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Hacking Social Impact, for Gaza Sky Geeks, for Humanitarian Response, for Impact at Scale

September 11, 2014 - 11:03am
This post was contributed by guest writer Carolynn Duncan, Founder of NW Social Venture Fund. It was originally posted here


Last week, Northwest Social Venture Fund co-hosted a series of 7 brownbag talks in support of Gaza Sky Geeks, a Mercy Corps + Google for Entrepreneurs founded accelerator, which aims to generate a spirit of empowerment and a homebase for tech entrepreneurs in Gaza, who are creating new businesses and developing an entrepreneurial ecosystem, in some very difficult conditions.

Innovators gather at the Stanford Center for Social Innovation

On campus at Stanford University, in Palo Alto, CA

Many individuals who attended gatherings in behalf of Gaza Sky Geeks, or who responded through social media, email or other avenues, let us know that they directly have a family, personal, or business connection to Gaza and Israel, that they have been thinking of their ties to the area and not knowing what is occurring on the ground, how to approach discussing the conflict with colleagues, friends and family, or how to absorb the dark, complex topics of the conflict while also maintaining personal motivation to contribute, and to find avenues to supply time, skills, donations, or support to the longterm humanitarian recovery response.

Impact Hub Berkeley, in Berkeley, CA

We love this quote board at Impact Hub Berkeley!

For our team at NWSVFund, to feel inspired to contribute to a humanitarian challenge, but to be disconnected from any actionable way to contribute, is heart-wrenching. We are so grateful to have a strong network and community, where we can work together to address challenges in conversation, and in action.

On this particular effort with Gaza Sky Geeks – Tom Sperry, from Rogue Venture Partners and one of the original advocates for Gaza Sky Geeks, Allison Deverman Vietor, founder of Tech4Change, a Mercy Corps partnership with Startup Weekend, and Lynn Le, founder of Society Nine and formerly at Portland Seed Fund, as well as NWSVFund’s founding partner Carolynn Duncan, a longtime supporter of Mercy Corps special projects – have independently been championing Gaza Sky Geeks, and through the brownbag series, were able to rally collective local networks to bring a broader, community-level awareness to the work that the Gaza Sky Geeks team has been doing to deploy entrepreneurship as a humanitarian tool to inspire longterm economic vibrancy for local Gazans.

On campus at the UC Berkeley Blum Center

Social entrepreneurs at UC Berkeley’s OnRamp program

We’d like to warmly thank our hosts at the Stanford Center for Social InnovationImpact Hub BerkeleyUC Berkeley Blum CenterMercy CorpsMercy Corps Action CenterNedSpace, and StarveUps, for facilitating dynamic conversations and sharing Gaza Sky Geeks and Northwest Social Venture Fund’s work with their communities.

Mercy Corps Action Center, in Portland, OR

Innovators gather at Mercy Corps Action Center

To continue amplifying the message about Gaza Sky Geeks’ important work, we invite folks to get involved by making a pledge to their upcoming Indiegogo campaign to support the accelerator’s operational development, and to make a personal contribution in any form, whether via crowdfunding, broadcasting promotional materials about the Indiegogo campaign to your network, working on special projects, or mentoring Gazan tech founders over the long haul as they work to establish sustainable businesses that provide jobs and hope locally.

Lynn Le, Carolynn Duncan and Iliana Montauk, at NedSpace

Innovators gather at NedSpace, in Portland, Oregon

Likewise, Northwest Social Venture Fund will continue to offer opportunities and special projects, that strengthen scalable social entrepreneurship and impact investing as two important tools in our overall mission, to reduce suffering in the world -

Our upcoming unconference, Hacking Social Impact, is a great avenue to connect with our team and work shoulder to shoulder on special projects and learning new skills in tech, finance, and impact, in order to become a more effective practitioner. We will focus this year’s unconference on how YOU can engage in scalable social entrepreneurship and impact investing, to make a clear and helpful difference to humanitarian initiatives like Gaza Sky Geeks and other special initiatives that we support and advocate for.

