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Free Press Reduces Poverty
Strong governments and effective leadership offer lasting improvements for those living in poverty, as they provide social and economic structure for a nation. Efficiency and transparency of government actions and regulations are the first steps toward protecting individual rights. The promotion of transparent governments leans toward a democratic governing system, where citizens may have the right to elect their officials and representatives. The free press and its contributions to democracy in helping to eradicate poverty may not always be at the forefront of aid organizations’ initiatives. Many organizations, however, do recognize that journalists help provide transparency about the states of governments to the people and that a free press reduces poverty.

What is a Free Press and Who Has One?

A free press means that private and public newspapers, magazines or radio programs have the right to report the news without being controlled by the government. This critical freedom from the government’s powers means that the press may act as the people’s eyes and ears for the shifts and changes within the institutions of power.

Unfortunately, more than a third of the world lives under presses that are not free or media coverage that their governments highly control and censor. In the Reporters Without Borders’ 2019 World Press Freedom Index, it is unsurprising that more developed and economically stable countries find themselves at the top of the ranking. Norway comes in first, followed by Finland, Sweden, the Netherlands and Denmark. Ranking at the bottom are countries with highly restrictive governments or some of the poorest nations, such as Yemen, Syria, Sudan and Turkmenistan.

How Does a Free Press Reduce Poverty?

A free press reduces poverty by allowing for an open exchange of information and opinions among ordinary citizens; there is no need for government clearance to learn about the day to day government actions. Journalism provides transparency which helps decrease the risk of corruption in governments and holds them accountable for their actions. A free press helps provide a channel of information about government actions for public assessment and debate. Citizens can see exactly how governments spend taxes or what revenues from big industries they receive. They can even see inside houses of governments where administrators sign laws. Knowledge about the government and freedom to express opinions without fear empowers ordinary citizens.

Debate and exchanging information and ideas is a foundational component of democratic practices. Free presses allow for free debate among the people and not just the political leaders. While debates among community members may not immediately change laws, the debate itself establishes self-autonomy, because everyone participates in conversations and decisions that affect their lives.

Countries with stronger economies and less poverty require strong and stable governments to utilize their resources and to participate in foreign markets. Strong governments strive to enable the political voices of even the poorest populations. Improving governance includes maintaining fair laws, respecting human rights and combating corruption. By promoting all of these, a free press can reduce poverty.

Who is Fighting for Freedom of the Press?

The USAID is one organization that has recognized how a free press reduces poverty. By strengthening journalistic skills, building economic self-sustainability of media outlets and working to legally protect press independence, USAID promotes freedom of the press in 35 countries. The organization’s work in Afghanistan produced a national network of 50 Afghan-owned and operated radio stations.

Reporters Without Borders advocates for a free press in order to promote democracy, development and individual empowerment. It helps journalists gain access to equipment anywhere from bulletproof vests to insurance. Working in countries across five continents, the organization monitors a great number of countries’ treatment of journalists and their rankings of press freedom.

The Windhoek Declaration

Some countries, like Namibia, decided to take matters into their own hands. The 1991 Declaration of Windhoek on “Promoting an Independent and Pluralistic African Press” helped establish a foundation for a free press in Africa by joining the forces of journalists, editors and media owners across the continent. The Windhoek Declaration helped spark the establishment of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA). MISA’s continental email alert system hoped to make the world aware of violations of media freedom as soon as they occurred, bringing national attention to the power and importance of journalists. Inspired by the success of the Windhoek Declaration, similar support for free press like the Declaration of Santiago in Chile, the Declaration of Sana’a in Yemen and the Declaration of Sofia in Bulgaria, soon followed.

The globe recognizes the Windhoek Declaration and leaders of the conference even consulted with the U.N. for the implementation of International Press Freedom Day every May 3rd. The Declaration has inspired and allowed journalists to start their own independent newspapers like MediaFax in Mozambique and The Monitor in Malawi.

The purpose of a free press is to empower ordinary citizens, no matter their economic status. By providing honest information, journalists help hold political leaders accountable and decrease government corruption. Through the democratic power of debate, even the poorest populations can have a political voice.

