African-Mining-Conference

Last week concluded the 19th annual Investing in African Mining Indaba in Cape Town, South Africa. The African Mining Indaba is an extremely important conference when it comes to maintaining global resources. With about 100 countries represented, 1000 international companies and over 7,500 attendees, AMI spans over four days, not including the golf tournament.

Over these four days, investors, government officials, professors, economists and directors from all over come to learn more about how to improve the mining culture in Africa and how it affects the global economy. A main part of the conference is the Sustainable Development segment. Here, speakers come together from different sectors to discuss mining’s environmental, economic and social impact in and outside of Africa.

In order to prevent Africa’s resources from becoming too depleted, mining experts urged companies and their directors to develop more sustainable practices. Improved practices will make resources more durable so that the land and communities near mining sites will remain intact and in good condition.

When dealing with treasuries and mineral reserves, the economics behind mining starts focusing on the labor force and the numerous labor strikes. It is no secret that there is corruption within the mining market and its involvement in funding rebels and civil wars within Africa. The panel discussion on transparency and anti-corruption was created to address this very issue: for mining companies to make public their audits and payments to foreign governments in order to gain the trust of their workers and the communities around the mines.

The most important thing attendees of African Mining Indaba can take away is the fact that mining in Africa has the power to completely change the lives of millions, both in the African Union and elsewhere. The more transparent mining firms become in terms of regulations and in abiding the African Mining Vision, which strives “to harness the continent’s mineral revenues for more sustainable human development”, the better the relationship between the general population, companies, and government officials will be.

With numerous keynote speakers and presenters speaking about this subject at the conference, the event brings hope that there will be a change in the African mining culture that is so desperately needed.

– Deena Dulgerian

Source: ONE.org, Mining Indaba

Polio Vaccine
Nine public health workers were recently killed by gunmen in Nigeria, according to The New York Times. The women were giving the polio vaccine to patients as part of a drive to eradicate the disease. The United Nations Children’s Fund and the World Health Organization both have a hand in funding and running the aid effort. No group has claimed to have committed the murders but local militant groups are suspected.

Polio has not been an epidemic in the developed world for quite a long time. The polio vaccine is easily found and administered in most areas of the world. Nigeria is one of the few countries in which polio continues to cause a real threat to the population. A large factor in this deadly situation is a high level of mistrust of the vaccine. Rumors about the CIA and Western governments using the vaccine to spread AIDS and sterilize women have both been spread.

It is surprisingly easy to believe that such things would be happening since such things have indeed been done before. Building trust on both personal and international levels is important to defeating the last holdouts of polio. The absence of the disease from the rest of the world can’t be the only proof that health workers can bring to their communities, there needs to be greater trust and less fear.

To combat the myths about the polio vaccine and the fear of receiving it, Bill Gates of  The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has begun to address those issues head-on. Bill Gates recently gave a lecture outlining the importance of the vaccine’s availability and dispelling the popular myths about what it does.

The presence of a big name like Gates will go a long way in getting rid of these misconceptions that are putting people’s lives in danger. Watch Bill’s lecture here.

– Kevin Sullivan

Sources: The New York Times, BBC
Photo: Vaccine Truth

Fair Trade Chocolate
Chocolate, called “xocoatl” by the Aztecs hundreds of years ago, has historically been a staple in life to many millions of people.

Cacao concoctions were drunk by Mayan royalty, lauded as a gift from the gods, and was even used as currency by the Aztecs as early as the 1500s.

Today’s chocolate is also worth a lot of money. Recent estimates of chocolate consumption patterns around the week of Valentine’s Day say that “consumers will buy more than 58 million pounds of chocolate candy, raking in $345 million in sales and accounting for 5.1 percent of total annual sales” in the United States alone, reports Sylvia Camaj of PolicyMic.

The history of chocolate has also always included a dark side, however.

Scholars know that Mayan and Aztec rituals regarded cacao beans as an essential element in some capacity; whether the ritual was religious, concerned life or death, did or did not involve the sacrifice of human life – cacao was seen as a representation of divinity.

Today’s dark side of chocolate stems primarily from the statistic that 40 percent of the world’s cocoa, produced for major companies such as Hershey, Nestle, Mars, Kraft and Dove, comes from plantations in Africa’s Ivory Coast and Ghana, and is responsible for the trafficking of an estimated 109,000 children, says the State Department. The children suffer terrible abuse for their work, beating beaten and forced to work long hours while being exposed to dangerous and stunting pesticides and equipment.

