Why not just give the poor cash?  Rather than funnel the funds through a development organization, why not give it directly to the poor themselves?  GiveDirectly, a U.S. based nonprofit operating in Kenya, asked just that question and couldn’t come up with a reason why not.  Solid evidence shows that rural and poor individuals use the money wisely.  Many of the world’s poor are not irresponsible; they were born in circumstances that complicated their economic condition.  Thus evidence shows when they are given money they use it in positive ways.

Google and Facebook reviewed the research backing GiveDirectly and decided the idea was worth taking a second look.  Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes and a host of venture capitalists and tech entrepreneurs gathered over wine and conversation for an introduction to GiveDirectly.  Hughes was frustrated with nonprofits after a venture of his failed to gain traction and found GiveDirectly excited him and got him interested again in humanitarian issues.  Rather than funding major projects, GiveDirectly focuses on giving donated funds directly to poor individuals.

Research shows it can be effective and Hughes joined the board in addition to providing monetary support for the organization. Partnering with Hughes was Jacquelline Fuller, Director of Giving at Google. After an initial air of skepticism among Google superiors, Fuller was able to convince them that Google should support GiveDirectly.  Hard data on how recipients used the cash to improve nutrition, health, and their children’s education worked to convince Google superiors of the positive effects GiveDirectly is having in Kenya. Google donated $2.5 million to the cause.

The idea for GiveDirectly came from Paul Niehaus, an assistant professor of economics at UC San Diego, who originally came up with the idea of transferring money to individual’s cell phones. In 2008, he was working with the government to reduce corruption and saw transferring money directly to cell phones as one way to do that. GiveDirectly has significant impacts on nutrition, education, land, and livestock.

The organization finds poor households, typically people who live in mud huts with thatched roofs, and transfer money to their phones using a system called M-Pesa. The transaction costs a mere 3 cents per donated dollar. Many of the recipients use the money to upgrade to metal roofs. GiveDirectly admits that giving cash is not the solution for ending poverty, but it does provide an ability to meet immediate needs and ensure money gets to the people who need it the most.

– Amanda Kloeppel

Source: Forbes


Google announced in late May that it is investing $12 million on a “96 megawatt solar photovoltaic plant in South Africa.” This plant is significant because it utilizes the climate of southern Africa to generate clean and renewable energy.

While South Africa is one of the continent’s more economically advanced countries, the utilization of solar panels in Africa could set an important trend for developing countries in the region. As Africa continues to progress and its standards of living rise, there will be a higher energy demand coming from Africans. Without the use of renewable sources, this higher energy use would result in an increase of greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere, potentially propelling climate change.

The investment made by Google demonstrates that higher standards of living in Africa can be possible through the use of clean energy. The majority of the continent is well suited to obtain energy from solar panels since most areas in Africa have a high level of Global Horizontal Irradiation, a parameter which evaluates the solar energy potential of a particular region. The investment should also encourage other areas of the world, both developed and developing, to invest in renewable energy. The solar plant is expected to “generate enough power for 30,000 South African homes” without emitting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. While not all areas of the world have climates that are well-suited for the use of solar plants, other renewable resources, such as wind power, hydropower, and geothermal energy should be considered as ways to maintain a high standard of living without creating pollutants that can degrade the environment.

– Jordan Kline

Source: TechCrunch,SolarGis

In a recent study done by a charity, ActionAid, almost half of all money invested in developing countries is channeled through tax havens and deprives the world’s poorest of billions of dollars. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development estimates that the money lost to developing countries due to tax havens is almost three times more than what they receive in aid every year.

In the UK, companies such as Google and Amazon have recently proved troublesome in tax avoidance and the result is staggering to poor countries that are ill equipped to handle the repercussions. ActionAid reported that one single transaction through UK-linked tax havens would have provided India with USD 2.2 billion in tax. This sum could potentially provide every Indian primary school child with a subsidized lunch meal for an entire year.

Other countries are effected in similar ways. A major mining company reports that 84% of its revenue comes from Africa but it only has four of its 81 subsidiaries registered in African countries. “Tax havens are one of the main obstacles in the fight against global poverty,” says Mike Lewis, ActionAid’s tax expert. The secrecy of these tax havens deprive developing countries of the important resources needed to provide life saving technologies and necessities such as hospitals, schools and clean water.

