holiday gifts
According to the National Retail Federation, Americans are projected to spend over $600 billion on holiday gifts during the 2014 season alone. A staggering statistic when compared to the fact that an estimated $40 billion would be necessary to provide clean water and sanitation, reproductive health for women and basic education, health and nutrition to every person living in a developing country worldwide.

Fortunately, many nonprofits, online marketplaces and charitable organizations are doing something to help redirect some of the money that Americans spend each holiday season to those who need it most. If you’re in the market for a gift that does double-duty this year, check out the following stores and nonprofit organizations for ample meaningful gift ideas:

1. Heifer International:

Give the gift of an animal in your friend or family’s name and help provide a family in a developing country with both food and a reliable source of income. Heifer International

2. Books for Africa:

Honor a friend or family with a book donation through Books for Africa (BFA), a non-profit dedicated to increasing literacy rates and children’s access to books in Africa. For donations of $50 or more, BFA will send a hand-written thank-you note to your honoree. $50 provides 100 books for a classroom. Books for Africa

3. Oxfam America Unwrapped:

Browse an endless array of gifts online—from goats and honeybees, to books and school meal programs for kids—and give to a family or child in need on behalf of a friend or family member. In return, a free, personalized card will be sent to the ‘gift-giver,’ along with a photo of the gift and information about how specifically it makes a difference in the lives of people living in poverty. Oxfam America Unwrapped

4. JADEtribe:

100 percent natural and ethical, JADEtribe’s bags, clothing and accessories truly embody the phrase “fashion with a conscience.” Each piece is handcrafted by women in South East Asia, and proceeds from JADEtribe purchases directly improve the lives of the female artisans who contribute to the company’s extensive selection. JADEtribe

5. Global Goods Partners:

Artisans living in third-world countries have an opportunity to sell their beautiful handmade goods on this online marketplace. Purchase a gift from this site, and a high percentage of sales will go directly back to the artisan who made it. Global Goods Partners

6. Ten Thousand Villages:

A fair-trade retailer since 1946, Ten Thousand Villages has stores across the United States, and an extensive collection of jewelry, clothing, kitchen and household items, and home décor, among many other gift ideas. The store partners with artisans around the world, in Bangladesh, India, Nigeria, Cambodia and Peru, among dozens of other countries. Its mission: sustain livelihoods, empower women, preserve cultural arts, and build global relationships. Ten Thousand Villages for online purchases or to find a store near you.

7. The Little Market:

Lauren Conrad’s e-commerce site, which is filled with vibrant, handmade goods, was created to serve as a platform for female artisans living in third-world countries worldwide to reach a wider audience. The proceeds for items such as jewelry, clothing, bags and ceramics go directly back to the women who made them. The Little Market

8. Bead for Life:

Bead for Life was founded to empower women in Uganda by helping them start their own bead-making businesses. The Beading Program provides women in impoverished countries with a steady source of income, derived from handcrafted beaded jewelry. Invite friends and family to shop for the cause by hosting a Beading Party from your home; a customized inventory of jewelry will be sent directly to your doorstep beforehand. Or order beads online. Bead for Life

Whether you’re giving a life-changing gift of an animal to a family in need, or wrapping a selection of handmade bags, scarves and jewelry that will help support the livelihood and businesses of female artisans worldwide, choosing a gift from the above list automatically makes you an ally in the fight against global poverty. Why not send a feel-good present or two this year, when it’s guaranteed to touch the friend or family member you’re choosing to honor, and to alter the lives of the person, family or community on its receiving end?

– Elizabeth Nutt

Sources: The Borgen Project, Info Wars
Photo: Nugget Market

zillow
Years ago, prospective homeowners would go to local real estate agencies to look for housing. It used to be that real estate agents held exclusive knowledge of the local and national housing market and that any buyer had to go through their local agency to find and purchase a new house.

Today, companies like Zillow Inc. and Trulia Inc. streamline the process with their online platforms. They offer searchable databases of real estate data for free to any online user, and make profits on advertising and agent listings. Together, both companies dominate the online marketplace and have 68.4 million unique users as of June.

