ireland_social_entrepreneurship
While Ireland has been in the headlines for its work towards financial recovery, it has also made a significant contribution to the growth of social entrepreneurship.

Ireland is currently home to 1,400 social enterprises, which employ about 25,000 people, with an expected increase of 65,000 jobs in the next few years. The number of social entrepreneurs in the country has continued to increase as well, with much of the rise attributed to Social Entrepreneurs Ireland (SEI).

The organization SEI was established in 2005 to support the growth of social enterprises. SEI believes that when a social entrepreneur is working on an innovative project, they should get the funding needed for the project to grow. By supporting these new solutions, SEI hopes that these entrepreneurs will be able to help as many people as possible.

Since 2005, it has invested a total of €5.4 million in the projects of 169 social entrepreneurs. SEI supports each project for up to 2 years. The projects SEI has supported have directly affected over 250,000 people across the country and have also created 850 jobs.

In regard to Ireland’s opportunity to become a leader in social entrepreneurship, SEI’s Head of Engagement Darren Ryan said, “There is so much potential and a conducive environment for social innovation; why couldn’t Ireland be the global leader in the development of social entrepreneurship?”

In order to support these social entrepreneurs, SEI has its annual Awards Programme, which awards funding to 9 social entrepreneurs out of about 200 applications. A number of the projects are centered on reducing unemployment and rural isolation and improving mental health.

In addition to its Awards Programme, SEI also has a Social Entrepreneurs Bootcamp and its Elevator Programme. The Social Entrepreneurs Bootcamp was created to help give support to rising social entrepreneurs.

The Elevator Programme entails 12 months of support and helps about 4 to 6 social entrepreneurs every year, in hopes of helping them to choose exactly what issue they want to focus on and figure out their solutions.

SEI expects that for any project it supports, the success rate will be between 50% and 75% or the failure rate will be between 25% and 50%, depending on when SEI chooses to invest.

In light of SEI’s predictions, Ryan said, “Anything higher than that and we will know we’re not taking enough risk. We want to ensure that we are always thinking big and looking for the ideas that have the potential to change Ireland.”

Along with the SEI, the global organization the School for Social Entrepreneurs (SSE) recently expanded to Ireland. The SSE offers courses to mentor and support social entrepreneurs.

The school holds study sessions that include witnesses, experts, and social enterprise visits. The school also offers Action Learning Sets, in which people have small-group discussions to talk about their ideas.

Another important feature of the SSE is its mentoring services, where the school chooses mentors for all of its social entrepreneurs. The mentors offer the budding entrepreneurs advice and guidance as well as additional information and support to help them in their projects.

With growing resources for social entrepreneurs, Ireland is likely to be a strong leader in helping solve some of the world’s biggest problems.

– Julie Guacci

Sources: Forbes, Social Entrepreneurs Ireland, School for Social Entrepreneurs
Photo: Meath Chronicle

Venezuela Ill Government Control
With an inflation rate at 56% and a scarcity index (percentage of goods available) of 28% over the last year the Venezuelan economy has been suffering the effects of policies implemented in the last decade. Starting in 2003, president Hugo Chavez put in place stringent currency controls. Originally, this was intended to address the severe crisis brought by a major strike of the oil industry. However, after a decade, this control remains in place, pegging the country’s exchange rate to the U.S. dollar and limiting the amount of local currency, the Bolivar, that Venezuelans are allowed to exchange.

Coupled with currency controls, governmental control in Venezuela has included imposing strict price controls for the products within the basic foods basket. Instead of making basic products more accessible, this has actually distorted prices. Hence, this has translated into widespread scarcity and an underground parallel market where basic foods are sold at prices much higher than the government established price.

Both of these policies have not produced the intended results. In the last decade, economic controls have profoundly curtailed the incentives necessary for businesses to produce and import goods. This has crippled the economy in severe ways. While the economy has become highly dependent on imports to supply almost 80% of consumer products, lack of hard currency makes this very complicated to achieve.

These policies are the culprits of the Venezuelan economy being rated as “repressed” by the Index of Economic Freedom. This rating has remained unchanged since 2004. What does this mean? Well, falling within this rating means that corruption is high, and that business, labor and fiscal freedoms are severely curtailed by an interventionist and centralized government. While Venezuela holds the biggest oil reserves in the world, out of all South and Central American countries, it ranks second to last in economic freedom.

These dire economic circumstances have forced many producers to close shop or move their operations to neighboring countries. The difficulty of operating is primarily caused by their inability to access hard currency. Since the only entity allowed to sell USD is the government, businesses are at the mercy of lengthy bureaucratic processes, unless they are willing to pay up to ten times the price of the local currency. But they would not be able to sell their product at a competitive market price due to price controls. Catch 22.

