In 1998 John Wood, a top Microsoft executive in Asia, was trekking high in the Himalayas--his first vacation in seven years--when a chance meeting transformed his life. Shortly after his return, Wood quit Microsoft, where he was marketing director, and eventually formed Room to Read, a nonprofit literacy organization that has donated more than 1.2 million books, and established over 3600 libraries in Nepal, Vietnam, Laos, India, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, and South Africa. Room to Read has also given scholarships to 2336 girls, published books in local languages, and set up computer labs for children. Wood, who chronicled his evolution from high-tech whiz to social entrepreneur in his book, "Leaving Microsoft to Change the World," was recently interviewed for Beliefnet.com.
In your book, you describe a chance meeting with a Nepali man that changed your life. What happened?
Along my trek I met a man named Pasupathi, the district resource person for all schools in Lamjung Province. During our conversation I learned about the dismal state of Nepal’s education system; that 70 percent of Nepal’s population is illiterate and most children do not go to school beyond the 5th grade. It was Pasupathi’s job to obtain books and supplies for students, but because the government and the communities in Nepal are so poor, there is very little money to be put towards education. I loved school as a child so it was shocking for me to hear that Nepalese children had no means to obtain a good education due to economic factors outside of their control. It was because of my conversation with Pasupathi and his kindness and his passion for education that I visited that first school.
You've said that the school library had only a few books, one in Italian and none of them suitable for kids. Plus, all the books were kept under lock and key. What does the library look like now?
The library has been transformed from a dark, empty room devoid of shelves and books into a child-friendly environment with bright walls, bookshelves that put the books at the child’s eye level, and a trained librarian to help the kids get the most out of their library. In addition to English language books donated by major publishers like Scholastic, the library also has Nepali-language children’s books that Room to Read has commissioned from local authors and artists.
In much of the developing world, there are few if any children’s books, because the parents are too poor to afford them, so the publishers don't publish. We’re now finding authors and artists, and training them to be the "Dr. Seuss" of Nepal.
Could you describe how you went from supplying books to school libraries to building schools?
After I left that school in Nepal, I sent out an email to everyone I knew and asked for their help by donating children’s books. I received over 3000 books. My dad and I took a trip together to Nepal and delivered the books to ten schools. The Nepalese man who helped us coordinate the book delivery became the Country Director and together we formed "Books for Nepal." I began fundraising in San Francisco, and when Erin Ganju (now our C.O.O.) joined the team, we changed the name to “Room to Read” and launched in our second country, Vietnam. With the right people on board and a few grants under our belt, we were able to scale our book programs rapidly and effectively.
We realized very early on that one of the most essential educational resources that many developing nations lack are the school buildings themselves. As one stark reminder of this, the UN estimates that 100 million children are not enrolled in primary school. So constructing schools seemed like the logical next step.
In the early days of Room to Read, you met with a lot of rejection when seeking donations. In the book you say, "Had I been less confident, some of these individuals would have dealt crushing blows to my enthusiasm." What gave you confidence?
I believed—and I still do—wholeheartedly in Room to Read’s mission. I knew that if I could convince people to join me, the rest would follow because they would have a great experience watching the school or library they funded open its doors. How could they not want to then tell their friends and coworkers? So I embraced those who chose to support me, and did not let myself get discouraged by those who did not. That internal belief in our goal--to educate 10 million children across the developing world--continues to drive the organization today.
At Microsoft you often justified your long hours by telling yourself "I can sleep when I'm dead," and consoled yourself with the big payoffs: a high salary, considerable savings, and a comfortable lifestyle. Today you put in long hours at Room to Read. What are your payoffs?
The smiles on the faces of the students and the parents on the day their new school opens is a big one. The sight of a group of children gathered around a book in their new library with wide-eyed fascination. Those are great payoffs! I honestly love coming into the office everyday—how many people can say that about their jobs? Plus I work with an amazing group of highly motivated, passionate and intelligent people. Even though the hours are long and my travel schedule can be exhausting, I wouldn’t trade my position at Room to Read for anything in the world.
Was it hard for you to give up the big salary and perks of Microsoft? Have you simplified your lifestyle?
Yes, [it was] very difficult, especially since I live in one of the world's most expensive cities, San Francisco. But I am happier than I have ever been, doing the work I am doing. So maybe we can say that even if money can’t buy happiness, lack of money can.
Why do you focus on scholarships for girls?
We currently fund long-term scholarships for 2,336 girls, and we will add 1,500 to the program this year. This is important, because two-thirds of the people lacking basic literacy in the developing world are women, and if we don't get this right, the problem will carry forward for generations to come.
Recently in Calcutta, India, a girl took her parents to court because they were pulling her out of school so she could help support the family. Is there an example of similar determination to gain an education among your girl students?
We have dozens of stories, including those of girls who walk six miles each way to school, and others who show up with "petitions" that tell us "If you don't give me a scholarship, my parents will force me to marry at age 14." To me, the amazing thing is that it only takes $250 to keep a girl in school for a year--and that pays for everything, including mentoring. It’s a very low cost to forever change a life, and the lives of every subsequent generation. We experience very few dropouts. In fact, last year our attrition rate was less than 1.5%.
You have said you would like Room to Read to be the Microsoft of the nonprofit world. What do you mean?
Room to Read strives to operate like a blue-chip company (you could substitute Starbucks or GE for “Microsoft”) by taking a business approach to philanthropy, that is, by thinking big and focusing on results. We strongly believe in community investment in the places we work. Our “Challenge Grant” model enables communities to co-invest by raising a portion of the overall expenditure for project implementation through donated land, labor, materials and cash. We also have strong entrepreneurial local teams composed of professionals native to the countries where we work. We believe in keeping our overhead low and running a tight ship. I don't believe in the model of NGO's spending 30 to 40 cents of each dollar on administration and fund-raising. [In our model] about 87-88 cents on the dollar goes directly to educational programs. There are many small steps that together add up to create a very efficient organization. We have a unique "Volunteer Chapter" model which enables us to raise a significant portion of our fund-raising budget with very little money spent on overhead.
Where do you get your motivation?
I benefited tremendously by having parents who continually stressed the importance of education, and from having access to a great public school system and a library. It is incomprehensible to me that we can live in a world with this much abundance, yet have nearly a billion human beings not be able to read or write. This will not stand.
What is your spiritual path?
I believe that service to the poorest children on earth is the best spiritual path. I believe in spirituality through action.
Have you felt spirituality of any kind to be part of the unusual beginning and continuing growth of Room to Read?
A lot of us involved with Room to Read are very big fans of karma.
How to Donate
Click on www.roomtoread.org. You can make a donation, adopt a project, or get information about attending one of the local Chapter events.
Rich and famous take lead in solving world's problems
For the Calgary Herald
Sunday, August 26, 2007
In early July, it was announced that British billionaire Richard Branson, with help from rock star Peter Gabriel, has initiated a council of elders. They include Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, Jimmy Carter, Kofi Annan, Mary Robinson and others. The intent is for the body of elders to exert moral suasion on various issues challenging humanity.
The world's richest person, Bill Gates, spends a huge portion of his time doing charitable work through the immense foundation he and his wife set up. One of its primary goals is to fight the AIDS epidemic in Africa.
In June, Canadian mining tycoon Frank Giustra announced he was donating $100 million in a joint effort with the Bill Clinton Foundation to improve the lives of impoverished people, starting in Latin America. He has committed to transform the global mining industry into one that is people- and eco-friendly. Shortly afterwards, it came out that he had also persuaded the world's second richest person, Carlos Slim Helu of Mexico, also to give $100 million. Helu has now gone further to pledge $10 billion over the next four years to advance health and education projects.
A year ago, Warren Buffett, the world's third richest person, pledged $30 billion to the Gates Foundation in its efforts to combat disease and poverty, and promote education.
Al Gore goes around the planet spreading the word about global warming and trying to motivate the species to take action. Bill Clinton goes around the planet trying to systematically develop programs and support initiatives that improve the well-being of the needy.
EBay founder Pierre Omyidar funded Gore's environmental testament film, An Inconvenient Truth. He is a founding figure in the new initiative to develop social entrepreneurs as a way out of poverty and is to donate $100 million to that project.
Bono, Bob Geldof, Chris Tucker, George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Matt Damon, Don Cheadle and many other Hollywood stars have full-bore entered the realm of making a difference. They operate foundations, raise money and awareness, and meet with governments around the world in an effort to right the wrongs of inequality and disease, and to decrease strife and foster human rights.
Richard Gere is a one-man force in the cause of aiding Tibetans to survive without a homeland. Mia Farrow has similarly taken on the cause of Darfur and is devoting herself to making the world take action.
Olympic gold medallist Johann Olav Koss founded Right To Play, an organization committed to meeting the needs of children blighted by war, disease or poverty. Many world-class athletes have joined him. Remember how Canadian speed skater Clara Hughes, hardly wealthy, donated $10,000 to that cause after winning the gold medal in Tofino? This summer, journeymen NHLers Andrew Ference and Steve Montador went to Africa to do their part for Right To Play.
