Secretary Clinton reveals international development goals: focus on investment

January 8, 2010

Secretary Clinton focused on investment in international development as the U.S. administration’s 2010 mantra.

The approach is country-led investment with a focus on results. This isn’t a new idea, of course. Millenium Challenge Corporation has taken this successful approach for the past five years. 

Discussions between defense, diplomacy and development departments as well as development organizations led to decisions about approach to development. Or at least, the beginning stages of changes. Clinton’s speech on definitive changes, incidentally, evoked an encouraging  roar of applause from both the development agencies and heads of state departments present at for her speech at the Peterson Institute for International Economics  on January 6th.

“But through investment, we seek to break the cycle of dependence that aid can create by helping countries build their own institutions and their own capacity to deliver essential services. Aid chases need; investment chases opportunity,” said Secretary Clinton.

With a focus on results, international development programs will look to achieve five goals:

1. Partnership

Countries must demonstrate a commitment to development by practicing good governance, rooting out corruption, making financial contributions to development. Strong economic policies are also a prerequiste. Secretary Clinton cited two examples: levying taxes on those who can afford them and managing  natural resources sustainably and devoting some of the profits to people’s development.

Partnerships with other organizations also play an important role in international development. Some foundations are also combining philanthropy and capitalism through entrepreunerial programming such as Acumen Foundation. Private companies also play a valuable role in sustainable development, according to Secretary Clinton.

“A company like…Unilever/Hindustan, which has created soap and hygiene products that the very poor – long-overlooked by private business –can afford,” said Secretary Clinton.

2. Integrate development more closely with defense and diplomacy efforts

Intregated efforts between the three Ds of forien policy, (defense, diplomacy and development) is essential for success abroad, according to Secretary Clinton. The U.S. government can ” leverage the expertise of our diplomats and our military on behalf of (international) development (workers),” said Secretary Clinton.

3. Coordinate development across Washington,D.C.

A growing problem is the number of agencies broaden their scope internationally, adding  important expertise and capacity, and working the same developing issues from different angles. This creates overlap and contradiction between development efforts. 

As attracting investment and expanding trade are critical to development, the U.S. administration encourages coordination between development programs  (USAID, MCC, and other agencies) with the trade and investment initiatives (USTR, the U.S. Export-Import Bank, and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation).

Regional efforts are also being supported and recognized as examples of regional coordination like the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act.

Also, there is also an effort underway to bring contractor workers  back to work for government agencies. 

 “It is not financially sustainable, said Secretary Clinton. “We cannot continue to send so many dollars out the door with no monitoring, no evaluation, no accountability.”

By bringing contract workers back into government organizations, the return on the investment in human capital will be greater, according to Secretary Clinton.

4. Sectoral work

In the past, the U.S. worked in all areas possible for international development. The U.S. administration is taking a new approach. Investment and technical expertise of U.S. development agencieswill be focused on a few key sectors: health, agriculture, security, education, energy, and local governance.

“Rather than helping fewer people one project at a time, we can help countries activate broad, sustainable change,” said Secretary Clinton.

5. Technology

Through technology rural neighborhoods in developing nations can move decades ahead with just access to the internet and mobile phones.

Secretary Clinton cited farmers learning the latest local market prices and know in advance when a drought or a flood is on its way through mobile phones. Mobile banking gained access to savings accounts or money sent from overseas  through cell phones as well, according to Secretary Clinton. Activists used blogs and social networking sites to hold governments accountable for how they use resources and treat their citizens: an opportunity to raise transparency on corruption and repression in developing countries, said Secretary Clinton.

Secretary Clinton also mentioned that the sees expanding development programming coming State department, USAID, multi-lateral institutions such as World Bank and even stimulus money. She pointed out that the administration would “very much like to see (American technology) used” and supporting development programs is one way to creatively development American economy and help developing countries at once. The details of how this would work is still being considered. Clinton says  that as the Geneva Accord will be the subject of meetings throughout the year. She is hopeful that ideas such as American technologies use in developing countries might be a consideration.

6.  Investment on women and girls

Women and girls are critical to advancing a country’s social, economic, and political stance globally. Future development programs  with a focus on improve women’s health, income, and access to education and food.

Programming is in progress which focuses on women farmers, or women health educators to improve outreach to women and girls. Also, there is more discussion with partner countries to play a more central role in development work. Senator Clinton mentioned new scholarships  for female agricultural scientists in Kenya.

These goals mentioned above might be altered or adjusted according to the results of the inaugural Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review  (due to be completed in earl spring) and  The Presidential Study Directive on U.S. Global Development Policy.

For access to Clinton’s entire speech visit: http://www.state.gov/secretary/rm/2010/01/134838.htm

GPS puts rural African town on map

January 5, 2010

On the map, Kibera, Niarobi is a blank spot. Not any more.

