Flickr/CC/Freedom House

By Maria Bennici 

The Syrian Civil War has stretched for more than four and a half years with no end in sight, and one of the unfortunate consequences of this war has been the displacement of more than 7.6 million Syrians. More than 4 million Syrians are refugees in neighboring countries, and an increasing number are now heading to Europe, often through means as dangerous as they are desperate, in order to find sanctuary. With the death of Aylan Kurdi, the little Syrian boy who drowned as his family tried to reach Greece, more attention has been brought to the refugee crisis, with pleas for help from governments and people around the world.

Eager to help refugees but don’t have the money, time, or expertise to help in the field? Check out these ways to support refugees without even needing to own a passport.

Flickr/CC/EU Commission | Domiz refugee camp, northern Iraq
Flickr/CC/EU Commission | Domiz refugee camp, northern Iraq
  1.       Volunteer in Your Community: Research small grassroots NGOs and nonprofitsnon-profits in your area to see if they offer help to refugees. For instance, the International Rescue Committee operates in 22 cities throughout the United States.
  1.       Donate money: Cash donations are an efficient way to give to organizations that are able to work immediately with refugees. With cash, the organizations are able to allocate the money to the greatest needs, plus cash doesn’t come with shipping and handling fees. You can donate to large organizations like the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees or with smaller organizations with a more specific focus that appeals to you personally. UNHCR also has partnerships with a variety of organizations, including IKEA and UNIQLO so you can support refugees through shopping with these partners. If your company or organization is also interested in supporting refugees, plenty of refugee NGOs form private-sector partnerships as well.
Flickr/CC/Freedom House | Syrian boys 2012
Flickr/CC/Freedom House | Syrian boys 2012
  1.       Educate yourself: The Syrian refugee crisis is a complex and nuanced situation, with plenty of challenges to understand, including the difference between “refugee” and “migrant,” government obligations to provide asylum and why Syrians can’t just “go back home.” Read this article, which describes how the situation has gotten out of hand, watch this Last Week Tonight with John Oliver episode, and explore this section of Human Rights Watch.  
  1.       Speak out: Unfortunately, the lives of refugees are not magically fixed once they reach sanctuary; often, they are faced with truly staggering amounts of xenophobia and racism. With the new knowledge you’ll have gained through step three, speak out for refugees when you hear ignorant, bigoted comments being made about them.
  1.       Donate items with care: Many people are moved to donate items they no longer need to those in need. While this generosity is admirable, sometimes donating items can be detrimental to the rebuilding process (this editorial, published after the Nepal earthquake in April 2014, explains more). If you absolutely must donate items, research organizations in your area and find out what items they actually need in order to avoid inundating their space and ability to organize.


Bonus: Refugees Welcome, an AirBNB-like website that allows Germans and Austrians to open their homes to refugees, is currently in the process of opening in other countries. Get involved here!


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/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/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.


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/Kam Abbott

By Maria Bennici

Now that everyone’s back at school, it’s nearly time for pumpkin spice lattes, blanket scarves, and weekly football games; in other words, fall is just around the corner. Here are some ways to enjoy the fall season while giving back to others!

Flickr/CC/Muhammad Ali
Flickr/CC/Muhammad Ali
  1.       Go apple picking. Not only is this a great way to access fresh fruit (which could be up to a year old, according to Today) and support local farmers, but you can also support people in your community. Not Far From the Tree, a Toronto project, allows volunteers to pick fresh fruit from homeowners who are unable to keep up with the harvest of their own fruit trees, distributing this fruit to the homeowners, the volunteers, food banks and community kitchens. Apple Ridge Farm, located in southern Virginia, offers an academic summer camp experience for inner-city youth aged 6-16, and these children are supported through donations and volunteers at the farm. Check out apple farms near you and see if they have any charitable arms!

  2.       Visit a brewery and sample some beer. Breweries are often located in absolutely stunning territory, especially when the leaves start to change into vivid shades of scarlet and gold. However, some breweries use the fall season as a chance to support others. For example, Russian River Brewing Company sells Framboise for a Cure, a raspberry blonde ale, during the month of October, sending 100% of proceeds towards men and women in their community fighting breast cancer. Lewis and Clark Brewing Company, located in Montana, hosts Ales for Charity Nights, which allows non-profit organizations in their area an easy way to fundraise using their facilities. Check out their event calendar here!