And who isn't aware of the priority NBA MVP Steve Nash puts on giving back to people in need all over the globe? What is the message here? Not that there is a growing trend among celebrities and rich people to become philanthropists. It's a message about leadership and action. We clearly need to ask ourselves who are our genuine leaders, our models? Who can we count on to do the right thing? Who is the betterment of the planet depending on? It's not our government leaders. From the outright corrupt, such as Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe, and the decadent, such as the Sultan of Brunei, to the hollow men and women who lead the world's powerhouses, government has relinquished its vocation of leadership and service to the well-being of humanity.
What has evolved is a cadre of suits and images who have substituted doublespeak, disinformation and blather for direct and meaningful communication. Substance and action no longer apply. To be in politics is to be obsessed with capturing or retaining power for the sake of having the position. Our elected leaders today are really as much their advisers, speechwriters, publicists, financiers and general spin doctors as they are the flesh they were born into. There is so seldom a government pronouncement or announcement that is without some self-serving, propagandistic underpinning that even when a genuine act occurs it sounds as phoney as the rest of the photo-ops.
We are in the age of dither. We are in the age of distrust. We are in the age of political failure.
We are in the age when dishonesty or broken promises don't matter. When millions dying can wait. When a planet ecologically in peril can wait. When homelessness is merely unsightly.
The corollary to this is the general resignation of the people dependent on those elected leaders. The level of believed powerlessness has scarcely been higher among the masses than it is today. Whether it be the serious, such as ordinary Palestinians, Afghans or Iraqis suffering from external or internal oppression, the Sudanese or Sierra Leonians wondering when the next rape will occur; whether it be the less serious, such as Chinese fearing to speak up to authorities or the Americans afraid of getting sick; or whether it be the mundane, such as Canadians worrying about gas prices and wasted taxes, we live in a time of compliance. Cynicism about government abounds.
So, whenever there's criticism about Live Aid concerts, ridicule of a Sean Penn rowing his boat trying to help victims of Hurricane Katrina, derision at Bono for "poking his nose" into world issues, we need to ask whether them doing nothing would be preferred. When Gore is derided for his homes and accused of wanting to be president, Clinton dismissed as still craving the limelight, or Branson called a showboat, just think of Stephen Harper on the barbecue circuit soliciting funds and votes for the next election. American politicians raise multimillions chasing their own electoral chimera to serve themselves and their cronies. All the individuals named above (except for Mugabe, the Sultan and Harper) are daily making a difference in the lives of real people who need that difference.
Hospitals, schools, medicines, fresh water, sports fields, enterprises, eco-friendly industries and homes are happening because of them. That's leadership. Where would we be without them showing the way? Calvin White is a B.C. essayist/political commentator.
November 11, 2007
Charities Trying Mergers to Improve Bottom Line
By STEPHANIE STROM
Charities have long been reluctant to merge, fearful of alienating both loyal donors and longtime employees. But with the number of nonprofits increasing rapidly and donors growing weary of the rise in solicitations, charities are experimenting with mergers as a way to cut costs, reduce duplication of services and increase their reach.
“This is a trend that is going to accelerate,” said Walt Shill, managing director of North American management consulting at Accenture. “Donors are becoming more like investors and expecting a greater return on their nonprofit investments, and many people on nonprofit boards have been through for-profit mergers and see the benefits.”
Accenture recently took on its first nonprofit merger, helping to join the Hands On Network and the Points of Light Foundation.
Both work to find volunteers for community service, and combined will have a budget of over $30 million and 370 affiliates working with more than 80 percent of people volunteering in America each year. The merged group seeks to add 3 million volunteers to the 61 million who volunteered at least once in the year that ended in September 2006.
“We both could have continued along the route we were on, growing incrementally,” said Michelle Nunn, who is presiding over the merger and formerly headed the Hands On Network, “but I believe neither of us would have achieved the kind of exponential change we wanted. I think that’s true of the nonprofit world in general; very few organizations have the scale to tackle the big problems we are all trying to address.”
But experts in the field are not predicting a rash of mergers.
“You have all of the natural tensions you have in a for-profit merger — which leader loses his job, what name to give the new company, whose employees lose their jobs — but none of the incentives, which is to say nothing you can reduce to cold, hard cash,” said Peter J. Solomon, whose investment firm has helped negotiate corporate mergers. “You cannot tell the C.E.O. or board members of a nonprofit board that if you merge, at least your options will be cashed out and you’ll walk away with $300 million.”
Mr. Solomon sits on the boards of several nonprofits, some of which he has tried to get to merge. “We just couldn’t get them to do it,” he said, declining to name them.
A few nonprofits in New York have found a compromise: merging their fund-raising activities. Safe Space NYC, the Children’s Village Inc. and Inwood House have created a separate charitable organization to cultivate donors and solicit major gifts.
“A few years go,” said Jeffrey D. Sobel, director of development at Safe Space, “I started asking how could a social services agency like mine compete with organizations like universities, hospitals and museums that have full-time staff with expertise on planned giving, charitable remainder trusts and other things that bring in big gifts. For us to pay a full-time planned giving person and have a marketing person would be impossible.”
The Humane Society of the United States has done partial mergers with two other animal advocacy groups, the Doris Day Animal League and the Fund for Animals, since Wayne Pacelle became president in 2004. “You have many animal organizations out there, and the resources are spread thin,” Mr. Pacelle said. “You need one mainstream group to break through all that and have the brand awareness and muscle to achieve the reforms we’re seeking.”
The Doris Day Animal League and the Fund for Animals share common legal divisions, technology and accounting systems, mailing lists and other things. By combining those operations, the organizations will save $1.5 million annually, Mr. Pacelle said.
Choosing the name for the merged organization can present a major stumbling block. When the Council of Jewish Federations, United Jewish Appeal and the United Israel Appeal joined forces, it took several years of negotiation before it was named United Jewish Communities.
“Unlike mergers among corporations, which are normally negotiated among a few people who keep it quiet until all details are worked out, nonprofit mergers require any and all stakeholders — and there are many — to be involved, which is much more likely to make them go off the rails,” said Jeffrey D. Solomon, president of the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies Inc.
The Points of Light Foundation and Hands On Network settled on Points of Light and Hands On Network as the name for the merged charity. “It was the best compromise we found,” Ms. Nunn said, somewhat ruefully.
The merger also was made easier in that Points of Light was searching for a leader to replace Robert Goodwin, who had been its president and chief executive for more than a decade. “A door opened when Bob resigned last fall,” Ms. Nunn said. “We had been looking for ways to grow, but when that happened, we thought maybe we should grab the opportunity to do something more bold and daring.”
The same opportunity presented itself to the Exceptional Children’s Foundation, which provides services to children with developmental disabilities in Los Angeles County. The Kayne Eraes Center, a nonprofit that runs a school and other educational services for emotionally and developmentally disabled children, was looking for a new leader and tried to recruit Dr. Scott D. Bowling, the president and chief executive of Exceptional Children’s. Instead, they merged in September.
“For the first time, one of our strategic objectives in our three-year plan was to explore mergers, so I was on the lookout for opportunities,” Dr. Bowling said. “Exceptional Children’s was not providing educational services, and Kayne Eraes would fill that gap.”
Kayne Eraes became a division of Exceptional Children’s, and six of its board members joined the foundation’s board, with the rest moving to an advisory board. Exceptional Children’s budget will grow to roughly $27 million from $14 million and its staff will more than double to around 420.
“There are a lot of things I still have to reconcile, including differences in pay,” Dr. Bowling said. “But if we can demonstrate that two organizations of this size can come together successfully, I think we will serve as a model.”
Some mergers can be rocky even when there is widespread support. That is the case in the merger between the Peninsula Community Foundation and the Community Foundation Silicon Valley in California, which serve the adjoining counties of San Mateo and Santa Clara and support a variety of charitable efforts.
Five major foundations — Hewlett, Packard, Irvine, Skoll and Omidyar — put up $1 million each to pay for consultants, new offices and other expenses to facilitate the merger. But three months after the merged foundation moved into its new home, those supporters have soured because of over staff departures and discontent among donors and local nonprofits. Emmett D. Carson, its new leader, recently was grilled by officials from the foundations that encouraged the merger, and his future is now in question, those officials said.
Mr. Carson said his critics were passing judgment too soon. He defended decisions he has made, like requiring everyone on staff to reapply for their jobs and reducing the number of executives who report directly to him.
“Mergers take time,” he said. “We have to merge investment portfolios that have been managed differently, we have two incompatible and antiquated I.T. systems — and then we have the dreaded ‘C,’ the cultures of two organizations that both climbed the mountain effectively but very differently.”
An anonymous benefactor has given $100 million to the needy of a depressed U.S. industrial city on the banks of Lake Erie.
The donor, who wants to be identified only as "Anonymous Friend," has specified that the sum is divided among 46 small, often struggling charities in the city of Erie, Pa.
The benefactor reportedly spent years deciding which organizations to help. Mike Batchelor, the president of the Erie Community Foundation, made the announcement after calling all the charity heads to a meeting.
A box of tissues was on hand and was used by some as they burst into tears.
Batchelor said he and other foundation officials had been sworn to secrecy and weren't even allowed to say how the benefactor was linked with Erie and whether he or she was dead or alive.
