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.
July 3, 2008
The Luckiest Girl
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
This year’s college graduates owe their success to many factors, from hectoring parents to cherished remedies for hangovers. But one of the most remarkable of the new graduates, Beatrice Biira, credits something utterly improbable: a goat.
“I am one of the luckiest girls in the world,” Beatrice declared at her graduation party after earning her bachelor’s degree from Connecticut College. Indeed, and it’s appropriate that the goat that changed her life was named Luck.
Beatrice’s story helps address two of the most commonly asked questions about foreign assistance: “Does aid work?” and “What can I do?”
The tale begins in the rolling hills of western Uganda, where Beatrice was born and raised. As a girl, she desperately yearned for an education, but it seemed hopeless: Her parents were peasants who couldn’t afford to send her to school.
The years passed and Beatrice stayed home to help with the chores. She was on track to become one more illiterate African woman, another of the continent’s squandered human resources.
In the meantime, in Niantic, Conn., the children of the Niantic Community Church wanted to donate money for a good cause. They decided to buy goats for African villagers through Heifer International, a venerable aid group based in Arkansas that helps impoverished farming families.
A dairy goat in Heifer’s online gift catalog costs $120; a flock of chicks or ducklings costs just $20.
One of the goats bought by the Niantic church went to Beatrice’s parents and soon produced twins. When the kid goats were weaned, the children drank the goat’s milk for a nutritional boost and sold the surplus milk for extra money.
The cash from the milk accumulated, and Beatrice’s parents decided that they could now afford to send their daughter to school. She was much older than the other first graders, but she was so overjoyed that she studied diligently and rose to be the best student in the school.
An American visiting the school was impressed and wrote a children’s book, “Beatrice’s Goat,” about how the gift of a goat had enabled a bright girl to go to school. The book was published in 2000 and became a children’s best seller — but there is now room for a more remarkable sequel.
Beatrice was such an outstanding student that she won a scholarship, not only to Uganda’s best girls’ high school, but also to a prep school in Massachusetts and then to Connecticut College. A group of 20 donors to Heifer International — coordinated by a retired staff member named Rosalee Sinn, who fell in love with Beatrice when she saw her at age 10 — financed the girl’s living expenses.
A few years ago, Beatrice spoke at a Heifer event attended by Jeffrey Sachs, the economist. Mr. Sachs was impressed and devised what he jokingly called the “Beatrice Theorem” of development economics: small inputs can lead to large outcomes.
Granted, foreign assistance doesn’t always work and is much harder than it looks. “I won’t lie to you. Corruption is high in Uganda,” Beatrice acknowledges.
A crooked local official might have distributed the goats by demanding that girls sleep with him in exchange. Or Beatrice’s goat might have died or been stolen. Or unpasteurized milk might have sickened or killed Beatrice.
In short, millions of things could go wrong. But when there’s a good model in place, they often go right. That’s why villagers in western Uganda recently held a special Mass and a feast to celebrate the first local person to earn a college degree in America.
Moreover, Africa will soon have a new asset: a well-trained professional to improve governance. Beatrice plans to earn a master’s degree at the Clinton School of Public Service in Arkansas and then return to Africa to work for an aid group.
Beatrice dreams of working on projects to help women earn and manage money more effectively, partly because she has seen in her own village how cash is always controlled by men. Sometimes they spent it partying with buddies at a bar, rather than educating their children. Changing that culture won’t be easy, Beatrice says, but it can be done.
When people ask how they can help in the fight against poverty, there are a thousand good answers, from sponsoring a child to supporting a grass-roots organization through globalgiving.com. (I’ve listed specific suggestions on my blog, nytimes.com/ontheground, and on facebook.com/kristof).
The challenges of global poverty are vast and complex, far beyond anyone’s power to resolve, and buying a farm animal for a poor family won’t solve them. But Beatrice’s giddy happiness these days is still a reminder that each of us does have the power to make a difference — to transform a girl’s life with something as simple and cheap as a little goat.
July 13, 2008
It Takes a School, Not Missiles
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
Since 9/11, Westerners have tried two approaches to fight terrorism in Pakistan, President Bush’s and Greg Mortenson’s.
