A Penny Saved, A World Changed? Diverting
Let me start by saying that I love my dog.

When I’m not working on this blog I am teaching English to Ethiopian immigrants here in Columbus, OH. I work mostly with adults and so far the class has been a great experience and I learn a few neat things as I teach and converse with the students. Just the other day we spent a long time learning the new term “pet”. Most English speakers will be able to recognize that word and meaning right away because they have heard it or used it many, many times and they have the linguistic competence to use the word without thinking much about it. The first step of explaining the new word was easy enough and led to the understanding that these “pets” where animals. We would ask “Did you have any pets back home?” “Yes, three cows and a goat.”

We spent a few minutes more explaining the difference between domesticated pets and livestock and continued with the day’s lesson. One man asked whether pets should be called “it” or “he/she”. After answering that man’s question I realized how much we really do love our pets. To many pet owners, their animals are almost human. I’m much more than guilty of being “that dog guy”, I will talk to the dog of a stranger in a foggy park at dusk, I will share the bed with my dog and I’ll even talk to the dogs’ owners sometimes.

That being said, my dog is a dog. She (I still can’t call her “it”) may seem almost human, but she is just a dog. I was thinking about this recently as I stopped in the store to buy some dog food. My healthy, four-year-old dog eats generic, dry, boring dog food that comes in 50 lb. bags. Walking around the dog care aisle I saw designer foods that cost a hefty penny more and I remembered the simple fact that people love their dogs. But, what about the difference? One national name brand dog food is about $12.50 for about 18.5lbs. of food. One designer name brand food costs $29 for 15 lbs. Even if we disregard 3.5 lb. the difference in favor of the cheaper alternative that gives us about $16.50 saved. Now, $16.50 saved for every 15lbs of dog food will add up to a significant sum by the end of the year, especially with multiple dogs.

What if that money went to help other humans, other people? The idea of diverting isn’t anything new, save a bit of money on things here and there and give to a greater cause, but it does work. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t love animals, or that we shouldn’t occasionally spoil the creatures we spend so much time with, but maybe we could take a chunk of that saved change and share it with our human brothers and sisters as well, be it through groups like The Borgen Project or any organization you’d like.

– Kevin Sullivan

Photo: DoggySpace

one-direction-is-helping-comic-relief-organizationThe band One Direction includes five boys: Niall Horan, Harry Styles, Zayn Malik, Louie Tomlinson, and Liam Payne. They recently visited some of the poorer areas of Accra, Ghana as part of Red Nose Day.

One Direction is helping an organization called Comic Relief by giving the proceeds of their upcoming single, “One Way or Another,” to the charity. This single was made as part of the Red Nose Day project, which often gives proceeds to the area of Ghana that the boys visited. Comic Relief is an organization that aims to eliminate poverty worldwide through the form of entertainment.

They have two main campaigns: Red Nose Day and Sport Relief. Sport Relief is a program that involves thousands of people to run a certain number of miles while raising money at the same time through sponsorship. There are also a few other scattered sports-related events to raise money throughout the year. The other campaign, Red Nose Day, is the project that One Direction has chosen to involve themselves in.

The band is helping Comic Relief by following the basic idea of this program: to raise money while enjoying themselves; in this case, through music. Also, One Direction is helping the Comic Relief  Organization by visiting Ghana. When they visited Ghana as part of their video, they encountered the lifestyles of those living in impoverished areas. The boys in One Direction have said their experience in Ghana was life-changing and moving. During the trip, some of the boys were brought to tears by the school they visited, and the children attending it.

Harry Styles commented, “If you get involved in it and you don’t cry, you’re superhuman.” Overall, the boys want to have a positive impact on as many peoples’ lives as possible. To see the band being interviewed on the subject, click here.

– Corina Balsamo

Sources: Comic Relief, One Direction Music, Belfast Telegraph


The Bazaar Stars Charity Night (BSCN) is the first charity auction party in China and also goes far in illustrating a new model of charity in China, which integrates fashion, charity, celebrities and the media while doing fundraising in the form of auctions.

Many national celebrities, including famous singers, actors, entrepreneurs and artists, attend the auction party and bid on luxury items each year, the funds of which go to those in need. The media and merchandise brand names are also very supportive.

