Spark Ventures

Achieving and Creating New Goals -- Lessons from GPS 2016

By: Grace
Grace participated in Allowance for Good's 2016 Global Philanthropy Summit in June. 

My overall experience with the Global Philanthropy Summit (GPS) was amazing! It was the first time that I had done anything with Allowance for Good. It was truly an eye opening experience that I will never forget. The amount of knowledge that I was able to obtain while attending GPS was unimaginable. The main focus was philanthropy. Before this Summit, I had never really thought about the meaning of philanthropy. To put it into my own words, I would define it as having a passion for mankind and giving back to the community. Philanthropy in no way means that you or someone else has to donate money. To be a philanthropist, I believe that you must feel some kind of internal reward and know that you have had a positive impact on a community.

One goal I had going into the Global Philanthropy Summit was to gain more knowledge on nonprofits and how they run/work. I currently volunteer at a museum in my hometown of Alpena, Michigan and even though I spend numerous hours there, I never thought about how they get the money to run multiple events throughout the year. To get an inside look at how they achieve this goal was my first priority when entering this program. I ended up achieving that goal when we met with Spark Ventures on the first day of GPS. Our presenter explained to us how they raised the money for the programs they run in other countries outside of the United States. I was inspired by Spark Ventures because it was a combination of my two passions: giving back and traveling.

One goal I had leaving the Global Philanthropy Summit was to think of new and innovative ways that I could give back to my community. That may be through school or just on my own time. Another goal I had was to keep in touch with presenters or representatives of the organizations or companies that we visited. At Groupon, one of the presenters, Parth, made it very clear that it was essential to stay in touch and make connections with people that you meet so that you can create future opportunities for yourself and your career. To achieve this goal, I made a LinkedIn and e-mailed multiple people that we met with during GPS. Since reaching out, I have gotten responses and feedback from all of them. You really have nothing to lose.

Overall, I couldn’t be more supportive of future students who decide to or have thought about being a part of Allowance for Good and the Global Philanthropy Summit. The vast amount of knowledge and connections you can make while attending GPS are never ending. It opens you up to a whole new world, and possible career field.

Learning Philanthropy -- Lessons from GPS 2016

By: Aarthi
Aarthi particpated in Allowance for Good's 2016 Global Philanthropy Summit in June. 

This was my first time learning and working with an organization like Allowance for Good. The Global Philanthropy Summit (GPS) was a memorable experience. It was just amazing! I met so many new people, learned about different businesses, and about how those businesses incorporate philanthropy in their work. When I first heard of philanthropy, I just thought it was helping people and volunteering. However, philanthropy is so much more involved. Philanthropy is the ways we use our time, ties, treasure, and talent to support and be involved in local and global issues. The one week camp gave me a clearer insight on how much I can do to help a society, group, or individual on a long-term basis. So many people volunteer, but it truly makes a difference if they stick with that one charity for five, ten, or more years. It shows commitment and true love for helping others.

A group of students brainstorm as they work on their final presentations
During the first day at GPS, I was so surprised with the first presenter, Spark Ventures. I was surprised in a good way because I never knew that people like Arnold create businesses solely to help a community. I have heard of FMSC and other organizations, but not one where people can actually interact with the people they are helping. The moment I heard about this, I took note to ask my family if we can go on a trip with Spark Ventures. That is the effect GPS had on me. It made me get up and actually want to do something. It was so convincing and cool to travel to help others. I felt like I actually had the power and resources to help someone on my own that is out of my reach. That feeling was truly unbelievable.

On the last day of camp, we heard from an organization called VING. VING makes $1,000 grants to teens who want to give the money to a person they know is in need of the money. They submit a video of themselves talking about the person in need and why they deserve a VING. This grant would be truly life changing for someone. It would give them a confidence boost and allow them to support themselves (or their family). When I got home, I started working on a VING right away. I thought it was an amazing opportunity that I as a teenager could help someone I know. Most teenagers don’t have the power or resources to do this, but I did with VING. I was so thrilled to submit my video and be able to help someone. I felt like I was really going to make a difference in someone else’s life and that feeling was great.

This is all what philanthropy is about. GPS allowed me to be a philanthropist. I would really like to thank them for this opportunity and giving me so many ideas to help others.

One goal I had going into GPS was to become more knowledgeable on what I can do in the future to help with charity and volunteering. I achieved that goal when I learned about Spark Ventures, business philanthropy, and non profit foundations. There are so many opportunities for me and you to help people locally and internationally. We all just have to take up those opportunities or start new ones.

My big takeaway from GPS is that everyone should think about helping others. Even if someone isn’t in a position to help someone else, they can at least think about ideas to help others in need. Every little action a person does can make a big impact on the world. If every person (who is in the position to volunteer) does just one hour of service, we would have over a million hours of service! Every hour counts and everyone’s time counts. I would recommend GPS to everyone who loves philanthropy, has a business mind, or wants to learn more about charity, philanthropy, and different types of foundations and businesses. Thank you again GPS! I was on cloud 9 with my experience!

