Scandinavia_Norway_Europe
When it comes to quality of life, there are few countries that can supersede America in terms of luxury, comfort and overall well-being. Not even Canada or Britain exceeds the United States in quality of life. However, Norway, an oil-rich country situated in the Scandinavian Peninsula, undeniably outstrips the American standard of living.

The United States has a lower per capita GDP than Norway with a GDP of 51,749 compared to 99,558, respectively, and is also home to one of the most pressing income distribution gaps in any industrialized nation, surpassed in income inequality by only Russia and Mexico.

Due to America’s cavernous income inequality, the poorest 38% of Norwegians are better off than the poorest 38% of Americans despite an overall lower average per capita GDP. According to Syracuse University professor Timothy Smeeding, the United States relies heavily on the markets to an extent that social safety nets are neglected, unlike Norway, which focuses more resources on providing aid to the poor.

This is not to say that America completely disregards its poor. To clarify, the United States has initiated its portion of socially-oriented acts, such as its attempt to reform the welfare system during the past two decades.

However, while the number of individuals on welfare was reduced from 5 million to slightly over 2 million, the welfare poor were downgraded into the working poor. Although welfare reform was rooted in good intentions, the lack of government safety nets defeated the purpose of the entire act.

Although the discovery of oil on the land in 1969 had transformed Norway, more than just an abundance of the valued natural resource buttresses Norway’s economy. Norway’s success has been attributed to what many call the “Norwegian Model”– a model of running a welfare state in which resources are carefully monitored, preserved and kept up-to-date.

While the United States ranks among one of the wealthiest nations in the world, it has stayed remiss in establishing social safety nets, particularly for the less economically-advantaged subsection of the population. Due to the lack of social safety nets, America hosts one of the largest global income inequality gaps, and is ultimately surpassed by the tiny welfare state of Norway in terms of quality of life.

Phoebe Pradhan

Sources: Infoplease, CS Monitor, World Bank, News in English
Photo: The Telegraph

Beat_Making_Labs_Initiative_PBS_Music_Culture
What had once been a course on music production and entrepreneurship at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has now become one of the most innovative global outreach programs in current times. Founded by Stephen Levitin, Doctor Mark Katz and Pierce Freelon in 2011, awareness and support for Beat Making Lab was originally gleaned through crowd-sourcing.

However, Levitin, Katz and Freelon gleaned more than just funds–they also attracted the attention of PBS Digital Studios, which agreed to document the efforts of Beat Making Lab in places such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Panama and Ethiopia.

Beat Making Lab collaborates with global communities in order to achieve cultural exchange, innovation and inspiration. Beat Making Lab, an enterprise of the production company ARTVSM LLC also partners with PBS Digital Studios in order to donate equipment such as laptops and software to global communities. The studio also shoots music videos with the selected community in order to create a weekly web-series with PBS.

For example of how Beat Making Lab has spread its message of global collaboration and peace through art is evident in Ethiopia, last summer, Beat Making Lab trained a group of 18-25 year old students in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The group was taught how to blend modern hip-hop beats with traditional Ethiopian rhythms in order to convey messages regarding pressing political and health issues in their homeland.

One of the many goals of Beat Making Lab is to provide youth around the globe with the tools and information necessary to become entrepreneurs of their own. In order to ensure that the knowledge provided during the two week session is not lost, students are requested to keep training other members of their community.

A former Beat Making Lab student, DJ Couler, from the Democratic Republic of Congo, stated that ““when the instructors return to the United States, for us that will not be the end. It will be more like a continuation, or even a beginning for us because we will be able to teach others how to create their own beats.”

– Phoebe Pradhan

Sources: Beat Making Lab, Beat Making Lab- 2, PRI
Photo: Okay Player

top_global_healers_humanitarians_academics
Each year, Foreign Policy compiles a comprehensive list of the most prominent figures in various areas of global thinking–artists, decision-makers and advocates alike–honoring them for their respective accomplishments. This year, widely known names such as Edward Snowden, Rand Paul and Vladimir Putin appeared on the list, all claiming their earned places within modern day history.

