31 October 2012

Major Concerns in Haiti in the Wake of Hurricane Sandy

A version of this originally appeared in the PSI Impact Blog.

Hurricane Sandy ripped through the Caribbean earlier this week on its way to becoming what some called a 'Frankenstorm' that devastated the northeastern United States. The storm caused major flooding in New York City, battered homes on the coast of Rhode Island and left more than six million people without power in 17 states.

The NYT has a fantastic interactive site on Sandy that includes graphics like the one seen above.

Reports early this morning from the Associated Press indicate that 55 people died as a result of Hurricane Sandy with an expectation that the number will rise in the coming days. The Breezy Point neighborhood of Queens was struck particularly hard during the storm when a fire spread quickly due to the heavy winds completely destroying somewhere between 50 to 100 buildings.

FDR Drive NYC, Credit
Recovery efforts are underway to support people who were affected by the storm. The American Red Cross reports that 11,000 people spent Monday night in 258 Red Cross shelters in 16 states. The relief organization is in the process of distributing clean up kits to people affected by Sandy.

Prior to making landfall in the United States, Sandy struck the Caribbean with it centering on Jamacia and Cuba. It is blamed for some 70 deaths; the majority took place in Haiti. The BBC's Mark Doyle reports that the storm made at least 20,000 people homeless.

The massive flooding in Haiti only acts to make matters worse in regards to the two year old cholera outbreak. NGOs are already reporting a rise in the number of choler cases since Sandy hit Haiti.

However, it is the severe damage to crops in Haiti that is leading some to worry. "The storm took everything away," a spokesman for Haiti's Ministry of Agriculture told Reuters. "Everything the peasants had in reserve – corn, tubers – all of it was devastated."

The mayor of the Haitian town of Abricots told Reuters he worried of a coming famine in the town and an aid worker with Plan International told The Independent that there are concerns of growing civil unrest as the result of a rise in food prices.

Santo Domingo, DR; Credit
Humanitarian funding in Haiti is down from $2 billion in 2010 to $75 million in 2012, said OCHA head Johan Peleman to the
 Guardian. It is expected that the Haitian government and the United Nations will issue a joint appeal for international funding to respond to the damage caused by Sandy.

Relief stocks were already running low prior to the storm, further complicating the response. "These stocks are running dangerously low," said George Ngwa, spokesman for OCHA, a humanitarian coordinating body in Haiti told Reuters. "After Tropical Storm Isaac in August, these stocks have not been replenished. What we're doing is scraping the bottom."

It is a good time to note the value of donating cash instead of goods. Relief organizations are well equipped to mount an effective relief effort. Money will give them the discretionary ability to apply funds where needed. That means that organizations get exactly what they need and your support is extremely effective. There are certainly exceptions to any rule. Some food pantries, for example, will request non-perishable foods. In that case it is the organization explicitly recognizing what it needs to do its work.

If you want to support the relief and recovery work for communities impacted by Hurricane Sandy, you can go to the American Red Cross website to volunteer, they are seeking volunteers near affected areas, donate blood at your nearest Red Cross office or text redcross to 90999 on your mobile phone to make a $10 donation (data rates apply).

Blog/Opinion Round-Up

I collect the highlights of the most interesting blog posts and opinion pieces each day for the DAWNS Digest. Last night I was unable to pull together everything in time, so I am sharing what should have been in the GMT edition of DAWNS with the wider audience to make it up to those who missed out.

Here are the highlights from yesterday:

Neoliberalism's 'trade not aid' approach to development ignored past lessons (Guardian http://bit.ly/RmCFlp)

Despite gains, more is needed to eradicate Polio, says former Canadian PM Paul Martin. (GlobalPost http://bit.ly/Q65IhZ)

Malala and beyond. 5 incredibly brave youth activists you should know. (UN Dispatch http://ht.ly/eTasz)

In the Eye of the Storm: Developments in International Disaster Law - (Opinio Juris http://bit.ly/RnA0b8)

J. on the lessons from the Lance Armstrong scandal for aid. “There is no point in denying that there are competing narratives about what is “real” in the world of international relief and development and philanthropy. Without banging on about which parts of which narratives I personally think are really real, I’ll simply say that we will someday come to the point beyond which it will be no longer possible to separate those competing narratives. There will come a time when our constituents will collectively demand an explanation for why we said one thing and did something else.” (Aid Speak http://bit.ly/RqwwEB)

Lessons from Medicine for Poverty Alleviation (Alex Counts' Blog about Fonkoze and Microfinance in Haiti http://bit.ly/Q66Q5i)

Governance, outcomes, and attribution (Matt Andrews http://bit.ly/RqwRHq)

Debating Afrocolombianidad (Africa is a Country http://bit.ly/Q66Sdq)

30 October 2012

Accounting for the Cost of Climate on Health

The World Health Organization (WHO) and World Meteorological Organization (WMO) collaborated to launch a new report that brings forward information regarding the connections between public health and climate. The jointly published Atlas of health and climate covers a range of climate-related issues and their impact on health.

The WHO estimated that climate-sensitive diseases like diarrhea, malaria and malnutrition caused more than 3 million deaths globally in 2004. The burden of those deaths were in Africa where one in three took place. "More variable rainfall patterns are likely to compromise the supply of fresh water. Globally, water scarcity already affects four out of every 10 people. A lack of water and poor water quality can compromise hygiene and health. This increases the risk of diarrhoea, which kills approximately 2.2 million people every year, as well as trachoma (an eye infection that can lead to blindness) and other illnesses," says the WHO.

Estimates put the cost of health as the result of climate change at $2 to $4 billion a year by 2030. That is why the report stresses the importance of prevention. “Prevention and preparedness are the heart of public health. Risk management is our daily breadand butter. Information on climate variability and climate change is a powerful scientific tool that assists us in these tasks,” said Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General of WHO. “Climate has a profound impact on the lives, and survival, of people. Climate services can have a profound impact on improving these lives, also through better health outcomes.”

Some examples of the links between climate and health that are shown in the report:
  • In some locations the incidence of infectious diseases such as malaria, dengue, meningitis and cholera can vary by factors of more than 100 between seasons, and significantly between years, depending on weather and climate conditions. Stronger climate services in endemic countries can help predict the onset, intensity and duration of epidemics.
  • Case studies illustrate how collaboration between meteorological, emergency and health services is already saving lives. For example, the death toll from cyclones of similar intensity in Bangladesh reduced from around 500,000 in 1970, to 140,000 in 1991, to 3,000 in 2007 – largely thanks to improved early warning systems and preparedness.
  • Heat extremes that would currently be expected to occur only once in 20 years, may occur on average every 2-5 years by the middle of this century. At the same time, the number of older people living in cities (one of the most vulnerable groups to heat stress), will almost quadruple globally, from 380 million in 2010, to 1.4 billion in 2050. Cooperation between health and climate services can trigger measures to better protect people during periods of extreme weather.
  • Shifting to clean household energy sources would both reduce climate change, and save the lives of approximately 680,000 children a year from reduced air pollution. The Atlas also shows how meteorological and health services can collaborate to monitor air pollution and its health impacts.
  • In addition, the unique tool shows how the relationship between health and climate is shaped by other vulnerabilities, such as those created by poverty, environmental degradation, and poor infrastructure, especially for water and sanitation.
The goal of the report is as much about building the connections as it is about raising awareness. "It is our hope that the Atlas of Health and Climate will serve as a visual “call to action” by illustrating not only the scale of challenges already confronting us – and certain to grow more acute – but also by demonstrating how we can work together to apply science and evidence to lessen the adverse impacts of weather and climate and to build more climate-resilient health systems and communities," say Chan and WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud in the preface.

Read the full report here.

29 October 2012

A Hurricane's 'a Commin

This is happening right now.

This is how it is happening.

