My MBA Adventures in Social Enterprise
One Year Anniversary

I want to return from this long blogging hiatus with a few thank you’s:

First and foremost to the Society and Business Lab- Adlai, Abby, Janet, Deven, and all the others who help cultivate us Fellows and Scholars to become better business leaders. I speak for my cohort when I thank you for helping us get to where we want to be. We probably couldn’t have done it without you. I know that’s true for me. 

The next big thank you is for EcoMedia CBS, but especially for our founder Paul Polizzotto. Last year to the day, he came to Adlai’s Social Entrepreneurship class to share his wisdom, inspire us, and energize us to create new models for social innovation and impact. I chatted with him and Carla that night during the break and thus began my time here at EcoMedia.

Today Paul takes a break again from his crazy busy schedule to spend a few hours with students first at UC Santa Barbara’s Bren school of Environmental Science & Management in the afternoon and then back to USC for Adlai’s class, to inspire and educate a captive audience of MBA’s who are sure to leave tonight’s class as invigorated as I was last year.

RiverKids Trip to Cambodia

Not that things are slow here at EcoMedia, in fact quite the opposite. Big things are brewing but they’re still on the DL. I thought I’d go a different direction with this post and talk about the Marshall trip we took to Cambodia to help out an NGO.

If I had to pick three adjectives to describe Cambodia, they would be, hot, humid, and heartbreaking. A group of eight Marshall 2012 MBA’s, Alex O, Nick H, Rebecca J, Brandon L, Shank (the Tank), Ryan J, and SBL Fellow Kevin F, joined our Professor, Joseph Nunes, on a trip to Cambodia following PRIME to help out with RiverKids. They work to prevent child trafficking in some of the most high risk areas in the world (‘Like’ them on Facebook to see updates on an awesome undercover effort to curb prostitution and human trafficking).

Upon landing we were greeted with torrential downpour and flooded streets, apparently it was just another evening in Phnom Penh. The next morning we jumped right into an advocacy tour, which took us to the worst of the slums, be it the riverside shanty town with rotting wood foundations or the five story high “projects” where many prostitutes live out of subjection. The heartbreak far exceeded the heat and humidity that day. No matter where we were though the children were filled with excitement to see foreigners amongst them. They’d flash us the Fight On sign (formerly known as the peace sign) and never hesitate to tell us “hello” at least a dozen times. 

The following day was our first full one with the children of Riverkids. Virtually all come from families that are unstable due to addiction, divorce, abuse, and extreme poverty, leaving them at especially high risk to be trafficked. Our theme for the volunteer trip was photography, we raised enough money and donated cameras from fellow marshallites to take about 15 there with us. Our agenda was the following:

Photo Scavenger Hunt - We took them all around the city, luxury style, chauffered by our personal tuk-tuk drivers (these are open air carriages pulled by sub-150cc motorcyles). The kids had to find some tough items and take photos, stuff like ‘something wet but not water’ or ‘something green that rolls.’ We then compiled our picks of the best in terms of creativity, uniqueness, color, and other photography metrics and had the children select winners. We gave them random prizes we got from the grocery store the day before.

Photo Puzzles - This was more fun than I thought… for us and them. We printed photos of their’s ranging from simple or no geometric properties to a complex ones, pasted the photos to foam-boards and cut them into square pieced puzzles. They loved putting the puzzles together and some were really difficult. They liked it so much they asked us to make more and the following day we were far more efficient with our process; we had Georgia Tech and MIT educated foam board cutters who measured the cuts down to the exact millimeter. It was hectic doing so many things at once in that little 100 degree room. 

What’s that photo - This was another cool one, we took close ups of different objects in the center and also nearby outside. We asked them to try and figure out what the photos were taken of for a prize. Plenty of cheating went on here but it was all in good fun.

All in all we may not have had the monumental impact we were hoping for but simply making the center a more fun place for the kids will help in keeping them interested and coming back rather than on the streets with nothing to do. We really thank everyone who donated cameras or money. They were so happy to have all those cameras and promised us they’ll keep teaching the kids about photography and taking them out to take pictures. We were happy to help and also gain a better understanding of how tough it is out there. We certainly appreciate what we have more now. 

Decisions Decisions

Here’s an often faced dilemma here. Who to call first when we have money to give away because chances are we find our grantee fast, and rarely get past number 5 on the list. 

