28 February 2011

A Perspective on Young Women

Keshet Bachan-Dovrat of Plan International speaks about the importance of targeting young women.

In short, Keshet is awesome. Check out her blog and follow her on twitter.

Tea Party Can Learn From Tories

Thomas Carothers, vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, writes for the New Republic on how Republicans can learn from the austerity actions taken by the Tory-led British government.

U.S. foreign aid can certainly be improved, especially the use of large dollops of security aid to try to buy friendships with dubious governments. The Obama administration’s efforts to date on aid reform merit debate and scrutiny. Yet slashing and burning is not the answer. If House Republicans want to get serious about developing a cost-conscious but still responsible approach to financing America’s global role, they should abandon their trash talk about foreign aid and get serious about weighing costs and benefits across the spectrum of the international affairs budget. Taking a page from their British counterparts would be a good way to start.

25 February 2011

How Internet Strengthens

...dictators INGOs.  Evgeny Morozov presents an interesting theory on how dictators can use the internet to maintain their power in his above TED talk.  In watching the video, I was struck by the similarities to the world of INGOs.  Notably, he gives the example of the Chinese government inviting critics to become special reporters.  In doing so, the government was able to shift criticism.

The Frontier is Everywhere

This makes me want to join NASA.

24 February 2011

Gervais Pens (fake) Oscars Opener

Since he will not be hosting the Oscars, Gervais has written a mock-opening for Anne Hathaway (AH) and James Franco (JF), the real hosts of Sunday's show. The bit is, in my opinion, biting and humorous. The best part comes at the beginning as Gervais makes fun of celebrities feeling of self worth through philanthropy. It might make you squirm to read what he says, but that is only because his jokes rest in truth.

But you can all relax because Ricky Gervais is in London...

(Nervous laughter)

He's doing some charity work.
Yeah, he's visiting orphans with cancer.
He's telling them what bald little losers they are...

GDP, Population and Exports of Countries vs. Chinese provinces

The Economist has come out with this interactive map which compares countries to Chinese provinces based on GDP, population and exports. In January they did the same thing by using states within the United States of America as a point of comparison.

Sorry that the map is slightly cut off, but you can see the entire one by going here.

23 February 2011

Kabbalah Center in Malawi? Not a Great Idea.

Nekesa Mumbi Moody reports for the AP on the challenges experienced by Madonna's charity in Malawi.
Logistical problems and other concerns have led Madonna to abandon her plan to build a girls-only school in Malawi, but the new leader of her effort says the superstar instead plans many more schools with educational groups already working toward that goal.

"Basically, what we'd be doing is expanding the ability for a group of nonprofits to provide education to more kids," said Trevor Neilson in an interview with The Associated Press on Thursday...

"Madonna increasingly began to have concerns about the effectiveness of the existing strategy and management team, and as a result has made sweeping changes in order to better serve more children in Malawi," he said.
The same broken record keeps on playing, "It ain't easy." Plenty keep on saying it, but maybe it is at too low of a volume. Or could it be outside the auditory range for most? The charity has brought on some experienced players, but it has the opportunity to fail. The funder has a little bit of money.

22 February 2011

Notes From InterAction

I had the opportunity to attend and speak at a luncheon held by InterAction last Thursday in their offices in DC. Being my long-winded self, I prepared far more notes that I was able to cover. So, I figured I might as well share what I wrote down in preparation for discussing the role of social media and specifically lessons learned about aid and development bloggers.

Please note that these notes are really raw and I am asking for a little bit of forgiveness for errors, incomplete thoughts and quick reactions.  I have never thought about the use of social media in a more complete context, so these notes are very much early thought-bursts.  Feedback is very welcome and encouraged.

17 February 2011

Aid Watch Curse

Last Thursday, an Aid Watch post had some fun with Twitter analytic Klout.  I was slightly ahead of Bill Easterly and concluded that I deserved a book deal.  However, I noticed something last night:

A few days after the post, my score saw an inexplicable drop.  The only reasonable truth is that I have been back-stabbed by Aid Watch as they wrote the post in order to poison my Klout score and move ahead of me!

Note: Klout altered their algorithm on the 15th and the drop is due to the switch.  Easterly should have more klout being that he is much smarter than I.  However, it is much more fun to draw conclusions that blame others.

16 February 2011

The Challenge of Campaigns: Kenya and Infidelity

PlusNews Global reports on the trouble with evaluating the current campaign in Kenya to stamp out infidelity. The 'Wacha Mpango Wa Kando: Epuka Ukimwi' [Swahili: "Let Go of Your Side Relationship: Escape HIV] campaign was everywhere when I was in Kenya a year ago. The advertisements were in the Daily Nation on a frequent basis. However, the Nation also featured what became a weekly favorite, 'My Dilemma.'