Following are all the selectees from the “Healer” category, each with a sentence description – as presented on the Foreign Policy website – and a short motivation for why these people deserve to have their names on the list. Here are the top global healers:

Dr. Caroline Buckee – “for using metadata to fight disease.”

Buckee pioneered the idea of using cellphone data in order to track human movement in malaria-infested zones, thus helping understand the epidemiology of the disease. In modern day society, mobile phones are spreading across the third world, making for an efficient and easy marker. Buckee’s research, published in 2013, covers crucial data collected from over 15 million cellphones.

Anand Grover – “for going to the mat with Big Pharma.”

A human rights lawyer and United Nations affiliate, Grover won a case against the Swiss company Novartis, which was at the time attempting to patent its cancer drug Glivec for consumption in India. Thanks to Grover’s efforts, the generic version of this effective, leukemia-battling treatment can be acquired for a price 92 percent cheaper than previously marked, thus introducing affordable medication for the poorer Indian population.

Michael Faye, Paul Niehaus, Jeremy Shapiro and Rohit Wanchoo – “for trusting the poor to spend their money wisely.”

Four economists co-founded the organization GiveDirectly, which focuses on allocating funds directly to those in need. With headquarters in Kenya, GiveDirectly transfers donations received online into pre-selected, poverty-stricken households. Rather controversial in nature, this approach has so far witnessed success.

Hannah Gay, Katherine Luzuriaga and Deborah Persaud – “for bringing us closer to a cure for HIV.”

A pediatrician and two researchers who developed an aggressive treatment which, for the first time in history, managed to cure a newborn child of HIV. Their work is the basis potentially eradicating the death sentence of HIV in the future.

Homi Kharas – “for charting a path to the end of poverty.”

Lead author in a post-Millennium Development Goals regime panel, the former World Bank economist has put tremendous efforts into anti-poverty planning. Kharas and his peers are currently aiming to end extreme global poverty by 2030.

Erica Chenoweth – “for proving Gandhi right.”

Arguing for the success rate of non-violent conflict, Chenoweth has compiled a data set ranging from the years of 1945 to 2006 that examines effectiveness of various political strategies. Applying the data to current events such as the issues with Syria, she is pioneering a revolutionary approach to political issues.

Sanjay Basu and David Stuckler – “for warning that austerity can be deadly.”

Epidemiologist and physician at Stanford and political economist/epidemiologist at Oxford respectively, these two men have come together in analyzing the effects of economic rigidity on public health in recent times. Compiling large amounts of data, they published the book “The Body Economic: Why Austerity Kills.” Their argument supports better funding of public health during economically severe times.

Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir – “for showing how scarcity changes the way you think about everything.”

Harvard economist and Princeton psychologist, these two men co-authored the book “Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much.” Raising empathy for the poor, the book discusses the “scarcity trap,” and how not having enough resources changes the way people think.

– Natalia Isaeva

Sources: Foreign Policy, MIT Technology Review, Managing Intellectual Property, Times Higher Education, The Washington Post, University of Massachusetts Medical School, Give Directly
Photo: World Bank

India_Technology
It is an accepted fact that poverty is the root cause of malnutrition. Over 42% of the Indian population lives on less than $1.25 a day. However, if farmers could increase their output and earn more from what they already have through the use of innovative technology, food insecurity could decrease and that same dollar and a quarter could go much further.

Technology can help farmers to augment their knowledge of which crops to produce for the best return, find the most effective farming practices and make plans based upon weather forecasts.

The e-Choupal initiative is one way that technology is being used to give farmers the information they need to be more successful. The aforementioned benefits of technology are all accounted for on the e-Choupal platform, even enabling buyers to come to the farmers instead of having to haul the produce to market, where oftentimes traders manipulate the market in order to exploit the farmers out of their proper earnings.

The initiative also provides access to storage services and agricultural equipment in addition to other important assets for rural farmers. The e-Choupal network has expanded to 6,500 centers synchronizing the efforts of 40,000 villages to produce greater quantities of better produce and profit.

