Corruption in Indonesia
Corruption in Indonesia is present in all three branches of parliament and private business. According to a study conducted by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), less than half of the respondents trust the local government, police and private sector. Transparency International identified decentralized decision-making, ambiguous legislation and a weak judicial system as main sources of corruption in Indonesia. Here are 10 facts about corruption in Indonesia.

10 Facts About Corruption in Indonesia

  1. Forbes named the former President of Indonesia one of “the world’s all-time most corrupt leaders.” Mohamed Suharto was President for 31 years in the 20th century. Throughout his reign, others suspect that he embezzled between $15 and 35 billion.
  2. One out of seven citizens pays a bribe for utilities. Bureaucratic corruption increases the average cost of living, which disproportionally impacts the country’s poor. Bribery costs add an additional fee to fundamental health care, education and sanitation services, thus increasing the overall costs and access to these systems. Further, corruption in Indonesia distorts the distribution of government spending and therefore hinders the development of important public projects such as increasing access to clean water.
  3. Approximately thirty percent of firms have suffered extortion while conducting business in Indonesia. Further, several of these firms (13.6 percent) identify corruption in Indonesia as a major obstacle. For firms often have to pay bribes or give gifts to acquire licenses, permits or contracts in order to conduct business. Corruption in Indonesia is a business norm where companies include gifts in total costs.
  4. In the 2019 elections, Parliament member, Bowo Sidik Pangaroso, attempted to buy votes for reelection. Authorities found more than 400,000 envelopes filled with cash in his basement just weeks before the election. Both vote-buying and candidacy-buying are common forms of corruption in Indonesia. The Charta Politika agency surveyed three constituencies about money politics and found that on average, 49.3 percent of voters supported cash and gratuitous handouts.
  5. Eighty-nine percent of corruption in Indonesia occurs at the local level. After the election of President Suharto, the country started to shift from authoritarian rule towards democracy. Suharto’s first step to democratization was the decentralization of the Indonesian government. However, the lack of accountability for local governments created an environment that fostered corruption. For example, inadequate oversight in the forestry sector cost the government $4 billion per year from illegal logging.
  6. Corruption is expensive. Last year, corruption in Indonesia cost the government $401.45 million. This cost is $55.4 million less than in 2017.
  7. The Corruption Perception Index (CPI) ranks Indonesia 89. Using Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), Indonesia ranked number 89 out of 180 countries with a score of 38/100 in 2018. This is significantly better than its rank and score of 118/180 and 32/100, respectively, in 2012.
  8. Many attribute more recent success in reducing corruption to President Joko Widodo, more commonly known as Jokowi. Indonesia elected Jokowi in 2014 on an anti-corruption platform. He simplified regulations for businesses to attract foreign investment. For instance, Jokowi signed Presidential Decree No. 20/2018 to simplify and accelerate the process of acquiring a work permit for expatriate workers by 34 working days.
  9. Indonesia has an organization dedicated to eliminating government corruption called the Komisi Pemberantasan Korupsi (KPK). This corruption eradication commission formed in 2002 as an independent organization in charge of investigating and prosecuting high-profile corruption cases. In 2016, it reported a 100 percent conviction rate and recovered approximately $35 million in state assets.
  10. The new generation has zero-tolerance for corruption in Indonesia. A group of students in Indonesia held their school accountable for corruption. The school was profiting from money that it received to go towards nonexistent construction projects. When student organizer Darmawan Bakrie and his friends realized the injustice, they established the Save our School campaign. Despite threats and warnings from the school, students and parents worked together and succeeded in holding the school accountable. The local mayor saw the campaign in the news over the course of three months and removed and transferred (but did not fire) the guilty officials from their positions and held them liable for the money they stole.

Corruption in Indonesia holds deep roots in its democracy, but the future looks bright with the Save Our School campaign as just one example. Many participants (58.5 percent) of the CSIS study believe that the Indonesian government is honest in its desire to eliminate corruption.

The central government and anti-corruption organizations work on a day-to-day basis to hold individuals accountable for their actions, but they still have a long way to go. If successful, anti-corruption practices can decrease inequalities, create foreign business opportunities and decrease national poverty levels.

– Haley Myers
Photo: Flickr

AI to Meet the Sustainable Development Goals
Tech giants are using artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to create innovative strategies to meet the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals and eradicate global poverty by 2030. A central barrier to development in third-world nations is in-access to high-quality, timely and accessible data.

Big data platforms like AI expand capabilities to acquire accurate, real-time, micro-level information, while ML allows pattern recognition at a macro-level. Combined, these data advances can make data more accessible, applicable and finely scalable while accelerating the speed and scale for private and public development actors to implement change. Companies are partnering across public, private and nonprofit sectors to broaden the collective impact.

Take a look at the innovative approaches tech giants are taking to help global poor communities with data and what the incorporation of AI technologies means for the future of global poverty initiatives. These approaches aim to employ AI to meet the SDGs within its allotted time frame.

Education and Digital Training

On June 19, 2019, the day preceding World Refugee Day, Microsoft announced the inception of two projects partnering with Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project (ASAP) and Kids in Need of Defense (KIND). These projects supplement its AI for Humanitarian Action group to help incorporate AI to meet the SDGs.