HT The Atlantic and @crampell

26 October 2012

SUN Partners Stress Bottom-Up Approach to Ending Hunger

For the majority of human history, the story of hunger has been one consisting of a lack of food. As that reality changes, attention is now turning to the challenge of malnutrition. Famine and hunger are not issues of the past, the famine in southern Somalia serves as a stark reminder that some countries are not prepared to handle weather shocks like drought.

The number of people who suffer chronic undernourishment stands at 870 million, roughly one in eight people. The data comes from a UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report earlier this month that employed new estimates that comes under the previous estimate of 1 billion people.

"In today's world of unprecedented technical and economic opportunities, we find it entirely unacceptable that more than 100 million children under five are underweight, and therefore unable to realize their full human and socio-economic potential, and that childhood malnutrition is a cause of death for more than 2.5 million children every year," say the respective Heads of FAO, IFAD and WFP, José Graziano da Silva, Kanayo F. Nwanze and Ertharin Cousin in the report’s forward. 

The number of hungry people living in developing countries fell to 14.9% in 2012 from 23.2% in 1992. A pace that will fall short of the MDG target on hunger. "If the average annual hunger reduction of the past 20 years continues through to 2015, the percentage of undernourishment in the developing countries would reach 12.5 percent - still above the MDG target of 11.6 percent, but much closer to it than previously estimated," the report says.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon
A high-level panel convened by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon brought together public, private and non-government partners under the banner of the Scaling up Nutrition (SUN) movement. “Taking action on malnutrition is the single most cost-effective means of addressing development goals,” said Anthony Lake, Executive Director of UNICEF and chair of the SUN movement lead group.

The SUN movement was launched in 2010 as a call to action for the scaling of solutions that target malnutrition. Rather than develop frameworks to impose on countries, the SUN Movement and its partners stress the importance of country leadership. “At the end of the day, the transformation has to take place at the country level,” said Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala in her remarks at the event. “We must own this agenda.” 

UNDP head Helen Clark framed ending malnutrition in terms of overall development. “Access is not only about producing one's on food,” she said. “It is about being able to have the income to access it.” UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon agreed with Clark in outlining the importance of families having the ability to purchase safe and nutritious food for themselves and their children. 

Children stood at the forefront of the discussions due to the vital role nutrition plays on child development. Research shows that the first 1,000 days are vital to the development of children. By not receiving proper nutrients and food, children are at an extreme risk of complications that can have life-long effects. 

The WHO estimated in 2011 that 165 million children under the age of five were considered stunted, 101 million were underweight and wasted (combination of underweight and height). The event speakers all balanced the need for country ownership within the guise of collective accountability. “For far too long nutrition has been a missed opportunity because it has been working in isolation,” said WHO director Margaret Chan who called on SUN members to work together to support each other in malnutrition alleviation efforts. 

Donor partners stressed their need to continue supporting the work of SUN countries. USAID Administrator Shah highlighted the collaboration between USAID, the NGO CARE, the Bangladeshi government and 40 local organizations to reduce childhood malnutrition by 30%. The gains made through the partnership will be made available through a report card from USAID’s Feed the Future program, said Shah. 

Gains against malnutrition are of the utmost importance stressed each of the event participants. “The poorest need to know they can count on social protection that will not allow them to go hungry,” said Ban. Accomplishing the end of hunger for SUN Movement partners will take the shape of a bottom-up approach that will allow each country to determine what is the best way to address the problem rather than apply a one-size-fits-all development approach.

25 October 2012

New Harvard Scholar in Residence Hones in on Malaria Innovation Strategies

The Harvard Malaria Imitative launched a new ExxonMobil Malaria Scholar in Residence Program that brings Dr. Regina Rabinovich, former Gates Foundation Director of Global Health Infectious Diseases, to Harvard in order to pursue innovative strategies to combat malaria.

ExxonMobil continues its established collaboration with Harvard by supporting the position. The oil giant has invested over $100 million in bednets, anti-malarial medicines and sector leadership since 2000. Part of that funding has gone to the June Science of Eradication event that brought together individuals from various sectors to train them as future leaders in the malaria fight.

“ExxonMobil has long valued our partnership with Harvard to combat malaria,” said Suzanne McCarron, president of the ExxonMobil Foundation. “Dr. Rabinovich is bringing her unique expertise and knowledge to this program, and we look forward to seeing the impact this partnership will have on the malaria field.”

Regina Rabinovich, MD
The WHO estimates that there were 216 million cases in 2011. Mortality rates caused by malaria are down by over 25% since 2000, but malaria was still responsible for killing roughly 655,000 people in 2010. There are know interventions to prevent the spread and reduce the impact of malaria, but the disease continues to affect children in sub-Saharan Africa at a high rate.

Dr Dyann Wirth launched the Harvard Malaria Initiative in 1997, a point in time when research into malaria was nascent and interventions that are commonplace today, such as long lasting insecticide treated bednets, were in the early stages of testing. 

“Over the course of my career, I’ve had the privilege to work closely with researchers, non-profits,
governments and foundations,” Dr. Rabinovich said. “Now, I’m excited to join one of the world’s leading academic institutions and to help leverage Harvard’s resources in the fight against malaria.”

The Harvard Global Health Institute brings together a range of schools at Harvard, accelerating Dr. Rabinovich's desire to work across the university. She stressed the ability to access the technical knowledge of various university schools which can apply directly to coordinating the malaria response effort. "We are unlikely to have a silver bullet for malaria," argued Dr. Rabinovich.

Technical responses like artemisinin combination therapy (ACT) have proven to be an effective solution to treating malaria. ACT provided a promising alternative in parts of the world where traditional treatments were experiencing resistance. 

However, ACT resistance was observed in Vietnam earlier this year. The WHO expressed concerns about the resistance and the ability to control it from spreading throughout the region. “Currently Vietnam does not have enough money available to do what has to be done to address the artemisinin-resistance issue,” said WHO’s Christophel to IRIN in September. “You need to have special programmes. A bednet is only given to people who register [with authorities]. If you are not registered then how are you going to get your bednet,” she said, referring to workers in the informal sector.

Part of the challenge to ACTs is the compliance. "Current ACTs are hard to take given the combinations, strange timings and varying information," explained Dr Rabinovich. Since the problem of resistance to ACTs are localized, Dr Rabinovich says she is concerned more with the potential resistance to insecticide treated bednets. The insecticides used for bednets have been employed for years and an alternative is not ready.

While the problems and challenges may seem technical, governance is the issue that sits atop Dr. Rabinovich's agenda for the year. She indicated that convening bodies like the Roll Back Malaria Partnership could benefit from better coordination and a reassessment as to how to address malaria.

The regionalization of the response to malaria is one area that interests Dr. Rabinovich. Presently, individual national governments determine how to prevent and respond to malaria. Differing responses between countries can lead to problems for one another. Malaria, like all infectious diseases, does not respect borders.

As a disease, malaria provides an avenue to gain involvement in all aspects of health from systems to frontline health workers and researchers to logistics. "Malaria represents all aspects of global health," said Dr. Rabinovich.

The overarching goal of the Scholar in Residence is to focus on applied malaria control, treatment and prevention strategies, says the official announcement. That will include areas such as disease eradication efforts; drug and vaccine strategies; financial tools and strategies; and modeling to evaluate the effectiveness of eradication strategies.

23 October 2012

Africa Gathering Hits DC in November

It will be worth attending if you are in the DC area.

Speakers include: Solome Lemma, Edward Amartey-Tagoe, Saran Kaba Jones, Abdi Latif Ega, Bumi Oluruntoba, Mohammed Toure, Caitlin Kelley, Erika Freund, Kwame Andah, Pauline Muchina and Thomas Debass.

Register here. It's free!

