28 July 2010

New Blog to Share

I love when people are nice and I am willing to toss some support to new bloggers!  Nearly two years in myself, I still feel like I am quite green at all of this and know how important it can be to get some notice from others.

So here is How Matters:
How-matters.org [created and maintained by Jennifer Lentfer] attempts to revive and magnify compassion and empathy within international development and foreign aid. Too much is being lost in the abstraction and over-technicalization of this work. Most of the time, the needs of institutions and donors overshadow needs of local groups and individuals, thereby retarding or even preventing real change for real people.
This blog will raise more questions than answers, but it hopes to explore the skills and knowledge needed by all international “do-gooders” (professional and amateur alike) to truly raise the level of human dignity within foreign assistance and put real resources behind local means of overcoming obstacles. Postings will include articles, links, resources and tools, good practices, and (hopefully) inspire dialogue among the community of those involved in international assistance around the world.
Sounds like an interesting idea to me. Hopefully a lot can be learned and some spirited discussions will ensue.

27 July 2010

Travel the World (even if it could be damaging to your children)

Update: Teresa Keller has kindly responded to this post in the comments section.  I would highly encourage reading her comments as they address many of my concerns

There are those stretches we all have when it feels like the universe is playing games with us.  We reminisce about Ace of Base and then ‘The Sign’ is heard not less than an hour later on the radio.  People passing by talk about AoB and you even see an old t-shirt worn by a Brooklyn hipster.  The initial thought is that some greater power is telling us to go out and listen to more Ace of Base.  The truth is that we are just thinking about the given object and more attentive to it.  ‘You are Not So Smart’ discusses the cause of this: confirmation bias.
So, what does this have to do with anything?
I am experiencing this a bit with Nick Kristof as of late.  I feel like everything that stirs me in a negative manner comes from him.  I know this not to be entirely true as I was happy to see this video that he did outside of Hebron on Jewish settlements. But this morning, as I cruised through twitter before breakfast, I saw this:
Being my curious self, I clicked to learn more. The about page told this:
My name is Teresa Keller and I am a single mom of three children – Jennifer (age 18), Alex (age 13) and Bella (age 12).  We have decided to give up our home, schools and my job, sell many of our possessions, spend our life savings and borrow against my retirement to backpack around the world.  My best friend’s daughter (Meagan, age 17) is coming along to experience the trip with us.
Through the help of many others, especially my significant other Doug Tilden and the rest of our Board of Trustees, this dream has turned into a formal non-profit called Round the World with Us.
I was immediately struck by to things.  First, the phrase ‘we have decided.’  Second, the fact that a non-profit was started for this endeavor.  I was further troubled in regards to my first concern when I saw this:
Alex (13): I don’t like change very much, so I would rather have stayed home.  I can see the stress the trip puts on everybody and I don’t want to leave my friends – my mom isn’t even sure where we will live when we get back! I know that I will probably have some “life changing experiences”, but that is a “probably” not certain.
To me, it does not sound like Alex is part of the ‘we’ who made the decision to pick up and leave.  As J. put it, “Doing things we don't want is part of life. Making your child fear for where he'll live is irresponsible.”  Reading ‘Three Cups of Tea’ does not make a person qualified pick up the life of his or her family and travel the world as a voluntourist.
With projects set up in different parts of the world, the Keller family would like us to donate money for the projects.  They assure us that money will only go to the projects and not the travel.  I want to give the benefit of the doubt to this claim, but I am worried when I see that the trip is funded, “with savings, proceeds from the sale of our things, and a loan against [Teresa’s] 410(k).”  I worry that a person who has to dig into savings, sell everything AND take a loan on her 401(k) needs every penny possible.  It will certainly not be a cheap trip, but I get the feeling that a salary for Teresa could or already has been put into effect.  I do not mean to condemn the salary itself, but I would consider that being money that goes towards travel and not for projects (it is hard to know if this is already taking place or not as there are no reports for where the money donated is going).
Then, there is the issue of the projects chosen.  It is unnecessary to focus on them individually.  If they were sustainable projects that utilize the talents of the people they are serving the projects should rightly be supported.  If not, they should not be.  However, if asking for money, it is the responsibility of the Keller’s to provide as much information as possible about the projects they are supporting.  Taking a few notes from the other direct pay organizations, a brief description is given with a listing of how much it will cost.  Some are incomplete and all lack any links to where the projects were found or are hosted.  Despite this, people will still donate.  Since the site tells us that the projects were carefully selected, some people will donate. 
It makes me want to start my own website for investments and list where I want to invest my money without telling people too much about the projects.  Of course, I would have no interest because it would be seen as a money making venture that could lose a lot being that I have no experience.  This does not translate over to humanitarian ventures as the desire to help out over-rides any sort of common sense. 
If I could lose you money making investments, what makes you think that the Kellers are not funding projects that will create a loss? The family is well intentioned, but this is yet another example of a non-profit start-up that does not need to exist.  I think the idea of traveling around the world as a family is fantastic, but maybe it would be best if that was the trip was about only.  Then, upon returning and having seen the places first hand, begin to see what projects are accomplishing what is needed in the regions in which you traveled and begin to build support for those projects.  The Kellers can be a valuable resource in telling what they have seen and observed.