The AI for Humanitarian Action group is a $40 million, five-year program part of Microsoft’s larger AI for Good suite (a $115 million, five-year project). The projects will provide AI tools to help staff track court dates, prioritize emergency cases and translate for families with AI speech-to-text. Microsoft also has continuing partnerships to incorporate AI/ML into educational services for refugees with the following groups:

  1. International Rescue Committee (IRC): This committee works to provide humanitarian aid through the creation of sustainable programming for refugees, displaced populations and crisis-affected communities. This includes career development programming and digital skills training to empower refugees and make them relevant for the job markets in each affected country. Microsoft and IRC’s Technology for Livelihoods in Crisis project in Jordan is an example of this.
  2. United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF): Together with the University of Cambridge, the UNICEF is developing The Learning Passport. The digital platform will ensure better access to education and facilitate learning opportunities for youth displaced by conflict and natural disasters. It creates scalable learning solutions tailored to each child. Crises have affected the quality of education for 75 million youth.
  3. Norwegian Refugee Council: This council is providing an AI chatbot service that uses language understanding, machine translation and language recognition to deliver high-quality education and digital skills training to refugees. This helps to close the education gap for the millions of youth affected by conflict. It will also help humanitarian workers communicate with migrants who speak other languages, which will help them best provide the best service.
  4. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR): UNHCR plans to provide 25,000 refugees in Kakuma with access to high-quality, accredited, context-appropriate digital learning and training by 2020 for development in Kakuma markets. UNHCR intends this project to expand across multiple countries.

Food Security and Agricultural Development

The fact that farms do not always have power or internet security limits technological developments that address food security and agricultural development. Here are some efforts that consider the capabilities of farmers and the respective developing regions:

  1. Microsoft FarmBeats: It aims to enable data-driven farming compatible with both the capabilities of the farmer and the region. FarmBeats is employing AI and IoT (Information of Things) solutions using low-cost sensors, drones and vision and ML algorithms. This combined AI and IoT approach enables data-driven improvements in agriculture yield, lowered costs and reduced environmental impacts of agricultural production, and is a significant contribution to help AI to meet the SDGs.
  2. Apollo: Apollo uses agronomic machine learning, remote sensing and mobile phones to help farmers maximize profits in developing markets. Apollo delivers scalable financing, farm products and customized advice to farmers while assessing the farmers’ credit risk. Apollo customizes each product in order to double farm yields and improve credit. The beta project is starting in Kenya.
  3. The International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT)/CGIAR research group: It aims to implement preemptive solutions rather than reactive solutions to end hunger and malnutrition by 2030. CIAT has developed a Nutrition Early Warning System (NEWS), which uses machine learning to make predictions on malnutrition patterns based on current and future estimates of crop failures, droughts and rising food prices. This approach is able to detect an impending nutrition crisis and take action instead of responding after the crisis has taken hold.

Socioeconomic Data Collection

According to a report by The Brookings Institute as a part of its “A Blueprint for the Future of AI series,” data providing national averages “conceal more than they reveal” and inaccurately estimate and map patterns of poverty. Survey data is often entirely unavailable or otherwise low in quality in many of the poorest countries where development needs are greatest. 39 of the 59 countries in Africa conducted less than two surveys between 2000 and 2010.

Even in large countries with sophisticated statistical systems, such as India, survey results remain inaccurate, with the gap between personal reporting and national accounts amounting to as much as a 60 percent difference in some countries. Companies are addressing this by utilizing big data from remote sensing satellites.

The Group on Earth Observations (GEO) is using Earth Observations (EO) to provide finely-tuned and near-real-time data on economic activity and population distribution by measuring nighttime luminosity. Researchers have noted a correlation between luminosity and GDP as well as subnational economic output. Collecting socioeconomic data in this way can ensure higher quality data important to policy implementation and direction to countries with the greatest development needs.

Timothy Burke and Stan Larimer launched Sovereign Sky in 2018, putting satellite data into action. Sovereign Sky is the world’s first space-based blockchain which provides secure private internet networks and powers a new Free World Currency to redistribute the world’s wealth with a goal of eradicating poverty by 2032.

The eight current satellites cover Africa and India and the organization will send boxes of StealthCrypto phones, digital wallets, smart cards and modems to people in need. Sovereign Sky will deploy 36 satellites within three to 10 years to cover the entire world in a secure blockchain internet connection, closing the gap on technological interactions between all nations and including the world’s remotest and poorest areas in internet connectivity.

Pitfalls of AI-Driven Global Development Initiatives, and Moving Forward

AI and ML have crucial capabilities in reshaping education, agriculture and data collection in the developing world. However, these technologies have a history of producing unethical racial profiling, surveillance and perpetuating stereotypes, especially in areas with a history of ethnic conflict or inequality. AI and ML applications have to adapt in ways to ensure effective, inclusive and fair distribution of big data resources in the developing world. Development experts need to be in close collaboration with technologists to prevent unethical allocations.

This diversification is why it is important that tech giants like Microsoft, and projects like those by the ICAT/CGIAR, are created in collaboration with various nonprofit, public and private sector groups to ensure interdisciplinary ethical liability for big data applications in sustainable development contexts. Ensuring the use of AI technologies is context-specific to the affected regions and populations will help prevent misappropriation of the technology and increase quality and effectiveness.

