Since 1985, International Rivers has re-examined dam projects across the globe to promote humanitarian and environmental values. The organization is concerned with a widespread over-dependence on hydroelectric power in developing nations, as the substantial negative externalities that accompany damming large rivers frequently go unreported. To combat this problem, the nonprofit employs a variety of methods, including grassroots organizing and political advocacy to diversify energy sources and raise greater awareness about the actual impact of specific hydroelectric projects around the world.

Large dams are an understandably attractive option for governments planning to electrify underdeveloped regions. Utilizing the inherent geophysical landscape, hydroelectric power is a relatively inexpensive energy source. However, International Rivers is one of few interested parties demanding an honest reassessment of this overly-prescribed technique. Damming disrupts the natural flow of sediment, causing devastating agricultural complications for nearby terrain. For example, the Nile lost an estimated 124 million tons of sediment every year prior to the construction of the Aswan High Dam. Today, close to 99 percent of that gravel remains behind the structure, resulting in a substantial decrease in soil productivity that has crippled Egypt’s agricultural prospects.

Large dams also disturb the natural workings of ecosystems and, as a result, estuary fish, flora and fauna are perishing alongside these persistent intrusions. Although this may appear to be a niche problem reserved for animal lovers, this over-dependence on hydroelectric power is adversely affecting local economies as well. In Ghana, clamming and sport fishing—once thriving industries—have virtually disappeared after the construction of the Akasombo and Kpong dams. Even worse, the lack of circulation and increased industrialization has proven to be a toxic combination, as pollution and water-based diseases now run rampant through the most accessed waterways of Africa, Southeast Asia and Latin America

Despite these disconcerting developments, governments around the world continue to call for increased hydroelectric power. In Africa, plans to erect a number of imposing dams are in the works, including a blueprint for a massive Congolese structure that would prove to be the world’s largest hydroelectric plant. In China, there are over 80,000 dams—a number that is expected to increase as the government continues to industrialize the rural southwest region of the country. Despite the poor track record of dams in Central America, political officials continue to appease contractors that seek to capitalize on the short-term economic benefits of exploiting unindustrialized rivers.

Yet, International Rivers is fighting back. The organization is involved in numerous campaigns to stop the construction of unwarranted dams across the globe. These campaigns have partnered with human rights groups, NGOs, researchers and affected communities to broadcast the dangers associated with hydroelectric dependence. The Berkeley-based nonprofit is also researching more environmentally friendly energy sources and taking political action to implement these safer alternatives. The passage of the Electrify Africa Act is a vital fist step, as the new law helps supply geothermal, solar and wind energy sources to nations that are overly reliant on dams. However, International Rivers realizes the importance of allying with foreign governments as well, understanding that persuading the affected countries’ lawmakers is necessary to achieving lasting change.

If you would like to learn more about International River’s campaigns, check out this website.

– Sam Preston

Sources: International Rivers, PBS USGS
Photo: Panos

After Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, then 10-year-old Talia Leman decided that she needed to do something to help. This desire to aid those in need led to the birth of RandomKid, a nonprofit organization that has made a difference in the lives of millions.

Leman was living in a small town in Iowa and was shocked by the media coverage of the hurricane’s disastrous effects. She began reaching out to the country’s youths in hopes of getting them to fundraise for the survivors of the hurricane. She started a movement encouraging other children to decide to collect donations towards a relief fund on Halloween, rather than collecting candy. Leman called the project Trick or Treat for the Levee Catastrophe (TLC) and created a website.

The project gained media attention, with Leman and her younger brother Zander being invited to appear on The Today Show, resulting in children across the country participating in fundraising efforts. After that, Leman explains that, “kids were reporting their totals in this TLC website and we’d call and verify the amount and the effort. Along the way, kids didn’t all trick-or-treat; kids also wanted to sell their 4H sheep or they wanted to wash cars and do others things as well.”

All of these efforts resulted in a huge number of young people raising money and ultimately reported $10 million worth of relief funds for Hurricane Katrina.


The Birth of RandomKid


When Leman saw how successful her efforts to inspire other children and young people were, she decided to co-found RandomKid, a nonprofit organization whose goal is mobilize efforts among these groups to bring about change.

