information and news on accountability.

Foggy Poverty Stats in Argentina - TBP
Earlier this year, the President of Argentina Cristina Kirchner publicly decreed Argentina’s level of poverty to be among the lowest in the world. While such an announcement should receive admiration and praise from other global leaders, Argentina has instead been put under the microscope for possibly falsifying information about its poverty statistics.

Last week, President Kirchner appeared at U.N. Food and Agriculture meeting in Rome and boasted her country’s supposed impressive poverty numbers. Kirchner was quoted as saying, “Today the poverty rate is less than 5 percent, and the rate of indigence is 1.27 percent, which has made Argentina one of the most egalitarian countries.” Her claims would place Argentina near the top of the list of economically successful countries, but her remarks have come under fire by prominent Argentinean figures for being inaccurate and misrepresenting Argentina’s true economic status.

The Catholic University of Argentina was one of the earliest critics of President Kirchner’s report on poverty citing a study conducted in April of 2014 that reported a 27% poverty rate in Argentina. The University attributed the blame in flawed figures to Argentina’s statistical research center INDEC.

According to an article published by the International Business Times, “critics have long questioned the poverty figures that have been on the books, saying they were based on controversial methodology with manipulated inflation estimates that drove down the calculation of food prices factored into the poverty rate figure.” Thus, Argentina finds itself reporting inaccurate statistics as a result of poor government decisions.

On May 15th of this year, PanAm Post published an article reporting Argentina’s unsuccessful attempt at increasing public spending to reduce poverty levels. An excerpt from the article states that public spending “has been directed to the energy sector, to the payment of public-sector workers, and offering access to pensions and public services to an additional four million people.”

The article also goes on to criticize INDEC for manipulating figures to conceal the accurate poverty rate in Argentina. The article concludes by reporting that between 2011 and 2013, Argentina spent roughly $36 billion while poverty levels remained unchanged. It appears that Argentina’s experiment has failed and it is finally time to admit error and find a new, honest approach to reduce poverty.

– Diego Alejandro Catala

Sources: Blog of the Panam Post: The Canal, International Business Times
Photo: The Guardian

data_collection

Data collection is essential to address public health concerns in the developing world. If a nonprofit or government institution cannot identify risk factors, outbreaks, health trends and vulnerable populations, aid cannot be targeted effectively at the people who need it the most. As Margaret Chan, director-general of the World Health Organization puts it, “without these data, countries and their development partners are working in the dark – throwing money into a black hole.”

That is why the World Bank, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the World Health Organization (WHO) recently announced the Roadmap for Health Measurement and Accountability and a Five-Point Call to Action. These initiatives are meant to encourage the governments of developing countries to strengthen their public health registration systems, with the goal of making health aid more effective while avoiding some of the data-collection pitfalls of the past.

While previous data-collection initiatives, many motivated by the Millennium Development Goals, led to dramatic improvements in public health knowledge gaps, they also had some negative consequences. These were mainly a result of the programs’ tendencies to fragment as well as detract from country-led approaches to data collection.

Jimmy Kolker, assistant secretary for global health in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, points out that data collection should not be an “end in itself.” To be effective, governments need to have the political capacity to support, and act on, the data that they collect. In contrast to previous initiatives, the Roadmap and Call to Action are intended to empower countries to develop their own integrated health systems, which should be more sustainable and robust in the long-term.

The Five-Point Call to Action includes some very specific public health monitoring goals. For example, the third point emphasizes a need for adequate civil registration systems, with the goal of registering all births by 2030, as well as registering 80% of deaths and their causes. The reasoning behind being so specific in establishing broad standards is that in the past, data collection efforts were hampered by a lack of coordination; a poor focus on specific health issues also failed to reveal broad trends and strengthen public health systems. Thus, these initiatives emphasize establishing accurate measurements of a few basic indicators, such as births and deaths, as well as having basic reporting and public access mechanisms in place.

The Call to Action calls for adequate data collection and interpretation through modern technology, not just traditional registration systems. Point four emphasizes that by 2020 all countries should have “real-time disease surveillance systems in place, including the capacity to analyze and link data using interoperable, interconnected electronic reporting systems within the country.”