Working with local companies and sectors can create long-lasting engagement and grow permanent technology sectors in the developing areas thus contributing to the local economy. These strategies can put forth effective, ethical and productive applications of AI to meet the SDGs.

– Julia Kemner
Photo: Flickr

Living Conditions in LatviaLatvia is a country in the Baltic region of Europe. It has a population of about 1.9 million people. Statistics demonstrate that living conditions in Latvia are improving at a slow rate, but that Latvia also still has its fair share of problems. Listed below are the top 10 facts about living conditions in Latvia.

Top 10 Facts About Living Conditions in Latvia

  1. Poverty rates are going up. In 2017, 23.3 percent of Latvia’s population was at risk of poverty. This increased from a rate of 22.1 percent in 2016. Growth in Latvia’s poverty rate is part of an upward trend of poverty since 2010, in which the rate was 19 percent. The growth may be a result of high emigration rates, causing a shrinking workforce.
  2. Employment is increasing. Latvia’s rate of employment has improved over recent decades. For instance, the employment rate was 49 percent in 1991 and increased to 55.1 percent in 2017. This is relatively slow, but significant progress. The employment status of a Latvian citizen factors heavily into their aforementioned risk of poverty. Only 8.1 percent of employed people were at risk of poverty, whereas the risk is approximately 59.5 percent for unemployed people.
  3. GDP is low but growing. Latvia has the fourth-lowest GDP in all of the EU, falling below the average GDP per capita of 28,900 PPS for the EU in 2015, with an average GDP per capita of 18,600 PPS. Though low, this is part of an overall increase in GDP over the past decade, with a peak growth rate of 6 percent in just one year’s time.
  4. Income inequality. Though there is an improvement to Latvia’s GDP, the country still has significant income inequality as well. For example, the highest 10 percent of the country holds 26.1 percent of the income, whereas the lowest 10 percent has only 2.5 percent of the income.
  5. Low rates of violent crime. Latvia has a relatively moderate to low crime rate. For instance, the country has a very low homicide rate of 3.4 per 100,000 people. Most crimes committed are non-violent crimes of opportunity, such as burglaries, pick-pocketing and credit card fraud. The prison population per 100,000 people is 239.
  6. Education. Another aspect of living conditions in Latvia is its compulsory education system. As a result, the country has a high rate of enrollment. The gross enrollment ratio for primary school is 98 percent. Furthermore, 112 percent for secondary school (a rating of more than 100 percent indicates repeating students outside of the appropriate age group). The literacy rate of citizens ages 15 or older is 99.9 percent, which is on par with the EU’s average, Furthermore, all schools have access to the internet, ensuring a high-quality education.
  7. Health. Life expectancy in Latvia is 74.7 years, making it one of the shortest average life expectancies found in the EU. However, this has improved by about five years, from an average life expectancy of 69.1 in 1990. Latvia also has a relatively low infant mortality rate of 3.9 per 1,000 live births, down from 13.1 in 1990. Latvia has a universal health care system.
  8. Human development is high. The Human Development Index (HDI) is a quantitative measurement of factors such as life expectancy, standards of living and employment, measured by the U.N. The HDI for Latvia is 0.847, which ranks it at #41 out of 189 countries. This categorizes it as having very high human development, thus reflecting one aspect of good living conditions in Latvia. The HDI score is also a massive improvement over its record low of 0.667 in 1993.
  9. Latvians are optimistic. Eurofound surveys have demonstrated that life satisfaction in Latvia has increased from a metric of 5.6 in 2003 to 6.3 in 2016 (on a scale of 1-10). Happiness has increased to an average of 7 from 6.5. Additionally, 69 percent reported optimism about their future. Not only that, 77 percent reported optimism for the futures of their children or grandchildren. Comparatively, in 2003, 76 percent said that they found difficulty in making ends meet. However, that metric has decreased to 53 percent in 2016.
  10. Gender equality. Latvia ranks in 41 out of with a Gender Inequality Index (GII) of 0.196 as ranked by the UNDP. Women have close to the same secondary education statistics as men. For example, 55.2 percent of women are in the workforce, compared to 63.7 percent of men. In regard to parliament, women hold 16 percent of parliamentary seats. Though there is still room for improvement, this is significant progress from Latvia’s 1995 GII of 0.411.

Overall, these top 10 facts about living conditions in Latvia demonstrate that the country has improved significantly in various areas since the 1990s. Though Latvia still has areas that need additional attention and work, the country is on a consistently upward trend of progress and human development.

– Jade Follette
Photo: Flickr

 

Top 5 Benefits of the Internet in Developing Countries
As of 2019, 56.1 percent of the global population, or about 2.3 billion people, has access to the internet. In recent years the fastest growing market segment has been developing countries, and with the expansion of its popularity, overwhelmingly positive changes have occurred. These top five benefits of the internet in developing countries show how internet access makes a huge dent in global poverty.