Politics and Foreign Aid: What Romney and Obama can Learn from Huckabee and Lincoln

One of the most effective ways to advocate for foreign aid when it comes to the American electorate is by couching it in terms of American interests. Specifically, it means talking about national security. Such definitions lean towards examples like nation building in Afghanistan and ensuring stability in important allies like Pakistan.

Other uses of aid, especially in the humanitarian sense and in places like Zambia and the Philippines are sidelined. It seems that former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee and Senator Blanche Lincoln did not get the memo when writing an OpEd in Politico that lays out the importance of investing in poverty reduction and global health.
American investments in cost-effective vaccines will help save nearly 4 million children’s lives from preventable diseases such as pneumonia and diarrhea over the next five years. We’ve also helped to deliver 290 million mosquito nets to Malaria-stricken countries, and put 46 million children in school for the very first time. And thanks to the leadership of Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, 8 million HIV/AIDS patients now have access to life-saving treatments, up from just 300,000 a decade ago, making an AIDS-free generation a real possibility within our lifetimes. 
A healthier, less impoverished planet is good for all of us. From an economic standpoint, it allows people to contribute more to the marketplace and lead productive lives. U.S. foreign assistance opens new markets to U.S. goods and services and creates new trading partners and allies. 
Consider Africa, where, for the first time, the continent is receiving more foreign investment than foreign aid. Six of the 10 fastest growing economies are in Africa, which has sustained average economic growth above 5 percent over the past decade. Countries in Africa and the rest of the developing world are becoming global players essential for our own continued growth. 
The two are speaking on behalf of the ONE Campaign's ONE Vote 2012 initiative that seeks to engage the presidential candidates on the issue of extreme poverty and preventable disease. Both Obama and Romney share statements that commend ONE and outline their visions of foreign aid.

President Obama makes the early point about foreign aid and national security saying, "Hunger, disease and poverty can lead to global instability and leave a vacuum for extremism to fill. So instead of just managing poverty, we must offer nations and people a pathway out of poverty. And as president I've made development a pillar of our foreign policy, alongside diplomacy and defense."

Governor Romney takes a different approach by saying that he will retool a broken aid system. "The biggest problem with our foreign aid strategies is that many of them are ineffective. Too often, our aid supplants work that is more effectively done by private enterprise and investment in other nations. Our aid should instead focus on building the institutions of liberty that will create lasting development and change."

A divergent tone betrays the fact that Romney and Obama are saying pretty much the same thing. Romney takes more time to talk about trade and mentions his Prosperity Pact program that was unveiled at CGI. From his summary, it sounds a lot like what the US, World Bank and other actors have been doing with aid money for years. "Working with the private sector, we will identify barriers to foreign investment and trade in developing nations. And in exchange for removing them, we will offer those countries aid packages focused on developing the rule of law, property rights, and other institutions of liberty," explains Romney.

In other words, countries have to open their markets in order to receive aid money. It is not a new concept. Obama also stresses the importance of building markets by focusing on agriculture. It is a nod to the Feed the Future program established under his administration. "Together, we're mobilizing private capital to fast-track new agricultural projects. We'll speed up innovations such as better seeds and better storage. We're helping African farmers gain access to agricultural data, from satellite imagery to weather forecasts to market prices, right on their mobile phones," he says.

Feed the Future is doing what Obama outlines and operates in the innovative manner which seems to fit Romney's Prosperity Pact idea. Both candidates neglect to make the strong argument that Huckabee and Lincoln make in terms of

Obama does tip his cap to the moral argument of ending poverty when he says, " I ran for president in part because I believe our country should reflect a common creed that says, "I am my brother's keeper. I am my sister's keeper."" Romney ignores such an argument with a pinpoint focus on trade and a passing mention of PEPFAR.

Much like the debate last night, the two candidates are looking for ways to differ while largely agreeing.  The evening's debate attempted to be more argumentative, but it showed little about the two other than the fact that they agree on which issues matter most.

Princeton Professor Anne-Marie Slaughter called to attention what was missing from the debate and what that meant in her reaction for the New York Times.
Beyond individual countries, consider the silence on the global issues that are vitally important to the rest of the world. Neither candidate ever uttered the word “climate.” Or drug violence. Or poverty, disease, food, water, or even energy. 
This really wasn’t a debate about foreign policy or world affairs. It was the projection of the American electoral map onto the globe. All discussion of Israel and Islam was targeted at Florida; all discussion of China was targeted at Ohio. From a real foreign policy perspective, a business in which we devote a great deal of time and effort to reassuring and mobilizing our friends and allies and trying to solve global problems, we can only hope the rest of the world wasn’t listening.
Hopefully the rest of the world was listening to Huckabee and Linclon when they wrote, "A healthier, less impoverished planet is good for all of us."

UN Panel Expert Changes Mind on Haiti Cholera Source

Cholera specialist, Dr Daniele Lantagne, is the latest to point out that the evidence regarding Haiti's cholera outbreak points towards the UN peacekeepers from Nepal. "The most likely source of the introduction of cholera into Haiti was someone infected with the Nepal strain of cholera and associated with the United Nations Mirabalais camp." said Dr Latagne to the BBC.

The evidence itself is not new, rather it is the change of view from Dr Latagne that is getting the attention. She was a part of the UN panel of experts who came back with murky results regarding the cause of the cholera outbreak. There was some admission that the UN peacekeepers may have played  a role, but the final report could not put the majority of the blame on any single group.

Genome data and other evidence seems to have tipped the scale in Dr Latagne's mind. Two years since the outbreak, there is still a debate over the source of what some believe is the first ever cholera outbreak in Haiti. 

There have been nearly 600,000 cases of cholera and 7,585 deaths since the onset of the outbreak.The number of cases and the fatality rate are on a steady decline, but cholera continues to be a problem with just over 6,000 cases reported per month.

22 October 2012

Of Haitian Puppet Shows: Why We Should All Strive to Communicate Better

The following is by Meg Sattler and originally appears on AidSource.

A lot of work has been done in recent years to ‘professionalise’ humanitarian aid and development work. Reputable organisations don’t see themselves as ‘charities’, paternalistically handing things out to their many grateful dependents. They’re not staffed entirely by well-meaning volunteers with no immediately-observable skills. There’s been a shift, over decades, to focus less on chucking stuff off the back of trucks, and more on dignity, sustainability, accountability, empowerment, impact. The last thing we would want to do as aid workers, then, would be to use people in the ‘third world’ to feel better, or worse, about ourselves. And so it saddens me that we still feel the need to do this in our marketing.

This recent video shows people in Haiti reading out statements from twitter, repeating people’s #firstworldproblems. It has been criticised for making people feel guilty somewhat redundantly, as whenever someone uses the #firstworldproblems hashtag, they clearly have enough self-awareness to realize that whatever they are complaining about is trivial, in the grand scheme of things. From an effectiveness perspective, the video has also been criticised for not having a clear call to action. It leaves people feeling guilty, and then what? Personally, I have another gripe with this video, though.

I lived in Port au Prince for a decent amount of time, working as a Communications Manager for a very large aid organisation. I spent a lot of my time ‘in the field’, talking to individuals and families just like those who appear in the video, probably in a lot of the same places. I never kid myself that these relationships were entirely ‘equal’ (there is always going to be a power dynamic when you waltz into a community wearing a vest branded with the logo of an organization that is providing some kind of support, especially in a humanitarian aid situation), or that the stories I was hoping to obtain, and then share, were going to drastically improve the lives of those I spent time with. But there were certain principles I always followed. Some were obvious: Get permission, be respectful, consult Protection staff, follow rules of do-no-harm, etc. But one was particularly important to me: Always let the story come from the individual. Seems obvious... doesn’t it?

