditionally dependent on funding, whether it is private, public, or both, which can hinder their autonomy.

While some sectors have maintained a high level of efficiency, in Latin America it is important for localized efforts to succeed. Seeking funding from outside sources and understanding each of the sources’ interests have proven to compromise the autonomy of the specific, localized effort. Social businesses can prove to move the economy, sustainably, and as previously mentioned, empowering the specific and local business partner. These models are crucial pressure Latin American societies into more independent social organizations.

  1. Accountability and transparency: a market opportunity! 

Two years ago, Transparency International and Ashoka partnered to make an anti-corruption initiative in order for social entrepreneurs to tackle corruption as one of their issues. In Latin America, corruption is one of the main problems that hinder social and economic development. Transparency International revealed staggering results in 2013 on the Latin American countries, with countries such as Venezuela, Paraguay, and Honduras having a corruption perception higher than 140 other countries. Social enterprises have the opportunity to develop an anti-corruption model that can stand against corruption through a different way.

The social model for business in Latin America creates a great opportunity for social development in the region, as it attempts to break down the traditional barriers and changes the way Latin Americans think about business.



By Santiago Martínez

The Internet has become an equalizing tool in many respects all across the globe. One of the big effects it has had is that ordinary people with great ideas have a platform to communicate in a relatively easy manner. You don’t need a big budget, nor a studio production, in order to build a programme. You just need a smartphone with recording capability and a computer to upload it to.

The social enterprise sector has taken advantage of this as new voices with projects, tips, interviews, blog posts and analyses have risen to give a sense of what the landscape looks like. As with every social movement, social entrepreneurship rides the wave of new ideas coupled with a revolutionary technology, like the Internet, and Latin America has hopped on as well. New podcasts, blogs and YouTube channels have been popping up from Latin America, as Spanish is the second largest language spoken globally, and thus has given the opportunity to connect all these potential listeners.

Here are 5 digital media platforms that give a voice to this new movement in Latin America.

Kunan TV (Peru)

        Kunan is a media platform that has 3 lines of action: serve as social enterprise incubator, connect social entrepreneurs through social media, and inspire through communication. Kunan TV is the result of the latter. While it is relatively recent and has only 5 episodes under its belt right now, it gives an in-depth look at projects that are changing the social landscape of Peru.

Maud Gurundian, the host of the show, goes and visits a specific project, whether it’s saving manatees in the Amazonian jungle or teaching entrepreneurial skills to poor communities, and interviews them while watching them in action. Furthermore, they give tips after every show of how to help the particular project. Kunan TV has a great production design, which makes it very accessible as a communication platform. Click this link if you want to subscribe in YouTube. (Mexico)

Disruptivo started as a podcast conducted by Juan del Cerro in which he interviews entrepreneurs with a social impact. During his 73 programs, he has interviewed people from all over Latin America, especially Mexico, that address all kinds of issues, whether it is education, women’s empowerment, poverty, etc. His clear manner of speaking, as simple and as inviting as possible, makes it very accessible for not only social entrepreneurs, but the general public as well.

However, after growing its audience and vision, Disruptivo became a whole media platform called On this website they publish videos, blog posts, event invitations and news alongside the podcasts. As an objective, seems to become a central digital media platform for the Mexican social entrepreneurship landscape.

EmprendeSocial (Latin America)

        Founded in 2011 by Andrea Maria Cornejo, EmprendeSocial is the first publication dedicated exclusively to social entrepreneurship efforts across Latin America. The main objective of the publication is to create a community and culture that revolves around social entrepreneurship as it begins to gain ground around the region.  It thought of as a journalistic effort to bring to light efforts, conferences, workshops, events and other stories.

        The organization is comprised of an international team that comes from Peru, Colombia, Mexico, Bolivia, Ecuador, Argentina and the United States. Their writing style evokes simple, yet highly informative, snippets that revolve around what is going on the social entrepreneurial landscape. They often promote interesting conferences and events, or giving a detailed profile of some projects that have had high impact.

While the content might take a while sometimes to get out, a similar website called Pulso Social with a more tech/entrepreneurial focus, has a more persistent publishing schedule and has an English version. Click here to see it.


Nexso (Latin America)

           Nexso is more than just a communication platform, but literally a place of connection. First and foremost, the website is dedicated to people in the medium that are looking to other stories and solutions for inspiration. Its objective is to create a vibrant community of entrepreneurs through the free market of ideas that the Internet provides. Nexso does this through three strategies: providing challenges, having a catalogue of solutions and a blog space.