To get involved with Hacking Social Impact as a volunteer, sponsor, partner or speaker, please complete this registration link.

Gaza Sky Geeks’ Iliana Montauk speaks to StarveUps founders

Carolynn Duncan, Allison Deverman Vietor, and John Friess at StarveUps

NWSVFund’s Carolynn Duncan, and StarveUps’ John Friess

We also offer the Impact Investing Education Series, for university students, philanthropists/investors, fund managers and practitioners, who wish to more fully engage in the impact investing space, and bring personal skills in finance + impact up to speed through hands on learning in investment frameworks, impact metrics, analytics, and due diligence. To sign up for our fall IIES programs, based from NWSVFund offices in Portland, Oregon and Boulder, Colorado, and open via Google Hangouts video conferencing to participants anywhere in the world, more info is available here.

Finally, what impresses our team at NWSVF so much on a continuous, ongoing basis as we do our work in the impact community, is how much each of YOU really care, and for that, we are so grateful. If we can assist with something you are working on, we hope that you will reach out to let us know.

-Northwest Social Venture Fund

Connect with Gaza Sky Geeks
@gazaskygeeks / /

Connect with NW Social Venture Fund
@SVSociety / /

Bringing it Home: A Social Innovation Summit for the Pacific Northwest

August 28, 2014 - 12:01pm

If the 2013 Elevating Impact Summit in Portland was a wild experiment, the 2014 Summit brought it home. For two years in a row now, hundreds have gathered for a full day of stories, discussions, and activities focused on social innovation across sectors and ages. The annual Elevating Impact Summit has become a touchstone for changemakers in the Pacific Northwest, and its value transcends the conference. Highlights from this summer’s event provide us with a social innovation roadmap, a lesson plan for our future, and an unending source of inspiration.

The Elevating Impact Summit will always highlight past experiences and great accomplishments, but it will also reveal insights into rising trends and the innovators who are building our future. The 2014 Pitch Fest was the stage for six local social entrepreneurs presenting their ideas in three minutes each. The audience voted on their favorite, and the winners received cash and legal support. Find out about this year’s winner here and watch the rapid-fire event play-by-play.

Kat Taylor’s presentation was smart, raucous, and authentic, much like her big idea. Through the verticals of food, energy, and money, Kat Taylor and her husband are disrupting the investment industry. They started by taking management roles in companies and organizations in all three areas to glean insights. What they came up with, in addition to a variety of new ventures, is what they call “beneficial banking.” They sought to leverage the great promise of what was previously known as banking, but this time to do it differently. In her morning keynote, Kat Taylor described how.

Marc Freedman’s mid-day keynote encapsulated one of the core themes of the 2014 Summit: the massive potential in unleashing the skills of the boomer population for the social change sector. After searching the US for examples of people who weren’t satisfied with retirement and who had dedicated themselves to pressing social challenges, Freedman formed The organization supports people who are crafting careers later in life that combine not only continued income but the promise of more meaning – and the chance to do work that means something beyond oneself.

Victoria Hale delivered the final keynote of the day. A quintessential example of the power of social entrepreneurship, Hale created the world’s first nonprofit pharmaceutical company. She has set out over the last decade to develop new medicines, and also to address the traps of poverty with collaborations across sectors and around the world. Hear Hale grapple with current challenges, like marketing to the poor, past learnings, like focusing on a great solution rather than trying to address every single problem, and how she has found a way to build precious medicines that belong belong to humanity, not to patent owners.

The first discussion brought together three amazing women with in-depth experience dealing with impact capital. The panel explored impact funding and investments from three distinct angles. This panel included facilitator Carolynn Duncan (TenX, NW Social Venture Fund) and panelists Molly Lindquist (Consano), Melissa Freeman (Oregon Community Foundation), and Gun Denhart (Hanna Andersson).