There can be a tendency for marketers working on humanitarian aid and development, particularly those who’ve not spent a long time in the field, to write people’s stories before they’ve met them. Before, in fact, they know anything about the people, at all. Any communicator who has spent a decent amount of time in the field would have received an email like this, at some stage:

“Please get me a story about a 5-8 year old girl, living in [insert really bad situation]. The story should be about how she feels [insert various negative emotions] because of [reiterate really bad situation]. It should show need, and demonstrate her [insert ‘trauma’ or similar word]. Photos should not show the girl smiling, because she is in a hard situation. Thanks, look forward to reading it!”

When you’ve trained as a journalist, these kinds of requests can sometimes make you laugh. But generally, they are extremely worrying. Serious ethical issues arise when humanitarian agencies begin using vulnerable people as actors in their own pre-written narratives.

In fragile state contexts including Haiti, people’s stories are complicated. This is because they live in difficult situations that can’t easily be fixed by a quick wave of the humanitarian aid wand. But it is also because they are human beings. And when you sit down with a woman living in harsh conditions in Haiti and have a conversation with her, listen to her opinions, struggles and joys and share some of your own, you’ll always end up with a story far more interesting than one pre-empted by a marketer in your head office. The potential for communications in humanitarian work is amazing. Besides the ability to share stories on behalf of those who need them told, to those who need to hear them, we can also – and better yet – equip communities with the skills, confidence and avenues to share their own stories. Beyond that, we can use communications skills to ensure communities have the knowledge they need to protect themselves from danger or illness, or to avail channels for people to share feedback on the work of NGOs, keeping us all accountable.

And then there is this other kind of communication; the kind that has people reading out statements, in a language that isn’t their first, for a reason they probably don’t understand, to a video camera. When I saw the #firstworldproblems video, I didn’t feel guilty. I just felt really, deeply sad. I was immediately transported back to those Haitian homes, camps, riverbanks where I’d spent hours talking to people whose stories, so vastly different from my own, never ceased to surprise and affect me. I wondered about the people in the video. What are their names? Where do they live? What are their situations? Who are their families? Are they educated? Do they work? What do they dream of? What makes them happy? I wondered whether they understood what they were saying. I wondered if they understood why. I wondered about the whole process, from start to finish.

I watched the video because a colleague had posted it on facebook. She had thought it was good. And then the website Mamamia posted it, and they thought it was good, too. And so did Huffington Post. And so after I watched it, and felt sad, I posted it too, but I added my thoughts. My aunt commented that she thought the ad was effective, but she phoned me afterwards. “It did move me, but I couldn’t like it. The poor Haitians looked like puppets.”

I am not writing this to attack the video, or its makers. I’m writing it to, hopefully, inspire some conversation, or thought, on how we all communicate, and how we might be able to do it better. Perhaps often we overlook certain ethical questions in our marketing tactics when we’ve high hopes for some kind of greater good with the end result. We may raise a lot of money, or create a lot of ‘awareness’. But I hope that I never contribute, on behalf of any agency aimed at empowering the marginalised, to any form of communication that reduces people – highly vulnerable people – to social media puppets. And that is my own #firstworldproblem.

18 October 2012

Rethinking the Post-2015 Agenda: Jamie Drummond

I am in the continuing process of collecting information and interviews regarding the Post-2015 Agenda. Given the importance of the Millennium Development Goals, what follows will have a significant impact on the trajectory of international development. The most significant effort has been launched through a partnership between the ONE Campaign, UNDP and the Overseas Development Institute.

The short version is that the groups are coming together to survey people around the world as a way to understand what the world's poor want and develop a more bottom-up set of goals. "We should proactively be asking about their concerns, priorities and aspirations. And listening intently to their responses. By giving them a seat at the table, they can speak up for themselves, determine their own futures, and set their own agenda," wrote ONE's Ben Leo in the Huffington Post.

I am going to share information as I gather it in regards to the story rather than sit on it. Conversations will range from the core members of the survey effort to MDG designer Jeff Sachs. The following is an excerpt from a recent discussion I had with ONE Campaign Co-founder and Executive Director Jamie Drummond.

What additional structures could support the accountability that you hope this may enable? In other words, what might the next step look like once the feedbacks take place?

JD: Reports like the DATA report have been helpful for accountability of things like finance inputs- probably every country should have a detailed report not just on resources and policy promises and whether they are being kept, but also on outcomes and whether they are consistent with promises. The UN and World Bank can do some of this but it will probably up to civil society and think tanks to lead the independent monitoring to provide the information to citizens so they can do the vocal accountability work in country. this will require more capacity building for civil society and think tanks in developing countries, for example.

AVFTC: Do you think that these responses will force some level of prioritization of goals?

JD: That's the idea! It may also winnow out what are the things that the international community can do to help fight poverty versus the domestic policy making leadership must do to help fight poverty. They have different levels of agency. For example all might agree that providing jobs for young people is key. But there's limited amount that citizens in say Europe can do to help provide jobs in Africa (and politically that's also a harder sell especially in this climate). Policymakers within Africa will make and do make this their number one priority and its likely a survey will reinforce how this is the right number one priority for people on the continent of Africa, for example.

AVFTC: Is your hope that ONE advocates will push on global leaders, especially Cameron, Sirleaf, et al, to implement goals that reflect the information gathered?

JD: That's the whole idea! Of course as per 3 there might be different levels of things that can be done by different players within the overall development community. they might in response to lobbying agree what the overall priorities are and then divvy up who has lead responsibility on which piece.

AVFTC: How can the information help inform average global citizens and the media?

JD: The idea of actually asking people about which goals they want might finally help inform people that
  1. These goals exist
  2. They have achieved some things
  3. They are worth replacing and backing so that we can roll up our sleeves and really work on some things together, as an international community of engaged citizens. 
What I made clear in the talk and is widely recognized we've got some big challenges coming down the pike: resource scarcity, potential conflict over this etc. They are soluble - but not if we don't substantially improve global governance and for me that means not just wagging fingers at global leaders, but also we as citizens rolling up our sleeves and finding ways to engage many more millions of other citizens around the world in getting things done, suggesting solutions, and keeping an eye on things.

AVFTC: There are criticisms of the MGDs themselves. What are the advantages and shortfalls of setting goals?

JD: Goals means we can sometimes lost sight of the importance of the process which achieves them. sometimes development is a process not just an outcome. All the work of say Amartya Sen shows that its not just the empirical condition of not being in poverty that matters, that real absence of poverty is more like the freedom to make good choices, liberty to self-determine. 

This more qualitative aspect can get lost. We can try harder to find ways to measure this.I like the firm measurability and accountability of empirically verifiable targets. Otherwise development types can too easily move goalposts, to shake off accountability, drift off into philosophical abstraction or purely ideological debates. 

The MDGs were simply a brilliant visionary compromise of their time to focus disparate interest groups (those who worked on AIDS or malaria or health versus those who worked on education or agriculture or corruption or fair trade etc) and give them one set of overall development goals, for them to all work on together and ultimately work with developing country government to help them achieve the next set of goals will ultimately be the same. A brilliant visionary compromise, but hopefully the next goals are better designed because we've both learned from the first set of goals and because connectivity allows better sharing of ideas, and technology can allow better measuring of progress and monitoring of outcomes, feedback about what works and doesn't.

The Aid Prayer

A reworking on the Our Father appears at the end of a brilliant piece of satire on how to give foreign aid by Elnathan John for Nigerian newspaper the Daily Times.
Our Fathers who art in Europe (and America)
Hallowed be they purse
Thy consultants come
Thy will be done in our governments as formulated by Bono
Give us this day our yearly funding
And forgive us our debts
as we increase the number of our debtors
And lead us not into self-reliance
But deliver us from ourselves
For thine is the aid-money, the power and the glory
Forever and ever, Amen
May God who touched your heart and moved you to save us, immensely bless your hustle.
Do read the full piece here.