Most recipients provide services for the poor and vulnerable. They include a food bank, a women's centre and a charity for the blind. Three local universities will also get money.
The city, which has lost most of its heavy industry, has a population of 102,000 and a poverty rate of 19 per cent -- twice the U.S. average.
Do business and Islam mix? Yes, if you are the Aga Khan The Aga Khan is one of the richest, and most secretive, men in the world and a rival of Bill Gates in philanthropy
By G. PASCAL ZACHARY
NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , NEW YORK
The Aga Kahn's long-term investment in Uganda Fishnet Manufacturers in Kampala helped to start a fish-farming industry in the country. The fishnet factory is the only such operation in East Africa.
He has poured money into poorer, neglected parts of the world, often into businesses as basic as making fish nets, plastic bags and matches, while also teaming up with private equity powerhouses like the Blackstone Group on a huge US$750 million hydroelectric system in Uganda.
And as he tries to present a less threatening face of Islam on the global business stage during a time of war, the Aga Khan - one of the world's wealthiest Muslim investors - preaches the ethical acquisition and use of wealth and financial aid that promotes economic self-reliance among developing countries and their poorest people.
In a rare interview, the Aga Khan, who is chairman of the Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development, a for-profit company based in Geneva, says he is more concerned with the long-term outcomes of his investments than with short-term profits. Rather than fretting daily over the bottom line, he says, he tries to ensure that his businesses become self-sustaining and achieve stability, which he defines as 'operational break-even,' within a 'logical time frame.'
The Aga Khan, left, poses with his son and daughter-in-law, Sept. 17, 2006, in Chantilly, northern Paris.
'If you travel the developing world, you see poverty is the driver of tragic despair, and there is the possibility that any means out will be taken,' he says in a telephone interview from Paris. By assisting the poor through business, he says, 'we are developing protection against extremism.'
A classroom at the University of Central Asia, Kazakhstan, founded by the Aga Khan.
PHOTO: NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE
The company's main purpose 'is to contribute to development,' he adds. 'It is not a capitalist enterprise that aims at declaring dividends to its shareholders.' Central to his ethos is the notion that his investments can prompt other forms of economic growth within a country or region that results in greater employment and hope for the poor.
Economic developments experts say the Aga Khan's activities offer a useful template for others - including philanthropists like Bill Gates and George Soros - who are trying to assist the world's poorest by marrying business practices to social goals, but whose foundation work usually stops short of owning businesses outright in poor countries.
Britain's Prince Charles, left, chats with the Paris-based Aga Khan during their visit to a 900-year-old fort in the northern Afghan village of Altit, Nov. 3, 2006. The Aga Khan maintains close ties to influential leaders from all walks of life.
Paul Collier, an economist at Oxford University who specializes in the problems of poor countries, says he believes that aid agencies could benefit from operating more like venture capitalists - and more like the Aga Khan. 'He gets a multiplier effect from his investments that's really lacking in foreign aid,' Collier says. 'I'm impressed with his way of accepting risk and thinking long term.'
The Aga Khan, left, congratulates graduates of a midwife training course in Afghanistan that was sponsored by the Aga Khan Development Network.
PHOTO: NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE
At the same time, the Aga Khan embodies many of the conflicting social and financial tides sweeping the global economy. He is the spiritual leader of the Ismaili Muslim sect, but he is also surrounded by unusual material riches - none of which he or his followers see as a contradiction.
'The Aga Khan is making a significant contribution that people too often underestimate'
Praful Patel, a vice president in Central Asia for the World Bank
The Aga Khan concedes that he owns two jets, but says that he drives an Audi and that his yacht is 25 years old. Ismailis 'wouldn't like to see him living the life of a pauper - we want him to live a decent, an affluent life,' says Kris Janowski, the Aga Khan's spokesman. Janowski adds that the imam is 'surprised that anyone would apply the word 'lavish' to his lifestyle because he doesn't see it as lavish.'
Part of the Aga Khan's personal wealth, which his advisers say exceeds $1 billion, comes from a dizzyingly complex system of tithes that some of the world's 15 million Ismaili Muslims pay him each year - an amount that he won't disclose but which may reach hundreds of millions of US dollars annually.
The Aga Khan, 70, has had unconditional control of this money since his grandfather placed him in his position 50 years ago. He has invested those resources in a free-form portfolio of 90 businesses that employ more than 36,000 people. These holdings include five-star hotels, mobile phone companies and an airline, but most are small and medium-size enterprises in Central Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.
'The Aga Khan is making a significant contribution that people too often underestimate - many of his investments have become huge successes, but he's not driven by profit,' says Praful Patel, a vice president in Central Asia for the World Bank. 'He's treated like a head of state, has access to the highest levels in any country and his gravitas is worth a lot. It allows his outfit to succeed in investments where others cannot.'
The Aga Khan was born Prince Karim in 1936 in Geneva. He grew up in Nairobi during World War II, and he attended a Swiss boarding school before he was named imam at age 20.
There have been 49 Ismaili imams over the centuries, but only three previous Aga Khans, a title the king of Persia bestowed on the family in the 1830s. The third - the current Aga Khan's grandfather - was Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah Aga Khan, a legendary figure in colonial India who later moved to Britain and served as a president of the League of Nations.
Upon his death in 1957, Shah Aga Khan's will instructed that his son (the current Aga Khan's father), Aly Khan, be passed over in favor of his grandson, Prince Karim, who was studying Islamic history at Harvard at the time.
That the Aga Khan attended secular universities, wore Western dress and espoused Western values reflected his sect's historical need to adapt to varying cultures. The Ismailis are a minority within the minority Shia branch of Islam and have experienced frequent persecution through the centuries; as recently as the 1990s, the Taliban in Afghanistan persecuted Ismailis.
Over the centuries, as the Ismailis dispersed across Asia and Africa and later Europe and North America, they often adopted Western ways. This invited criticism from other Muslims, who questioned how someone could wear a suit and still call himself an imam. But Ismailis say they see no conflict between Westernization and their faith.
'The central trait of their long history is a remarkable tendency to acculturate to different contexts,' says Ali Asani, a professor of Indo-Muslim languages and culture at Harvard and an Ismaili.
The Aga Khan's fluency in Western ways - and what he describes as his desire to show that 'an imam's responsibilities include caring for the quality of life of the people who he leads, including their economic progress' - animated his first major business venture, the start of a media company in Nairobi in 1961. 'The origin of this exercise was the need at the time of British withdrawal from Eastern Africa to have African politics explained to the African public in African terms,' he says. 'There was no independent media in the region at the time, so we had a delicate mandate but a necessary one.'
Over time, his Nairobi company, the Nation Media Group, became the most successful media concern in East Africa, with print, radio and television properties in Tanzania and Uganda as well. The company is profitable and considered among the most professional in Africa, while also offering a voice to government critics.
'If he was a non-sophisticated, profit-only guy, these newspapers and broadcasters would not be the independent voices for the public good that they are,' says Andrew Mwenda, a radio commentator and a newspaper columnist in Kampala, the Ugandan capital.
The 1970s and 1980s were difficult times for the Aga Khan's businesses, most of which were in Africa. African leaders nationalized industries. Civil wars broke out. And economies contracted or collapsed. In East Africa, where a large number of Ismailis lived, African leaders blamed outsiders for their troubles. The government evicted most Ismailis from Uganda, while Ismailis in Central Asia suffered under Soviet repression of religious groups.
'The Cold War was prominent on my horizon all the time,' the Aga Khan recalls. 'The question I was asking all the time: 'What is going to happen after the Cold War ends?' It wasn't going to be eternal. So we stayed engaged and waited.'
With the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Cold War did end, and the Aga Khan saw fresh opportunities to energize and expand his Ismaili institutions. In Tajikistan in Central Asia, where many Ismailis lived, a civil war created an urgent need for outside assistance, and the Aga Khan rushed charitable resources into the country. More recently, he has invested in power generation and a mobile phone company there.
In Uganda, decades of civil war and social collapse came to an end when Yoweri Museveni consolidated political power in the early 1990s. Museveni personally appealed to the Aga Khan to encourage Ismailis to return to Uganda, promising to restore all their properties seized by the deposed dictator, Idi Amin. Many Ismailis returned to Uganda, and so did the Aga Khan's business.
'Uganda is still lacking big-time investors, and the Aga Khan provides some of that,' says Moses Byaruhanga, a political adviser to Museveni.
Today, Uganda is home to some of the Aga Khan's most ambitious business enterprises. He owns the country's largest pharmaceutical company, a tannery, a bank and an insurance company.
And then there is the fish net factory. On a spring morning in Kampala, amid the pounding noise of textile machines spinning nylon into sturdy nets, Karen Veverica, an aquaculture expert with Auburn University, cradles in her arms a new net, made to her specifications by the Aga Khan's factory. The net is part of her campaign, financed by the US Agency for International Development, to help jump-start a fish-farming industry in Uganda.
'Fish farmers can't just grow fish out of the blue,' she says. 'To get fish out of the pond, we need a net like this.'
Making new types of nets represents a classic economic development quandary: there is no demand for the nets, yet without them fish farming cannot take off. New nets, in short, are an unlikely 'enabling technology' that might spur growth in the local economy. But it requires patient investors.