As technology has developed, aid agencies and governments have an ever-growing list of resources that can help them monitor, collect, and interpret health-related data. Up to two-thirds of the world’s population in 100 countries is absent from public registration systems, a gap that must be filled by modern data-gathering and reporting solutions. Mobile technology is an enormous boon to governments trying to build data collection and dissemination systems.

For example, since 2008 Bangladesh, with relatively little funding and prior to the aforementioned initiatives, has managed to strengthen programs for establishing electronic medical records, centralized databases, accessible online resources for data-entry and reporting, and citizen feedback mechanisms. Bangladesh is a great example of how a low-income country can rapidly modernize its public health data resources cheaply and efficiently, a model from which other developing countries might learn, spurred on by the recent initiatives by USAID, the WHO, and the World Bank. Perhaps, with some financial and technical support from these institutions, developing nations can create their own path toward improved public health.

Derek Marion

Sources: MA4Health, World Bank, Devex
Photo: Leaning Forward

FIFA
Qatar has an estimated budget of 62 billion pounds for the hotels, infrastructure, stadiums and other buildings that it needs for the 2022 World Cup. Qatar has relied on migrant workers from countries such as India, Nepal and Sri Lanka to complete these building projects. However, the work for migrant workers is extremely difficult and many are dying, most likely as a consequence of the harsh conditions that they are forced to live and work in.

Since 2013, Qatar has been under investigations by groups such as Amnesty International and the Human Rights Watch, who are worried that Qatar’s migrant workforce is being treated as modern-day slaves. According to a 2013 report from the Guardian, over 4,000 workers will die as a result of the conditions that they are subjected to while they prepare for the World Cup. From June 4 to August 8 in the same year, 44 Nepalese workers died, and half of those deaths were related to heart failure or workplace accidents.

Heart failure and heat strokes are common, since many workers are forced to slave away in extremely hot temperatures—up to 122 degrees Fahrenheit—and are sometimes not given access to free drinking water. This has led to many complaints from workers. More than 80 workers from India died from January to May 2013, and 1,460 complained to the embassy about problems related to labor conditions.

While it may seem like the best solution is for workers to go home, unfortunately, it is not that simple. Qatar and other Gulf Cooperation Council countries, such as Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, have instituted the kafala system—a system of sponsorship in which migrant workers are not allowed to change jobs or leave the country without a sponsor’s permission. Many sponsors hold the passports of migrant workers, making it impossible for them to leave. Workers are also often jilted out of the money that they were promised, and contracts are sometimes in English or other languages foreign to migrant workers, meaning that workers are forced to sign contracts that they do not understand.

Qatar promised that they would reform the kafala system after the deaths of migrant workers were bought to light. However, as The Guardian states, the system that Qatar plans to replace the kafala with will still ensure that employees are tied to their employers for the length of their contract, which can last for as long as five years.

An estimated 1,200 workers have died since Qatar began to construct its stadiums for the World Cup. However, this week, Qatar’s state news agency has issued a statement claiming that no workers have died during construction for the World Cup. They claim that no workers died while at work, and therefore argue that the assumption that the deaths of migrant workers are work related, is incorrect.

While it is most likely true that not all the deaths of migrant workers are work related, the fact remains that many of the deaths probably are a result of the poor living and working conditions that migrants are forced to face. Qatar is also hesitant to let reporters research the conditions of migrant workers in the country. In May of 2015, they arrested a group of BBC reporters who attempted to do so.

The problems with workers for the FIFA World Cup are representative of larger socioeconomic problems in Qatar. Qatar is the world’s richest country by income per capita. Its growing industry and infrastructure attract migrant workers determined to improve their living conditions by moving to such a rich country. However, migrant workers are treated extremely poorly. They are crammed into overcrowded living conditions of six to eight men in a room, and up to 40 men have to share a kitchen. The living conditions are unhygienic and bathrooms and washers are so dirty that some men are forced to use buckets of water to wash instead.

