the Friendship Bench

The Republic of Zimbabwe is a landlocked country located in the southern parts of Africa. Zimbabwe has a population of around 17 million. Estimates show that one in four Zimbabweans have anxiety and depression, yet there are only 12 psychiatrists in the country. Roughly two years ago, the idea of the Friendship Bench in Zimbabwe was introduced as an answer to this deficiency in mental health care. Now, the success of the program might be able to help other countries.

What is Friendship Bench?

In 2016, Dr. Dixon Chibanda came up with the idea of a friendship bench to treat the enormous problem of depression and inaccessibility to mental health treatment for the people of Zimbabwe. This was in response to the lack of resources and healthcare professionals. He decided to train 14 grandmothers as mental health counselors for a pilot project.

The government of Zimbabwe expanded the program following its success and has trained more than 700 grandmothers since. The mission of the Friendship bench is to boost mental well-being by bridging the gap created by poverty, distance and lack of resources. Friendship benches are wooden benches placed in open areas of health facilities where patients and their counselors have conversations based on problem-solving therapy.

The Randomized Control Studies conducted in 2016 evaluated the success of the Friendship Bench. They found that the benches alleviated symptoms of depression in 86 percent of the patients compared to 50 percent in a control group with standard therapy. These patients were also five times less likely to have suicidal thoughts. Dr. Dixon Chibanda, the founder of Friendship bench Project says that there are also positive effects of this treatment on other health outcomes such as hypertension and diabetes.

Why the Friendship Bench is so Successful?

The Friendship Bench in Zimbabwe has been successful for a number of reasons. By understanding these reasons, other countries could use this method to alleviate their mental health issues. The following are a few reasons that have led to the success of the Friendship Bench.

  1. The use of local terminology by the grandmothers to communicate resonated with the patients. For example, instead of using the word depression, grandmothers use the local word kufungisisa, which means ‘thinking too much.’ The non-use of strict medical terminology prevented stigma and encouraged people to seek help.
  2. The grandmothers involved in the project not only provided a safe space to share the problems but also helped empower their patients through solutions-oriented discussions.
  3. The patients meet with their counselors every week. This higher frequency of meetings leads to effective treatment.
  4. The holding of group sessions for the patients brings in a feeling of community and belonging.
  5. Since grandmothers who deliver the treatment come from the native community, they were able to build a relationship of trust with the patients.

Friendship Bench as a Blueprint for Other Countries

The United States has about 16 psychiatrists per 100,000 people. This number is one of the highest in the world, and yet it is inadequate. To cover this gap, New York City launched the Friendship bench project under the aegis of Dr. Chibanda in 2016. New York City has three permanent, bright orange friendship benches in Bronx, Brooklyn and Harlem. The project got an enormous response. Within the first year of the program, there were already 30,000 visitors. The counselors in New York City are as diverse as people. In fact, many of them have experienced mental health issues and/or substance abuse.

Canadian Universities have an independent but similar program to tackle depression in students. The Lucas Fiorella Friendship Bench is a nonprofit organization in Canada that started in 2015. The program uses #YellowforHello to spread awareness about mental health. The method is the same; person-to-person conversation to solve the problems causing mental health issues in university students. Dr. Shekhar Saxena, the Director of the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse (MSD) said, “When it comes to mental health, all countries are developing countries.” Depression is one of the leading causes of disability worldwide and one of the largest contributors to the global burden of disease.

Zimbabwe’s success with the Friendship Bench has provided a blueprint for mental health treatment in both low- and high-income countries. With New York already following the suit and London in consideration, it is safe to say that Zimbabwe, an otherwise resource-deprived country, is leading the globe with an effective and accessible solution to address common mental health disorders.

Navjot Buttar
Photo: Flickr

Stephen Colbert & Hugh Jackman to Host Global Citizen Festival
Is there anything better than music that plays for a good cause?

The 2015 Global Citizen Festival will take place in New York City’s Central Park on September 26. The Festival will celebrate the launch of the United Nations’ Global Goals, a set of 17 initiatives designed to protect the environment, support universal education and end extreme poverty by 2030. Featured headliners include Pearl Jam, Beyoncé, Ed Sheeran and Coldplay.