With the help of a global positioning system (GPS), many willing volunteers and a great deal of technical support from the OpenStreetMap team, Kiberia has been charted and documented for all the world to acknowledge online!

The project  was spearheaded by an OpenStreetMap team in collaboration with JumpStart International, and other partners including Jubal Harpster of WhereCampAfrica, the Social Development Network, Pamoja Trust, Hands on Kenya and Carolina for Kibera, according to AllAfricaNews.com.

OpenStreetMap, a project aimed specifically at creating and providing free geographic data such as street maps, is open to any online user. The project, which now has 200,000 users and  is available in 41 languages, began because many maps that are believed to be free actually have legal or technical restrictions for use, according to the company Web site. Contributors to OpenStreetMap take handheld GPS devices with them on journeys, or go out specially to record GPS tracks, according to OSM. Participants record street names, village names and other features using notebooks, digital cameras, and voice-recorders. It is the responsibility of participants to find the funding for the equipment. The maps are  then uploaded on the internet and can be edited by anyone to provide additional information.

OpenStreetMap, based on the German street mapping system created by Mikel Maron, allows users to access the map and add details through a wiki, or public space to add and edit information freely.

The map will point out landmarks such as churches and mosques, schools, businesses, restaurants, the premises of organisations working in the area and government administrative offices, Marion told AllNewsAfrica. He says the project is not aimed at collecting demographic data, but rather consolidating information on public infrastructure.

GPS functionality available in smart phones such as iPhones and Blackberry phones could make it possible to do plan maps. There are even specific applications on the iPhone beyond providing basic directions from starting and ending points. All iPhones also offer: Mappity Quakes, a simple earthquake viewer, Trails, records, exports and imports tracks, and MotionX GPS, maps biking, hiking, sea and skiing trails and could be useful in planning ecotourism spots. 

“With this kind of knowledge it will be possible to speak from an informed point of view regarding planning of the area in terms of infrastructure. For instance we can flag how many health centres are available, where they are and what needs to be added,” Maron explains. 

 

For those interested in joining a work group, donating funding or participating in a creating a street mapping system in your town, visit: http://www.openstreetmaps.org.

TED:where think tank leaders become video stars

January 4, 2010

If a physicist, a venture capitalist and an anthropologist enter a bar, the TED conference is probably somewhere nearby and now the conferences are traveling beyond America.

Over the years, The Technology, Entertainment and Design (TED) conferences included speakers such as: Bill Gates, Frank Gehry, Jane Goodall, Al Gore, Billy Graham, Peter Gabriel, Quincy Jones, and Bono. The annual event brings together industry leaders from various sectors to celebrate innovations, learn from each other, and inspire even great ideas. Referred to as a four-day “brain spa”, the TED promotes innovative leaders and supports future ones. Yet, TED’s most inspirational stars are  often unexpected participants: Li Lu, a key organizer of the Tiananmen Square student protest and Aimee Mullins, a Paralympics competitor who tried out a new pair of artificial legs onstage.

“Robots will come with lifelike faces that convey human emotion”, said David Lawsky of Reuters. “That was just a sampling of the technology envisioned for the future at TED, the annual gathering of corporate, Hollywood and scientific glitterati touted as a caldron of ideas and innovation.”

Yet, TED Web site refutes claims that the conference is “elitest”.  The TED conference, which began in Long Beach, California circa 1984, already inspired sister events called TEDGlobal. The conferences are hosted in a different country every year. India, Tanzania and London have hosted recent conferences.

The regional conferences have also inspired new contests. TEDIndia ran a contest for the TEDIndia conference last November in partnership with flux.net. Participants submitted short films, music videos and commercials, lasting 30 seconds to 3 minutes. The purpose was to encourage film generation with high-impact and innovative filming techniques. The collection is available to the public on the TEDIndia website.

Despite the active participation in the annual conferences, (there were 1,450 participants in the annual conference in Long Beach, California) and TED prize competition, TED boasts of even stronger online participation. (Incidentally, the movement may be indicative of the long application process and $6,000 annual conference price tag.) There are  more than 50 million viewers from 150 countries alone watching TEDTalk as of June 2008. TEDTalk is catalogue of past conference videos, partners’ conferences, and other public talks  by innovative leaders in technology, entertainment or design. Yet, one of the goals of TED is to encourage future innovators. Anyone can subscribe and watch past videos online free of charge in 50 different languages. There is also a growing translation movement to continue to develop the number of languages and events available with subtitles. There is also an active online community of 5,600 members where members can share information, ideas and participate in online forums. 