Top 5 Benefits of the Internet in Developing Countries

  1. Lifting Individuals out of Poverty: Through internet access, individuals in developing countries are able to gain access to more of the modern economy. With internet connectivity, those living in remote areas can now easily take out microloans, participate in e-banking and more. Today, there are more than 3,098 microfinance organizations that have reached out to more than 211 million clients in developing countries globally. Via such economic tools, those living in extreme poverty are able to improve the quality of their lives. For example, in a case study in India, businesses that received microloans were twice as profitable as those that didn’t. This is because with credit, those without a lot of initial capital now have a discretionary income and no longer have to choose between investing in a business or buying everyday necessities such as medications.
  2. Growing Access to Education: With internet connectivity and new technologies, third-world countries become more able to bridge the education gap between urban and rural populations. In sparsely populated areas, mobile electronic devices such as tablets are being utilized to deliver invaluable classroom instruction to children that otherwise wouldn’t likely receive it. For example, a giant literacy campaign with a budget of $173.5 million is currently being initiated by the Kenyan education ministry. The project utilizes BRCKs: durable, personalized tablets that contain educational content aiming to deliver learning opportunities to those living in even the most remote locations.
  3. Increasing the Ease of Communication: The internet is arguably the most inexpensive and effective connectivity tool. By accessing it, individuals in developing countries can participate in e-conversations through applications such as WhatsApp and WeChat. In a survey conducted in 2017, it was found that about 85 percent of internet users in sub-Saharan Africa used it to stay in touch with family and friends, and around 60 percent utilized it to access social media sites.
  4. Improving Crop Efficiency: Through IoT (internet of things) systems, farmers in developing countries can easily access information about important variables such as humidity, temperature and terrain topography through a variety of sensors. Precision agriculture in third-world countries has also led to the development of unique insurance systems. For example, with Kilimo Salama, farmers in Eastern Africa can now purchase insurance that automatically makes mobile payments to them if their local weather stations record extreme weather occurrences such as drought or flooding. Today, over 150,000 farmers are enrolled in this program.
  5. Greater Global Participation: As of 2017, 53 percent of adult internet users used the internet to stay informed on the news. Because many developing countries also harbor internal conflicts, being up to date on the status quo of things becomes especially crucial for their citizens. In addition, individuals in developing countries can become a part of global conversations via online communication platforms. Social media campaigns have proven themselves to be especially effective at raising awareness for many issues and increasing participation in protests. For instance, many Iranians used Twitter to protest the injustice of the disputed Iranian election of 2009. Through this social media app, the movement was able to go viral with tags such as #IranElection.

Through the increased availability of internet access and clever innovations in third-world countries, the lives of many people have been greatly impacted in overwhelmingly positive ways. With the rise of the popularity of internet kiosks and cafes in rural areas, the hope of universal internet access is no longer far-fetched, and one can only imagine the total impact that internet in developing countries will have on alleviating global poverty.

– Linda Yan
Photo: Flickr

food insecurity in ethiopia
Despite the fact that Ethiopia has a stronger economy than many other countries in the sub-Saharan region of Africa, it still remains one of the world’s least developed countries. In 2017, Ethiopia ranked 173 out of 189 countries and territories in the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Human Development Index (HDI). Food insecurity contributes to a lack of development in Ethiopia.

Drought, Conflict, and IDPs

Drought is one of the principal sources of food insecurity in Ethiopia. Ethiopia is currently suffering from the lingering effects of past droughts. There have been two devastating droughts in Ethiopia since 2015, which has forced many out of their homes in search of food and basic services. Droughts are a primary factor in the creation of internal refugees, or internally displaced person (IDPs) in Ethiopia.

Currently, nearly three million Ethiopians are categorized as IDPs. In addition to drought, the number of IDPs has increased due to a surge in ethnic violence, particularly along the Oromiya-Somali regional border. Nearly 600,000 individuals from the Oromiya and Somali regions have become IDPs.

The combination of drought, displacement, violence and underdevelopment has resulted in widespread food insecurity in Ethiopia. Due to this, roughly 7% of the population relies on food aid. The U.S. Government has been heavily involved in battling food insecurity in Ethiopia. Currently, food insecurity and under-nutrition are two of the greatest economic hindrances in Ethiopia.

Here are five things you need to know about the United States’ involvement in addressing food insecurity in Ethiopia.

