Category Archives: Economy

Making Changes: Block by Block

New Grantee: The BLK ProjeK


Although the Hunts Point Cooperative Market in the South Bronx is one of the largest food distribution centers in the world, many of its neighbors are without access to quality, healthy food. The median annual income in the South Bronx is $19,113, and good groceries are sparse.

The BLK ProjeK was born out of the frustrations of one such inhabitant: Tanya Fields. Tanya was a poor, single mother who moved to the South Bronx and found her asthmatic child struggling with the pollution generated by the hundreds of thousands of semis that deliver food to Hunts Point every year.

The struggles of her son led Tanya to think increasingly more about environmental justice. She began drawing connections between the unhealthy urban environments in which poor people lived, and the unhealthy food available to them. She also, naturally, began drawing connections between the unhealthy food available to poor urban communities, and the women who serve that food to their families. Tanya realized that poverty has a feminine face.

In order to tackle the insufficient access to healthy food in the South Bronx, Tanya consequently turned to mothers. She starting small, facilitating “Mommy & Me” classes in order to educate mothers about nutrition. In 2009, her efforts expanded beyond the classroom to the garden, and the BLK ProjeK was born.

The women of BLK ProjeK were guerilla gardeners from the outset. They broke into abandoned lots in the South Bronx and planted vegetables. They created a groundswell, compelling more than 200 residents to petition and telephone the Housing Preservation and Development of NYC, demanding that the city allow the BLK ProjeK to turn one of those lots into an urban farm. Eventually their demands were heard, and that lot became the Libertad Urban Farm. In order to deliver produce from the Libertad Urban Farm to their community, the women of the BLK ProjeK then renovated an old school bus, turning it into a beautiful mobile market running exclusively on used vegetable oil.

But Tanya and the BLK ProjeK have their sights set higher still. They want the South Bronx to be able to feed itself. They want to change the economic and political landscape of the community by creating local jobs and promoting municipal participation. And women remain the catalyst in all this. The BLK ProjeK is driven by its firm belief in the “girl effect” – the notion that investing in women and women-led efforts is the most effective way to promote social change. Women plant the seeds of physical and fiscal health in every community.

In order to support the BLK ProjeK, the Spark grant will:

  • Provide funds for the growth and sale of produce from the Libertad Urban Farm
  • Provide stipends for volunteer farmers
  • Promote community outreach in order to encourage participation in the Libertad Urban Farm, as well as the farm’s CSA

And source the following Pro Bono needs:

  • Web Design

If you would like to support Spark’s fundraising efforts for The BLK ProjeK, you can make a donation on Spark’s website. If you are interested in providing pro bono services for them, please email

We are thrilled to support this wonderful organization. Visit BLK ProjeK’s website to learn more.

CWEN: Cultivating Women Entrepreneurs

New Grantee: Community Women’s Enterprise Network (CWEN)

By Spark Fellow Kendra Hyett

Uganda was described as “the pearl of Africa,” by Winston Churchill, referring to the country’s natural beauty, rich landscapes, and good climate. But unfortunately, as The Foundation for Sustainable Development reports, “the country currently ranks as one of the 20 poorest nations in the world and 50% of the population lives below the poverty line.” The majority of the population lacks basic resources and infrastructure from running water to health care and education and now 1 million citizens are infected with HIV/AIDS.


Women in Uganda face even more health risks and employment barriers as they are at greater risk of HIV/AIDS infection, face lower social status than men, and lack economic self-sufficiency. For most women, this reduces their access to education, power to act independently, ability to avoid poverty, and their power to escape reliance upon abusive men.

Facing these discriminations, risks, and barriers to controlling their own livelihood, women in Uganda are in desperate need of new and innovative opportunities. Community Women’s Enterprise Network (CWEN) was created to do just that.