The next panel continued along the theme Marc Freedman brought to the table in his keynote. The panelists looked at Encore Purpose, or the unique value that people in their “second half of life” bring to the world and to the field of social innovation. This panel included facilitator Erin Flynn (PSU Strategic Partnerships), and panelists Derenda Schubert (Bridge Meadows), Heather McHugh (Caregifted), and Marc Freedman (

The third panel in the series looked not at one specific demographic, but at the great potential of diverse communities. This discussion centered on empowering diverse communities through the lens of design thinking, international development, and inclusive innovation. The panel included facilitator Jennifer Allen (PSU Institute for Sustainable Solutions), and panelists Steve Lee (Ziba), Dwayne Johnson (Center for Inclusive Innovation), and Najia Hyder (Mercy Corps).

The final panel was not a panel. Behind every business, organization, or movement there a story that is as important as any new idea. The second Elevating Impact Summit removed the veil by challenging three changemakers to share their personal stories. They surpassed all expectations. This storytelling session featured Katrina Scotto Di Carlo (Supportland), Tim Carpenter (EngAGE), Deena Pierott (iUrbanTeen), and Pam Campos Palma (PSU)

Before they left for the day, attendees recapped their 2014 Summit in their own words:

How a DIY Healthcare Delivery System Can Solve the American Health Crisis

July 23, 2014 - 11:50am

Each year at the Elevating Impact Summit in Portland, a group of promising social entrepreneurs pitch their new ideas to an audience of hundreds. The audience selects their favorite to receive a cash prize and legal support, and in 2014 they chose Orchid Health.

The Orchid Health idea is to avoid the requirement of health insurance for primary and preventative care by having patients pay a monthly fee of around $50 for unlimited clinic visits. There is a flat-rate deal for small businesses and discounts for families and individuals who pay in advance. By working with clinics in Medically Underserved Areas, Orchid Health can profitably serve those on Medicaid and Medicare.

When Orchid Health stood up to pitch at the Summit, they were already having a momentous year. In 2014 alone they were granted $70K from Lane County’s Business Incentive Program, had won first place for concept-stage ventures at the Willamette Angel Conference, and secured over $100K from local investors.

While their three-minute pitch was awesome, and their press coverage has been extensive, I was still curious about the bright young innovators behind this radical new idea. I sat down with Orion Falvey and Oliver Alexander to try and understand how these recent university graduates were planning to turn health care delivery on its head.

Abby: Out of all the problems in the world, why try and fix Oregon’s primary care delivery?
Orion: I think the answer here is simple. What brought us to healthcare was the size of the industry, its potential scalability, and most importantly the opportunity to help people live happy and productive lives. We saw a service that was costing the average person thousands of dollars per year, yet was not solving any of their problems, and was sometimes even creating bigger problems itself. We strongly believe that primary and preventative care is the foundation of our country’s healthcare system, and that by working directly with patients to come up with a better solution, we will be able to save the entire system billions of dollars in the long run.

Abby: What’s new or different about Orchid Health compared to other primary care delivery programs?
Orion: We have taken a well-researched and well-supported framework for primary care, and created a do-it-yourself type model that allows us to move significantly faster than other healthcare organizations. The biggest change that we have made is removing insurance billing from everyday healthcare, which allows us to focus almost entirely on our patient experience.

Abby: How has your idea evolved since you started working on it? Was there a person, idea, experience, or policy change that influenced your work in a big way?
Orion & Oliver: The biggest change we have made is our decision to focus in rural communities that have at least 60% of their primary care needs not being met. Spending the past year working with the community of Oakridge, where our pilot clinic is opening next month, made us realize the true extent of what living without healthcare access is like. Additionally, rural communities provide us with a very defined population base, which we can use to show results and validate our model.

Abby: What does success look like for you and for Orchid Health?
Oliver: For us, success is being able to provide the highest quality patient-centered care, on par with the Mayo clinic, in each and every community like Oakridge across Oregon. Our model has the potential to help hundreds of thousands of people maintain and reclaim their health, while also saving them money, which is why we’re so excited about Orchid and the impact that it will have on the people who need healthcare the most.