        The latter two are the ones that are part of this movement of social entrepreneurial communication. In the catalogue of solutions, thousands of inspiring efforts that have been done in the past at a local or regional level. There you can find solutions such as generating digital content for kids using local cultural identity, or using bio-digestive technology to transform waste into fertilizer.

        The blog takes exceptional stories of these solutions and projects and gives them a voice through a writer in the community. They also  provide information about news and events that are happening in Latin America and Spain.

Ashoka México, Central America & the Caribbean

        While this is not an alternative media source, per se, but the YouTube channel of the Ashoka chapter in Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean, the content of this channel is consistent and diverse. It provides users with insightful interviews, helpful tips, discussions on social problems, talks, enterprise profiles, etc.

        The strength of this YouTube channel is how it provides a landscaped view of the Ashoka community in the region. As part of digital media platform, it is a great way to know the medium, to connect with other Ashoka fellows, and to understand some issues that are crucial to tackle. Also, it is accessible enough so newcomers can understand the basic concepts of social entrepreneurship and be inspired by some projects.

Social enterprises are often credited with being the gears towards social impact; however, digital media has an important role to fulfil. Through communication and inspiration, social media has the possibility to instil ideas, something so powerful that can bring about action.   



Flickr/CC/Alex Thomson

By Maria Bennici


Ever since the advent of popcorn slathered in butter and salt, movies and cinema have always seemed like a natural combination. Want to take that one step further and see movies about food? Check out this list of documentaries, which explore many sides of the agriculture and food industry in the United States.

Flickr/CC/Malcolm Carlaw
Flickr/CC/Malcolm Carlaw


Cafeteria Man: This 2011 documentary tells the story of revolutionizing the Baltimore public school food system and showcases how food provided to children needs to evolve into healthier options. The film’s website also features tips for improving school food in case you want to take action after viewing the movie.


Pressure Cooker: Released in 2008, this documentary focuses on three Philadelphia students, all of whom face significant challenges at home, who are enrolled in an intensive culinary arts course at the school, with the ultimate goal of competing at a cooking competition at the end of the year for college scholarships. You can take further action in helping underserved youth by heading to this website.


Fresh, the Movie: This 2009 documentary profiles different members, including farmers and entrepreneurs, involved in the agricultural system in the United States and how they are trying to introduce more principles of sustainability into food production. The website also has suggestions on how to live a more sustainable life!


La Cosecha (The Harvest): This film, a 2010 documentary, depicts the lives of migrant children, as young as 12 years of age who work as much as 12 hours per day, who work in the agriculture industry in the United States. Due to lenient legal standards, children end up working so much that it is extraordinarily difficult for them to able to consistently attend school and graduate. After the film was released, its directors and producers visited Capitol Hill to lobby on behalf of a bill that would raise working standards for migrant children in the agriculture industry.




King Corn: This documentary in 2007 follows two college friends who decide to grow and farm an acre of corn in Iowa, revealing the increasing impact of corn on American society and the government subsidies which has encouraged this often dangerous effect.


Food, Inc.: This 2008 documentary has received lots of attention and is still well worth a watch due to its insightful perspective on industrial agriculture in the United States. Not only does it talk about the industrial side of production, but it also discusses the regulations that have allowed certain abuses in the food industry to continue. Perhaps most intriguingly, you can find the full movie for free online here.  


Forks Over Knives: This 2011 documentary explores the claim that many degenerative diseases can be controlled or even avoided by sticking to a plant-based diet and avoiding animal-based, processed-food diets. The film provides an interesting perspective on plant-based diets due to nutrition, and the website even offers recipes for those interested in adopting a healthier diet.


Flickr/CC/Mike Mozart
Flickr/CC/Mike Mozart


P.S. I’ve left off Super Size Me, one of the first food documentaries of the millennium, due to its popularity, but if you haven’t seen that yet, that is highly recommended as well.


Flickr/CC/Dmitry Baranovskiy

By Santiago Martínez

When one thinks about the stereotypical coder, one usually thinks about the young man with a computer science degree, a MacBook and a coffee in hand, a T-Shirt with some kind of HTML joke, and ready to go for a 14-hour session in front of a computer. n Peru, there is a social enterprise challenging that stereotype. Its name is Laboratoria.

