desmond d'sa
Desmond D’Sa is the co-founder of the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance and is one of six 2014 Goldman prize winners for global grassroots environmental advocacy.

The Goldman award is one of the most honored international recognitions for environmental work and comes with the largest monetary reward – a lump sum of $175,000. The first Goldman prize was awarded in 1991 by philanthropists and environmental advocates Richard and Rhoda Goldman as a way to draw attention to the critical nature of international environmental issues. The award recognized ordinary individuals who made outstanding impact.

Many of the families that live and work in South Durban, including D’sa’s family of 13, were forced to migrate during the apartheid era.

“I was 15 and we lived in Cato Manor, the biggest community of mixed folk in South Africa. It was a very radical place in the apartheid era. But mum and dad were brutally forced to move by the army and security forces.”

Now the survivors of that dark period in South Africa’s history, and their children and grandchildren, continue to fight a daily battle against the heavy pollution.

Durban is a coastal industrial city in South Africa, infamous for its terrible air quality and the deteriorated health of its inhabitants, giving it the nickname “cancer alley.” South Durban contains nearly 70 percent of all South Africa’s industrial activity and has over 300 facilities. Oil and gas refineries, chemical plants and paper mills are among the hundreds of industries that pump toxins into the air and into the lungs of the area’s 300,000 residents.

“Leukaemia is 24 times the normal there. My mother was ill for years,” said D’sa. “Eleven of the 12 families in the council block where I live have asthma. In every block you have around 50 percent of people who have respiratory problems. I still look out my window and see refineries. I am a victim as much as anyone. We pay the price.”

Yet instead of acquiescing to his disadvantaged position, D’sa has spent the better part of his life fighting for the community’s health and environmental rights. D’sa work is not attributed to a single initiative or event, but to 20 years of activism involving legal battles, community education, civil rights advocacy and worker representation.

One of D’sa’s most celebrated achievements was implementing a method for gauging the harmful pollutants in the air through smell, for lack of capable scientific equipment. He compared the smells of each chemical in the air to commonly recognized household items, such as the smell of sulfur to rotton eggs, and distributed the Smells That Kill chart throughout the community.

D’sa’s goal was to educate the public so that they could better advocate for their rights. In 1990 the Westman waste management company opened a landfill near residential neighborhoods in South Durban without regard for the community. Their unsafe practices plagued nearby residents for almost two decades until the landfill reached capacity in 2009.

When Westman applied to extend its lease, D’sa took the opportunity to lead a community campaign against the extension and knew their efforts would fare better if the public had a better understanding of what they were up against. When the media caught wind of the foul behavior and citizens knowledgeably pled their case, D’sa’s efforts ended successfully and Westman was denied its lease. The company was eventually ordered to end all operations in November 2011.

Desmond D’sa is an example of human dedication and the power of one’s spirit to help others, even against the odds. Although already a Goldman prize winner and having fought the hard fight for many years, D’sa is only becoming more involved. He remains relentless in his fight against future battles, including the proposal to expand the Durban port to ten times its current capacity, which would bring devastating consequences to surrounding neighborhoods.

– Edward Heinrich

Sources: Goldman Prize, The Guardian, Climate Reality Project
Photo: The Guardian

With the end of one of its most unproductive sessions in history, the United States Congress began its five-week recess on August 1. The break – mandated by a 1970 law – means that many representatives will be returning to their home states to campaign and meet with locals.

Here are a few ways to take advantage of the next five weeks:

1. Try to Meet Your Congressmen

Today, many congressmen have a portal on their websites where constituents can request a meeting – usually two weeks in advance. It helps to focus on a specific issue and to meet the congressmen on behalf of, or with,  an organized group. Of course, this will be much more difficult if the congressman is up for election.

To maximize their outreach while on recess, politicians are finding other methods of meeting with voters, like Congresswoman Jackie Speier of California who will hold a town hall on August 16, or Congressman Kevin Yoder of Kansas who has held a series of telephone town hall forums.