You can find out more about Orion Falvey and Oliver Alexander, and more about the Orchid Health model here.

Putting the audience in the content: lessons from Elevating Impact 2014

July 16, 2014 - 12:31pm

When we invited 24 speakers from diverse backgrounds to talk about lifelong changemaking at the Elevating Impact Summit, we knew we would learn something new. The range of speakers included a veteran, a pharmacist, a poet, and an angel investor. They were exemplary leaders at all stages of life and work, and we had started collecting their stories before they even arrived.

What we couldn’t have anticipated was that in addition to the admirable lineup of speakers we would have an audience of 375 incredible changemakers. Ok, maybe we could have figured it out; Portland does tend to be that way, but the quality, authenticity, motivation and energy of the people who attended this year’s summit left us speechless. Many of the attendees could have easily been on stage sharing their own stories of social innovation, their creative triumphs, and their unprecedented discoveries.

Hear from a few of our incredible event attendees and speakers, and find out why next year we’ll focus even more on helping the audience tell their stories. If we learned one thing at the 2014 Elevating Impact Summit, it’s that everyone has a story.

Impact Entrepreneurs 2013 Impact Report

June 30, 2014 - 3:29pm

You might not be surprised to find that as a program called Impact Entrepreneurs we’re interested in impact. We’re pleased this summer to release our 2013 report.

We believe that by bridging historical chasms between business and nonprofits, shared value and shareholder value, we can create the conditions that empower choices for good. To do this we build programs, projects, and relationships that meet social entrepreneurs where they are – whether it is at inspiration, incubation, or acceleration. We have selected metrics for our annual impact report that help us gauge our progress, where we should be making adjustments, and to see what is working.

This report is for us, to make sure we change in the right direction, and it is for you, our community. Here are some highlights from 2013:

LAUNCHED The Business of Social Innovation, a combined academic and professional online certificate open to students and community members of all ages. In January, 2014, nearly 30 students from Portland to Venezuela joined the first course in the new program.

HOSTED the inaugural Elevating Impact Summit, exposing 330 people to powerful entrepreneurial approaches to creating change locally and globally, and celebrating social entrepreneurship and social innovation across a diverse set of stakeholders. The second annual Elevating Impact Summit took place on June 20, 2014.

LED Social Enterprise Field Studies, introducing 11 students and community members to social enterprise through a combination of site visits, applied fieldwork and research, and meetings with subject matter experts in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

TAUGHT business fundamentals, social innovation, and leadership effectiveness to 21 managers from 15 countries through our Entrepreneurial Leadership Program. The experience empowers Mercy Corps and other global NGO managers with skills they need to grow as leaders and improve their organizations’ performance.

INCUBATED four new social ventures and supported the 16 alumni of Impact Entrepreneurs’ Social Innovation Incubator with resources and community connections. Stories from the alumni network include EcoZoom, a company that just signed a $21m contract to provide healthy, efficient, and ecofriendly cookstoves around the world; My Street Grocery, a mobile grocer recently integrated into Whole Foods Market as a new business unit; and Central City Concern, who in 2013 launched Central City Coffee, diversifying the parent organization’s revenue streams and providing employment and job training to clients who had previously experienced homelessness.

Download the full report by clicking on the image below:

Please contact for more information on our programs or report.

Introducing the 2014 Social Innovation Pitch Fest Finalists

June 4, 2014 - 12:02pm

Watch local innovators pitch the region’s most exciting new social ventures and vote for a winner to receive $1500 cash at the Elevating Impact Summit on June 20. 

The Elevating Impact Summit, put on by Portland State University’s Impact Entrepreneurs, is an annual one-day event in downtown Portland celebrating entrepreneurship and innovation for social impact.

On Friday, June 20, six finalists, each selected for their innovative and entrepreneurial approach to addressing a social or environmental problem, will have three minutes to pitch their idea to more than 350 audience members. Following each pitch, a panel of expert investors and entrepreneurs will discuss the finalist’s for-profit, nonprofit, or hybrid venture, their vision, and their plans.