Mr. Bush has focused on military force and provided more than $10 billion — an extraordinary sum in the foreign-aid world — to the highly unpopular government of President Pervez Musharraf. This approach has failed: the backlash has radicalized Pakistan’s tribal areas so that they now nurture terrorists in ways that they never did before 9/11.
Mr. Mortenson, a frumpy, genial man from Montana, takes a diametrically opposite approach, and he has spent less than one-ten-thousandth as much as the Bush administration. He builds schools in isolated parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan, working closely with Muslim clerics and even praying with them at times.
The only thing that Mr. Mortenson blows up are boulders that fall onto remote roads and block access to his schools.
Mr. Mortenson has become a legend in the region, his picture sometimes dangling like a talisman from rearview mirrors, and his work has struck a chord in America as well. His superb book about his schools, “Three Cups of Tea,” came out in 2006 and initially wasn’t reviewed by most major newspapers. Yet propelled by word of mouth, the book became a publishing sensation: it has spent the last 74 weeks on the paperback best-seller list, regularly in the No. 1 spot.
Now Mr. Mortenson is fending off several dozen film offers. “My concern is that a movie might endanger the well-being of our students,” he explains.
Mr. Mortenson found his calling in 1993 after he failed in an attempt to climb K2, a Himalayan peak, and stumbled weakly into a poor Muslim village. The peasants nursed him back to health, and he promised to repay them by building the village a school.
Scrounging the money was a nightmare — his 580 fund-raising letters to prominent people generated one check, from Tom Brokaw — and Mr. Mortenson ended up selling his beloved climbing equipment and car. But when the school was built, he kept going. Now his aid group, the Central Asia Institute, has 74 schools in operation. His focus is educating girls.
To get a school, villagers must provide the land and the labor to assure a local “buy-in,” and so far the Taliban have not bothered his schools. One anti-American mob rampaged through Baharak, Afghanistan, attacking aid groups — but stopped at the school that local people had just built with Mr. Mortenson. “This is our school,” the mob leaders decided, and they left it intact.
Mr. Mortenson has had setbacks, including being kidnapped for eight days in Pakistan’s wild Waziristan region. It would be naïve to think that a few dozen schools will turn the tide in Afghanistan or Pakistan.
Still, he notes that the Taliban recruits the poor and illiterate, and he also argues that when women are educated they are more likely to restrain their sons. Five of his teachers are former Taliban, and he says it was their mothers who persuaded them to leave the Taliban; that is one reason he is passionate about educating girls.
So I have this fantasy: Suppose that the United States focused less on blowing things up in Pakistan’s tribal areas and more on working through local aid groups to build schools, simultaneously cutting tariffs on Pakistani and Afghan manufactured exports. There would be no immediate payback, but a better-educated and more economically vibrant Pakistan would probably be more resistant to extremism.
“Schools are a much more effective bang for the buck than missiles or chasing some Taliban around the country,” says Mr. Mortenson, who is an Army veteran.
Each Tomahawk missile that the United States fires in Afghanistan costs at least $500,000. That’s enough for local aid groups to build more than 20 schools, and in the long run those schools probably do more to destroy the Taliban.
The Pentagon, which has a much better appreciation for the limits of military power than the Bush administration as a whole, placed large orders for “Three Cups of Tea” and invited Mr. Mortenson to speak.
“I am convinced that the long-term solution to terrorism in general, and Afghanistan specifically, is education,” Lt. Col. Christopher Kolenda, who works on the Afghan front lines, said in an e-mail in which he raved about Mr. Mortenson’s work. “The conflict here will not be won with bombs but with books. ... The thirst for education here is palpable.”
Military force is essential in Afghanistan to combat the Taliban. But over time, in Pakistan and Afghanistan alike, the best tonic against militant fundamentalism will be education and economic opportunity.
So a lone Montanan staying at the cheapest guest houses has done more to advance U.S. interests in the region than the entire military and foreign policy apparatus of the Bush administration.
September 25, 2008
A Heroine From the Brothels
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
World leaders are parading through New York this week for a United Nations General Assembly reviewing their (lack of) progress in fighting global poverty. That’s urgent and necessary, but what they aren’t talking enough about is one of the grimmest of all manifestations of poverty — sex trafficking.