Each Thursday a dilemma would be featured with comments from readers. The general theme was around marriage. Either a person was married and having an affair or it was the unmarried person having an affair with a married (usually man) who makes promises to end his current marriage but never seems to do it. The responses often told of seeking God for answers and were downright funny as people would scold the individual for being foolish.

15 February 2011

Second Hand Clothes: The Data Edition

Dean Karlan makes a very good criticism of critics by pointing out that there is not sufficient data when looking at donated shirts.

However, we do know a think or two about secondhand clothing (SHC).  I decided to look around to see what I could find in terms of performed studies. In a study conducted in 2005, Oxfam looked at existing data, West Africa and Senegal to determine the impact of SHC on the continent. The study concluded that:

Stiglitz Dishes on Development and the IMF

Former World Bank Economist and Nobel economics laureate Joseph Stiglitz discusses the role of the 'West' in aid implementation throughout Africa.  In the video, he expresses a deserved level of optimism when discussing the growth of Africa.  Not shying away from calling out some mistakes, Stiglitz names the IMF as one of the offenders saying that they encouraged ideas that had an 'adverse effect.'  He then hits on some of the basic advice points with how the continent can see growth.  For example he advises, "One of the things that Africa has to do is realize it cannot just be a source of natural resources, that it has to start industrializing, producing agriculture services -- it's not just the old industry."

Overall, there is nothing new offered here except for a competitive streak with the IMF.

14 February 2011

Dispelling the Extremes

With the discussions going on about GIK donations the past week, there are a few videos that should be watched as they fit within the overall discussion. One such example is this 2007 TEDGlobal talk from journalist Andrew Mwenda. He is certainly hyper-critical, but touches on how aid can stifle growth.

It is a video worth watching while thinking of the role of GIK distribution. World Vision is getting beat up a bit, but they are certainly not the only organization who does this. They just happen to be the one who made a big deal about it recently.

DC Aid Hack Tweet Up

After a long day checking to see who retweed your latest blog post while trying to get a report done for the job that actually pays you, you deserve a drink.  So, come on out and meet all the others who spend their day improving their work efficiency through twitter.
If you do not use twitter, join now or you will be ridiculed by all for not having a clever handle that is the adult version of an AIM username.  Please bring friends and co-workers who might be interested in hanging out with people who work in international aid and development.  Heck, bring your dog; it would be a great conversation piece.
We will be gathering downstairs at the Iron Horse starting at 6PM.  There will be some fun balloons that are guaranteed to be filled with helium.   If you feel like you might want food, do not worry because the Iron Horse will not provide any.  So, be sure to bring a snack or even a meal to the bar. California Tortilla delivers and then there's McDonalds, Chipotle, California Tortilla, Subway, Five Guys, Z Pizza, and 'oodles' of cheap Chinese places in the area.
Hope to see you all there!

13 February 2011

12 February 2011

Cross-Post: A Call for Young Professionals.

The following is cross-posted from Amanda Makulec's blog.  Discussions over volunteering abroad are always spirited, but it seems that the Global Health Corps does two things well.  First, they pair members with people from different parts of the world.  Second, they are using people with specialized skills to perform services that are needed.  The double-edged sword of international aid and development is that experience working abroad is necessary.  So, I am glad to see a program like this exists.
Getting your career started in development work – including global health – can be tough.  Among my friends from grad school, I’ve seen a few scenarios play out:

World Vision Politik

Friday evening, World Vision published a response to the the outpouring of criticism centering around their sending of 100,000 articles of clothing to selected countries in conjunction with the NFL.  I will save you the time reading a very lengthy response that does little to address the concerns of the critics of the program.

World Vision says that the debate reached their offices but still has them deciding to continue with their programs because they make targeted donations, staff make requests for needs, there will be no 'measurable impact' on the economies where the goods are distributed.

11 February 2011


Yea right!

Photo Credit - Do see all of the photos on Boston Big Picture, they are stunning.

Fun iPhone App Teaches Country MDG Progress

I came across this little iPhone app called 'DevContacts.' Unfortunately, I am a Blackberry guy, but I do have an iPod touch. So, I downloaded it for free and played around. As you can see above, the application creates a secondary contact list that randomly places contacts into different countries. Above you can see that I am from Belize and can swipe over to see how the nation is progressing towards the MDGs.

It is a clever way of seeing the challenges in each nation and showing that a friend could have easily been born in that country. In many ways it reminds me of the Save The Children Lottery of Life Campaign. It would be great if the app followed the lead of STC and had people randomly selected for their nation based on global demographics. The number of people living in low or middle income countries would be striking when seen to the relative smallness of the high income world.

Having it for a few days now, I click in every so often and learn something new each time.