In addition to currency issues, the countless expropriations of private property and interventionist practices by the national government substantially elevate the risk of investing or running a business.

For instance, in November 2013, the government undertook several electronic stores (one of them a national chain equivalent to Best Buy) and forced them to charge what is deemed by the government as fair prices. This eventually was extended to other rubrics, forcing many to close down shop, or simply remain open until their current inventory ran out. Moreover, in January, the government passed the Fair Price Law, which sets a maximum percentage of profit that businesses are allowed to add to their prices.

The picture remains grim as protests that started in February to denounce shortages, among other things, continue unabated. The government has promised to ease some of these controls to allow shelves to be restocked and businesses to reopen their doors. However, as of today no substantial changes in economic policy have been put in place.

– Sahar Abi Hassan

Sources:  The Heritage FoundationThe New Yorker
Photo: What’s Next Venezuela?

power_to_the_people
Bloomberg recently posted an article on how the unemployment rate has held steady at 6.7 percent while U.S. payrolls have increased, despite more Americans entering the labor force. This means that Americans who had stopped trying to find work are now renewing their job hunt. The limitations of U.S. government have had little to do with this hopeful sign. Here’s why:

1. People Assume The President Has Too Much Power

When it comes to economic policy, aside from tariffs or taxes, the Federal Reserve has the more relevant hand in the interest rates banks charge for loans, savings accounts, capital accounts and stocks.

The Federal Reserve controls the money supply by tinkering with bank reserve ratios or how much currency a bank can hold. The President can affect inflation through drastic action, such as removing the gold standard (see Richard Nixon).

2. People Assume The President Has Too Little Power

The economy is not some ethereal being who lords over all controlling prices and jobs. The economy is the public. It is a market, in which people trade and consume, and income and prices fluctuate accordingly. The Federal Reserve simply reacts to the behavior of people, not the other way around.

It all hinges on something called aggregate demand, or how much the general population wants to consume and buy. The government does best when it does not interfere in markets at all. The Great Recession occurred because too many people put all their eggs in the housing bubble basket. The Great Depression occurred because people stopped consuming, lowering the money supply, and demanded money from banks with insufficient supply. Even now, as the unemployed population rejoins the workforce, they do so because of choice.

3. It all Runs in Cycles

Businesses and the markets they operate in run on cycles. There are booms, recessions and recoveries, and eventually this cycle repeats. It’s the ebb and flow of economics. If anticipated correctly, the cycles could pass through without any serious repercussions. However, the length between these cycles vary so widely, the public, the Federal Reserve, and the government often seem to forget about them. As a result, policies and behaviors are enacted that can prove detrimental once the cycle restarts.

This view of economics not only applies to the United States, but to the world as a whole. The power of the markets should lie with the people, and in a way, always has. Unless the government is linked directly to markets or totalitarianism, its economic power is somewhat limited. The government can guide and suggest movements for businesses, but at the end of the day, its not the government, the Federal Reserve, or the President that determines the one’s livelihood: it’s the individual.

– Matthew Price

Sources: Bloomberg, Daily Infographic
Photo: Housing Works

secrets_end_world_poverty
The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a free trade agreement originally drafted in 2005 between Brunei, Chile, New Zealand and Singapore. It has since included vested interest from the United States, Australia, Canada, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru and Vietnam.

Much like previous trade agreements, the TPP’s main goal is to promote trade and investment among partner countries and eliminate tariffs on goods and services.

The TPP differs greatly from previous trade agreements as it includes a number of controversial clauses that could negatively impact millions of people around the globe. While trade agreements typically deal with lowering trade barriers, this agreement encompasses additional points of contention ranging from intellectual property rights (ex: extending copyright protections, making approval process harder for generic drug makers) to limiting public support for state-owned enterprises in order to foster competition.

The agreement has received extensive backlash from internet freedom activists, environmentalists, labor activists, advocacy groups and elected officials.

Although trade negotiations are typically conducted in private in order to protect the positions of the involved states, the TPP is disconcerting as it is significantly more comprehensive and encompasses many facets of society. Naturally, this has many concerned over its contents.

There have been a number of critiques that the multi-national trade agreement would exacerbate economic inequality on a global scale. Much like NAFTA and other “free” trade agreements, it has been argued that the TPP would place corporations ahead of the people, destroying job opportunities at home and increasing poverty for workers abroad. Further, the agreement will increase competition for low-skill, low-pay jobs that cannot be shipped off shore; the workers at home will be even more hard-pressed to find jobs, making them worse off than ever before.

