29 April 2011

Weekend Tunes: Panda Bear

The latest offering from Noah Lennox, aka Panda Bear, of Animal Collective does not quite reach the heights of 2007's Person Pitch, but is a must buy album. This is one of my initial favorites entitled Surfer's Hymn.

Aid Myths Expanded

John Norris of the Center for American Progress writes the five myths about foreign aid in the Washington Post. Here is a listing of a the five; if you go to the original article you can read his explanations.
1. Republicans hate foreign aid.
2. Foreign aid is a budget buster.
3. We give aid so countries will do as we say.
4. Foreign governments waste the aid we give them.
5. No one ever graduates from U.S. foreign aid.
I would like to add a few more with brief explanations as to why I have included them. The comments section is free for debate, tweaks and further suggestions.

6. Overheads are an effective way of evaluating an organization

I have written a long-ish post on this subject. In short, I argue that it is the end result which should carry more weight. Apple is evaluated for the quality of the product, not for how much it costs to research and produce it. Overheads should not be entirely ignored, but they are a weak indicator when taken alone in the evaluation of an organization.

7. Aid has been a resounding success/failure.

The answer is in the middle. Even some of the most bullish adherents to either of the phrases admit that there are instances where aid has failed and succeeded. Aid has done good. Of anyone, Owen Barder has done the best job explaining that aid has in fact worked without being a blind cheerleader or a complete cynic. Anyone who claims either of the two polls is overstating his or her case.

8. Good intentions make bad aid permissible.

Ben Harper sings, "Cause there's good deeds and there is good intention, / They're as far apart as heaven and hell" in his song Ground On Down. OK, that is a bit over dramatic, but cut him some slack since it is a lyric. Regardless, the point is to highlight that good deeds and good intentions might not alight from time to time. Because someone has the best of intentions does not mean that s/he deserves a free pass from criticism. They also should not be torn to shreds either. The recent allegations against Greg Mortenson and the gift in kind debates are good illustrations of the problems with seeing only good intentions while ignoring the impact on the ground.

9. The world's poor are unable to help themselves.

This might seem obvious, but ideas still do start from the point of view that we (meaning the program implementers) are the only ones capable of lifting the poor out of poverty. We certainly do have a part to play in supporting development, but it is problematic to assume that it is something that only we can do. This line of thinking creates a paradigm of a helper and the helpless which creates a position of power over others rather than seeing them as partners.

10. Those in the field/academia are out of touch with what is 'really happening' and the solutions that are needed.

Much like number 7, this is something which people like to hold onto on either extreme. One of my favorite comments that I see time and time again is something like "I am actually doing something here in the field and you are doing nothing in your cushy tower." That variation pops up a lot and has even been leveled against people who have significant field experience. The other side of the coin will say that the solutions have been found at it is incompetent workers who are mucking it all up. Both are wrong and this is a big problem. We need some distance to look at what is being effective. At the same time, we need people implementing programs and providing the feedback to say what is feasible. Both have to work together and neither has it completely right.


I will stop at 10 to keep it nice and round. There are many more to add to this list and I am hoping that you will contribute.

28 April 2011

The Anti-Poverty Trap: 1 Billion Hungry

With Poor Economics out, Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo take to Foreign Policy and examine the claim that there are $1 billion hungry people in the world. It is no surprise that they conclude it is far more complex than the claim made. In the article, they unpack the reasons why the claim is hard to quantify and break down some of the propose solutions.
Are there really more than a billion people going to bed hungry each night? Our research on this question has taken us to rural villages and teeming urban slums around the world, collecting data and speaking with poor people about what they eat and what else they buy, from Morocco to Kenya, Indonesia to India. We've also tapped into a wealth of insights from our academic colleagues. What we've found is that the story of hunger, and of poverty more broadly, is far more complex than any one statistic or grand theory; it is a world where those without enough to eat may save up to buy a TV instead, where more money doesn't necessarily translate into more food, and where making rice cheaper can sometimes even lead people to buy less rice.

But unfortunately, this is not always the world as the experts view it. All too many of them still promote sweeping, ideological solutions to problems that defy one-size-fits-all answers, arguing over foreign aid, for example, while the facts on the ground bear little resemblance to the fierce policy battles they wage...

But what if the poor are not, in general, eating too little food? What if, instead, they are eating the wrong kinds of food, depriving them of nutrients needed to be successful, healthy adults? What if the poor aren't starving, but choosing to spend their money on other priorities? Development experts and policymakers would have to completely reimagine the way they think about hunger. And governments and aid agencies would need to stop pouring money into failed programs and focus instead on finding new ways to truly improve the lives of the world's poorest...

We often see the world of the poor as a land of missed opportunities and wonder why they don't invest in what would really make their lives better. But the poor may well be more skeptical about supposed opportunities and the possibility of any radical change in their lives. They often behave as if they think that any change that is significant enough to be worth sacrificing for will simply take too long. This could explain why they focus on the here and now, on living their lives as pleasantly as possible and celebrating when occasion demands it.

We asked Oucha Mbarbk what he would do if he had more money. He said he would buy more food. Then we asked him what he would do if he had even more money. He said he would buy better-tasting food. We were starting to feel very bad for him and his family, when we noticed the TV and other high-tech gadgets. Why had he bought all these things if he felt the family did not have enough to eat? He laughed, and said, "Oh, but television is more important than food!"

For anyone who does not want to sit through their book in its entirety, this is an adequate introduction into their work and what I believe to be a much more fine tuned way at addressing global poverty. Grand claims of 1 billion people being hungry are appealing because it is a big and very simple number, but the truth is not quite as simple. As the two authors illustrate, simplicity can lead to the wrong solutions. These solutions are not looked at critically because supporters begin with the suppositions put forward.

In a sense it creates an 'anti-poverty trap.'

27 April 2011

Things I Like: Imagining a World Without Atrocities

This is the fourth post in my weekly series Things I Like.  Last week I featured the Center for Global Development.  You can follow the series by going here.
What would the world look like without genocide or crimes against humanity?  A forward thinking question that 3Generations has put forward to 14 change makers, celebrities, reporters, and activists; in a set of short videos that they have produced to get people to imagine progress and success. Interviews include: Peter Gabriel; Carolyn Forche; Alex Stark; Rachel Lloyd; Scilla Elworthy; James Smith; Freddy Mutanguha; Stephen Smith; Brian Steidle; Jerry Fowler; Ann Curry; Kathy Freston; John Prendergast; and Luis Moreno Ocampo.
If we don't have a vision of a better future can we really create one? Leaders as diverse as The Dalai Lama and Martin Luther King have shown us the need for vision to build a path to lasting peace and progress.

