It is difficult to wrap my mind around the amount of time that has passed since we felt and operated “normally.” While 2020 presented the crushing reality of the shortcomings of our preparedness, 2021 snuck in gingerly but left mud tracks in each of the rooms it visited. Everyone I know personally and professionally has felt the weight of lessons learned these past two years – and everyone I know is enthusiastically turning the page of the past, integrating those crucial lessons, and barreling headfirst into a hopeful new reality of 2022.
As I review these lessons and successes of 2021, the timeline is blurred – a mix of two years into one very bizarre season. In 2020, we did things we had never done before, at an exhausting pace. In 2021, we pivoted and put some things back in their proper place while struggling to do some new things well. Those of you who have lent us a hand throughout this time are forever in our hearts – and we will be there for you when you call on us.
Here’s a look at some of the highlights of this COVID-era small business – how we survived, and how we ultimately thrived:
Protect The Line
ProtectTheLine.org launched in 2020 after a friend in the Department of Defense (DOD) called for some help. They had 3D printers, which could alleviate a crushing need in Michigan Veterans Administration locations, as well as the broader medical field. What started as a few 3D printers installed in volunteers’ basements turned into a distributed manufacturing model in multiple States producing upwards of 10k units/day, at the peak of operations. In 2021, we happily closed down all the operations (and the website) since the urgent need for medical-grade PPE diminished with supply chains of N-95s opening up in most communities. Though we didn’t get any financial benefit from this work, we learned a lot about advanced manufacturing and remote collaborating with diverse partners, who in some cases never physically met each other.
As Chair of Mana Pacific (MP), I get the honor of supporting the execution of the strategic business plan that MK Advisors (MKA) incubated with co-founder and President John Miller in 2019. In 2020, Joe Reed joined Mana Pacific as CEO, believing in our vision and trusting his execution expertise. Since fundraising began, Mana Pacific has raised over $1M with friends and family and is looking forward to the next phase.
Additional successes for Mana Pacific:
- After months of stakeholder engagement sessions, MP hosted the Pacific Islands Finance Forum with guest speakers, Terry Tamminen and Henk Rogers – plus over 150 attendees – to collaborate on ways to address resiliency in the South Pacific.
- In August 2021, MP signed a $1.3M development services agreement with Ho’ahu Energy Cooperative. The President of HECM, Todd Yamashita, described Mana Pacific as “Creative, flexible, culturally aligned and courageous.”
- In September 2021, MP signed a Memo of Understanding (MOU) with Blue Planet Alliance at the NYC Climate Action Week in order to work to accelerate the adoption of renewable energy in the Pacific Island Countries and Territories (PICTs) through enabling policy legislation, private sector renewable energy project development, and social impact efforts.
- At COP26 in November 2021, MP met with the President of Palau, Surangel Whipps Jr., and the Director of Energy of Vanuatu, Anthony Garae. It was here that Palau announced that it is the first country to support the Mana Pacific Moana Pledge.
- The Solar Impulse Foundation certified the Mana Pacific transpacific climate agreement, The Moana Pledge, as one of its 1000 efficient products and services certified with the label worldwide!
The Mana Boutique DBA Mana Boxes
Mana Boxes launched in January 2021 when we imported 33,000 one-of-a-kind handcrafted pieces into the U.S. from South Africa for distribution to our first subscribers. While there were bumps in the road from currency exchange, customs challenges, and staff shortages, our loyal Mana ecosystem came together to successfully fund 1800+ female artisans with earned income that sustained their families and their businesses through the worst of COVID. On Christmas Eve 2021, The Detroit Free Press ran this article highlighting our work and the incredible creations of the artisans.
As we reviewed our successes and failures of 2021, we decided that a new approach was needed – centered on the experience of Mana and the connection that our community can offer. As a result, we are rebranding as The Mana Boutique and refocusing our sales channels to Etsy and small boutique partners. Stay engaged as we make this transition together!
New Team Members
In 2021, MKA brought on six employees. We met Erika Bolton when incubating greenhouses in Detroit in 2020 and couldn’t get enough of her vision for the world. Erika’s fingerprints are now on all things MKA and is my right hand leading our five-year USAID program to create and deliver the “utility of the future” with partner nations around the world.
We met Michael Johnson (MJ) in 2021 and discovered that he was the ultimate fit for our project development lead. Not only is MJ a certified energy manager with extensive experience advancing energy equality and sustainable microgrids, but he is also an incredibly kindhearted, genuine, and loving person who has devoted his life to connecting people to nature through his life coaching.
In Sub-Saharan Africa, MKA is reviewing business models for a possible new incubation: Mana Power Africa. We want this to be a woman-owned business with a majority holding within the communities that we operate. To expand our Mana Microgrid™ model, we have added Teri Kruger and Aurelia van Eeden to our Advisors.
With her years of project development in Southern African communities, Teri Kruger is leading our efforts from South Africa. Joining her is Aurelia van Eeden, an environmental scientist focused on transitioning carbon-heavy industries to clean and sustainable operations. Together with our U.S. team of advisors, Teri and Aurelia are building the financial model for equitable, community-owned power systems.
What Is Coming?
Mana Group Holdings, LLC – Established in late 2021, Mana Group Holdings (MGH) holds and controls MK Advisors and The Mana Boutique, DBA Mana Boxes. MGH companies are focused on accelerating equitable economic development models through female empowerment (#theFemaleEffect), knowledge transfer, and infrastructure development.
USAID AmpUp – In 2021, MKA was awarded the USAID Contract for Advancing Modern Power through Utility Partnerships (AmpUp). This $39M AmpUp program introduces an innovative performance improvement model centered around peer-to-peer relationships and strong stakeholder networks to deploy expertise and establish pathways to implement best practices with measurable and sustainable impacts. This work will take a new approach to build collaborative structures for USAID-assisted utilities.
AmpUp is a collaborative effort with several organizations, including Arizona State University (ASU), the United States Energy Association (USEA), the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA), and Segura Consulting in this five year USAID contract. MK Advisors is the only woman-led small business on this contract.
Looking ahead – We look forward to continuing our work on reports/recommendations specific to climate change, carbon footprint, greenhouse gasses, and ground vehicle systems in order to create a baseline of metrics and criteria of environmental and climate-related policy and regulatory implications. We will also continue work on conducting climate change analysis of current laws, regulations and policies to help our partners better navigate carbon footprint and greenhouse gasses.
Get Engaged! Stay Tuned! Join Us!
Exciting, innovative work is on the books for MKA in 2022, and we are contacted weekly about future project possibilities. We look forward to sharing our adventure with our stakeholders, and exciting each of you with what the future holds. If you need our partnership for any of your missions, reach out to us here.