2. Send an Email 

Depending on the issue, certain activist groups and charities have pre-written emails that require no more than the sender to fill in his or her name and address and click send. Groups like Amnesty International, Bread for the World and  The Borgen Project use the address information to determine the sender’s representatives and automatically connects the user to his/her congressional leaders’ contact information.

Senders can even personalize the message. The entire process can take 30 seconds or less. Send an email with The Borgen Project here.

3. Make a Quick Call

Congressional offices keep track of how many people call in and for what they request of the congressman. A 30-second phone call to an office, explaining you are a constituent and you wish the congressman to support a certain issue, will likely be filed under a call report.

If a congressman receives a high number of calls regarding an issue, he or she is likely to consider this in making a decision. Activists can program the phone number for the office in his or her phone and call on a weekly basis. It helps to know exactly what you plan to say before making the call. Encouraging friends and family to make the same call can increase support for a cause.

4. Advocate on Social Media

Following back-to-back presidential wins for President Barack Obama, many political experts pointed to the emergence of the social media presence as a major factor in the success of his campaigns. While several other factors also help explain his wins, the fact remains that one month out from the 2012 election, Obama led Governor Romney on Twitter by some 19 million followers and Facebook by over 21 million likes.

Similarly, members of Congress are attempting to use social media to their benefit, which provides constituents another venue through which to contact their congressmen. Sharing articles relating to your issue of choice not only informs your friends and followers, but also reminds your leaders to take action.

Even if you are not quite ready to start a movement, a small effort can spur big change.

Erica Lignell

Sources: Time, Facebook 1, Facebook 2, Amnesty USA, Bread for the World, Iowa Food Systems Council, NY Times
Photo: Wikimedia

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

1. Clarify your beliefs

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

2. Start broad

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

3. Do your research

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

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

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

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

4. Contact the charity and become personally involved

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

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

5. Trust your gut

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

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

– Sally Nelson

Sources: Fast Company, NBC
Photo: Infiniti

quotes about helping
Here is a list of 10 quotes about helping others, compiled by The Borgen Project:

1. “The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

2. “Those who are happiest are those who do the most for others.” – Booker T. Washington

3. “When we give cheerfully and accept gratefully, everyone is blessed.” – Maya Angelou

4. “Many small people, in many small places, do many small things, that can alter the face of the world.” – Unknown

5. “As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands, one for helping yourself, the other for helping others.” – Audrey Hepburn

6. “No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.” – Charles Dickens

7. “Believe, when you are most unhappy, that there is something for you to do in the world. So long as you can sweeten another’s pain, life is not in vain.” – Helen Keller

8. “Everybody can be great. Because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve…. You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

9. “I know of no great men except those who have rendered great service to the human race.” – Voltaire

10. “No one has ever become poor by giving.” – Anne Frank

Hannah Cleveland

Sources: GoodReads
Photo: The Motion Machine

emotional responses to global poverty

What is more valuable: $55 given now or $85 given in three months? Obviously, $85 has a higher monetary value than $55, but peoples’ perceptions of value take more into account than the number itself—for instance, people consider the value of getting paid immediately. What’s more, peoples’ emotional states also influence their perceptions of value.

For example, research has shown that people who feel sad tend to act impatiently, so sad people would more often choose the instant $55 over the delayed $85. As it might be in one’s best interest to wait for more money, sadness hinders one’s ability to make wise financial decisions.

So when making financial decisions, one should suppress all emotion! Right?

Not necessarily, argues a new study published in Psychological Science. One emotion, gratitude, actually improves our ability to factor long-term options into decision-making. This study found that people who felt gratitude chose the delayed $85 unless the instant payment was $63, rather than $55. By contrast, people who felt neutral or happy needed only the $55 to choose the instant cash option.

How do these psychological studies relate to philanthropy and emotional responses to global poverty, though?

Ending global poverty requires people to philanthropize, but philanthropy comes in different varieties. Consider two: On the one hand, a person can donate money to, say, have a freshwater well built for people who lack access to clean drinking water. This method of philanthropy—”direct aid,” for lack of a better name—gets real results quickly.