'We can take a decision like this because we think long term,' Mahmood Ahmed, the Aga Khan's representative in Uganda, says of the nets. 'We won't enter a business without the promise of profit, but we have more considerations than profit.'
While fish nets are decidedly small potatoes, the same approach applies to the US$750 million hydroelectric system that the Aga Khan is developing in Uganda. The project, at Bujagali Falls on the Nile River, is the largest project ever undertaken by the Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development, known by its acronym, Akfed.
Despite vast unmet needs for electricity in the region, the Bujagali project is one that few capitalists would touch, partly 'because the big global power companies have shunned Africa, fearing risks,' says Kevin Kariuki, who was born in Kenya and is a senior executive in the Aga Khan's infrastructure unit. 'The American electricity companies aren't going to come. The Europeans will stick to their home markets. We want to be the developer of choice in this part of the world, and Bujagali creates an opportunity for us.'
In what analysts describe as one of the most innovative electrification campaigns in Africa, the Aga Khan's infrastructure group is building a series of inexpensive 'minihydro' systems around very small dams. They provide electricity to parts of Uganda where the national electricity grid does not reach.
The poor West Nile region of the country now has electricity 18 hours a day, compared with its previous schedule of just four hours every other day. And prices for the electricity, which the Aga Khan sells as well as produces, are high enough to generate internal profit rates of more than 10 percent, Kariuki says.
Financing businesses that can spur economic growth in marginal regions is what the Aga Khan says animates many of his investments. That has led him, he says, to forgo the merger-and-acquisition plays of Wall Street, to avoid investing in booming domestic economies like China's and to shy away from charitable giving that is not linked to a clear business goal. He says he prefers to put money into unglamorous enterprises that are engines of employment and have great long-term potential - even if profits aren't immediate.
Ismaili investments occur alongside cultural, educational and health initiatives, carried out by various units of the Aga Khan's development network. Spending on these non-business activities can run into the hundreds of millions of US dollars annually, Semin Abdulla, a spokeswoman, says. (She says the group's charitable giving will amount to about US$320 million this year.) The Aga Khan Development Network, formed 10 years ago, looks for synergy between its business and philanthropic activities.
Mixing business and charity, while long at odds with mainstream capitalist practice, is growing in prominence, making the Aga Khan an unlikely innovator.
'If you can get capital that's partly philanthropic, you can help reach a lot of people,' says Mark Kramer, managing director of FSG Social Impact Advisers, a consulting firm in Boston. 'In many cases, businesses are much better positioned to deliver sustained social benefits than charities.'
Evaluating the effectiveness of the Aga Khan's charitable network is difficult because neither the network nor Akfed publishes any performance data. But analysts who are conversant with Akfed and its finances say that the investor deserves credit for taking risks and backing projects that might otherwise not attract any private support.
After the US started an offensive against the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001, he stepped in with private investments, including building both the first five-star hotel in Kabul and Roshan, the leading mobile phone company.
Roshan has 1.3 million subscribers and is adding 60,000 a month. The Afghan government gets 6 percent of its tax revenue from the company, Abdulla says. Roshan says it employs 900 people, about 180 of whom are women.
'In Afghanistan, the Aga Khan is creating an enabling environment for business,' says Patel at the World Bank. 'While producing results, these are early days. It's too soon to see a payoff from his investments.'
That does not bother the Aga Khan. Building businesses, he says, 'is part of the ethics of the faith.'
L'Arche founder's memoir uplifting
Vanier's spirit infuses homes for disabled
Sunday, December 23, 2007
If you find a gift card from your favourite bookstore tucked in your Christmas stocking on Tuesday, may I offer a humble suggestion.
Shun the latest Stephen King saga.
Forsake that self-help volume that guarantees to make you slim, successful or serene . . . maybe all three at once.
Pick up a copy of Our Life Together, Jean Vanier's memoir in letters.
But be warned: this book contains no car chases, torrid romantic triangles or sizzling international espionage.
It is the story of one remarkable man's enduring love affair with some of the most marginalized members of our human race.
And it inspires the heck out of me.
Some of you may ask: "Just who is Jean Vanier?" He's the son of former Canadian governor general Georges Vanier and the founder of L'Arche International, an organization now active in 34 nations.
In the summer of 1964, Vanier began this global movement in the humblest of circumstances. After a stint in the Royal Navy and a career in the academic world, Vanier felt called and compelled to do something for people with intellectual disabilities. He invited Raphael Simi and Philippe Seux, two adult men with developmental disabilities who had been confined to a grim institution after their parents died, to simply share a small home with him in the French village of Trosly-Breuil.
"These men were persons and precious to God, and so it seemed right, even evident, for me to do something about their unjust situation," Vanier writes in Our Life Together. "Though I could not do anything on a large scale, at least I could live with a few of them and help them to find a decent life and the freedom to be themselves."
There was no exhaustive visioning process or due-diligence business plan -- Vanier did it for no other reason than he felt called by his deep-seated faith. He named the little house L'Arche, a nod to Noah's Ark, a place of refuge in a storm-tossed world. Vanier saw "able" and "disabled" people sharing the joys and tears of daily life as brothers and sisters in a communal environment.
The hundreds of letters are to friends and L'Arche supporters and act as an insightful record of the evolution of the movement.
As he travelled around the world, Vanier saw that the need for compassionate homes for people like Raphael and Philippe crossed all political and cultural boundaries.
Some of his earliest journeys took him to India, where he became close friends with Mother Teresa and walked with her through the teeming slums of Kolkata.
Many other westerners would no doubt have been overwhelmed by the crush of humanity, of the rampant poverty, hunger and disease.
Vanier chose to see the "shining, open faces" of the poor and the dying, their generosity of spirit in sharing the meagre provisions they had.
On one of his long walks through an Indian city, Vanier was struck by the profoundly dignified faces of the adults and the scores of poor children laughing and playing.
"They are not permeated with materialism. There is suffering in them, but there is such depth," Vanier writes.
On a recent Monday evening, I was honoured with an invitation to join the residents of L'Arche Calgary's Marymount home for a pasta dinner.
The converted duplex in Kingsland was decked out for Christmas, Advent candles glowed softly and D'artagnan, the black-and-white house cat, soaked up tummy rubs. A far-from-perfect stranger, I was treated to heartfelt hugs on both arrival and departure. The atmosphere was one of seamless community, respect, encouragement and unconditional love.
It is no stretch to believe the same remarkable spirit infuses Calgary's four other L'Arche homes and the 130 others around the world.
Don, Marymount's house leader, says he chose to live and work at L'Arche because of Vanier's example.
"Not many of us have shown that total acceptance of others like Jean has. How many of us have lived the lessons and the message of the Scriptures without expecting anything in return?" Don says.
Peggy Loescher, L'Arche Calgary's executive leader, is equally as eloquent.
"I was searching for a way to be of service to mankind, for a community to be a part of," says Loescher. "With L'Arche, I found a home for my heart."
Vanier is scheduled to visit Calgary next June, a few months before his 80th birthday. He is still a tall, commanding figure who now moves with a permanent stoop. As Loescher notes, that's a result of a lifetime of bending down to talk to, to encourage and comfort society's most disadvantaged, God's favourite children.
Our prosperous city will be the richer for Jean Vanier's time among us in 2008.
Our Life Together is a remarkable, 40-year chronicle of the growth of L'Arche, its victories and setbacks, joy and heartbreak, and Jean Vanier's long walk with God.
It stretches over 550 pages, but Jean Vanier says it all in one simple, telling phrase: "Come and live with the weak and rejected, and we will find peace."
A merry, restful and peaceful Christmas to you and yours.
Gates on way out of software world to focus on charity
Speech marks start of changing of guard at Microsoft
CanWest News Service
Sunday, January 06, 2008
CREDIT: Herald Archive, Reuters
After leading Microsoft for 32 years, Bill Gates plans to focus his attention on Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation's charitable activities.
LAS VEGAS - Tonight, Bill Gates will begin saying his goodbyes to the life he has known for the past 32 years.
After serving at the helm of the world's most successful software company for the past three decades, making him one of the world's richest men in the process, the quiet software engineer will open the Consumer Electronics Show (one of the largest of its kind in the world) with his annual state of the industry address in Las Vegas.
Even though he has given similar speeches at the show for the past 12 years, this one is something special as it is expected to be his last. Gates has announced he will step down from his responsibilities at Microsoft Corp. and no longer be involved with its day-to-day operations after July.
Gates plans to focus his attention on his Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation charitable activities.
His speech will be the beginning of a changing of the guard for Microsoft and it couldn't come at more uncertain time for the Redmond, Wa.-based company. Many believe Microsoft's latest operating system, Windows Vista, has been disappointing, its Xbox 360 video game console is locked in a dogfight with competitors, Google Inc. continues to build on its lead in the area of Internet services and is now offering free online office software, and Apple Inc. has returned as a heavyweight competitor.
It's all a bit surprising. A man who dropped out of Harvard University in the late 1970s to start a software company has managed to become a sort of pop culture icon.
Love him or hate him, Gates's accomplishments demand respect.
