Who we are


tommy and friends

Co-founder Tom Miller with school children in Vietnam’s Ha-Giang Province

Green Cities Fund, Inc. was established in 2005 as a California public benefit corporation, and is tax exempt under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code .  Its founders have been involved in public service work for many years, starting in the 1950′s with Canada’s “Frontier College”, the predecessor of the Peace Corps, where college students spent their summers working on railway gangs and in mining camps teaching the workers at night, and handling a myriad of problems that develop in these tough and remote environments.

Frontier College led to teaching in Ghana, West Africa and the establishment of the Yale Men Abroad Program, with the help of Chaplain William Sloane Coffin, where Yale students and graduates served overseas in “Third World” countries. This led to assisting with the establishment of the Peace Corps, and the training and placement of the first group of Peace Corps Volunteers, in Ghana, West Africa.


Kim Phuc, badly burned by napalm, was treated at the hospital established by Green Cities Fund co-founder, Tom Miller. Photo: Nick Ut

During the Vietnam War, in 1966, the founders established, in Vietnam, the Center for Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery to treat children injured in the war.  Led by world-renowned surgeon, Dr. Arthur Barsky, who had been Chief Surgeon of the Hiroshima Maidens Project, the Center treated thousands of war victims, including a little girl, Phan Thi Kim Phuc, whose photograph fleeing terror-stricken with her brother down a road after being burned by napalm shocked the conscience of the world. With funding from Japan and Australia, the Center continues today.


kim phuc 2

Kim Phuc in 1988 reunion with Barsky Unit chief nurse, Lien Huong, who cared for her when she was injured in 1971, and continued on at the hospital until her retirement in 2005

As the American War in Vietnam ended, the founders assisted UNICEF expand its programs throughout Indochina, and when thousands of Vietnamese children were rushed to the United States in the U.S. Government sponsored “Orphan Airlift“, they intervened in an attempt to return the many children who were not orphans to their families.  The story of one such child was told in Gail Dolgin’s documentary “Daughter from Danang“, which received the grand prize at the Sundance Film Festival, and was an Oscar nominee.  They have also participated in the production of films on Vietnam, Cuba and South America by Oscar winning documentary filmmaker Pierre Dominique Gaisseau, Sarah Harbin (“Sonata for Left Hand“), NBC (“Sins of the Fathers” about American fathered children in Vietnam); the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Al Jazeera and Britain’s Channel 4.

In recent years they have served on the board of Global Exchange, a San Francisco human rights organization; provided free legal assistance to scores of U.S. citizens fined for exercising their Constitutional right to travel to Cuba as well as assisting “Send A Piana to Havana” donate pianos to Cuban schools and churches. In cooperation with Alice Waters, Chez Panisse chefs, and Cuba’s leading environmental organization, the Antonio Nunez Jimenez Foundation, Green Cities is sponsoring the “Planting Seeds” project in Cuba to work toward local, organic food sustainability, and a healthier diet for all Cubans, and is also the sponsor of EcoCuba environmental projects. They have also joined with University of California at Berkeley researchers in a project to restore Cuba’s longest river, the Cauto, which runs through Berkeley, California’s “Sister City”, Palma Soriano. A short film on Palma and the project can be viewed here . Working with Cuban economists, Green Cities Fund has also sponsored a number of international conferences discussing changes to Cuba’s economic system. In 2007 they secured the nomination of Cuban Medical Workers, who have contributed so much to the quality of health care in Third World Countries, for the Nobel Peace Prize. Through Green Cities Fund efforts the nomination was made by Dr. Paul Farmer of Harvard and founder of Partners-in-Health, and California’s progressive congresswoman, Barbara Lee.

Reception area at the expanded Barsky Unit. taken in december 2013

Reception area of expanded Barsky Unit today. Now the National Center for Odonto-Stomatology

They have continued their work in Vietnam by assisting the work of Atlantic Philanthropies, the Vietnam Green Building Council and Chi-Em, a microfinance organization serving ethnic minority villages established by the founders’ daughter, Nathalie Miller, in the remote mountains surrounding historic Dien Bien Phu, where the French were defeated by the Vietnamese in 1954. They are also supporting research in Vietnam and NASA scientist Jonathan Trent’s “OMEGA Project” to produce sea-grown algae as a source for biofuel, a better alternative than harvesting land crops for biofuel, which causes food prices to increase, pitting the food needs of the poorest against the economic power of rich fuel consuming nations. This project has recently included enthusiastic participation by North Korea’s leading algae and climate change specialists.

In 2002, they assisted in the establishment of Parwaz, the first Afghan-run microfinance institution and in 2009 they embarked on an effort to save Prey Lang – “Our Forest”, the largest remaining lowland semi-dry evergreen forest in Southeast Asia and home of the  Kuy ethnic minority.  A trailer from a documentary on Prey Lang can be seen here.