There have been many amazing innovations highlighted at TED global events. TEDIndia gave Pranav Mistry, winner of the Popular Science Invention of the Year award and MIT staffer, a chance to show off his new technological invention. (His invention is a projection of a computer screen which can be manipulated through touch.) Yet, what the results of TED’s influence globally still remains to be seen; there have only been three non-U.S. conference events since 2005.

Will Social Innovation Fund Help Nonprofits Grow?

December 28, 2009

Can an organization that helps struggling mom-and-pop entrepreneurs get loans in today’s economy?

One agency did. Rising Tide Capital helped 250 New Jersey business owners run their businesses and improve their profit margins. In the next few years, 500 to 1,000 business might also benefit, suggested President Obama in a speech about a new funding initiative.

The Social Innovation Fund, a new initiative led by the Corporation for National Community and Service scheduled to begin in the summer of 2010, will support organizations like Rising Tide Capital and reward them for their success.

Social Innovation Fund  is a U.S. government program created to decrease spending and increase nonprofit efficiency through building capitol. The program encourages foundations to identify successful nonprofits who will provide measurable results. The nonprofits will then graduate from private funding to government funding. Foundations are rewarded by being released from fudning the nonprofit and the nonprofit is rewarded with continued funding. Community organizations who can prove that their organization works efficiently and achieves measurable results  within the SIF’s guidelines receive no less than $100,000 per year for three to five years.

 And SIF isn’t  looking just “at the usual suspects in the usual places”, according to President Obama. The program is seeking to fund “those hidden gems that haven’t yet gotten the attention they deserve.. in all sorts of communities — rural, urban, and suburban,” he said.

Yet, several experts in nonprofit management have voiced concern over whether U.S. government funding and managed programming will succeed in making nonprofits become more sustainable rather than reliant on federal funding.

Yet, the intended goal of SIF is to encourage nonprofits’ sustainability.  Instead of nonprofits depending purely on foundation funds, government and foundations will work together to improve existing nonprofits through longer term funding and providing the tools and incentives for better program managment. Successful nonprofits will present a record of  program development and match their sponsoring foundations’ funding on a 1 to 1 ratio. Public foundations and social venture funds are responsible for identifying worthy recipients and distributing SIF funds.

SIF will change the U.S. government approach to philanthropy: from supporting programs to supporting nonprofit organizations, said  Sean Stannard-Stockton in a blog on Tactical Philanthropy.

” The breakthrough idea here is to move government into the role of catalyst and out of the business of provider, offering real hope for the expansion of solutions-based programs,” said Tom Sheridan, a Washingtonian public policy strategist  in a recent guest blog on change.org. During the 2008 elections, Sheridan was the lead political strategist of a policy initiative to increase innovation, strategic investment, and accountability in public problem solving.

Anticipating great speculation around how funding will curb government spending on nonprofit funding, the Center for questions and comments on the SIF application process are welcomed until January 15, 2010. Yet, growing speculation exists around the intended outcome not the process.

The fund supports social innovation by providing funding as a source for growth capital. Nonprofits are expected to  to show programming development and expansion as a result of funding. A home-visiting initiative of  the Department of Health and Human Services, for example, could connect nurses and other trained professionals with at-risk families and provide the measurable results of more healthy children. President Obama mentioned the home visiting initiative as well as What Works Fund of the Department of Education which will invest in educational programming for school districts and communities. These programs are two potential initiatives of the SIF.

In return, foundations and other grantmakers present their decision making strategies and systems of measuring results of programs.  The fund, which was a maximum budget of $50 Million, carries an extremely competitive standards : no grants of less than $1 million and no more than 50 grantmakers.

 Since it is allow to make grants as large as $10 million, the final list will be between 5 and 50 grantmakers. That’s a list that foundations are going to want to be on. Even those that historically have not focused on providing growth capital, said Sean Stannard-Stockton in a blog on Tactical Philanthropy.

Nonprofits needs a wider range of diversity in financing sources, longer-term project cycles

Yet, this shift from foundations as designers of programs who drive growth capital  of nonprofits to  performance driven nonprofits is a major shift in philanthropy, according to Stannard-Stockton.

One which could potentially reward successful nonprofits overlooked before such as Rising Tide Capitol.

For nonprofits to be sustainable, said Lee Davis and Nicole Etchart of The NonProfit Enterprise and Self-Sustainabilty Team, Profits for Nonprofits, need not only a variety of sources for financing but also a variety of financing sources appropriate for their needs and stages of development. In the past, private companies have access to various sources of funding (banks, private companies, and private equity funds) whereas nonprofits only have foundations. SIF is working to make nonprofit reach financial success. The results of diversifying financial resources could lead to: more steady flow of secured income, increased diversity of  funding sources, decreased donor dependency, wider freedom in how resources are used,  and the ability to think and plan more strategically and long-term, according to The Nonprofit Enterprise Self-Sustainability Team.