U.S. foreign policy critic and professor at MIT, Noam Chomsky argues that the TPP is an “assault” on working people and intended to further corporate “domination.” “It’s designed to carry forward the neoliberal project to maximize profit and domination, and to set the working people in the world in competition with one-another so as to lower wages to increase insecurity,” Chomsky has said in an interview with HuffPost Live.

The TPP is likely to follow in the footsteps of NAFTA where U.S. corporations will contribute to the trade deficit by manufacturing in developing countries abroad, rather than reviving the economy at home. Negotiations for the TPP, also known as “NAFTA on steroids,” have been largely kept secret from the public and members of Congress. This has forced the public to rely on confidential documents released by WikiLeaks and Huffington Post. Despite these leaks, the public is largely kept in the dark.

Corporate interests are pushing for agreements – or, regulations – in order to standardize otherwise “inconsistent regulations.” Most of the current regulations “may not be perfect, but they are serving their purpose regardless: to protect workers, consumers, the economy and the environment,” says economist Joseph Stiglitz. The TPP would reform these already-placed regulations potentially producing dire consequences for the majority of impacted people in the United States and abroad. The proposed clauses could decrease regulations so that the corporate sector will further profit from lowering “non-tariff barriers.”

In 2012, the Obama administration has called for the renewal of the “fast track” authority so that negotiations for the TPP can be expedited and approved with minimal debate and no amendments. This secretive agreement has the potential to pull the working class in America and those in developing countries deeper into poverty.

– Rozali Telbis

Sources: Alternet, NY Times, Huffington Post, Common Dreams
Photo: BlairBlog

camel_mongolia
Up until about 1990, Mongolia never faced any fears of living in poverty. Rural land specifically, and the large volume of land has been Mongolia’s source of food security and livelihood for centuries.

Mongolia owns approximately 838,853.13 square miles of land in which much of it is desert, but the arable land is quickly becoming depleted, polluted, or turned to desert.

Currently, 33% of people in Mongolia are poor, and over half of the country’s population is living in rural areas. This quickly happened after Mongolia’s large farms became private and hundreds of herders became unemployed and without government benefits.

Most of the rural poor live nomadic lifestyles, moving from area to area with their families in order to feed cattle and find food. Some families live in soums, or villages consisting of multiple families, and some rural families, particularly the nomads, live in tents known as ger. The benefit of living in soums is the ability to obtain some form of education, health services, and essential necessities.

Those living in rural areas rely on their animals for food and making money.

With much of the fertile land being utilized for feeding cattle, there has been a severe increase in land degradation. Mongolia has yet to find strengthening mechanisms for sustainable land management or a method to control desertification. Without these forms of protection, Mongolia is at an increasing risk of losing what little remains of one of their most needed natural resources: fertile land.

Desertification brings with it many struggles; drought and causing land to become irreparable are among the worst-case scenarios. With more and more of the land being overgrazed, little land will be left for agriculture, herding, and living. Mongolia is already naturally a very dry climate with little rainfall and plant growth, which is only worsened by the constant migration, over-cultivated land, and now competition for natural resources.

– Rebecca Felcon

Sources: Rural Poverty Portal, Scoop World
Photo: Stephane L

French_Guiana_poverty
Having become part of France in the 17th century and nowadays administered as part of France just like Aquitaine or Brittany, French Guiana has one of the highest living standards in South America. Interestingly, as a consequent, it is also part of the European Union despite being located in the Americas. In spite of this, the overseas department is one of France’s poorest regions and has long been suffering from youth unemployment.

In the 1990s, street violence with its origin in youth unemployment broke out on the streets. Even nowadays, unemployment in general remains above 20%, while in the rest of France, that figure is, even with the Eurozone Crisis and recent recession, 10.4%, half the regular unemployment rates in French Guiana. The Guianese population has 25 percent of its citizens living below the poverty line, the highest among France’s overseas departments.

The economic situation of France’s overseas departments in the Western Hemisphere, which, aside from French Guiana, also include the picturesque Caribbean islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe, has been the cause of much discontent towards Paris. As living costs rise, the wages remain stagnant and the economies, relying heavily on La Métropole’s subsidization, the people of the overseas departments took to the streets to participate in that most French of activities: les grèves—strikes.

In France, this department also has the infamy of the AIDS epidemic. For every 100 pregnant women, one of them is HIV positive. The department also holds the record for the highest number of children per woman both in France and within the E.U.—four children per woman. Also, terrifyingly, the infant mortality rate of French Guiana is at 11.8 per 1,000 live births, whereas in the rest of France, the average is merely at three.

These are vexing numerical figures for what is supposed to be part of an industrialized and prosperous Western European country.