In this same vein of increased technology and higher profits, organic farming is a possible venue poor farmers could explore. Organic produce consistently garner high prices, the demand for which is only rising. The only constraints are the ones that the e-Choupal network is already helping to eradicate, at least in India, including lack of technical expertise and insufficient market knowledge.

Another example of innovative agricultural technology is the use of drip-irrigation, which cuts water use by 40%, and saves the equivalent of 10 million households water expenditures per year. Much in the same way, the e-Choupal initiative has created a network where over 25,000 small farmers have organized a supply chain that has augmented their average annual incomes by a very significant $1,000.

India is a country of fertile lands and capable farmers. Technology is the catalyst that promises to drive the more than 400 million people living on less than $1.25 a day out of poverty.

– Jordan Schunk
Sources: The Huffington Post, New Indian Express, Rural Poverty Portal
Photo: The Fourth Revolution

2
Eudomar Tovar is the Central Bank President in Venezuela and has taken the spotlight most recently for blaming a nation-wide blackout on sabotage. Accusations have been made that the Central Bank has been using their gold supply in a deal with Goldman Sachs and Bank of America to increase hard currency.

Tovar vehemently denies that the Central Bank is doing any sort of business with either Goldman Sachs or Bank of America. Henrique Capriles, an opposition leader, claims that Central Bank was involved in a value swap with Goldman Sachs for the equivalent of $2 billion dollars (USD) in gold ounces. Central Bank has also been accused of dealing with Bank of America to pay off debts owed to foreign governments. Tovar denied any such deals and claimed they were unofficial proposals, but did not elaborate or further explain the Bank’s position in regards to these claims.

The main problem is that Venezuela is experiencing a shortage of basic goods, and could potentially use its huge reserves of gold to procure a loan from such companies such as Goldman Sachs or Bank of America. Main Central Bank officials have complained that they are due a huge amount of hard currency from Washington, and that the red tape and delay in receiving this currency is causing inflation and product shortages.

Furthermore, a decrease in oil supply has caused tension on the dollar value, making some think that Venezuela is in desperate need of cash. The value of gold has decreased as well, putting a dent in the net worth of the country’s enormous gold reserves. As it stands, only government channels have access to the dollar due to harsh capital requirements, which often causes delays and bottlenecks day-to-day cash flow.

Leaders of the South American nation do not believe in free market capitalism and have tightly controlled the cash flow for decades. Consequently, the country falls more deeply into poverty every year, while the tyrannical government is not improving the situation.

President Maduro replaced the recently deceased President Chavez, who had a reputation for spending funds that could not be liquidated. Shortages have increased, inflation has risen to 55% and an inside Bank official claimed that Venezuela was indeed conversing with Wall Street. However, all three parties involved had no comment to offer on these claims. The economy is in a downward spiral, encouraged by the fact that stores cannot buy new inventory due to the cost of goods being higher than the retail price.

Questions are circulating about methods of intervention and whether American aid is appropriate, as well as questions regarding the depth of corruption in the Venezuelan government. Basic economics further show that public spending is good for the economy, when business have the right to compete with each other for capital gain.

The absence of a free market suggests that if Bank of America or Goldman Sachs loaned Venezuela the cash they need, it would just be reinvested into a corrupt system and exacerbate the problem. Solutions must involve correcting the dishonest practices of the government and its leaders so that the citizens will not continue to suffer, but instead thrive.

– Kaitlin Sutherby

Sources: Reuters, The Wall Street Journal: The Pope, State and Venezuela, The Wall Street Journal: Blackout
Photo: Vintage 3D

u.s. foreign aid
The money the United States gives out in foreign aid is usually focused in areas of direct impact, such as food to famine-stricken countries or in disaster relief efforts. Some of the lesser-known impacts are in the field of education. In particular, scholarships in foreign aid have allowed students to attend universities throughout the United States which provide more opportunities than would schools in their home countries.