Laboratoria was born with the purpose to address three troubling statistics: 20% of Latin American youth are “ninis” (Spanish term for not working nor studying); 88% of youth from poor households have no access to higher education; and 7% of web developers in Peru are women. What do these statistics tell us? There is a great, untapped potential not only for web development and the digital economy; but also, for coding to become a tool for personal, economic and social growth.

So, what does Laboratoria do exactly?

It is a social enterprise dedicated to training young women from vulnerable economic and social situations as web developers. Through free intensive courses, selected girls that have just finished high school are required to go every day from Monday to Friday for 6 months to learn how to code, build a website, use content managers and other software. It has been clear that women have been outsiders in the web development industry, so they not only have the objective to bring them in the sector, but to become leaders.

Laboratoria also provides web services for corporations, such as building websites for them and so forth, and they have a job-placement service for their alumni. Usually the partner corporations hire the alumni as interns, and in some cases, employ them full-time, doubling their household salary. This is what sets them apart from any tutorial session that teaches web development; they get their students jobs with important enterprises.

What do the women learn?

Flickr/CC/Michael Pollak
Flickr/CC/Michael Pollak

They are taught mainly HTML, CSS and Javascript the main coding programs used in the web developing industry. Think about it as learning English to write in an American news site.

Laboratoria insists that they are not only forming web developers, but also leaders, so they push for personal growth. They are taught in workshops dedicated to different skills for life, such as leadership, entrepreneurship, and learning itself. This is an essential part of their program as they really care about their students breaking the chains of vulnerability and poverty.

Seems like a great project, but how do they get any money?

Laboratoria has three major funding sources. The first one is private capital. Enterprises such as Google and Telefónica donate money to keep the program going. This is not necessarily a selfless act. They are investing in future potential interns and employees. By funding projects like Laboratoria, companies ensure that the quality of the training and in consequence, have a bigger pool of capable candidates.

The second source is public finance. The Peruvian government is a major funding partner through the National Council of Science, Technology and Innovation. Just like the corporations, they are betting in the future. Digital technology is a fast growing sector that could yield growth in the long-term for the Peruvian economy, and Laboratoria can be part of the project.

The third source is the payment they get for providing services to companies. This is what makes Laboratoria a social enterprise. They are seeking financial sustainability by building websites, coding apps or other web-related services to companies and charging for those services. By working for these companies, the girls gain experience, the organization gets funds and the companies get a quality product.

There are also individual donors that fund the project as well as other government programs, NGOs, etc.


Flickr/CC/Heisenberg Media
Flickr/CC/Heisenberg Media | Cecilia, a Laboratoria alum, got a job in Wayra as a web developer

Laboratoria has been working for only two years and has achieved promising results. In 2014, they had only 15 graduates from the program. This year (2015) they will have 130. Of the current 30 graduates, 20 already are immersed in the working environment earning an average initial salary of $370 dollars a month, more than doubling their monthly income.

To give you an idea of what these women can do, here are some of the portfolios of the alumni Camen Luyo, Maritza Vst., and Carolina Javier. They have worked in developing websites for NGOs, companies and other organizations. Here are some examples from alumni Ana María Alvarado, Arabela Rojas, Mercedes Zubieta.

Here a complete report of results from this year: <laboratoria> Reporte.

In addition to their chapter in Peru, Laboratoria has opened offices in Chile hoping to consolidate solid ground in these countries. It seems like a great opportunity not only for Peruvian digital economy and social landscape, but also for other Latin American countries to join the race.




By Maria Bennici

In the United States, one in four Native Americans live below the poverty line, yet many companies profit from their traditions, artwork, and heritage, often without asking for permission, crediting them, or giving back. From the court case which pitted Urban Outfitters against the Navajo Nation for trademark infringement to the many think-pieces about feather headdresses during music festival season, it is clear that Native American culture is popular among many companies and their consumers. This list provides information on social enterprises and organizations operated by Native Americans and all of which actively promote Native American heritage and communities.


Bedré Fine Chocolate:

              This Oklahoman chocolate company was purchased by the Chickasaw Nation in 2000, making it the only Native American tribe to develop and make its own brand of chocolate. This chocolate appears in other products, such as chocolate-covered potato chips and coffee mixed with the chocolate. The company contributes to various health and philanthropic programs associated with the Chickasaw Nation.


