Crowdfunding Pushes Philanthropy and Development

Crowdfunding is an approach to raising money for new projects and businesses by soliciting contributions from large numbers of ordinary people – online. In 2011 alone, this industry raised $1.5 billion dollars, both in for-profit and non-profit ventures. Due to new regulations, some estimate the trend could grow to $500 billion annually. This could mean huge changes and development through social-venture enterprises; more start-ups and funding for projects that have a beneficial social impact.

The money raised through crowdfunding falls into three different categories: 1. Philanthropy, where there is no expected return for the donation, 2. Lending, where the money is paid back, or some other gift (usually the business product) is given as a reward, or 3. Investment, in exchange for profit or revenue sharing (equity).

Much to industry surprise, the category that received the most funding was philanthropic which equaled 49 percent of all funds raised; despite the fact that most funding sites are for lending or investing.  A few sites, like and, are exclusively for 501 registered charities. North America is the largest contributor, $837.2 million, over half of the global total, and also the fastest-growing region.

The dramatic news is that earlier this year new legislation was submitted to the SEC, allowing for even greater investment to be made through crowdfunding. So, if the current trends prevail, projects benefiting social causes could start to receive massive amounts of capital. The average equity-based campaign is aiming to raise about $85,000, compared to just $700 for donations. When the new regulations are approved, more funding is expected to flood into “impact investing.”

Jonathan Blanchard, founder of WeSparkt a crowdfunding platform focusing on social-entrepreneurship, believes investing will start to focus on a “double bottom line – profit and social good – to raise equity.” Blanchard sites a Monitor study suggesting that crowdfunding will reach $500 billion annually.  His site will target impact investors hoping to create social change.

You can participate right now, get in with the crowd – fund a project for the global poor!

– Mary Purcell

Source: Forbes, Forbes
Photo: Hong Kiat


The Connection Between Political Instability and Food PricesThe New England Complex Systems Institute has released a study on the relationship between political instability and food prices in the Middle East. The paper, titled The Food Crises and Political Instability in North Africa and the Middle East, examines contributing factors to social unrest and finds that violent protests have coincided with high food prices since 2008.

The problem of food riots, which are closely related to hunger, poverty, and high food prices, is nothing new. The French Revolution was due, in part, to the hungry protesting high food prices. In today’s global economy, where countries regularly import and export large quantities of food, even regional riots and resulting political instability hold vast implications for the entire world.

NECSI examines the relationship between political instability and food prices by using mathematical modeling to describe changes in food prices, then interpreting those models to determine the threshold at which riots become likely. Authors of the study predicted that high prices for US-grown corn and wheat in 2010 would cause unrest elsewhere. Their prediction came true with the events of the Arab Spring that began at the end of 2010.

Can socially disruptive riots and protests be accurately predicted? The NECSI study says yes: that when the FAO Food Price Index rises above 210, riots become significantly more likely.

The New England Complex Systems Institute (NECSI) is an independent research and education institution that studies the development of complex social, biological, and ecological systems. NECSI applies evidence-based science to real-world social problems such as poverty and climate change.

– Kat Henrichs

Sources: NECSI, NPR
Photo: DW

Mobile Money Africa Set To Return In 2013
The fifth annual Mobile Money Africa Conference is projected to gather over 400 mobile banking industry leaders in Johannesburg, South Africa to discuss ways to move the market forward.

Mobile Money is a mobile banking concept that has taken root in African communities in rural areas where the nearest bank is often several miles away. Mobile bankers use their cell phones to transfer money from one person to another with only the use of a SIM card.

While Mobile banking continues to spread slowly, primarily throughout the developing world, its biggest markets are in Africa. 15 of the top 20 Mobile Money-using countries are located on the African continent. Generally about 10% of people in these countries use Mobile Money, but in Kenya the number of users reaches 68% of people.

Mobile banking continues to spread through developing nations because the fees for banking are too high and the locations are too sparse. Mobile Money Africa works to help alleviate these problems and develop a stronger market, possibly in alliance with traditional banking methods.

This year, Mobile Money Africa will be hosting the Mobile Money Awards – a contest in which Mobile Money innovators are recognized and rewarded by the industry. The conference is slated for the 28th and 29th of May.

– Pete Grapentien

Source: BizCommunity
Photo: IT News Africa

Senator Bill Frist Calls For Global InvestmentBill Frist, a former Republican senator and majority leader from Tennessee, recently called on America and Congress to “continue our legacy of saving lives.” Less than 1 percent of the US federal budget goes to improving global health, an investment that results in changing the lives of hundreds of thousands every year. “It’s hard to imagine a better return on investment,” said Frist.

In a lengthy article, he recaps the history and precedent that has made America a global leader in developing, supporting and administering life-saving medicines and healthcare practices. Under President George W. Bush, congress made a founding pledge of $300 million to the international initiative – Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Bush, with bipartisan support from Congress, also established the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the largest program ever to combat a single disease. President Barack Obama has likewise embraced this program and America’s role in eradicating AIDS/HIV.