On July 28, Zillow Inc. announced it had agreed to acquire Trulia Inc. for $3.5 billion in stock transactions. The purchase comes at a time when both sites are booming with user interaction, but profit from the online platforms is not yet optimal. Zillow CEO Spencer Rascoff believes the acquisition of Trulia Inc. will help both companies cut costs and increase efficiency overall. As the Chicago Tribune reported, Rascoff told financial analysts that both companies “independently [have] very large rental audiences and…both [are] in the early stages of monetizing those rental audiences.”

The deal has the potential to help consumers engage with real estate data more efficiently and at a cheaper price, but the money spent on Zillow’s acquisition is substantial. If spent on advancing the interests and development of the poor, that money would have a tangibly greater social impact.

The World Food Programme (WFP,) for example, recently announced that it was unable to provide food to nearly 800,000 due to budget shortfalls. United Nations WFP Executive Director Ertharin Cousin and U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres urged donors to provide an additional $186 million in funding to provide food rations to nearly 800 thousand. If not, food aid would have to be cut, threatening already high levels of malnutrition and anemia among refugee populations.

If the same money that was spent acquiring Trulia Inc. went to providing food to refugees, approximately 15.1 million more refugees would benefit from food rations from the WFP. Put another way, 2.4 million refugees depend on food aid from the WFP each year. If $3.5 billion was invested, every African refugee would have his or her nutritional needs met for over six years, based on U.N. and WFP figures.

The money spent on advancing the online potential of the real estate industry is an important development to consumer interests; however, even small monetary developments can have significant impacts when invested in the poor.

– Joseph McAdams

Sources: Chicago Tribune, LA Times, World Food Programme
Photo: LA Times

lake victoria treaty
Representatives from Israel, Germany and Kenya signed a treaty that will initiate the second phase of the plan to protect Lake Victoria.

The Lake Victoria treaty was signed on July 11 in Nairobi.

“Kenya committed 600,00 Euros; Germany committed 400,000 Euros; and Israel committed 200,000 Euros for training, support, and also equipment, totaling 1.2 million Euros for the next two and a half years,” said Andrea Bahm, program director at the German Agency for International Cooperation’s Food Security and Drought Resilience Program

The first phase of the treaty was signed and implemented in 2012, and aimed to improve the environment surrounding and within Lake Victoria. As the population surrounding the lake grew, the population of fish steadily depleted every year, and the treaty was enacted to prevent total depletion of fish from Lake Victoria.

Phase I involved promoting tilapia fish farming in an effort to support the community’s economy and livelihood. Phase I also included implementing a better system to manage the water waste in the Lake so the tilapia could more readily thrive.

Phase II will involve extending the project and funding and cooperation from the three countries that signed the treaty. Through this second phase, the treaty aims to ensure that the three countries will work to “enhance sustainable ways of protecting Lake Victoria’s environment but creating alternative livelihoods for the communities living around the lake.”

Plans to create lasting means of support involve building more ponds in Kenya to expand the areas in which tilapia can be raised and later used for food.

Jordyn Horowitz

Sources: Israel Diplomatic Network, Sada Elbalad, World Bank
Photo: SafariLands

Rope isolated on white background
In recent years, the issue of conflict diamonds has become a major human rights issue. A conflict diamond is a diamond mined in the war zones throughout Africa to fund the recurring civil wars there. Despite the attention given by the media and the increase in the awareness of this issue, conflict diamonds are still being produced and distributed at an alarming rate.

Since the 1990s, conflict diamonds have funded wars in areas such as Angola, Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Rebels in these areas typically gain control of necessary natural resources, such as oil, wood, diamonds and other minerals, to attain more weapons and influence over the surrounding communities. These military factions oppose the governments in place, and so they wage violence in their struggle for power. According to Amnesty International, wars in these areas have resulted in the loss of more than 3.7 million lives.

Along with unjust violence, poverty also plays a central role in this issue. According to Brilliant Earth, diamond mining communities are impoverished because the one million diamond miners in Africa earn less than a dollar a day — a wage that is below the extreme poverty level. Since much of this work is unregulated — no labor standards or minimum wage laws are ever enforced — it contributes to the dangerous and unjust nature of this work.