Although the free event announced the artists earlier this summer, it just recently revealed the hosts of the show. The group of mega-talented individuals that will share the stage with the musical headliners include Stephen Colbert, Hugh Jackman, Deborra-Lee Furness, Salma Hayek Pinault, Kerry Washington and Olivia Wilde.

An online platform created by the Global Poverty Project in 2012, Global Citizen features informative articles and innovative campaigns dedicated to ending extreme poverty, injustice and inequality. It has hosted the Global Citizen Festival since 2012. The hosts this year will encourage festival attendees and fans around the world to become involved in Global Citizen’s mission to eradicate poverty.

In fact, in order to earn tickets the festival requires that people “take action” against poverty. After visiting the Global Citizen website to create an account, fans must perform a series of honorable actions to receive tickets to the festival. Such actions include signing virtual petitions against poverty, tweeting to world leaders and calling the U.S. State Department about the U.S. foreign aid budget.

Colbert and Jackman have expressed their excitement to host the festival as well as their firm belief that extreme global poverty can be eliminated by 2030. World leaders will be in attendance this year, providing the hosts and global citizens alike with the opportunity to voice their support of the Global Goals and the eradication of poverty.

Since 2012, the Global Citizen Festivals have made significant impacts in eradicating poverty; people have taken more than 3 million actions on the Global Citizen website. This September, the Festival will be jam-packed with good music, great people and an awesome cause.

Sarah Sheppard

Sources: Rolling Stone, Global Citizen 1, Global Citizen 2
Photo: Tick Pick

global citizen festival
Extreme poverty, defined as living on less than $1.25 per day, consumes 1.2 billion people of the world’s population. Fortunately, awareness of this problem is beginning to penetrate the mainstream and even many celebrities are starting to take action. Jay-Z, Carrie Underwood, Tiesto, and other well-known artists are set to headline the Global Citizen Festival on September 27th at Central Park in New York City. This festival is aimed to highlight the goal of ending extreme poverty by 2030.

In regards to the festival, Jay-Z stated, “Change only takes place when and where there is action. I’m joining the 2014 Global Citizen Festival because I believe through actions, whether it be by raising awareness, getting involved or educating ourselves, the goal to end extreme poverty by 2030 is possible.”

The Global Poverty Project has taken the initiative to create this festival not only to raise awareness about the issue, but also to increase the number of people participating in poverty-reduction efforts. In order to maximize attendance and participation in such efforts, 45,000 tickets will be distributed free of charge for participating in Global Citizen’s online platform.

Many may argue that a concert, even with such famous artists, will not do much to alleviate extreme poverty around the globe, but the statistics show otherwise. In the past two years of Global Citizen Festivals, with performances by John Mayer, Alicia Keys, The Foo Fighters, and Kings of Leon, actions taken by concert attendees generated $1.3 billion to put toward poverty reduction programs, as well as commitments from 35 world leaders to aid the poor. Although much more funding and aid is needed to eliminate extreme poverty, $1.3 billion has saved lives.

In terms of participation, exposure, and timing, the Global Citizen Festival has been very strategically organized. This festival is set up to reach the widest audience possible by having iconic artists from three completely different genres of music come together to perform at the same concert, attracting people from many different backgrounds. The festival has also established partnerships with mainstream media outlets, such as NBC and MSNBC in order to reach people on a national level as well.

September 27th is a very important date for the festival to be held because it coincides with the United Nations General Assembly, where leaders from all over the world will gather to discuss public policy and international affairs. The fact that this festival is on the same day will give added inspiration to these leaders to commit to providing even more funding from their nations for international aid development to reduce extreme global poverty.

Besides eliminating extreme poverty by 2030, the main goals of this years’ Global Citizen Festival include bringing vaccines to the world’s poor, expanding education to the 60 million adolescents who are not provided the opportunity to learn and increasing conditions of sanitation to prevent disease and other problems.

In the fight against global poverty, it is extremely helpful and important that celebrities like Jay-Z and Carrie Underwood use their spotlight of fame toward a worthy cause in order to raise awareness. The combination of high-profile figures, established media partnerships, and strategic methods of participation in poverty-reduction, has set this years’ Global Citizens Festival at an unprecedented reach.

– Lucas Vazquez
Sources: Inquisitr, Rolling Stone

Many large businesses recognize the importance of philanthropic initiatives. They understand that all people, linked by common humanity, have a responsibility to help each other. However, all people are not linked by a common language. Language barriers can, at times, get in the way of global philanthropy. Fortunately, TransPerfect, a translation services company based in New York City, is contributing to the alleviation of this obstacle.