Tanka Bar:

              Tanka is a company specializing in Native American natural foods. Operated by Oglala Lakotas living on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, many of its products, such as granola bars and jerky, include grass-fed buffalo. The Tanka Fund, founded by the company, supports sustainable and healthy food programs within Native American communities, as well as a variety of other initiatives meant to preserve the prairies and promote buffalo consumption.


Tribal Tech:

              Tribal Tech is a company headed by Victoria Vasques, the daughter of a former tribal chairman of the San Pasqual Band of Mission Indians. After a successful career in government, she began her own business as a government contractor, offering technical assistance and consulting to its clients. This company has many ties to the Native American community, from half of the workforce being made up of Native Americans to the contracts won from the Administration of Native Americans.



              Etkie , which means “impact” in Turkish, is a luxury jewelry label which partners Native American female artisans with Sydney Alfonso, the founder of the company. The jewelry uses the patterns and techniques familiar to the Native American women making the bracelets, who represent a fraction of the estimated 30 percent of Native Americans identifying as practicing artists. The company shows an interesting collaboration between Alfonso, who is not a Native American and is “wary of coming across as a ‘white girl’” trying to save them, and the women. Although the women do make more the minimum wage (between $8.75 and $10 an hour), it is reasonable to question that pay in conjunction with the high price tag associated with their jewelry (between $168 and $595). Nevertheless, this social enterprise does show the possibility of being able to support Native American artists and their art without necessarily being Native American.



              As of July 26, 2015, the phrase “Indian headdress” has over 2,216 results on; however, there is very little guarantee or verification that the feather headdresses, so popular at Coachella and other music festivals, are actually produced by Native Americans or benefit the community from which the designs were taken. Enter NDNCraft, a Native American-owned enterprise that functions as an Etsy-style marketplace with only Native crafts and art. Through this website, one can buy necklaces, headdresses, and many other objects produced by Native Americans, promoting and preserving their cultural heritage and traditions.


B.Yellowtail and the Mighty Few:

In early 2015 at New York City’s Fashion Week, the London-based label Kokon to Zai (KTZ) made headlines when one of its models wore a dress with significant similarity to a dress that Bethany Yellowtail, founder of B.Yellowtail, had designed, causing many to accuse the label of stealing the design and of appropriation. This dress used designs Yellowtail had found in her great-grandmother’s beads, as well as traditional Crow artwork and patterns, making Yellowtail’s use of color and shapes on the original dress a personal statement. Yellowtail’s fashion line, called “The Mighty Few,” is meant to showcase indigenous designs and art in a genuine manner and to fight “cultural erasure,” or treating Native Americans as if their population, and thus their cultures and lifestyles, are disappearing.


Beyond Buckskin:

Founded by Jessica Metcalfe, Beyond Buckskin is an online boutique that sells Native American wares, including shirts, bags, accessories, and many more. What really makes Beyond Buckskin special is the blog associated with it, also produced by Metcalfe. The blog hosts profiles of Native American artists, has a list full of Native American designers and websites, promotes a “Buy Native” logo that, through linking back, creates an online network of Native American producers, and makes it very easy to support Native artisans, whether through its own boutique or through other businesses. Additionally, Metcalfe did an interview with Mic, in which she details several recommendations for fashion designers inspired by Native designs and for consumers who are fans of Native aesthetics without being Native themselves.


Flickr/CC/Surian Soosay

By Santiago Martínez

The Syrian refugee crisis has been making headlines ever since young Aylan’s picture spread like wildfire all over the Internet. Since then, countries from all over the world have expressed their solidarity towards the crisis: the EU has mobilized to change their refugee-admittance policy, Middle Eastern countries accept more and more refugees each day, and even Latin American countries have pronounced their desire to accept more refugees. However, Adrián Meléndez did not wait for it to be a trending topic before taking action.. He has created a project called “Proyecto Habesha”, an initiative dedicated to bring student refugees from Syria to finish their higher education in Mexico.

(Credit: Gapminder Foundation

How it all started

Adrián is a young lawyer from Aguascalientes, Mexico, who studied at  Universidad Panamericana (UP) and got a Masters Degree in International Law and Political Science in Lyon, France. He worked in conflict zones with diverse international agencies in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Lebanon and Iraq. His experiences with Syrian refugees, especially in Iraq, prompted him to push forward a humanitarian effort to help young Syrians have an opportunity to continue their professional desires.  He partnered with other local organizations to launch the project and has been an avid spokesman in universities, radio stations, and television, trying to bring attention to the issue since 2014.