Yet since the Holocaust and United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, civil society has promised "never again" and still genocide and appalling atrocities have continued into the 21st century. We don't have a vision for how to build a world free from atrocity.

We need one.
I am a fan of this project because it aims to look forward to imagine the end result.  I think we often miss this even while working towards it.  All our time should not be spent imaging the future, but some should.  This does that with various individual perspectives. 

Lina Srivastava took part in the making of the project and kindly agreed to answer my questions.  She has published a manifesto as well that is well worth reading. Be sure to read the comments as James BonTempo makes a strong case for why "otherness" is necessary for achieving connectedness.

AVFTC: How are you involved in the project.
LS: I'm the strategist for 3Generations. I've been involved with the organization for about three years, since its initial start-up phase. In one of our brainstorming sessions early on, Jane Wells, the organization's Founder, and I came up with an idea about how to use narrative in creating a vision for the movement. Jane had just been to see the Dalai Lama, who had talked about the importance of creating a vision around a better world in order to actualize one. We started working on collecting stories and thoughts that would start building a vision, and when we were ready to launch the first phase of the project, I came in as project co-lead with Jane.
AVFTC: The project takes the stance of imagining the world without genocide. Most often, we are asked think of how to save/improve the world. Why start from the end point?
LS: Early on in the project, one of our colleagues had made the analogy that if a doctor is constantly doing emergency triage, it would be hard to concentrate on preventive care. In the same way, if we as a community are focused on immediate crises or on remediation, it's hard to pick up our collective head to see the path to solutions. We aren't saying the work of helping or saving isn't important-- instead, it's crucial. But the theory of this project is that if you don't have a vision for the end point, it's harder to work towards one. We're trying to see if we as a global community of activists can come of with a map, a vision, for how we get there. Imagining the world without atrocity makes it easier to design one.
AVFTC: Is a world with out genocide or atrocities actually possible?
LS: I'm not sure. We're always going to have conflict-- it's in our nature. And I think we're always going to have war, regrettable as that is. But I think there is a way to reduce the occurrence of atrocities, particularly today when we are so connected through communication and media and can know almost instantaneously when a community is in trouble or need. I also think there are ways to detect patterns and warning signs for when an atrocity is about to occur-- though our legal and institutional structures haven't caught up yet to respond. We have a lot of work to do, but I do think it's possible to create a global cultural shift towards a world that doesn't in the future support genocide or crimes against humanity.
AVFTC: Why did you decide to go with leaders, activists and celebrities only and not include 'ordinary' people?
LS: We initially wanted people on the front lines of activism and deep experience in dealing with these issues-- the deeper the experience, the richer the dream, perhaps? But we're not excluding "ordinary" people or lay people-- we're hoping to build the project to the point where we have contributions and participation from a number of communities around the world. We're hoping to amass a number of vision statements over the coming months to create a shared, global vision.
AVFTC: If someone only has time to see one of the videos, which one cannot be missed?
LS: I can't choose between them! They all offer different angles of building a vision.
AVFTC: How can you interview Peter Gabriel and not make him sing?
LS: He was so gracious to give Jane his time and thoughts-- I think his words sing. (But it would have been beautiful, yes. Maybe he'll indulge us next time.)

26 April 2011

Longer School Days?

Scholastic shares the above graphic which compares hours vs salary for teachers around the world.  The chart has many problems, but that is not the point of sharing it.  What strikes me is the fact that the United States has the highest number of hours worked.  I am unsure how hours are calculated, they are probably self-reported which can have its own set of problems.  However, as someone who has worked primarily with education as a teacher, volunteer and now managing AmeriCorps members in schools, this is troubling.

The latest craze is to increase the hours in the school day and even the school year.  The US consistently under-performs when compared to other nations across the board, yet it seems that our primary students spend significant time in the classroom.  To me, this indicates that there is a grossly high level of inefficiency within the current systems.  In my hack opinion it is systemic.

25 April 2011

China's Growing Investments in Africa

Trade between the two surpassed $120 billion in 2010, and in the past two years China has given more loans to poor, mainly African countries than the World Bank. The Heritage Foundation, an American think-tank, estimates that between 2005 and 2010 about 14% of China’s investment abroad found its way to sub-Saharan Africa. This has brought increased employment and prosperity to the region, but also allegations of damage to local businesses, corruption and the hoarding of natural resources.
Chart and quote come from The Economist. Take the Heritage Foundation as seriously as you want to, but they are the same organization who used fuzzy math to score the Ryan budget far too well. Either way, though nothing surprising, it is interesting to see the consistent growth of trade between China and Africa. I would like to see a chart which separates out low-income African nations.

23 April 2011

Why Didn't You Say So?

I guess it is easy to say this, but I had hopped not to write a post that reflects on the Greg Mortenson and Central Asia Institute blow-up. I thought plenty have written excellent articles and posts already. However, something keeps nagging at me. Why are so many people coming out and saying, "I knew it," after the story broke?

Amanda Taub at Wronging Rights said:
When I first heard about 3 Cups of Tea and CAI, I wondered if they were actually running schools, or just building them. The emphasis on the latter seemed weird. Buildings are nice, but surely "lack of freestanding dedicated structures" wasn't the main barrier to education in poor, rural areas that lacked infrastructure and transportation links? I actually read the book, ages ago, in the hope of finding out how CAI was handling teacher recruitment, salary, and curriculum issues. It did not answer my questions, but at the time I didn't see that as a sign of foul play. I figured that either (a) such bureaucratic details had been sacrificed in service of narrative, or (b) they were just building buildings, which is kind of lame.
Peter Hessler of the New Yorker had heard concerns before:
Last September, when I was researching a profile of Rajeev Goyal, an American development worker, I asked what he thought about the book “Three Cups of Tea.”

...Rajeev paused for a moment. “It seemed to be mostly about the author, about everything he accomplished,” he said slowly. “And that story is about quantity, about the number of schools built.” Rajeev said his own work had convinced him that construction projects are overvalued, and sometimes they can even have a negative impact on a community. He believed that teacher training and other cultural factors have more value. “A good teacher sitting under a tree can do more than a bad teacher in a new building,” he said. “That’s why I don’t want to do school construction anymore. It might have been a mistake. It’s a good instinct, as you want to help, but maybe it’s not the best thing.”

I asked about his impressions of Mortenson. “I kind of felt sorry for him,” Rajeev said. “That was my reaction reading the book. He must have low self-esteem.”