There are over 1.2 million migrant workers making up the workforce in Qatar. These workers are subjected to physical, verbal and sexual abuse. It is especially difficult for migrant workers who work in domestic situations. As the Human Rights Watch states, these workers are normally women, and they are especially vulnerable to sexual and physical abuse, as they are sometimes locked in the homes where they work and are not given protection under Qatari Labor Law.

The poor treatment of migrant workers might be an attempt by Qatar to keep its population under control. After all, over 80 percent of the Qatari population is now composed of migrant workers, meaning that 20 percent of the population actually benefits from the riches of Qatar, while the rest are forced to suffer. As one Nepalese migrant worker states, “No one respects our feelings, we are just labor, all people hate us.” Unless Qatar changes its laws and issues drastic reforms, it risks becoming a country where modern day slavery becomes more and more prevalent, and the gap between the rich and the poor continues to widen.

— Ashrita Rau

Sources: BBC, BBC, BBC, Business Insider, Human Rights Watch, Human Rights Watch, Migration News, The Guardian, The Guardian, The Guardian
Photo: The Telegraph

client power
As paying customers, what do people do when dissatisfied with a service? They register a complaint with the company, and then perhaps try another service. This is the essence of a competitive market. Quality of service is forced to remain high when clients have this power. Is it possible to generate this power when the customer is dependent on public service? In other words, how can development and public projects be made more accountable and transparent with better service provided?

Greater vigilance by government authorities, higher monetary incentives to employees and increased funding for diverse projects can go toward improving service provisions. However, client power can be crucial in making strides toward this goal as well.

When consumers have a strong voice, more can be achieved. A 2004 World Bank development report describes the example of Kerala, an Indian state, where significant success has been achieved in major social sectors like literacy and health care. A part of this success is attributed to informed citizen action and political activism.

Community advocacy groups are indispensable in providing a voice for the poor. In 1994, a civil society organization, or CSO, in Bangalore, India introduced the idea of report cards for public services. Results of these reports revealed corruption, lack of access and other flaws that were actively publicized by the press. These results led managers of public agencies to take measures to improve their services, leading other cities and countries to adopt similar approaches.

In Uganda, CSOs trained community monitors to check the quality of service delivery in order to reduce corruption. In Mexico, groups found ways to access and understand information on public program budgets so as to enable lobbying for budget policy changes. These contributions to public health programs and health equity have been valuable in several places across the globe.

It is remarkable how purchasing power can affect a consumer’s ability to demand better service. The ability to choose and purchase one’s own welfare instills a new level of accountability in the provider.

When Zambian truck drivers contributed to a road fund, they took turns to ensure that no overloaded trucks passed the road and that their contributions maintained this road. In Andhra Pradesh, an Indian state, farmers who paid for their water supply felt that they could hold the irrigation department more accountable.

One way to increase this purchasing power is to provide government subsidies with cash transfers, which goes directly to the families as vouchers. Allowing subsidies or vouchers in public and private arenas will increase competition, thereby creating a natural pressure to provide better quality service. In addition, it gives people the right to choose what is best for them, which can be invaluable in increasing self-confidence. For example, Qatar charities provided families in war-torn Gaza with shopping vouchers, which they could use on food items. This measure preserved the dignity of the beneficiary.

Measures like these could return the power to the consumer, demanding accountability for public service. In the future, it will play a valuable part in implementing pro-poor policies.

Mithila Rajagopal

Sources: Capacity, Relief Web, World Bank, World Health Organization
Photo: Flickr

solidarity
The Solidarity Center is dedicated to helping workers around the world build a shared prosperity in both their local and global economies.

Workers who struggle to find safe and healthy job sites as well as family-supporting wages have concerns that far too often go unheard.

This nonprofit aims to help these workers find their voice on the job, working with unions, worker associations and community groups worldwide to achieve equitable and sustainable development.

Since 1997, the Solidarity Center has made it their mission to stand up for international worker rights so that workers can gain the social protections they need to improve their working and living conditions.

With programs expanding across some 60 countries, the Solidarity Center provides workers a range of education and training that focus on the following: worker rights, union skills, occupational safety and health, economic literacy, human trafficking, women’s empowerment and bolstering workers in an informal economy.