Green Cities Fund founders are also active in Haiti, where they have traveled extensively, and where they assist FONDAM, a foundation established by the Monnin Family, founders of Galerie Monnin and who have been involved in Haiti’s cultural life since 1947. Recently the organization has established an assistance program for the Karenni ethnic minority in Oakland, California, where they have been resettled as political refugees from Burma, after having fought the oppressive regime there for generations.

Donations to Green Cities Fund are tax deductible and 100% of your donation is used for the specific project you designate. The Founders receive no compensation and pay all overhead costs.





Recent Posts

Cooperatives in Cuba – Christian Science Monitor 7/2/14

The new realities of running a business in Cuba

Editors’ Picks

In an attempt to jumpstart Cuba’s economy and shed unprofitable state enterprises, the government is converting select businesses into cooperatives. It’s an adjustment for many Cuban workers.

ByJonathan Wolfe, ContributorJULY 2, 2014

Alfredo Sosa/The Christian Science Monitor/File
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HAVANA, CUBA — The stakes were high when Café Nautico lost electricity during its grand reopening here last month. Losing power is commonplace in Cuba, but this occasion was different: It was the first time restaurant employees would be paid based on the day’s earnings. The chef scrambled to keep the kitchen running by candlelight while the wait staff assured the handful of customers that the lights would be back shortly.

Café Nautico used to be a state-run restaurant, which meant reliable – albeit low – wages for the staff of 12 whether or not anyone came to dine. But the Cuban government recently transferred management of the location to its employees, now called “associates,” to be run as a cooperative.

“We are making a lot of changes and we will try anything that can be useful,” says Jorge Cercera Montes, the president of the cooperative who got his start as a cook. He’s opening the restaurant for business earlier in the day, hosting parties and weddings, and renting out the back room for private events. “Our objective is to grow so that this place can provide more income for us as cooperative members.”

The Cuban government is strapped for cash as it works to keep its economic vision alive, more than five decades after the US implemented its economically isolating trade embargo. In an attempt to jumpstart the economy and shed unprofitable state enterprises, the government is now converting select businesses into cooperatives and allowing others to pop up in the Cuban market.

The move is part of a broader attempt by President Raúl Castro to update Cuba’s economic model, while maintaining its socialist principles. But the nearly 250 cooperatives operating here exist without constitutional protection, and will only be legally incorporated into the economy if the experiment is deemed a success. This leaves many Cuban entrepreneurs excited, yet skeptical of the viability of projects like Café Nautico in the volatile Cuban marketplace.

“The Cuban government is afraid of losing subsidies from Venezuela and they are … turning to cooperatives to help fill the gap the state can’t provide,” says Christopher Sabatini, the senior director of policy at the Americas Society and Council of the Americas.

“Decentralizing the economy will allow the government to earn money from taxes [from cooperatives], inject productivity into the lumbering, inefficient government, and sop up some of the thousands of employees that were recently let go by the state,” Mr. Sabatini says.

‘A little imposing’

In contrast to businesses run by the government, cooperatives allow their members to take home a portion of the business’ earnings, and give their workers democratic control over operations and management, including electing their own president. The state is also giving them a leg up on their private competitors by offering them perks like a 20 percent discount on products bought from the state in the case of Café Nautico, and subsidizing their utility bills.

“The old system was a little imposing,” says Tania Lourdes Ortiz Fernández, an esthetician at the Bellall Health and Beauty Institute in the Vedado neighborhood. She says she’s “more happy with this system than the one we had before.”

For example, she makes more money – about $42 a month compared to $15 when her “boss” was the Cuban government. Ms. Ortiz says that although she lost clients when the beauty center became a cooperative (the associates voted to raise their prices), she now has access to better products and has more time to dedicate to services.

Although many cooperative members say they receive higher wages, there are complaints.

“The largest obstacle right now is the bureaucratic process of approving new cooperatives,” says Eric Leenson, president of Sol Economics, a company that promotes socially responsible development in Cuba.

Additionally, cooperative employees complain they don’t have access to wholesale markets, and that importing materials or products from outside the country is almost impossible.

Even convincing the Cuban workforce that they could benefit from working in a cooperative has been a challenge, says Adriana Cervantes, the president of the Bellall Health and Beauty Institute. She lost more than a quarter of her workers when the business converted to a cooperative eight months ago, and has had trouble convincing others to invest the one-time payment of 500 Cuban pesos ($22) required to join.

“Right now I need a manicurist … we have so much demand,” says Ms. Cervantes. “For months I have tried to hire more associates but people tell me that they don’t understand why they have to invest in order to become a member of the cooperative,” she says as dozens of clients pass her on their way to an aerobics class at the institute.

Mr. Leenson believes that, despite these initial problems, the cooperative project in Cuba is here to stay.

“This change in Cuba is broad enough and strong enough that there is no going back.”


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