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Rebuilding New Orleans: 10 coolest innovators

Saabira Chaudhuri, FastCompany.com | November 01, 2008

Three years after Katrina, the nation's most expensive hurricane, which cost insurers an estimated $44 billion, came Gustav. As if New Orleans needed its rebuilding project to get any harder. And yet, there's hope.

To underscore how far the city has come since 2005, alldaybuffet, a group of creative professionals focused on social innovation, created the New Orleans 100, a list of projects that are bringing new creative energy, attracting tourism, rebuilding homes, overhauling the educational system, and stimulating economic activity. Here are 10 of the most innovative ventures.

The neighborhood story project: A non-profit organization working in partnership with the University of New Orleans, The Neighborhood Story Project is a book-making project founded to help writers in neighborhoods around New Orleans create and publish books about their communities. Successful endeavors include a book-making program at John McDonogh Senior High, where high school students learn creative nonfiction, photography, and in-depth interviewing so they can write books about their lives and communities. So far several books were published, and raucous block parties were thrown to celebrate the publishings.

Slideshow:
10 Coolest Innovators Rebuilding New Orleans

There's also an oral history project encouraging neighbors of the seventh ward to share their life stories with one another. Every interview is turned into a poster, that is displayed in the neighborhood. The life histories will eventually be turned into a book.

Fotos for humanity: Started after Katrina, Fotos for Humanity provides volunteer photography services for projects undertaken by cultural, community oriented and educational nonprofit groups around New Orleans. FFH donates the copyright of its images, allowing organizations to retain maximum control over how they use the photographs.

Images have been donated to health clinics, public school websites, museums, and musicians, among others and the photos have also been used to raise funding for cultural groups like Mardi Gras Indians, social aid and pleasure clubs, and musicians. In the future, FFH plans to run volunteer photo workshops.

Dirty coast: A T-shirt is worth a thousand words. That's what T-shirt company Dirty Coast believes. Launched a few months before Katrina, Dirty Coast ups the ante on NOLA T-shirts, featuring slogans like The Beauty of Entropy; Make Wetlands, Not War; and Be a New Orleanian, wherever you are. The goal: stirring conversation and creating local and international awareness of New Orleans's culture, with each shirt serving as a "walking billboard" to help brand the area.

New Orleans exchange: Mimicking how NYSE works for public companies, The New Orleans based Receivables exchange offers a means for privately held companies to gain quick access to working capital. The Exchange claims that most small and mid-sized companies have 60% of their working capital tied up in outstanding invoices.

To tackle this the service allows companies to offer their receivables to a global network of capital providers that can bid on them in an online marketplace through an eBay like transparent auction process. The outcome: small companies get quick access to much needed cash flow, without the lag.

The Idea Village: Founded by a group of local entrepreneurs, The Idea Village is a nonprofit organization encourages economic development by providing strategy, talent and resources to entrepreneurial ventures. The organization aids entrepreneurs by providing financial and technical assistance, offering business strategy consultation and access to technology, connecting entrepreneurs to business mentors and facilitating access to professional services and capital resources.

NOLA 180: Started in 2007, NOLA 180 is a nonprofit organization designed to turn around failing schools and prepare students for high quality schools and colleges. Over 50% of public schools students in New Orleans attend charter schools; schools that are held accountable for delivering improved academic results for children. Schools not meeting their goals will likely have their management replaced and it is here that NOLA 180 plans to carve its niche.

Currently, the organization is incubating a group of teachers and administrators that can be deployed to lead the organization's first takeover school in 2010. It does this at its flagship school, the Langston Hughes Academy, which has an education program featuring a college-prep curriculum and an extended school day that provides 50% more instructional time than traditional public schools.

New Orleans kid camera project: The New Orleans Kid Camera Project was created to address the psychological and emotional impact that Hurricane Katrina has had on children from New Orleans. Through the use of photography, creative writing and mixed media, children from flooded neighborhoods express themselves, their stories and feelings.

Apart from helping them recover from the emotional impacts of losing their homes to Katrina, the project also equips the kids with new skills, offering them an alternate lens through which to view the world.

Prospect 1: The largest biennial of international contemporary art ever organized in the United States, showcasing 80 artists from around the world, Prospect 1 opens in November across museums, historic buildings, and found sites throughout New Orleans. Over its 11-week course, the exhibition's goal is to attract a new category of tourism to the city by spotlighting new artistic practices as well as an array of programs benefiting the local community.

Green Coast Enterprises: A small real estate services firm that was founded after Katrina, Green Coast Enterprises plans to build sustainable, storm-proof homes along the Gulf Coast. The firm has worked on The Arabella at Fortin Street, a condominium project in New Orleans that was built to withstand future storms, hot summers, and high humidity. It is currently working on Project Home Again, a project of the Riggio Foundation that aims to build energy efficient homes for families whose homes were destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.

SDT Waste and Debris: Visitors to New Orleans may notice that, of late, the revelrous city has a different smell -- and we're not referring to the fetor of tequila overtaking stale beer on Bourbon Street. Since January 2007, waste management company SDT has been employing innovative methods to clean up New Orleans, using specially equipped water trucks while adding a patented new smell of lemon and eucalyptus to the French Quarter.

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