***I will have to follow up in the next few days on voluntourism itself.  It is far too big of a post to take on at the present moment and one that needs significant thought.

20 July 2010

Interesting Reads July 20

More work today means short list.

  • @NYTimeskrugman corrects the widely spread falsehood that the current deficit is all Obama's fault:  http://nyti.ms/9r6dUY It is getting to be silly when the Sean Hannity and co. continue to spread blatantly false information.  Did the deficit grow under Obama? Yes.  Was it entirely his doing? No.  I would actually argue that the two stimulus bills were not even the actions of either president, but done out of fear and a hasty congress.  Prior to that, the deficit grew at a rapid rate.  There is nobody to blame for that other than the Bush administration.
  • Political violence casts pall over Rwanda election http://u.mg.co.za/yMjXQ HT @sonjasugira
  • @alanna_shaikh writes for @aidwatch: Is impact measurement is a dead end? http://ow.ly/2dSUR
  • "US Embassy supports bodybuilding contest": http://bit.ly/9HDdxK HT @afghananalyst
  • From Oxfam: Deploying a US soldier in #Afghanistan costs about $1 million per year. Development aid spent per Afghan per yr: $93 http://bit.ly/cITVjq
  • Best. Onion. Piece. Ever. http://onion.com/azNkcf via @TheOnion - Jennifer Aniston Adopts 33-Year-Old Boyfriend From Africa HT @Civoknu

19 July 2010

Overheads Over Your Head?

Bewilderingly, the discussion concerning overheads remains an important point for news organizations, donors and organizations.  Sean Penn was featured in the Guardian (I am not going to link the piece, here because it is a waste of a read and can easily be found) telling of how services were not being delivered and money spent.  ABC even decided to go back and see how the money has been spent.  A great summary of the expected burn rate when it comes to disaster relief was done by Saundra.  Read her post for an eye opening illustration of how it can negatively affect the work of a relief organization.  An equally important supplement is the post written by J. on how reports on the Haiti relief effort cannot be simply believed because they are loaded with stats and red ratings.

After reading Saundra and J’s posts, it should become clear that relief is not a matter of simple arithmetic.  To think of it in a different way; what are the benchmarks when determining the successes of American schools?  Whether you like it as a metric, the most important measurement is test scores.  Those who argue for or against their use are settled around a debate that settles upon outcomes.  Yet another way to look at it is to refer back to my previous post urging donors to think as if they are investors.  When making an investment, the ultimate concern will always be the return on investment (ROI).  If the perspective ROI looks to be little or nothing, a person will likely not invest.  In the end, the outcome is what matters.

By now I am sure you have caught onto the fact that the previous two paragraphs show two entirely different focuses. Now, here is my attempt to hit this out of the park.  When designing programs around the betterment and improvement of the livelihood of individuals or groups, what should be the metric for determining success?  Should it be how individual programs work to enable economic and social growth? Or, measure success by how much money is being spent on the recipients?

If it has not become immensely clear by this point, I will continue to flesh out this discussion.  The Center for High Impact Philanthropy found that donors were NOT actually as concerned with costs as other sources.  One person said:
[T]he whole issue of overhead expenses as a percentage of your total budget is. . . not regular.  It seems like the wrong way to think about it.”
However, they recognize the need to learn more:
In the past few years, the amount that we’ve been able to give has grown to an amount that will shortly [require us to give it] some thought rather than just handing [the money] out.”
Despite the desire to learn more, people allow and seemingly encourage the focus to be away from outcomes.  The Straw Man will deceive you into thinking that every dollar you send will go straight to the people.  He will make you feel better.  99 cents of the dollar you donated will go directly to the recipients.  Sounds like a shower of money for every person!

Imagine, Steve Jobs comes up to the stage in his black turtle neck.  It is the newest launch for an Apple product.  After the iPad, Jobs has to go in an even more radical direction.  In his right hand is his iPod shuffle, the left is a MacBook.  Holding both up, Jobs announces, “We have created the most powerful notebook ever and the most compact device for delivering music.  Moving forward, Apple will operate like this iPod to achieve the grandeur of this MacBook.” The crowd erupts into a frenzy, kicking over chairs as Jobs stands holding the nano up with a knowing grin.

What makes this improbable is that 1) Jobs would never do this and 2) people would not care.  Number two is more important of the two reasons.  People would not care because they want Apple to produce sleek, cutting edge products that work well and travel easily.  The final product is what matters most.  As long as the price is not to absurd (although they are somehow able to sell a ton of iPhones on the inferior AT&T network), people will buy an Apple product.  Branding has to be recognized here, but it would not have gotten this far if the products were of poor quality.