What does it do?

The organization’s main goal is to bring 30 Syrian students whose studies were interrupted to Mexico to finish their degrees. They will receive full scholarships, medical insurance and a monthly stipend. “Proyecto Habesha” has talked with the top universities in the country, from Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM) UP, Tec de Monterrey, and others about providing scholarships, residence, or professional services. The objective is to show solidarity to the extreme crisis going on in Syria while also promoting intercultural dialog between the two nations.

Another important part of the labor of the organization is to raise awareness on the Syrian Crisis in Mexico, as it partners with research centers and universities to provide analysis and studies on the matter. Through a heavy communication campaign, they try to spread the findings, while also appealing to the solidarity to the Mexican people.  

Flickr/CC/Esparta Palma
Flickr/CC/Esparta Palma

A country of refugees

“Proyecto Habesha” appeals to the Mexico’s tradition as a refugee haven, as they have shown in several instances throughout history their solidarity towards war-affected migrants. In the 30s, Mexico accepted a large influx of Spanish immigrants fleeing the country’s bloody civil war; in the 70s Mexico took in South American escapees from military dictatorships, especially Chile and Argentina; and even during the Second World War Mexico received immigrants pursued by the Nazi regime coming from Poland, Germany and Austria.

The project also appeals to the enormous economic capacity that Mexico boasts of, being among the 15 largest economies in the world, while also seeking more international recognition. This can be an opportunity for Mexico to be involved in the international agenda.

With this history of political and social asylum, and its economic and territorial capacity “Proyecto Habesha” expects that Mexico will show international solidarity from both the governmental level and the citizen’s perspective.

Who are these 30 students?

Currently, the effort is focused on bringing  30 students that have been selected based on the universities’ and the government’s standard. These students reside in different parts on the world, like Turkey, Lebanon and even Italy.

They all have compelling stories to tell, and here are some of them.

The first one to step on Mexican soil is Essa Hassan, who arrived on September 17, 2015. He decided to flee Syria, fearing that the army would recruit him to fight in the war. As a student, he experienced the 2011 protests and the oppression that ensued. He fled to Turkey, Lebanon, and eventually ended up in Rome, Italy. He wants to pursue his studies in the Social Engineering.

Abdul-Qader Saleh Mohammed is another student that has been selected for the program. His Kurdish background made him a potential recruit for both a Kurdish nationalist group and the national Syrian army. He studied in Damascus University, but violence, death and potential recruitment pushed him and his family to Iraq. Now, he wants to rebuild his country by pursuing an Engineering degree.  

Jessica Alakhras, only 19 years old, has an insatiable thirst for knowledge. She had one of the best grade averages in the country from high school and seeks to continue her studies. However, continuing bombing and blockades have prevented her from continuing her Information Technology degree in Damascus University. In Mexico, she wants to study Business Management.  

#EnMéxicoSePuede (#InMexicoWeCan)

This hashtag is the motto for the organization, stating that even a country with its own problems, such as cartel violence, corruption and inequality, can respond with international solidarity. Journalists, media personalities and regular people believe that Mexico can indeed receive Syrian refugees.


Flickr/CC/Arian Zwegers | Umayyad Mosque, Damascus
Flickr/CC/Arian Zwegers | Umayyad Mosque, Damascus
Flickr/CC/Antony Stanley | Zocalo, Mexico City
Flickr/CC/Antony Stanley | Zocalo, Mexico City






There has recently been more civil action, such as a petition requested the reception of an additional 10,000 refugees in the country, an initiative that was also backed by some deputies from the National Congress. The National Congress has also passed  an agreement that pressures the president to provide a political stance on the issue. Either way, the inspiring story of a young lawyer that extended his hand across the globe is a lesson to us all.


Niranjan and Devan, photo courtesy of Myclo

By Maria Bennici

Looking for a sweet way to keep the sun out of your eyes while keeping American small businesses afloat? Check out MyClo, a for-profit social enterprise founded by Niranjan Kumar and Devan Anderson, two people brought together by a common love for entrepreneurship and fashion. The company, which focuses entirely on hats, uses an innovative microfinance model in partnership with Kiva Zip in order to provide loans to American entrepreneurs in need, while providing adjustable hats to customers with an ethical and trendy streak. I talked to Niranjan and Devan to delve into their experience and hear their story.



