India is known for having one of the fastest growing economies in the world. Currently, the growth for GDP within India rests at 4.9 percent, but this is far below its potential.

Similarly to the United States, India is another one of the world’s largest democracies. However, they both also have some of the worst cases of income inequality. In the past 15 years, the net worth of India’s top billionaires have increased 12 times, enough to eliminate poverty in India twice.

The public infrastructure of India is developing at a decent pace, but there are problems that are often left unaccounted for by the Indian government. For example, education in India is a system in dire need of improvement.

According to UNESCO’s Education For All global monitoring report, “At 287 million, India has 37 percent of the total population of illiterate adults across the world.” The report also asserts that the poorest of India will not expect to receive universal education until around the year 2080.

In regards to the specific problems that India faces with education, access and quality are two of the greatest concerns. Much of it is tied to the proper functioning and funding of Indian government, which may not be reliable in certain instances.

90% of people do not continue to college in India, 58% do not finish primary school and 4% never even have the opportunity to start.

The extensive lack of universal education in India also goes on to provide problems for India’s human capital in general. Out of 122 total countries released by the World Economic Forum’s Human Capital Index, India is ranked a measly The problems India faces may require the nation to make steps toward realizing more inclusive growth and development.

Income inequality ought to be addressed in India for their human capital to rise.

This means core public services including basic healthcare, education and power or water supply must be established by Indian government at multiple levels. Investment in people has proven a successful method to national development. In other words, India still has a ways to go in realizing its full potential.

– Jugal Patel

Sources: World Bank, India Times, Teach For India, Live Mint, Outlook India
Photo: The New York Times

Since November, Ukraine has been rocked by intense public protests over the government’s apparent rejection of the West in favor of closer ties to neighboring Russia. The protests have taken a violent turn as many demonstrators clashed with riot police over new anti-protest legislation that was recently passed this week.

The new legislation aims to quell the public’s right to protest against government officials. The specifics of the law ban the placement of tents, stages and loud speakers in public spaces.

The law also puts in place hefty jail sentences for those deemed to have played a part in “mass disorder.” Other points in the law state that wearing face masks or helmets is prohibited, threatening violators with long sentences.

Probably the law’s most egregious violation pertains to journalist’s ability to report on government officials. Any criticism of officials by the media is deemed illegal under the new legislation.

Tensions boiled over on Sunday as protesters resorted to violence against police forces. Demonstrators beat officers with sticks and attempted to turn over a bus blocking access to parliament. Fireworks and smoke bombs hurled through the air, injuring many.

A total of thirty police officers were injured during the protests. Later that night, police fired upon protesters with large water cannons in an attempt to disperse them.

A central figure in the middle of the public outrage over recent anti-western moves by the government is former professional boxer Vitaly Klitschko. He has made repeated calls for protests to remain peaceful despite the government overreach.

Recently, Klitschko was joined by his fiancé, American actress Hayden Panettiere, in a show of solidarity with the protesters.

Despite his efforts, Klistchko’s repeated calls for restraint fell on deaf ears, as tensions proved too much for many involved in the protests.

The country’s recent pivot away from a proposed joint economic partnership with the European Union toward Russia leads many to see Russia’s influence in the new anti-protest legislation. Heather McGill of Amnesty International reports the new law is almost an exact copy of existing Russian legislation that dealt a severe blow to the civil society in Russia.

The new economic partnership with Russia aims to reverse the decline of trade among the respective nations. Under the new deal, Russia will buy up $15 billion of Ukraine debt and cut natural gas prices.

The new prices will be slashed to $268.50 per 1,000 cubic meters of gas from $400.

The proposed partnership will reach across many economic sectors including industry, agriculture, defense, construction and transport.

This new partnership has created a split among the citizenry throughout Ukraine. The eastern section of the country desires increased relations with Russia, while the West favors closer ties with the E.U.

As Ukraine moves closer to Russia, many fear the nation will emulate the authoritarian tactics associated with the Russian government. The brazen passage of anti-protest legislation with complete disregard for the public’s disapproval is a clear sign Ukraine is moving in that direction.