If the hypothetical announcement took place, the first question would be: How will Apple continue to be such an innovative force?  With less money being spent on research, development, testing and so on, could Apple continue to compete with the fast rising Google?  Yankees fans do not care how much the team spends as long as they win.  It is as simple as that.  Apple investors are the same way.

If we expect for profit organizations to do what it takes to achieve positive results (aka profits) why does the standard not apply to non for profits?  Getting the non-for-profit status means that the focus will be on program outcomes, not on financial.  Donors will give money with the intention of support specific programs that they assume need financial support to succeed.

As is the case with Wall Street, we cry out when executives are compensated with large pay when losing money for the company.  When things are going well (or that period before September ‘08), investors at Goldman Sachs had no problem with executives taking home large sums when they were also seeing significant returns on their stock and investments.

Overhead should not be ignored, but results should carry much more weight.  A well run organization will require some overhead.  What matters is the ROI.  If a program guaranteed that they will spend 70 cents on the dollar and eradicate malaria in Kenya (with proof that unquestionably shows their claim to be true).  Would you donate?  How about to a program that says 99 cents on the dollar will go to AIDS eradication and make no mention of outcomes.  Would you donate to them?  In the context (I hope) the answers will be yes and no respectively.  However, organizations use the fallacy low overhead costs to trick donors into thinking that that makes them effective.

Dan Pallotta will sum up my entire piece in three paragraphs:
What if the two objectives of keeping overhead costs low and serving the needs of the community are at odds with one another?
What if an executive's board is constantly telling her to find ways to lower overhead but she knows that doing so will stymie the organization's ability to achieve any meaningful scale and jeopardize the quality of services? Then the executive has a conflict of interest.
What if the board feels pressure from the media and watchdog agencies to reduce overhead, but it too knows that doing so will inhibit the organization's progress and ultimately undermine donor intent? Then the board of directors has a conflict of interest.
Further summary comes from Philanthropy Action:
There are plenty of reasons that overhead ratios are meaningless as a measure of effective charities:
• It tells you nothing about the impact the charity has on people it’s trying to help
• The rules for determining overhead costs are vague and every charity interprets them differently
• Accounting experts estimate that 75% of charities calculate their overhead ratio incorrectly
• It discourages charities from investing in tools and expertise that would make them more effective
As always, do the research and practice smart aid.  Even Charity Navigator has fallen into (and is beginning to come out of) the overhead trap. 

Update: Alanna Shaikh writes at the aid watchers blog asking if impact measurement is a dead end:
It’s a standard trope of this blog to point out that there’s no panacea in global development. That’s true of impact evaluation, too. It’s a tool for identifying worthwhile development efforts, but it is not the only tool.  We can’t go back to assuming that good intentions lead to good results, but there must be room for judgment and experience in with the quantifiable data.
So, even measuring impacts alone is not enough.  I will still argue that they should matter more than just overhead, but Alanna points out they can not be a measurement that stifles innovation and dynamic growth of NGOs.

Update 2:  Michael Keizer over at A Humorless Lot, wrote a post on overheads shortly after the financial crisis saying:
[D]efining how much we want spend on organisation (shall we just stop using those disparaging words ‘overhead’ and ‘HQ’?) in terms of total expenditure, or even as an absolute number, really is utter nonsense. No self-respecting company would say at the start of the fiscal year, “let’s spend so-and-so much on our corporate organisation – doesn’t matter on what, you can just spend this amount”

Additional sources consulted in writing this:
Give Well Blog at large – Just search around, they have a ton of great pieces and resources

With thanks to:
Saundra S

Interesting Reads July 19

  • Chris Blattman (@cblatts) asks if #ethiopia will be the next "African Lion" http://ow.ly/2djRA Growth? yes Still some concerns? yes
  • @texasinafrica shows how a small tear in a#USD makes it invalid in #DRC but a taped up franc is perfectly fine http://ow.ly/2dkhn
  • Ranil Dissanayake writes at Aidthoughts.org about ‘The disappearance of equity and redistribution from the vocabulary of development work’ http://ow.ly/2dkrP
  • Important new report from HRW on fistulas in Kenya. Critical area of intervention, more has to be done: http://tinyurl.com/2u8jf5j (HT @KeshetBachan)
  • Jason Stearns on Nick Kristof: "Imagine what a wonk like Paul Krugman would sound like writing on the Congo?" http://bit.ly/btJyuW HT @texasinafrica
  • Burundi arrests journalist who wrote that country's security forces are incapable of responding to al Shabab attacks:http://bit.ly/dbZau8
  • I cannot say I like the idea of re-colonization at all. http://ow.ly/2dlDr From Waylaid Dialectic blog.
  • New from @ICT_works and @wayan_vota 6 Lessons ICT4D Practitioners Can Learn From PlayPumps Failure http://ow.ly/18c4kj
  • Poaching at an all time high in South Africa http://adjix.com/zrf4 HT @alanna_shaikh