In addition, they provide research, legal support and other resources that help build strong trade unions and more equitable societies.

More specifically, the Solidarity Center assists unions with strengthening internal structures, like gender parity, and helping workers recover stolen wages or benefits illegally denied to them. They also connect migrant workers to protective networks to decrease vulnerability. Most importantly, they boost advocacy efforts so that campaigns can go beyond borders.

These examples can be found in a short bullet-point list on the Solidarity Center’s website, where one can also find the annual reports they conduct for each country that they work in.

In addition, the Solidarity Center keeps their news and events up-to-date, a testament to how actively involved they are in their work.

Recently, the Solidarity Center received the biggest testament to their efforts when President Barack Obama spoke at the 2014 Clinton Global Initiative about the need to develop young civil society leaders.

The first person that he recognized as a contributor to the development of his community was Solidarity Center’s own Walid Ahmed Ali, a Kenyan social justice activist.

President Obama congratulated him on his work in creating jobs at the Kenya-Somali border for unemployed youth, telling him that he “strives not just for the idea of democracy,” but “to cement the practice of democracy.”

At the Solidarity Center, you’ll find people like Walid Ahmed Ali who do just that. Though not all can be recognized in the same manner, everyone is fully committed to helping working men and women to be a force for democracy and shared prosperity.

If you believe that all people who work should receive the rewards of their work – decent paychecks and befits, safe jobs, respect and fair treatment – then visit the Solidarity Center to learn how you can get involved in creating a more inclusive economic development.

– Chelsee Yee

Sources: Solidarity Center, ALFCIO
Photo: Bangor Daily News

USICD
The United States International Council On Disabilities is a nonprofit, membership, constituent-led organization committed to promoting the rights of people with disabilities through global engagement and U.S. foreign affairs.

USICD aims to build bridges between American and international disability communities in hopes of celebrating a vision of a world where their rights are protected and advanced.

To ensure this vision, USICD promotes the inclusion of disability perspectives domestically and internationally on a political level—challenging U.S. foreign policy and aid through a wide range of projects and programs.

These program initiatives leverage a membership that reaches organizations and individuals in more than 30 U.S. states and a number of foreign countries.

The following program initiatives are highlighted on USICD’s website:

1. CRPD Education and Advocacy

The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, or CRPD, is an international disability treaty inspired by U.S. leadership that serves as a vital framework for creating global legislation that embraces the rights of all people with disabilities. USICD works to promote the CRPD both in the U.S. and abroad through this campaign.

2. Global Disability Rights Library

This project helps improve the lives of people with disabilities in developing countries by delivering information about their rights to advocates, policymakers and civil society institutions through the digital landscape. It’s a joint effort between USICD and the University of Iowa’s WiderNet Project that has collected a digital repository of thousands of toolkits, best practice materials, advocacy tools and more. Everything is delivered to DPOs (organizations or groups representing persons with disabilities) in developing countries lacking Internet access via a portable hard drive that brings web-like access without Internet connection.

3. Disability in U.S. Foreign Affairs

USICD is dedicated to advocating for disability inclusion through diplomatic initiatives via the State Department, foreign assistance through USAID and through the collaborative initiatives with other government agencies. This program offers news on federal government initiatives focusing on disability inclusion and showcases the work USICD is doing to be a stronger resource to its allies.

4. Youth in International Development and Foreign Affairs

USICD strives to develop the next generation of leaders through its internship program that inspires youth involvement in international affairs and development careers. Since 2013, this program has formally engaged USICD’s goal of incorporating a disability perspective in all foreign affairs issues and continues to do so.

Chelsee Yee

Sources: USICD, Progress Illinois
Photo: Evening News 24

USAID_Fights_Poverty
For over fifty years, USAID has been addressing the needs of those living in extreme poverty overseas, promoting stable, self-sustaining democracies and advancing security and prosperity on a global scale.

Founded by President John F. Kennedy in 1961, USAID, or United States Agency for International Development, works in over 100 countries to address a wide array of prosperity goals. These include advancing food security and agriculture, improving global health, providing humanitarian assistance and protecting human rights, among other objectives.

