On the heels of President Obama’s trip to Africa, the United States Global Leadership Coalition (USGLC) gathered to unveil their 2013 campaign, “Innovations in Smart Power.” Composed of authorities from both the public and private sector, the conference rested on one key theme: the idea that through mutual cooperation, smart policy making, and dedication, we have the power to reduce global poverty to below 3% of the global population.

In doing so, the coalition argues, we can create a framework to yield unprecedented return on investments. In turn, national security and peace will become more attainable than ever before. In essence, everyone wins.

The USGLC is a Washington D.C. based organization representing over 400 American businesses, NGOs, diplomats, government and military advisors, and policy makers. Through mutual cooperation the USGLC hopes to foster an environment of American global leadership through “strategic investment in development and diplomacy.”

Over the course of the two-day conference, a vibrant spectrum of global leaders heralded the efficacy of government/public sector cooperation. Microsoft’s/USAID’s partnership, 4Afrika, aims to equip underprivileged Africans with mobile phones and provides a crucial communications service while simultaneously creating a foundation for an emerging market. Similarly, Merck’s partnership with Mectizan Donation Program is working to effectively rid the world of onchocerciasis, more commonly referred to as “river-blindness.”

Cooperation on such a level has been described by World Bank President, Jim Yong Kim, as a shift in the global business ethos to “do good” while “doing well.” And with developing countries expected to grow at a rate of up to three times faster than developed nations, there is a clear indication that investment in the developing world could greatly benefit the private sector.

To this point, Unites States Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew argued the unique position we, as the United States, occupy in battling global poverty in a practical sense. Through engagement and utilization of “Smart power,” we can spearhead a culture of mutual cooperation between public, private, and NGO entities in the pursuit of global development and poverty reduction.

When Lew speaks of “Smart Power,” he is referencing what is commonly referred to by International Relations academics as “Soft Power.” Coined by Joseph Nye, Dean of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, Soft Power is “the ability to get what you want through attraction rather than coercion.” Rather than defeating the enemy through military might, he argues, we win their hearts and minds through building schools and hospitals.

As a nation with unparalleled economic and military power, Lew argues Smart Power is a vital yet underutilized arrow in our national quiver. “It can’t just be about doing good. It is about doing good to help end poverty and improve the quality of life, but it is also very practical.” Lew continues, “from the government perspective, it is about security because we are safer in a world where we have stability and they aren’t starving.”

“The two [smart and hard power] together,” Lew says, “give us an enormously enhanced ability to make the world a safer and better place.” Bearing this in mind, it is important to emphasize that the percentage of our national budget allocated to International and Foreign Affairs, is roughly 1%. At the same time, however, defense spending eats up roughly 15% of the budget.

What the USGLC hopes to convey, in the end, is there rests far more opportunity in a world where there is peace and prosperity. Through encouraging peace through peaceful means, we are not only expressing good will, we are renovating the foundation on which society sits.

– Thomas van der List

Sources: Mectizan, USGLC, YouTube, UCLA, USGLC
Photo: US General Services Administration

Obama Electrify Africa
According to the International Energy Agency, all developing nations lack adequate access to electricity. This amounts to 1.3 billion people living in the dark worldwide. According to the same source, an investment of $1 trillion USD would be needed to remedy this. Currently, poverty and hunger take center stage. Food is of more use to a starving child than is a night light, but Westerners often take for granted how valuable the power of light can be to a community in poverty.

Not only does electricity make lives easier on a personal level, it helps to mechanize farming operations, which can be a great boost to a company’s agricultural productivity. Natural disasters often become less deadly when people are warned about them ahead of time, which can be accomplished with electric monitoring systems. Socially, populations are less marginalized with improved means of communication and information.

President Barack Obama said during his recent trip to South Africa, “Access to electricity is fundamental to opportunity in this age. It’s the light that children study by, the energy that allows an idea to be transformed into a real business. It’s the lifeline for families to meet their most basic needs, and it’s the connection that’s needed to plug Africa into the grid of the global economy.” President Obama then pledged almost $7 billion USD to help provide electricity for Africa.