16 July 2010

Interesting Reads July 16

  • Great post from @texasinafrica on the danger behind Rwanda's facade of reconciliation http://ow.ly/2caub
  • The death of the press because, “No medium has ever survived the indifference of 25-year-olds.” Or so writes Clay Shirky for the Guardian: http://bit.ly/8Zm1IP (commence mini power trip for the next 24 hrs).
  • Does this new post from @WrongingRights undermine almost all of Kristof's suppositions? http://ow.ly/2caFR Essentially, the discussion and attention given to rape in the DRC could lead to a changed way it is viewed and lead to things such as women falsely reporting rapes in order to access better medical care because most medical care focuses on rape victims.  If this is the case and it continues, then all statistics on rape will be impossible to trust as reports will continue to rise in order to access medical services.
  • Watched 'Good Fortune' really interesting look at aid projects that are not all good in Kibera and western Kenya http://to.pbs.org/aT3amJ
  • And PBS is awesome enough to let you watch Good Fortune online until October. Not earth-shattering, but definitely worth a view http://ow.ly/2ceKp
  • Chris  Blattman examines the drug trade in Africa: ‘Africa’s Coming Disaster?’
  • The Acorn: Why India-Pakistan ‘talks’ are like penalty kicks in football http://ow.ly/2cnPj
  • @ushahidi now has Call-To-Report Feature via Cloudvox http://ow.ly/2cwS3 Very cool stuff!
  • Vatican deems ordination of women crime comparable to heresy & even sex abuse by priests: http://bit.ly/aeDNq4
  • Live Aid anniversary: "Unknown" Ethiopia http://link.reuters.com/kum77m from @Reuters_Africa
  • A Malaria-proof mosquito is born! http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2010-07/uoa-tfm070910.php (HT @alanna_shaikh)

15 July 2010

Interesting Reads July 15

  • So glad my latest blog obsession has a new post!  Found this about two months ago and am excited when a new post comes out. You are Not So Smart a really interesting blog that addresses misconceptions across all ranges of topics.  This time, David takes on ‘The Illusion of Transparency.’ He always opens with misconception and truth, so here will get you started and should make you want to read the rest:

    The Misconception: Most of the time people can look at you and tell what you are thinking and feeling.

    The Truth: Your subjective experience is not observable, and you overestimate how much you telegraph your inner thoughts and emotions.

  • Buy a Burger, Buy Sex: South African Media Representations of Women (Is a comment really necessary for this title?)
  • @Good_Intents reflects on disasters she has experienced during her life and confirms herself to be a magnet for them.  Teaching us to always know where she is and live somewhere else. Sorry Utah. http://ow.ly/2bzXQ
  • @MotherJones reports on the ex BP media wrangler in the Gulf who blows the whistle on the company's information stranglehold: http://bit.ly/aim2sp (HT @penelopeinparis
  • Glenna Gordon aka Scarlet Lion posts photos by Richard Mosse of Eastern Congo. Go and see the New Yorker Photobooth blog’s explanation of his process.
  • Tanzania lawyer at ICTR Rwanda genocide court shot dead - http://icio.us/abvzyq HT @texasinafrica
  • Bunmi Oloruntoba offers a nuanced view of Kristof's response 2.0 http://ow.ly/2bW9M
  • Why trends in development funding are bad for programs http://aidthoughts.org/?p=1381 HT @alanna_shaikh
  • @itsjina lists journalists who report well on the developing world. Will be checking out the suggestions today! http://bit.ly/al2eOC
  • Bill Easterly creates a little bit of a stir with his most recent post: Was the poverty of Africa determined in 1000 BC? http://bit.ly/cNut0q  Not too sure how I feel.  The nakedness of the stats is a little troubling, but it is interesting that growth of nations can be tied back thousands of years.  If well connected and proven, what does this mean for future of the way people view aid?
  • @ithorpe asks after seeing my post from yesterday, “I wonder how market forces can be brought to bear to weed out bad ideas?”
  • Economist: Brazil's foreign-aid programme - Speak softly and carry a blank cheque http://bit.ly/chWrn9 (HT @aidwatch)
  • Nancy Birdsall offers advice: Dear Clinton, Jones and Summers: Five Step Improvement Plan for U.S. Development http://bit.ly/9Autrr
  • Former USAID Administrators on the future of USAID in Huffington Post: http://huff.to/9uBIyF (@aidwatch again) In short, they ask congress not to cut the budget.  Things are already saddled enough with financial needs, a cut will only make things harder.
  • Look out for TED Women, 1st ever TED event 'revealing the ideas of women & girls worldwide':http://bit.ly/b6iahg (HT @ecoblips)
  • Rethinking some health assumptions globally: http://bit.ly/b5GGWh HT @BonnieKoenig

14 July 2010

Why Does it Keep Happening?

Update: @ithorpe asks a great question after seeing this post, “I wonder how market forces can be brought to bear to weed out bad ideas?” Any thoughts on his question?