Kicking the Soccer Ball towards a Better Future

By: Madeleine
Madeleine was a participant in Allowance for Good's 2015 Global Philanthropy Summit. She is now partnering with AYSO and one of our Global Affiliates, Spark Ventures, to provide soccer supplies for children in Zambia and Nicaragua. To donate to her project please check out her Go Fund Me page.

Soccer can reach across language barriers.
Hi! My name is Madeleine Beirne and I attended the venture philanthropy GPS program this summer. Through the AfG program, I was able to meet an amazing organization called Spark Ventures, that helps communities in Zambia and Nicaragua create thriving businesses, and introduce myself to Lucy Jodlowska and Arnold Duijzer, who encouraged the group to help think of games and activities that the children (in Zambia and Nicaragua) and the people coming with Spark Ventures could participate in to help introduce themselves and learn from each other. We were aware that there were both language and age barriers between the children and the people with Spark Ventures, so one of the main activities that the group could participate in easily was soccer, which is wildly popular in both places.

Before the AfG program, my dad and I had spoken about the idea to partner with AYSO, the national soccer league in America, and start a donation drive where AYSO participants would be able to donate their old jerseys, uniforms, cleats, and soccer equipment. One of the main things I was trying to figure out, however, was what organization to donate them to. While trying to brainstorm ideas for Spark Ventures, I realized that this would be a perfect opportunity to connect this idea with Spark Ventures and see if they would be interested in the donations.
Maddie, on right, at AfG's Global Philanthropy Summit.
Through AfG, I was able to connect with Lucy and figure out the details of the soccer uniform donation drive. One of the main things that I took away from the AfG program was how important youth driven philanthropy is, both to our world and to future generations. AfG helped me make connections with organizations and people, and it made me realize that, as youth, we have the power to inspire and help others.

With the amazing support and cooperation of AYSO, the American Youth Soccer Organization, my dad and I were able to set up a tent at the AYSO lakefront soccer fields and collect old soccer uniforms and equipment from AYSO participants, which we will be doing every Saturday for a couple of weeks. Amazingly, we were able to collect hundreds of uniforms, cleats, socks, soccer balls, and other equipment on just the first day. This equipment will be going to children in Nicaragua and Zambia, the two locations where Spark Ventures has helped create thriving businesses in, and it will be shipped there within a couple weeks. We are dividing the uniforms into teams so that the children in both locations are able to form teams and create a smaller soccer league, that even the Spark Ventures visitors can participate in!
Some of the soccer uniforms Madeleine has collected.

Because we have a multitude of equipment to ship to both of these locations, I have started a go fund me page, where people can donate to help us ship the soccer supplies to Zambia and Nicaragua. If you can, a donation would be greatly appreciated and accepted! The link for the page is:

We didn’t have an initial goal for the project, but Spark Ventures needs around 170 uniforms and an assortment of other soccer equipment, which we’ve already exceeded this goal and have collected hundreds of uniforms already!  This project has taught me a lot about youth driven philanthropy, and how much power the youth have in our community. AfG has taught me the value of not only service and giving back to the community, but also the value of connecting with people and utilizing the resources that are available to me. For young people like me, I would encourage you to utilize the resources around you and make connections with people that will inspire you to inspire others. Thank you AfG and Spark Ventures!

Multigenerational, International, Experiential Journey

By: Jeanne
Jeanne was a traveler on the Allowance for Good / Spark Ventures trip to Nicaragua this August. 

During one of our trip participant dinners in Leon, Nicaragua, Jeanne, a 43 year-old, mother of two shares, “I have done some reading and studying about Nicaragua since my last visit.” The unexpected reply, “I love to read about history. I read about Nicaragua too! It was a wonderful book, called The Jaguar Smile: A Nicaraguan Journey by Salman Rushdie,” says Nina, 14 year-old member of Allowance for Good. I, Jeanne, sat back, amazed that this young woman has read this book. Amazed that she has chosen to take the time to prepare herself for her first experience with global philanthropy.  This was just one piece of the tapestry of conversations that I would have, as we traveled with the youth group, Allowance for Good.

My husband, Jeff, and I have been Spark Ventures investors for many years.  In 2013, we travelled to León, Nicaragua to see and participate in the work that Spark has been doing at a grassroots level.  What we saw stunned and changed us in so many ways during that trip and for the months to come. Soon after our return, we decided that we would bring our boys, Luc (12) and Ben (9), back with us some day.

We were committed to the idea that we must raise global citizens. That we had to challenge our children to step away from their day to day lives, look up from the screens and frankly, out of their comfort zone.  How can we make the world better if don’t truly experience many of the cultures, people and perspectives that make up our mosaic called Earth? 

Early in 2014, we heard that Spark would be partnering with another philanthropy on the next trip to Nicaragua, a group that worked with teenagers in the areas of leadership and philanthropy. While 10 months was a bit faster than we had planned, we decided this was our opportunity and the group to share our family experience with, down in León. 