5 Ways the U.S. Helps Food Insecurity in Ethiopia

  1. “Feed the Future,” an initiative launched by the Obama Administration in 2010, has been one of the more successful programs in promoting food security in Ethiopia: Feed the Future worked in different areas in Ethiopia from 2013 to 2015 and reduced the prevalence of poverty in those areas by 12 percent. Additionally, in 2017, those who were reached by Feed the Future generated $40 million in agricultural sales and received $5.7 million in new private investment. The economy and food security in Ethiopia are closely intertwined because the nation’s economy is dependent on agriculture. Agriculture-led economic growth, therefore, has been one the primary missions of Feed the Future within Ethiopia.
  2. The US has focused on restoring Ethiopia’s potato and sweet potato supply due to its high source of Vitamin A as a means of reducing food insecurity in Ethiopia: In June 2016, The USAID’s Office of US Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) supported the International Potato Center (CIP) to assist drought-affected farmers in planting potatoes and sweet potatoes. Due to this support, the CIP was able to provide sweet potato seeds to nearly 10,000 farmers and trained more than 11,300 men and women on various ways to incorporate this vitamin-rich vegetable into more of their meals. The USAID/OFDA continues to support programs that promote the development of critical agriculture, such as sweet potatoes, in Ethiopia.
  3. Mobile Health and Nutrition Teams (MHNTs) are working in Ethiopia to help manage issues of malnutrition: The USAID’s OFDA and UNICEF have partnered together to deploy MHNTs in order to provide malnutrition screenings, basic health care services, immunizations and health education. The team also offered patient referrals when necessary. In 2017, 50 MHNTs provided 483,700 individuals in the Afar and Somali regions of Ethiopia with life-saving health and nutritional services.
  4. Humanitarian assistance has been essential in reducing severe acute malnutrition (SAM) in children: Although USAID provides resources to help treat SAM, 38 percent of children under five still have stunted growth due to malnutrition. As of March 2018, 31,066 children were admitted and treated for SAM. Approximately 30 percent of these cases were in the Somali region due to the region’s issue with ethnic violence and drought. Significantly more assistance is needed in the Somali region in order to sufficiently manage malnutrition.
  5. Humanitarian assistance has been one of the primary reasons Ethiopia has not entered into a state of emergency for food insecurity: Although increased rainfall and a reduction in disease outbreak have helped minimize food insecurity in Ethiopia, the country would be much worse off without the help of humanitarian aid. Currently, Ethiopia is in crisis, which is phase three of five on the food insecurity scale. The phases include minimal, stressed, crisis, emergency and famine. Experts from the Famine Early Warning Systems Networks report that “Ethiopia would likely be at least one phase worse without current or programmed humanitarian assistance.”

Looking Forward

The need for humanitarian aid will increase as Ethiopia’s population rapidly grows. Currently, Ethiopia ranks second in Africa for the number of refugees the country hosts. Nearly 100 percent of these refugees originate from South Sudan, Somalia, Eritrea and Sudan. Ethiopia currently hosts over 920,262 registered refugees and asylum seekers as of May 31, 2018.

The number of asylum seekers in Ethiopia will continue to grow because Ethiopia has an open-door asylum policy. As Ethiopia’s population continues to grow due to this policy, food sources will become increasingly strained. The need for humanitarian assistance to promote sustainable agriculture and farming practices, therefore, has become essential for reducing food insecurity in Ethiopia.

Ariana Howard
Photo: Flickr

E-Commerce Markets in Africa
Africa holds less than 2 percent of the global e-commerce market, but an increase in participation could benefit the continent on a massive economic scale.

In fact, it has been shown that e-commerce allows consumers to connect to businesses as well as to other consumers in order to exchange goods via the Internet. E-commerce benefits global markets by improving efficiency in distribution channels and creating a more prominent market presence for individuals or businesses trying to sell products. For developing countries in Africa, one of the main obstacles in gaining access to e-commerce markets is limited access to banks.

Mobile Money

Globally, roughly 1.7 billion adults remain without access to a financial institution.

In order to alleviate this problem, mobile banking services focus on the high percentage of adults who have mobile phones in Africa. In South Africa, about 90 percent of the adult population owns a mobile device; whereas, Tanzania has the lowest with only about 75 percent of the adult population owning a mobile device.

The integration of mobile banking companies has increased dramatically over the past decade with 135 live mobile monetary services available in 2017. In fact, the number of subscribers in sub-Saharan Africa hit 44 percent in 2017. Mobile banking is attractive to people who do not physically have access to a bank or who do not have a permanent home address. It allows them to set up an account and protect their money electronically while giving them the freedom to interact financially on a global scale through e-commerce.

The Problem of Rural Communities

A smaller density of people lives in rural areas so there is a lower prospective income for operators who wish to set up mobile services in these regions. Roughly 20 percent of the population of sub-Saharan Africa is spread over 70 percent of the land. Consequently, operators in rural communities only secure a revenue of about one-tenth compared to those who work in urban areas.

Since many individuals rely on mobile banking to engage in the global market, reducing this barrier is essential to the continued development of e-commerce markets in Africa. As a result, in 2018, Uganda’s Communications Commission decided to pair with satellite firms Intelsat and Gilat in order to help increase access for those living in two rural communities.

The Prospective Value of E-Commerce Markets in Africa

A study by the McKinsey Global Institute estimates 3.7 trillion dollars (6 percent of GDP) could be added to the developing world’s collective GDP by 2025 due to a growing digital finance sector. It is 80 to 90 percent less expensive for financial institutions to provide mobile banking services than it is to create new physical branches. This method allows financial institutions to penetrate more of the population in developing and rural areas.

The e-commerce market has the potential to grow enormously over the next five years. Although access to financial institutions is an obstacle that many less privileged individuals face, an increase in mobile money services is helping to create parity. Financial inclusion means an upward trend in the global market participation, and through the development of internet-based trade, the global economy will experience more consumers, products and efficient distribution.