– Zack Lindberg

Sources: CNN, Amnesty International, Reuters
Photo: TPM

Participatory Democracy in Africa
With over 300 in attendance, the Congressional Palace of Tunisia is to host the Participatory Budgeting and Citizen Conference between Dec 4 and Dec 6.

Participatory budgeting is the collaboration between civil society and local government in allocating municipal funds. The purpose is to create transparency and accountability in the use of public funds as citizens themselves become engaged and more knowledgeable of their government. As a result, informed decisions can lead to fairer spending and community development.

The movement gained ground in 1989 at Porto Alegre, Brazil. In 2012, participatory democracy is practiced in over 2,778 municipalities worldwide from New York City to Buenos Aires to London.

The participatory budget movement in Africa gained ground in the early 2000s and as a result, there are a recorded 211 African communes that take part.

The first International Conference on Participatory Budgeting was held in 2008 at Senegal. The conference was supported by the World Bank and drew in over 200 participants from Asia, Europe, Africa and the Americas.

That same year, pamphlets about participatory budgeting were published in English, Arabic and French for their respective African countries.

Furthermore, in 2012, the Observatory on Participatory Democracy was launched for Africa at Dakar. The conference included over 154 participants representing 16 different countries. Among them included elected local officials, overseers of P.B., lecturers, university professors and researchers.

The goal of the Observatory is to publicize the efforts of participatory budgeting, support it within Africa and to educate the global audience in regards to the movement.

The participatory budgeting movement empowers local actors and ensures that public resources go towards the poor. Based on a report by the World Bank, participatory democracy can increase knowledge of municipal systems – from transparency to accountability. As a result, a level of public education about local government enables an active civil society and media. Thus, policy is shaped by a “pro-poor” influence.

For its part, the current conference in Tunisia hopes to elaborate upon the benefits and challenges that participatory budgeting faces.

Secondly, the conference aims to discuss the mainstreaming and possible institutionalization of participatory democracy throughout Africa.

Lastly, the conference hopes to address the role elected officials, particularly women, have in mobilizing grassroots efforts.

Such measures are in line with the goals of creating an active citizenry for the betterment of their localities, a true echo of democracy and self-determination.

Miles Abadilla

Sources: PBP, OIDP 1, 2, World Bank


Chileans are choosing between a former president who aims to increase accessibility to higher education and a right wing politician wanting to keep taxes low are the candidates in the December 2013 presidential election. What is secondary, but notable, about these candidates is that both are also women.

The Chilean election is indicative of a larger trend in Latin America and the Caribbean of the ascension of female political leaders.

Eight of roughly 29 female presidents worldwide since the 1970s have headed countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, with half elected in the last eight years.

Quotas for women in government explain part of this progress. Argentina pioneered the quota system in the early 1990s with a law requiring that 30 percent of legislative candidates be women. As of 2006, 50 countries have adopted the quota system, including many in Latin America.

In Costa Rica, Ecuador, and Bolivia, every other candidate on a party’s election list is required to be a woman.

In North and South America, with the noteworthy exception of the United States, women are being elected to the highest offices of government.

In Latin America’s largest nation of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff was elected president in 2010 and will run again in 2014.  She previously held the position of energy minister and was ranked #20 in Forbes’ Most Powerful People list in 2013 and second on its list of Most Powerful Women.

Argentina’s Cristina Fernández de Kirchner is serving her second term as the country’s first elected female president, and Laura Chinchilla is Costa Rica’s first female president.

Jamaica’s Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller is the island nation’s first female Prime Minister and has fought for full rights for LGBT Jamaicans. Time Magazine put her on the 100 World’s Most Influential People List in 2012, and U.S. Congresswoman Yvette D. Clarke has said that Simpson-Miller is “inspiring a new generation of women, particularly from the Caribbean diaspora, to get involved in public service and make a difference.”

Also in the Caribbean region is Kamla Persad-Bissessar, Trinidad and Tobago’s first female Prime Minister.

According to polls, a substantial shift is taking place in the minds of people in Latin America. Roughly 80 percent of people in the region now believe that women should participate in politics.  That figure contrasts sharply to the 30% who believed this in the 1990s.

Progress for women in some parts of Latin American politics has been relatively recent, with El Salvador allowing women to run for office only since 1961 and Paraguay’s constitution giving women the right to vote that same year.