Not only do miners acquire unfair wages, but they also work in dangerous conditions, sometimes without training or the proper tools necessary, and face health problems, such as HIV and malaria. Entire communities are exploited through these mining practices, and as a result, many of these communities lack the ability to develop economically while workers lack fundamental provisions, such as sanitary running water.

Despite the decrease in violence and the recent attention brought to this issue through media coverage and the 2006 film “Blood Diamond,” conflict diamonds are still in existence. These diamonds are sold in the diamond trade to fund rebel militia, and as a result, millions are suffering from both violence and poverty. To help combat this issue, the Kimberly Process was founded in December 2000 by the United Nations General Assembly.

Through the establishment of the Kimberly Process Certification Scheme (KPCS), participating countries now have the opportunity to ensure that all imported diamonds are ‘conflict-free’ and do not support the rebels in those parts of Africa. With 54 participants representing 80 countries, the Kimberly Process has been an important element in the struggle to address this human rights issue.

Even though the Kimberly Process works to halt the trade of conflict diamonds, it cannot stop the violence and poverty that result from these unethical mining practices. Those are two issues that can be addressed separately and efficiently. Unfortunately, poverty is such a huge and central element in many of the human rights issues we face today.

– Meghan Orner

Sources: Amnesty international, Brilliant Earth, Kimberly Process
Photo: Al Jazeera

half_the_sky_Female_Education
The book “Half the Sky” introduces an idea that education is the key to ending global poverty worldwide. The title of the book comes from the founding father of the Republic of China, Mao Zedong, meaning “women hold up half the sky”; unfortunately, millions of these women are living in poverty.

Women make up half of the world’s population, yet more than half of these women are more likely to have an unequal place in society. These women are more likely to be poverty-stricken in these communities than men and are excluded from the public domain which leads to domestic violence.

Because of the inequality placed on women living in poverty in developing nations women tend to not have access which is a key aspect of society. Humans need to have access to healthcare, job opportunities, and basic human rights like clean water and food. In order to fight global poverty, an emphasis of education and access is key to bring an end to poverty and the pain these communities suffer from on a daily basis.

Accordingly, Ph.D. student Katie Conrad at the University of Tennessee believes that women need access to resources in these developing countries where there is also a lack of education for these women. Conrad is a teaching associate for child and family studies at the university, and has based her research in Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender as well as family studies.

Furthermore, Conrad’s area of interest is creating courses for first-year students on campus designed to educate not just women, but men, about sex, dating violence, alcohol and rape culture awareness. She feels as though teaching women in society cannot be done without reaching women globally and stated “education is the major form of empowerment and is a good place to start.”

In particular to teaching women’s studies courses in these devolving countries, Conrad remarks that “being educated on their culture and maintain cultural sensitivity to understand what issues they face” would be a good place to start to bringing education to women in those areas. Conrad believes that women in developing countries need not just access to basic resources but access to support when in an abusive situation. In particular, community support systems are needed to help cope with domestic violence in their society.

In addition, both Conrad and the authors of “Half the Sky” understand that bringing access to resources like female education can help improve all corners of the world and drastically reduce poverty. Therefore the book introduces three steps to bring access to these areas. The first step would be a $10 billion effort over five years to educate girls around the world and reduce the gender gap in education.

The second step would be for the United States to sponsor a global drive to iodize salt in poor countries to prevent tens of millions of children from losing approximately 10 IQ points each as a result of iodine deficiency while their brains are still being formed in the uterus; finally, the third step would be a 12-year, $1.6 billion project to eradicate obstetric fistula while laying the groundwork for a major international assault on maternal mortality.

The need to stress issues like female education are indeed crucial to develop of not only developing nations but our own nation at home.

– Rachel Cannon

Sources: Vialogue, University of Tennessee
Photo: Staci Jae Johnson

Chinas_Water_School
Life as we know it owes a great debt to water. We ourselves are comprised of nearly 70 percent water and can’t live without a regular dose. However millions around the world still live without a reliable, clean water source.

As it turns out, our most precious resource is not nearly as abundant in potable form as human demand requires.