Tera Hofmann
Photo: Flickr

Fighting Corruption in the Northern TriangleThe Northern Triangle, consisting of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, is home to some of the highest levels of political and economic instability in the world. The nations of the Triangle (Or NTCA, Northern Triangle of Central America) are characterized by high rates of poverty and gang violence. Subsequently, this is exacerbated by rampant corruption, from local to national levels. This instability, along with the hazards of living in a poverty-stricken region, has led to an increase in the outflow of migrants from the Northern Triangle into the United States.

Nevertheless, things are getting better. With the Northern Triangle having received more international attention in recent years and immigration issues leading American political discourse, the underlying problems of the region are coming to light. Some U.S. and United Nations’ programs are successfully circumventing government channels to provide aid directly. However, other initiatives are attacking the problem of corruption at its source. Fighting corruption in the Northern Triangle requires a longterm method addressing the economic insolvency of these countries. Here are five ways the world is fighting corruption in the Northern Triangle.

5 Ways the World Is Fighting Corruption in the Northern Triangle

  1. Guatemala and the CICIG
    Guatemala hosts one of the most effective and successful anti-corruption NGOs in the region. The U.N.-backed International Commission Against Impunity (known as CICIG, per its Spanish initials) was implemented in the early 2000s to address the rampant corruption sprouting up in the wake of Guatemala’s civil war. The commissioner, Iván Velásquez, is a distinguished veteran of Colombia’s criminal justice system, where he worked to expose links between paramilitary groups and public officials—an identical background to the types of corrupt practices that burden Guatemala’s public sector.
  2. Identifying Criminal Ties to Government Officials in the NTCA
    In a list released in early May 2019, the U.S. Department of State has named over 50 senior government officials in the NTCA as guilty of corruption. This list includes officials in the orbit of all three countries’ presidents, some of whom are direct relatives. Representative Norma Torres (D-CA) noted that the release of the list was a step in the right direction, forward progress for the Trump administration recognizing the severity of corruption in the Northern Triangle. While many of the anti-corruption bodies operating in the NTCA need international backing to be as effective as possible, the State Department’s list indicates the U.S. has not completely voided its assumed role as stabilizer in the Western Hemisphere.
  3. Slow but Steady Progress in El Salvador
    Like the rest of the NTCA, El Salvador ranks low in global measures of corruption and impunity for government officials. However, the country’s most recent attorney general, Douglas Melendez, made it his mission to attack the systemic and embedded corruption permeating the government. While he was recently forced out of office by the national legislature, Melendez successfully prosecuted three former presidents and his own predecessor as attorney general. His failure to secure reappointment reflects both El Salvador’s closed-door (and thus inherently political) process of selecting an attorney general, and a backlash of the country’s political elite against his progress fighting corruption.
  4. Experts Discuss Corruption and Human Rights in the NTCA
    In May 2019, a panel of experts led by the nonprofit, Inter-American Dialogue, discussed the current initiatives fighting corruption in the Northern Triangle, and how they could benefit from expanding their focus to include human rights. Guatemala’s CICIG was brought up, as was the Mission to Support the Fight against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH). A major point of emphasis was the commonalities across all three countries, specifically the way in which corrupt kleptocratic networks are indirectly committing human rights violation by embezzling money earmarked for public services. The discussion lauded the work of CICIG and MACCIH in Guatemala and Honduras, respectively, and emphasized the need for a similar external agency in El Salvador.
  5. MACCIH Brings its Twelfth Major Case to Court in Honduras
    The Mission to Support the Fight Against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH) has been operating since April 2016, presumably inspired by the success of CICIG in Guatemala. Unlike CICIG, which is a U.N.-backed Commission, MACCIH is organized by the Organization of American States, an international charter that was created in the late 1800s. Through the OAS, MACCIH can share investigation data with other member states, which is particularly effective when investigating transnational organization—namely, drug cartels. In May 2019, MACCIH brought forward its twelfth integrated case, this time addressing a federal-level scheme to launder millions in cartel money.

Fighting corruption in the Northern Triangle is not linear. Pushback from political and business elites has been a significant problem both for MACCIH in Honduras and for El Salvador’s nascent anti-impunity work. This is to be expected of any anticorruption initiative, however, as it deals with the removal of power and resources from officials that abuse them. Flagging programs within the member states of the Northern Triangle only emphasize the need for robust foreign support, which the U.S. continues to provide.

Rob Sprankle
Photo: Flickr

Facts about Education in SingaporeSingapore has recently been praised for its high-quality education, which has set an example for Western countries. These eight facts about education in Singapore discuss the government policies that have been enforced to achieve this success.