Update 2: Penelope writes a follow up to this post on her blog.  I fee that in many ways it is a continuation of this and a further refinement of the points which I made.  She is correct to point out that there needs to be some risk when starting NGOs.  What is important to remember, is that  there is a difference between jumping in without any thought and taking a well considered chance on a project.  This is a must read as a follow up to this post. http://penelopemc.wordpress.com/2010/07/28/on-entrepreneurship-and-ngos/

Update 3: Alanna wrote about the pros and cons of large and small NGOs in May of 2009 that should definitely be considered a part of this discussion: http://bloodandmilk.org/?p=1322

At the start of the year, Good Intentions are Not Enough said this:
Would you want your child operated on by a doctor whose work was never evaluated, even when it appeared that the way the surgery was commonly done may contribute to avoidable illness or death?
J. over at Tales From the Hood has used the simile as well, but I cannot a place to link it to other than this confirmation (maybe someone will have better luck finding a link). I had been thinking of similarities to doctors and aid workers.  I knew that it was not an original idea and tracked down where the original thought came from.  While Saundra is the one who planted the seed of this idea in my mind, I am sure that the comparison between skilled professions has existed for awhile.

The comparison extends from Saundra’s question to ask: why do we then allow people to enter (profession of choice) without the proper training?  There are too many possibilities to begin to list that can be inserted into that question.  The point is that why is it that the non-for-profit and NGO world is one where people can just feel that they should jump in?  1 million shirts proved what can happen when a person jumps in without any significant thought or consideration. 

The point is not to harp on Jason, he has been discussed enough, it is to look at what culture or atmosphere allows for people to continue doing what Jason did.  To credit Saundra again, there are 1 million Jasons out there.  What I have noticed is the exasperation by the aid blog community that this keeps happening.  Granted, I am much closer in my present standing to Jason that the professionals who have years of experience in the field.  So, I have the advantage (and disadvantage) of being green.
What is so clear to me is the fact that people feel that the non profit world is one that can be entered with ideas, energy and good intentions alone.  We hear stories of Greg Mortenson and Geoffrey Canada and imagine that we can do what they did.  The power of the individual.  Every teacher will have their ‘freedom writers’ or will become the next Mr. B (PS 22!).  The successes of the few people and ideas I listed should not be discounted, but must be evaluated and considered in a complete manner.  Canada knew the community of Harlem, Morenson make a lot of mistakes and hit a ton of luck.  They both have found success but through two entirely different paths.

There are parts of these people to champion, but the take away cannot be the simple-minded idea that any single person can create change.  First off, it is right that a single person can create change, but the focus should be on positive change not just the amorphous idea of Obama change.  By boiling down a series of events and circumstances into an ethos, we forget (or just plain ignore) what it is that lead to the given outcome.

Circling back a bit.  Do we all think that we can become a MLB pitcher just because Billy Wagner can throw faster that what was thought to be possible for a shorter guy?  No, we understand that he has an innate talent.  To be more truthful, Wagner is a freak.  What about writing novels, or designing bridges, or constructing cars?  Can every person excel in those fields?  Call me a pessimist, but I think it to be no.
There are ways to contribute to each of those fields.  Think of a bridge.  There needs to be an architect who plans it, engineers who determine the feasibility, construction workers who assemble it, the steel has to be shaped, rock cut, road paved, lines painted, lights installed and it keeps going.  I am not onto something new here at all.  We know this. 

If we would not set out to build a bridge alone and with no experience, why would we do the same when constructing an INGO?  Is the work of the builder any less valuable than the architect?  I say no.  So how about we all start to think of ways we can contribute rather than just jumping in to what we do not know.
Rather than start an orphanage, contact orphanages in the area and see if they can take the children you have seen.  If they can’t, find out if they are willing to expand or if there is an organization already in the area who can continue the work they are already starting.  The money needed to run projects is finite.  Why compete when you can strengthen an already successful endeavor?

In the end, use the same rationale you apply to other sectors when considering non-for-profits.

Interesting Reads July 14

I think 4pm is a good time to get these out.