Flickr/CC/Cliff Chambliss
Flickr/CC/Cliff Chambliss
  1.       Scream your way through a haunted house. Many haunted houses raise money for different charities, such as Dark Matter Scream Works(Rochester, NY), which raises money for Ronald McDonald House and Make-A-Wish, and Hauntings on the Hill (University of Virginia), a haunted house organized by university students which raises money for a different local charity every year (last year, they raised money for a local charity working to end homelessness).

  2.       Exercise for a good cause. The fall is full of excellent culinary events, from gorging on candy on Halloween to gorging on everything else on Thanksgiving. Use that caloric power to run (or, in my case, power walk while breathing heavily) in a charitable race, such as the Y Turkey Trot Charity 5K (which supports children living in poverty in Maryland), the HRC Fitness Charity 5K (which raises money for a Down Syndrome center in New Jersey), and the Zombie Run (which fundraises for the Kennedy Krieger Institute).

  3.       Go on a scavenger hunt. For example, SmithFest Hunt, which takes place in early October in Lowell, Massachusetts, allows participants to raise money for their teams. The proceeds raised goes to the SmithFest Foundation, which allocates that money to various charitable organizations in the community.

  4.       Put on your fanciest costume and head to the ball. Many towns use Halloween as an opportunity to throw a costume ball and use the money charged for tickets as a way to fundraise for local organizations. These include the Great Pumpkin Ball, located in Ottawa, and the Halloween Charity Ball, located in Akron, OH.


Flickr/CC/Kam Abbott
Flickr/CC/Kam Abbott
  1.       Take a trip to the pumpkin patch. Papa’s Pumpkin Patch, located in Bismarck, ND, has donated over $500,000 since 1983, and the Colorado Pumpkin Patch, located between Denver and Colorado Springs, raises money for programs which support children.

  2.       Go trick-or-treating with UNICEF. This is pretty straightforward—you go door-to-door, but instead of collecting candy, you use an adorable cardboard box to collect spare change for UNICEF.

  3.       Attend a fall festival. What better way to enjoy the tastes, colors, and smells of the season while also helping others? The Sonoma Music Festival(which boasts Ringo Starr in its lineup this year) supports national and local veterans’ groups, and the Westminster Fallfest raises money for the Special Olympics, a local hospice, and other local service organizations.

  4.   Relish the smells of autumn. Sometimes, it is just too windy and rainy to do anything but curl up in an old blanket, drink some mulled cider, and have a cozy evening, perhaps by candlelight. If that sounds amazing to you, check out this pumpkin spice candle from Candle with a Cause (25% of net profits go to a horse farm where children with serious illnesses get to enjoy a week of play) or this hot apple pie candle from Charity Wicks (which sends $6 of the $19.99 price to Big Dogs Huge Paws, a rescue organization for giant dogs).


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.


Flickr/CC/Camila Tamara Silva Sepúlveda

By Maria Bennici

Looking for a great place to cozy up with a book, your statistics homework, or with some friends while watching the leaves change? Check out these cafés, which offer the perfect tastes to go with the autumn season and some pretty awesome ways to support people in your community.


The Monkey & the Elephant (Philadelphia, PA), reviews, Instagram:

This café provides a program for youth who have aged out of the foster care system, giving them access to mentors, a job, and training that enhances their skills for school and future employment. The program runs for 8 months and teaches them skills such as oral communication and cash register handling.

What to try: The cheesecake brownie and a mocha.

Cafe 458 (Atlanta, GA), reviews:

This café, located in the Old Fourth Ward, is staffed entirely by volunteers, thus allowing all proceeds to go directly to the Atlanta Center for Self Sufficiency. This organization supports homeless men and women in the community, and the café supports your desire for a delicious Southern brunch!

What to try: The fried chicken and waffles, with a rosemary twist and Georgia peach preserves.

Purple Door Coffee (Denver, CO), reviews, Instagram:

This café is similar to The Monkey & the Elephant in that it provides a training program for its employees; however, this program is 52 weeks long. Teens and young adults are eligible, and three are hired at a time, and the program specifically focuses on those who were homeless and wish to leave that lifestyle behind for future employment and education.

What to try: The iced almond milk latte with a pumpkin croissant—perfect for the fall.