8 Facts About Education in Singapore

  1. Education in Singapore is obligatory. Since 2003, all children must be enrolled in school. This begins from an early age all the way through primary and secondary education. The compulsory education rule applies to both citizens and foreigners. If parents fail to have their children in school or home-school them, they can face significant fines. In fact, they can even go to prison for up to 12 months.
  2. It’s mostly free. Singaporean citizens receive primary education for free. Secondary education costs about $5 per month. While there are other costs related to education, they do not exceed $30 per month in either case (primary or secondary education). Thus, education is still made affordable to all Singaporeans.
  3. Almost everyone in Singapore is literate. According to the CIA Factbook, 97 percent of the population over 15 years of age can read and write, as of 2016. By the age of 16, it’s expected for students to have completed both primary and secondary education. Whether or not students decide to pursue a college degree or go on the technical career path, they are already provided with the basic skills to enter the professional world.
  4. High-quality education also comes at a price. Students have opened up about suffering from stress and anxiety related to schoolwork or tests. As stated by an OECD report about Student Well-Being, more than 75 percent of students feel extremely anxious before taking an exam. This is the case regardless of how much they have studied for it. More than half of the students feel stress while they are studying.
  5. Real-life skills are prioritized. Education in Singapore focuses on teaching students through theory. However, education is also taught with practice and through applying their knowledge to real life experiences. The goal is to give them all the skills needed to deal with different situations. Additionally, Singapore aims to help students build a strong set of values for the future. This includes teaching them that they live in a globalized world and have to adapt to different cultures as well as knowing their own national traditions.
  6. Singapore is a leader in science and reading. In recent years, Singapore has been able to top all countries in the PISA evaluation regarding science and reading proficiency. The mean score in both these fields is 493 points. Singapore’s score for science is of 556 points, followed by Japan, with 538 points. As for reading proficiency, Singapore scores 535 points.
  7. Teachers work longer days. Teachers work more hours than the world average. They are expected to spend almost as much time with their students as parents spend time with their children. Thus, reinforcing core values and the subjects taught in class.
  8. There is freedom to pursue each student’s unique interests. Students are encouraged to take on community-related activities or co-curricular activities. They will have a shorter syllabus, thus allowing more time to investigate and study specific areas of their interest in their free time. Singapore’s education also encourages a well-rounded approach. Schools offer subjects such as the sciences, electronics, languages, arts and music.

These eight facts about education in Singapore show just how effective established government practices are in reshaping a country’s future. They are simple laws which are easy to implement. But they have changed Singapore in 16 years. Certainly, work remains to be done. The students need a better support system to better deal with high education demands. However, the overall quality of life they can expect from the practices already implemented are undeniable.

– Luciana Schreier
Photo: Wikimedia

grape industrySouth Africa, a country located at the southern tip of Africa and bordered by the Atlantic Ocean and the Indian Ocean, is home to a vast number of grape plantations. Many of the grapes that come from these plantations are used to make wines first-world consumers enjoy. Popular brands include Capensis Chardonnay, Porseleinberg Syrah, and Ernie Els Signature Blend. But as delicious and luxurious as these wines may be, the grape industry they come from are using unfair labor tactics.

Unethical Conditions

A 2017 study done by Vinmonopolet, an alcoholic beverage retailer in Norway, exposed numerous grape plantations in South Africa where farmers were working under unethical conditions. These conditions include the following:

  • Facilities that lacking regular health and safety checks
  • Employees experiencing verbal harassment and physical harassment
  • Facilities not issuing employees with employment contracts
  • Employees being paid below minimum wage
  • Employers prohibiting employees from joining trade unions
  • Exposing workers to dangerous pesticides
  • Scheduling workers for 12-hour days with no overtime payment

While it is common for reporters to label these unfair labor tactics in the grape industry as “modern-day slavery,” many people do not ask why these exploitative practices from the past still exist. Seeking to start that conversation, the District Six Museum was founded.

Changing the Grape Industry

Built in 2017 in the South African city Cape Town, the District Six Museum’s goals are threefold:

  1. In order to understand how exploitation in the wine industry perpetuates itself, one must have knowledge of what came before.
  2. The first step to challenging the unfair labor tactics in the grape industry is to have conversations about the intergenerational trauma ingrained within this ongoing exploitation.
  3. Colonial-era methods and mentalities continue to influence current labor practices.

As tourism expands in South Africa, so does the wine industry. It is common for tourists to take advantage of the delicious wines during their stay. However, as the District Six Museum notes, the majority of tourists are clueless when it comes to both contemporary and historical unfair labor tactics in the grape industry. Through advocacy and bringing about awareness, the District Six Museum is working to change that.

Being fully aware of what the District Six Museum exposes, Fairtrade Africa, a nonprofit organization that represents all Fairtrade-certified products in Africa, is working to end the unfair labor tactics in the grape industry. Established in 2005, this nonprofit fights for the rights of all African harvesters — whether they be in the grape industry or not.

Through advocacy and various projects, Fairtrade Africa had many successes in their effort to combat the unfair labor tactics in the grape industry. For example, Fransmanskraal, a farm on the South African Western Cape province that supplies grapes to Place in the Sun Wines, was able to use the premiums they received from Fairtrade Africa to improve the quality of their educational and recreational facilities. These premiums, which are not aid but are generated from business transactions, gave school-aged children the opportunity to attend school in their hometown, to participate in local sports matches and to improve nutrition by building vegetable gardens. The premium even helped one woman named Alvercia Juries attend and graduate from the University of Western Cape, making her the first college graduate in the Fransmanskraal community.

Another project Fairtrade Africa took on in the grape industry was reducing the use of coal to generate electricity in the Stellar Organics wine cellars. Western Cape, where Stellar Organics is located, can get very hot during the summer months. That is not good because wine needs to be kept at a certain temperature in order to be made just right. This is why Fairtrade Africa helped improve the insulation of Stellar Organics’ wine cellars, so they wouldn’t have to use so much coal to keep their wines at the right temperature. Ultimately, this allowed them to save electrical costs, be more environmentally sustainable and enhance the quality of their fair-trade products.