  • Sean Penn does more saving of Haiti.  Only comment is that he looks horrible.  Somewhere in the midst of being lost, confused and extremely worn down.  Would hope he does not look like he came from a spa, but looks as if he needs a break.  Yea, the people of Haiti do not get one, but how can he provide a reasonable service if he is not at his best.  Better to get healthy and rested to bring 100% to the table.  HT @gentlemandad
  • Food Aid: Costs roughly a dollar to ship a dollars worth of food aid.  Maybe the US could deliver more food and spend less money buy buying local.  Might help out the local economies of countries.  Then where does that leave the US? (HT @good_intents)
  • Batman and Robin team up with the US Army?
  • Aid is like……morphine. Good analogy is made over at Aid Thoughts.
  • "If everything you know about Somalia you learned from Black Hawk Down, it's probably best that you stop providing commentary" – Laura Seay aka Texas in Africa writes for the CSM about Somolia
  • @penelopeinparis does a quick survey of what people’s favorite NGO/Non-for-profit websites are and why.  Follow her to see the responses.
  • Another one from Laura Seay: What do you do when a Congolese Bishop says, “you must be our voice.”
  • Why educate girls?  Here is why HT to @KeshetBachan
  • The CSM is on its game!  Why Obama mustn’t meddle in Somolia.  Definitely the truth when it comes to the region. Somolia is a country where international intervention has been met with zero success.  “Washington’s intervention has only exacerbated problems in the region. It’s time once and for all for Somalis to be free of international meddling. It hasn’t helped them, and as the Ugandans can now attest, it hasn’t helped us.”  I can’t wait for American journalists to get even louder in support for invasion. Weren’t they against Iraq?
  • I was going to make this prediction yesterday, before the All Star game.  Sadly, not saying it seems like it is an unbased ‘I told you so.’  Well, I still want to throw it out there knowing that no credit is really earned.  But, I was going to point out that the last time the NL won was at the Philly All Star game.  I happened to be in attendance.  So, I was going to make my prediction that the NL would break the streak and win because I am back in the city of Brotherly Love.  Too bad the Yankees will have less home games in the World Series.
  • Sell the discontinued Microsoft Kin in the developing world?  I say yes if they can keep the price down and if it works.  If they stopped the Kin because they do not work well, then the developing world should not be a dumping place for failed technologies.  There are a ton of really cheap phones, but, at least in Kenya, there is a desire to have some more functionality.  Phones with radios and flashlights were an absolute want/need for most with a small income.  It can be an interesting possibility for Kenya at the very least.  IPhones and Blackberries are available, but can run a couple hundred USD as compared to a phone with a radio for $25. HT @Katrinskaya
  • This would be wonderful! From @derekmarkham Finally! Use Multiple Google Accounts in One Browser http://dlvr.it/2d8dN via @webaddict @gigaom
  • More on the French Burqa ban from CFR Senior Fellow Isobel Coleman HT @NaheedMustafa.
  • Boston Big Picture does what is number one on my life to do list: The Festival of San Fermin (aka running of the bulls)
  • RT @joshuafoust Americans overwhelmingly want to cut 0.5% of the budget that goes to helping other people, but nothing else. http://ow.ly/2btPX
  • Read the story above? Ok, now read this blog post from Paul Krugman - http://ow.ly/2buwW

13 July 2010

Interesting Reads

I tend to shoot out tweets of articles I find interesting, but forget that not everyone uses it.  So I am going to try to post interesting articles that I come across.  I might add a comment or two, but by posting the article does not mean I endorse it or condemn it.  It is just a worthwhile read in my opinion.  This may or may not be related to aid and development, but just what strikes my fancy.

Update: added two more reads.  Need to publish this later in the day from now on.
  • Prendergast & Eggers say "The peace in Sudan is one the United States 'owns.' @wrongingrights Kate rightly disagrees http://bit.ly/9EoMqQ
  • ‘How Experience in Foreign Cultures Facilitates Creativity’ http://bit.ly/d93p97  It is exactly what I found when I was in Kenya last year.  There was something stirring about being in an entirely new place that lead to a significant shift in my thought process.  Now back, it has just disappeared. HT to @gkofiannan for this find.
  • New Blog find - http://www.epitales.com/
  • Washington Post calls for bombing/invading Somali. http://j.mp/blZAjV Brilliant stupidity from the Washington Post.  Although it is concerning that Al-Shabab has moved its attacks into neighboring countries well past the boarder.  This is not like dipping into Nothern Kenya. However, war is not a good idea.  It has been such a failure with Al Qaeda that we do not need to strengthen the connections between the two organizations. HT @max_fisher
  • I "love" this picture from @ecoblips today http://twitpic.com/24xfbp
  • Journalist Eleanor Miller reflects on her time in Haiti on her blog http://www.eleanoramiller.com/
  • Top must read on this list - “Is Humanitarian Design the New Imperialism?”
  • French MPs vote to ban Islamic full veil in public http://tinyurl.com/3a6ypf6 I tend to feel that this is an infringement of individual rights, but recognize that there are instances where the full veil is worn without choice or because of a male dominated theology/faith.  There are some who express the desire to wear for sake of tradition.  I wonder if it is the role of a government to impose such legislation.  I am torn.  Great convo with @NaheedMustafa about it.  Follow her to read and jump in! HT @KeshetBachan
  • Linda Raftree (aka @meowtree) teaches what is appropriate etiquette in a van.
  • Another new find - http://www.jinamoore.com/blog/ Check out her blog and articles! Really digging her work.
  • Rwanda: Democratic Green Party official missing, car found near Butare: http://bit.ly/blmMUg HT @texasinafrica
  • Kristof says he sees hope in his visits, but why does he not express that in his articles?  He discusses the rising of humanity yet continues to show irresponsible natives who need to be saved by foreingers. http://ow.ly/2b1Pr

12 July 2010

I Love This Picture

I don’t make a habit of posting pictures any longer, but this is just too good not to share:

Caption: South African Lucas Mahuca, 3, kicks a ball as he plays soccer in a field next to his house in Diepsloot, north of Johannesburg, South Africa. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti

*Hopefully the AP won’t come after me.  I make no money off this blog.

