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Photo: Melanie Stetson Freeman/ Christian Science Monitor
Young farmers are returning to the prairie as skilled agriculturalists and entrepreneurs —  injecting a much-needed dynamism into that world.

I can’t resist another story about young people who get interested in farming. They’re not only helping to feed us all, they’re setting an example for how people can carve new paths into an uncertain future. Do they get discouraged like the rest of us? My sense is that they don’t have time for that.

Laurent Belsie of the Christian Science Monitor talks to young farmers in Nebraska.

“Outside Unadilla, Hannah Esch walks into her cooler and pulls out packages of rib-eye, brisket, and hamburger. Over the past nine months her new company, Oak Barn Beef, sold out of meat four times and brought in $52,000 in sales. Over the next year, she expects to double those sales numbers. That will [be] when she finishes her last year of college.

“Some 150 miles northwest, the Brugger twins, Matt and Joe, show off how they’re diversifying from traditional agriculture. They directly market the beef from the cows they raise and they grow hops for local microbreweries. But the most visible sign of their commitment to the rural Plains is the two-story farmhouse they’re renovating on the family homestead. …

“It’s the place their great-grandfather bought when he moved here from Switzerland. It’s where their grandfather was born and where they played as children when the house was later rented by people who kept sheep. …

“There’s a new generation of rural entrepreneur returning to the Great Plains. … It’s not clear how big the movement is and whether it can reverse the population decline that’s gone on for a century in the rural Plains. But if energy combined with business and social media savvy can overcome demographic decline, then perhaps these youthful entrepreneurs – the first generation born after the farm crisis of the 1980s – have an opportunity to do it.

‘There is a spirit in these young people that is different than anything I’ve ever experienced,’ says Tom Field, director of the eight-year-old Engler Agribusiness Entrepreneurship Program at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

“Of the 120 or more of its alumni, ‘90% of them say their goal is to return – or they choose to live in – a small or rural community. These are students who have had international experiences, had internships on both coasts, but they choose to live and work and play in places where they have a deep affinity with the culture, the people, and the landscape.’ …

“When the Brugger twins first started thinking about a return to the rural Plains, their initial idea was to do something in business development. Then they met with Dr. Field of the Engler program at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He urged them to be role models, instead.

“ ‘He was the first one to say, … “The best thing you can do for your community is find what you love to do. Start a business around it and hire people to come back … and show other young people that you can do what you love in a rural community,” ‘ Matt recalls. …

“Now, the recent college graduates run their own company, Upstream Farms. They have 50 cows. They market the beef directly, mostly to the training table program at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, which serves high-quality foods to student athletes. They raise hops for nearby craft breweries, and because the university takes only the best cuts of beef, the twins sell the rest of their meat as hamburger to the boutique beer firms. …

“ ‘We like to say that we’re twin brothers farming the Midwest, putting new ideas on old dirt and connecting our customers back to land.’ …

“When the twins proposed building a distillery, their parents responded, ‘That’s really risky, guys,’ Matt recalls. ‘They go, “You guys don’t know what it’s like to live in really, really hard times.” And they’re right. We’re privileged not to have [known] that. And so we do take more risks.’ …

“Stability is fragile on the prairie. Despite the good times, Gothenburg has lost more than 3% of its population since 2010, which puts it back to where it was in 1980, before the farm crisis. In rural Nebraska, however, that counts as a roaring success. …

“The decline in population not only crimps the number of people rural businesses can sell their wares to, but also reduces their labor pool. .. Between 2000 and 2010, the typical rural county in the state (one with no town of 2,500 or more) lost nearly half its population of 20- to 24-year-olds, according to the Center for Public Affairs Research at the University of Nebraska-Omaha. That is partially offset by a 16% net in-migration of 30- to 34-year-olds, presumably people who have worked elsewhere and are now wanting to return to the Great Plains.

“But it’s not enough to reverse the overall trend of Nebraskans settling in urban and suburban areas. In 2010, the two counties containing Omaha and Lincoln as well as the county between them represented just over half of Nebraska’s entire population; by 2050, they’re projected to account for two-thirds. The state’s rural counties are expected to lose population over that time….