The White House stated that The Export-Import Bank will carry most of the financial weight of the program, donating $5 billion, and the U.S. Oversees Private Investment Corporation will provide another $1.5 billion.

The funds will go toward preventing the frequent blackouts that plague the Sub-Saharan part of the continent, as well as helping the 85% percent of people in the region without electricity gain access to it. Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, Liberia, Nigeria, Tanzania and Mozambique will be the first countries to benefit from the program as it is developed at preliminary stages.

The investment is a great step toward solving the problem, but in all, Africa alone will need $300 billion to achieve universal electricity by 2030. The Alliance for Rural Electrification, a non-government organization, is another ally in combating this issue. As champions of universal electrification, ARE focuses on renewable energy such as solar, which much of Africa is a strong candidate for. This is especially relevant for areas that are geographically isolated where extending the reach of an existing power grid is not feasible.

– Samantha Mauney

Source: ARE, Scientific American, CNN
Photo: Business Insider

President Obama kicked off his tour of three African countries with a visit to the coastal francophone nation of Senegal.  Although the visit to the small West African country was framed as a reward for regional leadership and democratic successes, Obama did face a few challenges on the first stop of his week-long African trip.

Six years and only one African visit after his initial election, the Obama-mania of the continent has cooled substantially.  And while Obama was greeted by crowds of proud Senegalese wearing ‘Welcome Home, Mr. President’ t-shirts, some critics expressed concerns over the government-sanctioned ‘sanitization’ of the usually chaotic capital of Dakar in preparation for Obama’s arrival.

Despite the polished front, poverty, hunger and lack of opportunity are still the reality for the majority of Senegalese living on the fringe, and many citizens are hopeful that Obama’s visit is a sign of increased partnership and aid to come.  In his speech, however, Obama focused primarily on questions regarding domestic issues, not regional economic development.

Also on the agenda was a visit by the President and First Lady to the House of Slaves on Gorée Island, a UNESCO site and infamous historical slave trade hub where thousands of enslaved Africans were held before being shipped across the Atlantic.  Obama called the sobering visit to the site ‘…a powerful moment,’ and spoke of the importance of taking action on human rights and issues of equality.

President Obama also spoke encouragingly of Africa’s global importance as a continent full of potential. ‘The reason I came to Africa is because Africa is rising,’ Mr. Obama said. ‘And it is in the United States’ interests — not simply in Africa’s interests — that the United States don’t miss the opportunity to deepen and broaden the partnerships and potential here.’

He continued, ‘This is going to be a continent that is on the move. It is young. It is vibrant and full of energy. And there’s a reason why a lot of other countries around the world are spending a lot of time here.’

The President’s trip to Africa also included visits to Tanzania and South Africa and marked an important effort at shaping policy on trade, security, and human rights in the region.

– David Wilson

Sources: New York Times, USA Today
Photo: Breitbart

Obama in Senegal
President Obama’s first stop on his trip to Africa was Senegal, a fitting choice for a president who has made agriculture and food security major issues during his presidency. Senegal’s recent progress, which the President mentioned during his speech in Dakar, exemplifies the promise of the President’s approach to agriculture and food security.

In recent years, Senegal has made great strides in improving the standard of living for its citizens. The country has reduced poverty dramatically and is on track to halve the proportion of the population whose income is less than $1.25 per day.

Senegal’s government has also prioritized spending on agriculture. Agriculture expenditures represented 109.6 million, or 9.5% of the government’s total spending for 2011. Between 2003 and 2009, Senegal spent an average of 12.1% of the budget on agriculture. This increased spending has translated into strong growth for the sector.

The United States has played a large role in Senegal’s improvements and will continue to support the country. The U.S. plans to continue supporting programs that improve farmer productivity. With U.S. support, Senegal’s national agriculture plan emphasizes strengthening crop productivity through the distribution of seeds, fertilizers, and tools.