09 July 2010

The Answer We Have Been Waiting For?

Update 2: Texas in Africa points to the Alex Perry blow up and it makes me appreciate the fact that Mr. Kristof did not blow up when criticized in the video below and also when he met much stronger reactions to his piece on the girl raped in the DRC earlier this year.
Update: Added video of response

So Nick Kristof, New York Times columnist, asked for questions a few months ago for him to answer. Yesterday, he answered his first about Rwanda’s government and the relationship to Democracy. Today, he was asked why his articles portray “black Africans as victims” and “white foreigners as their saviors.” I wish I could embed the video here of his response, but it has not made it to his YouTube page, so you will have to settle for this link.

Mr. Kristof is gracious enough not to turn criticism into an attack. He does defend himself, but chooses not to turn the question around or avoid what is being asked of him. In short, he responds by saying that he uses ‘white protagonists, usually from America’ as a way to ‘bridge’ the story to what he really wants to discuss. His point being that people would not want to read about Central Africa (his example) if there was no connection.

There is a valid point that he makes. By using an American to make the connection, people will feel drawn to read and learn more about the issue he is presenting. What I wonder is if this is a natural or learned connection. I do not want to even attempt to try some hack psychology, but could it be possible that people will continue reading without an American protagonist? Maybe we just want a protagonist in the story. Remember, there is a strong support for and recognition of Nelson Mandela. I would guess to say this is because of his story. Funny thing is that this is the exact opposite of a Kristof piece. The black African is the protagonist and the white foreigners the villains (might be a bit of a harsh word, but works for my point).

Kristof has nearly 1 million twitter followers and is published in the New York Times. He has been building an audience for awhile now and needs to use his platform to report responsibly. He can have protagonists that are not foreigners, but nationals of the country he is covering. He lists a few people whom has has profiled, but why not make that the norm? There are a lot of Americans in Africa who are doing terrible work. Why not highlight them as well? The story of the DRC (his country of choice it seems) is far more complex than rebels raping women and forcing children into soldiers who are helped by foreigners. Expand the narrative a bit. Show what is going on in the DRC and focus on the people who are there and live in the country, not those who come to ‘save’ them.

08 July 2010

My 30 for 30

I thought about this the other day, and was partially inspired by @texasinafrica, and have decided that I would like to se the goal of traveling to 30 countries and 30 US states by the time I turn 30.  It is really rather simple.  I need to stay a night in a location for it to count or have made multiple trips to the place (ie. I have been to Delaware numerous times and not just driving through).  Airport layovers, no matter how long, do not count.  As it stands I have been to the following

US States (25 of 30)

  1. Maine
  2. Vermont
  3. New Hampshire
  4. New York
  5. Connecticut
  6. Rhode Island
  7. Massachusetts
  8. New Jersey
  9. Delaware
  10. Maryland
  11. Virginia
  12. North Carolina
  13. South Carolina
  14. Georgia
  15. Florida
  16. Utah
  17. Colorado
  18. Alaska
  19. Illinois
  20. Michigan
  21. Ohio
  22. Indiana
  23. California
  24. Washington - 2010
  25. Texas – 2010

Countries (11 of 30)

  1. United States (yea it counts)
  2. Canada
  3. Mexico
  4. France
  5. England
  6. Switzerland
  7. Austria
  8. Kenya
  9. Uganda
  10. Rwanda
  11. Dominican Republic –Late July 2010

So, as far as states go I am pretty set.  Countries will require a bit of work.

07 July 2010

Donors as Investors

When the IPad came out a few months ago many people rushed to pre-order the groundbreaking device. It is safe to assume that the majority of these people were already Apple users. They were the people who had a MacBook and an IPhone. In other words, they were users of Apple products and had a familiarity with what Apple had provided in the past. The more deliberate waited for reviews to come out. As the feedback returned and some playing around took place at the Apple stores, those who waited decided to buy an IPad for themselves.

This is the way that we act as consumers. We buy things based on recommendations or past experiences. If we know little, we ask friends and look to sites like Amazon where the company and users provide ratings and reviews. With technology and cars, we go for a test drive to make sure that it works the way we want and there are no problems.

Why is it that we are deliberate when considering how to spend our money, but not when we donate it? A person stands on the side of the street and asks for money for an INGO, or a brochure shows up one day with a child who is in need of your help. Do you ask around if anybody knows the organization? Look online to find out what they do and their history? Do you know where your money is really going?

Let’s look at this another way. If you wanted to buy a new TV from a Craig’s List ad, would you send your money first before seeing what the TV looks like and if the person is trustworthy? I would bet most people would ask for pictures, proof the television works, and to purchase it face to face so as not to be swindled?

So why do that when making a donation? Just like not every seller on Craig’s List and eBay is trustworthy, not every non-for-profit is effective, doing what it says it does, and/or provides a service which is beneficial to the people it is serving.