“Even if the new generation of entrepreneurs succeeds in their attempts to work the soil, the question is whether they can really help revive the rural Midwest.

“ ‘In my area, I’m gonna guess more [people will move in], just because we are so close to Lincoln and Omaha that people can still live this lifestyle but have the great jobs,’ says Ms. Esch, bouncing along a rolling gravel road in her pickup. ‘How do you go live in the city after this?’

“But the rural parts of Nebraska and other states that aren’t close to a metropolitan area might be another matter. …

“ ‘I think the [communities] that continue to innovate and make it a great place for people to live will have more people,’ she says. ‘But the ones that don’t are going out of business.’ ”

More at the Christian Science Monitor, here.

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Photo: Tom Goldman/NPR
Reporters at rural Oregon’s profitable
Malheur Enterprise keep the news flowing while other local papers nationwide are folding.

This morning I read that television is expanding like crazy, no end in sight. Wasn’t the internet supposed to kill off television? Wasn’t television supposed to kill off radio? It seems to me that new technologies don’t necessarily destroy everything that went before the way cars destroyed horse-drawn carriages. It all depends on whether the old technology finds a new way to meet needs that still exist.

Consider local newspapers. Many are folding — and it’s definitely scary because that’s where big stories often break. But there’s still a need for local news, and I think someone will fill it. In rural Oregon, a small newspaper survived and became profitable by hiring a salesman and improving quality.

Tom Goldman at National Public Radio (NPR) has the story.

“The Malheur Enterprise was founded in 1909, and, like many other newspapers, was languishing. But in the past few years, its circulation has surged and it has won several national awards. … [It] has boomed in the past three years.

” ‘Boomed’ is a relative term when it comes to a rural weekly. Paid subscriptions are at about 2,000. But during a recent week, more than a third of Malheur County’s roughly 30,000 residents read the paper’s online edition. And advertising dollars, the lifeblood of a small newspaper, are way up.

” ‘Our overall revenue is more than triple what it was three years ago,’ says Les Zaitz, the paper’s editor and publisher. ‘Circulation is probably double. We’re profitable, and there are not a lot of papers in the United States that can say they’re profitable.’ …

“Zaitz, 63, was a longtime, award-winning investigative reporter for the Oregonian, the state’s largest newspaper. He is a two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist. But he has always had a passion for small-town papers. Which is why, in 2015, he tabled his retirement plans and bought the Enterprise with family members. The paper, at the time, was almost out of business. It was filled with gossip and press releases.

” ‘It wasn’t delivering much in the way of real local news,’ Zaitz says, adding, ‘[it] had one reporter who primarily focused on high school sports. … It had not had an ad salesperson in 10 years. … There was just no doubt in my mind that if we turned around the news product, and got a salesperson in, we could make the thing profitable pretty quick.’

“Sure enough, the Enterprise now is a serious, award-winning newspaper.

“This spring, the paper won a prestigious national Investigative Reporters and Editors award for its coverage of a case that rocked Malheur County. A man released from the state hospital after claiming he faked his mental illness was accused of killing two people after being freed. The Enterprise was the first weekly paper to win the IRE Freedom of Information award. …

“Reporter Pat Caldwell, who has been a journalist for 22 years, says Zaitz has transformed the way he works. ‘It’s all about detail,’ Caldwell says, ‘detail, detail, detail. Y’know? And why, why, why, why? Why are you doing this? Why is this happening? Who pays for it?’ …

“Zaitz has earned his readers’ trust with his devotion to bedrock principles of journalism. He acknowledges it also helps that he is one of them. His hands are thick from bucking hay and fixing barbed wire fences on his ranch about 100 miles outside Vale. But being on the inside doesn’t mean he and the Enterprise pander. … Enterprise reporting has angered local politicians. Some still don’t talk to Zaitz or his reporters.