– Maya Watanabe
Photo: Flickr

Building Homes
The rule of three declares that a human cannot survive without a shelter any more than three hours.

If lost in the wilderness, an individual may choose to build a makeshift tent using the natural materials found around. In rural communities in the world, entire families are desperately relying on tents as their shelters.

These families live in survival mode daily, as their homes and living conditions can drastically change in a moment’s notice.

Living in inadequate housing leads to many health problems because of poor sanitation. With 1.5 million children under the age of 5 dying from water-borne illnesses like diarrhea, improved sanitation could cut down diarrhea-related deaths by more than a third.

Also, proper housing could ultimately increase the survival rate of people as concrete floors reduce the incidences of parasitic infections and a stable roof would protect families from extreme weather.

More than billion people worldwide suffer daily from living in the slums or in survival mode tents.

New Story’s housing project aims to change that. This nonprofit organization began a project that would bring together the donations and local workers to build sustainable and secure housing for rural communities.

Transparency of New Story’s Housing Project

New Story’s housing project also promises that every penny of a donation goes into building these homes.

As it can be difficult for some donors to trust a nonprofit organization to use the funds honestly, New Story works with complete transparency to earn the trust of the donors.

As a result, New Story publicizes its spending in detail for anyone to see. For example, the home cost breakdown for a New Story community in Nuevo Cuscátlan, El Salvador, totals to $6,014. This includes the cost of the foundation, roof, concrete walls, door and windows, interior and electrical wiring, bathroom fixings and a sewage system.

Another great way that New Story offers irrefutable proofs of the fruits of the labor by the communities and donors is that the organization will videotape a family moving into the specific home that those specific funds had built.

Through these consistent and truthful updates, donors and witnesses alike can attest to the transparency of the organization.

In the upcoming period, New Story plans on using 3D-printing technology to potentially build an 800-square-foot home in just 24 hours for $4,000 or less.

The Effects of the New Story’s Housing Project

New Story emphasizes working together with the local community. This is because it believes that working with local partners and encouraging community involvement allows for the most effective operation of the construction.

The organization first finds out what the locals really need and what they consider to be important features for housing in their region. After that, the designing becomes focused on the people as homes are built to accommodate and provide for these families.

New Story’s housing project also stresses the importance of planning for a community as having a home is not the only factor that improves livelihoods. This is why New Story is committed to building several homes in one community as it would create a thriving community with schools, markets, and opportunities for the people.

The building process also brings in local workers and materials to stimulate the local economies while exposing the locals to a new set of skills such as construction and urban planning.

New Story’s project showed that proper housing opens new opportunities for people. Once families had homes that could protect them, sickness reduced drastically.

A safe home that was guaranteed to be habitable provided the chance for families to focus on income and their futures.

Positive Examples

Since 2015, this organization has been working in Haiti, El Salvador, Bolivia and Mexico. New Story states that it works with local people to find the most desperate and destitute communities to focus on.

In Haiti, New Story built 534 homes in eight communities for 1,848 people. In El Salvador, it built 190 homes in five communities for 769 people. In Bolivia, it built 59 homes in one community for 177 people.

One example of a participant of New Story’s housing is Maria-Rose Delice. After her home was destroyed as a consequence of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, she was living in tents with her four children.

When New Story’s housing project had created a home for her and her children, Delice’s life was instantaneously lifted from living in survival mode. Instead of survival, she can now focus on other activities that can further benefit her life financially and comfortable. The security of her own New Story home has given her new opportunities.

“I’d like to start a business,” said Delice. “I’ll also be able to build a fence and start a garden. Pinto beans, bananas white beans – everything!”

Nonprofit organizations such as New Story are giving new life and hope for people in rural areas.

The basic need of housing is finally being addressed properly and with integrity by New Story.

Initiatives such as New Story’s housing project connect donors with recipients around the world as well as improve and stimulate the local economy for future developments.

– Jenny S. Park
Photo: Flickr

How Transparency Leads to Sustainable Long-Term Development
Ever wondered where that money you donated went? The U.S. government, in partnership with USAID, has made a commitment to track international aid to more closely monitor sources of aid abroad and hold international leaders accountable for development. Up-to-date, truthful data about where international funds are going helps governments, civil service organizations and private sponsors track their money and increase the efficacy of donations.

