“As a girl, I am always being told that things happen because of fate, but it’s the things I do, not luck that determine my fate,” says Sikha, a young girl from the slums of Kolkata and one of the children featured in “The Revolutionary Optimists,” a documentary following several children living in the slums of Kolkata and making a difference.

Salim is an eleven year old boy who lives in a community that has no water. Every morning at 4:30, he has to go to a neighboring slum to collect water for his family. By mapping their community and collecting data, he is leading a team of child activists to persuade the government to provide their community with a water tap. Priyanka is a sixteen year old girl who teaches and leads a dance troupe as a means of fighting tradition and the pressure to enter into arranged marriage and to keep girls in school. These children and others featured in the film are the child activists of Prayasam.

Founded by Ashoka Fellow Amlan Ganguly, Prayasam is an organization that doesn’t work to rescue children; rather the organization empowers them to become “agents of change.” The philosophy is to reach out to these children who live in dire circumstances but believe that they decide their own fates. Prayasam works with six child advisors and more than thirty children as core members who take the lead in spearheading projects that address social issues within their communities.

Through methods from street theater to data collection, the children have managed to organize education campaigns, first aid training, and vaccination drives for polio, and turn garbage dumps into playing grounds. Fueled by child-led activism, the work of Prayasam and its child activists has had a considerable effect on health, hygiene, and sanitation in their neighborhoods having decreased cases of malaria and diarrhea.

Inspired by the film, the BAVC Producer’s Institute for New Technologies developed a project called Map Your World based on Salim’s mapping of his own communities. The technology would allow other child activists to map their community, track and collect data on health issues, and improve health in their communities using cell phones.

“The Revolutionary Optimists” was the recipient of the Hilton Lightstay Sustainability Award this year from Sundance and is set to officially open in New York on March 29 with other cities to follow.

– Rafael Panlilio

Source: Ashoka, PrayasamRevolutionary Optimists, Telegraph India


A Brookings Institution article by Lex Rieffel and James Fox (Former Chief, Economic Growth Evaluation at USAID/Policy & Program) analyses aid effectiveness in Myanmar. “The transition in Myanmar that began two years ago — from a military to a quasi-civilian government — is the largest and most encouraging turnaround in the developing world in years.”

They give significant credit to President Thein Sein and social activist Aung San Suu Kyi for collaborating to lift the country out of turmoil. Their three main obstacles or agendas were: ending the civil war, providing an institutional framework to increase the general standard of living, and sharing the wealth of the country’s natural resources with the whole population.

When other countries saw the progress being made, then the World Bank, USAID, and more than 100 other aid agencies and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) started to offer rapid assistance to Myanmar. This time, the aid agencies and government officials are intent on making sure aid is delivered effectively. All donors have committed to adhere to the 2005 Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness, and all subsequent additions to it. And the Myanmar government held an all-donor meeting in January 2013, to get an agreement on ground rules for spending aid effectively.

However, here are five common ways aid can be ineffective:

• Senior government officials of Myanmar end up spending hours every day meeting with delegations from international NGO’s and donor countries – not just their aid agencies but also their government representatives, corporations, media, and more. The endless meetings divert the attention of the local officials, not allowing them to formulate and implement actual progress.

• Each aid organization has its own pressure to “make a difference,” to show results.  For instance, USAID has allocated millions of dollars for their own agriculture sector projects, but only committed $600,000 to the multi-donor LIFT Fund – which is a more effective way of delivering aid.

• Local staff from financial institutions are overwhelmed by the donor organizations’ need to “move the money.” Pressure to distribute project funds is ever-present.

• Donors are often non-transparent as each competes to gain the most favorable position within a region.

• Host countries engage in “donor shopping” to get the most money for the least change.

So, for Myanmar, here are the three ways to make aid more effective:

• Slow down and do more collaborative operations. This act does not overwhelm local officials. Donors should help control the pace, and commit at least 30 percent of their funding to joint operations.

• Provide “scholarships for foreign study.” It will take years for Myanmar to raise its standard of education to the level required for meeting its development objectives. The solution is education abroad, so the students can return home with knowledge to invest in the country. This form of aid also has the least potential for mis-use.

• “Be more innovative” – for instance “cash on delivery aid.” This reinforces good management within the local government, minimizes the administrative burden of the rapid aid influx, and ensures that every dollar of aid goes to support successful projects.

– Mary Purcell

Source: Brookings
Photo: USA Myanmar


Feeding the Hungry
Imagine living in a poverty stricken nation, where war is a continuous concern and where children are under-fed, sick, and hungry. Because of the situation, an aid worker has to choose between feeding the hungry and the hungriest. What would you do?