” ‘Public officials who’ve evaded scrutiny for decades here aren’t very fond of us in some quarters,’ Zaitz says. ‘But the good public officials, those who are trying to do a good job, they recognize that we are doing our job and we are holding them accountable and we’re making them better governing officials. And they don’t object to that. Because we try to be accurate; we try to be fair. While they may have to salve the sting of a particular story, that sting wears off and they appreciate what we’re doing. …

” ‘Rather than worrying about what’s going on in journalism at the national level,’ he says, ‘let’s turn the periscope around and let’s rebuild from the small guy up. And I think that’s going to have more influence in the long run.’ ”

More at NPR, here.

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Photo: Jerry Holt, Star Tribune
Bill Gossman is mayor of New London, Minnesota, and a potter who knows firsthand how arts can build community. Legacy funding from a law updated in 2009 has helped spur the town’s revival. 

The arts are often good for business, and the experience of towns in rural Minnesota provides a good example.

Jenna Ross reports at the Star Tribune, “One by one, they took the stage and told their stories. A man in his 80s, leaning on a cane. A teenage girl. A retired farmer.

“ ‘Times were good for farmers in west-central Minnesota in the 1940s,’ Ed Huseby began his tale about a tractor that went rogue.

“In the audience, residents laughed, cheered and, after one man described how lung cancer cut short his wife’s life, cried. They were gathered for a Sunday afternoon ‘story show,’ organized by the owner of the Flyleaf Book Shop. The one-page program didn’t mention funding from the Legacy Amendment. But like all shows onstage at the Little Theatre — and most arts events in this small but growing city two hours west of Minneapolis — that money played a key role.

“Legacy funding cuts the cost of renting the theater to $100. It pays the part-time salary of the manager who greeted audience members and pulled closed the curtains. Soon, it’ll fund a new projector and screen. …

“New London, like small cities across Minnesota, has felt the influx of dollars from the Legacy Amendment, passed a decade ago. …

“ ‘In the Twin Cities, there’s a pretty established arts infrastructure,’ said Sue Gens, executive director of the Minnesota State Arts Board. Now Legacy grants are helping build that in communities across the state, she said. …

“In New London, pop. 1,355, such grants have funded a summer music festival. A 10-foot-tall sculpture that stands near the Middle Fork Crow River. And a wood-fired kiln in Bill Gossman’s backyard.

“Gossman is a potter, one who whistles while he digs his thumbs into a piece of porcelain clay. He’s also the mayor. …

“In 2010, Gossman won a $7,000 Legacy grant to add a large new chamber onto his kiln, which is fueled by firewood, giving his pots, vases and vessels an earthy glow. Last month, as they do each year, potters from across the state trekked to Gossman’s place. They drank coffee, chopped wood and packed the massive chamber with hundreds of their pieces. …

“When Gossman took office in 2008, [the] recession had weakened a local economy in flux with the consolidation of family farms. The grocery store had closed, and the hardware store was about to. For-sale signs hung in Main Street windows.

“Today, not a single empty storefront remains. Galleries and gift stores line the compact downtown. …

“A Star Tribune analysis of Legacy dollars shows that from fiscal 2010 to 2017, the biggest recipients of funds via the state and regional arts boards was the Guthrie Theater. …

“Outstate Minnesota has received its fair share of Legacy dollars [largely] because of the 11 regional arts councils, established in the 1970s, that broadened the reach of public arts funding. …

“Speaking at rural conferences across the country, [John Davis, executive director of Lanesboro Arts,] always mentions Minnesota’s Legacy Amendment, which other places regard as a model. …

“But the amendment isn’t perfect, Davis said. He believes that some arts funds should be set aside for rural capital projects, as many small cities struggle with infrastructure challenges in the wake of waning tax revenue and cuts to Local Government Aid.

“ ‘Right now an organization could get money to host a ballet, but if their roof is caving in … they can’t access it,’ Davis said. ‘I think that was something that just out of the gate was a structural flaw.’ ”

More here.

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Photo: Catskill Mountain Foundation
Catskill Mountain Foundation’s Doctorow Center for the Arts provides cultural opportunities in a rural area.