Despite women rising to the highest levels of government, participation in parliaments is still low even in countries with female heads of state.

Latin America nonetheless boasts the second highest average number of women in the lower houses of congress with 24 percent, only less than Scandinavian and Nordic countries, which both have 42 percent.

Rwanda is the only country in the world where more women than men serve in the lower house of parliament, with Andorra coming in second at 50 percent. In Latin America, Nicaragua has the highest number of female politicians in the lower house at 40 percent.

While these numbers are promising, no country in the region has therefore achieved gender parity, and experts worry that progress for women in government could be reversed. Ingrained sexism, income gaps between the sexes and male dominance in corporations still persist.

In Chile, the income gap between men and women has gotten greater in recent years, with men earning $1,172 per month compared to women’s $811.

Each region and country in the world struggles to bring about political, social, and economic equality of the sexes, but Farida Jalalzai, a gender politics scholar at the University of Missouri-St. Louis asserts, “Latin America is really ahead of the pack. This is interesting because it had seemed to stall by the early 2000s, but no more.”

Kaylie Cordingley

Sources: New York Times, Time Magazine, Forbes, The Quota Project, The Guardian
Photo: AARP

Federal Poverty Level
The federal poverty level is a measure that is often cited yet seldom is it fully understood.  Currently, the federal poverty level is considered to be at about a $15,000 yearly income per two-person families and, of which, the extreme poverty threshold  is set to households that are living on less than $2 per day.  This definition is fairly controversial, and has been subject to change over the years based on a number of factors.  However, it is a key concept to understand, and not just for domestic policy but foreign affairs as well.

The federal poverty level, or threshold, has been in effect in its current state since the Kennedy Administration.  According to a paper by economist, Gordon M. Fisher, the level was initiated in order to understand the risks of living in poverty  and the affects of poverty on different groups of people.  During the Johnson Administration, the level was used as a target; particularly, during the administration’s War on Poverty.

The level was developed based on the cost of food for families at the time and what kind of nutritional diet a family would be able to have at different levels.  Under the first calculation of this threshold, done by an economist working for the Social Security Administration, the threshold was determined at $1,988 yearly income per two-person households.

Since its creation, while a number of revisions have occurred since the first set of calculations, the formula to determine the level has been an important factor in U.S. policy decisions.  When looking at global poverty, the extreme poverty measure is particularly important for the threshold has been used to set goals for anti-poverty measures.

The Millennium Project is one such measure that uses the federal poverty level calculations to influence foreign policy.  The project has a number of goals to keep the global economy move forward, but listed first on these goals is the effort to “eradicate extreme hunger and poverty.”  These goals were set in 1990 with initial targets set to hit these goals.

The initial target for the extreme poverty goal was to halve extreme poverty by 2015.  Reminiscent of Johnson’s War on Poverty, this goal looked to drive the force for a greater world society.  The goal actually was estimated to have been reached by 2008, an achievement that was praised as a major success for the Millennium Project.

Despite the fact that poverty levels are used by programs like the War on Poverty and the Millennium Project, the poverty threshold has a number of critics.  Popular criticisms are that the threshold is too low, as it still uses calculations from the 1960s, and are applied indiscriminately to very different regions.  Alternative poverty measures have been proposed by state governments and by groups such as the National Academy of Sciences.  Unfortunately, none have yet been adopted.

Federal poverty levels are important to understand considering they are most often used in discussions surrounding poverty.  The measures influence policy decisions and are used to track the path of the U.S. economy.  The indications are that extreme poverty is going down across the world, but what this says about actual poverty and what it says about the way it is measured could be debated in some corners.

Eric Gustafsson

Sources: The New Yorker, Huffington Post, UN Millennium Project, Social Security Administration, Center for American Progress

With the advancement of technology, the Internet has become vastly popular for the masses. The Internet brings along a phenomenon, social networking. Networking has never been easier since applications are developed to foster this phenomenon, and people can access the social media through many channels: computer, laptops, even on their smart phones. Below are 10 interesting facts about social media.