“If we empower organizations like these, think about the number of young people..whose lives we can change; the number of families whose livelihoods we can boost; the number of struggling communities we can bring back to life,” said President Obama in the same speech about SIF.

Humanity revealed in war

December 19, 2009

If it’s possible to see the sunset over the grasslands of southern Nigeria and feel the warm air, when you’ve never been there, you’ve read Adichie’s work. If you now understand what it feels like to feel plagued by the paranoid sensation that the world around you is about to evaporate like  fog when the African sun rises, you’ve probably also read her work.

Truly, I have never met someone who made human suffering so tangible and pervasive that the characters enter my dreams and waking thoughts; not since I read the works of Leo Tolstoy. (I am sadly under-educated in African writers other than Chinua Achebe and Albert Camus.)

Unlike Tolstoy, Adichie  explores the middle, working and poorest classes. She contrasts the opulent lifestyle of revolutionary thinkers, Odenigbo and his friends, swilling back cognac with  Ugwu, a quick-witted villager working  in Odenigbo’s house. Yet, the most capativating charater is Olanna, a beauty whose strength and belief in new future for Nigerians is tested by the horrors of war. The changes Adichie allows Olanna to experience are heartbreaking and dauntingly real; I can only assume this as one who has never been through a war.  

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie,  Nigerian author of The Purple Hibicus and Half of a Yellow Sun, recently spoke at SEIU building in Washington, D.C. in late October. What was most interesting to me during her her talk was how she felt this sense of priviledge in being able to get a good education and become a writer. She was lucky and she was well aware of this blessing. Whenever she would return to see her cousins who stayed in the village and saw how they married young and struggled to make a living, she wondered what they must think of her, the fancy writer working in New York City. Adichie expressed interest in working with aspiring Nigerian writers in the future and possibly running a writing workshop. Currently, she finds herself very busy writing and persuing her book tour of new collection of short stories, The Thing Around Her Neck.

Now, having read Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun, I can see why the room was packed and full of lit up happy faces. I am a huge fan as well and inspired by her as a writer. Adichie has the innate ability perform as a surgeon, feats that seem impossible to the average person; painting the horrors of a war she was too young to live through. And at the same time, she finds a way to make the readers also experience.  No, sense_the fragility of humanity. I will never forget the image of Olanna sitting on the floor of the train after seeing a town torn apart by fire and human destruction. The strange apathy her character feels staring into the face of a woman mourning the death of her baby leaves the tongue dry and wordless. I can only think of one other time I felt this way: seeing the four-story stupa  piled from floor to ceiling with the skulls of those killed by Pol Pot regime in Choeung Ek, Cambodia. In the same way, it’s a priviledge to have my eyes opened to these atrocities. Hopefully, I can be part of a more positive future as I know Adichie is also hoping for her cousins, former neighbors and her future family.

To learn more about Adichie, visit her personal Web site: http://www.l3.ulg.ac.be/adichie/.

Solutions to AIDS Funding Cuts

December 13, 2009

The candles lit and voices rallying for greater funding for AIDS/HIV wasn’t enough to stop cuts in AIDS/HIV programming, just in time for World AIDS Day.

Despite major progress reached in AIDS/HIV programming, 90 percent of countries with infected populations enacting HIV testing and counseling policies,  funding is still greatly in need. In an attempt to improve upon the success of the past five years and align with Millenium Development Goal #6, health care organizations are investing in techniqus to improve the efficiency and sustainability of health programming.

Out of concern for developing sustainable health programming, PEPFAR plans to integrate AIDS/HIV programming into an overall country health programming model.

This past week, World Health Organization (WHO) also proposed a mandate advising doctors to give patients AIDS drugs a year or so earlier due to rising numbers of AIDS/HIV patients. That’s moving the tally from 5 to 8 million patients. The mandate could leave insufficient funding further strained. Meaning even more people might go without assistance. 

Prenatal and maternal services could be paired with HIV services, according to Christine Lubinski, Director of Center for Global Health Policy.  She considers treatment possibly more effective if two programs are located in the same facility. 

Yet, would this mean that  HIV/AIDS patients could also expect to share the same health care budget with maternal care?

In the past, PEPFAR has made many valiant attempts to find viable solutions to the AIDS crisis:  introducing public-private partnerships.  This would be a truly sustainable way to resolve health care programming in developing countries. Thus far, public-partnerships have been in development for over 4 years between PEPFAR.

Motorolla provided a portion of their proceeds to fight AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis. The exact amount hasn’t been disclosed. Voxiva,  a technology firm for health care solutions, worked with the Ministry of Health in Rwanda to develop TRACnet. The application collects, organizes and shares data regarding HIV/AIDS care and treatment services.