Stop the Pity: Now We are Getting Somewhere

Mamma Hope has done something revolutionary! They have made a campaign that does not try to elicit pity. 'Stop the Pity. Unlock the Potential.' has kicked off with the above video of Alex re-telling the story of Commando, the 1980's action movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger.

This is what better advocacy looks like. The end of the video plays on all the talents of Alex and invites the viewer to 'unlock' his potential by supporting the organization. If we can start seeing those in poverty as having potential it will create a shift in the way in which donors view the recipients of aid.

As a side note, the kids who hung around my house in Kenya were wild for Jet Li and Jackie Chan. Kung-Fu movies were a constant reference and request. The same kids who appear as the ones with tattered clothes and crying eyes, were very much full of energy as joy as they ran around re-enacting the movies they saw.

Also, if you are flying Virgin America Airlines, you will get to see this video in-flight.

So, maybe a larger faith-based organization everyone has been talking about can follow the lead of Mama Hope to become the leader in a new way of telling stories...

HT Penelope

10 February 2011

Konclusions from Aid Watch Post

Aid Watch ran a very funny post on Klout this morning (see the highly scientific table they produced after many days of rigorous research and RCTs).  A few commented and I decided that, being the thought leader of the bunch makes me instantly able to draw spot on conclusions.  I present to you what this all means:

1) I am the only person on the list without a book or movie. Clearly, Klout is saying that I should have a book deal by now. So, let the bidding begin. Email me.
2) Klout score is relative to intellectual aptitude.
3) Aid Watch must write a “How To” for readers who are new to this blog. Satire can be hard.
4) There is a marketing opportunity here. Hipsters loved the Jen vs Angelina t-shirts and the Twilight campaign for Team Edward and Team Jacob was ubiquitous (note: It covered a Burger King in Austria last year).  Someone must immediately print shirts for Team Easterly and Team Sachs and make twitter ribbons for avatars. The only way to settle this is to make a profit off of it. I suggest that the shirts have plain letters with a head shot of the respective scholar. Brooklyn will thank you.
5)Since I would wear my Team Easterly shirt proudly and using the argument of Sam, my Klout points would then go towards Easterly.
6) Klout, please feel free to sponsor my blog.
7) Next up, Kristof!
8) I win at twitter.  I would like to thank my followers and RTers for your continued support.  I couldn't have done it with out you!
9)To be explicit: This post is way more serious than the original Aid Watch post.
10) Conclusion number 9 was dripping in sarcasm.

Is Aid Working or Failing? Let's Debate!


With Easterly debating Earth Institute and Owen Barder asking if the public cares, it is worth watching this debate from Intelligence Squared US that features Easterly and John McArthur, formerly of the MVP.

Can Cell Phones Push Education?

Claire Melamed writes for The Global Dashboard about her concerns regarding technology and illiteracy, saying:
If (and it’s a quite colossal if), the projections in this graph are correct, then by the end of next year there will be more mobile phone subscriptions in Africa than people who are literate. That’s when illiteracy, and not lack of access to technology, might be the thing that stops people communicating.

You need a minimum of literacy to be able to use a mobile. And if mobile phones become the main way that people access the internet, which may well happen as people leapfrog straight to smartphones, then illiteracy and not lack of technology may become the barrier to internet access too.
I want to play a little bit of Devil's advocate for a moment with Ms Melamed's argument (which I am glad she made).  Yes, there is a gap between literacy and the number of cell phone users and it is concerning that the technology is exceeding the capability of the users.  However, could it be for the better?  Is it possible that by demanding higher levels of literacy that people will 'rise to the occasion?'

09 February 2011

Evaluating Impact: Kevin Starr

In the video, Kevin Starr of the Mulango Foundation, discusses his thoughts on measuring impact.  He offers some simple ways to take a look a projects and how to effectively evaluate their successes.  In the end, he takes a look at failed projects like One Laptop Per Child and PlayPumps to show where they went wrong.  This is a good step towards the idea of implementing solid evaluations, but Starr really could have driven things home if he used his own foundation amongst the examples.  It is easy to point out the failures of others while not considering our own.

Kevin offers four excellent questions for evaluating projects that are presented:

100K Discussions about World Vision

Update 1: A post on the discussion/debate on Humanosphere provides a nice summary.

World Vision (WV) announced that for the 15th year they are going to be distributing the unused gear from the Super Bowl loser (aka the Steelers).  The announcement has stirred some discussions surrounding the choice to distribute clothing.  Noting the buzz, WV has responded by saying:

08 February 2011

To Enjoy: "Bohemian Rhapsody" on Ukulele

Take a break and enjoy.
Jake Shimabukuro strums monster sounds out of the tiny Hawaiian ukulele, as he plays a cover of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody." A sensational performance from TED2010 -- it'll send shivers down your spine.
via TED Videos 

07 February 2011

CSIS Panel on Innovation and the MDGs

This is a talk that is well worth watching.