HT Loomnie

17 October 2012

WHO: 20 Million Lives Saved by TB Care and Control

I wrote this originally for the PSI Impact Blog.

Cambodia transformed from a country shouldering a remarkably high TB rate 20 years ago to a nation experiencing rapid declines in the number of TB cases. By implementing WHO-recommended  services such as Directly Observed Therapy – Short Course (DOTS), Cambodia has witnessed clases decline by 45% from 2002 to 2011. Health centers providing DOTS services grew from 60 to 1000 in only five years.  “Cambodia changed a health crisis into an opportunity,” says Dr Ikushi Onozaki, from WHO’s Stop TB Department in WHO article.

The WHO says that the success of Cambodia is a reflection of implementing WHO recommendations for the treatment of TB. The report Global Tuberculosis 2012 released today by the WHO today estimated that some 20 million people are alive today thanks to improved care and control for TB.

“In the space of 17 years, 51 million people have been successfully treated and cared for according to WHO recommendations. Without that treatment, 20 million people would have died,” says Dr Mario Raviglione, Director of the WHO Stop TB Department. “This milestone reflects the commitment of governments to transform the fight against TB.”

A decrease in the TB mortality rate by 41% since 1990 puts the global effort on track to reach the Millennium Development Goal target of a 50% reduction by 2015. Technical advances like the rapid molecular test Xpert MTB/RIF provide further support in the effort to reduce the global burden of TB.This week also saw the promising announcement by Oxford University researchers that they will know whether their MVA85A vaccine is effective against TB by early 2013.  “If the results meet our expectations it will be a turning point,” said Helen McShane, professor of vaccinology at Oxford university, to the Financial Times. “It will transform the field.”TB vaccines offer little opportunity to make money for pharmaceutical companies since TB is largely a disease of poverty. “It’s been hard to make a convincing market argument for TB drugs,” Ann Ginsberg, vice president of scientific affairs at TB vaccine non-profit Aeras, told PlusNews. “The reality is that the vast majority of companies working on TB drugs do not expect to make any profit from it. They are in it because they think it is the right thing to do. They hope not to lose money in the process, but they don’t expect to make any,” she said.

Multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB) is an area that the WHO admits needs more work. The number of cases in the 27 countries with the greatest MDR-TB burden is increasing. India announced the discovery of the first cases of 'totally drug-resistant TB" in December of 2011. The WHO responded by working with the Indian government and convening a group of 40 experts to determine how to act.

The report says that the Indian government has implemented several measures to address totally drug-resistant TB.
In Mumbai, laboratory and hospital facilities were improved, contact-tracing stepped up and efforts made to train staff on drug-resistant TB and infection control. Medical staff and funding were increased substantially. Access to second-line drugs was provided to eligible patients. National regulations governing private sales of anti-TB medication were strengthened. By the end of 2012, all 35 states in the country are expected to provide programmatic management of drug-resistant TB. In May 2012, India made TB a notifi able disease and data collection on TB using a webbased system was initiated
In order to ensure that the number of cases of TB continues to decline and problems like MDR-TB are reeled in, the WHO says that $1 billion in donor funding is needed in low and middle-income countries through 2015. That figure represents a doubling of present.

Another $1 billion will be needed to support HIV-positive TB patients. Roughly one out of ever four people with HIV also have TB. By ensuring that countries have the financial ability to implement the WHO guidelines, the WHO believes that the burden of TB can continue to drop.

“Cambodia’s success in providing universal access to TB care and treatment is remarkable but there is still a long way to go,” says Dr Pieter van Maaren, WHO Representative in Cambodia. “Many people are infected and public health work to detect and treat the disease will be needed for a long, long time.”

Challenges to Polio Vaccines in Nigeria

The following post was written for the PSI Impact blog.

As the world nears eradicating polio, Nigeria stands as one of the few countries that remain polio endemic. The first three-quarters of 2012 saw three times more cases as opposed to the same period last year. While efforts focus on ridding the country of polio, a series of obstacles still stand in the way.

A ban on immunizations by Muslim leaders shoulders some of the blame, but changing attitudes mean that more children are receiving immunizations in the north. NPR reports:
Ibrahim insists that his son was immunized for polio at least once, but the child should have received multiple vaccinations for full protection.

In the past few years, religious leaders in this region have gone from opposing vaccination to requiring it. "We have to force you to do it, whether you like it or you don't like it," says Wada Mohamed Aliyu, the polio point man for the emir of Kano state, the region's top-ranking Muslim.

Aliyu says parents who refuse to vaccinate their children will not be tolerated: "Why? Who are? We don't care if it's something that will affect you and your family alone. But [if] you don't comply with us, you allow your child to go — he's going to spread it to 200 other innocent children around the vicinity."

This newfound zeal from Muslim leaders has helped overcome resistance to the vaccine, but there's still a major problem of kids falling through the cracks during immunization drives.

The local ministry of health is attempting to address this by restructuring the campaigns. Instead of having outside vaccination teams that travel from place to place, so-called volunteers are responsible for making sure every child under the age of 5 in their particular neighborhood, village or slum gets the vaccine. The volunteers receive a small stipend each month.
The problem in northern Nigeria is exacerbated by the instability caused by Boko Haram. Attacks on schools and churches make it harder to reach the people who need immunizations. Additionally, sanitation presents another challenge.
Abdul Magaji, a sanitation worker in Kano, has been taking samples at the sewage stream for more than a year. So far, officials have only detected live polio virus once in the sewage, but Magaji's supervisor says the plan is for more sampling sites across the city in order to detect polio in an area before it strikes.

That seems to be the main strategy for fighting polio in northern Nigeria — do more of everything: more surveillance, more staff and more vaccinations; and launch an all-out offensive until the virus has nowhere left to hide.
A report from the International Vaccine Access Center (IVAC) at Johns Hopkins University in March presented suggestions on how to improve vaccine coverage in Nigeria. It would require changing how money is disbursed by the government, improving the transportation of the vaccines and providing the incentives for people to participate in vaccination drives. “You can bet people from villages that are not reached by vaccines are traveling to do commerce and other things. If you incentive parents, you will find them innovating their own transportation schemes,” said Dr Orin Levine, one of the study authors, to me at the time of the release.

Nigerian Minister of State for Health, Dr. Muhammad Pate, was optimistic about reaching people at the time of the study's release. Ensuring that Nigeria has robust immunization systems will support overall health systems, he argued. “It will have impact on other important services such as maternal health, prevention of parent to child transmission of HIV, treatment of other ailments like anti-malarials, zinc/ORS for diarrhea, antibiotics for pneumonia etc,” said Dr. Pate.

16 October 2012

Foreign Aid Should Not Be About Us and Them

The Political Action Committee supporting Kentucky Senator Rand Paul (R) released an attack video on West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin (D). The video takes a hard-line stance on foreign aid that is espoused by Sen Paul and his father Rep Ron Paul (R-TX). In short, the argument is that Sen Machin supports foreign aid to countries that are not appreciative of the aid they receive.

The scenes move back and forth from riots to Sen Manchin in congress. The voice over punctuates the dichotomy by telling viewers that Sen Manchin is supportive of the riots because he agreed to send foreign aid to Egypt, Libya and Pakistan. The story builds from riots in Egypts, to the arrest of the doctor who supported the fake vaccination campaign in Pakistan, to the riots in Libya that led to the death of Ambassador Stevens.

With the stage set to show that Sen Manchin supports untrustworthy nations, the narrative flips to show a largely vacant street with a garbage bag over a parking meter, blowing in the wind. All it needs is a tumbleweed (or a modern equivalent) to really hit the scene home. The voice over says, "While millions of jobless men and women seek work, while our debt climbs higher and our roads and bridges crumble here at home, Joe Manchin works with Barack Obama to send billions of our taxpayer dollars to countries where radicals storm our embassies, burn our flag and kill our diplomats."