Increasing accountability is another viable solution for sustainable health care programming. Parners in Health has established partnerships with the governments of participating countries  in partnership with the Clinton Foundation, Irish Aid, and Mission Aviation Fellowship. Their success has led to open, revitalize, and renovate 21 public clinics in just 5 years. Partners in Health has also had great success in developing sustainable programming in Haiti over the past 28 years.

PEPFAR has been praised for developing ways to track programming activities throughout the life of grants. The Center for Global Health Policy and other health advocates support the continuation of accountability programming.

PEPFAR is running capacity building health programming in developing countries, i.e.: human, communications and organizational capacity. The agency is running training and task-shifting programming in hospitals and health clinics. The goal is to train 140, 000 new healthcare workers in 15 target countries by 2014.

PEPFAR’s greatest challenges include the low number of medical service providers, the knowledge gap between those providers, and the lack of medical records and longitudinal information needed to evaluate the successes and failings of prevention, care and treatment programs. These challenges are compounded by difficulties in data management capacity, such as the scarcity of trained technology professionals and information management systems. Without this culture of data and information management, implementing technological solutions in resource-challenged environments requires an intensive manual record keeping process.                                                       

Yet, programming adjustments take time which AIDS patients don’t have.  

 The Center for Global Health feels health care funding in developing countries is still insuffient. The agency has sent out a call to action last week for 25.1 Billion towards global health investments by 2010.

For more information on AIDS/HIV programming, visit: http://www.globalhealth.org/hiv_aids/, http://www.who.int/topics/hiv_aids/en/index.html and http://www.pepfar.gov/.

Young Entrepreneurs Unite in November

November 25, 2009

A week of social entrepreneurship began November 16th around the world.

Opportunity, inspiration and a whole lot of innovative energy took place at the second annual Global Entrepreneurship Week.  The local events and activities were run by youth under 30 years old.  Events included global and local competitions, panel discussions with mentors, and skill-building games. Youth organizers were encouraged to seek local community administrators, entrepreneurs and mentors to participate in their local entrepreneurship event.  

The New York Stock Exchange Euronext, an entrepreneurship foundation hosted the second annual “Mentoring Madness” event at the New York Stock Exchange in Manhattan.  The event featured guest star entrepreneurs: Calvin “Snoop Dogg” Broadus, Blake Mycoskie, Founder of TOMS Shoes; Stephen Hanson, Founder and President of B.R. Guest Restaurants; and Barry Sternlicht, Chairman and CEO of Starwood Capital Group. MtvU “Movers & Changers” competition will select their winner; a prize worth USD $25,000 in start-up funds.

Currently, there were a total of 4999 activities planned for Global Entrepreneurship Week 2009.

Competitions encouraged social responsibility, leadership and innovation.Global Cleantech Open Ideas Competition seeks new ideas for technologies, products, marketing campaigns or systems working to solve energy and environmental issues. Global Cleantech Open Ideas.com sponsored and provided judges for the competition. The winner receives prizes, designed to jump-start the fledgling companies. EcoFactor.com was the grand prize winner of $250,000 and an additional $100, 000 in seed capital. This company entered the contest with a personalized residential energy management solution for heating, ventilation and air conditioning.

There were two student contests. The Global Student Entrepreneur Awards is a competition for undergraduate students running a business. The competition is run by Entrepreneurs’ Organization, a community of entrepreneurs worldwide. The winner will receive USD $150,000 in cash and prizes. Canandian Milun Tesovic of Simon Fraser University won for his MetroLyrics, his popular music lyrics Web site. The Prince’s Youth Business International Award was the only award determined by the online community. Youth Business International asks voters to chose from the top 12 nominees drawn from a pool of entrepreneurs 40 different countries. Argentinian Juan Ramón Nuñez won this year’s award for his audiovisual business, The Light of Sound.

The judges said, “We chose Juan Ramón because he displays a true entrepreneurial spirit of not accepting his lot, striving against adversity and identifying a market and then attacking that market through a scaleable business. He is a true inspiration and we wish him success in the future.”

Last year, Global Entrepreneurship Week featured only one competition for top young entrepreneur sponsored by Make Your Mark. African Carribean Society (ACS) won a day’s consultation with Kwiqq. ACS is a student-led network which seeks to connect people of African and Caribbean cultures through social, cultural and educational activities in the UK. ACS now has 20 participating universities throughout the UK. The organization also won the Rising Star Award 2009 from NW EMBF.

The online community inspired and fueled each other by contributing to the community page, Speed the Global Network. Video chats, forum discussions and messages can be posted on the community page by leadership from different communities as well as entrepreneur enthusiasts. Participants also connected and shared documentation of their events on the social media channels such as Facebook, UTube, Flickr and Twitter.