On the other hand, a person can donate money to policy groups that work to mobilize the resources of national governments. This is advocacy, a method of philanthropy that sees results less quickly but often sees bigger results than direct aid. Both methods of philanthropy have been indispensable in the fight against global poverty. Yet, advocacy seems to be a less favored method for givers; for instance, the revenues of the International Rescue Committee were roughly 29 times greater than those of the Center for Global Development, a major policy-shaping organization, in 2013.

Charitable donations are subject to the same time value of money questions that arose in the experiment on emotions and decision-making. “Is it more useful to take the $55 or $85?” becomes “is it more useful to build a well now or to shape policy that secures water for millions of people?” The answer to these questions depends on a number of factors: the desperation of those without the well, or the likelihood that policies will be changed, to name a few.

Philanthropists should probably consider both options, but certain emotions such as sadness seem to inhibit their ability to do so.

People are inundated with images or facts concerning poverty calculated to make them feel sad. To feel less sad, people then donate. However, by nature people want sadness to diminish quickly, which seems best achieved if their donations get quick results. Might this fact then cause them to overlook the potential of advocacy?

In the interest of preserving both direct aid and advocacy philanthropy, perhaps the potential philanthropist must approach global poverty in a certain way. Responding to the grim realities of poverty with gratitude for one’s own fortune might indeed be more useful than responding with sadness—to philanthropists seeking to make the best financial decision, at least.

-Ryan Yanke

Sources: PsyblogHarvard Psychological Science Magazine, The Borgen ProjectCenter for Global Development, International Rescue Committee
Photo: Huffington Post

END7, an international advocacy campaign, aims to end seven neglected tropical diseases (NTDS) by 2020. It is currently raising awareness of the seven most common NTDs, and the easy and cheap resources available to eliminate them.

Cheap is not an understatement — it takes only 50 cents to treat and protect one person against all seven NTDS.

While 2020 may seem like an overly optimistic date to have eliminated seven diseases, treatments for all NTDs exist — it’s just a matter of getting them to those in need. The seven diseases include Hookworm, Roundworm, Whipworm, Elephantiasis, Trachoma, River Blindness and Snail Fever.

Nearly one in six people worldwide, including over half a billion children, have these diseases living and breeding inside their bodies. The effects of these diseases can be devastating, causing blindness, massive swelling in limbs, severe malnutrition, pregnancy complications and anemia.

Apart from the horrific effects of NTDs, these diseases makes it increasingly difficult for affected families to lift themselves out of poverty. They prevent children from going to school.

In order to spread the word about their cause and the work being done to help victims of NTDs, END7 utilizes social media outlets, hoping to target young activists who will then share the word with others. The goal is to get the general public involved, not just doctors and health care professionals.

The campaign asks the community to donate to NTD prevention and treatment programs. These programs deliver the medications to schools and poor communities all over the globe.

How can it be so cheap? Drugs to treat NTDS are donated by pharmaceutical companies, allowing for the remaining cost to come only in distributing the drugs to those in need.

Bill Nighy, who provides a voice for many of the END7 videos, describes his astonishment in the opportunity at hand, stating, “I’m shocked by how much devastation these diseases cause. But what shocks me more is how simple the solution is.”

If pocket change can provide a cure for seven diseases, it seems that a cure in 2020 may not seem so far out of reach after all.

 — Caroline Logan

Sources: END7, TwitChange
Photo: Northeastern

child labor
Right now more than 168 million children ages 5 to 18 are victims of child labor practices. Of these children, 85 million work in conditions that endanger their health and many are exploited in varying ways.

It is these shocking truths that have motivated the likes of Travis Barker, Pharrell Williams, Mike Einziger of Incubus and world-renowned composer Hans Zimmer, to collaborate on a song titled, “Til Everyone Can See.” The song features Minh Dang, a survivor of child trafficking.

The inspiration for the anti-child labor tune originated from their visit with the International Labour Organization. The ILO is the oldest agency of the United Nations, and their child labor program is the largest in the world. Following the visit, the artists joined the ILO campaign, Red Card to Child Labour.

The campaign’s use of the red card is intentional, as the timing of the campaign lines up with one of the most highly viewed sporting events in the world; the FIFA World Cup. This global symbol of a red card is known for being synonymous with the concepts of wrong and stop, making it an ideal symbol for the campaign.