The private sector of the United States can also play a crucial role in the development of the agricultural sector of Senegal. In the President’s remarks in Dakar, he said he looks forward to Senegal joining the G8’s New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition later this year. The New Alliance’s model combines pro-investment policies committed to by African governments, substantial private sector investments to strengthen agricultural productivity for smallholder farms, and donor government support for country-led plans.

– Matthew Jackoski

Source: ABC News, ONE
Photo: Global Post

Exciting news in the social media world: now, when Instagram fans scroll through their picture feeds they just may see a post from First Lady Michelle Obama.

Social media outlets like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram are powerful tools of the modern technology age that can help people stay in touch, form connections, and share news with the world. Michelle Obama has become Instagram’s latest celebrity member, posting for the first time from Senegal on June 27th.

Her first Instagram post was a picture of her with a group of women in Senegal with the caption, “My first instagram! So inspired and so impressed by these extraordinary young women. -mo #FLOTUSinAfrica.” Since that first post, the First Lady has posted 14 photos and gained nearly 300,000 followers.

By joining a social media site that is popular amongst all ages, Michelle Obama has shown both an acceptance of the technology age and recognition of social media as a powerful advocacy tool. Non-profit organizations and influential businesses are increasingly using websites like Instagram to spread the word about their cause and garner support.

Using Instagram to spread the news of the Obamas’ trip to Africa provides the world with a different view of the family’s noteworthy trip, and a more personal story that is not told on popular news channels.

Moreover, Michelle Obama has taken to signing her posts with an intimate “-mo” that makes the Instagram account seem more like a personal blog than a professional tool. Mrs. Obama’s account gives political photos a unique angle that reminds the world that, at their core, the Obamas are just a family.

Check out Michelle Obama’s Instagram account to keep updated on the family’s travels, get a refreshing break from the 24 hour news cycle’s repetitive reporting, or to feel a little more important knowing that you are somehow connected to Michelle Obama, even if only by a social media site.

– Alexandra Bruschi

Sources: AAUW, CNN, Instagram
Photo: CNN


President Obama promised more funds dedicated to developing electrical power in Africa during his recent trip to the continent. His plan, named Power Africa, aims to double the electrical power available in Sub-Saharan Africa through public and private investments.

Currently, only one-third of the population living in Sub-Saharan Africa has access to electricity. In rural areas, as much as 85% of the population is living without power. Lack of electricity “inhibits business investment, prevents children from studying after dark, and makes it harder to keep vaccines from spoiling in rural areas”.

Power Africa has dedicated $7 billion of American funds to expand the accessibility of electricity in the continent, in addition to $9 billion that is expected to be provided by the private sector. It is anticipated that small and large companies alike will help make the investment in African electricity, as the investment helps produce jobs in America. With better access to electricity, African nations will increase economic productivity and become more connected to the global economy, creating a larger potential market for American exports. The investment will also create better relations with the continent, which is also working with China on a number of development projects.

President Obama states that his proposed project “is not charity; [it] is self-interest.” His main incentive in promoting the project is to create trade with the continent and to encourage using green technologies to power the continent. Most of the African continent is well-suited for the use of solar panels to generate electricity, providing electricity without producing greenhouse gases. Large deposits of natural gas are also found in the continent, providing a cleaner alternative than generating energy by burning coal or gasoline.

The United States will first begin implementing Power Africa in Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria, and Tanzania. It will also work with Uganda and Mozambique to develop “oil and gas management”.

 – Jordan Kline
Source: Reuters, NPR
Photo: Breitbart

April 24, 2013 marked the 98th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide by the Ottoman government. Each year, hundreds and thousands of supporters march and protest throughout countries such as a Georgia, France, Germany, Iran, and, of course, the United States. They call for not only recognition from the Turkish government of the mass murder of 1.5 million Armenians, but also reparations such as the return of ancestral lands to Armenia as well as redrafting the border lines set in Woodrow Wilson’s 1920 Treaty of Sévres.

While 43 states in the U.S. recognize the genocide, President Obama himself has refused time and time again to refer to the event by its intended name, ‘the Armenian Genocide’. His conflict come from obvious political issues and concerns with America’s relationship and alliance with the Turkish government.