The unfortunate choice between choosing who to feed first will determine how many lives can be saved. As difficult as the decision is, feeding the hungriest child first is now recommended.

According to a new study by Stanford’s Graduate School of Business and the University of Bergen in Norway, aid and relief workers are recommended to provide as much emergency food to the starving as possible. These children should be at the greatest risk of dying and in need of food the most.The study says that giving an equal portion to every child will not satisfy or give them the right amount of nutritional value.

Lawrence Wein, author and Professor at Stanford said, “The goal is to minimize the number of disability-adjusted life years, most of which are due to childhood death.You do better by not doing blanket distribution. You take all the money that’s available and give out full doses, and that will perform better.”

The study included a focus on the “ready-for-use therapeutic foods” that they provide. Portable and easy to make, the food is filled with protein, vitamins, carbohydrates, and other nutrients.

The controversial study has outraged people because of its solution to feed only the hungriest  and not feed the less hungry. Wein continued to state his argument that the determination of choosing who to feed first is also based on emergency situations like disease and other metrics.

Jada Chin

Source: The Atlantic
Photo: Charity Connects


Board Member Don Girskis Reports from Cambodia:

On today’s bus ride from Kep to Phnom Penh, we were delayed by a street protest adjacent to the Chinese owned CHC Shoes factory in Cambodia.  Very peacefully, the workers gathered under an awning they set up in the middle of a main road, blocking traffic.  The workers set up massive speakers, and would alternate between dancing to music, and cheering the people who would speak on the microphone.

I was with Tom Gordon, a founder of the Pepper Project (www.pepperproject.org) that resells local Cambodian products that are produced at fair market wages or better, and he decided to exit the bus and get close and personal with the protestors.   He returned to the bus shortly, and I too joined him outside the bus to get a better look at what was going on.  Apparently, the group contained workers protesting their working conditions and their $61 per month wage, which requires 12 hour days and 6 days a week to earn.  The protestors were smiling back at me, at no point was I ever concerned, as the minimum police presence did nothing to alleviate the massive traffic jam, nor did they attempt to break up the protest.

Reading this in the US, it’s easy to think about the Chinese exploiting the Cambodians, the US has no involvement, and the worker’s poor situation in resulting civil unrest.  Yet we too have ownership of this problem.  Upon reviewing the CHC Shoes website, it displays the logos of large US brands including Kohl’s, and Australian brands such as Lowes Shoes.  I have no idea which company this factory produces shoes for, but corporate responsibility must dictate an intricate knowledge of their supply chain, ensuring that fair wages are paid, and that workers are not exploited.  In a country such as Cambodia, where a strongman has ruled for the last 25 years, I can only imagine the conditions these folks have endured for them to risk what they risked by staging a public protest.

Alleviation of poverty can start at home with corporate policies that require complete knowledge of the supply chain.  In my business experience, I have negotiated contracts with some of the largest retailers in the US, and they have put strong language in their contracts regarding treatment of employees at factories, to ensure no workers are exploited in the making of products sold in their stores.  If only all retail stores would require the same commitments and inspections, more factories would improve the conditions for their workforces, helping downsize poverty.

– Don Girskis


Don Girskis is a member of The Borgen Project’s Board of Directors and the former head of Boost Mobile. Girskis had previously been Senior Vice President of World Wide Sales at ShoreTel, a publically traded global telecommunications company. During his four year tenure at ShoreTel, Girskis also served as interim CEO. Prior to ShoreTel, he spent 5 years at Boost Mobile, a wholly owned subsidiary of Nextel Communications. He joined Boost Mobile as Chief Operating Officer when it was just forming. He was promoted to run the entire operation as Senior Vice President and General Manager of Boost Mobile after one year, and developed the business from an idea to $1.8B in revenue in just 5 years.

Rwanda’s citizens will be less vulnerable to shocks like unemployment and other disasters due to the approval of a US$50 million grant from the World Bank. This grant will be important to Rwanda’s social safety net programs and play a vital role in continuing to reduce poverty and inequality. Rwanda has already seen a decrease in poverty since early 2000 and attributes this success to its social protection system.

The social system of Rwanda is called the Vision 2020 Umurenge Program (VUP). This program has gone from providing assistance for 10,000 people to over half a million people since its establishment four years ago. In about that same time period, poverty levels declined from 57% to 45%. The impact of increased funding for VUP is imperative for those relying on its services. A widowed woman raising three children praises VUP for its public works program maintaining that without it she would not have been able to provide for her children.