One example of this problem is Playpump. While not a bad form of development, it has proven to be more problematic that helpful. PBS Frontline (http://to.pbs.org/9368Ws) has taken a look at the PlayPumps which were a resounding success when introduced three years ago.  What was thought to be a great program has turned out to be one which barely works due to lack of upkeep and the fact that it is generally used by elderly women, not children. Worth noting, is the fact that a blogger working in Malawi identified the problems the NPR piece is only now addressing, last August (http://bit.ly/12Eiz5).  All the while, PlayPump was able to raise money for a program that caused more harm than good.  This past May, the Case Foundation has acknowledged the shortcomings of Playpumps this past May (http://bit.ly/cPt2s6) and have shifted their support for them.

There are certainly times to take chances on innovative ideas and initiatives in every sector, but prudence and research are absolutely necessary. A donation should be thought of as an investment in a company. Instead of a financial return, the donor should expect a positive return that is based on what the intended recipient gets. What is at stake is not just money, but the livelihoods of people around the world. Make smart decisions when it comes time to donate your money. Do the research and follow up on where your money is going and how it will be put to benefit the recipients.

01 July 2010

National Conference on Volunteering and Service: A Reflection

I spent the past three days at the National Conference on Volunteering and Service (NCVS) held in New York City.  I was fortunate enough to catch some really interesting sessions and events which included people like the new CNCS CEO Patrick Corvington, Arianna Huffington, Sec of Edu Arne Duncan, NYC Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, Scott Heifermann from MeetUp, and Charles Best from Donors Choose (amongst many more).  There are some really interesting things going in on the service world and I wanted to share some of my reactions and reflections from the event.  There is no real order to this and each point will be varied.

  • Arne Duncan is out to kick some serious ass.  He made it clear that he will do anything (close schools, extend days, extend school year, etc.) in order to turn around the American school system.  He is of the mind that it is better to try something out full tilt than to implement incremental change.  His remarks were exciting and terrifying.  There is no doubt a need to radically change public schools, it is just a matter of how he plans on doing it.
  • Results matter! And they have to be measured.  This is what EVERYONE was talking about at the conference. Duncan wants measurable results, Klein does, and Duncan most of all.  Fortunately, it was heartening to hear that Duncan acknowledged that data must be broad and still can only show a small part of the picture.  Being a person who is not a fan of testing, I found the comments disappointing to say the least.  Hopefully the drive for data will not turn reform into NCLB 2.0.
  • Volunteerism is on the up and up!  Here is a list of a few of the major sponsors: Target, JP Morgan Chase, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Motorola GE, Bank of America and it keeps going.  We heard from people from the first four listed and they all said they are looking to increase volunteerism within their organizations.  Corvington said in no uncertain terms that there is a need to increase volunteering within and out of the United States.  The 250,000 volunteers that are mandated in the Serve America Act do not seem to be a random number.
  • Do not forget international volunteering!  Service World is trying to get to the goals set by Sergeant Shriver in getting Peace Corps to 100,000 volunteers.  The initiative is signed by numerous corporations and service groups to increase the exchanged of volunteers around the world.  So, anybody who has problems and concerns with international volunteering, it is only going to get worse.
  • Great thought coming from TechSoup: ‘Do not fall to the tyranny of the urgent’
  • Boomers represent the majority of new Facebook users and LOVE YouTube.
  • PS 22 ROCKS! http://ps22chorus.blogspot.com/2010/06/hq-version-of-ill-stand-by-you-from.html
  • Bloomberg is serious about this Cities of Service coalition –> more volunteering
  • Mustaches for Kids by donors choose might be the most brilliant way to get guys who are my age to raise money and take part in non-for-profit projects
  • Ryan Scott from Causecast is a willing listener and wants to form the best section possible with the Impact section of the Huffington Post.
  • Scott Heifermann, co-founder of MeetUp, loves his organization and has a crazy passion for the potential of meet ups that can take place based on common interest and lead to an understanding across political, social and economic lines.  He sees his org as a way for voices to be heard and not stifled.  A source of some sort of elicitor of truth.  Yes, grand, but was also inspiring.
  • Steven Colbert is on the board of Donors Choose…..I am jealous.
  • “There is no ROI without investment”
  • Sonal Shah – The government is looking to scale good ideas/solutions
  • Data shows that NPs which fro to over $1 million see a decline in HR quality
  • NPs with more volunteers tend to have smaller budgets
  • 4 fundamentals from the Reimagining Service Initiative (which is HEAVILY influencing CNCS):
    • Make volunteering fundamental not an add on
    • volunteering changes the core economics of organizations
    • Don’t let supply dictate your volunteer programs
    • In order to get a return, you have to invest
  • Which speaker do you think said this at least three times in his remarks “The road to hell is paved by good intentions.” Hint: His org was mentioned previously.
  • I do not remember who said this, but I like it “If I expected to hire people for my company the same way organizations are expected to take volunteers we would go out of business”


I will add anything else I can remember.  Anyone else go?