Fairtrade Africa encourages advocacy aimed at ending unfair labor tactics in the grape industry and is always accepting donations.

– Emily Turner
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The U.S. Involvement in Latin AmericaFor decades, the U.S. government has been in charge of many anti-poverty and development programs in Latin America. One of the United States’ longest-running international aid programs has been the United States Agency for International Development or USAID. The Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 created this agency, which reorganized the U.S. government’s foreign aid money and mandated the creation of an independent federal agency tasked with administering economic aid to foreign countries. USAID has been a significant part of U.S. involvement in Latin America.

The U.S. started working in Latin America in 1962 when USAID began operating in the region. USAID has been one of the U.S. government’s primary methods of providing development assistance to the region. The agency currently works to help countries in Latin America develop by supporting small businesses, working to end government corruption, supporting democracy and helping the region protect its natural resources. This article will explain the history of the U.S. involvement in Latin America by focusing on three countries in particular: Brazil, Mexico and Nicaragua.

USAID in Brazil

A year after its creation, USAID partnered with Brazil’s government to solve a wide range of issues in public health, education, the rights of children, human trafficking and food insecurity.

  • Throughout the 1960s and 70s, USAID helped Brazil strengthen its institutions and provided financial support for higher education within the country.
  • During this time, USAID helped solve Brazil’s food crisis by funding the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (Embrapa) in 1972. Embrapa transformed Brazil from a struggling food producer to becoming the third largest agricultural producers in the world. Embrapa helped increase Brazil’s beef and pork supply by four times between 1975 and 2009. At the same time, the production of milk increased up to 7.03 billion gallons per year from 2.1 billion gallons per year.
  • In the 1980s, USAID shifted its focus toward public health issues, such as child trafficking, forest conservation and biodiversity research.
  • In 2014, USAID Brazil became the agency’s first strategic partnership mission. USAID recognized that Brazil was not merely a struggling country reliant on U.S. aid money, it was also a major partner in development efforts in the region and around the world. This partnership led to the creation of the Partnership for the Conservation of Amazon Biodiversity (PCAB) that same year.

USAID in Mexico

U.S. development efforts in Mexico began 10 years before the creation of USAID with the passing of the Mutual Security Act of 1951. The United States’ efforts during this time primarily focused on housing guarantees, health programs, food security and academic exchanges between the United States and Mexican universities. USAID expanded upon these goals and added new priorities such as economic and technological development to Mexico’s development strategy with support for democratic governance.

  • USAID took a hiatus from supporting development programs in Mexico in 1965, but they resumed in 1977.
  • USAID disaster relief became crucial for rebuilding parts of the country after a devastating earthquake in 1985.
  • The U.S. and Mexico have forged successful bilateral cooperation on many issues as a result of USAID. Because the establishment of the Mexican Conservation Fund was a success, it gathered environmental experts to seek policy solutions to Mexico’s environmental problems.
  • In recent years, USAID has increased efforts to decrease gang and drug-related violent crime throughout the country. USAID’s programs have reduced the tendencies for Mexican youths in jail or on probation to repeat their criminal behavior. The national rate is 60 percent, whereas in Mexico, it is only 1.25 percent.
  • USAID has also made efforts to institutionalize the rule of the law in Mexico by reforming the country’s judicial system. Thanks to USAID-sponsored reforms, four Mexican states saw a 450 percent increase in resolutions to robbery disputes. The Justice for You platform provided information about the legal system to 32,389 people in 32 states.

USAID in Nicaragua

As was the case with Brazil, USAID began assisting Nicaragua in 1962, primarily helping Nicaragua’s government develop its infrastructure, healthcare and education.

  • USAID played a major role in helping disaster relief efforts in the aftermath of a massive earthquake in 1972 and Hurricane Mitch in 1998. Following the earthquake in 1972, USAID installed 4,560 connections for clean water to houses that lost access.
  • In the aftermath of a brutal civil war lasting from 1978 to 1989, USAID was instrumental in efforts to reinstate democracy in war-torn Nicaragua in 1990 by backing Violeta Chamorro of the National Opposition Union. With the help of USAID, the government of Nicaragua transitioned into democracy by providing training to civil society organizations that encouraged broader participation in government.
  • USAID helped Nicaragua embrace a market economy through its implementation of the Balance of Payment Support Program in 1990. This allowed Nicaragua to import capital goods, raw materials, agricultural inputs and oil. In 2005, USAID also helped bring Nicaragua into compliance with the Dominican Republic-Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR). USAID helped train more than 2,000 small to medium-sized Nicaraguan enterprises to be compliant with CAFTA.

The U.S. involvement in Latin America has had an encouraging amount of success. USAID, in particular, has facilitated political, economic and social development in Latin America on a massive scale since 1962. While Latin America still faces challenges with drug crimes, gang violence, political corruption, food security and poverty, USAID has undoubtedly played a role in fostering lasting development in the region.

Andrew Bryant
Photo: Flickr