Over the last 10 years, BSCN has collected about $25 million, sponsored 13 charity organizations and supported people and families in need. Moreover, in 2007, this event was the only charity event awarded with National Charity Award in China.

As more and more celebrities join the event, BSCN has become the biggest and most influential, non-governmental charity event in China.

Mang Su, the executive publisher of Harper’s Bazaar, initiated the event in 2003 and organizes it every year. In fact, Su is a leader in Chinese fashion and one of the top philanthropists in China. Her idea, “Making Charity Fashion,” has, moreover, created a new approach to philanthropy.

Su explained that philanthropy is not about living frugally and saving money for others, but about creating a more valuable society as a whole. “I want to contribute to charity in an innovative and fashionable way,” Su said. “Just like pursuing fashion, such as a gorgeous hairstyle or a beautiful lipstick. Everyone asks, ‘have you given to charity?’”

The purpose of the BSCN event is to help people to understand the importance of advancing society while creating their fortunes. “Not everyone can help others at the cost of his (or her) career, but everyone has a kind heart,” Su stated. “I hope this event can encourage people to express their kindness while fighting for their career and dreams.”

Xinyu Zhao, an investor of Gold Palm Club, bought a Dior sweet-smelling perfume for about $7,246.38. “I would never buy perfume for this amount normally, but this time it is for the charity. I feel very happy,” Zhao said.

Furthermore, Bingbing Li, a Chinese actress and singer, explained that the ten-year persistence of philanthropy is also a form of attitude.

At present, BSCN is not only an auction but also includes in its bag of delights, an evening banquet with dancing, which make the event even more fashionable. “With the development of society, more rich people are emerging. They have their own lifestyle,” Su said. She considers charity activities an elegant lifestyle and exclusive entertainment for the wealthy.

As more and more fashionable activities are related to some form of charity, Su believes charity events similar to the BSCN can bring wealthy celebrities closer to the idea of charity and bring them a deeper understanding of it.

“Some day, behind the rich lifestyle, people will find that it’s only by offering their love and generosity that they can realize their true class,” Su said.

Compared to China’s past charity activities, which were low key and mainly held by private individuals, current charity activities, such as the BSCN, have allowed the rich and famous of the Chinese nation to personally get involved to give back some of their fortunes openly and freely. More and more Chinese philanthropists are emerging, thus representing a new class of Chinese citizens who are on the way to understanding the concept of sharing.

Liying Qian

Sources: Harper’s Bazaar, SINA, Trends, Women of China

Cellphone Payment Being Used For WaterIn a country where mobile-phones are everywhere, but access to clean water is limited, one company is using the phone as a payment method for water. Kenya has a cellphone payment system, M-Pesa, which is becoming ubiquitous nation-wide as a critical method of payment and access to new possibilities, far beyond just talking with friends. The Grundfos Lifelink company manufactures and maintains solar-powered pumps to provide safe drinking water around Kenya. It is a pay-per-use service, using high-tech methods to overcome low-tech needs.

In this cellphone payment, each customer uses a personal Lifelink fob key. They will simply wave the key at a sensor and outcomes 20 liters of clean water. An added benefit to this system is that money collected will go to a virtual account and thus safeguarded so that it is not misspent on other things, local cash payments are often mishandled. Recent research has shown that many similar water projects fail after two years because money is not reserved for the continual maintenance that is needed for the equipment.

“In terms of tech solutions, it’s cutting edge,” says Manji, head of water and sanitation at Kenya Red Cross Ayaz. “But, in other ways, it’s not quite working… We’re in a social market. It’s a balancing act, so it’s not as easy as raising your tariffs. If you raise your tariffs, people go back to drinking from the river.”  The biggest problem is that Lifelink is not collecting as much money as they expected to. They do hope to develop a less expensive model by the end of next year, thereby bringing down the end cost to the consumer.

– Mary Purcell

Source: The Wall Street Journal, Flickr

Research-Aid-EffectivenessWhen people hear of research and the scientific method, international aid may not be the first thing that comes to mind. For The Millennium Challenge Corporation, however, it is the first and only thing on their mind.