The arts are important everywhere, not just in cities. But sometimes it’s a challenge to attract to rural areas the kind of philanthropy that keeps urban cultural institutions alive.

Through the lens of a rural New York foundation, Mike Scutari of Inside Philanthropy considers the issue.

“In 1998, [Peter and Sarah Finn] founded the Hunter, New York-based Catskill Mountain Foundation, an organization committed to transforming rural communities through the arts. …

“The genesis of the CMF dates back to the early 1990s, when the Finns took over a family property in the town of Hunter. ‘The community had gone through a long decline,’ Peter said, and ‘many buildings on Main Street were for sale, and some buildings were in a serious state of disrepair and collapsing.’ …

“Peter and Sarah grew up in families that were very involved with the arts and had read stories about communities that were transformed through arts-based economic revitalization. …

“In 2018, the CMF will celebrate its 20th anniversary. Its program offerings include over 20 performances and 200 films a year, artist residencies, education programs, a piano performance museum, gallery and bookstore, and, for good measure, an operating farm.

“Its success is all the more startling when you realize that Hunter, New York has 2,732 residents.

“The problems facing rural communities are deep and complex. Yet we generally don’t see rural areas receive a proportionate amount of support from large institutional funders. … Funders, quite understandably, want the most bang for their buck, and more people live in urban areas. …

“Finn’s smaller-is-more-impactful approach flips conventional wisdom on its head: Funders can move the dial more effectively by operating in more concentrated communities. …

“[One] important form of engagement is ‘attracting others to invest in the community. Others who have invested significant amounts into the community have stated outright that they were inspired to do so by the work of the Catskill Mountain Foundation.’ …

” ‘Historically,’ Finn said, ‘the Town of Hunter was once known as a bar town. Today, it is known as a family arts community.’ ”

Read more at Inside Philanthropy, here.

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You’ve heard of TED Talks — interesting people lecturing about amazing work?

Well, there is also something called a TED Prize, and medical entrepreneur Raj Panjabi will receive it in April. The TED website provides background.

“Raj Panjabi grew up in Liberia, but at age nine, his family fled a devastating civil war and relocated to the United States. He studied hard, and in 2005 returned to his native country as a medical student. He was shocked to find a health care system in shambles.

Only 50 doctors remained to treat a population of four million.

“Raj founded Last Mile Health to expand access to health services for those living in Liberia’s most remote regions. The nonprofit partners with the government to recruit, train, equip and employ community health care workers, empowering them to provide a wide range of services.

“In 2016, Last Mile Health deployed 300 community health workers, who conducted more than 42,000 patient visits and treated nearly 22,000 cases of malaria, pneumonia and diarrhea in children. The organization also helped tackle the Ebola epidemic in southeastern Liberia by assisting the government of Liberia in its response and training 1,300 health workers to prevent the spread of the disease.

“Last Mile Health has created a model that can be replicated. … The key: training and employing community health workers — individuals who learn to diagnose and perform medical interventions, and can serve as a bridge to the primary health system.”

At TED2017, Panjabi will reveal how he aims to transform access to care in remote areas elsewhere and protect against pandemic outbreaks.

More here. (Hat tip: Maria Popova on Twitter.)

Photo: Last Mile Health 
Born in Liberia, Raj Panjabi fled as a child because of civil war. He returned as a medical student — and went on to found Last Mile Health.

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Photo: ABC News: Kristine Taylor
The arrival of six primary school-aged children allowed Mingoola’s (New South Wales, Australia) school to reopen.

Cousin Claire put another good link on Facebook–this one about the small Australian community of Mingoola, which was losing population and decided to welcome refugees just as its only primary school was about to close.

Greg Hassall writes at ABC Australia, “In the tiny township of Mingoola, on the border of New South Wales and Queensland, local woman Julia Harpham was grappling with a common problem in rural communities.

“The population was in decline, enrolments at the local primary school were down and farmers could not find labourers to help with manual work. Her town was dying before her eyes.