21 April 2011

Video of the Day: Diary by Tim Hetherington

Numerous reflections on the life of Tim Hetherington has been written. I cannot say I know anything about the life of Mr. Hetherington, but loss of any life should be mourned. However, the above video, shared by Glenna Gordon, strikes me as one of the best juxtapositions between the dual realities faced by an individual who has spent time between regions of conflict & poverty and the Western world. I think that anyone who has spent significant time living and working in low-income communities will find this short film to resonate.

On the film:

'Diary' is a highly personal and experimental film that expresses the subjective experience of my work, and was made as an attempt to locate myself after ten years of reporting. It's a kaleidoscope of images that link our western reality to the seemingly distant worlds we see in the media.

Camera + Directed by Tim Hetherington
Edit + Sound design by Magali Charrier
19' 08 / 2010

20 April 2011

What's Wrong with Being Wrong?

In her TED talk, Kathryn Schulz looks at the idea of being wrong and the barriers to accepting it. This has me thinking long and hard about what I write, how I determine what I believe to be right and wrong; and how I interact with people who I think are wrong. Again, this seems pretty appropriate considering the Mortenson buzz, but I think it would be wrong to focus on him with this video.

It is also worth mulling over the way that we have reacted to his work from first hearing about him, to reading the book to learning about the problems with the CAI. Even that might be too narrow of a scope as this applies to the sector as a whole and really our personal lives.

Why do we not like to admit being wrong?

And the Winner is...

Andy R who wrote, "I'm very supportive of local, grassroots development. There is no development without a thriving (and effective!) civil society."  Thank you to the other 22 entrants who have enabled a $22 donation to the IPA Proven Impact Fund.  For those of you who did not enter or lost, I do highly recommend that you get More Than Good Intentions.

Do also check out all the great ideas, people and organizations that were shared in the comments section.

Things I Like: The Center for Global Development

This is the third post in my weekly series Things I Like.  Last week I featured More than Good Intentions.  You can follow the series by going here.

There are many reasons to be like the Center for Global development, but their use of social media to share information and ideas is the aspect of the organization which attracts me most. They are one of a few organizations who seem to have a clear strategy for social media which encourages staff and fellows to use blogging and twitter by not simply broadcasting, but interacting with others who make up the diverse field of development.

This allows for us to journey along with David Roodman as he works on his book on microfinance, listen to excellent podcasts by Lawrence MacDonald who hosts the Global Prosperity Wonkcast, and trade tweets with the likes of Michael Clemens, Owen Barder, and Amanda Glassman.

19 April 2011

Confusing Success with Failure

This infographic from the Harvard Business Review seems pretty appropriate to share these days. Looking at water projects in Bangladesh, this shows how solutions were found that ended up being failures leading to a cycle of success looking like failure.  The lesson is simple, but it highlights the importance of strong monitoring and evaluations after a project has been installed.
The organizations did not fully assess their projects’ impacts. Because they measured success only by the number of wells built and the decline of waterborne illnesses, they missed early signs of the arsenicosis crisis. And they were slow to spot the social problems the painted wells created. They should have developed broader measures of community health and continually monitored them over time, in partnership with the communities.
HT Ned Breslin

18 April 2011

Mortenson on 60 Minutes (Video)

Here is the full video of the 60 Minutes investigation into Greg Mortenson and CAI.

Top 40 Development Innovators

After compiling feedback from users through surveys, Devex has released the "Top 40 Development Innovators."  What do you think of the list?  Are there organizations that you think are missing from this group?  I wish that research groups/think tanks were included in the list.  The work that the Center for Global Development does is important to the determination of innovative solutions, and they are not the only one doing it.  For next year, I would like to see this as an additional category.

And now the winners:

Implementing NGOs
Conservation International
Médecins Sans Frontières 
Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation
Habitat for Humanity International
International Rescue Committee (IRC)
Management Sciences for Health 
Norwegian Refugee Council 
Oxfam International
Partners in Health
Plan International
Save the Children
World Wildlife Fund
Amnesty International
Human Rights Watch
International Federation for Human Rights 
Transparency International
Donor Agencies & Foundations
Aga Khan Development Network
Australian Government Overseas Aid Program (AusAID)
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
William J. Clinton Foundation
U.K. Department for International Development (DfID)
Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale 
Zusammenarbeit (GIZ)
Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau (KfW)
Open Society Institute
TheGlobal Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria

Abt Associates
Booz Allen Hamilton
DHV Group
ECORYS Research & 
GFA Consulting Group
GOPA Consultants
Sweco Group

Mortenson: In His Own Words

Greg Mortenson releases the answers to the three questions (pdf) he was asked by 60 minutes. Most notable is this answer to his origin story.
1) Did you really stumble into Korphe after failing to summit K2? The two porters who accompanied you on your journey down from K2 have told us you did not. We have three other sources that support the porter's accounts. The evidence suggests that you did not step foot in Korphe until a year later.

GM: Yes, I first visited Korphe village, Braldu valley, Baltistan, Pakistan after failing to summit K2 in 1993, and met Haji Ali, a long time dear mentor and friend. My second visit to Korphe was in 1994. I made two visits to Korphe in 1995, the year we built the bridge over the Braldu River. And I again made two visits to Korphe in 1996, the year we built the Korphe School.

It is important to know that Balti people have a completely different notion about time. Even the Balti language -- an archaic dialect of Tibetan – has only a vague concept of tenses and time. For example, "now" can mean immediately or sometime over the course of a whole long season. The concept of past and future is rarely of concern. Often tenses are left out of discussion, although everyone knows what is implied. And if a person is a day or week late or early it doesn't matter. The Balti consider the western notion of time quite amusing.
The board of CAI were asked 16 questions (pdf).  For the most part, the questions cover the decisions to pay for advertising for the book and Mortenson's travel expenses as he goes to speaking engagements.  Here are a few questions and answers of note:
1. CAI says it tries to spend 85% of its money on “programs.” But from our reading of your last audited financial statement, it appears that only 41 percent of the money CAI spent in FY 2009 actually went to schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Is this correct? 
CAI: This is correct, but a significant portion of the remainder was dedicated to CAI’s other charitable programs, which include domestic and international outreach and education about the need for those schools and other initiatives to promote cross –cultural awareness. From the time the Central Asia Institute was first created, its mission and that of its co-founder, Greg Mortensen, has been education. The education mission includes both educating young people, especially girls, in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and educating the American and international public about the critical role advancing public education in these countries plays to achieving peace. CAI has also been saving funds, now in excess of $20 million, that can be used to maintain the schools and its programs on a sustained basis for years to come.