Café 54 (Tucson, AZ), reviews :

Mental illnesses can often be so challenging to its sufferers that maintaining a daily job can be extremely difficult. Café 54 pays its trainees, all of whom cope with a variety of mental illnesses, and provides them with training in order to be able to handle future independent employment. The café also provides assistance in finding psychosocial support and in finding the trainee’s next employment in the community.

What to try: The Hero’s Gyro.

East Van Roasters (Vancouver, Canada), reviews, Instagram:

Located in the Rainier Hotel, a residence that helps women suffering from mental health and substance dependency issues, East Van Roasters is another social enterprise from the PHS Community Services Society, a nonprofit that advocates and provides opportunities for marginalized residents of Vancouver. This café provides training and employment to the residents of the hotel, so while you’re enjoying your organic chocolate and coffee goods that are prepared right at the site, you’re also helping women in need.

What to try: The Mayan spiced hot chocolate with the chocolate tasting flight.

Flickr/CC/Roland Tanglao
Flickr/CC/Roland Tanglao


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/Ed Uthman

By Maria Bennici

The newest Miss America was crowned on September 13, 2015, and many viewed the show in hopes of watching a contestant flub a world history question, listening to creative instrument choices and seeing other kitschy elements of the yearly pageant. However, while pageant contestants can often end up the laughingstock of the Internet for the week, many of these beautiful women have proven to bring beauty and inspiration to the world. Prepare to not just be intimidated by their cheekbones—they’ve got backbone as well.



Anastasia Lin (Miss World Canada 2015)

Anastasia, in addition to being an actress and this year’s Miss World Canada, is also a human rights activist. After appearing in films that discussed religious persecution in China and using her platform as Miss World Canada to shed light on corruption in her homeland, Anastasia revealed that her father, a businessman who still lives in China, was receiving threats due to her outspokenness. In July 2015, she testified before the U.S. Congress about religious persecution in China. Her work isn’t over yet though: the next stage of the Miss World competition takes place in Sanya, China, and Anastasia, who is also a member of Falun Gong, a spiritual faith outlawed by China, may well be prevented from entering the country due to her faith and due to her human rights activism. To learn more about Anastasia, check out the profile The Guardian recently did of her.


Ashley Callingbull (Mrs. Universe 2015)

Awarded the Mrs. Universe crown in late August 2015, Ashley was monumental not only for being the first Enoch Cree First Nations winner of Mrs. Universe but also for how quickly she used her new platform for activism. Nearly immediately after her win, Ashley called for voters to oust Stephen Harper, current Canadian Prime Minister, from power, citing his apparent refusal to make significant efforts reducing violence against indigenous women. Ashley’s declaration has sparked a conversation within Canada about the levels of murdered and missing aboriginal women, thus showing Canada and the world that Ashley’s not a pageant winner that will be willing to “be pretty and shut up.”


Kate Marie Grinold Sigfusson (Miss DC 2008)

Flickr/CC/Cathy T
Flickr/CC/Cathy T

Kate Marie became Miss DC in 2008 and advanced to the top 10 of the Miss America competition in 2009, but only four years later, she founded Babies4Babies, a luxury brand with the stated mission of reducing child mortality around the world. With its “buy one save four” model, a Babies4Babies customer can buy a gift for a baby they know and love while providing medical treatments for four newborn lives. Kate Marie also served as a director of FAIR Girls, a female empowerment and anti-human trafficking nonprofit until 2012.*


Marian McKnight Conway (Miss America 1957)

Close to Big Sur, Marian and her husband have opened a sustainable vineyard and winery, called Carmody McKnight Estate Wines. Their non-profit, Fighting for the Arts, awards arts and music scholarships to youth, and Marian also helped to found a cancer facility for children at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.


Paromita Mitra (Miss Mississippi USA 2013)

Paromita, in addition to being the first woman of Bangladeshi descent to win this title, was also the first member of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics to compete in the Miss USA competition. While an aerospace engineering student at Mississippi State University, Paromita was part of a team, called Space Cowboys, which focused on community outreach towards children and college students by discussing the importance of science and space studies.


*An earlier version of this article stated incorrectly that Babies4Babies functioned on a “buy one save two” model, providing medical care to two newborns. Babies4Babies has since grown and is currently providing four babies with life saving antiseptic treatments for every product bought!
Kate Marie Grinold Sigfusson is also no longer the Director of nonprofit FAIR Girls. 


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