President Arce
On September 21, 2022, the President of Bolivia, Arce Catacora, gave a lecture at Yale University before participating in the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York. Speaking to a small room of students and faculty, President Arce presented macroeconomic data from Bolivia’s last 20 years, noting successes during the 15-year reign of his political party, Movimento al Socialismo (MAS). Throughout his lecture, he emphasized a focus on resource extraction as the primary engine behind the country’s short and long-term growth.

About President Arce

President Arce began in a celebratory tone, comparing the successes of MAS’ socialist model compared to the “neoliberalist model” which existed before it. He noted that between 2006 and 2019, the years in which his party held power, GDP per capita grew by 4.7% compared to 3% from 1985 to 2005. He also spoke about Bolivia’s success in distributing those gains fairly, raising the income of the bottom 40% by 12.5% and adopting what he labeled a “democratization of the economy.”

Additionally, he stressed Bolivia’s financial stability, pointing out the country’s low levels of external debt. Drawing from data collected by the central bank, President Arce drew the crowd’s attention to the external public debt prior to the presidency of MAS’ Evo Morales, which reached a historic high of 63% of GDP in 2003. He then noted that after 2006, Bolivia’s external debt never rose above 33%, sitting at 28.9% of GDP under his administration.

Responding to critics of his “economic social communitarian productive model” he highlighted the continual growth of businesses in Bolivia as a sign of sustainable development. Beginning in 2005, Bolivia saw more than 250,000 companies originate over the course of 14 years, with smaller growth during the pandemic years. Going out of his way to address concerns over private investment under the socialist model, he claimed Bolivia had found a viable way to mix state involvement in the economy with entrepreneurship.

Bolivia’s Challenges

Although Arce’s presentation portrayed the last 20 years in an overwhelmingly positive tone, it omitted many of the challenges that Bolivia faces. Although his model is based upon natural resource extraction, with Bolivia’s primary resource being natural gas, this cannot keep up with the rate of growth of the Bolivian economy. In fact, Bolivia has already become a net importer of hydrocarbons, at a time when energy prices are at historic highs.

The Environment

In addition, Bolivia grapples with numerous environmental issues, including poor management of its portion of the Amazon rainforest. President Arce announced in July 2022 that he would be investing in palm oil to increase the country’s energy output, something that is both inefficient and environmentally harmful. Furthermore, Arce’s administration did little to quell the massive fires in Bolivia’s Chiquitania region, and his political predecessor Evo Morales actually signed a decree in 2019 making it easier for agribusiness to exploit the land. This is a far cry from his speech at Yale, in which he promised to “respect mother earth” after a question from a faculty member.

Human Rights Issues

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Bolivia’s questionable actions regarding human rights within Bolivia and South America threaten to sour any notions of success. During the questions which followed the presentation, President Arce was asked how Bolivia could claim to support human rights while remaining on friendly terms with Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro, even amidst human rights abuses. His answer, vague and evasive, did little to conceal the fact that Bolivia continues to have close ties with Venezuela, even choosing to opt out of a regional conference if Venezuela did not receive permission to attend.

The Justice System

Even within Bolivia, others have accused Arce and his party of tampering with the justice system for political gain. In June 2022 former interim president Jeanine Anez received a 10-year sentence in prison for plotting a coup, despite her rise to Bolivia’s supreme court upholding the president. Prosecutors claim she was part of a plan to remove President Evo Morales from office in 2019, despite the fact that she did not participate in the largely peaceful protests which led to his resignation. Anez claims her imprisonment is a purely political affair, designed to legitimize MAS after its fall from power after allegedly committing fraud to win the 2019 presidential election.

Looking Ahead

President Arce’s economic model has proven that it can succeed, and his presentation is a testament to the fact that Bolivia’s growth under nearly 20 years of MAS rule has been truly unprecedented. However, it does not take away from Bolivia’s murky future, and dubious record with human rights. The country has the economic potential to develop strongly, but strong political and environmental protections still remain uncertain.