” ‘Many of us have children who work in the city and aren’t going to come back to the farm because things have been so tough on the land,’ Ms Harpham said.

” ‘You don’t like to see a community die. And there’s not much joy in a place with no children.’

“Three years ago the local progress association decided to take a leaf from the region’s migrant past and looked for refugees willing to move to the area.

“But when they began contacting refugee agencies they were told there would not be adequate support for refugees in the bush. …

“Meanwhile in Sydney, refugee advocate Emmanuel Musoni was grappling with problems in his community from central Africa. They had been displaced from Rwanda and neighbouring countries during years of bitter civil war.

“The majority had rural backgrounds before having to flee their homes for refugee camps. …

“They were resettled in cities where employment prospects were few, the environment was intimidating and many became depressed and isolated. …

“Mr Musoni led a small delegation from his community to Mingoola early this year to meet locals and see whether resettlement was viable.

“On his return he put out a call for families willing to make the move; within a week he had a waiting list of 50.

“He chose two families [with] 16 children between them. Six of the children were of primary school age, which would allow Mingoola Primary School to remain open.

“Meanwhile, the community began renovating several abandoned houses in the area to accommodate the families, who moved to Mingoola in April. …

“For those involved in this social experiment, the hope is that its success can be replicated elsewhere to help other struggling rural communities.

“Mr Musoni now has 205 families on his database wanting to move out of the cities and politicians have been watching the Mingoola project with interest.”

Read more here. And for a past post on African refugees in rural Maine, click here.

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Sometimes when I’m trying to cross a city street in traffic that’s coming from all directions, I think about how people who don’t visit cities much — Inuit people, say, or rural tribesmen in Africa  — would cope. Probably about as well as I would cope dealing with the habits of lions or polar bears. We all develop the survival skills we need most.

Birds do, too. According to Scientific American, urban birds develop skills that let them outwit their country cousins on certain tests.

Christopher Intagliata reports,”While visiting Barbados, McGill University neurobiologist Jean-Nicolas Audet noticed that local bullfinches were accomplished thieves.

” ‘They were always trying to steal our food. And we can see those birds entering in supermarkets, trying to steal food there.’

“And that gave him an idea. ‘Since this bird species is able to solve amazing problems in cities, and they’re also present in rural areas, we were wondering’ are the rural birds also good problem-solvers, and they just don’t take advantage of their abilities? …

“So Audet and his McGill colleagues captured Barbados bullfinches, both in the island’s towns and out in the countryside. They then administered the bird equivalent of personality and IQ tests: assessing traits like boldness and fear, or timing how quickly the finches could open a puzzle box full of seeds.

“And it turns out the city birds really could solve puzzles faster. They were bolder, too, except when it came to dealing with new objects—perhaps assuming, unlike their more naive country cousins, that new things can either mean reward … or danger.

“The study is in the journal Behavioral Ecology [Jean-Nicolas Audet et al, The town bird and the country bird].”

More here.

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Julie Turkewitz writes at the NY Times about a mountain library planned by two not-exactly-wealthy book lovers with big ideas.

“The project is striking in its ambition: a sprawling research institution situated on a ranch at 10,000 feet above sea level, outfitted with 32,000 volumes, many of them about the Rocky Mountain region, plus artists’ studios, dormitories and a dining hall — a place for academics, birders, hikers and others to study and savor the West.

“It is the sort of endeavor undertaken by a deep-pocketed politician or chief executive, perhaps a Bloomberg or a Buffett. But the project, called the Rocky Mountain Land Library, has instead two booksellers as its founders.

“For more than 20 years, Jeff Lee, 60, and Ann Martin, 53, have worked at a Denver bookshop, the Tattered Cover, squirreling away their paychecks in the pursuit of a single dream: a rural, live-in library where visitors will be able to connect with two increasingly endangered elements — the printed word and untamed nature. …

“They have poured an estimated $250,000 into their collection of 32,000 books, centering the collection on Western land, history, industry, writers and peoples. There are tales by Norman Maclean; wildlife sketches by William D. Berry; and books on beekeeping, dragonflies, cowboys and the Navajo. …

“Mr. Lee and Ms. Martin have a grant from the South Park National Heritage Area and this summer will finally begin renovations, repairing two leaky roofs. Construction will be limited, however, as they have gathered less than $120,000 in outside funds. An estimated $5 million is needed to build out their dream.” More here.