The Global Entrepreneurship Week began five years ago an event spear-headed by UK Enterprise, an organization fostering entrepreneurship in the UK. Last year, UK Enterprise turned their annual entrepreneurship week into a global event. There were 3.06 Million participants from 77 countries.

The sponsor of Global Entrepreneurship Week was NYSE Euronext.

Diamonds: African companies want their fair share

February 23, 2009

Every issue has it’s season, and usually results in an oscar nomination. But what happens after all the fan fare? The conflict and the issue is forgotten.

It’s been several years since the release of widely acclaimed film Blood Diamonds and responsible consumerism was a hot topic for a season. Now, Sierra Leone’s civil war is over and the Kimberly Process has started regulating diamond trade more closely. But there is a more subversive crime is still being committed against Africans_inequity in business. Will international mining industry giants secede their power and  give a fair share back to local African businesses? 

“We don’t have a figure because you’ve got lots of African countries that don’t actually produce; instead, all they do is act as a conduit”, said Abbey Chikane, Chairman of the South African Diamond Board and the Kimberley Process in an interview with allAfrica.com’s Charles Cobb Jr.

While a post-conflict region is reestablishing a government, exploitation by businesses were a common concern of both European and African leaders and human rights groups. The European Commission and African leaders discussed matters of peace and security in post-conflict regions at the Joint Summit in Lisbon in 2007.  According to reliefweb.org, they determined that “issues relating to transnational organised crime, international terrorism, mercenary activities, and human and drugs trafficking, as well as the illicit trade in natural resources, which are a major factor in triggering and spreading conflicts and undermining state structures, are of particular concern.”

Global Witness released a report, For a Few Dollars More, How Al-Qaeda moved into the diamond trade, claiming that the Al-Qaeda network successfully infiltrated diamond-trading networks in Africa to raise funds for its operatives and launder money. Author of Blood Diamonds, Greg Campbell had also investigated the link between the Al-Qaeda terrorists who committed the 9-11 attacks on the United States and conflict diamonds in Sierra Leone.

Yet, support of the African Union in  the Kimberly Process and the The Clean Diamond Act is still shaky at best. 

 “Burkina Faso and Congo Brazzaville, for instance. They don’t produce diamonds but they export large quantities of diamonds. So in terms of numbers it is very difficult. If you ask me how many diamond-producing countries there are, I will tell you South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Angola, the DRC – there are very few. The rest, like Zambia, Zimbabwe, all these, don’t actually produce diamonds but they trade; they source their diamonds from elsewhere. That will have to be a subject of discussion at our next plenary: Where do they source their diamonds from because they don’t produce?” Said Chikane.

Even if proper regulation of diamond trade is established, Western diamond industries are showing reluctance to share their profits with African partners.

According to AllAfrica.com, Botswana is boasting over recent ownership of diamond mines and the mining “conflict free diamonds”. Yet, reports of “a messy dispute regarding AK 6 diamond project earlier this year”  revealed that African Diamonds will hold only 28 percent share in the AK06 Discovery project while De Beers has 71 percent.  

DeBeers is blaming the dispute on their joint partner, Boteti. The DeBeers.com website indicated that “African Diamonds apparently believes that Boteti should breach its contracts with De Beers by breaking its marketing agreement entered into at the formation of the joint venture…African Diamonds has commenced legal proceedings against Boteti and its fellow shareholders in Boteti (Debot, Debwat)”.

DeBeers claims that they had nothing to do with this dispute, yet, the AK6 project would greatly affect the quality of life in citizens of Botswana. According to DeBeers website, there would be a  “substantial 30% reduction in supply of power by Eskom to Botswana over the next three to four years…projections show that the shortfall in power supply is not expected to be resolved before the middle of 2012, at the earliest.” This is something that DeBeers has not found a way to resolve.

Does this mean consumers should boycott the diamond industry?Not necessarily.  The diamond industry can provide jobs and generate revenue for working African families. The most important point is to support only companies that are sharing an equal portion of the revenue with their African partners.

There are many human rights groups determined to force the diamond industry to find ways to incorporate sustainable business solutions to enable African business partners and communities surrounding diamond mines to flourish not suffer. Fatal Transactions is one such group.

“The commission repeatedly voices its concern on natural resources, conflict sensitivity, unsustainable natural resources management and underdevelopment” . Fatal Transactions insisted on accountability and third party evaluation of natural resource management procedures.

According to a documentary cataloguing his life, Campbell feels boycotting diamonds is the wrong approach. He pointed out that there is would have a negative impact on peaceful nations producing diamonds such as Botswana.  There are many problems with the certification process. He does, however, point out the glaring holes in the current certification process. For example, while diamonds from Sierra Leone had been essentially banned from the legitimate market, diamond exporting from non-diamond producing nations such as The Gambia dramatically rose during the civil.