2. On page 13 of your 2009 audited financial statement, you say that CAI has “an economic interest in a book written by the Executive Director, Greg Mortenson” and that the organization paid $1,729,542 for “book-related expenses associated with outreach and education.: Could you please explain what this financial interest is in the book?

CAI: CAI benefits directly from Greg’s books which are integral to accomplishing our mission. They are the primary means of raising awareness among Americans and the international community, providing readers with insight into the Institute’s mission and purpose. Our success in raising funds is directly related to the success of Three Cups of Tea, and Stonesinto Schools, both of which educate readers about advancing peace and stability in the region. Contributions from individuals who are inspired by Three Cups of Tea and Stones into Schools far exceed CAI’s book-related expenditures.

15. Has CAI ever commissioned an independent assessment of the effectiveness of its
schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan?

CAI: No. CAI is unaware of any organization qualified to undertake such a study. However, it is clear that the effectiveness of its schools and its programs have been independently assessed by citizens of Pakistan and Afghanistan, in that there are hundreds of requests for new schools in these countries as well as the programs CAI promotes. In addition, the Government of Pakistan has awarded Greg Mortenson the Star of Pakistan related to the promotion of education in that country. Review of test scores of the children at schools built or sponsored by CAI will reveal that the children at these CAI related schools score higher on average than students at other schools. Over the years, many independent observers have visited the schools.

16. We have knowledge of warnings that CAI received from your own attorneys on December 22, 2010 and January 3, 2011, saying that if CAI were audited, Mr. Mortenson would likely be found to be violating IRS regulations regarding excess benefits. Has the Board addressed this?

Yes we have. Last year – before we were contacted by your organization – CAI’s attorney raised preliminary questions of whether its fundraising practices and its relationship with Greg might raise “excess benefits” issues. The Board and Greg took these questions very seriously, and asked counsel to conduct a thorough review of CAI’s activities, its finances, and its relationship with Greg. As a result of this review and analysis, which occurred over several months, CAI’s counsel concluded that CAI is not providing excess benefits to Greg - that is, CAI appropriately receives a greater benefit from Greg’s activities than Greg does himself.

16 April 2011

Three Cups of Lies?

Update - Mortenson responds to the allegations leveled against him by 60 Minutes. See the end of the post.

Update 2 - More on CAI's financials from Penelope

60 Minutes will be airing an investigative piece that will be on tomorrow night about Greg Mortenson, famous for his book Three Cups of Tea.  The press release tells what will be covered:
According to the book's narrative, the villagers cared for him and he promised to return to build a school there. In a remote village in Pakistan, "60 Minutes" found Mortenson's porters on that failed expedition. They say Mortenson didn't get lost and stumble into Korphe on his way down from K2. He visited the village a year later.

That's what famous author and mountaineer Jon Krakauer, a former donor to Mortenson's charity, says he found out, too. "It's a beautiful story. And it's a lie," says Krakauer. "I have spoken to one of his [Mortenson's] companions, a close friend, who hiked out from K2 with him and this companion said, 'Greg never heard of Korphe until a year later,'" Krakauer tells Kroft...

In "Three Cups of Tea," Mortenson writes of being kidnapped in the Waziristan region of Pakistan in 1996. In his second book, "Stones into Schools," Mortenson publishes a photograph of his alleged captors. In T.V. appearances, he has said he was kidnapped for eight days by the Taliban.

"60 Minutes" located three of the men in the photo, all of whom denied that they were Taliban and denied that they had kidnapped Mortenson. One the men in the photo is the research director of a respected think tank in Islamabad, Mansur Khan Mahsud...

"60 Minutes" also checked on schools that CAI claims to have built in Pakistan and Afghanistan and found that some of them were empty, built by somebody else, or simply didn't exist at all. The principals of a number of schools said they had not received any money from CAI in years.

Krakauer says a former board member of CAI told him he should stop giving money to Mortenson's charity years ago. "In 2002, [Mortenson's] board treasurer quit, resigned, along with the board president and two other board members...he said, in so many words, that Greg uses Central Asia Institute as his private ATM machine. That there's no accounting. He has no receipts," says Krakauer.

"60 Minutes" asked Mortenson several times for an interview, but he has not responded. CAI's two other board members also did not respond to phone calls and e-mails requesting comment.

CAI has publicly released only one audited financial statement in its 14 years of existence. Says Borochoff, "It's amazing that they could get away with that."
It will be interesting to see what comes of this. The thing that strikes me is that last sentence about how the CAI has only had one audited financial statement in the past 14 years. This is a pretty significant red flag. More surprising is that it was not enough to draw concerns from Charity Navigator who has rated the CAI has a 4 star organization.

I openly admit that I am not much of a fan of Mortenson and his book. But this is not an attempt to jump the second questions arise about his work. Rather, it is to say that this is something to follow. So far, he has not made a statement and I think that he deserves to be heard. I also would like to hear statements from the village he says that nursed him back to health upon his descent from K2.

I will try to post the video from 60 minutes as soon as I can. Please use the comments section to add any information as it becomes available. I want to really stress that this is not about Mortenson as a person, rather a post to share and gather information. Many people were inspired by his book and work, that is great to hear, but that has nothing to do with the accusations/claims being made about him and his organization.

HT Penelope

Update: Thanks to Peggy in the comments section for this article from the Bozeman Daily
with responses from Mortenson:

"I stand by the information conveyed in my book," he wrote in a statement, "and by the value of CAI's work in empowering local communities to build and operate schools that have educated more than 60,000 students."


"I stand by the story of ‘Three Cups of Tea,'" Mortenson said in a written statement, but added, "The time about our final days on K2 and ongoing journey to Korphe village and Skardu is a compressed version of events that took place in the fall of 1993...

Mortenson responded that he gets a royalty of about 40 or 50 cents per book, and that he has contributed more than $100,000 of his own money to CAI, which has more than offset the book royalties. The $30,000 fee for speaking is average, he said, adding he does some events for free.
When the popularity of "Three Cups of Tea" and "Stones Into Schools" took off, he said, CAI's board of directors decided to "seize the momentum" and do significant advertising for the book and donate copies to libraries, schools, retirement homes, veterans centers and churches.
The percentage of CAI money that goes toward schools is higher than "60 Minutes" assumed, he told the Chronicle, because during the last five years it has been building a "nest egg" of savings to make CAI sustainable into the future. The fund is exclusively for overseas teacher training, scholarships, new schools and supplies, he said. As of Friday, it had grown to more than $25.6 million, according to a financial statement CAI released...