From humble beginnings in a basement office, Gates worked on the company's products creating software such as MS-DOS and Microsoft Word. In 1985, he introduced Microsoft Windows and, a few months later, he took Microsoft Corp. public on the NASDAQ stock exchange for seven cents US per share. The offering raised $45 million US for the company, making Gates a millionaire. Today, Microsoft's share price is around $35 US and the company is worth $374.9 billion US. Gates is a billionaire and his company sees more than $54 billion US in revenues annually.
"I would call Gates a great American workaholic," said Jeanne Lesinski, author of Bill Gates, an A&E biography released by Lerner Publishing.
"He has, for decades, focused his significant intellect, talent, and foresight on his goals and objectives."
Lesinski believes Gates's optimism for the future comes from years of planning. He has known he would have to step down from his post someday and he has surrounded himself with people he believes can continue to drive Microsoft.
"Gates recognizes the importance of having creative and motivated employees supervised by trustworthy managers who need little oversight by the business owner," she said.
"He has had these corporate leaders primed for some time now."
With Gates gone, the day-to-day operations at Microsoft will fall squarely on the shoulders of three people.
Microsoft's chief executive Steve Ballmer, chief research and strategy officer Craig Mundie and president of entertainment and devices Robbie Bach will now have to decide how to best fend off competitors and take the company forward.
Sunday, January 20, 2008
Mumbai needs a total of 6,000 balwadis: Pratham
When Pratham was launched as a public charitable trust to achieve universalisation of primary education and improve the productivity of the Rs 300 crore spent annually on primary education in Mumbai in 1994, one of the support agencies it approached was the Aga Khan Foundation (AKF).
Set up by UNICEF, the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai and several prominent individuals, Pratham sought the foundation's assistance specifically for capacity building and institutionalisation of Pratham strategies for the training of preschool and primary teachers and community volunteers through the establishment of AASHA--the Anandamayi Shala (joyful school) Institute.
The AKF not only contributed Rs 9 lakh, but also offered guidance. Today Pratham is a platform of tripartite partnership between the government, voluntary agencies and the corporate sector. Its corporate partners include the Industrial Credit and Investment Corporation of India (ICICI), the Industrial Development Bank of India (IDBI), HindustanPetroleum Corporation Ltd, Bharat Petroleum Corporation Ltd, Housing Development Finance Corporation, Videocon International Ltd and British Airways. Besides, NGOs and institutional bodies have also joined hands with the trust.
Five years later, the results are worth writing home about. The balwadi (preschool centre) programme serves about 40,000 slum children through 1,670 centres. Located in public places or homes, the teachers are local women trained by Pratham. Mumbai needs a total of 6,000 balwadis. Thirty libraries catering to 100 children each have also been set up. Future programmes include launching Pratisrishti--a computer assisted learning programme for over 10,000 municipal school children.
Pratham is one of the few projects supported by AKF. Other projects include the Environmental Sanitation Programme in Gujarat; Innovative Approaches to Early Childhood Education in Rajasthan; the Child Resource Centre in Gujarat; School Improvement Projects in Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh; theEducation Management Resource Programme in Maharashtra and Gujarat, and the Sadguru Water and Development Foundation in Gujarat.
All projects seek to promote sustainable and equitable social development. A private, non-denominational foundation, the AKF was set up in 1967, and is headquartered in Geneva, with branches and affiliates in South and Central Asia, East Africa, Europe and North America. The foundation is a part of a larger network of organisations, the Aga Khan Development Network, which is dedicated to promoting effective development and committed to excellence and equality of opportunity.
Says Vijay K Sardana, chief executive officer, Aga Khan Foundation, India, ``The foundation not only funds grassroots level organisations to undertake projects in health, education and rural development, but also supports NGO enhancement.''
He elaborates, ``NGOs are strengthened by offering managerial support and technical assistance; working out development strategies to help them attain financialsustainability; creating support institutions to help local community based organisations; creating NGO-friendly legal and fiscal environments, and facilitating an enabling environment, which includes helping NGOs find corporate partners.''
The attempt is to build partnerships between NGOs and corporates. Says he, ``The policy is to prompt NGOs to look at their strengths and beyond money while negotiating with corporates, and to emphasise upon corporates that NGO do have an expertise in their respective spheres.''
In India, AKF supports projects in Gujarat, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Delhi, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Haryana. So, if an implementing agency wants to be right by the community, but doesn't have the requisite funds or the necessary wherewithal, it could turn to the Aga Khan Foundation.
Calgary Herald writer Robert Remington reports from Africa on a group of Calgary business people who are raising money to fund a teacher training project in East Africa.
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In this former slave trading centre, not far from the luxury beachfront resorts frequented by Europeans, the real Africa can be found in mud huts along the roadway, where people watch curiously at the busloads of tourists whizzing past.
Mothers with beautiful, shoeless children -- people who are the most impoverished on the planet by United Nations' development standards -- smile at even the slightest friendly gesture.
"It makes me queasy," says Calgary philanthropist Jim Gray as he walks into the lobby of a comfortable hotel. "We drive by them and wave like we are the queen and then come here.
I wonder what they must be thinking."
Gray and a group of 10 Calgary business people have spent the last two weeks zig-zagging across East Africa, checking up on a teacher training project they are helping to fund.
Among them is Chris Robb, an oil and gas investor prone to bouts of emotion at the plight of the people here and the gratitude shown by those who have benefited from the Calgary investment.
"You are a white male in Alberta. You've already won the lottery. Now it's time to share," Robb says.
But getting others to buy into the project has not been easy.
Gray, who has been raising money for various causes for more than 30 years, thought it would take him six months, perhaps a year at most, to the raise the $5 million he's vowed to deliver to the Aga Khan University for its new Institute for Educational Development, Eastern Africa (AKU-IED).
Despite contributions from about 50 donors, the campaign is currently $1.5 million short of its goal, stalled by a slowdown in the Alberta oilpatch, uncertainty over the province's royalty regime, and a general reluctance by people to invest in a volatile continent with a history of corruption and unrest.
Two donors dropped out of the trip due to political unrest in Kenya, where police on Friday shot dead four people who were part of mobs rioting after the killings earlier this week of two MPs. Nearly 900 people have died in Kenya since late December, after Opposition leader Raila Odinga accused President Mwai Kibaki of rigging an election that international observers contend was seriously flawed.
Gray isn't sure what impact the situation in Kenya will have on the Calgary fundraising initiative, known as the Awali Project.
"Donors are always looking for reasons not to give," says Gray, who was turned down by one potential donor who felt his contribution would be wasted in Africa due to its endemic bribery and fraud.
Could it be that Gray, one of Calgary's most determined fundraisers, has met his match in Africa?
"We'll raise the money," says Gray, chairman of the Canada West Foundation. "We have to."
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Calgary tax lawyer Brian Felesky, who has spearheaded the campaign along with Gray and Robb, argues passionately that supporting education on the other side of the world is essential for an increasingly global Calgary business community, which is investing in oil, gas and infrastructure projects in difficult regions throughout Africa and the Middle East.
"Education reduces poverty, and if you don't (take) care of poverty abroad, poverty comes to us in the form of violence and other desperations," says Felesky. "This is absolutely vital work."
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The East African educational institute supported by the Calgary group is run by Gordon MacLeod, an inspirational Scot who landed in the Tanzanian coastal city of Dar es Salaam two years ago with little more than a suitcase and a mandate from the Karachi, Pakistan-based Aga Khan University to replicate its successful teacher education program in Africa.
MacLeod says support from the Calgary-led group of donors, along with funding from the Canadian International Development Agency, prompted the AKU's board of governors to give the green light to the AKU-IED in East Africa.
The institute will graduate its first students later this year from the AKU-IED's master of education program. That's no small feat for an institute that only opened in 2005 in Dar es Salaam -- in a fire-trap of a building in with no toilets -- but it's even more of an accomplishment considering its location in Tanzania, the poorest of the three countries that comprise the East African bloc of nations.
Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya, with a combined population of about 95 million people, have among most grim human development statistics in the world. The nations rank, respectively, 159th, 152nd and 148th of 177 countries on the United Nations' human development index, a measure of life expectancy, literacy, education, standard of living and GDP. Canada ranks fourth on the list.
"Africa is the world's poorest region," says MacLeod. "When people think of poverty, they think of places like Bangladesh. Africa is far poorer and it is not getting better. It is going backwards by any development measure."
In Canada, where the average income per capita is $33,375, people spend more on their pets than most Africans earn in a year.
Uganda has the highest per capita income in East Africa at $1,454 per person. Kenya's per capita income is $1,240. In Tanzania, it is an appalling $744. LIfe expectancy is declining.
"The one thing we do well in Africa is HIV and AIDS," says MacLeod. There isn't a single person among his staff or students who has not not been affected by the disease.
"Life expectancy in all three East African nations is about 50 years and it is going down because of HIV and AIDS," he says. "It is truly a tragic and appalling situation."
Women and girls, MacLeod says, are "distinctly disadvantaged" in this environment, which is why education is so important to the region.
"One extra year of schooling for a girl can dramatically affect her earning capacity and her health," MacLeod says.
With the crisis in Kenya, now is not the time to abandon investment in the region, argues Jane Rarieya, an assistant professor and head of teaching programs at the AKU-IED.