It is a common misconception that aid to foreign countries is a waste; money falls into the wrong hands and volunteer efforts prove fruitless. Over the past decade, studies and research have been conducted to shine a light on the truths of this myth and assess the effectiveness of aid initiatives no matter what the verdict may be. The outcomes of these experiments may help guide policy, as some analysts hope.

One of the biggest studies conducted thus far has been from the US foreign-aid agency, The Millennium Challenge Corporation. One of MCC’s larger projects focuses on farmer training in countries such as Armenia, El Salvador, and Ghana. After much observation, the MCC published that in fact the skills and education taught to the farmers did help them sell more products but did little to actually reduce their poverty levels for reasons they cannot explain as of yet but are now at least aware of.

How exactly do organizations such as the MCC and universities use the scientific method to study the effectiveness of aid? Think back to elementary science. The most basic of an experiment had two groups, the experimental group and the control group, both chosen at random. In development research, these ‘groups’ are actually groups of people: communities, villages, families. The experimental group is enrolled in the aid project (for example, testing the effectiveness of bed nets in preventing the spread of malaria). One group is given the nets while another is not. This part of the process has created some uproar within the clinical research community. Jeffrey Sachs, a sustainable-development economist at Columbia University finds them to be unethical, preventing much-needed assistance to a group of people for the sole purpose of data collection. There are also scientists who see the entire concept of analyzing aid programs as destructive because it may prematurely cut a new program without giving it the chance to grow. Rachel Glennerster, a director of the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab at MIT, sees it differently. For her, the randomized controlled trials are in fact underused and prove to be the most effective out of other options in weeding out failing programs.

So what is to be done? Using such research methods gives organizations and donors a better look at what works and what doesn’t,  a necessity for any entity to survive and grow. But should researchers be able to ‘randomly’ control the very survival of other human beings just to ensure an effective policy? When a perfected and efficient policy could ensure the survival of hundreds of thousands of people, then perhaps the answer is yes.

Even when data is concluded and theories published, how will the policymakers and researchers become aware of them? The International Initiative for Impact Evaluation (3ie), an NPO based out of Washington D.C. has plans to launch a database that aims to remove the possibility of bias when conducting reviews of projects. Reports, both positive and negative, will be listed through the organization and available to registered members seeking data to improve or analyze foreign aid policies.

Such efforts are vital for any humanitarian efforts if they wish to legitimize their ideas and goals. Without the money of the donors, projects will go nowhere. Without a guarantee of success, there will be no donors. While the randomized-type research conducted by the MCC and similar groups may be resting on unstable grounds, it provides them the sort of evaluations they need to improve their tactics and guarantee successful initiatives. Even in terms of basic science, “negative results are integral to the research process…it is important for researchers and donors to become more tolerant of them” despite the instinctual fear of losing funding.”

– Deena Dulgerian

Source: Nature

Haitian-VacationThe Caribbean has and will continue to be one of the most visited vacation spots. The beaches of Puerto Rico, the Bahamas, and Jamaica remain quintessential examples of the perfect island getaway with clear blue waters and continuous sunshine. One country, however, has fallen off its throne as a Caribbean hot spot: Haiti. Haitian Vacation has become one of the destination for people.

Along with the homes and lives the 2010 earthquake in Haiti swept away, it also took away the luxury and lure that once attracted tourists from around the world. Recently, however, the Haitian government has been focusing its efforts on revamping the country as a vacation spot. President Michel Martelly boasts of the dynamic music and the yearly celebration of Carnaval. “It’s probably the worst organized Carnaval…but it’s the best Carnaval…it’s fun, it’s crazy.” He is not blind to the issues facing this new campaign. The streets in and around Port-au-Prince are in horrible condition. Security warnings alerted visitors of the lack of medical care, high risk of kidnapping and theft, and overly expensive hotels.

Despite these issues, Martelly seems to be focusing on what the Haitians have been able to hold onto since the earthquake: their culture. Although it will take some time to establish basic amenities and safe traveling, tourists still have many reasons to visit Haiti. Many of the beaches offer the ultimate seclusion and beauty. For Stephanie Villedrouin, Haiti’s minister of tourism, visiting Haiti can actually serve as the best form of humanitarian aid. “Don’t just send money through a wire or through an NGO for us. Come and experience Haiti because we have so much to showcase.” It may be an extremely inappropriate time to use this phrase but in essence, people can kill two birds with one stone. The first bird being experiencing the island lifestyle and the second, but most important bird, knowing that every dollar you spend is going towards improving the country’s economy. Yes, even that delicious Piña Colada is in some way helping save a life and revive a once broken country.