There is also quite a noticeable discrepancy between the department’s mines and natural wealth and its socio-economics. Despite being peppered with gold mines, rich with natural resources and also being home to the E.U.’s space agency, the aforementioned figures resemble those from certain corners of the underdeveloped world. Perhaps because of the central government’s long negligence due to the department’s distance and its tiny population of only a little bit less than 250,000 people—almost half of that of the much smaller island Guadeloupe—French Guiana has been allowed to languish in poverty and relative underdevelopment.

However, this state of poverty can also be attributed to the department’s own micro-economic character and the fact that its two main economies are the said space agency and gold mining. These two activities can hardly benefit the population at large. Lastly, being part of, though non-contiguous to, a very prosperous nation world-renown for its high quality of life, French Guiana’s abject poverty often gets looked over by the figurative radars of NGOs and aid organizations.

With the large gross domestic product per capita gap between French Guiana and Metropolitan France almost nearing $30,000 difference per annum, the issue of poverty in this overseas department, thus, should demand more attention in order find a solution.

– Peewara Sapsuwan

Sources: BBC, The Guardian, Minorites, Institut National de la Statistique et des Études Économiques, McGill Research Group Investigating Canadian Mining in Latin America, Pan American Health Organization, CNN, World Bank
Photo: Top 10 List

Pakistan

According to The Nation, women in Pakistan are forced to make bricks in order to pay off the debt their families have incurred.

“Living without running water, and often trapped by their employers for the rest of their lives, these women are forced to work in brick kilns, agricultural fields and other hard labour industries to clear debts which overshadow their families’ lives,” said the Pakistani news agency.

There is no reliable statistic regarding the number of Pakistanis who are currently enslaved as bonded laborers. However, according to the National Coalition Against Bonded Labour, these individuals exist throughout the country not only in the brick industry, but also the agriculture and carpet industries.

Moreover, the Associated Press estimates that “tens of thousands” of poor Pakistanis work within these industries.

“Bonded labor is the most widely used method of enslaving people around the world,” The Nation said. “The person is then tricked or trapped into working for very little or no pay, often for seven days a week.”

In many instances, the amount of work that debt slaves put throughout their lives far exceeds the amount of money they initially borrowed. But instead of quitting, the victims continue to work because they are constantly threatened with physical violence.

 

Facts on Modern Slavery

 

The Pakistani government, along with the world community, prohibits the practice of debt slavery. However, it is highly inefficient when it comes to enforcing the laws and punishing the people who profit from slavery.

Developed countries and humanitarian organizations are highly critical of modern day slavery. Human Rights Watch (HRW) argues that bonded labor is more common in the southern Punjab and Sindh regions of Pakistan.

“Bondage in agrarian regions involves the purchase and sale of peasants among landlords, the maintenance of private jails to discipline and punish peasants, the forcible transference of teachers who train peasants to maintain proper financial accounts and a patter of rape of peasant women by landlords and the police,” said the organization.

HRW also ties this issue into poverty by explaining that bonded laborers either work in the agricultural industry or the “informal economy.”

This is a vicious circle in which the landless poor “are denied access to institutional forms of credit and must therefore rely on landlords, moneylenders and employers.”

To end debt slavery in Pakistan, the government can work harder to enforce the laws already banning the practice. With debt slavery, individuals are fooled into working in horrible conditions for the rest of their lives.

– Juan Campos

Sources: AP, The Nation, Human Rights Watch

contraceptive_devices
Compared to other African nations, South Africa has one of the most progressive laws on women’s reproductive health. The South African Bill of Rights affirms the “right to reproductive health care and bodily integrity.” The 1994 Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Act granted their women access to abortion services in state clinics within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

Despite these laws that make abortion legal in South Africa, reproductive services face social stigma and are not widely accessible or available. These obstacles push underage girls into performing illegal abortions. These operations are not only risky to the fetus, but to the girl as well.

In South Africa, around 80,000 babies are born to girls under the age of 18. Underage girls giving birth have a higher risk of miscarriage and maternal mortality.

Starting in June, a new contraceptive device will be available free to women at all state clinics. The price of the device is normally 1,700 South African Rand (roughly $157) at a private doctor. South African Health Minister Dr. Aaron Motsoaledi launched this plan at the National Assembly, calling it the “biggest family planning program South Africa has ever seen.”

The contraceptive is a tiny sub-dermal implant that is placed below the skin of the arm. It releases hormones that prevent ovaries from releasing eggs and also thickens the cervical mucous.