Samuel Bowles
Photo: Flickr

Algbra is Bridging the Gap Algbra is a “global digital program” for the “unbanked and underserved.” Algbra is bridging the gap in financial inclusion by bringing financial security to developing countries. The emergence of cryptocurrency, artificial intelligence and blockchain technology has spawned endless opportunities within the financial industry. Although these accomplishments are impressive, a shocking 1.7 billion people worldwide are still without access to bank accounts. Banking services offer a convenient and secure money management method, a luxury unattainable for many of the world’s impoverished. Millions of people in developing markets are excluded from the financial system due to “insufficient income levels and market discrimination.” Exclusion from financial services prevents an accumulation of savings, investable funds and asset growth. New World Group vows to bridge the financial inclusion gap in developing countries with the innovative global digital platform, Algbra.

The Algbra Fintech Platform

Algbra is the new London-based fintech platform designed to create a multi-faceted, fair and viable banking experience that fulfills the needs of low-income consumers. The company raised £3.75 million in funds for the Algbra platform, with the aim of educating and uplifting underserved and minority populations so that people can move toward financial freedom.

Algbra is also the first platform of its kind to offer services in consideration of faith-based values. This is a more appealing option for those following the Islamic faith, an unbanked demographic of nearly 800 million people. Some of the products offered by Algbra include “current accounts, foreign exchange, remittances and rewards, with lending products to follow shortly thereafter.”

Algbra’s Impact on Global Poverty

In a study involving 35 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, researchers looked at the impact of financial inclusion on poverty levels among low-income households. Using data from 2011, it was concluded that financial inclusion significantly decreased poverty in sub-Saharan Africa by “providing net wealth and larger welfare benefits” for impoverished people.

On May 19, 2021, Algbra announced its partnership with the Patchwork Foundation, a British organization dedicated to advocating for underprivileged and minority communities to partake in issues of democracy and civil society. Through this partnership, Algbra and the Patchwork Foundation will empower promising young leaders with financial literacy skills and other essential skills. These skills will help the youth become informed policymakers capable of establishing practices that promote social and economic inclusion.

It is important for Muslim women to have a share in financial resources and the opportunity to participate in society’s advancement, all while adhering to Islamic teachings. This is instrumental to economic prosperity for developing countries with large Muslim populations.

However, the World Bank found that the Middle East and North Africa, which are predominantly Muslim regions, have the most significant gender gap in bank account ownership. In these regions, a whole 65% of women are without a bank account compared to 48% of men. Zeiad Idris, CEO of Algbra, believes empowering women by facilitating access to financial services is instrumental to increased economic growth.

How Algbra is Bridging the Gap

The financial industry lacks services that meet the faith-based needs of consumers. As a result, many Muslims limit their usage of financial services. A 2018 Thomson Reuters report indicates that religious considerations prohibited 34% of Afghan individuals and 27% of people in Iraq and Tunisia from utilizing financial services. However in Muslim-majority nations like Jordan, providing Shariah-compliant lending products (loans aligned with religious principles) raised application rates from 18% to 22%, according to a study by Professor Dean Karlan of Yale University.

Shariah compliance prohibits profiting from items or services with the potential to cause harm to people or the environment. Additionally, investors must avoid enterprises that deal with “weapons, alcohol and gambling.” Algbra provides solutions for Muslim consumers who seek Shariah-compliant banking services and solutions. The solutions are also beneficial for environmentally conscientious consumers who are mindful of financial imprints.

The Future of the Financial Industry

Adam Sadiq, CEO of New World Group, explains that a significant amount of people in impoverished nations “face financial exclusion because they cannot open an account at a traditional brick and mortar bank. As a result, they are unable to enjoy the opportunities made possible by economic growth, and in many cases, remain stuck in the poverty trap.” Algbra is bridging the gap in financial inclusion as the latest financial technology innovation aimed at resolving these difficulties through faith-based and inclusive banking services.

Tiara Tyson
Photo: Flickr

Healthcare in Samoa
Samoa consists of nine volcanic islands in the South Pacific with a population of about 196,000. The country’s healthcare system provides the Samoan people with access to routine medical treatment. However, the country relies on outside assistance to provide aid and education to supplement people’s knowledge regarding anything more than standard medical practices. In recent decades, healthcare in Samoa has focused primarily on combating the increase of Type 2 diabetes, but several factors have hindered these efforts.