The government recently signed on to the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI), an international organization that encourages NGOs, governments and international aid organizations to report data on foreign aid spending. This group estimates that $4.8 billion of EU-given aid, $2.8 billion U.S.-given aid and $13.8 billion in international donor aid was not visible. The initiative aims to have 80 percent of aid be visible; this amount, it estimates, will make the aid useful. This makes development easier to track and organizations more transparent in how they use their funds. It will encourage further donations and trust in the work of these organizations. Furthermore, IATI has developed a tool to compare spending by different aid groups and the amount of money going to different countries.

Anyone with Internet connection can now track the U.S. government’s aid efforts by country, sector and year on www.foreignassistance.gov.

Through this initiative, USAID has made a commitment to increasing its transparency in regards to foreign aid spending. Through developing a cost management plan, the organization upped its accountability and made it clear to donors where their money goes. As a result of this, USAID’s Aid Transparency Review jumped 20 points in the last year, from the “fair” category to the “good” one. The organization predicts improved donor understanding and confidence in its future projects and improvement in international development through its and other organizations’ efforts at increased accountability.

Progress does not end at transparency, however. USAID hopes to improve the knowledge base of its donors so that they can better understand the organization’s international efforts, understand where funds are going and hold governments, both those donating and accepting aid, accountable.

Through initiatives like these, international aid can become more sustainable, efficient and successful.

– Jenny Wheeler

Sources: USAID, Road To 2015
Photo: The Spectator

energy_transparency_law
Earlier this month, the Canadian government passed the Extractive Sector Transparency Measures Act (ESTMA), an energy transparency law that aims to shed more light on the financial activity of energy companies in foreign countries. The law applies to nearly 2,000 energy companies that are registered in Canada or listed on Toronto’s stock exchange and will require them to publish detailed records of payments made to foreign governments.

The ESTMA came just before the G7 Summit on June 7, and is the product of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s commitment at the 2013 G8 Summit to establish stricter standards for the reporting of financial activity by Canadian extractive companies.

The stated purpose of the law is “to foster better transparency to ensure that the resource extractive industries support proper development in the countries where they operate, while at the same time making it harder to conceal illicit payments.” According to Canadian Securities Law, the Act will require affected companies to report any payments made in relation to the commercial development of oil, gas or minerals that exceed either the amount prescribed by regulation or $100,000 on a number of types of payments, including royalties, production entitlements, dividends and infrastructure improvement funding.

While a similar U.S. transparency law has existed since a 2010 amendment to the Dodd-Frank Act, no rules have been officially implemented for extractive industry activity abroad. The Securities and Exchange Commission threw out regulations written in 2013 after a lawsuit from the American Petroleum Institute – the oil industry’s principal U.S. lobbying organization – claimed the regulations were too punitive for its member companies. In the fall of 2014, Oxfam International filed its own lawsuit against the SEC for failure to implement previously mandated regulations and expects a decision “any day now” on whether or not a federal court will set a timeline for the SEC.

As of now, the majority of the world’s largest oil companies, including Exxon Mobil and Chevron, are nor required to report payments made to foreign governments.

For civilians in oil-rich countries, the detriments for allowing foreign energy corporations to extract their resources often outweigh the benefits they realize for hosting them.

“In many countries that are rich in oil, gas and other non-renewable natural resources, the communities from whose territory the resources are extracted bear the brunt of environmental and human rights impacts associated with extractive activity but see few tangible benefits,” said EarthRights International (ERI) in a statement in 2014. “We, along with our partners in Burma and elsewhere, believe that knowing what governments receive from extractive companies is an important step for communities to hold governments responsible for the use of natural resource revenues and to advocate for a fair share of the benefits.”

Since 2009 ERI has worked with Oxfam and other members of the Publish What You Pay Us (PWYP) coalition to fight for revenue transparency in the extractive industry. The stated mission of the PWYP is to “[help] citizens of resource-rich developing countries hold their governments accountable for the management of revenues from the oil, gas and mining industries.”