  • 56 percent of Americans have a social networking site.
  • 91 percent of mobile access is used for social networking.
  • More than 4.2 billion people use their mobile phones to accesses social networking site.
  • 230,060 years is the total amount of time the United States spend on social media.
  • 6.9 hours is the amount of time an average American spends on his/her social networking site in a month.
  • 22 percent of online time is accounted by social networking.
  • 40 percent of people socialize through networking sites over face to face communication.
  • 23 percent of Facebook users check on their account at least five times a day.
  • 20 minutes per day is how much time people spend on Whisper application for smartphone devices.
  • 400 million tweets is the average number of tweet being sent every day.

All the numbers are saying that social networking is becoming popular in the modern day and social networking is the most profitable way to reach wider range of audience with a limited budget. In other words, one might say that social media is the most effect marketing strategy. However, people tend to forget a more important matter, global poverty. To make a difference, a person only needs to make a 30 second phone call to his/her local senator or representative in the area, and it only take less than two minutes to post a link and express concern about international affair issues. Only one of us might not be able to make a difference, but with the combined force of society on social media, global poverty can gain a tremendous amount of attention not only domestically but globally.

– Phong Pham

Sources: t2Social, Media Bistro, Mashable, Telegraph, Slate, CNBC

Democracy is an idea that envisions a method of decision making characterized by the equal participation of members of the collective group. As a form of government, democracy is often thought of as a political system where citizens have the power to create and amend laws, elect and impeach leaders and retain ultimate control of important policy matters. But the idea of democracy rarely corresponds with the practical elements of modern nation-states, even those that claim to be democratic.

The word democracy is derived from the Greek words demos which means “the people” and kratos which means “to rule.” A good literal translation may be, “the rule of the people.” But in terms of governance, different forms of democracy tend to dilute the rule of the people. For example, in a representative democracy, citizens elect representatives to act on their behalf when it comes to making decisions that affect the collective group. The United States is governed by a representative democracy whereby the people elect congressional representatives and an executive to carry out the respective powers granted to them by the Constitution.

The United States has often touted itself as the most advanced expression of democracy. While this may be true to some degree, the U.S. experiment with democracy has also illustrated the complexity of a representative democracy. The health of a functioning democracy is dependent upon the participation of the people—if the people are to rule, then they must participate. In the U.S., voter turnout is on average a little more than 50 percent for Presidential elections and substantially less for non-Presidential elections. When people do not vote, they are not participating fully in the democratic process.

Another issue that affects a democracy is the information and education available to the participating citizenry. As Thomas Jefferson explained, “An enlightened citizenry is indispensable for the proper functioning of a republic. Self-government is not possible unless the citizens are educated sufficiently to enable them to exercise oversight.” It is not hard to see that without the proper information, citizens cannot effectively oversee their elected representatives. Thus, a free and independent press is indispensable to a properly functioning democracy. But no matter how much information may be available, it is ultimately the will of the people to be adequately informed that determines the effectiveness of democracy.

Like any idea, democracy is one that continually evolves. Each experiment with democracy is dependent upon the participation of the people in the decision making process. A well-informed and active citizenry makes for a healthy and dynamic democracy. But an unenlightened and indifferent citizenry cannot hope to participate in a functioning democracy. If democracy is—at its core—the rule of the people, then it is the people who must define the characteristics of their democracy.

– Daniel Bonasso

Sources: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, United Nations, The Guardian
Photo: Pixar Planet

According to the annual Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) report, government support for agriculture rose during 2012, ending a long-term downward drift and reversing the record lows that were recorded in 2011.

This support was documented in the 47 leading farming nations, which provide nearly 80 percent of the global farm output. This includes seven “emerging economies” that will soon be major players in the food and agriculture markets.

The OECD defines “support” as the transfer of money to agricultural projects from government policies that are designed to support them. This money comes from consumers and taxpayers. This year, the Producer Support Estimate has risen to 17 percent of gross farm receipts in 2012, up from 15 percent in 2011.

Ken Ash, the OECD Trade and Agriculture Director, said that wasteful policies of the past need to be abandoned to make sure that “much needed innovation” is fully funded. This will also allow farmers to “respond to market signals” and for governments to support wide-range farm reform.