Since then, RandomKid has been able to rally together about 12 million young people from 20 different countries to help people around the world. These efforts have resulted in the building of schools in Cambodia and play centers in Iowa as well as providing for water pumps in Africa and medical care, all working towards the overall goal of creating a more peaceful world.

As CEO and a founder of RandomKid, Leman has been an inspiration to young people around the world. She was appointed as UNICEF’s National Youth Ambassador and has been awarded nationally and internationally for her work. Leman has won the National Jefferson Award for global change, with the co-recipients of this award being Marlo Thomas and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Back in 2008, she also received a World of Children Founder’s Youth Award.

RandomKid’s tagline is “The Power of ANYone,” which Leman credits to the organization belief in the “power of the in-, individual because it’s those small efforts along the way that lead to the biggest outcome.”

Today, RandomKid partners with other nonprofit organizations and services, with Leman running the organization with help from volunteers and her family and friends. Her mother Dana now serves as the Executive Vice President and has said in regard to RandomKid that, “There is nothing more fulfilling than helping a child to help another.”

Only 18 years old now, Leman has a long future of humanitarian efforts and projects ahead of her. When asked what she loves the most about RandomKid, Leman has said, “The moment when the random youth who come to us realize that we are here to work FOR them.”

Through projects like Leman’s, we can see that together, young people can fight a lot of the world’s issues, including poor conditions and global poverty.

Julie Guacci

Sources: RandomKidE, The Story Exchange, Huffington Post, World of Children, Forbes
Photo: The Women’s Eye

A "CHANGE" for Reproductive RightsThe Center for Health and Gender Equality (CHANGE) is making a difference in worldwide reproductive rights.

CHANGE is a U.S.-based nongovernmental organization that originated in 1994 in direct response to the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo, a meeting that produced a human rights framework for development assistance. In 2001, CHANGE became an independent NGO and its policy work expanded to gender integration, gender-based violence, and female condom programming, amongst other initiatives.

Today, the organization aims to ensure that U.S. foreign policies and programs promote female sexual and reproductive health to a human rights standard around the world. CHANGE hopes to remove the ideology-based and counterproductive restrictions in U.S. policy to create a brighter future for women everywhere.

To accomplish its goals, CHANGE works with policymakers in Washington, D.C. The organization believes that there is no better way to get direct influence in shaping U.S. foreign policy than to take action where policies originate.

From the start, CHANGE realized that it could not receive funding from the organization it was built to oversee, and thus it refuses to accept funding from the U.S. government, instead of relying on private foundations and individuals.

Aligning U.S. policies to match a comprehensive, human-rights-based framework for sexual and reproductive health programs is an important step for encouraging other countries around the world to accept a worldwide standard for reproductive health and gender equality. Developing countries look towards the United States as a marker against which to compare their own reproductive health care reforms.

In acknowledging the UN’s goal to achieve universal reproductive health care access by 2015, CHANGE has set its own goal for the U.S.: to raise its annual support to at least $1 billion. Through its efforts and the help of its many volunteers and partnership with U.S. policymakers, CHANGE hopes to construct a world in which sexual and reproductive health care is universally accessible and available.

– Alexandra Bruschi

Sources: Gender Health, National Council of Women’s Organizations
Photo: Flickr


The accessibility of clean, safe water sources across the world varies greatly. Americans are afforded the luxury and don’t have to think twice about how they are going to collect water daily. It is so easy and natural to walk into a kitchen and fill up a glass of water or hop in the shower and bathe. For others, it is not that simple.

345 million people in Africa live without local water access, being forced to walk miles on end to collect where it can be found. The water is often dirty and contaminated with dangerous parasites, posing health risks to those who drink it. This may contribute to the extremely high mortality rates in Sudan.

Water for South Sudan has decided to address this issue. WSS has drilled over 168 borehole wells, providing remote villages in South Sudan with the basic human need of clean, safe water.

WSS has a deeply rooted belief that clean, accessible water is the framework for entrepreneurship and the growth of markets. Removing the huge issue of water from the equation opens up room to address other issues such as the economy and growth.

There are ways to help the people of Sudan through the Water for South Sudan organization. The H2O Project Challenge takes all of the money spent on beverages for two weeks and donates it to the charity. This means that for two weeks, the only drink a person can have is water. A little commitment such as this can have a profound impact on the lives of those in South Sudan.

– William Norris
Source: Water for South Sudan,, Save the Children
Photo: ICRC