Despite its humanitarian efforts, USAID has garnered some criticism over the past few years. First and foremost, critics and watchdogs have claimed that USAID policies and actions are often more focused on advancing U.S. policy interests than global humanitarian interests.

In particular, a 2010 study by two Harvard and Yale economics professors found that the size of U.S. food aid shipments are determined more by the size of U.S. crops than they are by recipient need. Moreover, the study found that about half of the funding for food aid was allocated for shipping, often for American cargo ships.

Additionally, a 2012 study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research examined contracts issued by USAID for the 2010 relief effort in Haiti. It found that only .02 percent of these contracts went directly to local Haitian firms, while over 75 percent of the contracts went to American firms. One of these firms has received up to $173.7 million from USAID since the Haitian earthquake. However, the data provided does not track local subcontracting and grant making, which may or may not be significant.

Amidst these and a variety of other allegations against USAID involving wasteful or misplaced spending, the U.S. government has made some concerted efforts in the past few years to reform USAID.

Beginning in 2010, President Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton launched USAID Forward, an ambitious reform effort aiming to increase USAID’s transparency and provide more efficient, effective service.

In particular, USAID Forward incorporates rigorous evaluations for each new program undertaken, investments in new innovations to aid in sustainable development, better risk assessment tools and transparent fiscal reports.

In addition, USAID Forward has significantly increased its public-private partnerships and is working more directly with local governments, the private sector, civil society and academia.

The Agricultural Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2013, passed in early 2014, also included some major food aid reforms. Specifically, the bill placed greater emphasis on improving the nutritional quality of food aid products, ensured that sales of agricultural commodity donations do not adversely affect local markets and created a new local and regional purchase program, among other reforms.

The Obama Administration has additional food aid reform goals in mind, including reducing the volume of commodities subject to cargo preference legislation, increasing cash donations and “providing greater flexibility in procuring commodities in local and regional markets.”

– Katrina Beedy

Sources: USAID, Reuters 1, Reuters 2, FAS, Reuters 3, Hagstrom Report, CEPR, Business Week, GovTrack
Photo: Flickr

SID
At the forefront of shaping the theory and practice of development, the Society for International Development (SID) challenges existing practices and suggests alternative approaches to three notable themes— environment, women in development and the concept of human development.

SID is a global network of individuals and institutions that are concerned with development, believing it is participative, pluralistic and sustainable.

Founded in Washington D.C. in 1957 and based in Rome since 1978, SID is a policy-oriented organization that focuses on advocacy and service-delivery actions but plays a unique role that sets their society apart from the rest. What differentiates SID from other development organizations is that the organization builds on multi-disciplinary dialogues, future-minded thinking and scenarios-based and holistic policy planning. Three core actions truly distinguish SID from any other organization: knowledge building through research, facilitating dialogue and catalyzing policy change.

According to the SID website, “since its inception in 1957, SID has always acted as a unique global space for honest dialogue and effective interconnected nature among diverse actors at community, national and international level.” The Society’s broadly-stated vision and mission has remained unchanged and generally, SID’s activities will aim to, “contribute to building consensus for the need for a new convivencia (or coexistence) by supporting initiatives that generate new visions for society, leadership and political will; Encourage and facilitate dialogue between diversities through knowledge based activities; [and] facilitate knowledge generation, sharing and dissemination.”

SID’s website further states that the organization is “recognized as a pertinent, innovative and future oriented institution that fosters learning, innovation and constructive dialogue; one that nudges institutional boundaries and enlarges the spaces for exchange and exploration in the search for social justice and development that is just, equitable and sustainable.”

Today, SID has more than 3,000 members in 80 countries and more than 45 chapters worldwide. SID works with more than 100 local and international associations, networks and institutions involving parliamentarians, academics, students, political leaders and development experts. This society has a holistic, multi-disciplinary and multi-sectoral approach to development.

