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View Profile: Britta Riley, Windowfarms

October 3rd, 2012 profiles Britta Riley of Windowfarms. Check-out her profile, and look out for more innovator profiles coming out of SOCAP12 from

Britta Riley is nothing if not passionately optimistic. She conceived the wildly successful Windowfarms in response to a moment of urban anxiety: the lack of space to grow her own food. It’s a scenario familiar to most of the world’s 3.5 billion urban dwellers, even though home-growing produce can be one of the most effective environment-saving techniques we can use. “I was so broke I was renting my apt on AirBnB to pay for food and a tiny room,” she says of her time experimenting with alternative gardening methods. This led her to hydroponics and running nutrient-infused water, a “compost tea,” over plant root systems. Her strategic arrangement of plastic bottles and tubing became the prototype for Windowfarms.

A veteran of participatory projects, Britta turned to the crowd-finding site Kickstarter to raise money to build our.Windowfarms, an online portal where users could help develop the final design. The result was an aesthetic and functional triumph: a high-volume hanging garden capable of producing food even in the dead of winter. She turned to her community again for the second phase of fundraising. With well over 30,000 active users of her project, it’s no surprise she was able to achieve four times her goal of $50,000 — more than enough to fund the manufacturing and design improvements. Britta says her faith in the online community comes from “believing that they were like us, that they saw what we saw, and that they just wanted to know, specifically, how to get involved.”

Britta’s grandfather, whom she described on the first Kickstarter campaign as a “passionately environmental engineer/inventor,” helped influence her human-centric design ethos with his advice to create more user-inspired fixes to his generation’s removed and automated engineering techniques. This can be seen in her previous venture, R&DIY (research and design-it-yourself), which she launched with fellow NYU ITP graduate, Rebecca Bray. It serves as an open-source web platform for mass collaboration on physical systems. Being able to “see opportunities everywhere and to be choosy about where to execute” has served Britta and Windowfarms well; as a pioneer of the collaborative design movement and as a forerunner in urban farming advancements.

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View Profile: Jonathan Cedar, BioLite

September 26th, 2012 profiles Jonathan Cedar of Biolite. Check-out his profile, and look out for more innovator profiles coming out of SOCAP12 from

With BioLite’s newly available CampStove preordered well into summer, Jonathan Cedar sees the high demand as nothing shocking. “There was a desire for alternatives to petroleum fuel — gas can be constraining for campers.” Jonathan spent years developing a stove that uses thermoelectrics (the conversion of heat into electricity) to drive a flame-boosting fan, as well as any USB-powered device like a phone or light. “More and more people are carrying their electronics into the outdoors and don’t have great ways to recharge them,” Jonathan explains. “It’s hard to be out in the back-country traveling with these things.” Anyone who’s ever been camping can immediately see the draw, but add to it BioLite’s larger stoves for homes in developing countries it becomes all the more interesting.

It’s a response that mirrors the development of the product itself; Jonathan began with a solution to a recreational product and, while at the ETHOS Conference, discovered its potential for impact on a global scale. “That’s where we really had our eyes opened to the enormous need for reduced in-home air pollution,” Jonathan says.

A majority of the world’s harvested wood goes to cooking fires, which roughly one third of the global population still relies on. The smoke from these fires is the second leading cause of death worldwide; “I don’t think it was fully on our radar that two million people die [each year].” It was a revelation that shifted their mission; BioLite’s revenue from the CampStove helps support long-term development of their HomeStove, which reduces toxic wood smoke by about 95 percent. The stoves pay for themselves quickly, eradicating reliance on (and waste from) fuel sources and diminishing deforestation.

Jonathan began the project with his business partner, Alexander Drummand, while they both worked in product development for Smart Design. Eventually they left to devote themselves to their BioLite CampStove full time. “It’s very hard to get something off the ground from a part time [approach] and I think making that full-on commitment to dedicate all of our time and resources to seeing this through is what gave our investors the confidence to really stand by our work.”


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View Profile: Gary White,

September 19th, 2012 profiles Gary White, co-founder of Check-out his profile, and look out for more innovator profiles coming out of SOCAP12 from

​Worldwide, women and children spend a collective 200 million hours a day travelling to collect water, time they could better spend pursuing education or generating income. The fact that the collected water is often contaminated, contributing to more than 3.5 million deaths each year, and costs “three to four times more than for someone who isn’t poor,” adds up to a tragedy that Gary White is dedicated to banishing. “People are initially shocked by the fact that this problem exists and how huge it is,” Gary says.