However, smart and dedicated consumers are demanding change from these multi-national companies, and the companies are responding. When Cadbury was bought by Kraft in 2010, Kraft promised “to honor Cadbury’s commitment to Fair Trade cocoa sourcing. Nestle has also committed to buying chocolate that meets international labor rights standards.” Hershey has made similar commitments, although the company still has much work to do regarding their Fair Trade labor practices.

Consumers pressuring companies into morally correct business practices is a healthy, growing global trend that must receive continued attention and support from the international community. A commitment to Fair Trade products helps companies achieve a better moral standing with consumers. They can then be seen as more credible producers.

An example of a global company adopting Fair Trade production is Starbucks, a global giant in coffee that has committed to streamlining several of their beans purely from Fair Trade sources.

Learn more about Fair Trade from Oxfam International.

– Nina Narang

Sources: PolicyMic, Smithsonian
Photo: Urban Earthworm

Capitol Hill
Non-profit charitable organizations all over the United States have been preparing to take their case to Congress to defend the ability of taxpayers to deduct their donations and charitable giving while filing their annual federal taxes.

As Congress looks to increase tax revenue by inspecting every possible option given to taxpayers, their gaze has fallen upon the deductions of citizens’ donations, about $40 billion in 2012. Brent Christopher of the Communities Foundation of Texas was one of the representatives of more than 42 non-profits that brought their testimonies to Congress.

Christopher called the deductions an “encouragement” to citizens to give more than they may have given otherwise. Many organizations fear that by eliminating the deductions, even if they were replaced with a tax credit, there could be a serious drop in the donations that keep many organizations afloat. The possible revisions could later affect the taxes on non-monetary gifts such as land.

The tax deductions apply to American money going toward both local and international charities, from the local food shelter to the largest programs. Talks about the issue will continue in an attempt to dissuade Congress from eliminating the deductions or finding another way to possibly encourage donations.

– Kevin Sullivan

Source: Dallas News
Photo: White House

Kenyan Flowers
Giving flowers is a globally symbolic gesture.

Red roses mean love and romance, yellow daisies and sunflowers symbolize friendship and joy; but how do all, if any of these, suggest that you’re helping fight poverty?

The story starts with Feed the Future, a U.S. government initiative to end global hunger and increase global food security. Feed the Future has partnered with Kenyan farmers to cultivate crops for sustenance, such as potatoes, as well as cash crops, such as “smallholder-grown cut flowers,” writes Ian Chesterman, Chief of Party for USAID-funded Kenya Horticulture Competitiveness Project.

Partnering with Kenyan flower farmers has lifted thousands of farmers into an economic situation that helps them produce crops that sustain both their wallets and their stomachs, meaning that thousands of families can afford previously unavailable medical care and that thousands of children can go to school, where they will learn skills to affect prospects for their futures and hopefully lift themselves safely out of poverty.

For about two years now, this USAID project has partnered with Wilmar Flowers Ltd., a private business that was looking to expand its ventures more thoroughly in Europe and worldwide, to hire thousands of more farmers for the project.

Wilmar has been able to “invest in collection centers, research and development trials of new flower varieties and new technologies such as shade nets, charcoal coolers, water harvesting dams and grading sheds,” expanding the company’s private business while simultaneously creating jobs in Kenya.

A long cry from Feed the Future’s initial investment in the partnership, Wilmar has taken over the project, meaning that USAID’s involvement has remained minimal at best while private industry manages itself.

Wilmar’s advancement might have never happened without the involvement of USAID, a foreign aid-giving entity of the United States Federal Government, once again demonstrating the value of the meager portion of the U.S. budget dedicated towards foreign assistance.

– Nina Narang

Sources: USAID, USAID
Photo: Hortidaily

mobile-money-poverty-development

Mobile money, or mobile payments/mobile banking, is a rapidly growing industry that serves as an alternative to traditional banking. What is mobile money and why is it important is a question most acutely significant to those in developing countries.

Of the 2.6 billion people in the world who live on less than $2 a day, about 80 percent of them do not have access to a bank account. This is completely understandable due to banking fees and lack of access to banks. Thus, for this population, all transactions are chiefly done through “informal financial tools.”

Payments are made in cash or through physical bartering (e.g., food, livestock, traded goods, etc). Or, for bigger expenses, people are forced to go through other informal means of acquiring money like money lenders and payment couriers although these methods are unreliable, hard to access and can carry even higher fees. Meaning that those living in poverty are further hindered in breaking away from their circumstances.