It lasts for three years and is expected to reduce unwanted births, illegal abortions, teenage pregnancies and maternal mortality. It does not protect against HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. Compared to contraceptive injections that could take up to a year for the effects to disappear, this implant can be removed at any moment and its effects would wear off in only a few weeks.

Contraception gives girls and women more freedom and control over their lives. It prevents early pregnancies until they choose to give birth. This allows girls to develop skills, to enter the workforce and contribute to their families and the economy.

Numerous research studies show that women’s empowerment and economic growth are closely connected. In countries where women’s empowerment is progressing, its economic growth is also improving as well. It may also be argued that economic development contributes to the advancement of women’s rights and empowerment.

Developing nations can look towards South Africa’s example of promoting women’s empowerment to decrease population growth and reduce maternal mortality, illegal abortions and unwanted births. Although contraceptives face stigma and are spurned by various societies, it can also provide the answer to a multitude of problems.

– Sarah Yan

Sources: Afrika, The New Age
Photo: Sunrise Ranch

akon_lighting_africa_project
Every day, 600 million Africans live in the dark with no access to electricity, which is making it difficult for students to read, clinics to properly store vaccines and businesses to operate outside of natural light hours.

The energy crisis in Africa, particularly in the Sub-Saharan countries, leaves many people in poverty. In a place where work stops when the sun goes down, it is hard to advance in the workplace, which is making employment opportunities scarce. And, when power is available, it is often unreliable and can cause power outages.

Senegalese pop-star Akon, in partnership with Give1 Project and Africa Development Solutions Global Corporation, aims to give electricity to one million households in nine West and Central African countries by the end of 2014.

The Akon Lighting Africa project involves installing solar equipment in rural households in Senegal, Mali, Guinea Conakry, Gambia, Burkina Faso, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Congo and the Ivory Coast.

Originally from Senegal, Akon, whose real name is Aliaune Badera Thiam, is on tour of the beneficiary countries to meet with presidents and leaders.

“We wanted to focus the project on rural areas because we often forget that our parents in these remote areas need electricity,” Akon was quoted saying after meeting Burkinabe President Blaise Campore.

The project also aims to improve education quality and sustainable infrastructure. Improved electricity would lengthen hours of education, allowing students the opportunity to succeed.

Akon was born in St. Louis to two musician parents; he spent much of his childhood in Senegal. Despite living in the United States, Akon keeps his homeland in the forefront of his business ventures.

He started a charity in Africa that aims to empower youth by promoting health and education. The Konfidence Foundation concentrates its efforts in Senegal and West Africa, but Akon hopes the foundation will serve as an international platform to empower individuals, communities and nations.

Akon Lighting Africa is the pop star’s most recent project that aims to help Sub-Saharan African countries become self-sufficient. The sustainable energy project has a mission to help the infrastructure, education and economy of the beneficiary countries.

– Haley Sklut

Sources:  Africa Review, World Bank, Konfidence
Photo: Trace

young migrants
On February 14th, the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) released the 2013 World Youth Report, aimed at addressing the significant impact of young migrants on both origin and destination countries. The report also highlights the specific concerns, challenges and successes faced by migrants across the globe.

Whether it be for work, study or family reasons, voluntary migration continues to increase every year. The UN estimates that there are 232 million international migrants worldwide, representing 3.2% of the world’s total population. More than 30% of these migrants are considered youth migrants under the age of 29 and approximately half of these are female.

Youth migration has a significant impact on not only individual lives, but also global economies. Many young migrants leave their country of origin in search of better job opportunities and often send remittances home to benefit their families. These individuals improve their financial situations while engaging in economic transactions that will benefit their destination country.

However, countries of origin often suffer the negative effects of “brain drain,” or human capital flight. This is the process by which professionals, often in the fields of health or education, leave developing countries in search of a higher salary and better living conditions.

The report also goes into detail about the specific struggles and opportunities that young migrants can face.

In the preparatory stage, migrants cited the difficulties they faced in obtaining accurate information about their intended destination, as well as in obtaining needed documents and making travel accommodations.

On arrival, migrants noted experiencing both culture shock and loneliness. Often communication barriers had to be overcome and in the long term, many faced both stereotyping and discrimination.

The report notes some recommendations made by migrants to ease the transition from origin to destination country. Among these is the development of tools to assess the readiness of a migrant and to help facilitate decision-making and planning. They recommended peer-to-peer initiatives, pre-departure orientation programs, and awareness-raising campaigns.

Despite these challenges, many young migrants have become exemplary examples of what can be achieved in the face of adversity.

As the report notes, “their capacity as agents of social change and development should not be underestimated.”

Mollie O’Brien

Sources: UN News Centre, United Nation Regional Information Centre for Western Europe
Photo: Caritas