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In a recent Wired article, Sarah Zhang calls the humble tarp “an aid worker’s secret weapon.” I had no idea the amount of work that went into developing a reasonably priced tarpaulin that won’t fray or get too hot.

“Ask an aid worker,” writes Zhang, “and the paeans to tarpaulin come pouring out. Cheap, lightweight, and waterproof, ‘tarpaulin is the most common shelter material,’ says Joseph Ashmore, shelter consultant for the International Organization for Migration. Responders and survivors can use tarpaulin for roofs, fences, and flooring—but don’t limit your imagination to shelter. ‘I’ve seen people dry rice on it, in latrines, as bags, as trousers, as umbrellas,’ Ashmore adds.

“Not all tarpaulin is created equal, though. The Red Cross catalog’s tarpaulin is the crème de la crème of plastic sheeting. … These obsessively engineered 4×6 meter plastic sheets last years, and it all goes back to one French … .

“Patrick Oger was a purchasing officer for Doctors Without Borders when he first got the tarpaulin assignment in 1993. …

“Working mostly alone — while still doing his job as a purchasing officer — Oger completed the specifications for tarpaulins in three years. Since 1996, the Red Cross, UNHCR, Doctors Without Borders, UNICEF, and Oxfam have given out millions of tarps manufactured to those specs. Factories in China, Korea, Vietnam, India, Pakistan, and Kenya churn out the tarpaulin to use all over the world. And they’re cheap, at just $15 a pop in the Red Cross’s catalog. ‘We’ve really made a good product. It is saving money. It is saving lives,’ says Oger.”

Read here how Oger befriended and learned from an engineer at the Danish company where tarps were previously sourced (a company that charged a high price because it had patented the eyelets) and how he kept making technical improvements and testing them.

I like that Oger is still inventing. I’ll never make a blanket judgment about purchasing officers again.

Photo: Reuters/Corbis
Tarps are unloaded for distribution for internally displaced people in Mubimbi, South Kivu, DRC, on March 4, 2013. 

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The mother of the cofounder of Meaningful Wins is not big on gambling, but as John reminds her, she is the one who took him to Suffolk Downs once when he was 12 and let him bet on a horse, so she doesn’t have a leg to stand on.

In any case, she is proud that John and his college friend Thad Levine (Texas
Rangers) have successfully worked with nonprofits and baseball players, among others, to provide a way that people who play fantasy football can donate their winnings directly to charity.

Peace Players International writes, “Ellis and Levine recently founded Meaningful Wins which allows fantasy football players to compete in leagues for the charity of their choice. Leagues are first set up on commercial platforms such as NFL.com, ESPN.com, and Yahoo.com just as usual. After doing so, they can then register on MeaningfulWins.com. Each league player then receives an email asking them to register, pay their entry fees, and then choose a charity to play for, upon which completing this information they will receive a tax-deduction receipt. At the end of the fantasy season, the winning player’s charity receives the money!”

See John interviewed, here, at New England Cable News. Read about Meaningful Wins at the Nonprofit Times, here.

Photo: Doctors without Borders, now partnering with Meaningful Wins to receive donations from fantasy-football players.

 

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