CAI's public 990 tax form shows that in 2009 the charity had $14 million in income. It spent $3.9 million on schools overseas, and $4.6 million on travel, guest lectures and educating Americans about the plight of Pakistani and Afghan children. It paid Mortenson $180,000 in salary and other compensation.

One reason for the nest egg is so the work will continue, "if something happens to me," Mortenson said, adding that he's trying to work himself out of the organization over the next few years.

"As of now, I pay all my own travel expenses, and CAI gets the donations," he said...

Mortenson said he had been doing this work for 18 years, and "60 Minutes" had spent several months investigating him, but didn't try to contact him until March 30, and only gave him a chance to respond "at the 11th hour." He said Kroft ambushed him with a camera crew at an event in Atlanta where he was speaking to ninth-graders. Mortenson said he declined to give an on-air interview.

"This could be devastating," he said of the report. "It's very difficult when you're being stalked, bullied and harassed."
Update 2: A look at CAI's financials from a well balanced post by Penelope:
There is no doubt in my mind that Mortenson’s organization is not perfectly managed. CAI’s 2009 financial statements show that $1.5 million was spent on advertising, while roughly $3.5 million was spent on actual “overseas projects” (H/T Saundra and Cynan). The statement also shows that only $35,000 went towards teacher salaries – with about 145 schools, if my math is correct, that is about $240 per year, per school for salaries. Even in a poor country, even if there is only one teacher in each school, that is not a lot of money. There are other red flags. For example, the 2009 statement seems to be the only publicly available one, and the 60 Minutes investigation points out that schools that CAI claims it built do not exist.

15 April 2011

Weekend Tunes: Wonderful (The Way I Feel)

Very excited for the new My Morning Jacket Album out at the end of May and this being included as one of the tracks.

Lessons Learned: A Day Without Dignity

It was a little bit of being in the right place in the right time, but I was able to jump onto the Day Without Dignity campaign right as the idea was being kicked around by Saundra and Teddy.  Being the kind people that they are, they welcomed me in on the planning and idea sharing that quickly moved from Twitter to emails and eventually to blog posts and YouTube.

The time was short between the initial development of the idea and the intended date of the campaign.  Because of this some things went well and others could have gone better.  This post serves as a personal reflection and sharing of thoughts a week after the campaign.  I should make clear that these are preliminary thoughts and are very much my own.  For the purposes of personal organization, I will share using a bullet-point list.
  • Nearly 70 posts were written about the campaign and 3 videos were made.  Nearly all instances were supportive of the campaign.  Many of these were written by bloggers I had never seen before.  I take this as a good thing since they were inspired by the campaign to take part and join other voices publicly.  Creating awareness and reaching new people was the intention of the campaign.
  • However, all the posts being positive means that it was mostly reaching people who are either already a part of these conversations, are listening on the sidelines or are already inclined to agree with the basic points of the campaign.  In short, there were no converts and not any strong opposing posts.  Yes, commentators will always jump in and say their piece, but I see this different from creating a longer post explaining why one might disagree.  To me, this means that the campaign might not have reached a larger audience.
  • Not enough supporting information.  I strongly believe that TOMS should be doing a better job proving the impact of their programs, but criticism will always ask the other to show the evidence.  So, as I ask TOMS for proof, supporters will ask me for proof as well.  The main video does share some data, but it was not compelling enough.  This is largely due to the fact that the campaign was done in such a short period of time, but it is also indicative of the fact that there is not that much information that argues either for or against the distribution of GIK.
  • The follow up to the campaign has not been very strong.  Bonnie Koenig has written a post which addresses this with some suggestions on what to do next.  This is generally the problem with any awareness raising campaign, but it is something which should be the focus the next time around as it is more important that the campaign itself.
  • Next time around, I think we need to be for something and not against.  I would like to see a campaign that is called 'A Day With Dignity' where we explore how we can retain dignity through aid and development programs.  By starting with a positive position, we can bring about education in regards to what types of aid campaigns and practices strip people of their dignity.  We should parter with organizations for the day who want to uphold the dignity of the people they are serving.  Celebrities would talk about the importance of dignity in their lives and connect it to people around the world.  We would see images that shoe people with shoes and with out, crying and smiling and on and on. School groups would partner and curriculum would be developed to encourage people to actively explore dignity.
  • We need to find a way to harness all of these good intentions and enthusiasm that leads people to go a day without wearing shoes.  Rather than spending time talk about TOMS not being a good model, we should be learning from what makes them so popular.  There are lessons to be learned from their success.  We do not want to alienate, rather welcome.
  • This turned out to be far more successful that I imagined and I think it speaks to the fact that people want to explore what smart aid actually looks like.  There are more people who can be reached, but blogging alone will not be sufficient.
Finally, a slight re-wording, I worry that this community remains too insular.  In some ways it is a clique that only some are able to enter.  Frankly, I am not sure what it takes to gain entry outside of just pushing in and hoping that people like you.  This is not efficient nor constructive.  I am a huge fan of aid bloggers (slight bias since I am one), but things are beginning to stall out a bit.  J. pointed out the other day that he feels like he only writes a few posts different ways.  I think we are all guilty of this.

This is not for a lack of creativity.  The fact that so many posts are written about so few topics means that there are some very creative minds.  It means that it is becoming repetitive.  Some good in-roads have been the use of SWEDOW in a few traditional media pieces, but there needs to be some more cross over.  We need an Ezra Klein or Andrew Sullivan who remain a part of the community but become a part of more 'mainstream' conversations.  I am not sure who that person should be or even if it is possible, but I think it is a needed step.

Now I am going to shut up and let you jump in.  What are your thoughts about the 'A Day Without Dignity' campaign?  I ended there talking about aid blogging in general, so feel free to take on that topic as well.  One immediate improvement is that we can do a better job sharing ideas here.  Maybe the level of snark/criticism makes some hesitant, but let's try to do it more often (now a personal goal).

14 April 2011

Senator Inhofe Defends Gbagbo on Senate Floor

This is Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK)spending nearly 30 minutes on the Senate floor defending a man who not only stole an election but attacked and displaced tens of thousands of Ivorians. It is being suggested that Inhofe's support is purely based on the fact that Gbagbo is a Christian. After watching the video, it is hard to believe that Inhofe has any grasp on what is going or the history of a region he so strongly defends. There has to exist some bias which allows him to put together such a poorly constructed straw man.