“Natural resource revenues are an important source of income for governments of over 50 developing countries,” states the PWYP coalition. “When properly managed these revenues should serve as a basis for poverty reduction, economic growth and development rather than exacerbating corruption, conflict and social divisiveness.”

Proponents of stricter oversight of extractive industries note that a lack of financial transparency raises doubts as to how much civilians in host countries benefit from the extraction of their resources by foreign energy companies. Detailed records published by energy companies will reveal more precisely who is benefiting from extractive industry spending and whether – and to what degree – recipient governments use that spending to benefit their own people.

– Zach VeShancey

Sources: Canadian Securities Law, Devex, Earthrights, Publish What you Pay
Photo: The Star

Measuring-Happiness
Measuring happiness around the world can reveal what people want, need and where to reach them. With this in mind “the evidence here will be useful to all countries as they pursue the new Sustainable Development Goals,” according to Jeffrey Sachs, Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University. Focusing on the well-being of people in developing countries reveals more than how much food and water they have – it determines their outlook on life and more abstract psychological needs.

Although poor countries are not the happiest, it is not money that puts countries like Switzerland, Iceland and Denmark at the top of the happiness list. Factors that determine happiness include generosity, freedom to make life choices and freedom from corruption. The importance of transparency is important in sub-Saharan countries, where “$52 billion was lost in illicit financial flows,” according to ONE.

The Gross National Happiness Index (GNH Index) has developed their measurement techniques, looking at nine domains. “The nine domains are: psychological wellbeing, health, education, time use, cultural diversity and resilience, good governance, community vitality, ecological diversity and resilience, and living standards,” according to the GNH Index. Looking at these different aspects reveal details about the country and the values of the people living in it.

The United Nations World Happiness Report studies similar domains with a stronger focus on how the report can help develop their Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). The first report was issued in 2012 and has progressed “to review the state of happiness in the world today and show how the new science of happiness explains personal and national variations in happiness,” according to the World Happiness Report.

The SDG are one of the many ways the U.N. plans to use the World Happiness Report to track the progress of developing nations. They have proclaimed “20 March the International Day of Happiness recognizing the relevance of happiness and well-being as universal goals and aspirations in the lives of human beings around the world.” Reports on happiness are a great way to utilize data to help the world out of poverty and into happiness.

– Kimberly Quitzon

Sources: PsyBlog, GNH Index World Happiness Report 2015 United Nations Transparency ONE
Photo: Huffington Post

helicopter_transparency_in_foreign_aid_black_blue_sky_countries_spending
Last year, the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) released its Transparency Index where the Millennium Challenge Corporation or MCC ranked first among 57 international aid organizations. While this merits a celebration for the U.S. in leading the pack, other U.S. agencies did not fare so well. The U.S. Treasury and USAID ranked 19th and 22nd respectively in the fair category, the Defense and State Departments ranked 27th and 40th respectively in the poor category and finally PEPFAR, a program from the State Department, ranked 50th in the very poor category. More importantly, in addition to the above mentioned there are 20 other U.S. agencies involved in providing foreign assistance that are not reporting to ATI or the Foreign Assistance Dashboard.

In their effort to make foreign aid spending more transparent, in 2013, both the House and the Senate introduced The Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act of 2013 (H.R.2638 & S.1271). Receiving strong bipartisan support, this bill promises to improve accountability, transparency and efficiency in foreign assistance programs. If signed into law, it would require the President to implement disclosure and reporting guidelines for all agencies providing aid. All data would be made public through the Foreign Assistance Dashboard, which the administration had already launched in 2010.

More recently, following the path towards more transparency in foreign assistance, the White House has revamped the Foreign Assistance Dashboard, to which until last year only as few as six agencies had posted their information. This shows a strong commitment by the Obama administration towards improving transparency, accountability and efficiency in foreign assistance.

However, while the promise of accountability, transparency and effectiveness is commendable, according the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network or MFAN, its success will greatly depend on strict enforcement measures. The absence of a clear timetable and the level of detail required from agencies to report their data makes for very inconsistent reporting. Moreover, MFAN has stated that linking the legislation more closely to the mission and work of IATI would provide for better and more useful information.