Currently, the UK is responsible for one in five global tax havens which proves to be more than any other country. Furthermore, G8 countries are collectively responsible for 40% of tax havens worldwide. A G8 Summit in June, will give world leaders a historic opportunity to address the problem of these tax havens that cheat the countries that need the money the most.

– Kira Maixner
Source Daily Express

Ever feeling philanthropic and want to donate to your favorite charity, but think it’s too difficult and time-consuming to donate through the charity’s website or via snail-mail? If so, Google (as always) has the answer to your problems.

One Today is Google’s new philanthropy app that allows users to donate $1 to their favorite charities each day. It’s simple to use because all the charities you love and want to contribute to are stored in the app, meaning you don’t have to remember any extra information about them like websites or physical addresses, and the $1 donation is easy on the wallet.

One Today also allows users to battle their friends to see who can donate the most. Through social media, the people who want to donate more than the $1 per day minimum can challenge their friends to match or exceed their donation. Not only does this method inspire more people to donate, it also spreads awareness of the different charities that are out there. Friends can find out what charities inspire their peers, and may feel more inspired themselves to give back.

As of now One Today is available by invite-only on android devices, as Google is running a test pilot of the app before making it widely available, but you can request an invite on Google’s One Today website.

Katie Brockman

Source Nonprofit Quarterly
Photo Google One Today

In this day and age, nonprofit organizations are multiplying by the second. In a sea of social awareness, it can become hard to make your organization stand out and grab the audience’s attention. Whether you’re a member, a donor, or on the Board of Directors, here are 8 simple ways to use social media to bring about social change.

  • Gather Advocates: Look at your network. See where certain individuals or groups have their strengths. By identifying key donors and volunteers, you can take advantage of their skills and contacts. For example, if you recognize a member who has a strong presence on Twitter in their own right, approach them with specific requests to advocate for your group and help spread the word. Or if there is someone who writes well or is able to easily communicate your organization’s message, ask if they would be willing to blog or create a Twitter account and put their skills to use!

  • Let Ideas Sit and Develop: A lot of good ideas and suggestions will come not just from active members but one-time visitors to your social media pages. This requires letting ideas and conversations to sit and simmer. Even if a topic produces controversial comments, don’t jump the gun and remove it. Sometimes, controversy can be a good thing and lead to an unintended brainstorming session. Topics may be left untouched for a while as well but you never know when it will gain popularity randomly and create a big social media buzz.

  • Authenticate Your Voice: Many organizations these days have multiple social media accounts. Whether its Pinterest, Twitter, Google+, Facebook, etc., its always important to keep your ‘voice’ consistent. By voice, it means the style of the content. Does your organization use highly intellectual vocabulary? Is it more relaxed and casual to appeal to a younger audience? Or maybe it simply posts news updates. Either way, make sure each site adheres to the same voice. This will clearly illustrate your intent and goals to anyone reading up on the organization no matter what medium they’re using.

  • Sustained Conversations: Many organizations host live chats as part of their outreach. What is important with these however is to keep it going! Choose a time and place to host it. Whether its once a month or once a week, make sure its all consistent. This way, once the event is known, people will know where they can always find it. Reddit’s AMA (Ask Me Anything) series is an amazing way to create an open dialogue and get some serious exposure to new and curious members.

  • Its a 2 Way Street: Certain groups will stick to easy advocacy meaning they simply put out information and leave it up to people to do what they please with it. If you really want to make moves and create social change, the actual social aspect has to be there! If someone tweets about your organization or you see an applicable hashtag, retweet! Show people and followers that you know they exist. On org websites, think about incorporating a chat room or allowing people to post comments. It is of course important to manage what is being said but social change won’t happen if everyone is just thinking silently in their own heads!

  • ID the Demographic: No, they don’t need to be 21, but find out where your supporters are! Where do most of the donors come from? Are they the same people who blog about your organization or talk about it on Twitter? Make sure you have a presence on any and all social media sites that you think will attract the best type of advocates for your cause

  • Don’t Dumb it Down: While sites such as Twitter may have character limits, don’t let that limit the conversation. People are finding more ways to get the message across and make something meaningful come out of it everyday. Legitimate advocacy and change can come in the form of photography or short videos, even through games.

  • Creativity: Check out Twitter’s new video app Vine. It allows users to share looping videos up to 6 seconds long. Think that doesn’t raise awareness? Think again! Leaving viewers on mini cliff hangers will keep the engaged and interested in what you have to say.