CSIS’s Dan Runde guided a discussion with panelists Dr. Alex Dehgan of USAID, Dr. John McArthur of Millennium Promise, and Dr. Sasha Kramer of SOIL on innovation and the Millennium Development Goals. The panelists presented public, private, and systemic ways to spur development through innovation, including
  • how to take development interventions to scale;
  • using prize authority at USAID to stimulate problem solving; and
  • how to foster cross-disciplinary cooperation to manage complexity.

05 February 2011

Polio's Last Mile

This past week, Bill Gates has appeared just about everywhere to talk about his push to eradicate polio. Since 1988, polio has been reduced from over 350,000 cases in 125 countries to about 1,000 cases in four countries today. Only Afghanistan, India, Nigeria and Pakistan stand between complete eradication of the disease.
Why the push for eradication? According to the foundation's annual letter, "eradication could save the world up to $50 billion over the next 25 years." Besides the eradication of a terrible disease, the economic burden on families to treat polio -- as well as the funds spent by governments and NGOs -- could be significantly alleviated. Gates also says that he hopes the "success will energize the field of global health by showing that investments in health lead to amazing victories."

04 February 2011

Gates is Everywhere!

Gates has been everywhere this week talking about eradicating polio. Here he talks about this plan on Al Jazeera English. It is very clear that the money is in one big pot right now, so who is going to leap for it? With so much power (re: $$$$), Gates is in the unique position to drive global health. I cannot say I know enough to really understand what this will all mean over the next few years. However, it is hard not to be a bit cautious when considering how easily his decisions can change the priorities of global health. That is not to suggest that this is not important, I don't know better, but to suggest that there is a lot of power in a single NGO.

This could be a good thing or a bad thing. What do you think?

03 February 2011

Fanboy Moment

Now, I can say that I have made it.

Also, you should check out the Healthy Dose every morning!

Shah's New Evaluation Policy

People keep talking about it, but they all don't want to embed the video of Shah discussing his new plans a USAID evaluation policy. I like one-stop-shop posts when it comes to videos. So do watch the talk from Shah above.

I am a bit more wait and see type when it comes to big things like the new evaluation policy. However, it is hard not to be optimistic by the steps that Shah has been taking. I was quite pessimistic when he spoke of introducing more transparency back in September, but it looks like Shah is really following through. This makes the press from tea party types to de-fund USAID all the more worrying.

Swat Bugs, Save Lives?

Orkin, yes that Orkin, has released an application called Bug Battle for Apple products. They have announced that they will donate $10,000 to the Fight the Bite campaign by Nothing But Nets if 50,000 people download the app by February 28.

The game is a bit of a strange one to pair with Nothing But Nets as players have the option of uploading photos and swatting the heads of the person of their choice.  Also, the description of the game does not mention this partnership with Nothing But Nets.  Nevertheless, apps for a cause is something that can catch on. Especially when the do not cause anything.

02 February 2011

The (Il)Logic of Beck

If I was to be giving a lesson on how to use misinformation or how to draw terribly wrong conclusions, I would show that video. The way that Beck manipulates the current global system is simply offensive and quite scary. People watched this on Monday night with growing fear as they came to believe that the next great war has begun and the organized Muslims are just getting started.

What is worse is that I know that Bachmann, Palin and co will be using these same arguments pretty soon.

Colbert Calls Vaccines a "Waste of Money" Since Kids Didn't Get Sick

Dr. Paul Offit talks about vaccines with Steven Colbert on Monday night.  This is Colbert at his absolute best.  By asking absurd questions and making equally absurd claims, Colbert allows Dr. Offit to take down the many baseless arguments against vaccines.


"I feel like a chump because I had my kids immunized against Rubella.  Guess what? They never got Rubella.  It was a waste of money." - Colbert's best line

Offit makes a great argument saying that there are 500,000 people who cannot be vaccinated due to sicknesses.  We must all be vaccinated in order to prevent it from spreading to the the few who are not.

01 February 2011

Map of the Day - The United Skull of America

via Street Anatomy

Gates Makes the Case for International Aid

As a part of the Gates Foundation annual letter, Bill Gates gives a few short thoughts on some of the subjects covered in the letter.  To me, this is the most important as he makes his case for international aid saying:
I believe it is in the rich world’s enlightened self-interest to continue investing in foreign aid. If societies can’t provide for people’s basic health, if they can’t feed and educate people, then their populations and problems will grow and the world will be a less stable place.

Whether you believe it a moral imperative or in the rich world’s enlightened self-interest, securing the conditions that  will lead to a healthy, prosperous future for everyone is a goal I believe we all share.