Lifestyle and Eating Choices

After World War II, the Samoan population grew dramatically, and the Samoan people’s lifestyle and eating choices began to mimic a more Western way of life. Samoa now faces some of the highest diabetes and obesity rates in the world. The United Nations Development Program, which measures countries’ well-being based on income, education and health factors, ranked Samoa 111th out of 189 countries in its 2019 report. About 20% of the people fall below the poverty line.

Many Samoans feel the need to appear as well-off as their neighbors. Bringing processed foods to social and family gatherings conveys an image of wealth. Many Samoans choose these products over local foods like fresh fruit and fish that are healthier and more nutrient-dense. As a result, many Samoans struggle not only with obesity but also anemia because they do not receive enough iron. In a 2017 study, 16% of Samoan toddlers were overweight or obese. Being able to provide more expensive, imported foods can also denote status. As a result, more Samoans eat less-healthy, processed foods that increase their risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.

Increased Need for Education 

A 2010 study funded by the National Institute of Diabetes, Digestive and Kidney Disorders found that many Samoans do not consider diabetes a major contributor to poor health. Because diseases like obesity, diabetes and hypertension are newer to their country, many Samoans do not recognize their severity. Educational efforts related to the study helped Samoans learn about the management and prevention of these diseases. Simple flip charts with large pictures and minimal text helped illustrate basic preventative measures. Although these measures were not especially thorough, they gave the people the first steps toward being more aware of the effects of their lifestyles and having better healthcare in Samoa.

In 2018, a small group of students from the Pacific Islands attending U.S. universities joined a Yale research project to learn more about solutions to these health problems so they could bring this knowledge back to their homes. With both local and overseas efforts, Samoans are becoming more educated about these diseases. This should, in turn, result in better healthcare in Samoa.

Lack of Local Health Professionals

Healthcare in Samoa is free, and several hospitals are available for people needing services. However, the country does not have enough medical professionals. From 1997- 2010, there were only 48 doctors per 100,000 people. Many of the specialists who primarily treat diabetes do not live in the country but travel there for a limited time. Although over 21% of adults have Type 2 diabetes, there is no established endocrinologist in the country. Healthcare staff have expressed a desire for more training for themselves, as well as outreach programs for their patients.

For decades, Samoans have been asking for the placement of full-time physicians in district hospitals. Just in 2020, full-time doctors were finally assigned to all of the hospitals in Samoa. Although this is a huge improvement, the community needs to continue to focus on adapting its social and cultural practices to prevent the disease from spreading. With limited healthcare staff available, an increase in knowledge and a sharing of that knowledge is the best bet for success.

Type 2 diabetes cases will continue to increase as long as Samoans make choices that increase their risk. Until they can get more support from medical professionals, the most effective way to combat diabetes seems to rely on increased education and understanding. Without adequate medical staff and proper education about nutrition, healthcare in Samoa will likely continue to focus on obesity and the diabetes epidemic.

– Tawney Smith
Photo: Flickr

Syrian Psychologists
Throughout the Syrian refugee crisis, physical care for refugees, such as the provision of medical attention, housing, and sustenance, has been a crucial concern. Mental health, however, is another facet that must be addressed. In response, two Syrian psychologists have made the mental health of Syrian refugees their concern.

In 2013, psychiatrists Andres Barkil-Oteo and Hussam Jefee-Bahloul met at Yale University, according to Huffington Post. They quickly discovered they had many of the same interests — one of which being the desire to find a way to utilize their mental health expertise to aid Syrians and Syrian refugees.

Although the two had left their homeland of Syria for psychiatry training in the U.S. before the major uprising in 2011, they still felt very connected to the crisis and wanted to find a way to help from abroad.

In 2014, the two friends worked together to create the Syrian Telemental Health Network, an online platform allowing experts and specialists around the world to train and assist mental health workers treating Syrians. The primary purpose of this platform is to address the rise of mental health problems among Syrians and the difficulties Syrian mental health workers are facing in treating them, both of which are repercussions of the Syrian war.

The remote network allows mental health workers in Syria to upload case information as well as video and audio recordings of patients to seek direction and help from specialists worldwide. Typically, this U.K.-based network sees about 10 to 15 cases each month. Because of the platform, knowledge from resources worldwide is brought to Syrian mental health workers, which is pertinent since mental health care has been in short supply within Syria.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), even before the conflict broke out, there were a mere 70 psychiatrists in Syria serving 21 million people. Only two public psychiatric hospitals existed: one at Damascus that now operates at partial capacity because of security concerns and one in Aleppo that is now closed.

