Thursday, September 5, 2013

Points-based supermarket tackles unemployment in Italy

London’s The People’s Supermarket is one example of a grocery store that offers lower prices in exchange for a few hours work each month. Now the Portobello supermarket in Italy is hoping to use the business model to tackle unemployment and poverty in an area struck by the credit crisis. Unemployment in Italy has peaked in recent months, even reaching a 20-year high of 11.7 percent in January. Such figures have a detrimental effect on local governments as the number of families relying on benefits rises. The Social Services of the City of Modena – in collaboration with the Association for Voluntary Services Modena – has launched the Portobello emporium, which is fitted out in much the same way as a typical grocery store. However, each item is assigned a value in points, rather than Euros, which are issued to local residents after means testing, according to their individual or family situation. The most needy are entitled to a greater number of points to spend. Participants in the scheme are also required – if they’re able – to volunteer at the supermarket or other projects in Modena. This way, community members can help each other and themselves to improve their quality of life by directly working for the sustenance and home goods they receive as benefit from the local government. Working Modena residents can also help out by donating money or grocery products to the scheme, or volunteering their own time. The Portobello supermarket provides a central space for unemployed and poor residents in Italy to both contribute and benefit, while local governments ensure that their welfare remunerations are used for items necessary to live, rather than squandered. As Italy isn’t the only country suffering from high unemployment rates at the moment – especially in Europe – could local authorities in your part of the world implement a similar scheme?

From Kenya, robust, mobile ‘brick’ provides internet access when the internet is down

While slimline routers and ultra-thin batteries may be suitable for urban environments where mains electricity and wifi hotspots are in abundance, it’s not the same in rural Africa. We recently covered the rough-and-ready eChaja kit, providing solar-powered device charging for remote areas, and now the BRCK aims to keep Africans connected even when the power turns off and the internet drops out. Created by Kenya-based nonprofit tech startup Ushahidi, the device is designed to be used in tough conditions and takes the form of a rugged metal brick. BRCK is essentially a modem that is able to connect up to 20 devices at a time and seamlessly switch between wifi, 3G, 4G and Ethernet connections automatically, depending on what signals are available. In moments of very low connectivity, BRCK uses the best available source to provide uninterrupted internet usage. Even if there’s a power blackout, the device comes with a battery that provides up to eight hours of use that is automatically activated when the AC is disconnected. BRCK also offers users an interface accessible from their devices, providing data about signal, usage and performance, as well as management of the network.


Google Street View has attempted to provide images of the majority of the roads in many countries, but Netherlands-based Cyclodeo arguably has a bigger ambition – to document video of the world’s cycling routes. Having already started work covering Copenhagen, Eindhoven and New York, the site recently enabled its users to explore Amsterdam, the cycling capital of the world.


Dating sites have transformed the way that potential partners with similar interests meet, so exploreB2B set out to do the same for businesses, through content publishing. Originally conceived for German users, the Berlin-based startup launched internationally last year, adding premium functions for paid users. CEO Jonathan Gebauer is this year on the judging panel for the BIG Awards 2013, which recognizes talent in the business world.


A big part of any education professional’s job is the administration that goes into ensuring they’re reaching their targets. Kickboard has been helping teachers and principals better analyze their students’ behavior, grades and attendance since we wrote about the startup 18 months ago. The company won the Coulter Challenge IDEAPitch competition in 2012 and is also now receiving mentoring from Jim Coulter, co-founder of private equity firm TPG. Kickboard has been announced as one of the companies chosen to take part in talent training programs run by Education Pioneers.


Another site taking advantage of the crowds to help fledgling creators is New York-based Pubslush, whose crowdfunding platform not only helps upcoming authors get their books funded, but also adds a charitable element by fighting illiteracy in the developing world. Pubslush has made the process of getting a book into bookstores more open – it no longer acts as the sole publisher, but still offers learning opportunities to help successful users market their work once it’s been funded. Having partnered with the San Francisco Bay charity ParentsPlace to take advantage of their expertise in promoting literacy at home, Pubslush is also adding more strings to its social bow. This year, it has plans to expand into Brazil.


Going it alone when attempting to bring a new idea to market can be tough, and might not even be the best option – social ideation platform AHHHA certainly doesn’t think so. Since we covered the site in 2011, it has helped several products – such as the Sleeper Sleeve and the PinPoint app – undergo finetuning with help from the crowds before launching successfully. The platform has also struck up a partnership with UK-based Creative Barcode to give users greater protection over their intellectual property.