Notable quote:
This is not about the Gbagbos or Cote d'Ivoire, but about the modern day return to French Colonial Imperialism. And this time with the help of the United Nations.
HT Talking Points Memo for the video

Things I Like (and a contest!): More than Good Intentions

This is the second post in my weekly series Things I Like.  Last week I featured Water for People.  You can follow the series by going here.

Proponents of International Aid will champion the many successes which have happened due to the implementation of interventions around the world. USAID Administrator Raj Shah warned that proposed FY2012 cuts to the program would lead to the deaths of 70,000 children. International aid is working, but we do not know why and what works best.

However, there do exist ways to begin to determine what works and what doesn't. Randomized control trials (RCTs) conducted in Kenya, India, Mexico, Philippines and other countries are helping to find out the most effective interventions. In his new book, More Than Good Intentions: How a New Economics Is Helping to Solve Global Poverty, Yale researcher Dean Karlan teams up with Jacob Appel to tell the story of how behavioral economics and RCTs and are being used to put innovative solutions to work.

"We ought to find out where our money will make the biggest impact, and send it there...This isn't just about making better use of the money raised, but also about helping to convince skeptics, who think aid isn't worth giving, that development can work if done right," says Karlan in the introduction before revealing how he and other researchers have used RCTs in an effort to reach this goal.

Karlan and his writing partner, Appel, have crafted a book that is accessible to people who do not have a strong economics or development background. While it does read from time to time like a memoir, the first-person narrative makes the book more engaging as Karlan reveals his personality through his passion to perform rigorous trials that will lead to a lasting impact.

As someone who has been following the work of 'Randomistas' like Karlan and Esther Duflo, this is the kind of book that I can give to my parents for them to understand economic development. The stories will resonate with the reader and make for smooth delivery vehicle of the information that is coming out of the RCTs.

Ivory tower images are often invoked when speaking of academics, but stories that introduce people like Anthony, who is looking for a way to finance his education, casually dispel such criticisms. The people affected by the tested interventions are at the heart of the book and the RCTs described. This is the strength of the book.

As discussions about NGO's lack of accountability, like this one in the Wall Street Journal, become more prevalent, examples of how this is being achieved should be an equal part of the discussion. A good place to start is with Karlan and Appel's new book.
The teach-a-man-to-fish approach has been around for decades. The results have not been as universally great as one might hope. For natural-born fishermen, it can work. But the problem is that some people are bad at baiting the hooks; some can't cast worth a damn; and some don't live near a river with enough fish in t. Some people think fishing is plain boring. Come dinner, all these folks are out of luck. They can't eat rods and reels and lessons about casting. So what can this kind of development do for them?
More Than Good Intentions takes the reader around the world to find the solution to that question. In the book you will learn ways to get people to save money, how to make microfinance more efficient, and interventions that will get kids behind the desk and teachers in the classroom.

The book is released today:

To put a little bit of behavioral economics to work and put my money where my mouth is, I am going to double the incentives. This is the second in what I hope to be a long series of posts on things that I like in the world of aid and development. In the comment section, tell me one thing, organization, idea or person that you like in the world of aid and development with a sentence or two why. Using a randomized number generator, one lucky winner will receive my copy of More than Good Intentions, shipping on me, with a personal note of thanks from me and all of my notations taken while reading! To make it more interesting, I will match each entry (up to 50) with a $1 donation to IPA's Proven Impact Fund. So, for a few moments you can have a shot at winning a book and support a great organization.

Disclosure: I was sent a review copy of the book by Innovations for Poverty Action, the NGO founded by Dean Karlan. No specific requests were made or instructions given. Everything in the review is my personal opinion.

13 April 2011

CNN Title Gaffe: Côte d'Ivoire Edition

Playing into simple narratives and broad strokes with a headline.  To be fair, the article itself is pretty good except for the fact that it neglects to mention that Sen Inhofe has been a cheerleader for Gbagbo.
Though he emerged in the Western media as the good versus Gbagbo's evil, Ouattara, too, has been accused of having blood on his hands. 
Human Rights Watch published a scathing report Saturday about abuses perpetrated by pro-Ouattara forces on their offensive to Abidjan. People interviewed by the monitoring agency "described how, in village after village, pro-Ouattara forces summarily executed and raped perceived Gbagbo supporters in their homes, as they worked in the fields, as they fled or as they tried to hide in the bush. Ouattara should fulfill his public pledge to investigate and prosecute abuses by both sides if Côte d'Ivoire is to emerge from this horrific period," said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. 
In the United States, Ouattara's critics questioned his right to rule. "It is now clear, based on U.N. reports coming from Cote d'Ivoire, that mass killings have occurred at the hands of Alassane Ouattara," Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Oklahoma, said earlier this month. "This calls into question his legitimacy to lead that country," said Inhofe, who has visited Ivory Coast nine times and made no secret of his support for Gbagbo. "Ouattara is on a rampage, killing innocent civilians, and he must be stopped before this becomes another Rwanda." 
Human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson said Ouattara's moment in the spotlight could quickly dim without adequate investigations into the abuse allegations against forces loyal to him.
"Mr. Ouattara should also be investigated because of the evidence that his troops did commit rapes and abuse en route to Abidjan," said Robertson, a former president of the U.N. special court for Sierra Leone.
The writer recognizes the simplicity of the good vs. evil narrative, but it is seemingly ignored by her editors.  Are they aware that the title used undermines the point of the article?

HT Wronging Rights

12 April 2011

White Mischeif...In Vogue?

The new UK edition of Vogue has a new spread with Model Agyness Deyn titled "White Mischeif" an obvious reference to the 1941 Happy Valley Murder of Josslyn Hay, 22nd Earl of Erroll and later film of the same name.

I am not sure what the photographer intended in the series of images, but I quite like the title image of Deyn standing above the young man, facing each other while not looking directly at one another.  The cheetah stands by her side, slightly domesticated in the seemingly barren desert. To me, the image shows an out-of-place visitor who feels above those native to the land but at equal with the animals.  In one image, this sums up many of the ways that 'Africa' has been portrayed over the past century.  It is possible that the photographer did not intend for this to be the way the image is interpreted, but it is my take.  Coupled with the title, I have a hard time believing that the series was unaware of the implications of invoking it with these images.

You can see all of them by going here.  I have also included another image which I find interesting and am unsure what gave me reason to pause on it for a few moments.

How do you interpret the image(s)?  Share in the comments.