Photo: Michael Ciaglo for The New York Times

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Photograph: http://americanflatbread.com/lareau-farm. Lareau Farm is home to American Flatbread in Waitsfield, Vermont.

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A few of my readers will see “Waitsfield, Vermont” and think “skiing.” That’s because they were skiing there a couple weeks ago.

But this post is about the man who launched American Flatbread in Waitsfield in 1985, franchising his restaurant concept in other states and using his business success as a platform to advocate for the environment and other causes.

“In the fall of 1979,” writes Mike Ives for the Christian Science Monitor, “George Schenk stuffed all his worldly possessions into his pickup truck and moved from upstate New York to central Vermont. After settling in the sleepy ski town of Waitsfield, he began working as a dishwasher, freelance photographer, and live-in baby sitter.

“He also apprenticed at local restaurants and learned from chefs who were cooking in ways that emphasized local and regional ingredients. By 1985, Mr. Schenk was selling his own ‘flatbread,’ a variation on the brick oven-style pizza he’d eaten as a teenager, topped with Vermont produce.

“Serving nutritious food, he realized, was a good way to promote the kind of community values he’d absorbed in his Connecticut childhood and the ecological principles he’d embraced in his previous careers as a farmer and forester. …

” ‘I felt as though the environmental dimension of food needed a voice,’ Schenk recalls.

“Today, American Flatbread operates three popular Vermont locations, exports frozen pizzas nationwide, and is franchising its restaurant concept in other states.

“But profit isn’t Schenk’s only priority: For more than two decades he has donated thousands of his flatbreads to the poor and sick. He’s also held an average of eight benefit bakes each year to raise money for those in need.”

Although his political views and “civil disobedience” actions have often raised hackles, the people who know him best defend him.

“They insist his commitment to his employees and community is sincere and unwavering,” writes Ives. ” ‘I don’t always agree with George, but I always appreciate him,’ says Amy Shollenberger, former executive director of Rural Vermont, a nonprofit farm advocacy group. ‘He loves everybody, wears his heart on his sleeve — and walks his talk.’ ”

Read more.

Brian Mohr/EmberPhoto
George Schenk founded American Flatbread pizza as a way to showcase local produce and advocate for both community and global causes.

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The U.S. Department of Agriculture funds a wide range of activities to boost the economic strength of small towns and rural areas. It doesn’t just fund farmers, although farmers may benefit from a more vibrant rural economy.

To that point, here’s an story from the Philadelphia Inquirer by Howard Shapiro on how the USDA is helping a New Jersey theater.

“A little semiprofessional theater amid the farmland of Hammonton, N.J., has become the beneficiary of more than a half-million dollars in grants and low-interest loans from a most unlikely arts angel: the U.S. Department of Agriculture. …

“The Agriculture Department money is coming directly to the theater in three acts, so to speak: a $23,000 grant to improve its historic building and its ticketing and computer programming; an $89,000 20-year loan at 3.5 percent interest, mainly to enhance stage equipment; and a 30-year loan of $482,000 at 3.38 percent interest, to buy its building.

” ‘It’s an unusual project for the USDA to finance,’ said Howard Henderson, the department’s rural-development director for New Jersey. “This is a fascinating way we’ve been able to benefit a rural community.’

“The Rural Development program, financed by Congress, exists to strengthen or help establish facilities in rural communities that will improve downtowns, provide services, and encourage local activities. But money usually goes to such projects as firehouse restoration or, as in New Jersey’s northern Sussex County, a plan for hospice units.”

The Eagle Theatre applied for the money because, according to Henderson, everyone around Hammonton knows how active the USDA has been in supporting growth. More.