TransPerfect has offices in six different continents and provides translation and interpretation services in over 170 languages. Today, after 20 years in business, it is ranked as one of the Women Presidents’ Organization’s “50 Fastest-Growing Women-Owned/Led Companies” and received the 2014 Global Technology Award from World Trade Week.

TransPerfect also donates significant funds to disaster relief globally and programs benefiting underprivileged people in its home-state of New York.

The largest portion of the company’s charitable donations goes to Heifer International, a relief project that helps impoverished families by donating livestock and other resources. TransPerfect’s donations to Heifer International have helped the organization to supply people in 115 countries with sheep, pigs, chickens, bees and trees.

Even more important than its financial donations, however, are donations of its services.

Recently, TransPerfect announced that it has been chosen as the official language services partner of Oxfam Belgium. Oxfam Belgium is a regional sector of the larger Oxfam organization which seeks to end injustice and poverty in the world. Specifically, Oxfam Belgium focuses its efforts on encouraging people to buy fair trade products, shop in its second-hand stores and contribute to foreign aid in any way possible.

By engaging in this partnership, TransPerfect will donate translation services to the Oxfam Belgium organization. It will translate brochures and other public relations material into Dutch and French so that the Oxfam organization can make effective and engaging presentations to people in the Netherlands. Hopefully, these presentations will catalyze even greater foreign aid and humanitarian projects from this area of the world.

TransPerfect is highly effective in the fight against global poverty, not only because of the relief that it provides for so many charitable organizations, but because its services enable organizations to communicate across cultures. Its translation and interpretation services eliminate the language barriers that often get in the way of effectively explaining projects, goals and other causes. By teaming up with organizations such as Oxfam Belgium, TransPerfect empowers global philanthropists to better carry out their missions.

— Emily Walthouse

Sources: Fort Mill Times, Transperfect 1, Transperfect 2, Heifer International
Photo: AZ BIG Media

Hot Bread Kitchen
Foreign-born and low-income workers have the opportunity to become financially independent through a culinary career at Hot Bread Kitchen (HBK) in New York City’s Spanish Harlem.

Due to a lack of English fluency or professional networks, immigrants are often forced to the periphery of society. HBK works to build a world where immigrants are accepted into mainstream culture and honored for their work. In the kitchen, the foreign-born workers are not only improving their English language skills, but learning about commercial baking and management.

Since its launch, HBK has trained 22 women from 11 different countries, and it has incubated 15 small businesses.

The bakery offers Project Launch, a paid on-the-job training program, and HBK Incubates, a small business incubation program. Most of the workers grew up learning how to bake traditional breads from family recipes, and the training programs are funded by the sale of multi-ethnic breads made by the bakers using local and organic ingredients.

Project Launch is an intensive workforce training program in artisanal baking and English fluency for foreign-born and low-income minority women. Participants in the program receive up to 35 hours per week of on-the-job bakery training, 16 hours of customer service training and three hours of English fluency classes.

After an average of nine months, the women are placed in management track positions in the culinary industry or advanced to the HBK Incubates, which helps them launch their own businesses. For those transitioning into professional positions, household wealth is improved, with salaries increasing an average of 106%.

Nancy Mendez started making tortillas by hand when she was 10 years old, but she could not afford professional cooking school in Mexico because of the cost. She now makes Mexican corn tortillas for HBK based on her grandmother’s recipe. Mendez, who moved to the U.S. almost 14 years ago, now runs the entire tortilla production process at HBK. The tortillas are sold at weekly farmer’s markets in New York and at small shops. The breads sold at HBK vary, from foccacia to rye and challah to lavash crackers; the bakery also sells granola. The tortillas are one of the bakery’s most popular items.

HBK is not the only non-profit kitchen that doubles as a training center — La Cocina in San Francisco and Hope & Main in Rhode Island are also kitchen training centers in addition to commercial enterprises. However, HBK is unique in that is pays its bakers for class time.
HBK products are sold at retailers all over Manhattan, Brooklyn and online.