While an economics student at UC Berkeley, Niranjan went to Honduras to work as a microfinance consultant, returning with not only experience but the inspiration to start his own entrepreneurial venture.

“I just really wanted to pursue something that was very different and jump into entrepreneurship,” said Niranjan of his post-graduation plans. After being introduced to Devan by a mutual friend, the two of them instantly hit it off and began to plot what sort of social enterprise they could collaborate on, gradually focusing more on “high quality products that look really good but also make a significant impact in the lives of others.”

“Before we focused on American entrepreneurship and American headwear, we were all over the place. We wanted to create T-shirts, jeans, pants, shorts, sweatpants—we didn’t know really, but we knew we wanted to create an impact model,” said Niranjan of the early planning days.

Niranjan said that he had always been interested in “using fashion as the vehicle to promote microfinance.” Luckily for him, Devan already had experience with fashion, from graduating from fashion school to working as a consultant for various clothing brands. In fact, Devan had already pulled off an entrepreneurship venture of his own, specifically focused on hats, and that guided the two of them to ultimately deciding on MyClo centering around hats. But why hats?

“Hats don’t really have a gender construct to them,” said Devan when describing their decision process. “It’s a versatile piece. If we go with an adjustable hat, we open up the availability to everyone else. We need to start with that crown, with that piece that makes you proud to be who you are.”

Using their own money from savings and previous work, Niranjan and Devan launched MyClo, with the dual purposes of making hats and using the loan structure to build a community for entrepreneurs.


How it works:

With each MyClo purchase, a $10 microloan is generated for an American entrepreneur. These microloans are collected for two weeks, and at the end of the fortnight, Niranjan and Devan aggregate the loans generated by the sales and personally choose the entrepreneur benefiting from the loans through Kiva Zip. Afterwards, the entrepreneur pays MyClo back, and the returned loans make their way into the hands of a new entrepreneur.  So far, five entrepreneurs have benefited from MyClo loans, including to a store that suffered a devastating robbery and to a family-style Mexican restaurant. This model is powered through Kiva Zip, a mobile-to-mobile zero interest payment platform that works with American entrepreneurs.

As of yet, no entrepreneur has defaulted on their loan, but MyClo isn’t blind to the possibility. According to Niranjan:

“It’s the reality of the world, right? In entrepreneurship, the odds are really stacked against you. The most you can do is help an individual, create a community, surround them, and support them. We would notify our customers and let them know that the loan defaulted. I wouldn’t necessarily say that’s a failure on the customer’s part, on our part, or the entrepreneur’s part. That’s just the way entrepreneurship works. That’s the reality. So for us, when the money comes back, we were going to give the money out to someone else anyway, so it’s not like we are losing something from it.”

Photo courtesy: MyClo
Photo courtesy: MyClo

Successes and Outlooks:

Prior to the interview, MyClo had already sold out of the maroon line of hats, but this isn’t the only marker of success to the founders.

“So far, success has been that positive reception from entrepreneurs because at the end of the day, they’re the ones that we really want to help and they’re the ones that matter to us most,” said Devan.

Of course, the road to a successful enterprise hardly runs smooth, from the many iterations that a business model can go through to building an online presence.

“We’re e-commerce only, and as an e-commerce company, your biggest obstacle is going to be how you get your company’s face in front of a customer and how you get a conversion. That’s the biggest problem, for most e-commerce companies–finding that space and creating a customer dialogue early on and online,” said Niranjan, adding that Instagram, Facebook ads, and Mailchimp have been instrumental to their success so far.


Next steps:

Not many social enterprises focusing on microfinance for Americans are currently operating in the United States, which makes MyClo a fascinating company to watch, especially considering their long-term ambitions.

“We’d love to see our dreams of community realized,” said Devan. “We’d love to be really impacting and fulfilling entire loans, multiple loans, for entrepreneurs. So something goes up on Kiva and we can just fulfill it. ‘I need 10 grand for my new oven, I make pizzas.’ ‘Okay cool, here’s your oven.’ That would be”—

“The dream.” Niranjan interjected. 

Photo courtesy: Myclo
Photo courtesy: Myclo

With that kind of entrepreneurial spirit (and enthusiasm for Mexican restaurants and pizza ovens), hats off to Niranjan and Devan! Check out their hats here, and keep an eye out for them at various pop-up events in the Bay Area.