President Martelly doesn’t seem to mind using the appeal of Haiti’s current situation to attract new tourists. And why should he? It is not a secret that Haiti has a long way to go, but being upfront about it all may ease the worries people have. The most noteworthy aspect of this entire campaign is that Haiti is using its natural and preexisting resources to revive itself. Yes, the revenue is coming from travelers, but the main point is that it is an internal effort on behalf of the Haitian people that are drawing them to the island.

The ministry of tourism, however, must prevent touristic spots from becoming too secluded and overprotected. The Royal Caribbean liner “Allure of the Seas” is ported in clear visibility to the struggling Haitians only a few miles away from the docks. The area is completely fenced off, limiting tourists’ interaction (read: spending money outside the private beach) with the rest of Haiti. Even worse, it eliminates the opportunity for many local vendors to reach a new market, especially for those who are not able to be ‘pre-screened’ by the government and Royal Caribbean. Although praised as a multi-million dollar source of revenue for the government and for building a local school, Royal Caribbean must seek to incorporate the entire surrounding area and give Haitians the opportunity to work alongside them.

All the work cannot be done by external sources though, and the Haitians must come to realize this quickly. One cannot begin to understand the daily obstacles and hardships they must go through to make a living, let alone survive. As much as the appeal of adventure and exploration of a third world country may entice some visitors, there can be no denial that most vacationers are not going to visit a country with “gray sludge overflowing from open sewers, piles of trash burning in ditches…[and] roads pocked with jagged potholes”. With what little energy and must are left, the Haitian government must figure out these glitches. Once the city becomes presentable, a Haitian vacation will no longer be based on sympathy but a true desire to experience a wonderful culture and its breathtaking beauty.

– Deena Dulgerian

Source:npr
Photo:Paradise in the World


According to the Council on Foreign Relations’ website Americans, in general, want our country to supply more non-defense related international aid. A study of the 2011 federal budget and public opinion found that defense and military spending made up about 20 percent of that year’s budget while non-defense related aid was less than one percent. The study noted that the amount of humanitarian, non-military aid has been increasing over the last decade but has yet to reach even one percent.

One proposal to build more support for increased international aid is to fight misconceptions about how foreign aid is distributed and to educate the public about how non-defense related spending helps U.S. economic interest abroad, but the author of the study worried that such a money-driven portrayal of international aid programs may not attract positive attention from voters who support increased international aid from a strictly altruistic stance.

One way or another, support has seemed to be slowly building over the last ten years and that’s a positive sign. While that trend in opinion is encouraging it does seem to work in competition with the large amount of funding running toward military spending. Even over the course of the last ten years in which we have executed one of the largest military pull-outs in history defense-related spending is still the Goliath to the David that is humanitarian aid, but perhaps this trend in public opinion and vocal supporters could help turn the tide.

– Kevin Sullivan

The Council on Foreign Relations
CFR


In a recent press conference, Zimbabwe Finance Minister Tendai Biti reported that there was only $217 left in the Zimbabwe government bank accounts. “Last week when we paid civil servants there was $217 [left] in government coffers,” said Biti. He went on to comment that some of the journalists present had healthier financial situations than Zimbabwe.

In an interview with the BBC the following day, Biti commented that the statement was taken out of context. “You journalists are mischievous and malicious – the point I was making was that the Zimbabwean government doesn’t have the funds to finance the election, to finance the referendum,” he said. “To dramatize the point, I simply made a passing reference metaphorically that when we paid civil servants last week on Thursday we were left with $217… but even the following day we had $30 million in our account.” The statement was made to send a message that the government was in a fragile state and unable to finance a referendum on a new constitution and an election. Zimbabwe would need nearly $200 million.