This form of foreign aid is, however, not unique in the Western world. In fact, just as the United States lags behind in the overall standings for foreign aid, it falls behind its Western allies in funding for foreign scholarships as well. France leads all nations in foreign scholarship aid with 18% ($1.36 billion) of its foreign aid going to education, with Germany ranking second, at 13% ($1.05 billion), according to University World News. The U.S., on the other hand, only gives about 3.5% ($805 million) of its own foreign aid to scholarships.

U.S. foreign aid is directed to a number of other areas, but the one area that outshines all others is foreign military assistance. As it stands, roughly 38% ($14 billion) of the U.S. foreign aid budget goes to foreign military assistance. Comparing this to the budget given to foreign scholarships shows where the aims of U.S. foreign policy lie, as they push their military agendas overseas.

The military agenda of the United States looks toward the promotion of friendly democracies in places that the United States does not currently have allies. This can be seen in the United States invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as support given to rebels in Syria and Libya.  In hopes of achieving these goals, the United States pumps dollars towards friendly foreign militaries in hopes that they will create functioning democracies, with informed and supportive citizens.

In a recent Seattle Times Article, columnist Thomas L. Friedman took aim at this disparity by comparing the figures of foreign military aid for Egypt ($1.3 billion) and foreign scholarships for Jordan ($13.5 million). Friedman wrote that, “merit-based college scholarship program promote(s) tolerance, gender and social equality and critical thinking.”

These qualities of ideal democratic citizens that the United States is hoping to instill in foreigners would be much better fostered through foreign education aid, according to the first-hand observer, Friedman. While Egypt remained in a state of flux during 2013, Jordan has dedicated itself to working towards a state of democracy.  The comparison put forward by Friedman is an informative one for a casual observer, as one can see the benefits that current education aid gives and the potential of what the United States could do.

– Eric Gustafsson

Sources: National Priorities Project, University World News, Seattle Times
Photo: Giphy.com

puntland_cyclone
On November 10, a deadly cyclone raged through the region of Puntland, located in Somalia’s northeastern coast. Though the cyclone has reportedly killed up to 300 people, the death toll has not yet been verified. Many of these victims were children and elderly, both of which are more vulnerable to hypothermia and exposure. Moreover, the United Nations says as many as 30,000 people are in need of food aid.

Whole villages have been washed away by the storm, thus forcing local aid workers to struggle to reach the stranded victims due to the damaged infrastructure. Furthermore, large portions of roads have been damaged, driving aid workers to deliver food aid on foot. Many people are also missing, especially in coastal towns where fisherman and their boats have been lost at sea.

Pastoralists have been hit the hardest since their livestock and poorly built homes and barns have been washed away. The region does not normally experience rain so the area’s infrastructure has not been built to withstand this sort of storm. In fact, some of the worst hit villages have lost 90 percent of their livestock to icy rain and flooding.

Moreover, areas infamous for pirates such as the port of Ely are some of the worst affected. This is worrisome as the 2004 Tsunami was considered one of the major triggers of the pirate attacks off the coast of Somalia where 736 people and 32 ships were held hostage.

The World Food Programme (WFP) recently arrived in Puntland and transported 340 metric tons of food including cereal and vegetable seeds to the worst affected areas of Bossaso, Banderbayla, Dongoroyo and Eyl. In total 27, 000 people have been given a month’s worth of food rations. In addition Puntland’s government sent 32 trucks of emergency supplies throughout the needed areas.

Once emergency aid has been distributed and the region is no longer in a state of disaster the WFP will begin recovery work to rebuild the infrastructure of the area. The Food-for-Assets initiative is a recovery program run by the WFP that assists communities in rebuilding their infrastructure in a way that would better withstand a future natural disaster. Moreover, community workers are paid in food rations for assisting with the development.

Further south in Middle Shabelle, flooding has devastated the town of Jowhar and surrounding areas, pushing over 10,000 people to flee their homes. Their water supplies have, furthermore, been contaminated increasing the risk of waterborne diseases, while all standing crops and livestock in the area have been destroyed or lost. The International Committee of the Red Cross has provided 25,800 people with emergency essentials such as kitchen sets, clothes and sleeping mats.  They have also been able to stop flooding and repair riverbanks in five locations and distributed emergency food aid and water.