Despite his lack of efforts to recognize a significant historical event, many Congressmen and Senators stand strong with the Armenians. Congressman Adam Schiff from the 28th District in California (including areas of the San Fernando Valley, Glendale, Burbank, and northern Los Angeles suburbs) stood in front of the U.S. House recently and spoke in Armenian, commemorating the genocide. Throughout the years, Schiff has proven to be a voice for the Armenian communities he serves in the capitol.

What is tragic about the situation, not only about the actual killings from 1915-1923, is the way a modern-day republic such as Turkey is able to deny its actions. Many Turks come out to counter-protest Armenians on the remembrance day, not only rejecting their family stories and proofs, but going so far as to claim that things were the other way around, where Armenians in Anatolia killed Turks.

When it comes to the most horrific atrocities committed in the 20th and 21st centuries, including but in no way limited to the genocides in Rwanda, against Native Americans, the Circassian Genocide, that of the Chechens, the Kurds, Tibet, Congo, and countless more, there should be no option for denial. In an age where it even seems silly to argue over petty political procedures and media-made alliances, countries should be held responsible for accurately depicting their histories.

Humanitarian abuses occur around the world on a daily basis. When passionate activists have quite literally exhausted themselves and their resources, the battles are left to the politicians. If they are not given a political or economic motive to make those changes, it is up to the people they service to verify their desires and requests to do so.

– Deena Dulgerian

Photo: Armenian National Team

dennis and kim

Last month, ex-NBA basketball player, Dennis Rodman, did what many political leaders will never have the opportunity to do. He made the long trip over to North Korea and met with its mysterious and very powerful leader, Kim Jong Un.

North Korea is known for its isolation, yet, recently, has begun to make huge headlines in the United States. North Korea and the United States have never been allies and tension between the two countries have existed for years. North Korea’s nuclear test last month has only increased this tension, making new threats against American military bases in Japan and in Guam even more pressing and serious. The threat came earlier this month from a spokesperson for the Supreme Command of the North Korean People’s Army, who said “the U.S. should not forget that the Andersen Air Force Base on Guam, where B-52s take off, and naval bases in Japan proper and Okinawa, where nuclear-powered submarines are launched, are within the striking range of the D.P.R.K.’s precision strike means.” Videos depicting the White House and Congress buildings being blown up have recently come out of North Korea.

Yet, even with all of this, communication between President Obama and Kim Jong Un has been very little. In fact, any communication on the matter, is made through the media. The spokesperson for the Supreme Command of the North Korean People’s Army made his statement to the state-run Korean Central News Agency. The Pentagon retaliated by making a rare announcement about the missions nucelar-capable B-52 bombers have and will continue to take over South Korea.

Chances of any U.S. political official making his or her way to a police state, such as North Korea is very rare. And, yet, Dennis Rodman recently acted as an ambassador for the Harlem Globetrotters, flying to North Korea to meet and spend two days with Kim Jong Un.

Dennis Rodman has come back with a lot of insight into Kim Jong Un, making it seem as if the North Korean dictator is willing to speak directly with President Obama to meet some sort of peace agreement. He even offered advice to Kim Jong Un in talking to President Obama, saying, “[Kim] loves basketball. And I said the same thing, I said, ‘Obama loves basketball.’ Let’s start there.” While President Obama has not made any efforts to talk to Kim Jong Un, Dennis Rodman has been making his rounds to talk about his trip to North Korea, appearing on many talk and news shows. Recently he appeared on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and referred to Kim Jong Un as his friend and a nice guy. In an interview on “This Week,” Dennis Rodman on talking about Kim Jong Un said, “I love him. He’s awesome.”

Whether or not Dennis Rodman’s knowledge of North Korea and Kim Jong Un will be helpful to the United States in its dispute with North Korea is unknown as U.S. State Department officials have no plans to debrief the former basketball star. Former deputy assistant secretary of state, Col. Steve Ganyard, finds this ridiculous as  “There is nobody at the CIA who can tell you more personally about Kim Jong Un than Dennis Rodman.”