CWEN was founded in 2012 by a group of passionate young women looking for new opportunities for women in their communities. The young women were selected by their own communities in the districts of Kampala, Mukono, and Wakiso to run the organization. Now, only a few years later, they have a network of 220 low-income women entrepreneurs. CWEN’s mission is to build the entrepreneurial capacity of women to overcome economic and social barriers and achieve self-sufficiency. Their programs focus on micro lending and value chain development for women entrepreneurs, plus social research and impact measurement. Their proposed project, Women on the Shelf, aims to help low income, high potential women entrepreneurs gain shelf space in leading local and regional stores and get their products flying off the shelves. Women on the Shelf focuses on cultivating and strengthening the capacity of women food entrepreneurs and other products through branding, packaging, marketing, merchandising and promotions so products will fetch higher prices, doubling incomes for women producers and expanding their markets locally and globally.

A Spark grant will cover:

  • Support for 41 low-income, high potential female entrepreneurs through CWEN’s Women on the Shelf project.
    • This support includes: branding, packaging, marketing, and merchandising their products; project team staffing, transportation, plus monitoring and evaluation costs.
  • CWEN is looking for website and marketing guidance. If you’d like to be the one to provide pro bono support, please contact us.

If you would like to support Spark’s fundraising efforts for CWEN, you can make a donation on Spark’s website. We would also love to hear from you if you are interested in providing pro bono services: email We are very excited to support this wonderful organization! Visit CWEN’s Website to learn more.

Why Smart Girls are Scary, The Confidence Gap, and Abortion Debates Heat Up

Nicholas Kristof weighs in on why terrorists fear smart girls, Europe and Chile spark new abortion law debates, girls take change into their own hands in Guatemala, why “leaning in” isn’t enough, and the realities of American life for low-income mothers. This is your Spark News Digest.

Read, Discuss, Share.

By Spark Fellow: Kendra Hyett



GLOBAL EDUCATION: What’s So Scary About Smart Girls?

As the devastating abduction of over 200 Nigerian school girls continues to make international headlines, the biggest question is why innocent girls were targeted by extremist terrorists. New York Times journalist and human rights advocate Nicholas Kristof weighs in: they did not target army barracks, police or drone bases because their worst nightmare is actually educated girls – the most powerful, burgeoning force to transform society.



GLOBAL HEALTH: Abortion Law Debates Heat Up

The reproductive rights war wages on around the world. A religious-backed campaign threatens the use of European aid money to back any programs supporting abortion.


Meanwhile in South America, reproductive rights are moving forward. In Chile, the ban on abortion – even when a woman’s life is at risk – will soon be reconsidered.



WORKPLACE RIGHTS: Leaning In with Nothing to Lean On

Much like the “quit telling women to smile” campaign, The Shriver Report author Valerie Young is saying, “quit telling women low self-confidence is all that’s holding them back.” With the recent publication of The Confidence Code, following up on the basic principles of Lean In that women are holding themselves back by not going for a promotion or raise as many men do, there’s been a lot of talk about where to draw the line. How much women are holding themselves back vs. how much needs to be changed in the workplace to meet hard-working women part-way?



ECONOMY: The State of Low-Income Mothers in the U.S.

Being a parent is one of the toughest jobs around, but what does that really mean for low-income families? The National Women’s Law Center takes a look via an interactive map at the realities for mothers in the U.S. working in low-wage jobs.



FILM: Storytelling Power!

Recently premiered docu-drama “¡PODER!”  shows how two Guatemalan girls take power into their own hands to find creative ways of change in their own communities. Get an inside look at the creation of this innovative short film and the amazing nonprofit organizations behind it.


A Tipping Point

A Tipping Point: Raise the Minimum Wage

By Larkin Callaghan

Living Off Tips Graphic

This Valentine’s Day I spent a great evening with two dear friends at a restaurant we had all wanted to try. The food was delicious, the service was on point, and come the end of the night, we all felt pretty pleased with our evening. Then came the bill and the standard dividing and signing happened –

“How much are you guys leaving for tip?”

One of my friends queried, as someone usually does at this point. What usually happens is that 20 – 25% is tallied, we sign, and off we go. Because of the frantic pace of this particular holiday’s dining room, I added a few extra bucks to my total and we slipped away.