Flickr/CC/Adam Jones | Aymara Woman Looks Out on Copacabana

By Santiago Martínez 

It is impossible for a term like “indigenous” to comprehend the 600+ cultures in Latin America. However, they all do share a story of marginalization and exclusion from the political, economic and social life. Despite such a historical baggage, there are certain individuals that have risen up to the challenge to revindicate the story of each of their cultures.

Here are the names of five leaders who defy expectations and have become symbols of empowerment. These leaders inspire change in societies that badly need it.

Manari Ushigua (Zapara)

The Zapara are an indigenous group that has only around 500-1000 members living in a 500,000 acres expanse of the Amazonian forest in South-Central Ecuador. Since 2009, they call themselves la Nación Sápara del Ecuador (Zaparo Nation of Ecuador) Manari was their president from 2009 to 2013. What is incredible about Bartolo Alejandro Ushigua Santi (Manari’s legal name) is that he rose up with the rest of his people to save the culture of the Zapara from extinction. In 2001, UNESCO recognized Zapara culture as an “intangible cultural heritage” after a long effort led by him. However, Manari’s greatest feat has been fighting off oil companies seeking to drill in their part of the Amazon forest, leading internationally a plight for his culture, and leading a group of people against the corporate behemoths. As of today, he is defending the government’s relegation of their land to Chinese oil companies since 2012 by being the ambassador of the Zapara in the international community.

Cecilio Solís Librado (Nahua)

Red Indígena de Turismo en México (RITA), a network of indigenous entrepreneurs dedicated to eco and ethnic-tourism has been one of the major breakthroughs in the tourism model in the country. Cecilio, the founder of the project,united 32 enterprises from 16 different ethnic groups under one project in 2002. He initiated a community collaboration in which the development of the indigenous communities came from themselves, building an empowered Mayan society. Now, RITA has 189 different enterprises in 16 different states in Mexico that he has selected by leading a team of 20 experts from environmental engineers to accountants searching for sustainable, ethic enterprises. He has worked also in a Latin American indigenous network, indigenous tours, making him part of the forefront of indigenous development.
Aníbal Bubú (Nasa)

It is said that education is the backbone of a society. Aníbal Bubú understood this simple truth. Born in a poor Nasa community in Colombia, he saw the gap between the education system and the actual needs of the population. So he decided to dedicate his life for a simple dream: a school for indigenous peoples by indigenous people. His first victory was in 1991, when he was able to change the Colombian Constitution to promote “ethno-education”, a concept in which engages indigenous culture, tongue and ethics while mixing it with the current western education. Since then, he has won various fights for the community; and in 1998 he built a school that now has 2,000 students and 59 schools in the country. He has even co-created a governmental organization for indigenous education. He changed education in favour of his people, making him a great leader.

Eufrosina Cruz (Zapotec)

To understand the importance of Eufrosina Cruz, one has to know her story. She was a woman in a deeply patriarchal culture, in one of the poorest communities of Mexico, Zapotec and did not learn Spanish until she was 10 years old. Against all odds, she became the first female official to be elected in a local congress in her home state, Oaxaca, and eventually became federal deputy. She wrote a bill that empowered women to vote in these indigenous communities in her state, enforcing the role of women. She has since been an avid advocate for gender and indigenous rights and now the president of Indigenous Affairs Committee in the National Congress of the country. Because of the patriarchal nature of some indigenous cultures in southern Mexico, and the fact that Mexican political system has systematically marginalized indigenous voices, her avid fight is a symbol towards a more balanced and egalitarian society. She really stands out as a leader fighting on two fronts.

Maria Eugenia Choque Quispe (Aymara)

María is one of the most interesting characters in this list. She is an intellectual, as she has earned a master’s degree in Andean History and a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work. She has written in countless publications and journals regarding indigenous studies. Her deep understanding of the indigenous experience, both intellectually and experientially, drove her to become the Minister of Indigenous Affairs in Bolivia, and a Member of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. If that isn’t enough, she has been a consultant for Oxfam, the Paraguayan and Bolivian government, the Swedish International Cooperation, the UN, the World Bank, among others. She is one of the leading minds regarding indigenous studies in the world.        

Leaders are not people are not only people that decide to act on things, but also that represent something bigger. All these people represent something important and irretrievable: the indigenous societies can make it, and will make it. It is a clear message for all of us. They are not helpless. They are empowered.



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