Zimbabwe’s economy had been in steady decline for more than a decade beginning with President Robert Mugabe’s seizure of white-owned farms that further injured the economy. The country had experienced a long history of hyperinflation aimed at addressing the problem of a declining economy. In 2008, inflation had hit 500 billion percent and the country had accrued massive debt. $104 million is now needed to have an election. The national budget for this year is $3.8 billion with a projection of 5% growth in the economy. “The government finances are in a paralysis state at the present moment,” Bitti said. “We are failing to meet our targets.” To address their financial situation, Zimbabwe will be reaching out to the international community for aid.

– Rafael Panlilio

Source: Atlantic WireBBCWorld News NBC

mali-conflict-poverty

The conflict in Mali is not about terrorism; it is about poverty. Media outlets like to try and make subjects flashy and provocative, so labeling the conflict in Mali solely as a fight with Islamic terrorists makes for better news headlines. The rebellion is bigger than this, and focusing just on these radical Islamists does a disservice to the people of Mali and helps to perpetuate the problem.

The crisis in Mali is rooted in the tensions between a secular movement of ethnic Tuareg people and the central government in Bamako. This particular group of Malian Tuaregs has fought with Bamako for decades, even attempting to establish their own independent state (called “Azawad”). The chief source of the Tuareg animosity toward the government is about a lack of economic opportunity, and lack of assistance from the government for their hardships due to drought and famine. The Tuareg have been marginalized and neglected, so their frustrations have turned more violent.

Tuareg groups have banded together into separatist groups, mainly the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA). After the MNLA launched attacks to drive out the Malian army from the northern regions in early 2012, Malian armed forces then overthrew the central government in a coup, angered by Bamako’s failure to suppress the Tuareg rebellion. It was only AFTER this point that radical Islamists were able to co-opt the secular Tuareg rebellion, now turning Mali into a new stage for the “war on terror.” The international impact is the deployment of French and African soldiers into Mali, and their solicitation of added support of American, Canadian and European intelligence, weapons and financing.

“At its core, the current upheaval in Mali—a country that was until very recently one of the most stable African democracies—is not about religious extremism or global terrorism. It is about extreme poverty and an absence of any means to rise above it. Indeed, this could be said about any number of countries that have had vast swaths of territory usurped by militant groups, Islamist or otherwise. We have seen all over the world in recent years that extremism is thriving because large populations of uneducated, poor, frustrated and powerless young men all of a sudden find themselves very powerful once given weapons and a target upon which they can unleash their frustrations,” says journalist Daniel Skallman. He also warns, “If the military forces leading the charge don’t go beyond bombing campaigns and ground assaults—that is, if they don’t stay for the long and arduous haul of helping to rebuild livelihoods after the dust settles—then Mali could very well become Afghanistan 2.0.”

– Mary Purcell

Source: Global Poverty Project

Tourism in Sri Lanka Mount Resort Hotel
The recent developments in the Sri Lankan tourism industry were made with the welfare of the citizens in mind, according to the Sri Lanka government and the Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa. The government wishes to increase tourism to their country to bring in the new revenue and stimulate the economy with outside sources. Other countries have also been using this tactic in order to eradicate poverty.

How does tourism help eradicate poverty? Well, in addition to bringing in money from outside of the country, it also helps the country become more known as a whole and attempts to put the country on the global radar. Rajapaksa says that most of the tourists that have traveled to Sri Lanka enjoy staying in small hotels in the region, which primarily aids small businessmen. This is certainly a positive; rather than giving money to the rich, it helps buffer the country’s inequality and aids those who are actually at risk of poverty. Recently, Rajapaksa opened the Mount Resort Hotel located in Kithulkanda, Meepe. It is a hotel with multiple rooms giving 19 different views of the area. Plus, it is an environment-friendly hotel on a wooded hilltop. The hotel also gives a beautiful view of star observation through a facility provided by the satellite station, Padukka.

The boost to the small businessmen has led to an increase in food production by small-scale entrepreneurs, as well as an increase in the production of clothing and souvenirs that serve to attract foreign visitors. The World Tourism Organisation has predicted that in the next decade, tourism will rise to three times greater than what it is now in Sri Lanka, with tourists coming from countries such as China and Japan.

Overall, tourism has proven to be helping boost the economy of Sri Lanka while it reduces poverty at the same time. This is a model that many other countries with high levels of poverty can replicate in order to help their own economies.

– Corina Balsamo