The song was released on June 12 of this week, which is also the World Day Against Child Labor. The music, written by Einziger of Incubus and the violinist, Ann Marie Simpson, has a global vibe. However, this is not the first time musicians have used such songs to take a stand against child labor.

Similar musical initiatives include Global Music against Child Labor, through which musicians of all genres have dedicated events and concerts to the movement. The awareness these artists raise undoubtedly plays a key part in ending child labor practices.

As the heartfelt song declares “no one can be free when there is slavery…its time to do our part, give children of the world a brand new start.”

— Christopher Kolezynski

Sources: ILO, Look To The Stars, Music For Good, USA Today
Photo: Flickr

How long has advocacy been around, where did it start and where does the word advocate come from?

There isn’t a lot known about the history of advocacy programs or where advocacy began.

Advocacy has not always been considered “advocacy.”A long time ago, back when homo sapiens had barely begun to dominate planet earth, advocacy was considered common courtesy. People lived in large groups and helped each other out when they could.

However, as societies advanced and technology came into the picture, helping others seemed like it required a little too much effort. There is no set “first” advocacy program, but many advocacy programs claim to be the first of their kind.

However, perhaps one of the oldest advocacy programs still alive today is The Salvation Army. The Salvation Army began in 1852 just before The Red Cross, who is a close second and began its work in 1881.

Even before these two giant programs, there were orphanages and safe houses and programs to feed the hungry. Helping one another can be traced back to the very first animals.

Perhaps these earlier instances of advocacy are a little less “public support” and a little more “helping your fellow man,” but humans often learn from their surroundings.

According to the Oxford English dictionary the word advocate was first recorded in the English language in the 1300s as a noun. The word stemmed from the French word avocat and before that the Latin word advocatus.

Advocatus means to be called to or summoned, or more specifically to come to someone’s aid in the courtroom. This could mean the very first public advocacy program in the world involved the beginning of law and lawyers.

However, before lawyers there were churches that fed the hungry and protected the weak. There were armies who helped protect the city people from outside harm. There were people who gave the homeless shelter and the needy possessions and all of them called on others to do the same.

These actions were not considered advocacy the way we know it today. When they first started, these instances were just the act of standing up for someone who could not stand up for nor protect themselves. To speak for someone whose voice was being ignored or could not be heard.

In the beginning, advocacy was not something that had to be bought, bartered or begged for. It was something people did because it was what was right, not because they needed volunteer experience.

Over the years advocacy has morphed into something much different. Today, it is more organized to provide more aid to more people throughout the world that do not have anyone with enough power to provide and aid them nearby. Advocacy has become a global responsibility rather than a local one and needs more funding, more political support and more power to become something even greater.

Now, advocacy makes it everyone’s responsibility to rise to the needs of serious global issues and to help in any way they can.

– Cara Morgan

Sources: Grammaphobia, Oxford English Dictionary, The Free Dictionary, The Red Cross, The Salvation Army

When Justin Timberlake and Jimmy Fallon did a skit speaking only in hashtags, it became clear that the use of the hashtag had reached a unique place in our culture. Their skit, while satirical, also made it clear that hashtags have unique power in not only describing trends, but also in raising awareness around important issues.

The hashtag (#), which was first introduced in 2007, did not take long to become a mainstay in the Twitter world. The idea first originated with Chris Messina, who wondered if it would be useful to have a way for friends to organize their messages into meaningful groups.

Not long after, it became the leading way to describe emotions, world events, trends, activities and ideas through social media. And over time, as its presence has grown, so has the flexibility with which it is employed.

From the first true global usage in 2009, in the wake of the Iranian elections and the Occupy movements, to the more recent use in #BringBackOurGirls and #YesAllWomen, hashtag advocacy has emerged and has played a role in promoting awareness and giving people a chance to weigh in on larger conversations.

The largest use of hashtag advocacy began when Invisible Children raised awareness for the Kony 2012 Campaign – harnessing the power of social media to spread their message. The campaign quickly gained 2.4 million tweets with the “#Kony2012” tag in March alone of that year.

