Winners Update: Nuru Energy and Twin Cities RISE!
By: Julie Vennewitz-Pierce
At this time a year ago, we announced the 15 semi-finalists of our Powering Economic Opportunity: Create a World that works competition. Now, twelve months after identifying and supporting their innovative solutions, we’re taking a look at what our winners have been up to and what great things the competition has propelled them to do. In today’s post we’ll explore the two organizations pursuing new models for financing their work, Nuru Energy and Twin Cities RISE!.
Founded by Sameer Hajee, you’ll remember Nuru Energy is simultaneously enabling people in East Africa and rural India to operate their own microfranchises and addressing the energy poverty issue in these regions. Not only were we impressed with the multiple benefits Nuru was driving across economic, environmental and health issues, but we were also excited by the work the organization has been doing to finance and sustain its model. Through innovations such as pay-as-you-go energy credits and carbon credit agreements with the likes of Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Nuru is weaning itself away from increasingly scarce and competitive grant funding, and ensuring that the organization will drive positive social impact for a long time to come.
With certainty in funding and the recognition of the Powering Economic Opportunity competition in hand, Nuru has focused much of the last year on scaling up and spreading the model. Speaking to us from South Africa, where he had just moved a week prior, Sameer described the significant growth Nuru has experienced over the past year. He said, “It’s been a busy year. We just expanded into Tanzania and we’re looking at going into some other markets soon. Last year at this time, we had 70 entrepreneurs and now we have 330, with more every month.” And Nuru won’t be stopping anytime soon. Sameer hopes the organization will have 10,000 entrepreneurs and over 1 million lights distributed by 2016 in East Africa alone—all while offering new products that can be recharged off its platform and leveraging its ever-expanding rural entrepreneur network to distribute products into otherwise hard-to-reach areas. As they move forward, Sameer says he will point to the competition and the support from eBay and Ashoka as a powerful endorsement of the Nuru organization and the impact it is continuing to drive.
Twin Cities RISE! has also been busy. Another funding model innovator, you’ll recall the organization has been advancing a groundbreaking “pay-for-performance” program that puts Minnesota citizens back to work and breaks the cycle of poverty, while also generating staggering returns on investment. Twin Cities RISE! has been able to produce such strong returns for the State of Minnesota by consistently proving to be a powerful solution for economic development—the organization’s programs not only enable increased incomes, but also long-term job retention (measurements that are meticulously recorded and tracked for each participant). In turn, Twin Cities RISE! has taken its place as a case example for how social entrepreneurs and governments can collaborate to drive deep social impact.
We were certainly impressed, but we’ve become even more excited by the organization’s progress over the past year. Shortly after the competition, the State of Minnesota rolled out a pilot for workforce development programs; Twin Cities RISE! was one of only five organizations selected to receive the highest level of funding ($300,000) and was the only one with a pay-for-performance model. The organization was also chosen as one of nine grant winners nationwide (and the only recipient from Minnesota) for funding from the U.S. Department of Labor for comprehensive assistance for female ex-offenders. Not only this, but as a result of all the awards and recognition of the Twin Cities RISE! model over the past year, other states are also looking to the organization for guidance on their own workforce development and pay-for-performance efforts.
Despite this success, the organization remains focused on all that remains to be done. In our conversation with President & CEO Art Berman, he said, “Minneapolis-St. Paul still has the highest employment disparity between whites and blacks, and we are seeing an increasing number of participants with criminal and drug histories and mental health disorders… It just illustrates the challenges we are up against and the need for our work.” The Twin Cities RISE! model is an innovative solution, and we have no doubt it will continue to have powerful impact.
We’ve been pleased with the progress of both Nuru Energy and Twin Cities RISE!, and we look forward to all that is yet to come. While we don’t take credit for any of the incredible successes they have had over the past year, we are so excited to have been a part of their ongoing development. Next week we’ll share some more updates from our other winners. Stay tuned!