Eastin Shipman

Sources: Society for International Development 1, Society for International Development 2, Society for International Development 3, Society for International Development 4, Society for International Development 5 SIDW
Photo: Facebook

fair-trade-movement
The cup of coffee you enjoy every morning could help a small-scale family farmer escape poverty. The lotion you put on your hands could put school supplies into the hands of orphaned children in need of an education.

The Fair Trade Movement does these things and so much more by certifying products made by farmers in developing countries who in turn positively influence their communities.

When companies buy fair-trade products, they pay a premium on top of the base price of the good. This money goes toward community development in the region where the product is grown or produced.

Take for example Green Mountain Coffee, the world’s largest purchaser of fair-trade coffee in the world. Every pound of organically grown coffee purchased by a company such as Green Mountain Coffee costs 50 cents. Of this price, 20 cents goes to community development and the remaining 30 cents is given to the farmers who grow the coffee.

In 2011, fair-trade premiums gave about $22 million to farmers and farm workers. These farmers voted to put the money towards new schools, health care facilities and improved equipment to increase the efficiency and quality of their farming operations.

In order to display the stamp of Fair Trade approval on their products, farmers and businesses must meet a set of high standards. These include workplace safety, freedom from discrimination, fair wage levels, absolutely no child labor, responsible waste management and strict rules against the use of toxic chemicals and GMOs.

Participating in the Fair Trade Movement is as easy as being a conscious shopper.

The black and green fair trade certification stamp is easy to recognize, and with 12,000 products bearing this label at more than 100,000 retail locations across North America, consumers will have no trouble finding fair trade items to satisfy a large portion of items on their shopping lists.

Whether they are looking for sports balls or a fine bottle of wine, there are cooperatives, independent small farmers and farm workers in 70 developing countries across Africa, Asia, Oceania, Latin America and the Caribbean producing the goods they need in an ethical and sustainable manner.

– Grace Flaherty 

Sources: Fair Trade USA, NY Times
Photo: The Guardian

how-to-pick-charity
There are many great charities out there doing much-needed work to reduce global poverty. Here are some tips on deciding which charity you should give to.

1. Clarify your beliefs

Before you start looking for a charity to give to, be sure you know what you believe. Figure out what missions matter the most to you and your family. Do you care the most about protecting the environment? Fighting human trafficking? Providing education? Once you have selected the category that you care about most, you can begin to research the different methods of solving that problem.

2. Start broad

Use websites like CharityNavigator.org, GuideStar.org or GiveWell.org to learn how different charities in the category you picked spend their money. Sites like these aggregate tax information and other records you can use to learn how different charities spend their money.

3. Do your research

Find a clear description of the charity’s mission, programs and achievements. Figure out what their goals are, how they measure their success and how they use that information to function better. If you can’t find this information easily, be wary. But be aware that some problems are hard to solve. Don’t place a dollar sign on a human life. Some organizations invest thousands of dollars rescuing women and children from slavery because, simply put, extracting slaves is hard and expensive.

Nancy Lublin CEO of DoSomething.org  knows that “Low overhead doesn’t necessarily mean an organization is awesome at fighting poverty, or that its turnover is low and its people productive. And it certainly doesn’t guarantee that the group is spending wisely.”

Lublin cited Apple as an example from the for-profit world of a company with high overhead but incredible products.

“According to Apple’s Q4 2008 report, 78% of its expenses were sales, general, and administrative — the corporate equivalent of overhead. Seventy-eight percent! Yet nobody flinches,” she wrote.

4. Contact the charity and become personally involved

If you’re going to establish a long-term relationship with an organization, take the time to call them, or at least email them about your interest. Best of all, take the time to become personally involved in the charity you donate to allows you incomparable insight into how they operate.

“Be very reluctant to give to strangers,” Dan Moore, vice president of public affairs for GuideStar, an online source of financial information on charities told NBC. “If you know the organization and you know their work, you will know with some degree of confidence that your gift will be put to good use.”

5. Trust your gut

If an organization seems questionable, don’t give. Find a group that you feel comfortable supporting and give what you can.

Picking a charity to support can be daunting but taking the time to give well is incredibly rewarding.

– Sally Nelson

Sources: Fast Company, NBC
Photo: Infiniti