– Deena Dulgerian
Source: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

3 American Tech Companies and Africa

While Africa has its share of security issues, it has its share of economic growth as well. In fact, as a continent, it is growing at a faster rate than North America. This has spurred a big push in many African countries to modernize technologically which has given rise to many tech hubs and even a few tech cities. All of this begs the question: What are American tech companies doing to contribute to and capitalize on this type of growth? Here is a list of what three of the largest American tech companies have been up to in Africa.

IBM recently opened an office in Dakar, Senegal which the company believes will bring in roughly $20 billion by 2015. IBM is no stranger to the region as it sold supplies to South Africa in 1911. Recently, IBM has become more and more focused on Africa and has established a presence in 20 of Africa’s 54 countries. No doubt IBM is hoping to establish a bigger presence in many of the upstart tech hubs which have begun sprouting up all over the continent.

In an attempt to gain ground in the smartphone market as well as capitalize on Africa’s quickly growing tech industry, Microsoft has introduced its Microsoft 4Afrika initiative.  Microsoft 4Afrika will be producing a moderately price $150 smartphone. The phone will be marketed toward Africa’s middle-class which comprises one quarter of Africa’s billion people. Microsoft has plans with Nokia to release two more smartphones in the near future. This decision was likely influenced by Africa’s number one spot as the world’s fastest growing region for smartphones. The region has grown by 43% per year since 2000.

Google chairman Eric Schmidt noted that Nairobi has become a remarkable tech hub and has the potential to become an African leader in innovation. However, Google seems to be losing ground in Africa as French based mobile operator Orange and Baidu, China’s answer to Google, have collaborated on a jointly branded smartphone. This comes as no surprise as China has been aggressive in its attempts to forge business partnerships all over the quickly changing continent.

Africa’s main draw to tech companies is that it continues to grow while larger economies have stalled. If this trend continues, those companies who are left behind investing in these developed markets may see their profits eclipsed by these fast growing economies.

-Pete Grapentien

Source The Economist

How Myanmar Will Avoid Being Earth's Most Isolated CountryHaving less cell phone usage than North Korea has made Myanmar one of the most isolated countries on the planet. Upon the United States’ decision to lift sanctions on the country, USAID was happy to sponsor a delegation of executives from Cisco, Google, Microsoft and other organizations to explore the possibility of establishing tech training centers in the newly open Myanmar market.

A little over two decades ago, the U.S. imposed sanctions on Myanmar when the military junta killed thousands of civilian protestors in one brutal onslaught. Currently, a new civilian government has been established and many of these sanctions have been lifted.

Companies like Google and Microsoft are offering Myanmar more than just tech services by establishing training centers in the country. The effect of these centers will be a reinforcement of Myanmar’s technological infrastructure.  The widespread availability of internet and cellular service allows a greater opportunity for online learning and social organizing via websites such as Twitter which can be used through either SMS messages or the internet.

Another avenue that becomes easier to access is international development and trade. By contributing to tech growth, Google, Cisco and Microsoft are also helping Myanmar contribute to the global economy. This in turn allows Myanmar to grow its own economy and strengthen foreign relations.

-Pete Grapentien
Source Yahoo News

Conservation Groups Investigate Google Ivory AdvertisementsThe Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) claimed this week that the Internet giant Google has over 10,000 advertisements for ivory products on its Japanese shopping site. The EIA has written to Google asking them to remove the ivory advertisements, but so far nothing has been done.

The EIA made the announcement this week at the 16th annual Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) held in Bangkok. Other conservation groups, including the International Fund for Animal Welfare, have recently uncovered illegal sales of ivory and other wildlife products on websites such as eBay. The anonymity of Internet-based sales services has clearly fueled the increase in international commerce of illegal animal goods.

Google’s ivory advertisements are a matter of extreme concern for several reasons. First, ivory comes from African elephants, which are internationally recognized endangered species. According to The Guardian, the vast majority of African forest elephants, whose population once numbered 5 million, have been poached for their ivory-containing tusks. The population of this endangered species is two-thirds what it was a decade ago. Should this trend continue, the African forest elephant will potentially become extinct within the next decade.

Of secondary importance is Google’s hypocrisy in the matter. The generally progressive and environmentally conscious company has so far failed to act to remove the ivory advertisements. Company policy states, “Ads for products obtained from endangered or threatened species are not allowed on Google.” Yet, the ads are still up and running, fueling demand for products that threaten the existence of one of the world’s most vulnerable creatures.

– Kat Henrichs

Sources: BBC News, Huffington Post
Photo: World Wildlife Fund