Being in a completely different country, with a different socioeconomic environment, speaking a different language, eating different food, hearing different music and doing it all in a very different climate, can be unsettling.  The closer it drew the more we went through our concerns.  We didn’t know how our children would react.  We weren’t sure how the other group would either.  Would we and/or our children be welcomed or simple tolerated?  Will they befriend our boys or think them too young to bother with on this trip?  As it turns out, everyone exceeded even our highest expectations.

You see, these are not your normal teenagers, enamored with Disney, Xbox and the multitude of burgeoning social media tools.  Remember that Rushdie novel Nina mentioned? It was just the first of many pleasant and impressive surprises they had up their sleeves. Spending time with Allowance for Good and the five youths that we had the honor to accompany on this trip was, frankly, an inspiration to us as parents with children just a few short years behind the AfG youths. 

There was Turner, age 15, he came with an open mind and heart to everything that was happening around him.  When matched up with children who couldn’t speak English, he kept smiling, made up a game and in no time had a shy little child at Las Tias laughing and happy.  And Turner, well, he has a plan.  A sophomore in high school already thinking about what he wants to be, where to go to college, what that means to his family and maybe win a few more diving medals in the process.  Turner participates, he is present, he wants to learn about everything and everyone.  And how was he with our boys?  Well let’s just say that our son Luc is begging us to let him head out to Africa with Turner next summer, so that they can continue their journey of friendship and immersing themselves in global philanthropy.  And there are so many other moments, memories and stories of how each of the teens made an impression that will stay with us for the rest of our lives.

It was very clear to Jeff and I how lucky we were to have our children spending time with and learning from our AfG companions.  They are not the teenagers who move quickly away from something new and uncomfortable, or find their friends to avoid being part of the community.  They engage, they learn, they teach and they are infinitely interested in growing.

Isn’t this what it’s all about?  Our world is getting smaller, true. But it can also be more isolating. Social media gives young people windows to the world in ways that were never before possible.  Yet, Nina, Turner, Nicky, Orleana and Sylvana, that just isn’t enough for them. They are not content watching from the sidelines, or watching a video of someone else creating an experience. They wanted to a part of every moment we had with the women and children of Las Tías. To learn and grow EVERY single day. It wouldn’t have been the same trip without them.  We are blessed for having spent that time with them, they were a part of OUR learning and growth experiences, as well as our children’s.

It’s a tradition on these trips to share your experience with the other participants at the final group dinner.  Well, AfG was already doing that in their daily Reflection sessions.  We were just blown away how deeply these teens were thinking about the experience, how to build on it, how to integrate these thoughts and feelings into their development.  And at that final dinner, their thoughtfulness, maturity and character was on full display.  We’d heard from our peers during the other trip and spoken with many that had visited Spark partners in Zambia and Nicaragua.  And these teens were just as self-aware, had grown just much, and were developing plans on how to continue on their philanthropic life journey.

Keep your eye on these kids, help them if you can and they will ‘help’ you in ways you hadn’t thought possible.  These are the youths that will help us evolve as a global community.  The kind that will lead their generation and others, into the future and do it for the betterment of ALL of us. 

Jeanne, right, presents Las Tías with educational materials for their students.

Reflections on Reciprocity

By: Karin Scott
Karin Scott is the Program Manager at Allowance for Good. She recently returned from traveling with Spark Ventures and Allowance for Good youth to Nicaragua. Karin wrote these reflections on day 3 of the trip, and agreed to share them here on our blog.

Together we can connect on a common human level by sharing simple words, smiles, high fives, and laughter.

As our Spark Ventures and Allowance for Good travelers reflected on their second day at Las Tías we were asked to finish the phrase “Together we…” My chosen phrase stems from my connection with my partner, Muriel. Muriel is a bright, big-hearted, eight-year-old girl who I have spent my mornings with at Las Tías.

My two mornings with Muriel have involved simple words, smiles, hugs, and lots of high fives. Through the exchange of “hola”, “que linda”, and “muy bien” we learned our ages, favorite school subject, preferred colors, and future aspirations. We drew pictures, played math flashcards, and tossed a frisbee countless times. In our few hours of interaction we have probably exchanged the same short phrases dozens of times. I point and say a word in English, and ask “en español?” She responds with the Spanish equivalent, and so it goes. But with each repeated phrase comes another smile, another high five, increased trust, and reciprocity.

Our interactions have been short and simple. But on the second day when Muriel greeted me with a hug, a smile, and a loud “Hola!” I felt like in some small way, we had reached reciprocity. We have exchanged languages, games, and laughs for our mutual benefit. My hope is that we have benefitted in equal ways, that Muriel week was brighter because I was a part of it, as I know my short time with her has opened my eyes and shifted my perspectives in new, challenging, and hopeful ways.

My connection with Muriel opened my eyes to the ways in which we can connect on a common human level, beyond the use of language. I was amazed by the way we were able to communicate with each other by only sharing a few words. During my second day with Muriel, I was pleasantly surprised by how much she wanted to spend time to me. The shyness of yesterday melted away into a budding friendship. As a fellow trip participant so accurately stated, “You are only a stranger once.” Muriel, and the other children of Las Tías, will forever remain in my heart.

Karin and Muriel at Las Tías.