Notwithstanding some of the changes and efforts needed to bring about consistency, accountability and transparency in foreign aid, experts say we are on the right track. According to George Ingram, making foreign assistance data available is important on several levels. First, it helps donors and recipient countries make informed decisions. What is more, “it allows citizens to be better informed on government decisions and therefore better able to hold government accountable.”

At the citizen level, the benefits of an online hub for aid spending data are twofold. On one hand, it allows citizens to see for themselves how much of the national GDP is actually spent on foreign aid, instead of how much they think it is. On the other, it carries the promise of driving people to be more supportive of foreign aid assistance as they get a clear picture of how it is allocated and the global issues it is addressing.

Until now, one thing that remains clear is that everyone, from the White House to donors to the average citizen, can stand behind the idea of transparency. However, it is necessary to implement better guidelines and enforcement tools in order to achieve real transparency in foreign assistance.

– Sahar Abi Hassan

Sources: Brookings, Brookings, MFAN
Photo: Bayanihan

bono_poverty_where_did_my_money_go_humanitarian
There are many television and internet advertisements that call for help to reduce global poverty. Even though people make their donations to charity groups, they often do not get feedback about the progress of eradicating global poverty. Therefore, people sometimes wonder, “Where did my money go? What did my money get spent on?” and “Did I really make a difference?” It is essential for people to know that their money is well-spent and they are indeed making a difference in the world. The good news is that everyone is making a difference and global poverty has been decreasing due to advocacy and financial support.

In Bono’s TED talk on 26 February 2013, he shared his data on global poverty. The results shows that humanity is moving to a brighter future. “Forget the rock opera, forget the bombast, my usual tricks. The only sings today will be the facts,” said Bono. In his speech, statistics show decreases in malaria deaths by almost 75% and decreases in people living in extreme poverty from 43% in 2000 to 21% in 2010. In addition, more than eight million AIDS patients have received medicine. His study indicates that global poverty will be eradicated by 2018 if the support remains the same.

In another TED talk with Hans Rosling, Mr. Rosling also shows progress in decreasing mortality in both developed and developing countries. In his interactive graphs, the age expectancies are increasing yearly and developing countries’ age expectancies are catching up to developed nations’ age expectancies.

The war between humanity and global poverty has been an intense and drawn out battle. However, humanity is winning this battle when global poverty is in a sharp decline. Together, the people who support the cause should give themselves a pat on the back for the job well done. Even though global poverty still exists today, with the support of people from different nations, the world is gradually becoming a better and happier place.

Phong Pham

Sources: Ted, One
Sources: Ted

foreign aid
Since its establishment on September 4, 2008 at the High-Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Ghana, the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) has already gleaned the cooperation of 160 organizations worldwide. IATI aims to make foreign aid more user-friendly by providing information to citizens about the allocation of resources, engendering governments with a sense of liability. The original members of the nascent IATI were Australia, Denmark, European Commission, Finland, GAVI Alliance, Germany, Ireland, New Zealand, The Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, UK, UNDP, The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and the World Bank.

However, one of the landmark events in favor of the initiative took place on November 30, 2011 at the Fourth High-Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness. In her keynote address in South Korea, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared the that the United States would be adopting the IATI. This would foster a more accountable and trustworthy environment for global aid.

In a statement issued by Secretary of State for International Development Justine Greening, she declared that the undertakings of the IATI delineate a momentous change in the nature of foreign aid policies. Greening further proclaimed that the initiative has demonstrated that, “…when organizations commit to being more open and accountable, they become more than the sum of their parts.”

The method in which donor countries and recipient countries make their transactions visible for public knowledge is through the IATI standard, in which donors print their aid information on the website. Rather than simply mimicking pre-existing aid transparency initiatives, this initiative builds upon prior databases, aggrandizing public awareness of foreign aid. Additionally, the IATI Registry keeps an index of the array of data issued on the website for future reference.

Thus, this decision has the potential to maximize foreign aid as taxpayers now have the ability to scrutinize not only how much, but also how the United States is spending on aid. Furthermore, since the initiative will place taxpayers at more ease with the allocation of their money, they may become more willing to contribute to the fight against poverty.  With increased transparency and increased funds, IATI has the potential to make foreign aid more effective at mitigating the ravages of poverty.