This particular Valentine’s Day, no doubt one of the influences for my (and my friends’) bumping up in tip was that the day before – to significantly less….fanfare, shall we say, from most of the media – was the National Day of Action, sponsored by Restaurant Opportunities United, meant to raise awareness of the difficulties faced by workers surviving on hourly wages and tips. This fantastic organization is doing essential work and creating a mobilizing force around the issue of raising the minimum wage.

When you look at the figures – a federally declared amount of $7.25 an hour – it is staggering to think how one might survive on wages of that size, much less in a city like ours, frequently deemed one of the most expensive places in…the…world. And for those serving us in our favorite restaurants, the situation is even direr. With those working in jobs in which a significant amount of their income is garnered from tips, the guaranteed minimum wage is a mind-boggling $2.13 an hour. That is not a typo. $2.13! This limit was set twenty years ago. As in, the ‘90s.

Interested in some other facts? 6 out of ten of the lowest paying jobs in the States are in restaurants. And since Spark members are always interested in the gender disparity – 70 percent of tipped restaurant workers are women.

An argument against raising the minimum wage to a livable standard would seem hard to come by, considering that a full-time hourly worker only rakes in $15,080 a year. Luckily we have a governor who supports raising the wages of our hourly and tipped workers, but this still needs momentum to spread. (Fortunately, it seems that the issue is gaining more national traction – Rolling Stone even delved into it in their latest issue, in a comprehensive article detailing the political warfare around this issue, a piece that I highly recommend.)

So what can we do as consumers? Those few extra dollars I left on Valentine’s Day have a nearly insignificant impact once tips are divided among the staff and it’s likely balanced out by someone under-tipping – so while it’s nice to do, and I certainly applaud it, something needs to change on a much bigger scale.

Luckily, folks in the big house (of Reps) agree! A couple weeks ago, the House of Representatives launched a discharge petitions to force a vote on the Fair Minimum Wage Act, which would raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour by 2015. That isn’t even as high as the minimum wage would be today if it had kept up with inflation (it would be $10.74 in that case). Of the 30 million folks who would receive a raise across industries, 56 percent are women, and nearly half are workers of color.

Here are some things we can do to help –

Everyone deserves a fair wage. No one should have to rely on someone’s holiday bump in tips to survive.


A Punk Prayer, Facebook Gender Options, and Surfing The Wage Gap

One Billion Rising dances to end violence against women and girls, Pussy Riot Members Arrested in Sochi, Ways To Squash The Wage Gap, and Facebook Expands Gender Options but not Gendered Ad Targeting. This is your Spark News Digest.

Read, Discuss, Share.

By Spark Fellow: Kendra Hyett



HUMAN RIGHTS: Behind The Music – Pussy Riot’s Fight For Justice

The music must play on. Pussy Riot members recently released from prison forged forward to hold a Pussy Riot action in Sochi, only to be detained repeatedly by police without any excuse at all. While the police action continued, so did the press as the incidents became a media sensation.


In an opinion piece, Pussy Riot member Maria Alyokhina expounds upon the Olympics’ “deceptive face,” and arrests of multiple groups showing support for the L.G.B.T. community.



WOMEN’S RIGHTS: Rise Up For One Billion

One Billion Rising is a global campaign started by the V Day Movement demanding an end to violence against women and girls. Why One Billion Rising? Because one in three women in the world will be abused in her lifetime. ONE. BILLION. On February 14th, thousands gathered in cities around the world to dance, share stories, and promote justice for women and girls. Check out the local San Francisco news coverage and coverage of one of the many NYC events.



TECHNOLOGY: Cheers for Gender Options or Jeers For Wrinkle Cream Ads?

Facebook expands their gender options from only male and female to include 50+ gender descriptions. Is this the right step toward inclusion, or would it be a better step to remove gender entirely to spare us from sexist gender-target ads like weight loss and wrinkle cream?



GLOBAL HEALTH: India’s Next Generation Takes A Stand

A new generation of girls is emerging in India: girls ready to demand safety, education, and their right to the same opportunities as men. While traditions like forced marriage continue, with innovative opportunities and platforms like Pathways, an organization educating youth on basic reproductive and sexual health, girls are finding ways to make change in their lives and communities.



