New breed of young philanthropist: Living Goods

Chuck Slaughter, 43, of Sausalito, founder of TravelSmith Outfitters, is creating a nonprofit to help impoverished African villages. His venture, Living Goods, will teach women to sell health care products such as mosquito nets, contraceptives and water treatment tablets in their neighborhoods, in much the way Avon ladies peddle beauty products to their friends.

Although for decades media reports have detailed the way foreign charity is diverted from the needy to corrupt governments, Slaughter saw for himself that it doesn't have to be so.

In 1988, after college and a failed attempt to become a documentary filmmaker, Slaughter came across a story in the New York Times about Trickle Up, an organization that provided seed money to people in developing nations who wanted to start small businesses. It was long before the term "micro-enterprise" was a buzzword and Muhammad Yunus won a Nobel Prize for issuing microcredit in Bangladesh.

"It seemed like a lot more direct way to make a difference," he recalled. So he went to work for the group, visiting Asia along the way and seeing entrepreneurs at work in a range of activities from running tea stands to sewing dresses.

He is developing a partnership with BRAC, an anti-poverty organization based in Bangladesh, to recruit women from the poorest villages and give them $100 to $200 loans to start selling health care products in their neighborhoods. BRAC already is funding female-run businesses in Uganda through hundreds of "solidarity circles" -- groups of 20 to 30 women who receive loans to start small businesses.

[Excerpt of an article by Carolyne Zinko, San Francisco Chronicle]

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