Phoebe Pradhan

Sources: IATI, IATI, ONE
Photo: Giphy.com

relief_aid_transparency
The Obama Administration released data on United States foreign aid earlier this week while Congress is pushing legislation that will make such transparency law. These efforts seek to make aid more effective and to create a more open government. This is by no means, a recent occurrence.

For the past decade, the U.S. has moved toward making foreign aid accountable and transparent, which was started in 2004 with the creation of the Millennium Challenge Corporation. Initiated during the Bush Administration, it sought to generate publicly available data on foreign aid and selected which countries to give aid grants to based on how well they do in areas such as rule of law, trade policy and civil liberties.

USAID is revamping a self-audit program that seeks, in addition to being extensive and impartial, for the evaluations to be a spring of learning that the agency can build from. In this vein, they have named their first major series of evaluations USAID Forward.

The benefits of this transparency are multifold, but one of the major boons is that citizens have the ability to become better informed on what the government is doing to combat global poverty. This could do untold good since the majority of Americans vastly overestimate the amount that the United States contributes to foreign aid. The general public believes the U.S. spends 25 percent of the Federal Budget on international aid, when, in actuality, expenditure is only a paltry 0.2 percent.

In the Philippines, the Department of Budget and Management launched the Foreign Aid Transparency Hub, anagrammed as FAiTH, which provides information on what is being done with the aid received in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan. This is likely in response to allegations of corruption scandals in relation to foreign aid.

The accountability of aid is a high priority, and Benigno Aquino III, President of the Philippines, says that this accountability stems from gratitude: “Ultimately, FAiTH is more than a hub of information: it is an expression of appreciation for the kindness of those who stand in solidarity with our countrymen.” The pair of accountability and appreciation seems a strong one in winning further donations.

With 3,976 people dead, 1,600 missing, and another 4 million displaced and in need of basic amenities, there is great need for aid. More than $270 million has been donated thus far, and FAiTH is helping ensure further aid does not diminish amid the graft. An oft-used excuse for not donating is that the money never makes its way to those in need. Transparency is an active foe to this pernicious way of thinking, and one that is dramatically making ground.

Jordan Schunk 

Sources: Brookings, Ingram and Adams, Huffington Post, Inquirer News

milleniumchallengecorp_opt
Presented for the third year in a row, the Aid Transparency Index (ATI) aims to rate 67 donor organizations based on their overall transparency as perceived by published projects, scored on a large scale of 39 different factors.

This year, the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) came in first place–an accomplishment which sets high promise for the near future in eradicating global poverty.

American based, the Millennium Challenge Corporation works to provide growth opportunities and open markets, raise the standard of living, and increase the prosperity in other countries overall. The organization has spent over $8.4 billion in funding of various foreign aid projects, supporting agriculture, improved health and medicine, anti-corruption initiatives, education and more.

On the Board of Directors of MCC are serving, among others, the Secretary of State, the USAID Administrator and the U.S. Trade Representative. The vast authority and power that these leaders bring to the organization allow for several large-scale projects, which have improved the lives of thousands. Their main goal with funding is sustainable economic growth: large efforts are spent on training farmers, agricultural loans and producing fruitful land.

To see this organization on the top of ATI is reassuring, more so, it is an accomplishment to note for other corporations. The ATI is not crystal clear in terms of the mechanics of the grading scale; for example, projects need to be published in the right format and in due time to be accounted for. However, the MCC gaining first place this year shows that large organizations, handling vast amounts of funding and working all over the world, can still remain transparent. The issue of transparency is very widespread in the modern day, where phantom corporations are used to embezzle money and where officials’ true agendas happen to be revealed over resources such as WikiLeaks.

MCC sets an example that instills hope and strengthens the “non-profit” definition. It is transparent as it is prolific; and hopefully for next year, more companies will follow suit and improve their transparency in order to maximize the effect of their global efforts.

– Natalia Isaeva

Sources: ONE, MCC
Photo: Flickr