The best way to make educated decisions about diamond buying is to read the confidence pact on the diamondsfact.org which is affiliated with The Kimberly Process Corporation. These diamonds are certified and are carefully documented by Kimberly Process Corporation employees. The Kimberly Process cannot certify individual jewelers, but you can encourage your jeweler to go online and register for educational information on conflict-free diamonds.

Sources:                                                                                                                                                                          www.debeersgroup.com                                                                                                                                                                       kimberlyprocess.com                                                                                                                                                        www.diamonfacts.org           www.AllAfrica.com                                                                                                                                                                                                                   www.AfricaBusiness.net                                                                                                                                                                                                      The Last Empire: DeBeers, Diamonds, and the World, by Stefan Kanfer                                                                                                Blood Diamonds: Tracing the Deadly Path of the World’s Most Precious Stones, Greg Campbell

Reality bites back: working poor are not a new class

February 11, 2009

A “Week in Review” story in the The New York Times declared the welfare rolls were unaffected by the recession. This simply isn’t accurate and nurtures a major misconception about poverty: only the unemployed are struggling to meet their basic needs. The largest growing population in the United States is the working poor.
 
In 1998, I worked for a welfare lobbying agency and witnessed first hand exactly why the “success” of the 1996 Welfare Reform bill was a fallacy. I saw how the focus on employment rather than sustainability provided short-lived success for my friends and neighbors. One woman had two young children was constantly trying to balance medical and day care issues with work unsuccessfully. Another woman that I knew was able to use her college hours towards welfare job training requirements. She wanted to get a college diploma in Social Work. She dreamed of making more than minimum wage, so she could truly independently support her family. With the welfare policy changes of 2002, she had to withdraw from her college classes to take a job training course in secretarial work. The welfare system has improved since then. Day care and expanded health care subsidies are now available. Yet, the number of working poor continued to grow. These facts shouldn’t be surprising.
 
Many welfare recipients have multiple barriers to work such as poor health, no high school diploma or lack of recent work experience. Without the high school diploma necessary for more than one half of all U.S. jobs openings, many people have fallen into the trap of being unskilled laborers working low-wage jobs. Even those who have managed to find jobs with higher wages are at an even greater risk in this economic climate.  Employers are much more likely to retain college educated workers over those less educated. And minimum wage will not feed a family. In the 2006 US Census Bureau’s report “Still Working Hard, Still Falling Short”, 28% of families were making 200% below the poverty line. This would be the equivalent of one family member working $9.91 an hour in a full-time job to support a family of four. It is unfathomable to me how many more Americans are currently working multiple minimum wage jobs just to feed their family.
 
It’s unfortunate that a tragedy like Hurricane Katrina was necessary for Americans to face the extreme third world poverty happening in our country. What has still not been recognized is the even greater number of employed people that are barely surviving. Americans need to be aware that poverty is a very real situation and old preconceptions of welfare need to be lifted. If Americans truly want to change the course of our country, this is one reality we have to become educated about in order to help our leaders understand and end U.S. poverty.

A country_united

January 24, 2009

While living overseas I could walk up to a stranger and connect with them merely because we were foreigners in a foreign land and spoke English. We would share experiences and many laughs over our social faux pas. I could connect with Asians no matter where I was if they spoke English because I was a foreigner there to learn more about their country. We connected over our love, new or life long for that country.

People act differently during exchanges with strangers while traveling and hopefully, it changes them. Travelers are open to interaction and developing a connection with people they never would have met otherwise. And the strangest aspect of American life is that we are country that is a frequent destination for foreigners and I can’t recall having many interactions with strangers in public places in America in my youth.

People visit our country because they admire the inalienable rights we enjoy and the wealth, until recently we could depend on making with hard work and determination. Yet, as a nation of mostly immigrants, Americans seem uninterested in foreigners. Some even feel threatened by their presence. And we fight among ourselves over differences of opinion, religion, race, etc. Even though we all appreciate our right to think and act as we choose, we challenge people with opposing lifestyles and choices to do the same. We forget so much of how we came to be as a country until moments as dramatic as 9-11 happen. The other moment of American unity, in my lifetime, happened Tuesday, January 21st at the Inauguration of President Barak Obama.

Sharing that day with strangers from San Francisco, Chicago, Vermont, I felt once again like a stranger in a new country, a new America. This day seemed to make people more open and giving, like two strangers who meet in a foreign land. People on the crowded subway made way for a mother with her young children. Someone gave me their napkin when they heard me sneeze. There was no impatience and no shouting despite the long lines and crowds. No fights. People were uncannily happy and patient without the aid of illegal substances, I can only assume.We knew that we would remember all those that we’d interacted with, even the strangers. They would become part of that memory just by being there.