The tie in to President Obama is a tip to viewers to let them know that he is in on the same misdoings as Sen Manchin. By connecting back to the problems in the United States, the ad hopes that viewers will see Manchin as someone who is not concerned with what is happening here in the US and would rather spend billions of dollars on ungrateful countries.

Senator Paul attempted to cut off aid to Pakistan, Libya and Egypt in late September with an amendment that was voted down 81 to 10. "When you look at the polls of the American people, you find that nearly 80 percent of the American people think foreign aid in general is a bad idea. We have roads in our country that are crumbling and need repair, we have bridges that are crumbling. In my state alone we had a bridge out six months last year. We have two bridges that are older than I am and need to be replaced in Kentucky. We don't have the money, but we somehow have billions of dollars to send to people who disrespect us and burn our flag," said Sen Paul to Voice of America.

Senator Paul is in favor of cutting foreign aid entirely and has previously introduced or attempted to include amendments that either entirely cut or make major cuts into foreign aid.

The arch of the ad sets up the idea that it is 'us' verses 'them.' It is a point of view that often emerges in a phrase like, "Yea, but what about the people here who are in need. We have to take care of ourselves." The problem with such a point of view is that it understands issues like international stability and poverty eradication as a purely internal endeavor. Further, it places one group above another. The argument supposes that a poor American is more deserving of services than a poor Cambodian.

Aid itself is far from perfect and does not deserve blanket protection if improvements of its use are not possible. Setting ourselves above others creates a significant obstacle for reform. It reduces a much more complex discussion into a 60 second advertisement. There are important questions to discuss in regards to how aid is delivered to countries like Pakistan, Libya and Egypt, but one part of the questions must center around the role that the United States plays in what happens around the world.

The doctor who supported the vaccination campaign in Pakistan that helped lead to the killing of Bin Ladden is assumed to be a hero by Rand PAC. That ignores the fact that the United States held a fake vaccine campaign in another country, one that happens to need to have consistent vaccines to help bring an end to diseases like polio. A lot of work has gone in to building the trust to vaccinate children and ensure that they can live healthy lives. That trust was damaged thanks to the operation.

Foreign aid can seem like a fun political football to kick around, but it has direct impacts on people around the world. To ignore its impacts is shortsighted.

What Rebel Group is More Dangerous in DRC?

When discussing the nature of the M23 rebellion in the DRC, it makes perfect sense to talk to a journalist who just made a trip to Goma. At least that is what is acceptable for the Daily Best. VICE Magazine editor Thomas Morton recently visited the DRC and sat down to talk with Tony Dokoupil of the Daily Beast to explain why the M23 rebels are a greater concern than the LRA.

Setting aside the problems with even discussing which rebel group is worse, could the Daily Beast have possibly brought in an expert on the region to discuss the situation? There weren't any other journalists who are actually based in the region available to join the conversation? The answer, to the Daily Beast, appears to be no. Unfortunately, a conversation about a problem that does in fact deserve more attention is diverted because of a need to compare what is happening to the LRA.

15 October 2012

Unilever Joins MVP to Promote Handwashing

Unilever and the Millennium Village Project unveiled a new partnership today to mark the 5th Global Handwashing day. The partnership aims to reduce diarrhoeal diseases by improving hygiene in MVP villages in Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Tanzania and Uganda.

“Diarrhoea and pneumonia are the two leading causes of under-5 deaths, accounting for around 30% of children's deaths globally – more than two million lives lost each year. More than 80% of these deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Addressing these challenges through improved hygiene is a vital and effective step towards saving lives and achieving the global Millennium Development Goal to reduce the child mortality rate by two-thirds by 2015," said Jeff Sachs.
Global Handwashing Day 2009 - Indonesia
Global Handwashing Day 2009 - Indonesia - Credit
Handwashing is a major priority for the large multinational Unilever. "This is not necessarily about donor money. The goal is not to make soap a free thing. What needs to happen is for it to become a daily routine and it will become an unquestionable expense," Dr. Myriam Sidibe, Social Director for Lifebouy told me last year.

For Unilever, supporting handwashing provides away to create a market for their product while engendering healthy habits. Studies have shown that regular handwashing can reduce pneumonia and diarrhea in children. Compared to other WASH interventions, handwashing with soap is both cheap and effective when comparing health benefits weighted by price. Ensuring that people regularly wash their hands means improved health outcomes and business for Unilever.

Sidibe explained the motivation in a July post in the Huffington Post writing, "For Unilever, the moral case is clear -- we know we can improve and save lives through our products and by changing behaviour. Moreover, the business incentive is clear -- our Sustainable Living Plan commits us to doubling the size of our business while improving our impact on society."

The partnership between Unilever and the MVP aims to reach 500,000 people by supporting household latrines, access to safe water sources and educating about handwashing with soap. "For a company like Unilever, proud of its reputation, a commitment is a real bottom line. Fortunately, the company's bold commitment is also matched by expertise, distribution networks and management acumen to reach vast numbers of people and help them improve their lives. The partnership of Unilever and the Millennium Villages Project will be an important step on the road to success," writes Sachs in the Huffington Post.

Diarrhoeal disease is responsible for the death of 1.5 million children each year, estimates the WHO. That makes it the second leading killer and  the leading cause of malnutrition for children under the age of five. The good news is that many of the problems can be avoided with proper hygiene and treatment.

“It is unacceptable that two million children die every year from infectious diseases when we have easy and cheap lifesaving solutions, such as handwashing with soap, readily available. Innovative partnerships between governments, civil society and business have a critical role to play in promoting better hygiene practices and in tackling the world’s deadliest diseases,” said Unilever CEO Paul Polman.

Disclosure: I write the Impact blog for PSI, a partner with Unilever on handwashing.

An Education Revolution Starts with Economic Development

The George Mason University economics duo of Tyler Cowen and Alex Tabarrok may be best known for their economics blog, Marginal Revolution. The two Economists stand at the forefront of innovating how the discipline of economics is learned and shared. They blog at at relentless pace with little or no financial gain, a rather curious pursuit by men steeped in economic theory. However, the site has grown to become one of the more popular blogs with over 50 million visits to date.

Cowen's book The Great Stagnation represented another step towards experimentation. The 128 page book was published in electronic form first and came in at a reasonable price of $3.99. The duo took it further with the recent launch of Marginal Revolution University. The aim of MRU is to make education, better, cheap and accessible. The online platform is intended to reach a large audience. That means that it is low-bandwidth optimized, lessons are quick and to the point, there are no advertisements and it is free.

"We think that learning economics is important. We think learning economics can make the world a better place," explains Tabarrok in the introductory video, answering why the two are taking the time to create a free platform.

The first course from MRU launched at the beginning of the month and focuses on Economic Development. "We're asking what is perhaps the most important question in all of economics. Why are some countries rich while other countries are poor?" states Tabarrok. "For billions of people that is a life and death question, and we think that economics has something to add to that question."

The course is divided into 22 sections that include a series of videos. Subjects range from Migration to Corruption. A final section will focus specifically on India and its path towards development.The first four sections a completely published along with the corresponding practice questions for each section. By far the most interesting section available right now is one titled People.

Important thinkers in the field of economic development are highlighted with lessons that explain their theories and relevance to the field. What makes it great is that it allows for the expansion of understanding in terms of influences on economic development. The Sachs-Easterly debate grabs attention and the randomistas are making their own waves, but there are plenty of other thinkers like Sen, Rodrik, de Soto, Ostrom and Shumpeter who are all important in the discussion of theory.

As a development nerd, the course is exciting because it covers what I believe to be a very important field. More importantly, MRU lowers the barrier to access for engaging in the subject of economic development. A seasoned aid professional and an undergraduate student can both use the platform to learn about aspects of economic development that they did not know before.