– Haley Sklut

Sources: Hot Bread Kitchen, National Public Radio, Changemakers
Photo: Arbor Brothers

Concert Goers AIDS Activists Fight Global Poverty
Last year, thousands of people came together in Manhattan’s Central Park to enjoy some of the biggest names in music. It cost concert goers nothing. The catch? Donate time and effort to signing petitions, sharing content, tweeting at companies, and pledging support to organizations working in tandem with the Global Citizens.

With this conversion of activism into tangible benefits, Global Poverty Project CEO Hugh Evans has created a new type of activism in which 60,000 people are mobilized into action while having the opportunity to experience the live music they love. This type of involvement matches the participants’ own interests with those of NGOs and the bottom billion around the world.

As the likes of Neil Young, Foo Fighters, Black Keys, Band of Horses, and K’naan graced the stage with their sets last year, they ended with a collaborative version of “Rockin’ in the Free World,” with assorted members from the bands. After such a lineup it seems hard to improve.

Yet, this is exactly what has happened. The new lineup is even more impressive than before as the Global Poverty Project and Global Citizens have acquired headliners like Stevie Wonder, Alicia Keys, John Mayer, and Kings of Leon. And it’s not just performers.

This year’s festival on September 28th will coincide with the United Nations General Assembly. The UN’s highest ranking figure, Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon will be in attendance at the concert.

Other big names in attendance include the Crown Princess Mary of Denmark, Malaysia Prime Minister Najib Razak, and three U.S. Congress Members. But it doesn’t end there. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the Liberian President, will receive the Global Citizen Movement Award for her efforts on women’s rights. Her presenter? The face of activism, Bono of U2.

Bringing such a cast to a festival has incentivized activists and Evans is capitalizing on it. His most recent idea aimed at focusing social media to pressure Trojan, Durex, ONE, and Lifestyles condom companies to commit 2% of profits to family planning worldwide. If a participating activist was to tweet at a condom company they would receive 5 of the 8 points necessary to receive a ticket for this blockbuster concert.

As 222 million women and girls are without access to contraceptives, family planning, and sexual education, profits will go towards providing these important services for 120 million of these women. The funds raised will go towards “It Takes Two” and other family planning initiatives.

Access to family planning and contraceptives allows women around the world to understand their own fertility and provides them with alternatives to childbearing. This can help prevent childbirth at a young age and promote their continued education and success.

– Michael Carney

Sources: The Daily Beast, NYT, ABC News, Global Citizen
Photo: Old Gold And Black


Sean Jacobs recently published a fascinating piece in The Nation on the state of South Africa as its beloved former leader, Nelson Mandela, lies on what many assume will be his deathbed. Jacobs, a professor of International Affairs at The New School in New York City, grew up in the apartheid South Africa that Mandela famously worked to abolish. In his piece, Jacobs explores the limited progress made since Mandela left office and the country’s rising racial inequality.

Though Mandela is still esteemed by much of his country, his party, the African National Congress (ANC), has done little to better the lives of South Africa’s poor majority, a vast majority of whom are black. The government frequently places the interests of businesses over those of its people. Mandela himself oversaw the implementation of policies that, though crucial to maintaining economic stability, ensured that the white population would continue to wield undue wealth and political sway. The current government has been mired in controversy surrounding police brutality, murdered protesters, and “callous” treatment of the poor.

Inequality in South Africa has only increased in recent years. Since the mid-1990s, both the number of South Africans living on less than one dollar per day and the number of South African millionaires have doubled. Jacobs suggests that in order to progress, South Africans must realize that “true citizenship means taking on the ANC.” You can read Jacobs’ piece here.

– Andrew Rasner

Sources: The Nation, New School

Founded in New York in 1998, the Volunteers Association for Bangladesh is a small NGO on a big mission: to change public education for the poor in Bangladesh. The organization, whose members are mostly expatriate Bangladeshis living in the U.S. and Canada, has devoted itself to providing the funds, technical resources, and training necessary to improve Bangladeshi public schools, particularly those in rural areas where most of the country’s poor people live.

Their task could be seen as a daunting one. Statistics from 2009 put the literacy rate among Bangladeshi males at 54%, and among females at only 32%. According to more recent studies, the literacy rate for people in Bangladesh over age 15 is just under 60%. Dropout rates for high school students are estimated at 42%. Figures like these speak to the great educational need that the Volunteers Association for Bangladesh seeks to address.