Each day I have to decide in which order to call these deserving causes like today, we have an advertiser in my hometown of Sacramento who’s making possible a $30,000 grant. I wanted to be point man on this one since I had a bit nostalgia for calling my old 916 area code. 

Trouble is there are too many places who deserve the money, I’ve helped out at WIND Youth Services, who does amazing work. My sister is interning at a children’s hospital who could definitely save on energy costs while saving the environment. And of course there are a number of Boys and Girls clubs who we love giving money to. 

I don’t think there’s an internal solution to our dilemma, there is however an external one. More EcoAd’s so we have more money to give toward environmental improvements so that eventually numbers 5, 6, 7…. on those lists get called. 

You can help make this happen by writing your local elected official and asking them to draft legislation to make all corporate advertising dollars go toward EcoAd’s. Then go into these places of business and demand that to continue your patronage you want to see them participate in the EcoAd program. Then start a blog touting the program and have 10 of your friends to the same, and their friends, and so on…. Let me know when you get to it all and I have a special treat for you! 

It feels good…

…to call a regional Boys and Girls Clubs and out of nowhere tell them that we want to give them free money to build an organic garden for the kids or better yet install solar panels on their roof.

I’m still met with shock over the phone from each branch office when I tell them the story, some don’t believe it, some thing I’m pushing advertising sales when I mention CBS, but all we’re doing is taking a portion of —————- advertiser’s money and giving it away to a worthy environmental cause. 

The toll that driving takes on our environment

Here’s what I learned today (skip to the last paragraph if the math is scary):

To obtain the grams of CO2 emitted per gallon of gasoline combusted, the heat content of the fuel per gallon (0.125 mmbtu/gallon average) is multiplied by the kg CO2 per heat content of the fuel (71.35 kg CO2/mmbtu average). 

Therefore, 0.125 mmbtu/gallon * 71.35 kg CO2/mmbtu * 1 metric ton/1,000 kg = 8.92*10-3 metric tons CO2 emitted/gallon of gasoline

So… 113 gallons of gas used = a metric ton of CO2 emissions. It’ll take TWENTY FIVE tree seedlings grown for 10 years to sequester just that one metric ton. Check the math, it’s all out there. That’s pretty scary.

Rewind

I just realized that I haven’t even mentioned what EcoMedia does… Sit down, and brace yourselves because this simple business model will blow your mind!

First, some background… EcoMedia’s founder, Paul grew up a surfer in the LA area. He and his buddies were bothered by the wastewater runoff that would make its way into their coastal waters so he started a social enterprise modeled after “Adopt-a-Highway” but for waterways. A company would pay for the publicity of adopting the waterway (like the highway signs you see) and with that money, Paul would fund clean up efforts. It was basically outdoor advertising that helped the environment. He ran with the idea and grew to sell other forms of advertising, eventually getting into reselling 30 second spots on TV and funding bigger and better projects. CBS saw the value in the idea and bought EcoMedia a couple years back. So now the 7 person team here does everything from source the advertisers, sell the ads, find the environmental projects, coordinate with the municipalities, see the projects through to completion, and even help with the advertiser’s PR campaign. So in a nutshell, companies are buying what they’d buy anyway (TV, Radio, Outdoor advertising) and beacuse it was bought through EcoMedia and CBS, a portion of their ad spend goes directly to an environmental project of their choosing, from solar PV installations to green retrofitting schools in their area. Mind blowing? No, mind BLASTING!

Day 1

You can’t beat working on the beach… you also can’t beat working for a place that makes a measurable positive impact on our environment. 

Day 1 is great. The big boss is in DC hobnobbing with politicos and media people. It’s only a seven person office and today there’s four of us. Already this is WAYYY better than being around skyscrapers and suits. With a small social enterprise like EcoMedia (ignore that they were acquired by CBS) everyone has to be a jack of all trades. I already have 12 projects on my plate starting on the first day and I have little idea where to begin on any of them. But as you would guess everyone is more than happy to help out.

I am definitely overdressed for the part in my button up and khakis, there are people with surfboards walking in front of my window, and I can hear the waves (I think). I could get used to this. I guess a do-gooder MBA needs some perks to make up for missing out on the consulting and IB salaries.

That’s about it for the first day. Mostly familiarizing myself. Will report back once the real stuff begins. 

The fun starts today… I was welcomed by a beautiful beachfront scene as I drove to my first day at EcoMedia. 

The fun starts today… I was welcomed by a beautiful beachfront scene as I drove to my first day at EcoMedia.