2013 is the 10th anniversary of PEPFAR, and since its founding the number of people on life-saving treatment has increased more than twenty-fold. HIV infection rates are down, the number of malaria cases is down by more than 50%, and tuberculosis mortality rates are consistently falling. Working in more than 150 countries, the Global Fund is saving an estimated hundred thousand lives each month.

Frist goes on to say what a critical time we are in right now. He emphasizes the importance of continuing on the path of involvement and aid in order to make sure our gains are not lost. The momentum must not be jeopardized or diseases may spread in new ways, mutate and reclaim the lives of people whom medicines have previously made healthy. Frist stated that investment in global health is “good for national security, economically prudent and – most importantly, is the right thing to do.”

– Mary Purcell
Source: Roll Call


School In The Cloud Or In The Books?An interesting debate has quietly ignited in the education and technology world, revolving specifically around developing countries. During the TED 2013 Conference, Sugata Mitra, a TED veteran, proposed his ‘wish’ for a School in the Cloud. Based on his ‘minimally invasive education’ (MIE) philosophy, Mitra’s ‘Hole-in-the-Wall’ experiments inspired the project for School in the Cloud. What it involves is bringing together different resources from educators to computers to expand the reach of education to rural areas.

The 22 minutes talk discusses Mitra’s experiment and interaction with children from villages in India and their unexpectedly quick understanding of information such as DNA replication and computer processors all in a language they didn’t understand. Education for Mitra has changed since the Victorian era. Children are not only able to teach themselves but are also able to teach each other without the consistently present teacher. It is through curiosity and encouragement that these children will be able to have access to the same education and thus future that children in developed countries do have, if not more.

Though Sugata Mitra won the 2013 TED Prize, he is not short of criticism. John J. Wood, founder of the organization Room to Read respectfully protested the idea behind School in the Cloud in a recent article for the Huffington Post. While the ‘Hole-in-the-Wall’ experiments have proven certain hypotheses, Wood believes otherwise. “Literacy is a baseline skill that every child needs and if they don’t have that — all the computers and clouds in the world mean nothing to them,” Wood argues.

The solution to educating children in the developing world should rely on, according to Wood, tangible and simple materials such as books. The fact that electricity, let alone internet access and broadband, is a rare and unpredictable commodity in these target areas should be a huge issue. Books don’t require updates or charging; they aren’t susceptible to crashes or even require an advanced understanding of technology. Books and libraries provide the ultimate learning experience that combines knowledge and a sense of community.

With 793 million illiterate people, the world should not focus on one extreme solution or another. Different solutions and pathways will provide equally successful results. For the children in these specific villages in India, learning through collaboration within themselves clearly worked in their favor. Perhaps physical books in a school setting with teachers would have brought them to the same point but the goal was reached and that is what matters.

Both John J. Wood and Sugata Mitra come from a heavy background in education, advocacy, and technology. Their efforts are all backed by statistics and other professional opinions. What could be done from this point on is to understand what areas, ethnicities, communities, age-groups, and other factors work best with which type of solution. Time and energy shouldn’t be wasted on experimenting. They should be spent on maximizing either computers and technology or books and teachers to help educate every child for a more stable and productive future.

– Deena Dulgerian

How Myanmar Will Avoid Being Earth's Most Isolated CountryHaving less cell phone usage than North Korea has made Myanmar one of the most isolated countries on the planet. Upon the United States’ decision to lift sanctions on the country, USAID was happy to sponsor a delegation of executives from Cisco, Google, Microsoft and other organizations to explore the possibility of establishing tech training centers in the newly open Myanmar market.

A little over two decades ago, the U.S. imposed sanctions on Myanmar when the military junta killed thousands of civilian protestors in one brutal onslaught. Currently, a new civilian government has been established and many of these sanctions have been lifted.

Companies like Google and Microsoft are offering Myanmar more than just tech services by establishing training centers in the country. The effect of these centers will be a reinforcement of Myanmar’s technological infrastructure.  The widespread availability of internet and cellular service allows a greater opportunity for online learning and social organizing via websites such as Twitter which can be used through either SMS messages or the internet.

Another avenue that becomes easier to access is international development and trade. By contributing to tech growth, Google, Cisco and Microsoft are also helping Myanmar contribute to the global economy. This in turn allows Myanmar to grow its own economy and strengthen foreign relations.

-Pete Grapentien
Source Yahoo News

How Can Golden Rice Help End World HungerDr. Gerard Barry, project leader for the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), is developing a type of genetically modified rice called “Golden Rice.” This rice contains the essential nutrient beta-carotene, the source of vitamin A, which is often lacking in the diets of people living in poverty. The GMO rice is referred to as “Golden” because beta-carotene produces an orange color once added to the rice. Dr. Barry and IRRI are working to address vitamin A deficiency in developing countries and hope that Golden Rice is the answer.