The VAB has taken a comprehensive approach to meeting these educational needs and tackling the problem of inadequate schooling. Programs in 60 schools across the country are designed to help students from preschool through university. They provide free preschool with a nutritious meal, tutoring for 6th-grade students to help them pass entrance exams for high schools, and scholarships to help high school students pay for tuition and other necessary materials.

The group has also donated supplies like computers and science equipment in order to help 15 public schools better serve their students. In 2005, VAB started a college scholarship program, which has since helped 201 students pay for tuition and textbooks. In addition, they train local university students to work as tutors in the public schools.

All of these efforts are making headway in helping to open up doors to real opportunity for the poor in Bangladesh. The VAB is working to keep expanding its programs, and most recently they have partnered with Microsoft Southeast Asia to start a computer literacy and training program. To learn more about VAB and all of its efforts, visit

Délice Williams

Sources: Volunteer Association for Bangladesh, The Financial Express
Photo: Voice of America

Social Impact Bonds Work for Int. Development
Ben Schiller, a writer for Fast Company Co. Exist Magazine, highlights a new financial mechanism to promote international development: social impact bonds (SIBs). SIBs are private sector investments in social outcomes like reducing homelessness or cutting prison reoffending rates. In the last few years, governments and nonprofits have become increasingly interested in the idea of SIBs.

SIBs are more than just a new source of cash. They place risk with investors, rather than nonprofits or governments. Investors only get paid a return, if the outcome materializes–say if the homeless rate decreases a certain level. And that potentially leaves more room for experimentation. If taxpayer money isn’t on the line, governments can afford to be innovative.

New York City is experimenting with a SIB for Rikers Island prison, with Goldman Sachs and Bloomberg Philanthropies investing. Goldman Sachs has invested $9.6 million to reduce the rate at which young males re-offend. If the rate falls by 10%, the bank – which has most of its loan guaranteed by Bloomberg – will recoup its money. If it drops by more than 10%, it could make up to $2.1 million; less than 10%, and it could lose money. Goldman is working through a nonprofit to deliver the program, and the idea is that its profit if there is one, would come from savings to the city. In theory, that amount should be a lot less than the costs of recidivism, which runs up to many millions every year.

It is too early to say whether SIBs will actually work. The Rikers Island contract, for instance,  will not be resolved until 2016. But people in the field are already exploring the possibility of taking the model further, including looking to international development.

Instiglio is one of the first organizations orchestrating SIBs for projects overseas. Co-founder Mike Belinsky calls the nonprofit a “market builder” meaning a group that links up high net worth individuals with projects, and evaluates local “service providers” (other nonprofits) to carry them out. “We design the actual program and performance management system,” he says, “and also work with investors, and educate them about what this program is like. Then we facilitate the program, and do some handholding.”

Instiglio has announced two projects so far. One, in the city of Medellin, aims to cut the rate of pregnancy among girls aged 10 to 19. Instiglio is advising on legal, financial, and practical aspects, including finding groups to work with kids while they are still in school. Belinsky says potential returns for investors are still being negotiated, but previous SIBs have paid 8% to 15%.

Instiglio is also working with a nonprofit in Rajasthan, India. The SIB will aim to reduce the rate at which adolescent girls drop out of school.

Belinsky, who was recently nominated for an Echoing Green fellowship with his colleague Avnish Gungadurdoss, believes that SIBs could eventually become an asset class like 401Ks. He says, as well as investing in your retirement account, and stock picks, we might have a SIB on the side for our favorite social cause. But it might be a while before that happens. For one thing, SIBs have to prove that they work and don’t present new sets of problems.

Some critics have said that SIBs could skew programs, invite litigation as parties argue over what “success” is, and that the costs associated with setting up SIBs (say, to arrange to finance) could outrun the benefits. Morally, they wonder whether it’s really right for investment banks to be placing bets on recidivism rates.

Belinsky concedes that the early SIBs are taking a long time to draw up and that the model won’t work for many types of programs. Only time will tell if SIBs bring in the hoped-for benefits, but still, he thinks it’s an idea worth trying because there’s too much potential upside.

“The way we look at it, this is a way of giving nonprofits access to capital. And it [allows] governments to take a serious look at their programs, and see which ones work. They can increase funding for those, because they pay at the end, and then only if it works.”

– Maria Caluag

Source: Fast Company Co.Exist Magazine
Photo: Vimeo