What will be most interesting to monitor with the release of MRU is the question if it is able to reach people in low-bandwidth parts of the world. The transformative potential exists, but it is still a matter of getting the information to people and for them to then consume it. Higher education is a subject that garners less attention that many others when it comes to development. Despite that, it is very important and MRU could play a role in supporting higher education.

12 October 2012

Lessons Learned From Haiti's Earthquake Response

  1. Celebrities do not necessarily run good aid/relief organizations.
  2. Even skilled volunteers are not the best answer.
Yele Haiti

The charity started by musician Wyclef Jean came under some criticism at the time of the earthquake in Haiti. A report by Debroah Sontag in the New York Times gives further evidence to the concerns by showing how little the NGO has done in the two years since the quake.
On the ground in Haiti, little lasting trace of Yéle’s presence can be discerned. The walled country estate leased for its headquarters, on which the charity lavished $600,000, is deserted. Yéle’s street cleaning crews have been disbanded. The Yéle-branded tents and tarps have mostly disintegrated; one camp leader said they had not seen Yéle, which is based in New York, since Mr. Jean was disqualified as a presidential candidate because he lives in Saddle River, N.J., not Haiti. 

This summer, the charity foundered. 

Sitcom Centers on Dysfunctional NGO

It was the opportunity that Hussein Kurji always wanted, but he was not prepared. A conference in South Africa invited attendees to pitch an idea for a television show. Not wanting to waste the opportunity, Hus turned to notebook where he scribbled down an idea from a few years ago: a dysfunctional NGO.

The native Kenyan went to Australia in order to study digital media. He returned home in 2009, unsure if it was the right decision. Radio dominates as the main media form in Kenya, but television is growing at a rapid pace. A survey in 2011 by Ipsos Synovate found that roughly half of all Kenyans watched television within the past week. The average viewers spent 26 hours a week watching television generally in the evenings to watch the news and soap operas.

Friends would tell Hus stories about their work at an NGO and oftentimes the main point of conversation centered around office politics. Hus thought it could make for a good television show, making a small note in a notebook without much thought that it would go anywhere.

A scramble to flesh out his idea led to successful pitch which means the idea of a dysfunctional NGO that does nothing called "Aid for Aid" is becoming a reality. "The Samaritans" centers around an NGO in Nairobi that is in the process of applying for a massive grant that will change the organization. The problem is that the grant is so big that nobody really knows what it is for.

The premise is drawn from the experiences of a friend. "His organization was excited about a big grant," explained Hus," but they did not really understand what they would do if they got the money." While an NGO sits at the center of the story, it is actually the characters that matter most.

"I was inspired by shows like The Office, Parks and Recreation and Modern Family. The side interviews, comedic aspects and attention on characters is what makes them work," he said. He intends to employ a British-style humor with his target audience being the African continent, Asia, Europe and the Middle East. Kenya is still not at the point where it can serve as the only outlet.

"There are no systems or initiatives in place to tap into financing," said Hus. Because of that, he and his partner are turning to Kickstarter to raise money for the development of the film. Their $10,000 goal is meant to help with production and development costs to ensure that the scripts are perfected. "We already have the first three seasons sketched out," Hus explained.

The project tipped the $10,000 point this morning meaning that it will be fully funded, but Hus hopes that the project can make it up to $11,000 before it Midnight EST this Monday. Script writing should take place in early 2013 and Hus hopes that he can cast the 11 main characters and produce a few episodes by the summer.

A demo of 'The Samaritans' was filmed as a part of the promotion for the project. In it we meet Martha, the deputy director of Aid for Aid who is passed over for a promotion to director by a young American male who is half her age and his only experience is a 6 week internship in Casablanca. While navigating the office politics of Aid for Aid, the employees are all really focused on 'saving Africa.'

Watch the demo clip:

The Samaritans - Demo from xeinium productions on Vimeo.

11 October 2012

Can Crowdfunding Catapult Women and Girls?

Women Deliver hopes to literally propel women's advocacy on International Day of the Girl through the launch of its online funding platform, Catapult. Users will have the opportunity to end gender inequality by providing financial support for girls and programs that support them. According to Women Deliver, only 2 cents of every development dollar targets adolescent girls.

“Catapult is a connector,” said Founder, Maz Kessler. “It’s a tool for people to take direct, effective action to create change. Catapult unites online supporters with trusted organizations to help fuel the movement to end inequality for girls and women.”

Catapult builds off the success of other crowdfunding platforms like Kiva, Do Something and Kickstarter. The projects can be searched by users on the platform, and are further organized by special Catapult Curators who will highlight projects that speak to their interests. Curators include actress and advocate Maria Bello; Man Up Campaign Founder Jimmie Briggs; Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Director of Family Health Gary Darmstadt; GirlUp Teen Advisor Co-Chair Annie Gersh; and Women Deliver President Jill Sheffield.

Users will have the opportunity to support projects like:
Narishakti – The power of women in Mumbai” – The Sanmitra Trust will provide HIV-positive women with an intensive five-day training session to learn how to create solid business plans, manage loans responsibly and set up small businesses. The program will also provide women with ARV treatment and access to support groups.
Young men’s education camps on gender and sexuality – This project will host youth camps to educate boys to take a principled stand against the root causes of commercial sexual exploitation in the Philippines.
One of the emerging criticisms about crowdfunding has been the ability to hold projects accountable. Whether it is an individual who uses money from a Kiva loan for things other than the development of a business or it is a musician that does not produce the album he promised on Kickstarter, ensuring that funds are used as intended is challenging.

The campaign is supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and has set forth the goal to raise $45 million over the next three years. “I am always inspired by the commitment of women I meet in the developing world to create a better future for their families. Investing in women can be transformational for entire societies. Today reminds us that we all have a role to play in unlocking the potential of women and girls,” said Melinda Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

With celebrities in support and big name organizations behind Catapult, it stands to reason that the $45 million goal is attainable. The argument made by Catapult is that women need more funding in order to achieve their goals. Microfinance makes very much the same argument, but the results have been anecdotal and the rigorous studies call into question the claims of overall positive change.

By Girls for girls: recommendations on girl programming

By Soledad Muñiz - @solemu

Today, October 11th, is the International Day of the Girl, designated by the United Nations after a successful advocacy campaign by Plan UK. As Cherry Healy reminds as in her post, one in three girls worldwide are denied education due to poverty, discrimination and/or violence.

In a joint statement, UN Women, UNFPA and UNICEF calls us to focus attention "...on the need to address the challenges girls face, promote their empowerment and fulfil their human rights."
As I've explained here, I was engaged in the last year in an initiative that supported adolescent girls that are part of empowerment projects to take a leading role in evaluating girl programming. The Initiative run in parallel in two countries, Guatemala & Uganda, working with two different program implementers and in different type of programming. During 7 months, 12 adolescent girl trainees in each country learnt how to use participatory video combined with most significant change to support 450 other girls to share their stories of change. At the end of the process, the trainees -who became strong video girl leaders- analysed the 64 collected video stories of change (32 per country) & scribe notes from the process, and presented the results & recommendations to the program implementers in video reports.
I thought the best way to honour those girls today was to call attention to their recommendations on girl programming. As part of the Initiative, a group of girl leaders from each country met in the last stage in April 2012 at the AWID forum in Turkey. They've discussed commonalities between the results they had found in their respective programs and were able to present their ideas directly to the donor. Done by girls for girls.