ECONOMY: Pay It Forward To Yourself

It’s one thing to be informed by Lean In about the current existence of the gender wage gap. It’s another thing to know what to do about it in your life. Find out what an employment attorney says you can do if you think you’re not being paid fairly.


Unraveling the Ribbon: Pinkwashing Away the Real Issues of Breast Cancer

October is colored pink. From football to cosmetics, good intentions get devoured by cause marking. This is your Spark News Digest, this week devoted to the Pink Ribbon and Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Read, Discuss, Share.

Pink Ribbon Gun

Authored By Spark Fellow: Linn Hellerstrom


POLITICS: Annual Mammograms & The Feel Good War

True or False: The awareness and availability of annual screenings is a Breast Cancer victory. The truth is unclear. Writer Peggy Orenstein, author of Cinderella Ate My Daughter, shares her research and searing insights as a cancer survivor into the limits of screening and the dangers of over treatment.

Read The Story 


GLOBAL: Breast Cancer – Going Global           

In Uganda, awareness raising begins with vocabulary. Dr.Fred Okuku, a Ugandan oncologist says: “There is no word for cancer in most Ugandan languages. A woman finds a lump in her breast, and cancer doesn’t cross her mind”.  For African women, the fight against breast cancer faces multiple challenges. Not only are resources limited, but corruption and neglect hold women back from accessing timely treatment.

Read The Story 


BUSINESS:  Pink Products – Hurting More Than helping?

Pink Ribbon labeled lipstick that causes cancer?!?! The market for these pink items isn’t all rosy. The industry is growing. Consumers beware.

Read The Story 


WOMENS RIGHTS: In The Shadow of the Pink Ribbon

The overwhelming promotion of October as the Breast Cancer Awareness Month leaves other important issues unnoticed. October is also National Domestic Violence Month. Breast cancer effects 1 in 8 women and as many as 1 in 3 women experience domestic violence.  How did violence get beat by a pink ribbon? The answer: The Pink Industry. The Proof: Smith & Wesson’s Special Edition Pink Gun benefiting Breast Cancer Awareness.

Read The Story


Interested in learning more?

Join SparkSF on Tuesday, October 29th for a special screening  and discussion of Pink Ribbons, Inc.  Tickets available HERE.

Water Empowering Women

Uganda Women's Water Initiative

Post Authored By: Spark Fellow, Linn Hellerstrom

In the district of Gomba in Uganda, access to water is a human rights crisis. Only 58% of residents have access to toilets. Securing clean drinking water is a daily struggle. 50 children, under the age of five die every month as a result of this problematic issue. The Uganda Women’s Water Initiative (UWWI) is standing in front of a big challenge. Spark is honored to partner with these brave women to reverse this crisis.

Mukasa Hajra founded UWWI in 2012. She was inspired by the success of an international NGOs progress in the region. The Global Women’s Water Initiative’s work with “WASH” services (water, sanitation and health) compelled Mukasa to start her own health collaborative. WASH provides women with knowledge and tools to address water sanitation in their own communities. Mukasa wanted to expand their work in Gomba. Thus, UWWI was created.

UWWI provides solutions for water and sanitation problems using locally available materials and technologies. Theirs is a sustainable solution for their women participants and the communities they serve. Not only are they helping villages access clean drinking water, UWWI is also a way for women to earn a living. Training is given in engineering sanitation technologies, as well as the making of brickets and kitchen gardens. The women are then able to trade the goods and services on a market and enabling greater financial independence.

A big part of what makes UWWI such an impressive organization is their scale of impact. Since last year, over 35,000 people have benefited from UWWI’s education and clean water campaigns. Their mission is to more then double their outreach by 2015.

With a grant from Spark, UWWI will work to increase the amount of safe drinking water through the construction of bio-sand filters and water tanks and toilets. We are excited to follow this work and development of Uganda Women’s Water Initiative’s over the coming year.