Development's Rum Punch

For some people, aid and development endeavors seem as simple as serving up a spoonful of sugar that is brimming with kindness, energy, compassion and good intentions. Simply add sugar to the prescribed medicine and we can save the world!

Unfortunately, we know that it is not so simple. Communicating this is even harder. Telling a women that her favorite clothing distribution organization could be preventing growth and contributing to the poverty cycle is not received well. Speaking with a gentleman about orphanages being filled with children who have been orphaned not due to the death of parents, but voluntarily after an orphanage has been established, will make you seem cold-hearted and uncaring.

The aid skeptic is one which tries to seek the truth and is often accused of being a cynic at best and uncaring/disconnected at worse. When faced with the task of determining how billions of dollars should be used to alleviate poverty around the world and domestically, solutions should be found, tested and shared. What does not work should be openly admitted and quickly discarded.

Aid has not been a failure; Owen Barder speaks well to this point. In fact, everyone's favorite mis-interpreted skeptic Bill Easterly has said that it has not been an utter failure as well. However, after years of doing it we still do not know many solutions.

What is striking to me is the way that people react when faced with skepticism. Chris Blattman experienced this push-back when speaking at the DRI conference at the beginning of March. After presenting his ongoing research into the ties between poverty and violence, Blattman was met with strong criticism of his project. After spending 15 minutes saying that he was unsure about the causality in either direction, he was assailed for supposedly saying that poverty had nothing to do with violence.

The mere suggestion of a contrary viewpoint causes an immediate cognitive dissonance. For some in the audience, hearing Blattman's suggestion that poverty alone might not cause violence set off the defenses. The same was seen in Easterly's talk on the benevolent autocrat earlier that day.

We need healthy skepticism in aid and development just like we need innovators and cheerleaders. Just because someone is skeptical of the newest aid fad does not mean that the person does not care. The skepticism comes from a place of wanting better and more effective interventions.

 We all want it to do it better, so why so much hate for the aid skeptics?

11 April 2011

Salomon Kalou on Côte d'Ivoire

Chelsea Striker and Ivorian, Salomon Kalou, discusses how the conflict in his home nation has impacted him and the concerns he has for his family in The Guardian.

"It's very hard to go on to the pitch and say I'm not thinking about people dying every day, I'm not thinking about my friends not eating, my dad not getting help," Kalou says. "To be honest, I worry every day. I am thinking more about that than anything else. Any chance I have to go on the phone or to go on the news and check I do, because that's my main priority. I need to make sure my family are safe.

"I got my mum and five sisters out four days before it started. When we played against Benin in Ghana last month with Ivory Coast [in an African Cup of Nations qualifier moved to a neutral venue because of the violence], I got them to come and watch the game and from there they went to Togo. They can stay there until the end of the situation. My dad was going to come as well but the war started on the day he was going to come."


"I don't want to take any sides and I don't want to get involved in the politics of the Ivory Coast because politics is for politicians, but it hurts me to see my friends, my brothers, killing each other," he says. "Some of my best friends are from the north, I'm from the west, I have friends from the south – I have a lot of Ivorian friends. Ivorians don't have problems with Ivorians. Politics are dividing people. But is that a reason for people to kill? Why not stop that now and talk.

People from outside should help to bring peace. Bring food and water to people. That's what I call worrying about the civilians. Then I can have respect for that and say those people really care. If your priority is to say one side loses and one side wins, then you are not stopping anything. They will keep fighting and, in the end, when everyone is gone, what is left for those people? Those kids who have seen the war and people dying, how many years is it going to take for them to get over it?"
There are often bigger things going on than debating if Chelsea should have been awarded a spot kick against Manchester United at the end of their first leg in the UEFA Champions League match-up last week...

CNN Covers Côte d'Ivoire and Chocolate

Interview of U. Roberto Romano on CNN, whose documentary The Dark Side of Chocolate looks at child labor and slavery in chocolate farming in Côte d'Ivoire.

Has anyone watched this documentary?

08 April 2011

Weekend Tunes: Thinking about "Possibility"

Everyone else does it (re: Africa is a Country, Mark Bellemare, Ezra Klein, etc.), so I am going to share some enjoyable tunes, pictures and videos from time to time. I do threaten to post whatever I want and do not follow through all to often. So here you go:

I am a bit late on this song since I am not a Twilight fan, but it is darn good and I have listened to it multiple times today. Lykke Li's voice is gorgeous and a quick search reveals that it she is legit. For me, it is quite fitting for a dark-rain spring day and some new happenings on the horizon...

Worrying about the 'Least Developed Countries'

Al Jazeera does a surprisingly good job writing on recent report by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) for the Fourth Conference on the Least Developed Countries (LDCs). I say surprising because I am used to reports that do not do much more than give a cursory summary.
"Business as usual is not sufficient," said Sir Richard Jolly, an honorary professor at the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex and a member of the UN secretary-general's newly-appointed Group of Eminent Persons (GEP) on LDCs.

"Trade reforms in agriculture are urgent and essential, especially because a high proportion of the poor in LDCs are dependent directly or indirectly on agricultural production... Strengthening agricultural production in these countries often means improving local markets and limiting cheap exports from COP 8 countries where agricultural production is subsidised," he added.

A report released ahead of the summit in Istanbul by the GEP made clear that "increasing marginalisation of the LDCs is creating a future that we, as a global community, cannot afford."

"Of course, economic growth alone is not the only test of progress. There is need for human development, which is sustainable, attention to the priority issues of poverty reduction, MDG achievement and attention to environmental sustainability for the medium and longer run," Jolly said.

While this rhetoric is hopeful, and possibly even inspiring to some, many experts believe that it is quickly becoming obsolete.

Kouglo Lawson Body, the director of economic policy for the International Trade Union Confederation-Africa, stressed that his organisation, which represents 16 million workers from 48 African countries, was less focused on finding solutions to community-level problems than it was in understanding and analysing global trends that lead to local challenges.

"We need real reform in global governance to free the LDCs from the dominion of international institutions and even from some of the emerging developed countries," Body said.
Now the question of if the report is a bit overstated is another issue altogether...with conclusions like writing off debt and the like. I will say this much, the status quo remains unacceptable in international development. Because of that, I welcome thought that tries to constructively stir things up a bit. If that is all this report can do then I am content with it, but I will leave it to people who are smarter than I to break it down and analyze the findings.