I hope that we adults can learn from them in this special day and everyday:
  • CASCADING LEADERSHIP – Girl to Girl: In both countries the evaluation revealed many testaments to the key role girl leaders and mentors play in successful girl programming. Girls value girl leaders and mentors, particularly because they share common ground with girls participating in the program and understand the ‘language’ of other girls from a similar background. Given the important role that they play, girl leaders and mentors should be supported. Also transitions between leaders should be carefully managed so that girls participating in the program have a consistently positive experience.
"Share the learning of how Abriendo Oportunidades from Population Council Guatemala works with other organizations working with girls…Girl leaders or mentors should be supported by the organizations because they are the backbones of the program, they are the ones who mobilize girls, they are the ones who stay with the girls. Without them the membership would collapse." (Stage 4 girl recommendations)

10 October 2012

AiD Activates the African Diaspora for Development

The most valuable resource for the development of Africa are African's themselves argues Africans in the Diaspora (AiD) founder Solome Lemma. This week, AiD launched its web platform that seeks to "[unleash] the financial, social and intellectual capital of Africans to advance social and economic change in Africa."

"AiD puts Africans at the forefront of African development, as funders, designers, and implementers,” said Lemma in her remarks at the time of the website's release. Lemma and Zanele Sibanda co-founded AiD after a conversation three years ago revealed a shared frustration with the lack of outreach to African organizations and the way in which humanitarian agencies and media portrayed the continent and its people.

"Across Africa, hundreds of thousands of indigenous social change organizations and ventures are working to solve the most pressing challenges in their communities. They are changing their communities through effective and transformative programs. Limited resources and access to technical support hinder their full potential," wrote Lemma in a blog post for WhyDev. She believes that leveraging the diaspora is a way to close the resource gap.

AiD closes the gap through three programs: Funds, Connections and Voices. The African diaspora already sends $40 billion remittances each year. The flow of funds back to the continent exists and there are effective ways for people to send and receive money. The Funds aspect of AiD piggybacks on the transfer of money by encouraging people to support social change organizations through community funding and philanthropy.

Direct giving is one option as well as the provision of grants. AiD wants to mobilize $100,000 in support for up to 10 social change organizations in its first year. By year 5, AiD hopes to reach 300 social change organizations through $10 million in giving.

In order to support the growth of the organizations that are financially supported, AiD wants to link people with experience to organizations on the ground. The Connect part of the platform gives members of the diaspora to put their talents to use by building a database of experts that will support the organizations that are financial recipients through AiD.

The final step is storytelling. By the 5th year, AiD wants to collect over 1,000 stories of diaspora members giving in order to, as Lemme writes, "amplifies the voices of Africans and their contributions to Africa's progress." Doing so will help to address the problem of media representation that Lemme and Sibanda lamented three years ago.

AiD is an intentional play on the word 'aid' often used in the context of development and humanitarian assistance. The aim is to reclaim and re-purpose the word to one that is about empowerment, rather than a relationship of giving and receiving.

Lemma explains, "To see transformational change in Africa, Africans must become leaders and drivers of that change. We can do so in partnership with allies, friends, and invested partners. We cannot remain the beneficiaries and dependents, when there are sufficient resources, skills, and ideas within Africa. AiD is our contribution and our way of disrupting, re-imagining, and reshaping the meaning of 'aid.'"

Aid for Aid: 'The Office' for NGOs

A pair of Kenyan filmmakers want to make a black comedy about an NGO that does nothing. Based on the description and the clips shown, it looks like the hit UK and US show The Office set in an NGO in Nairobi.

They are using Kickstarter to raise money for the project and look to be on track to tip the $10,000 fundraising point before time runs out on Monday. Their goal is to bring on some writers to develop the scripts and take steps to make it more professional.To get a better sense of the format, you can watch an 8 minute clip here.

I will be talking with one of the series producers tomorrow afternoon, so keep an eye out for more info on the project.

Little Movement in Invisible Children's Latest Video

The latest short from Invisible Children (IC) gives supporters an opportunity to see behind the scenes in the preparations for and wake of the explosion of the Kony 2012 campaign. A worn down Jason Russell breaks down in tears as his co-workers and friends tell them that they are concerned and think he should take a break. Russel would suffer from a very public breakdown a few days later.

The film serves as a way to show how IC was unprepared for what would happen when the video that was intended to be seen by 500,000 people ended up reaching 100 million. At least 90% of the film is dedicated to a recap with the last section telling of the next big event where advocates will descend onto Washington DC in November to call on the world's leaders to ensure that Joseph Kony is brought to justice.

Director and IC co-founder Jason Russell made stops on various media outlets in order to tell his story and promote what is next for IC. Invariably, the question that all are asking is, "What happened?" Based on the answers given to Oprah and on the Today show, Russell developed a sort of God complex as the video grew in popularity.

"It was so high, I kept thinking wow and then it was like you're the worst. You're terrible. The thing that got my mind spinning is these powerful people in the world are looking to you for what's next. That made me feel alone. It also made me feel like I had to have the answer to the future. I thought oh my God, the U.N. (United Nations) is contacting us," he told Oprah.

Move, the new film from IC, starts and ends with the phenomenon that a slinky, when fully extended, is released from a high place will contract with the bottom remaining set. The top falls rapidly taking in each coil until it meets the end, causing the slinky to fall to the ground. The point of showing the falling slinky, according to the video, is that it is impossible to avoid movement forward.

The metaphor is appropriate given the fact that IC shows little movement forward in their response to the critical concerns regarding the Kony 2012 campaign. As the video tells it, the IC website was unable to handle the spike in traffic that followed from the spread of Kony 2012. People were then forced to go to the IC Tumblr site which only provided them with a limited amount of information about IC's work.

The examples of criticisms are rants on YouTube by people who call into question the work of IC. The viewer is led to believe the assertion that a lack of information was the core problem. If people were able to access the IC website they would not have had the same questions about what IC does and where the money was going.

Except for a screen shot of an article by the Wronging Rights duo of Kate and Amanda in The Atlantic, the concerns raised by advocates, experienced aid workers and journalists are ignored. Fundamental questions about the way the video was framed get no attention with the exception of the decision to include Russell's son.

It is apparent that IC heard some of the criticism as Jacob Acaye, the young man who appeared briefly in Kony 2012 in the form of clips from IC's first documentary, is provided more screen time. Critics of Kony 2012 said that the voices of Ugandans and people affected by the LRA were not included. This contributed to a narrative that Teju Cole characterized as the White Savior Industrial Complex.

"I disagree with the approach taken by Invisible Children in particular, and by the White Savior Industrial Complex in general, because there is much more to doing good work than "making a difference." There is the principle of first do no harm. There is the idea that those who are being helped ought to be consulted over the matters that concern them," wrote Cole.

The structure of the new video represents little fundamental change in the inherent problems that led to the criticisms of Kony 2012 and previous criticisms of IC. Tobias Denskus explains:
[T]here is very little new information or a willingness for sustained reflection in the video. It could have been inspiring for younger viewers to talk more about lessons learned, personal change and growth or admitting complexity in some way or another. There is also not a hint at the sustainability of the organization or the overall effort. I am definitely not saying that Kony 2012 has achieved nothing, but Jason’s personality, the reliance on technology and the continuous simplifications cast a big shadow on the mission and make it difficult to see the substance in one company’s self-absorbed quest to change the world.
New questions arise from Move and the coinciding public appearances by Jason Russell. Are we to believe that IC chalks up the criticisms to a matter of a crashing website? What lessons did IC really learn over the past seven months? Do Russell's delusions of grandeur confirm the very criticisms made by Cole and others regarding a savior complex within the organization? After requesting and deserving privacy, to what extent is IC now benefiting from the coordination of the new campaign video and Russell's public appearance? Finally, how will the campaign fare in light of recent events?

"You can lead or you can follow, but eventually everyone will have to MOVE," says the campaign. Will people be swept up once again by IC's efforts or have they moved on to something else? Move makes the argument that millennial are filled with potential, despite what people like Glenn Beck says. Along with a potential to do something good, and maybe even change the world, my generation has the ability to think critically and not fall victim to slick campaigns.