"The way out of poverty in East Africa is through education," Rarieya says. "Right now, the attitude is 'If I disagree with you, I pick up a machete.' In some of the worst slums in Nairobi, school can make a difference. Good teachers make a difference."
Training teachers to be good is the purpose of the AKU-IED. In this part of the world, it is a thankless profession desperately in need of help.
The average teacher in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania earns about $100 a month after taxes. In Uganda, head teachers were recently threatened with jail if they did not accept qualified secondary students into an already overburdened system.
Rev. Ocheng Vincent Ocen, head of education in the war-torn Gulu district of northern Uganda, says schools are so under-funded that some have to shut down after three months. Teachers regularly show up late, or not at all, through no fault of their own.
"This isn't like the western world where people can travel from 50 miles away and be there at eight in the morning," Ocen says. "Transport is very poor. Roads are bad. Teachers have to come long distances on bicycles."
It has been 10 years since Uganda and the other East African nations adopted universal primary education, a United Nations development goal aimed at getting all young children in school. Enrolment in early primary grades is high, but quickly declines. The national dropout rate is 50 per cent and about one-third of those who stay in school fail.
"There was a lot of interest in universal primary education, but the ground was not prepared properly. The infrastructure is there. Schools have been built. But the teachers do not have houses," says Ocen.
Books are often in short supply and curricula is woefully out of date. Teaching aids and other materials are in short supply.
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Gray is confident Aga Khan University is worthy of support from Calgary. The university is part of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN), one of the largest private development networks in the world.
Founded by Prince Karim Aga Khan IV, imam and spiritual leader of the progressive branch of Ismaili followers of the Shia faith, the AKDN's business and development activities are so numerous that it has been given diplomatic status in 10 of the 33 countries in which it operates.
The AKDN's stated goal is to improve living conditions and opportunities for the poor in some of the most difficult and troubled regions of the world, without regard to faith, origin or gender. The organizations attracts numerous non-Ismailis, which impresses Felesky.
Visiting a local school here, the Calgary group met one AKDN worker with an international public health degree from Johns Hopkins University.
"Here was this woman with an advanced degree from Johns Hopkins and she's working for the AKDN for next to nothing," Felesky said.
"We see that kind of dedication all the time throughout this organization."
The AKDN also steadfastly refuses to be part of the accepted culture of corruption in the countries in which it operates. One AKDN diplomatic mission in East Africa went without a phone for 10 weeks because it refused to pay a minor $10 "fee" for a faster hook-up.
"Because we are here for the long haul, we can afford to wait it out. Sometimes it becomes a test of wills," says Jan Damery, a Calgarian who now works for the Aga Khan University.
Calgary's Barb Davis, an Awali donor here with her husband Bill, an oil and gas investor, believes the AKDN's educational projects, which are non-denominational, are worth the investment.
If progressive educational organizations aren't supported in volatile regions of the world, she says, there are sects ready to step in with radical madrassas (religious schools) to churn out the next generation of suicide bombers and fundamentalists.
"They are happy to set up schools and take your child and feed and educate them and it has nothing to do with tolerance and understanding," Davis said. "And that is something that has to concern everyone in the western world."
February 7, 2008
Gates Foundation Head to Leave Longtime Post
By STEPHANIE STROM
SEATTLE — Patty Stonesifer, who helped start the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in an office over a pizza parlor seven years ago and has overseen its growth it into the world’s largest philanthropic institution, said in an interview on Wednesday that she would step down by the end of the year.
Her decision marks a major turning point for the foundation, which has operated largely as a family foundation overseen by Ms. Stonesifer, a friend and confidante of Bill Gates, a co-founder of Microsoft.
The arrival of a new chief executive, possibly an outsider, is the last step in the foundation’s transition to a more orthodox institutional structure, with clearly defined divisions knit together by a central management team that Ms. Stonesifer has assembled over the last two years.
The announcement is likely to surprise the world of philanthropy, which has watched the growth of the Gates Foundation with a mixture of awe, fear and envy.
With $37 billion in assets, it is nearly four times the size of the next largest foundation. It dispenses more than $3 billion annually, more than five times the amount distributed by the Ford Foundation, and will have some 800 employees by year’s end.
“This job is mind-boggling because it requires a wholly different skill set than any other job in the philanthropic world,” said Harvey P. Dale, a professor of philanthropy and nonprofit law at New York University. “It’s an enormous challenge.”
Ms. Stonesifer, 51, who has worked for a dollar a year after earning millions as a senior executive at Microsoft, said she was comfortable stepping down now because she believed the foundation had firmly established strategies for achieving its primary goals of improving health, education and nutrition around the world.
“It’s the right time,” she said. “We have a lot of momentum now, our strategies are in place, and it’s time to take the organization to the next level where we deliver on those strategies.”
Still, finding a replacement for Ms. Stonesifer will be a challenge because no one else has ever led a foundation of similar size and scale of ambition. The biggest goal for the Gateses is to find a vaccine that will prevent AIDS, but they also hope to eradicate malaria, spark an agricultural revolution in Africa and ensure that every child in the United States has access to a quality education, among other things.
“She’s been an amazing culture keeper, not only in terms of selecting the more than 500 people we now have but also in creating a structure to keep that culture in place,” Melinda Gates said of Ms. Stonesifer.
Ms. Stonesifer’s departure comes as the Gateses are increasing the time they spend on foundation matters. Ms. Gates now devotes roughly half her time to foundation affairs, and Mr. Gates will turn the bulk of his attention to foundation matters by Sept. 1, when he relinquishes some of his control over Microsoft.
The foundation is known for its insistence on an unprecedented level of continuing evaluation of its programs.
For example, Ms. Gates gets a “momentum” report each month that summarizes the foundation’s achievements and activities, and the foundation is working to publish a form of its internal progress reports on its Web site. It uses the information in those reports to win government support for its programs around the globe, where Mr. and Ms. Gates and the foundation’s executive are often greeted with more ceremony than heads of state.
All those factors ensure that finding a replacement for Ms. Stonesifer will not be easy, although no doubt many will apply.
“The phone will be ringing off the hook,” said Allan C. Golston, president of the foundation’s United States programs, which include improving education and reducing homelessness in Washington State.
Mr. Golston, who was one of the first people Ms. Stonesifer hired and who served for many years as the foundation’s chief administrative officer, could be a candidate, though he did not say whether he would apply.
Similarly, Sylvia Mathews Burwell, now head of its global development program, could be a contender for the job. A former Clinton administration official, Ms. Burwell was hired early to serve as Ms. Stonesifer’s second in command.
While acknowledging the possible internal candidates, Mr. Gates said the foundation planned to do a full external search for a successor.
“It will be interesting to meet these people,” he said. “It may be difficult to tell some people ‘no’ who may think they should have the job.”
It is unlikely, however, that any future executive will have the personal relationship Ms. Stonesifer has had with the Gates family and with Warren E. Buffett, the billionaire investor who pledged the bulk of his fortune to the Gates Foundation in 2006 and is now a foundation trustee.
The daughter of an Indianapolis car salesman, Ms. Stonesifer is unassuming. Her speech is punctuated with a mixture of technological terms and homespun exclamations, like the “holy cow!” she uttered on learning of the Buffett gift.
That pronouncement led to the Holy Cow award, an internal award passed from one staff member to another each month for work above and beyond the call of duty, and small stuffed toy cows are scattered around the foundation’s offices.
Ms. Stonesifer said she would assist in the selection of her successor and planned to maintain ties with the foundation, perhaps taking on a particular project. “I’d like to get my hands dirty again,” she said.
She was on her way to a job at Dreamworks, the entertainment company, in 1996 when Mr. and Ms. Gates began talking to her about taking over a project to put computers in public libraries. She agreed to a salary of $1 a year, turned the space over a now-defunct pizza parlor into the headquarters for the Gates Learning Foundation and started running the effort.
“I was really the perfect person for that,” said Ms. Stonesifer, who is married to the political columnist Michael Kinsley. “It was a discrete problem having to do with a gap in opportunity that could be solved with money and technology. Along the way, though, this particular family continued to see other problems that, with the right resources and our strengths, we could do something about.”
Eventually, the occasional lunches to compare notes with Mr. Gates’s father, Bill Gates Sr., who was then running the William H. Gates Foundation out of his basement, were deemed inadequate, and the foundation in its current form was started in 2000 through a merger of the two existing entities.
February 24, 2008
A Capitalist Jolt for Charity
By STEVE LOHR
IN the summer of 2005, Miles Gilburne and Nina Zolt had long talks over dinner in their Washington home about what to do next. For more than six years, Mr. Gilburne, a former AOL executive, and his wife, Ms. Zolt, a former lawyer, had supported a philanthropy that used books and online tools to enhance skills of inner-city students.
The program, which Ms. Zolt directed, had been moderately successful. Students liked writing online about books and sharing their ideas with Internet pen pals, including adult mentors. Many teachers embraced the project, called In2Books, and participating students outscored their peers in standardized tests.
Still, the costly venture grew only gradually, classroom by classroom. The couple had put $10 million into the charity, a “meaningful portion” of the family wealth, Mr. Gilburne says. “It was enough money that I did lie awake at night thinking about the size of the checks,” he recalls.