Though the report noted a general rise in government support, the levels of support per country vary widely. The highest support countries recorded further increases, but countries with relatively low support continued to fall.

According to the OECD, some of the countries that saw sharp increases in this support have begun turning their policy toward a focus on self-sufficiency. The OECD also said that food systems would be more efficiently improved by developing “safety nets” and reducing poverty.

The OECD notes that several multi-dimensional efforts are necessary to raise domestic production and improve access to imports and export markets. These efforts would also allow for the construction of emergency food reserves.

The report released by the OECD said that “public investments for the sector overall should receive more attention.” They suggest investments that have “high social returns in the long run,” such as education, research and development, technology and advisory services. The OECD also said that food safety and food quality assurance systems contribute to long-term profitability.

– Alycia Rock

Sources: The OECD Newsroom, OECD Report, Huffington Post
Photo: The Land Group

Poverty in Liberia
Located on the western coast of Africa, Liberia is a country rich with beauty and natural resources. The lush green landscape is home to many precious gems and metals. Despite this, poverty in Liberia is a large problem. It ranks 174 out of 187 on the United Nations Development Index. Infectious disease runs rampant in the country and the majority of Liberians have little to no education. Two civil wars in the last 30 years have decimated the country’s infrastructure and led to widespread poverty.

Liberia’s population consists mainly of smallholder farmers that struggle to produce enough to feed their families. This has led to poverty in Liberia reaching 68 percent and 35 percent of the population being malnourished. The civil wars have left the country with inadequate roads, water and other basic infrastructure, which has proving a significant barrier for economic growth.

The country’s civil wars also contributed to the over 250,000 Liberian orphans who frequently suffer from malnutrition and are sometimes completely abandoned. Liberia’s education and health systems are both in need of great improvement. The lack of health care access often leads to high fatality rates among those with treatable or preventable diseases. As far as education goes, only half of Liberians are literate, and many Liberian children are kept out of school in order to help on their families’ farms.

The focus of USAID in combating poverty in Liberia is collaborating with the Liberian government to help rebuild the infrastructure and revitalize mining and other utilization of natural resources in the country. Government strategies focus on stimulating the private sector by providing access to credit and infrastructure to Liberians.

The good thing about Liberia is that it has the landscape and resources available to make it a prosperous country.  Now that a stable government is in place, infrastructure can be rebuilt and resources can be utilized to their full potential. For this reason, one of the pillars of USAID’s action in Liberia is strengthening Democracy and Governance.  Once infrastructure is rebuilt, and this can happen rapidly with the help of USAID, the resources flowing out of Liberia will benefit the global economy and western investment will be paid back in spades.

– Martin Drake

Sources: Children of the Nations, USAID

Poverty in Morocco
Poverty in Morocco is a fact of life for many. The name Morocco does not immediately conjure images of destitution. The country has done well as branding itself as an exotic tourist destination, but the country is suffering a significant poverty problem, one that cannot be disguised even to foreigners.

A blogger wrote of her travels in Morocco:

“…from the minute you arrive, the beggars, orphans, story-tellers and snake charmers, all desperately competing to prize a few pennies from the newest tourist’s pockets, not only colourfully line the city’s streets, but paint a picture that poverty, in one of Morocco’s most imperial cities and capital of the south, is depressingly genuine.”

The majority of poverty in Morocco is in rural areas –- according to the Rural Poverty Portal, of the 4 million people living under the poverty line in Morocco, 3 million of them are in rural areas. This may stem from the number of people depending on agriculture as a source of income in a geographically challenging region, as well as a lack of access to resources like water and financial credit and also a low level of training and education.

Morocco has seen vast improvement in its poverty levels in the last two decades, but is still far behind other countries at the same income level. Infant mortality is higher than most lower-middle income countries and total school enrollment and female enrollment are both lower. In rural areas, the vast majority still do not have access to clean water or electricity.

The Moroccan government is indeed working towards alleviating poverty in the country, though recommendations by the world bank have suggested they focus more on improving the agricultural sector as well as targeting services towards the poor and encouraging the better off to use private services.

– Farahnaz Mohammad
Source: UN Post, Rural Poverty Portal, World Bank
Photo: Sanatoy