In an interview with National Public Radio, Dr. Barry spoke enthusiastically about engineering new types of rice pointing out that it is the staple food of a couple of billion people. His passion for the crop led to a career at IRRI and he quickly began working on Golden Rice which he explains has the potential to greatly benefit those living in impoverished conditions. IRRI hopes to distribute the GMO rice in Bangladesh and the Philippines, where the institute is located.

Vitamin A deficiency is a result of malnourishment and a limited diet. The consequences of this deficiency include tissue damage, blindness, and a weakened immune system. For those millions of people affected by vitamin A deficiency, one cup of Golden Rice a day could provide half the amount needed for a healthy diet. “This product has the potential to reduce the suffering of women and children and save lives,” said Dr. Barry. IRRI is working with nonprofit organizations to ensure the super rice reaches those who need it most. Once it has passed food and safety regulations, we will begin to see the real impact of Golden Rice.

– Mary Penn
Source: IrishCentral
Photo: Forbes

Fearing Foreign Aid LossRecently, there have been divided fuss over the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan. Most presume that this decision is beneficial allowing the Afghan people to become more self-sufficient and in control of their livelihoods and decisions. After all, their soldiers have been trained by American soldiers. Others are fearing foreign aid loss altogether. Foreign aid workers need protection abroad. With the withdrawal of foreign troops, many fear violent breakouts.

Since the 2001 invasion, the international community has contributed financially to Afghanistan in a drastic manner leading to many improvements and proving to be an obstacle in the face of the Taliban and some Al-Qaeda. One example of this is how a program funded by the European Union has allowed Afghan street children to receive a proper education. Although the U.S. Agency for International Development has built close to 700 schools and provided excellent health care facilities leading to a reduction in child mortality, the money is now at stake. The Afghan government is said to be unready to fill the gap after their four years grant expires next month.

Additionally, the U.S. has now shifted its aid focus from funding projects that yield fast and direct progress such as building schools and clinics to a more sustainable approach allowing the Afghan government to develop and maintain programs themselves. There are still many complications and controversies regarding the channeling of the money through the Afghan government which some fear may be susceptible to corruption. The fear is that this would lead to the wasting of money rather than it being put to good use and producing sustainable and valuable progress. Thus, the shift in U.S. focus may certainly lead to more efficiency in terms of development and how the money is being put to use as opposed to its past “uncoordinated spending” according to Afghan officials.

– Leen Abdallah
Source: Frontier Post

Peace Corps WeekIn 1961, John F. Kennedy created the Peace Corps to “promote world peace and friendship.” Whether the Peace Corps stands more for a political strategy or for genuine friendship and goodwill, it has three main basic goals: helping countries meet their needs of trained men and women, providing and promoting a better understanding of Americans abroad (establishing a positive image), and helping Americans understand others.

Why is the Peace Corps worth it? Well, when it is effective, it saves American lives and money. People who volunteer for this organization serve to promote a positive American image while battling global poverty, thereby benefiting American national security by reducing threats. More success on the part of the Peace Corps volunteers equates to less money spent on military and fewer soldiers risking their lives. Thus, the Peace Corps also helps Americans spend fewer taxes on foreign conflicts and instead on foreign development.

Almost two weeks ago on March 1st, the Peace Corps celebrated its 52nd birthday. The American public was encouraged to take part in the Peace Corps Week celebration while taking into account that the Corps is an idealistic tool that pursues a safer and more stable world.

Leen Abdallah

Source: Policy Mic

Indonesia Seeks to End Shackling of Mentally IllFor many Indonesians, having a mental health condition can be like a prison sentence — literally. “Pasung,” or shackling, is still a common practice in many areas of the country, particularly in rural areas with little capacity for medical treatment. Those who are seen as suffering from mental illness are sometimes bound and held captive behind their home, or inside a small room. Those who engage in “pasung” believe that they need to restrict the mentally ill from attacking or hurting themselves or others. However, shackling has been banned as a solution for mental illness in Indonesia since 1977.

As a member of a Parliamentary Health Commission, Nova Rianti Yusuf claims that “pasung” persists because people “cannot afford mental health care and [try] to escape the stigma associated with mental illness.” Unfortunately for many of those individuals who are shackled, there was often no official diagnosis before they were victimized.

Indonesia is working to centralize its mental health system in order to better serve its large population, which is the fourth largest out of all the countries in the world. A psychiatrist known simply as Asmarahadi, who works at a state mental hospital in Jakarta, claims that conditions have drastically improved over the past decade. The old problems, like a lack of infrastructure and medication, have faded away. New problems remain, but they seem less impossible to solve: Asmarahadi explains that nowadays, “treatment failure is usually caused by a lack of patients’ compliance and family support.” And as far as “pasung” goes, the director of mental health at the Health Ministry, Diah Setia Utami, lists ending the practice as one of her priorities for 2013.

Jake Simon

Source: IRIN News