As philanthropy, the couple’s efforts, however worthwhile, weren’t sustainable. But their vision of using the Internet for communication and collaboration to improve education has taken on a new life — as a business.
Today, the once-struggling venture has morphed into a primarily for-profit enterprise. And the striking transformation of In2Books is emblematic of a larger trend: charities are changing their spots and making use of some of capitalism’s virtues.
The process is being pushed forward by a new breed of social entrepreneurs who are administering increasing doses of bottom-line thinking to traditional philanthropy in order to make charity more effective.
To make a fresh start, Mr. Gilburne attracted like-minded angel investors, and at the end of 2006 the group bought a for-profit company, ePals Inc., to expand on the original mission and support the foundation. The ePals company has grown and now offers classroom e-mail, blogs, online literacy tools and Web-based collaborative projects on subjects like global warming and habitats.
EPals says 125,000 classrooms around the world are using at least some of its free tools, reaching 13 million students, and its ambition is to become a global “learning social network.”
National Geographic is to announce this week that it is investing in ePals, based in Herndon, Va., and will supply educational content for the ePals learning projects. Worldwide distribution should get a lift from Intel, which will soon ship its Classmate laptops, designed for students in developing nations, with the ePals icon on the screens. And ePals is also offered for use on the low-cost computers from One Laptop Per Child, a nonprofit group trying to bring the content and experience of the Internet to children in developing countries worldwide.
Various versions of efforts like this are appearing across the philanthropic landscape as business-minded donors, epitomized by Bill and Melinda Gates and their foundation, have treated their charitable contributions more like venture capital investments. They seek programs that can be catalysts for broad changes in fields like health, education and the environment, they measure performance and results, and they encourage nonprofits to become more self-sustaining.
Yet to have the greatest possible impact, a further step down the capitalist road is sometimes needed, analysts and others in the field say. Muhammad Yunus, the microfinance pioneer and Nobel laureate, calls this next step the “social business.” The goal, according to Mr. Yunus, is to create ventures that more than pay for themselves — in other words, turn a profit.
Social business entrepreneurs, he writes, can help “make the market work for social goals as efficiently as it does for personal goals.”
PHILANTHROPIES are discovering that for-profit status and financing can be a useful tool. For example, many microfinance lenders, modeled after Mr. Yunus’s project, the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, aim to make the crossover to profit-making institutions.
Mozilla, the nonprofit foundation that developed the open-source Web browser Firefox, decided that it needed a for-profit unit to accelerate its business activities and gain market share against Microsoft’s Internet Explorer. The business unit is freer to spend on marketing, charge for software service and technical support, and pay to compete for engineering talent in Silicon Valley.
Likewise, Google.org, the search giant’s corporate foundation, chose for-profit status to be able to easily make investments in for-profit companies including alternative energy start-ups like eSolar and Makani Power.
“Capitalism is a very mutable, flexible beast, and what we’re seeing is social entrepreneurs addressing some of these social challenges in profoundly different ways than traditional nonprofit organizations,” said John Elkington, co-author with Pamela Hartigan of “The Power of Unreasonable People: How Social Entrepreneurs Create Markets that Change the World,” a new book that was handed out last month to attendees at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
Even among its hybrid peers, ePals has evolved into an unusual combination of a business and a social venture. When Mr. Gilburne and Ms. Zolt established the for-profit arm in 2006, they attracted like-minded investors, acquired ePals Inc. and began hiring talented staff. They gave the original education foundation a 15 percent stake in the ePals company, and its endowment will grow if the business prospers. The nonprofit division is focusing on educational research and bringing technology into classrooms.
But the company is where the action is. “This needs to be a large business to have a really significant social impact,” Mr. Gilburne said. “We couldn’t do what we’re doing as a nonprofit.”
Very few nonprofits get big. Only 144 of the more than 200,000 nonprofits established since 1970 had grown to $50 million or more in revenue by 2003, according to a study published last year by the Bridgespan Group, a nonprofit consulting firm that advises philanthropies.
With the rising influence of social entrepreneurs in philanthropy, many nonprofits have sought to generate revenue to become more self-sustaining. But it is still rare for a nonprofit to cross the chasm to become mainly a profit-seeking business, as in the ePals experience.
“It’s tricky, but it makes sense when the business is highly aligned with the mission of the social entrepreneurs,” said Jeffrey L. Bradach, a managing partner of Bridgespan.
As a for-profit business, ePals can more easily attract financing for growth. But outside investors raise the risk that the original social ideals will be lost in a single-minded pursuit of profit. Mr. Gilburne has tried to avoid that pitfall by gathering a stable of angel investors among his longtime business friends, who bring not only money but also a shared belief in the promise of the Internet to improve education.
The group includes Stephen M. Case, the former chief executive of AOL; Mitchell Kapor, the founder of the early spreadsheet maker Lotus Development and an open-source software supporter; and Yossi Vardi, an Israeli Internet entrepreneur.
“None of our investors are interested just in making another financial score,” Mr. Gilburne said.
AFTER pooling their money, the angel investors bought the ePals company in December 2006 for an undisclosed price. Mr. Gilburne had watched ePals for years, starting when he was at AOL in the 1990s, and he saw it as the foundation on which to build an educational social network.
EPals started as a Web-based electronic pen-pal service in 1996, offering point-and-click tools that teachers could use to control how students use e-mail. A teacher in California, for example, set the controls so her class could communicate online only with a class in China that was engaged in a joint cultural exchange project.
Since the angel investors came aboard in 2006, the ePals work force has more than doubled, to 43, and the company continues to hire. It has improved the e-mail and blogging software and added links to outside resources, like National Geographic’s digital library, to its Web-based software for online projects.
“We were a small company with little capital,” said Tim DiScipio, a founder of the original ePals, who is the chief marketing officer of the revamped company under its new ownership. “But now we have the resources to really pursue the vision of social learning over the Internet.”
Until last fall, ePals charged $3 to $5 a year for each student e-mail account, but the service is now free. The effect of free distribution was immediate and dramatic. The number of registered users has nearly doubled, to 13 million, since September.
The growth and ambition of ePals have impressed National Geographic enough to make an investment and forge a partnership.
“We’re looking at them as a global network to distribute National Geographic content,” explained Edward M. Prince, the chief operating officer of the venture arm of the nonprofit scientific and educational organization.
The ePals team is betting that it can build a worldwide social network in education — a serious, controlled version of Facebook, for students in kindergarten through 12th grade. “When markets go digital, they go collaborative and sharing,” said Edmund Fish, the chief executive of ePals and a former executive of AOL, where he oversaw online education offerings. “That can happen in education, too. A learning social network is not an oxymoron.”
Even the basic social networking of ePals e-mail exchanges, teachers say, helps improve writing skills and stirs curiosity about other cultures. Mirjana Milovic, a teacher in Kragujevac, Serbia, says ePals has helped the 120 students in her school with their English-language skills. Their correspondents in Alabama and Kansas have also learned that jeans and Nike shoes are popular in Kragujevac but that the McDonald’s in town closed for lack of business.
“We usually prefer our domestic food,” wrote Marija, an 18-year-old.
Candace Pauchnick, who teaches English and sociology at Patrick Henry High School in San Diego, has been using ePals for what she calls “virtual field trips.” In their online exchanges with students in Italy, China and the Czech Republic, her students have learned about family life and political systems in foreign lands and improved their writing skills.
“If they were just writing for me, they wouldn’t be as careful,” Ms. Pauchnick said. “But they’re writing for a student in another country. It’s not drudgery for them. They buy in and they enjoy it.”
Ms. Zolt, the chief program architect of ePals, endorsed the for-profit route but insisted that the digital network also provide a free searchable database for educational research.
“The promise here is to be able to study, with vast amounts of real-time data, how children learn,” she said.
Scholars are enthusiastic. “Its potential is very exciting,” said Linda B. Gambrell, a professor of education at Clemson University, who is one of the academic advisers of ePals. “This should help us quicken the pace of translating innovative research into best practices in the classroom.”
Like many start-up companies, the revamped ePals is still working on its business model. Mr. Gilburne, the chairman, says it will pursue corporate sponsors for certain project areas. These could be part of a company’s community and social responsibility activities, providing approved adult experts to help students online. For example, General Electric might sponsor ePals’ global warming section by providing environmental experts as online mentors, Mr. Gilburne said, or perhaps Intel or I.B.M. would help in engineering projects.
There are commerce opportunities, Mr. Gilburne added, for education publishers who might want to market books or curriculum materials for home-school students over ePals.
Eventually, Mr. Gilburne said, advertising will be part of the mix. “But we’ll go gingerly to figure out what is appropriate and doesn’t impose on the classroom,” he said.
The failure rate for entrepreneurs — whether social or purely capitalist — is high. Still, ePals’ backers are betting that it is worth the risk. “These kinds of opportunities to do well and do good at the same time don’t grow on trees,” said Mr. Kapor, the ePals investor and a philanthropist. “But I do think that ePals could be one of them.”