Carolyn Turk, World Bank Country Manager for Rwanda, hopes to hear more stories like this one. She reminds us that Rwanda still has a long way to go in terms of ending poverty, but the World Bank will continue to support its social protection programs to help it reach these goals. The World Bank implemented the Second Support to the Social Protection System program which will assist Rwanda in carrying out its National Social Protection Strategy. The objective of this program is for the Rwandan government to improve their disaster risk management system and to ensure that those who need the services most are the ones receiving them.

The disaster risk management system will be particularly beneficial for impoverished people living in rural areas during times of drought. Fortunately, World Bank funding for these programs has continued to increase to a total of US$3 billion. Hopefully more developing countries will also improve their social safety net programs to lift their population out of poverty. With the support of organizations like the World Bank, poverty in Rwanda and other third world countries can become a concept of the past.

– Mary Penn
Source: allAfrica
Photo: About Go Africa


Ask any millennial activists between the ages of 26 – 32 about the after school cartoon series Captain Planet and the Planeteers and you will generally hear them enthusiastically remarked, “Wasn’t that the show about the eco-friendly superhero?”

The 30-minute long cartoon produced by well-known philanthropist Ted Turner and Hanna-Barbera was the first environmentally themed children’s show of its time. The plot was centered around 5 precocious adolescents known as the Planeteers who helped an earthy spirit named Gaia fend off environmentally toxic villains from destroying the planet. When confronted with an insurmountable foe, they would combine the powers of their elemental-based (earth, wind, water, fire, heart) rings to summon Captain Planet who would – along with future millennial activists – remark, “By your powers combined, I am Captain Planet!”

Aside from the exciting entertainment value of an elemental-based, pro-sustainability superhero fighting the evils of environmental devastation, Captain Planet also taught important life lessons to children who would become future environmentalists. The following are 3 ways that Captain Planet inspired millennial activists.

1. Success means working together – No matter what situation facing the five Planeteers, the underlying message was that in order to prevent catastrophic damage to the environment; Kwame, Wheeler, Linka, Gi, and Ma-Ti would have to work together. That principle wasn’t lost on children who would later grow up to be politically aware millennial activists dedicated to both environmentally sustainable policies and combating global poverty.

2. Being smart is cool – From Kwame’s interest in plant life to Linka’s knowledge of computer technology, the message to future millennial activists was clear, intelligence is cool and academic interests are a benefit as opposed to a liability. Furthermore, without their collective intellect, super villains such as Hoggish Greedly would have never been brought to justice for their Eco-crimes.

3. Destroying the environment effects everyone – Looking at the varied origins of the Planeteers, the overall theme of the interconnected vulnerability of all nations to environmental damage was not lost on millennial activists. Whether from Ghana, China, the former Soviet Union, Brazil, or the United States; all the Planeteers were committed to the protection of Gaia and the practice of responsible environmental stewardship and sustainability.

– Brian Turner
Source: Wikepedia
Photo: PVPixels

South American STEM Jobs_opt
Guano, gold, silver, rubber, wool and other natural resources currently make up the largest exports of South America. However, due to the instability of natural resources, many economists believe that reversing the deficit in the STEMs (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) and focusing on research and development may solve the region’s poverty.

Currently, the average South American country spends 0.7% of gross domestic product on technological research and development. Economist Sebastian Rovira argues that economies based around natural resources without a focus on technological development are not sustainable. This will eventually lead to larger problems for South American economies.

Fortunately, Brazil has been leading the region in tech development with a large increase in patents and academic papers. Brazil intends to continue this development by providing  75,000 students with science and technology scholarships to study at top universities by 2014.

While many governments realize the benefits of South American STEM jobs, Rovira believes the private sector needs to do more to generate tech jobs and facilitate technological growth.

– Pete Grapentien

Source: MinnPost
Photo: Orlando Business Journal

 International Year of Water Cooperation
Friday, March 22, 2013 is World Water Day. This year’s World Water Day is especially important because the UN has designated 2013 the International Year of Water Cooperation. Those new to water rights issues may wonder: what is water cooperation? Why have a year dedicated to water cooperation? This post will address some of the most important points about international water cooperation.

According to UN-Water:

1. The International Year of Water Cooperation aims to: raise awareness of water cooperation, initiate innovative action toward water cooperation, foster dialogue about water as a top international priority, and address water-related development goals for beyond 2015, when the Millennium Development Goals expire.