At the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Financial Services for the Poor (FSP) team believes that given the right financial tools like mobile money, poor households can capture more opportunities. Mobile phones serve as virtual devices for holding money and making payments electronically, like a bank account and/or credit card. Paychecks can even be credited to mobile devices. Access to mobile phones is widespread in all regions of the world, far more than traditional banks.

In an effort to further develop these technologies, FSP has partnered with the Electronic Transactions Association (ETA) and created an industry-wide competition for finding new and innovative electronic payment methods via mobile banking.

This has “the potential to make a profound impact on the global market, particularly to un-banked or under-banked consumers in the developing world. Thus far, we have seen a large drop in costs and increased access when mobile channels are used,” says Megan Oxman, a program officer with the FSP.

It is expected that the mobile money market will grow from a $13.8 billion dollar business in 2013, to $278.9 billion by 2018. The more the industry grows, the more reliable and accessible this form of “banking” will become, allowing for more stability and development within impoverished communities.

– Mary Purcell

Source: Mobilepaymentstoday.com, PRnewswire.com
Photo: Gatesfoundation.org

FreedomProject
It was in 2010 when Emmy-award winning TV producer Kimba Langas partnered up with pastor and social entrepreneur Dave Terpstra to make a difference.

Dave had moved to Mozambique with his family to help rehabilitate women who were survivors of sex trafficking. He wanted to help the women find jobs in order to ensure themselves a sustainable income, thereby lessening their vulnerability. Trafficking is all about vulnerability, he explains; people who are desperate to work and make money are taken advantage of.

“He found his answer in the bustling used clothing markets of Mozambique,” writes CNN producer Lisa Cohen.

Selling bras seems like a unique, new and interesting idea, but it wasn’t based on a random decision. Dave noticed that these women could make a profit that was higher than the minimum wage by selling second-hand clothing, and bras are well-demanded. He went on to team up with Kimba Langas to address this idea, and they created the Free the Girls charity, which collected bra donations from all over the U.S.

Langas created a Facebook page to publicize the start-up fundraiser, and the bras started pouring in. She explains that a majority of women have a large collection of bras that don’t fit well anymore or bras that are not being used anymore. However, after a few months, Langas ran into a new issue concerning the 20,000+ bras she had been sent – the shipping alone would have cost her $6,500, well outside her budget for the project.

“That’s when the story was featured on CNN, and everything changed.”

Paul Jarzombek, Director of Operations at LR International, reached out to Langas since he has a shipping company in Chicago. A domino effect of kindness then occurred as a truck driver, Rick Youngquist, offered to deliver the bras from Denver to Chicago.

Rick had recently joined an organization called Truckers Against Trafficking where truck drivers learn about how to spot and respond to signs of human trafficking on the road. Although it took three months, the bras did eventually reach Maputo, the capital of Mozambique.

According to Lisa Cohen, the success of this bra charity led the Free the Girls organization to target other places within Africa and beyond. For now, women survivors in Mozambique express their gratitude. One survivor has said, “I just want to tell the people in America, they’ve given us the strength we needed. Thank you very much.”

And that is how bras helped human trafficking survivors; anything is possible.

– Leen Abdallah

Source: CNN Freedom Project

Geothermal_Energy_Ethiopia
In a new program, the World Bank is partnering with the Development Bank of Ethiopia to fund geothermal energy exploration in the country, which is extremely rich in geothermal resources that lay through the Great Rift Valley.

Up until recently, no geothermal energy projects have been pursued in Ethiopia due to high costs and lack of funding, but the new project will fund an initial $20 million to ignite such projects, with an additional $20 million to be given down the road. The agreement states that the World Bank will pledge $200 million towards developing Ethiopia’s energy infrastructure.

This is not the first energy investment the World Bank has made in Ethiopia; they gave $40 million to the country’s private sector for renewable energy pursuits last year. Initial funds will be put towards exploratory drilling to determine the potential of geothermal projects, and once more information is available, the World Bank will start accepting proposals from organizations and investors interested in developing geothermal projects and power plants within Ethiopia.

Other such geothermal projects have already been in the works by the African Development Bank, with geothermal programs slated for Kenya, Tanzania, and Djibouti. Professor Paul Younger of Glasgow University asserts that the promise for geothermal development in these areas of East Africa is great, with Kenya as the latest “success story.” Although projects in other areas are merely in the preliminary stages, Dr. Younger maintains that the energy industry in the region is developing quickly, and energy development in Eritrea and Uganda may even be possible in the future.