While the Syrian Telemental Health Network has aided many Syrian mental health workers and refugees, there are still many more Syrians facing mental health disorders in need of treatment despite limited resources.

In a recent article by CCTV America, it is reported that WHO estimates approximately 600,000 Syrians are currently suffering from severe mental health disorders while an additional 4 million are suffering from mild to moderate mental health disorders.

These two Syrian psychologists remain dedicated to their mission and are currently seeking out more funding to put more resources into the platform to increase the numbers of mental health workers and victims being helped.

Since leaving Yale University, Jefee-Bahloul became an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Massachusetts and Barkil-Oteo joined Doctors Without Borders to provide psychiatric care to refugees in Greece.

– Alex Fidler

Photo: Flickr

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) often brings to mind images of conflict, famine, and disease. It is about as an unlikely home for the arts as one could find, and yet the Institute for Human Activities (IHA) aims to make it just that.

Its project is designed to bring art to the jungle and keep it there. As part of a partnership between Yale University, University College Ghent and the Akademie der Künste der Welt in Cologne, the Institute set up shop beside a palm oil plantation in the heart of the rainforest.

It calls the effort an experiment with gentrification. The problem as they see it is that the art created about (or for) disadvantaged areas of the world such as the DRC is shipped off to cosmopolitan Western cities like New York and London and is not received in its native land.

The IHA believes by keeping the arts in the community, a culture can be transformed economically and intellectually from the bottom up.

In five years, the IHA hopes to have created an international arts center for artists and thinkers from around the globe to study, work and grow. Additionally, it hopes to continue researching the affects of keeping art near its source as opposed to exporting it to the West.

They claim art has the economic power to power investment and business around areas of cultural capital such as galleries and theaters. For the DRC and nations like it, this means that starting with cultural and artistic development might lead the way to economic and political stabilization.

This, undoubtedly, is a unique approach to solving the economic crises developing nations face in the process of modernization. However, the reason for keeping art at its source is not all economics.

The IHA website offers political reasons as well, arguing that “Art may expose the need for change in Nigeria or Peru, but in the end it brings opportunity, improved living conditions, and real-estate value to Berlin-Mitte or the Lower East Side,” the point being that the political potency and relevance of the art is lost in the Western gallery.

The IHA may have only just begun its project in the DRC, but it is already grabbing international attention. If it proves to be successful, perhaps it will signal a new model in the development of some of the world’s poorest nations.

Chase Colton

Sources: Institute for Human Activities, The Huffington Post
Photo: The Culture Trip

HIV Testing in India

A recent study by Brown University’s Dr. Kartik Venkatesh and Yale University’s Dr. Jessica Becker has proposed a simple, but potentially highly effective practice that could save millions of Indian lives each year by making a single – but powerful – change in its approach to HIV management.

India’s current landscape in terms of HIV/AIDS is unique. While the rate of prevalence is relatively low – 0.3% – because of India’s massive population, this equates to a huge number of people living with HIV/AIDS (the third greatest in the world).

One of the biggest problems facing India now is the percentage of the population that doesn’t know it is infected. Carriers unaware of their status increase the risk of spreading the infection exponentially, as they’re unaware of the risks involved in sexual activity and are not actively taking crucial drugs which suppress the infection.

What the researchers at Brown and Yale have suggested is mass testing of the population every five years. This would be a huge undertaking, unprecedented in scale. Yet India is eager to keep its HIV problem well managed, as shown by their success in maintaining their rate as low as they have.

The strategy makes sense not only from a moral standpoint but also in terms of potential economic gain. Using a measurement system that measures the potential financial value from extending lives (and thus extending the potential of an individual to work and actively contribute to the country’s growth), estimates for the plane amount to around USD 1,900 per year per life saved – offering massive returns on an investment into the plan.

As yet unadopted, this is only a proposal based on research. Indian officials have yet to react, though many believe the political will is there to see this plan implemented. The fact that this strategy has been viewed favorably by publications such as The Economist and The Business Standard shows its true potential, and that foreign aid, strategically planned, can admirably combine financial benefits with benevolence.

– Farahnaz Mohammed

Source: The Economist, Business Standard