When the real-time audience vote is in, Immix Law Group will award $1500 cash and $1000 of in-kind legal support to the finalist with the most votes. The runner up will also receive $1000 of in-kind legal support.

The 2014 finalists are…

• Oliver Alexander, Orchid Health
Over the past decade, health insurance costs have risen over 100%. While costs go up, care quality has decreased because insurance companies don’t pay providers sustainable rates. Orchid Health’s solution removes health insurance from primary care by having patients pay a monthly fee of around $50. This model, along with locating in Medically Underserved Areas, which allows Orchid to profitably serve those on Medicaid and Medicare, makes Orchid unique and ready to grow quickly.

• Ila Asplund, Half Sky Journeys
Half Sky Journeys creates global trips with a purpose: to boost funding and awareness for girl- and women-empowering organizations. Half Sky Journeys’ life-changing journeys give travelers an opportunity to improve the lives of others and transform their own in the process. The journeys help high-level philanthropists engage personally with innovative women leaders (in education, health, technology) and discover firsthand how investing in a girl is the starting point for changing the world.

• Ryan Carson, Treehouse Island, Inc.
Treehouse provides affordable, accessible tech education for high-paying jobs in a digital economy. Many schools lack tech teachers and teachers cannot keep pace with rapidly evolving technology. Treehouse’s online interactive tutorials teach job-ready skills in web design, programming and app design without massive debt. Treehouse has had success in high poverty and rural areas using the program to retrain workers. With your support, Treehouse aims to reach people everywhere to empower them to economic self-sufficiency and inspire innovators.

• Aaron Killgore, Live Forest Farms
Live Forest Farms is a food import company that partners with projects that drive sustainable agriculture and conservation in critical parts of the world. Live Forest Farms’ prototype is in East Bali Indonesia, where they have created a nonprofit initiative, East Bali Watershed Initiative, and partnered with a cashew factory, to import single origin, ethically sourced cashews to Portland, Oregon.

• Katrina Scotto di Carlo, Supportland
Small, local businesses tend to be isolated, leading 40% to go out of business in the first three years. By increasing the exchanges in which small businesses engage, Supportland disables this isolation. Besides the quantity, we make exchanges simpler and more rewarding with business-to-business, business-to-consumer, and even with other players historically unable to build at-scale exchanges with independent businesses. All these exchanges deepen relationships resulting in stronger economic activity for small, local businesses.

• Amy Doering Smith, Safi Water Works
Safi means ‘clean’ or ‘pure’ in Swahili. Safi Water Works is a social purpose enterprise addressing two complex global issues: providing safe, clean drinking water and creating income-generating opportunities for some of the world’s poorest. Safi manufactures and distributes products that use off-the-grid/human sources to power an ultraviolet disinfecting process that results in safe drinking water. Products are designed to be economical and effective and appropriate for urban communities throughout the developing world.

Jaime Wood, cofounder of IncitED, pitching at the 2013 Elevating Impact Summit.

Panelists joining the Pitch Fest to provide strategic questions and feedback to each finalist include:

• Carolynn Duncan (moderator), Founder and General Partner of NW Social Venture Fund and Founder and CEO of TenX
• Melissa Freeman, Oregon Community Foundation
• Molly Lindquist, Founder & CEO of Consano
• Tom Sperry, Managing Director of Rogue Venture Partners

Tickets are still available for the full day Summit at Find out about student tickest, volunteer opportunities, and more here.

Elevating Impact Stories: Marc Freedman

June 2, 2014 - 11:59am

Leading up to the Elevating Impact Summit on Friday, June 20 in Portland, Oregon, we’ve invited event speakers, award nominees, and panelists to engage in a stories project. We believe that storytelling is an essential part of effective social innovation. How can we tell stories in a way that generates interest and creates connections? How can we listen to the stories of others with the empathy needed to achieve true understanding? We hope that by sharing the stories of our speakers, or pieces they have written reflecting elements of their journeys, you will learn more about each person, and explore the promise and challenge of social innovation.