April 5, 2008
Microfinance’s Success Sets Off a Debate in Mexico
By ELISABETH MALKIN
VILLA DE VÁZQUEZ, Mexico — Carlos Danel and Carlos Labarthe turned a nonprofit that lent money to Mexico’s poor into one of the country’s most profitable banks.
But not all of their colleagues in the world of microlending — so named for the tiny loans it grants — are heaping praise on the co-executives of Compartamos. Some are vilifying them as “pawnbrokers” and “money lenders.”
They are the center of a fractious debate: how far should microfinance go toward becoming big business?
At one end stand traditional microlenders, like the economist Muhammad Yunus, founder of the most famous microlender, the Grameen Bank, and winner of the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize. At the other are the Two Carloses, as they are widely known in this tight-knit world that gave them their start as starry-eyed idealists.
Microlenders, the original and still the most common type of microfinance organization, help the poor start or expand businesses in places most banks shun, like the slums of Calcutta or these impoverished hills in Mexico’s sugar cane country, three hours south of Mexico City. Their efforts are widely considered successful in transforming the lives of developing-world entrepreneurs, particularly women, and their families.
Many microlending advocates, including Mr. Yunus, say that success is threatened by Mr. Danel and Mr. Labarthe’s market-oriented model, with its emphasis on investor returns.
“Microfinance started in the 1970s with a focus on using this breakthrough to help end poverty,” said Sam Daley-Harris, director of the Microcredit Summit Campaign, a nonprofit endeavor that promotes microfinance for families earning less than $1 a day. “Now it is in great danger of being how well the investors and the microfinance institutions are doing and not about ending poverty.” He said the situation posed the danger of “mission drift.”
Fighting global poverty in everyone's best interest
Half the world lives on less than $2 per day
For The Calgary Herald
Thursday, April 10, 2008
Last week, I attended the opening of an exhibit at the U of C's Nickle Arts Museum, entitled Bridges that Unite (bridgesthatunite.ca). The exhibit itself was remarkable, and I highly recommend seeing it before it closes this weekend.
The show, sponsored by the Aga Khan Foundation Canada, highlights 25 years of Canadian participation with that organization in the developing world.
Without question, some of what has been accomplished is breathtaking.
For example, in the remote northern areas of Pakistan, in villages that could have been incubators of fundamentalism and intolerance, the Foundation and its partners engaged in a number of initiatives that tripled per capita income, took literacy from near-zero to almost universal levels for women and men, and cut infant mortality by 75 per cent.
About one million people are now leading lives that are unimaginably better than before.
What's most striking about this is not only the relatively small amounts of money required, but how uncomplicated the model can be.
One of the centrepieces of the exhibit is devastatingly simple -- just a circle of chairs with a flipchart on one end.
The point is that by getting people to talk to one another, they will create solutions that make sense for themselves, their families, and their communities.
The easy lesson to draw from this is about how to improve the quality of life here: If we spent more time sitting in circles with people who are different from us, who don't share our points of view, how much richer would we be as a society?
I'm not just singing Kumbaya; there are real lessons that we're ignoring.
One simple example -- how is it that immigrant communities have much poverty, but almost no homelessness? What could the shelter system learn from how the local Sikh and Chinese communities manage poverty?
The much more difficult conversation, though, is one about global poverty. Half the world lives on less than $2 per day.
Most of sub-Saharan Africa is worse off today than it was when my parents left 35 years ago.
It's easy for us to close our eyes and our hearts to this. After all, we think, it's their own fault.
They've had corrupt leaders. They don't know or care to help themselves. Plus, there are so many problems and issues here at home that we have to work on.
Calgary philanthropist Jim Gray -- one of my personal heroes -- found this out the hard way.
He's been raising money for good causes in this community for 30 years, and thought it would take six months, tops, to raise $5 million for the Aga Khan Development Network. Last I heard, he was still well short of his goal.
There are very good reasons for us to care: In a globalized world, poverty begets desperation begets violence. Stability is in all of our best interest.
I believe we also have a moral imperative. When I, a teacher, spend more on satellite TV each month than a Kenyan teacher earns, there's an imbalance that needs fixing.
Maybe the most important reason for us to care, though, is a self-interested one: making a difference in global poverty will make us feel good.
A recent study by UBC's Dr. Elizabeth Dunn shows that money can buy happiness -- but only if you spend it on other people.
If we think of Alberta's wealth as winning a lottery, the roadmap is pretty clear.
We should save the vast majority of the money and live off the interest, and spend some of the rest on fixing the roof. But it's also important to blow some of the money -- we won the lottery after all, so may as well do something we've always wanted to do.
For individuals, that could be splurging on a new car or a trip to Tahiti.
For our community, how about making a significant commitment to ending global poverty? For example, there are 1.1 billion people in the world without access to clean drinking water.
A Calgary-based organization, the Centre for Affordable Water and Sanitation Technology, can alleviate that problem using filters that cost about $20 each.
So, just imagine if we took half of one year's surplus, or roughly the same amount spent giving us those $400 cheques in 2005/06 -- do you remember what you did with your money? -- and bought water filters.
One-fifth of the world's population would see a little sticker that said "provided by the people of Alberta, grateful for what we have been given" every single time they took a drink.
Five thousand lives a day -- mostly kids under five -- would be saved. And wouldn't we feel fantastic?
Naheed Nenshi teaches nonprofit management at Mount Royal College's Bissett School of Business.
May 11, 2008
Saving the World in Study Hall
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
Teenagers are supposed to be sullen and self-absorbed, but Rachel S. Rosenfeld never got the memo.
Rachel is a high school junior in Harrison, N.Y., who came down with a painful intestinal ailment that forced her to miss the entire 2006-7 school year. So she resolved that if she couldn’t go to school herself, she could at least help other kids who wanted to.
From her sickbed, Rachel sold T-shirts and solicited contributions to build a 316-student elementary school in rural Cambodia. Borrowing an idea from university fund-raising, she offered naming opportunities: for $25, donors could buy chairs to be named for them. All told, she raised $57,000, which was channeled through an aid group, American Assistance for Cambodia.
Now Rachel is mostly healthy again and back in school, but over the December vacation she traveled to Cambodia to cut the ribbon at the R. S. Rosenfeld School.
“The children were all so grateful and well-behaved,” Rachel said. “It truly was a life-changing experience.”
College students used to be the activists, but increasingly they’re joined by high school pupils and even younger children. The spotlight may be on billionaire philanthropists like Bill Gates, but one of the country’s healthier trends has been the rise of piggy-bank philanthropists.
Two high school students in Massachusetts, Ana Slavin and Nick Anderson, started a nationwide high school campaign, Dollars for Darfur, that has raised $420,000 for the people of Darfur from 440 schools.
The humanitarian prodigies like Ana and Nick are laudable for going beyond simple protesting to help their causes. Today’s young social entrepreneurs come across as more constructive than my generation of student activists, and more savvy about how to accomplish their goals cost-effectively.
Senator Chris Dodd has pushed for a requirement of 100 hours of public service in high school. There’s a risk that a mandate undermines the virtue, but on balance I’m in favor. Colleges should also emulate Princeton and encourage young people to take a “gap year” of public service abroad (I list a few possibilities for a gap year and for student activism on my blog, nytimes.com/ontheground).
Climate change has particularly galvanized high school students — perhaps because it’s their world that we’re cooking. A 16-year-old in San Francisco, Taylor Francis, has been speaking to groups around the country about global warming; after some training by Al Gore, he has set up his own Web site and is heading to China in June to give a dozen lectures there.
“There’s an enormous outpouring of young people who are trying to do community service,” Taylor said. “Unfortunately, a lot of that is probably just to get into college.”
These days, even some elementary children are getting involved. More than 2.5 million children participated in a drive on Club Penguin, a children’s activities Web site, that directed $1 million to charity.
In keeping with thousands of years of tradition, I should be wringing my hands about adolescents these days, so lazy and degenerate compared with my own upstanding generation. But when I see high school students working energetically to save the lives of people half a world away, before they are even allowed to buy a beer, I’m reduced to mumbling admiration. These kids are truly inspiring.
As a 16-year-old in Melbourne, Fla., Allyson Brown organized a Valentine’s dance at her high school, with the proceeds going to fight malaria in Africa. That dance grew into Stayin’ Alive, a campaign that has attracted more than 100 schools in 31 states to raise money to buy mosquito bed nets that cost $10 each and protect a family from malaria.
The aim of Stayin’ Alive, which is run by a group called Malaria No More, is to buy enough bed nets to protect two million children. Allyson, who remains very involved in the program, will have saved more lives as a student than many doctors save in a lifetime.
It’s true that some of the activism may have less to do with humanitarianism than with college applications. But even when greedy, self-absorbed cynics take on some worthy cause for the most selfish motives, they often learn and grow from the experience.
“I’ve seen some people who just want to bump up their résumés,” Allyson acknowledged. But she said that most participation seemed heartfelt — including that of a girl, about 7 years old, who ran a lemonade stand to buy bed nets for African kids.
“A lot of people say that teenagers aren’t thinking about the greater good,” Allyson added, just a hint of protest in her voice. “But when you give teens a chance to help, and they know their contributions will make a difference, then they help a lot.”
So maybe it’s time that we all learn from our juniors.
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