I left the country two years ago with a heavy heart, disappointed after so many years of writing letters to politicians, pushing for new legislation on foreign policy. I had many arguments trying to explain my government’s actions to Germans, British and Filipino’s who sometimes seemed more educated than I was on our foreign policy. Their disappointment in the U.S. government was apparent. I said that maybe we needed to be knocked off our pedestal anyway.

Now, we were entering a new time in our country’s history. Change would have come with or without Barak Obama. Our country was ready for sweeping change and as President Obama has said many times, we are responsible for making that change happen by voting and by committing to changing our lifestyles and behaviors to change this nation for the better. One man can do nothing without group consensus to change. Speculation is needless. We will not know whether the country wants change enough to change themselves except with time and the results of many media and political pollsters endless toil.

Poet/essayist, Diane Ackerman reads at Museum of Jewish History, NYC

December 19, 2009

Hope is something we often forget about, often take for granted, until times such as the present. While living overseas, my life there haunts me in moments when I am about feel sorry for my present situation, going from job to job in a tough economy. I am lucky to be employed. It is the catch phrase of 2008. Isn’t it? But hope is something so precious and truly what makes us human. Recently, I was reminded of that precious gift at an interview given by Diane Ackerman about her new book, The Zookeeper’s Wife, held at the Museum of Jewish Historyon December 9th.

It comes as no surprise to me or any other fan that anthropologist, natural life enthusist and essayist, Diane Ackerman set her first book of narrative non-f iction in a zoo. The surprise is in who lives there.

Set in Nazi Germany, 194os, Diane Ackerman tells the story of a zookeeper and his wife who choose to use their zoo as a underground hideout for Jews. The story would be horrifying and sad if it didn’t hold such inspiring notes of hope in the human interaction between the Zookeeper’s wife and her Jewish houseguests. 

I have always found Ackerman’s prose masterful and a pleasure to read, but she does something extraordinary in her new non-fiction book, she talks about hope, something Americans are very much in need of now. As someone who hates the idea of animals in cages, no one else could draw me to read a book about a zoo. She brings this unusual situation alive with color and whimsical description until you are wrapped up in the charaters world. Her research in Poland of Antonia and  Jan and their zoo was obviously very thorough.

The book takes place in Warsaw, Poland at the city zoo and is about the heroic tale of a zookeeper and his wife who housed altogether 300 Jews from the Nazis in their home and zoo.

Last night, there was a live interview on stage between a museum curator and Diane Ackerman at the Museum of Jewish History. In this interview, the curator asked a lot of probing questions about the way why she chose to describe the other zookeeper and nazti from Berlin in such an intimate way. She said that she kept seeing him as this little boy playing with the beetles as he used to do as a child. She was told at one point, he took the entymologosts owho were working for hitler in a different capacity, outside the city to look at bugs. It was such an unusual gesture of humanity and common needs that goes beyond the temperment of the time.

One of the most interesting comments Ackerman made was about how this approach to the Holohaust is what she wanted tto do because she was interested in “celebrating a certain kind of heroism during the holocaust”.

“For some reason, we’re always presented with the worst of humanity (in the media) everyday..instead of the best..”

She talked about how the only heros we hear about are ones with superhuman powers but never about the “heros of compassion”.

There were two women she spoke with frequently during her visit to Poland. They were messenger girls during the Nazti occupation and they said of anyone they might have helped in the process or the risks their job entailed that ” it isn’t unusual..it’s what any humane person would have done.” She said that she “couldn’t imagine having that kind of courage”.

To prepare for this book, she did travel to Poland although she didn’t speak Polish nor did she speak to as many people as she would have liked about the Nazi occupation. She relied on a few sources suich as the son of Anotonia and Jan, the current zookeeper who worked for Jan during one point and a two women who were messaengers. she also relied on books about WWII in Poland, about Luois Hetch, and Germany’s plans for nature after they had eliminated all the jews. What was moist interesting was hearing her talk about Germany’s plans for the animals. Hitler wanted to build an arian race of animals too which would be housed in a virgin forest between poland and russia. It is currently the only place in the region that still has all the original animals living during the WWII period in the zoo. (Apparently, The purpose was to create a forest of animals for Hitler to hunt while he occupied Poland.)

And meeting Ms. Ackerman in person was such a treat. With her thick curly black hair and bright red lipstick, she had the insatiable yet calming air, I’d expected. She’s full of life but has the practical nature of a scientist. Maybe, that is why she was the perfect person to write such an original approach to the holocaust. This book is a must read!