Why John Gardner Is My Retirement Role Model
By Marc Freedman

Seventeen years ago, I sat behind the wheel of a blue Volkswagen Beetle, speeding through the night on Highway 101 between San Francisco and Palo Alto. Seated beside me in the passenger seat was my hero and mentor, John W. Gardner. Dressed impeccably, as always, in a gray suit, with a felt fedora perched on his lap, Gardner was then 85 years old.

I took the late-night ride as the chance to ask him about his life and legacy, looking back from the perspective of one’s ninth decade. What was he proudest of? What did he feel had been his great contribution? Gardner’s answer was immediate and unequivocal: the book, “Self-Renewal,” first published in the early 1960s. I was so engrossed in Gardner’s reflections that I failed to notice the sea of taillights accumulating rapidly in front of us. I slammed on the brakes. John’s hands hit the dashboard, and I could hear him repeating the words, “Oh my God,” over and over again. The phrase repeating in my head was less uplifting: “You’re killing a national treasure!”

We survived, thank God, although I don’t think John ever drove with me again. But we remained close right to the end of his life five years later, in 2002. During that period he served as the founding board member of Civic Ventures (now, the organization we started together to launch the program Experience Corps, and more broadly, to help transform the aging society into a source of personal and social renewal.

John’s own life was a marvelous example of renewal. In 1964, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, that ultimate lifetime achievement award, for his work in education and philanthropy. Already in his 50s with a long track record of achievement, he nevertheless refused to accept a ‘gold watch’ or an end to purpose—in fact, he was just getting started.

Over the next decades, Gardner served as Lyndon Johnson’s Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare, where he implemented Medicare and many other groundbreaking reforms, then went on to found Common Cause and Independent Sector, and to help preside over the creation of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, along with authoring a series of books on leadership and civil society. It’s no wonder that The New York Times titled an article about him, “Father of Invention.”

Along with being an inveterate and lifelong social entrepreneur, Gardner was a master of the memorable phrase. During the Medicare battles of 1965, he observed, America today faces “breathtaking opportunities disguised as insoluble problems,” an apt characterization for the demographic and longevity revolutions unfolding today.

The last time I heard him speak publicly, a year before his passing, Gardner talked in very personal terms about the challenges and opportunities of renewal in the second half of life: “All my feelings about the release of human possibilities, all of my convictions about renewal,” he stated, “are offended by the widely shared cultural assumption that life levels off in one’s 40s and 50s and heads downhill, so that by 65 you are scrap heap material.”

Then he offered a closing wish, aimed at all of us middle agers in the audience: “What I want for those youngsters in their 40s and 50s is several more decades of vital learning and growth. And I want something even broader and deeper. I don’t know whether I can even put it into words. What I want…is a long youthfulness of spirit. It doesn’t seem much to ask—but it is everything.”

And it is.

This article was originally posted in the Wall Street Journal 

Marc Freedman is leading a movement to engage millions of baby boomers in encore careers by combining personal meaning, continued income, and social impact. Freedman is the founder and CEO of, an organization investing in people over 60 who are changing the world, and the Purpose Prize, which is a set of $100,000 awards to celebrate and advance their work. He also created Experience Corps, one of the largest nonprofits in the US engaging people over 55, and is the author of several books on encore careers and volunteering.

Freedman has received numerous accolades for his work as a social entrepreneur. In 2003 he was elected as an Ashoka Fellow for his innovative idea that engaging millions of baby boomers in encore careers could produce a “windfall of human talent to solve society’s greatest problems.” In 2007, 2008 and 2009, Fast Company magazine named Freedman one of the nation’s leading social entrepreneurs, and in 2010 The Nonprofit Times named him one of the 50 most powerful and influential individuals in the nonprofit sector. That year he also received the prestigious Skoll Foundation Award for Social Entrepreneurship.

Marc Freedman will Keynote the Elevating Impact Summit on June 20, 2014 in Portland. Tickets are available at