Lisa Toole

Sources: AllAfrica: Food Aid, AllAfrica: Twin Natural Disasters, Yahoo, World Food Programme, Aljazeera

Lily_Yeh
While talking about poverty alleviation, chances are most people think about money, food, houses and many other physical assets. However, poverty can also be healed from the heart, and art has the transforming power to bring people out of destitution physically and mentally.

Lily Yeh is a petite 70-year-old Chinese artist. Born in China but raised in Taiwan, Yeh moved to the United States in 1963 to study painting at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Fine Art. Instead of becoming a studio artist who creates personal artwork, she chose to use art to develop impoverished communities, build connections among people, and bring prosperity. Yeh believes art is a powerful vehicle for healing, self-empowerment and social change.

“Making art in destitute areas is like making fire in the dead, cold night in the winter, which gives us warmth, light, direction, and we kindle hopes.,” Yeh said. “I can’t solve these huge social problems, but I can open up new possibilities and spaces where, through creativity and working together, we might come to new solutions.”

From 1986 to 2004, Yeh served as the co-founder, executive director, and lead artist of The Village of Arts and Humanities (The Village,) a non-profit organization dedicated to community building, economic development, and personal transformation through art. To conduct a summer park project for The Village, Yeh went to a community in North Philadelphia that was notorious for violence, drug trade, and destitution. It was called “a place without resources.” She offered art classes to local children and adults, and inspired them to paint together. Eventually, she transformed 200 abandoned lots into art parks and gardens.

Aside from changing the community’s landscape, Yeh gave people hope and fostered a sense of community pride and individual accomplishment. “It’s a new kind of empowerment,” Yeh said. “People’s minds are opened to new possibilities and affirmation.”

Under Yeh’s 18 year tenure at The Village, the organization has developed into a multifaceted center of arts and humanities, which includes educational programs, housing renovation, theater, and economic development initiatives. Currently, it has had 25 full-time and part-time employees, hundreds of volunteers, and a $1.3 million budget.

In 2002, Yeh founded Barefoot Artists, a volunteer organization which aims to revitalize the most impoverished communities in the world through participatory and multifaceted projects that foster community empowerment, improve the physical environment, promote economic development, and preserve and support indigenous art and culture. It partners with locals, joining with them to create beauty. Yeh believes that art is an inclusive process and everyone has an artist in their heart.

“Not my light shining bigger than anyone else,” she said. “We all have that innate light within us. My role is to kindle other people’s inner light, so we shine together.”

Yeh is now working on projects in Rwanda, Kenya, Ghana, Ecuador, and China. She brings her unique methodology for using art as a tool for community empowerment and individual transformation to the world.

According to YES Magazine, Yeh worked with villagers to create a wall mural called “The Palestinian Tree of Life” in Palestine. In China, she transformed a once prison-like school into an ideal and brilliant place for study. In Rwanda, she helped people build a memorial to heal their still open wounds from the Rwandan genocide.

Yeh believes that the whole process of transformation and empowerment does not merely benefit people living in the communities. She is also inspired and fulfilled by the progress of art creation, believing that it makes her life meaningful.

– Liying Qian

Sources: Barefoot Artists, The Village of Arts and Humanities, YES Magazine
Photo: Chiam Online

africa_natural_resources.jpg
Countless everyday appliances and gadgets would not exist if it were not for the minerals that come from Africa. From cars to cell phones, laptops, airplanes and batteries, much of what makes the world go round depends on resource-rich African nations that are being fueled by a global commodities boom.

Although much can be said of whether the rising demand for these minerals is actually benefiting those at the bottom of the pyramid, it is certain that emergent African economies are growing thanks to these raw materials. If well-managed, Africa’s mineral resources can lift the continent out of poverty and catapult it toward growth and prosperity for all.

Here are some of the everyday objects that are created with African natural resources.

1.       Cars

The catalytic converters in cars that are made to reduce pollution are made with platinum and rhodium. South Africa alone produces 72% of the world’s platinum and 83% of the world’s rhodium.