“There has to be a better way,” Gary figured. Co-founder Matt Damon, who had became acutely aware of these water issues during a trip to Zambia, was similarly dedicated to the cause, leading him to Gary and the creation of While Matt’s celebrity status certainly boosts’s attention and prestige, his drive is authentic and he’s delved right in to become a development expert himself.

Gary states, “As a social entrepreneur, almost by definition, you have a different way of looking at the world, finding things that don’t make sense and trying to make sense of them.” Gary saw a way to shift the existing process of water collection by enlisting communities to develop and manage their own water projects, and offering micro-loans through WaterCredit for individual households.

This results in a community-owned investment that generates income for the locals, and which can benefit from the oversight of an established organization. Because women often bore the burden of water collection previously, ensures that women share in the ownership and decision-making of these cooperatives. The organization also provides information on sanitation and hygiene practices, greatly improving their health and survival rates.

Gary, who holds three degrees in Civic and Environmental Engineering, has worked alongside these communities at every step, doing everything from conducting academic research to pitching in on well construction. His awards and accolades are numerous; he was notably inducted into the Philanthropy World Hall of Fame in 2008.

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View Profile: Abby Falik, Global Citizen Year

September 13th, 2012 profiles Abby Falik, founder of Global Citizen Year. Check-out her profile, and look out for more innovator profiles coming out of SOCAP12 from

​ How does a country where most of its citizens have never traveled beyond its borders learn how to participate in a global community? Abby Falik believes it can happen through a full immersion in the developing world, re-imagining the transition between high school and college as an opportunity for students to gain the insight and experience they can’t get by staying at home. Insights which are actually key to “understanding” what it means to be American.

In recruiting for her bridge-year program, Global Citizen Year, Abby identifies a “diverse corps of motivated students” and through an intensive 9-month training program opens their eyes to the world of social innovation in a global context. Empathy, compassion and grit — characteristics that are key to being successful in college, careers and life — are not easily cultivated in a classroom. Instead, Global Citizen Year immerses young people in communities across Latin America, Africa and Asia for cultural training; media skills; apprenticeships in economic development, public health, the environment, or education; and a Re-Entry Transition when teenagers learn how to integrate their experiences into action at home.

The model for her organization stemmed from her desire to have had this kind of opportunity when she was 18. When Abby finished high school, she called the Peace Corps, but was told to “come back in four years,” so she cobbled together a journey of her own design in Brazil and Nicaragua, that turned out to be one of her most formative. Now she has the nation’s top universities listening. While many schools allow or even encourage a service bridge year, offering the equivalent of deferred enrollment, Abby has entered into a pilot program with The New School to jointly admit students to both, then return them to The New School with sophomore standing. It’s a powerful validation of the awareness and skills that Global Citizen Year instills in its participants.

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View Profile: Shivani Siroya, InVenture

September 5th, 2012 profiles Shivani Siroya, founder of InVenture. Check-out her profile, and look out for more innovator profiles coming out of SOCAP12 from, a SOCAP12 media partner.

While working internationally in investment banking, public health and microfinance, Shivani Siroya witnessed microfinance’s growing success, but recognized a flaw: it did little for long-term growth. Shivani set out to address the gap between micro-loans and traditional bank loans, as well as financial education, so a union of capital and accountability could unleash small businesses’ potential to lift their communities with them.

“Honestly, I wouldn’t call myself an entrepreneur – but by definition I guess that is what I am. I am most comfortable with the terms partner, teammate and creative problem solver.”

Founding InVenture, Shivani created opportunities for these fledgling businesses to grow, hire more employees and create local enduring economic expansion. She’s cornered a market niche, more akin to venture capital than microfinance, granting larger loans of up to $15,000 for entrepreneurs who have “graduated” from microfinance. This contrasts sharply with small micro-loans, which hold borrowers back with high interest rates, rigid payback structures and lack of guidance. InVenture’s loans are crowd-sourced, similar to the popular organization Kiva, while mobile tools and mentoring aim to transform those investments into lasting outcomes.

Shivani developed a SMS money management and risk mitigation tool, helping loan-seekers and lenders alike. Entrepreneurs can track revenue, household expenses and other financial information through their mobile phones. This cloud-stored data improves financial literacy, provides risk and investment information for licensed organizations and micro-lenders, and measures program impact researchers.

For Shivani, financial education is at the heart of her work. She spends a significant portion of her time in the developing countries InVenture serves, helping their Foundation’s fellows educate local entrepreneurs to make the best use of future loans. “Many times working on the ground can be challenging just because you need to find housing and connectivity for your team to get established,” she recalls. “These are some of things that make the daily work challenging, but once you can find some sense of a foundation then I think it’s the work that becomes challenging.”

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