2. Water cooperation is: cooperation between all parties involved in water management. If one party does not cooperate, efficiency of water management decreases, to the detriment of human lives. Water cooperation happens on local, national, and international levels. Vital water sources such as rivers and ground water extend across political boundaries; cooperation is needed to share these resources. Building a village well or pumping water for irrigation requires the cooperation of separate parties, often with conflicting interests.

3. Water cooperation is essential because: without water cooperation, progress is impossible in other areas of human development such as food security, gender equality, and poverty reduction. Improving water access is key to reducing poverty, especially for women and children. Water cooperation creates economic benefits, and is necessary for preserving and protecting the natural environment. Life on earth depends on water; we are responsible for managing it sustainably and effectively.

4. Challenges to water cooperation are: reaching across social, political, and economic boundaries. Those involved in water management and policy-making must work with a broad range of stakeholders, local residents, governments, and NGOs. In these situations, cooperation and cultural understanding are essential for effective communication and decision-making. Water cooperation is further complicated by the increasing water needs of a growing population. Urbanization, pollution and climate change continue to threaten water resources, placing them under even greater pressure.

5. There are endless ways you can get involved with water cooperation efforts: educate yourself and others about water rights, impediments to water access, and water cooperation efforts. Engage others in your community to advocate for sustainable water management. Click here for more about how to get involved in World Water Day and the International Year of Water Cooperation!

– Kat Henrichs
Source: UN-Water
Photo:Tree Hugger

Is water a commodity or a human right? Too many people, governments, and institutions see water as something merely to be bought and sold, and not as something every person on earth needs for survival. Like food, health care, educational and economic opportunities, and many of the other things we write about on the blog, safe water is a human right and necessity. Since 1993, the UN has designated March 22 as World Water Day. This serves to bring attention to, advocate for sustainable management of, and celebrate clean, fresh water.

2013 has also been designated the International Year of Water Cooperation, so this year’s World Water Day holds special significance. Events will be held across the globe to foster international cooperation around water. Because of the organization’s interdisciplinary approach to worldwide problems, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) will coordinate the Day on behalf of UN-Water.

This day serves many purposes, including raising public awareness of water issues facing the globe and advocating for improvements in water management. Access to clean, safe drinking water is a major health concern among the world’s poorest populations. 88 percent of cases of diarrhea, the number one cause of death and illness in the world, are due to a lack of access to clean water and sanitation facilities. Almost a billion people do not have access to improved water sources, while 2.5 billion live without adequate sanitation facilities.

While the statistics are disturbing, we can do something to improve these conditions. World Water Day is an opportunity to learn about water issues and take action on behalf of those whose basic water needs are not being met. To learn more about World Water Day 2013 and the International Year of Water Cooperation, visit the UN’s World Water Day page.

– Kat Henrichs
Source: UN-Water

As children, our perception of libraries was clouded by the old librarian sitting at the front desk ‘shh-ing’ everyone as they walked past. While American libraries retain their importance but may have lost their romantic allure, their reputation and modern use is only just beginning in developing countries.

With 73% of the world’s 320,000 public libraries in developing countries, organizations such as Beyond Access are highlighting the extensive potential public libraries can provide to governments who are trying to work on development throughout their countries. Libraries act as a central hub for multiple resources, one of the most important being free access to the internet.

For countries with heavy agricultural areas, farmers are able to research and apply for subsidies, such as farmers in Romania were able to do last year with the help of the 400 public libraries in Romania. 17,000 farmers applied for EU subsidies and were able to bring $27.1 million back into their communities.

The most attractive quality about libraries is their simplicity. They are an age old institution, directly tied to the government. Their operations are more or less the same from country to country. Funding is minimal; computers, basic stationery, office supplies, and training for staff. The return however is limitless.

EIFL, one of the dozen or so partners of Beyond Access, has built a massive group of 39 programs and public libraries. Their libraries serve one of five public interests including agriculture, employment and livelihood, culture and education, youth and at risk children, and health. For example, The Berd Public Library in Berd, Armenia has introduced organic farming practices to 9,000 villagers. The library also hosts lectures and provides journals and books on effective agricultural practices as well as opening up new markets online for farmers to sell their produce.

With startup companies around the world focusing on harnessing technology to bring villages and farming societies out of poverty, the institution of the library and the sense of belonging it brings to communities should not be forgotten. Most public libraries in developing countries can survive on yearly grants between $5,000-$20,000. They provide a constant flow of information as well as an opportunity for employment for the staff. By illustrating the hundreds of success stories in countries like Ghana, Serbia, Nepal, and Uganda, Beyond Access hopes to recruit more donors and policymakers to take advantage of one of history’s longest standing institutions when implementing programs.

– Deena Dulgerian
Source: The Guardian