2.       Electronics

Devices such as cell phones, laptops, and other electronic gadgets are made from tantalum. Africa provides 71% of the world’s tantalum, with Mozambique leading the region as the source of 24% of the global production of the mineral, followed by Rwanda with 20% of the production.

3.       Jewelry

In 2011, more than 57% of the world’s diamonds, nearly 75% of the world’s platinum and 20% of the world’s gold was found in Africa. Botswana is the world’s second largest producer of gem diamonds, and in 2011, the diamond industry accounted for half of the government revenue.

4.       Batteries

The cobalt used in the electrodes of rechargeable batteries is growing rapidly in demand due to the use of portable electronic devices. In 2011, Africa accounted for 58% of the global production of cobalt, while the Democratic Republic of Congo alone represented 48% of this supply. Mineral mining, however, has been implicated in funding conflict in the country.

5.       Airplanes

Many aircraft parts are made with aluminum alloys, which can account for up to 80% of the jet’s weight. Jet engines also use superalloys that contain cobalt and chromium. South Africa represents 47% of the global production of chromite – used to produce chromium -, while Guinea represents 8% of the world’s production of bauxite, used to make aluminum. Guinea has almost half of the world’s bauxite reserves and is predicted to become a world-leading producer of iron ore in the next decade.

6.       Electricity

Besides coal and gas, Africa produces 16% of the world’s uranium, which is the source of the nuclear fuel that provides 14% of the world’s electricity.

7.       Oil

Last year, Africa produced 10% of all the world’s oil – nearly 9.4 million barrels per day. Leading this production is Nigeria, with 37 billion barrels of proven reserves of oil – enough to keep supplying oil at 2011 levels for the next 40 years.

– Nayomi Chibana
Feature Writer

Sources: African Minerals Development Centre, CNN
Photo: CSMonitor

crowded_world
We currently stand with a global population of around 7.2 billion people and that number is expected to rise over the next few decades. A United Nations agency has recently projected a world population growth of 9.6 billion people by 2050 and a continuation of this trend through 2100 with a projected population growth of 10.9 billion.

We can expect to see most of this growth in the developing world and will continue to see countries like China and India providing impressive growth figures. We will also see new countries emerge globally with significant populations. Nigeria is expected to surpass the United States by 2050, and could even compete with India and China in terms of population.

These numbers have implications for our global economy and for many issues of development and conflict.

Population demographics can impact the futures of nations and the trends of growth shape our shared economy in this age of post-globalization. A successful and thriving population is a healthy one with stable growth. Growth can mean more business activity and therefore more tax revenue. Conversely, if a growing population’s needs like social services and infrastructure cannot be met, population growth can lead to economic decline and political instability.

The vast majority of growth, both current and projected, is happening in Africa. World population growth is mostly happening in developing countries. When looking at the figures, nearly all of the states whose populations are growing at a rate of 2 percent per year or more are in Africa, with the majority of those in sub-Saharan Africa.

Similarly there has been high growth in countries in the Middle East. Populations on both continents have high fertility rates. Women in Africa are averaging more than five children per family. Additionally, recent improvements in health standards and development have led to higher life expectancy. Over the past few decades in Africa, there has been a significant decline in conflicts and wars, leading to more security and a better quality of life.

In addition to the growth in numbers in the developing world, there has been a decline in other populations globally. Europe has incredibly low figures of fertility, along with Japan, and has seen a decline in growth for decades. There has been a similar decline in Asian countries, which have been reporting slowing growth as well.

The truth to these projected figures and the actual world population growth we will experience lie in factors like development and government stability. So long as populations continue to grow, they will have needs as a society to be provided for and will require a stable government to administer to these needs.

The world population doubled from 1960 to 2000, and unless governments can more effectively implement policy that can keep food production and services at pace with growth, the results could be extreme and damaging. When burgeoning populations experience food insecurity and vulnerability, the cost can not only be measured by military budgets during war and food programs during famine but by government collapse and the loss of human life.

Nina Verfaillie
Feature Writer

Sources: Washington Post, Scientific American
Photo: Robert Filip