While the merits and ultimate effectiveness of the Kony campaign are debated and criticized, it is worth noting that the campaign led to a level of awareness about an issue not yet seen before. In fact, because of #Kony2012, the African Union sent a force of 5,000 – including 100 U.S. military advisors – to help end the surge of violence in Uganda at the time.

From the start, critics decried the use of the hashtag as “slacktivism,” the idea that by spreading a message, people could nominally support a cause without actually having to do any leg-work. Others have argued that using a hashtag to raise awareness is about as effective as writing a letter to Congress – which is to say, it isn’t.

However, employing a hashtag or writing to Congress does draw attention to important issues. Elected officials react to public opinion, and when the public is writing in about a topic frequently, they rightly determine that it is an issue that people care about.

As one of the newest forms of grassroots activism, hashtags have the ability to play an important role in advocacy, generating media coverage at no extra cost. While it is important to not overstate the importance of translating the hashtag usage into action, raising awareness about an issue is a useful way of spreading a message and employing the kind of diplomacy that often makes leaders think twice when they are making decisions – what affect the issue will have on their reputation.

The #BringBackOurGirls campaign has received its fair share of critics, but it has also brought the issue to the forefront of global discussion and has pressured the Nigerian government to act and accept assistance from other nations.

Just as the #YesAllWomen tag reached 1.2 million tweets in the span of four days, so can other tags be employed to raise issue awareness about development projects or the millennium development goals in fighting global poverty because ultimately, the more people who are able to be a part of the discussion, the greater the chance is that someone new will be moved to donate, to act, to volunteer or to dedicate themselves to the cause.

– Andrea Blinkhorn

Sources: Washington Post,, The Guardian, Mashable
Photo: New Artist Model

International Justice Mission (IJM), a human rights agency headquartered in Washington, DC, will hold its annual Advocacy Summit on June 9-10, 2014. This event allows IJM supporters from around the nation to gather together for advocacy training and day of lobbying on behalf of anti human trafficking legislation.

Many IJM supporters are asking the question, “What else can I do to help IJM’s work overseas to free slaves and protect the vulnerable?” IJM’s advocacy program began in 2007 with a grant from Humanity United. The idea was to engage “ordinary Americans” in the fight against modern-day slavery by voicing their concerns to their elected officials.

This advocacy program began with postcards – hundreds of them – sent from constituents to their elected officials to voice their concerns for the enslaved and urge Congress to take action.

Two years later, the first Advocacy Summit was held in Washington, DC. Approximately 80 people were present for this first advocacy day in 2009, where “ordinary” citizens were trained and then sent out to meet with Representatives, Senators, and their staff to “give a voice to the voiceless” – a popular phrase when advocating for the world’s most vulnerable.

At the forefront of IJM’s policy agenda this year is the Human Trafficking Prioritization Act, H.R. 2283 and its “companion bill” in the Senate, S. 1249.

This legislation seeks to upgrade the US State Department Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (J/TIP) to the same level as other State Department regional bureaus that it regularly converses with on behalf of trafficking victims.

This legislation would effectively give the experts within J/TIP a “seat at the table” in foreign policy discussions surrounding Trafficking in Persons and give them the authority of a State Department Bureau.

This bill was introduced into the House last June by Representative Chris Smith of New Jersey and currently has 63 cosponsors. It was introduced in the Senate last June by Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and has 21 cosponsors.

IJM’s Advocacy Summit has grown each year, and IJM hopes to host 250 advocates this June 9-10. The event is empowering for people who have long supported IJM with their time and money, as the act of lobbying can often feel like a more tangible action on behalf of the poor.

“Everybody who participates in meetings with legislative staff on behalf of the poorest, most powerless people on earth—modern-day slaves— comes away feeling that they’ve made a significant contribution. Because they have,” says Holly Burkhalter, IJM’s Vice President for Government Relations and Advocacy.

– Madisson Barnett

Sources: IJM Campaign Blog, IJM Freedom Commons, Library of Congress, Library of Congress
Photo: Freedom Commons