In fact, water is so scarce that 780 million people have no access to clean drinking water. In some cases, as with China’s Yangtze River, the poor quality of the water is in part caused by human activity and waste.

Fortunately China is investing in its water security by bringing school children out of the classroom and to the Yangtze in order to promote conservation and sustainable practices.

Since 2008 this experimental school program has focused on education for sustainable development (ESD). The so-called “Water School” is designed to get China’s children active in the protection and safe treatment of their water resources.

UNESCO and other international organizations are praising the program as a revolutionary and fundamental step for the protection of our vital resources. These organizations hope to sponsor similar programs across the globe by spreading awareness of the positive effects China’s water school has produced.

The program has already involved approximately 130,000 students and 200,000 community members, creating a new intellectual base that is deeply in touch with issues of conservation and water treatment.

Part of the program is to build children’s sense of responsibility to the Yangtze’s natural resources, and also to provide them with experiential learning. Tasks like monitoring PH levels and the health and biodiversity of local ecosystems aim to create a more secure future not just for the water, but also for the wildlife and vegetation that also rely on the river.

According to the project website, “The Water School for a Living Yangtze provides opportunities for young people living in different parts of the Yangtze River Basin to link their learning with the indigenous knowledge, traditional practice, and belief systems of local and more distant communities.”

The other major development for the water school is the way it uses the Yangtze, which cuts through the interior of the continent, as a unifying structure between the variety of cultures that live beside its waters. In that sense, the river acts as a vehicle for social development and promulgates shared responsibility for such a critical natural resource.

– Chase Colton

Sources: UNESCO, Water School, UN Water
Photo:

fracking-in-the-us
With the expansion of the American natural gas industry, hydraulic fracturing—commonly referred to as “fracking”—has been utilized to extract natural gas from shale rock formations deep within the earth. The Eagle Ford Shale in particular is a 400-mile long sedimentary rock formation in Texas that has been one of the most heavily exploited areas for natural gas in America. It has also accounted for one of the most significant energy booms in the country.

However, the practice of fracking has come at cost for the population living within the vast expanse of the Eagle Ford Shale. Fracking has been frequently linked to causing environmental harms such as contaminating water supplies with harmful chemicals and releasing toxic chemicals into the air.

Moreover, the people on the receiving end of environmental repercussions from fracking in the Eagle Ford Shale are mostly members of low-income communities. Impoverished families living in the area commonly complain of “asthma, splitting headaches and other health concerns, all attributed to the air quality.”

The Texas legislature has also failed to be responsive to the environmental concerns of the people. Most of the communities are far from developed areas containing suburbs and cities—which give them very little political influence. An investigation by InsideClimate News found that 42 of the 181 state legislators of Texas have a personal financial stake in the natural gas industry of the Eagle Ford Shale.

As a result, the environmental problems that have arisen for low-income families have been perpetuated by a legislative system that has failed to represent their needs.

An eight-month long investigation carried out by the Weather Channel, the Center for Public Integrity and InsideClimate News has found that air quality throughout the 20,000 square mile region of the Eagle Ford Shale has only five permanent monitors installed—most of which are far from where chemical emissions are highest.

Furthermore, companies that exploit natural gas through fracking have not been held accountable for breaking the law. From January 1, 2010 to November 19, 2013, Eagle Ford residents have filed 284 oil and gas industry complaints, and 164 of those complaints have translated into documented violations. Nevertheless, only two of them resulted in fines, with the largest fine being a mere $14,250.

The expansion of the natural gas industry has received extensive support for its ability to allow for American energy independence and economic prosperity. However, the benefits have come with significant harm to many low-income families who have been unable to remedy their environmental problems.

– Jugal Patel

Sources: InsideClimate News, Salon, The Huffington Post
Photo: Empower Network

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

South Africa_struggles
On March 6 and 7, South Africa experienced mass rolling blackouts. The state owned utility company Eskom, which supplies 95% of the country’s energy supply, had to impose the power shortages after heavy rains made much of the coal at power stations too wet to burn.