Photograph: http://theeagletheatre.com/about-us/

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Here is a business that is in the business of innovating to solve problems in poor countries.

The latest initiative at Design that Matters has been to find a low-cost way to treat babies in the developing world who have jaundice. This week the group tested Firefly, an easily transportable phototherapy bassinet specially designed for Vietnam. The doctors in Vietnam were ecstatic.

“Currently infants born with jaundice in Vietnam will first travel to a district hospital in their search for treatment, which are usually not equipped with the proper tools to treat any newborn health issues and are referred on to a provincial or national hospital. Due to this lack of equipment at the rural and district level, infants’ conditions worsen as they travel for multiple days, risking the development of permanent brain damage. …

“In response, Design that Matters (DtM), the East Meets West Foundation (EMW) and Vietnamese manufacturer MTTS have launched a collaboration to develop a new infant care device that will treat newborn jaundice during the critical first days of life.” Read more about Firefly here.

“Design that Matters (DtM), a 501c3 nonprofit based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, creates new products that allow social enterprises in developing countries to offer improved services and scale more quickly. DtM has built a collaborative design process through which hundreds of volunteers in academia and industry donate their skills and expertise to the creation of breakthrough products for communities in need. Our goal is to deliver a better quality of service, and a better quality of life, to millions of beneficiaries through products designed for our clients.”

John’s company, Optics for Hire played a role.

 

 

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Recently the Economist magazine offered a pretty comprehensive summary of efforts that government entities, nonprofits, and banks have made to get people who do not use banks (the unbanked) into the banking system. The push is not only because banks want customers. In fact, many of the new programs for reaching the unbanked require banks to make big concessions.

The bigger concern is that low-income people and immigrants  get taken advantage of by payday lenders, check cashers, and the like.

One program that is now in several U.S. cities actually started with the innovative Bank On San Francisco. Bank On San Francisco emerged to meet a need. First, a broad range of stakeholder groups evaluated why low-income people often preferred using payday lenders. Having found that the customers liked the hours, locations, and apparent clarity about costs, the groups developed a system that could meet more needs. (In New Haven the police were involved in a similar effort because too many immigrants carried all their cash on their persons, and that led to too many muggings.)

I’m interested in this issue, and so I was intrigued by a NY Times story on traveling tellers rural India.

“Swati Yashwant, a 29-year-old mother of one, is part of a growing legion of roving tellers intent on providing bank accounts to the nearly 50 percent of India’s 300 million households that do not have them. Using a laptop computer, wireless modem and fingerprint scanner, Ms. Yashwant opens accounts, takes deposits and processes money transfers for farmers and migrant workers in this small town 70 miles south of Mumbai, India’s financial capital.

“To reduce the risk of robbery or theft, no transaction by law may exceed 10,000 rupees (about $212). And in practice, many amount to no more than a dollar or two. But with the bulk of India’s population living in villages that have never had a bank branch, Ms. Yashwant, with her electronic devices, is a missionary of financial modernity.” Read more here.

The Indian idea looks like one that might be gainfully imported to the United States.

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I have been reading about Michelle Obama’s latest efforts to encourage good nutrition in childhood.

“Executives from Wal-Mart, Walgreens, SuperValu and other stores joined Michelle Obama at the White House on [July 21] to announce a pledge to open or expand a combined 1,500 stores in communities that have limited access to nutritious food and are designated as ‘food deserts.’

“With the pledges, secured by the Partnership for a Healthier America, which is part of Mrs. Obama’s campaign to reduce childhood obesity, the stores aim to reach 9.5 million of the 23.5 million Americans who live in areas where finding affordable healthy foods can be difficult. In those areas, many people turn to fast food restaurants or convenience stores.” Read the New York Times article here.

On a related note, John sent me a really interesting link from photographer Mark Menjivar, who documents the insides of people’s refrigerators. He includes a one-line insight into the person whose food he is photographing. Unsurprisingly, the fridge with the least food in it belongs to a “street advertiser” who lives on a $432 fixed monthly income.

See the fascinating photo essay here.

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