-Angela Hooks

Sources: CNN, NY Times, ABC News
Photo: CBS News

More US Aid to Jordan to Help With Syrian Refugees

The Civil War in Syria has driven thousands of people out of the country and into Jordan. This has resulted in major problems in Jordan as they try to figure out what to do with all of the Syrian refugees. Recently, President Barack Obama made a public announcement offering $200 million in U.S. aid to help with the Syrian refugees in Jordan.

This pledge from Barack Obama for foreign aid money comes at an interesting time as it follows the extensive budget cuts recently put in place by the United States Congress. However, President Obama seems adamant on offering aid money to Jordan for basic services to help place and educate displaced Syrians, saying he will work with Congress to find a way to give $200 million extra dollars in U.S. aid. According to  Jordan’s King Abdullah II, whom Obama met with on Friday, March 22, more than 460,000 Syrians have fled their country in search of refuge within the Jordanian borders. This number is estimated to double in the upcoming months if the turmoil in Syria continues.

Putting these numbers into perspective: 460,000 people make up approximately a tenth of the Jordanian population. Doubling the number of Syrian refugees causes an almost 25% increase in the number of people in Jordan.

This increase in people will have serious effects on the economic situation in Jordan. Some economists predict a nearly 30% unemployment rate by the end of the year as more and more Syrians pour into the county. These many refugees are also predicted to cost over $1 billion. Yet, King Abdullah pledges to not turn away any refugees, asking “how are you going to turn back women, children or the wounded?”

The Obama administration seems committed to helping end the fighting in Syria, pushing for the current Syrian president Assad to step down. Yet, Obama absolutely refuses to provide U.S. military assistance for the Syrian opposition movement, saying that interference may discredit the message the Syrian rebels are advocating or may lead to even larger security issues. Financial support in Jordan to take care of the many Syrian refugees seems to be a substitute solution for showing its support for bringing peace to Syria without getting directly involved in the civil war.

Obama pledging the extra aid money is only half of the equation. Congress must now scrape together this money, which may be a difficult task, as evident from the inability for Congress to come to an agreement over budget cuts.

– Angela Hooks

Sources: CNN, Wall Street Journal
Photo: UPI

Will Capping Charity Deductions Hurt?
Despite Congress’ efforts in January to increase the tax savings for charitable donations, Obama’s newest proposal will lower it from the current 39.6% to 28%.  A cap on itemized deductions basically means that when someone makes a charitable donation, the amount that they can claim on their itemized tax deduction is now about 10.8% less than before. For example, say a person who earns about $450,000 a year makes a donation of $1000 to UNICEF. Originally, they would be able to write off $396 but with the change in charity deductions, can only write off $280.

This change, however, will only affect those in the top 35% tax bracket (those who make more than $335,000). For Obama, this is a major source of money that he would use to help pay for the $447 billion job plan he introduced a few years ago. It is also a way to make sure that the rich are paying a higher share of taxes and eliminating the loophole of writing-off thousands and thousands of dollars.

But what does this mean for nonprofits? And aside from them, what does the fact that this is even an issue mean about society and giving in general? To tackle the first question, referred to a study by economists John Bakija and Bradley Heim that concludes that for every 1% decrease in savings (in this case, about 10.8%), there is an equal 1% decrease in the amount given. They do, however, mention that there are many other factors that affect how much donors give and that this change will affect each charity in a different way.

The second question seems to be the elephant in the room. It is not naive to assume that people choose to give from the heart. Yes, we live in a country that allows those who donate to receive some sort of benefit for doing so, but at a time where our passions for a cause should be the driving cause of our actions and charity, why would receiving only 11% less on a donation make the wealthy hesitate when giving to a cause?

Perhaps the charted out reductions in total donations is frightening to some charities. They should still remain hopeful that there are those in the 35% tax bracket who will continue to donate at the rates they have previously, regardless of this new change in policy. Obama’s intent to bridge the income gap and require the wealthy to pay more taxes is understandable; but so is the fear of many nonprofit organizations.

– Deena Dulgerian

Source: The Chronicle of Philanthropy
Photo: Times Union