Eskom has stated that “Customers can expect two to four hours of blackout at a time.” Additionally, it has requested that large industrial customers reduce their energy consumption by 10%. Many large firms have switched to generators for their power but many smaller enterprises have had no alternative to Eskom’s energy.

Domestic users were also asked to cease all non-essential functions and turn off appliances such as swimming pool pumps and water heaters.

While the recent blackouts are the third energy emergency in two weeks, South Africa had not experienced severe energy shortages since 2008. However, the 2008 blackouts cost the economy billions of dollars as factories and mines had to close, South Africa’s credit rating was downgraded and investment flowed out of the country.

Business organizations have already begun warning of the potential risks of the most recent blackouts.

Naren Rau, CEO of the South African Chamber of Commerce warned that “If we are looking at power constraints of about a day or two, then our losses would be in the lower billions, but if you’re looking at power constraints of a week or more, it’s going to escalate very fast.” Additionally, officials at London-based Nomura International PLC, have estimated that the power outages may hurt the South African Economy at a rate of .2% of gross domestic product per day.

The blackouts are representative of larger problems facing South Africa. Poor funding has plagued Eskom and the state-owned company is struggling to meet the demands of a population that will double in the next 15 years to nearly 100 million people. It has recently begun building three new coal-fired stations, one of which should have opened in December 2013, but fell behind schedule because of disputes with contractors and labor unions.

Because of its heavy depended on coal and its struggles to increase capacity and meet rising demand, South Africa has begun evaluating expanding into nuclear energy and shale gas.

Eskom’s ability to meet South Africa’s rising energy demands will play a large role in determining the country’s future.

Currently, 31% of South Africans–about 14.5 million people–live below the poverty line. These citizens are not able to cope with the effects of mass power losses as easily as their richer counter parts. In order to protect this most vulnerable part of the South African population, Eskom must correct its structural inefficiencies and increase its energy capacity.

– Martin Levy

Sources: BBC, Bloomberg, CIA Factbook
Photo: Positively Parkinson’s

hunger_rwanda
The Republic of Rwanda is a small sovereign state in the Eastern part of Central Africa. Rwanda ranked at 166 of 187 countries on the UNDP Human Development Index in 2011. Rwanda also has the highest population density in the region with 416 people per square kilometer.

Low income, limited natural resources, and food and water insecurity pose a problem for citizens in Rwanda every day. In the years following the Rwandan Genocide in 1994, international rebuilding efforts have been on the ground trying to make sustainable changes to alleviate some of the hunger and water issues.

Here are five facts that explain the state of hunger in Rwanda and how it may change in the coming years:

  1. The 1994 Rwandan Genocide marked the end of the ceasefire signed the year before that stopped the fighting of the Rwandan Civil War. The war began between two ethnic groups the Hutu and Tutsi. The Genocide began when the plane carrying the Hutu supported president Juvenal Habyarimana was shot down and he, along with several other members of the government, were killed. The genocide lasted 100 days and an estimated 800,000 to 1,000,000 people were killed. The fallout from the Rwandan Genocide is the cause for much of the instability in the region that lasts today.
  2. Secondary school attendance in Rwanda is one of the lowest in the world and the literacy rate is 55%.
  3. Approximately 65% of the population has access to safe, clean drinking water
  4. 45% of children under 5 years of age are malnourished.
  5. Over 67,000 refugees from neighboring countries currently reside in Rwanda.

Even though there is a lot of strain on the country today, organizations have been working with the government to address one of Rwanda’s major problems: food insecurity. Agriculture was the country’s main sector before the genocide, and since then, major efforts have been made to make it profitable one more.

Updating the agricultural practices is what the World Food Programme credits with directly reducing the number of food insecure people.

The country hopes that with the reliance on agricultural programs it will improve its GDP to US$900 by the year 2020, up US$380 from its current GDP. Rwanda was also the first country to sign the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP), meaning that addressing malnutrition and food insecurity is one of the government’s main priorities.

Even though Rwanda still has a long way to go, the government has been taking steps in the right direction that could provide a template for other countries in the region to follow.

– Colleen Eckvahl

Sources: World Food Programme, World Vision
Photo: Rising Continent