07 April 2011

Things I Like: Water for People

I have been thinking a lot about how I can be more positive in this space. It is often too easy to point out what is wrong and not working, but much harder to say what is working. It should not be this way and I admit that my tendency is to jump to criticism rather than praise. As a way to combat this, I am starting a new series. The idea is simple, once a week I will post on something I like in the aid and development world. It might be an idea, an organization, a person, or an innovation. The point will be to stand behind something that I like. Comments especially encouraged here.

I had never heard of Water for People until a few months ago when the CEO, Ned Breslin, came to do a talk a UPenn on the organization. I heard about it the morning of from my roommate and decided to take the bus over and check out the talk. Water has become a trendy topic and I have been a bit worn out by the slick marketing and poorly supported data. Needless to say, I went expecting to leave with an even worse impression of the sector.

Breslin set aside any my concerns when he told the story of a girl named Fanta. I forget which country he was visiting, but he told the same story we hear of meeting the young girl who is not in school because she is fetching water. Breslin assisted the girl by carrying it for a bit, but had to continually switch arms under the strain of the heavy water bucket. He told of the time it took to carry the water, how hard it was, the fact that the girl was missing school and how it contributes to a problematic cycle.

This is where most talks about water (or even aid in general) make a shift to how the person or organization brings a solution. However, for Breslin, there was one more part to the story. As he was walking with Fanta, they passed a water pump. He asked the young girl why they did not use it and she told him the second part of the usual aid story; people came in, dug the well, water flowed and everyone celebrated. Only, he heard and saw the end result. The pump broke down and was not fixed.

This is where Water for People comes into the story and is why I like the organization. They emphasize on the fact that the project actually starts once the water begins to flow, not when the first donated dollar comes in. But the things they do well do not stop there. Because of this shifted focus, the burden then goes to monitoring and evaluating projects.

Field Level Operations Watch (FLOW) allows them to monitor their pumps using mobile phones, GPS and Google Earth. Supporters can actually go and see what is happening to the pumps around the world. This allows for them to be better educated about what they are supporting and forces Water for People to address issues rather than hide them.

Better yet, the goal of Water for People is to work with communities so that they can be able to fully fund the installed water pump after 10 years by themselves. They are literally trying to put themselves out of business with each pump they install. This is what aid and development programs should be doing.

 Some talk about it, but here is an organization that actually does it.

06 April 2011

Spurlock on Marketing and Transparency

Morgan Spurlock of Super Size Me fame delivers his TED talk on his new film which focuses on how we are marketed products. There are some really excellent insights which can be directly applied to NGO transparency when it comes to operations and marketing and I look forward to seeing the film when it sees wide release.

Tricked into Giving Less?

It turns out that selling cause-related products might lead to less total giving according to a recent post in the Chronicle of Philanthropy.
People who buy so called cause-related products give a lot less in direct contributions, according to Aradhna Krishna, a professor of marketing at the school.

“If two consumers have equal preference for a product, which is offered at the same price to both, but one of them buys this product as a cause-marketing product, her charitable giving will be lower than the other’s,” Ms. Krishna writes.
In addition, Ms. Krishna writes that cause marketing warps consumers’ minds into thinking that they’re contributing more than they actually are, since “people may mentally assign their cause-marketing expenditure as their charitable giving.”

What’s more, “they have no idea what amount goes to the charity, typically,” she says. Some marketing campaigns do not report what portion of the proceeds was given to the cause, some have limits on total donations and so keep the rest of the money, and some count the donation as part of profits that often go unreported.
I would like to see more research into this issue as companies like TOMS* are becoming more and more popular with big crowds and buzz at SXSW. What is supposed to be an easier way to 'make a difference' could be making philanthropic fundraising harder. If this is confirmed to be true, organizations will need to think of creative ways to get around this. One solution, which I would love to see, would be to have more openness as to how much of the money spent is directed towards profits, product costs and the intended cause. In follow up studies, it would be useful to try some ideas out to see what is most effective.
*I do not want to seem like I am only picking on TOMS lately. They are one of many examples, but they are popular as of late because of a big talk at SXSW, A Day Without Shoes and an upcoming announcement this June which will move the company in a new direction. If anything, I mention them because they do this better than just about anybody else. For that, they should be respected as they have done an exceptional job marketing and creating a consumption ethic where people feel good by spending money. Not only that, they have found a way to make money off of this model and deliver a socially-conscious service. I am not a sudden apologist for TOMS either, but they are an organization to learn from, not just criticize. Other notable examples are Starbucks and Project (RED).

04 April 2011

Blattman at DRI 2011

I waited to write this post until I was able to re-watch this talk from Chris Blattman. Then I had it sit a bit longer in my drafts with not much more than an introduction to a post that I was going to write based on re-watching the video.  It is now a full month after the talk and the draft remains.  So I am posting the video of the talk because it is a must watch.

Later this week, I will have a post on skepticism and international development.  The most interesting part of Blattman's talk was the question section which had some very heated questions that were pertinent to the talk and a few which came out of left field.  To me, these show the resistance to skepticism in development.

Enjoy the talk after the jump (done because it auto-starts).

A Day Without Dignity Campaign

So, Huffington Post has buried this post and I want to re-post it so that people who may have not been aware of the campaign and original post are aware of this campaign. I do plan on writing an actual post for this topic this week...

Each year, TOMS Shoes holds an event called "One Day Without Shoes." An advertising campaign masked by awareness raising, the event generally sees groups of young people and celebrities going about their day without wearing shoes, to bring attention to the millions of people around the world who are without shoes and, because of it, susceptible to numerous health problems. At the end of the day, with lots of back-patting and hugs, TOMS hopes that more people will buy more of their shoes to be sent to countries around the world.

It makes people feel great, but is it effective? Better yet, does TOMS provide lasting assistance to the people who get the shoes? Or, have they found a way to make money off of good intentions and a poorly informed public?

02 April 2011

Picture of a Day (or painting?)

Who else thinks that the top looks like a painting?

Buddhist monks celebrate at the Chichibu Fire Festival with fire walking via msnbc.

01 April 2011

The Trouble with Orphanages

Saundra over at Good Intentions are Not Enough put together a listing of short quotes from reports which highlight the problems associated with orphanages. In order to stem some of the usual comments which follow from such posts, Saundra posed these questions to potential commentators.
I’m afraid there’s just too many people that take advantage of how easy it is to raise funds for an orphanage who are not informed and may even have very different motivations. It happens far too often.

So here’s my first question for all westerners working in an orphanage – why are you there? Why is there not a local person doing your job? If local people cannot do whatever it is that you’re doing, then what are you doing to train them to do the work? How are you working yourself out of a job?