Along with rich geothermal resources, Ethiopia also has considerable hydropower potential of up to 45,000 MW, taking into consideration the great water and rainfall resources in the country. Hydropower already accounts for 86 percent of energy produced there, so officials recognize the need to diversify current energy sources and are aiming to harness the potential 5,000 MW of energy that geothermal technologies can offer. The country’s dependence on water resources for power are especially alarming in light of climate change issues, which include increasingly sporadic rainfall and drought conditions.

Although the country has come very far in energy development within the last few years, 85 percent of the population still lacks access to an affordable source of energy. The country is hoping to provide for the population and decrease dependency on hydropower through aggressive pursuits of renewable energy. As part of the five-year plan, Ethiopia is aiming to increase its energy portfolio fourfold by 2015.

Christina Mattos Kindlon

Source: The Guardian

Ban-Ki-Moon-World-Radio-Day

February 13 was World Radio Day. Started in 2011 by the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), World Radio Day is meant to commemorate the establishment of United Nations Radio in 1946. Since then, there have been unbelievable strides in mass-media and communication. According to UNESCO however, the radio still manages to reach 95 percent of the world, a feat neither television or the internet can claim to have achieved.

But what is it about the radio that has enabled it to be such a helpful tool for developing countries in times of war and general disconnect? Wave frequencies can be produced with the simplest transmitters. The actual radio itself, being portable and in many cases, battery-operated, makes it much more available than television and computers in villages and other rural areas where electrical outlets are hard to come by, let alone a stable flow of electricity.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon commended the use of radio “as a channel for life-saving information”. Discussing his life growing up in a Korean village, Ban Ki-moon stresses the importance of the radio for emergency instructions in times of war as well as the main source of information and knowledge for many. Whether it delivers breaking news or issues warnings to those living far from civilization, radios save lives.

UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova gave a speech on World Radio Day that focused on the wide-spread use of radios not just on a global scale but in smaller communities. Even though the areas the waves reach may not be extensive, it gives the younger generation an opportunity to learn and experiment with technology. Community radio, Bokova says, helps address poverty and social exclusion as well as empowers marginalized rural groups, young people, and women.

As UENSCO optimistically revives the meaning and purpose of the radio, evidence of its pricelessness can be found everywhere. In November of last year, the non-profit THNKR, which is a Youtube channel that showcases people doing amazing things around the world that have the potential to change the way we think and view each others’ and our own potential, posted a video of Kelvin Doe. Kelvin, better known from his radio name as DJ Focus, comes from Sierra Leone. He has become quite famous over the past year for his talent and gift of being a self-taught engineer. By scraping together whatever metals he could, he built his own FM transmitter and generator. With his own radio station, DJ Focus broadcasts music, has an open forum and enjoys entertaining over the radio like any other 16-year-old would, taking full advantage of everything his small radio has to offer.

– Deena Dulgerian

Source:UN News Centre

Energy-101
Whether it’s the annoying news reporter or that obnoxious know-it-all in your Air Pollution class, people everywhere seem to be making up facts and statistics about our energy consumption. Does charging your phone from a laptop save more energy than if you were to charge it from a wall plug? Would using solar energy to power factories actually reduce air pollution?

Energy 101, a free online class offered by the Georgia Institute of Technology, sheds light on “the driving forces of energy used in transportation”, the production of energy-efficient products, and the process of converting renewable resources into a more desired form.

Dr. Sam Shelton, a veteran in energy systems, teaches the course. Aside from his multi-million dollar funded research and development, he is the founder of two companies that produce and market energy-efficient products. He was also a leading developer in the 1980s of the first commercial solar energy systems and investigated the efficiency of offshore wind farms.

The format of the Energy 101 is as simple as they come: over the span of nine weeks, lectures are taught in 5-12 minute videos. Quizzes are also given and upon finishing the program, students will receive a Certificate of Completion.

But what use is studying the complexities of thermodynamics to the average curious cat? For one thing, Dr. Shelton stresses the ‘no experience necessary’ aspect of the class. You don’t need to be able to understand physics or be able to use mathematical formulas to do well in the class. The information from this class can be put to use in a variety of settings from an elementary school classroom in Arkansas to sustainable farming training in Cambodia.

Understanding the truth about how we use energy and where it comes from will help dictate our policies on diverting our focus to the right alternatives.

Before even listening to one lecture, Dr. Shelton lets his potential students in on an unexpected secret, “Building nuclear, wind and solar energy systems does not save any oil in the U.S..” This only goes to illustrate the new and exciting information students of Energy 101 can look forward to learning that will enlighten them on the truth about energy consumption in the world.

– Deena Dulgerian

Source: Coursera.org