This is widely acknowledged to be the 21st-century version of slavery, but governments accept it partly because it seems to defy solution. Prostitution is said to be the oldest profession. It exists in all countries, and if some teenage girls are imprisoned in brothels until they die of AIDS, that is seen as tragic but inevitable.
The perfect counterpoint to that fatalism is Somaly Mam, one of the bravest and boldest of those foreign visitors pouring into New York City this month. Somaly is a Cambodian who as a young teenager was sold to the brothels herself and now runs an organization that extricates girls from forced prostitution.
Now Somaly has published her inspiring memoir, “The Road of Lost Innocence,” in the United States, and it offers some lessons for tackling the broader problem.
In the past when I’ve seen Somaly and her team in Cambodia, I frankly didn’t figure that she would survive this long. Gangsters who run the brothels have held a gun to her head, and seeing that they could not intimidate Somaly with their threats, they found another way to hurt her: They kidnapped and brutalized her 14-year-old daughter.
Three years ago, I wrote from Cambodia about a raid Somaly organized on the Chai Hour II brothel where more than 200 girls had been imprisoned. Girls rescued from the brothel were taken to Somaly’s shelter, but the next day gangsters raided the shelter, kidnapped the girls and took them right back to the brothel.
Yet Somaly continued her fight, and, with the help of many others, she has registered real progress. Today, she says, the Chai Hour II brothel is shuttered. In large part, so is the Svay Pak brothel area where 12-year-old girls were openly for sale on my first visit.
“If you want to buy a virgin, it’s not easy now,” notes Somaly, speaking in English — her fifth language.
Somaly’s shelters — where the youngest girl rescued is 4 years old — provide an education and job skills. More important, Somaly applies public and international pressure to push the police to crack down on the worst brothels, and takes brothel owners to court. The idea is to undermine the sex-trafficking business model.
In her book, Somaly recounts how she grew up as an orphan and was “adopted” by a man who sold her to a brothel. Once when Somaly ran away, the police gang-raped her. Then her owner, on recovering his “property,” not only beat and humiliated her but tied her down naked and poured live maggots over her skin and in her mouth.
Yet even after that, Somaly occasionally defied him. Once two new girls, about 14 years old, were brought in to the brothel and left tied up. Somaly untied them and let them run away. For that, she was tortured with electric shocks.
As Cambodia opened up, Somaly began to get foreign clients, whom she vastly preferred because they didn’t beat her as well, and she began learning foreign languages. Eventually, a French aid worker named Pierre Legros and she got married, and together they started Afesip, a small organization to fight sex trafficking. They have since divorced, and Somaly works primarily through the Somaly Mam Foundation, set up by admiring Americans to finance her battle against trafficking in Cambodia. It’s a successful collaboration between American do-gooders with money and a Cambodian do-gooder with local street smarts.
The world’s worst trafficking is in Asia, but teenage runaways in the United States are also routinely brutalized by their pimps. If a white, middle-class blonde goes missing, the authorities issue an Amber Alert and cable TV goes berserk, but neither federal nor local authorities do nearly enough to go after pimps who savagely abuse troubled girls who don’t fit the “missing blonde” narrative. The system is broken.
A bill to strengthen federal anti-trafficking efforts within the U.S. was overwhelmingly passed by the House of Representatives, led by Carolyn Maloney, Democrat of New York. But crucial provisions to crack down on pimping are being blocked in the Senate in part by Senators Sam Brownback and Joe Biden, who consider the House provisions unnecessary and problematic. (Barack Obama gets it and says the right things about trafficking to the public, but apparently not to his running mate.)
With U.N. leaders this week focused on overcoming poverty, Somaly is a reminder that we needn’t acquiesce in the enslavement of girls, in this country or abroad. If we defeated slavery in the 19th century, we can beat it in the 21st century.
CREDIT: Stoyan Nenov, Reuters
Five years ago, Hristo Mishkov quit the New York-based Nasdaq market for a dilapidated Bulgarian monastery that once served as a communist labour camp.
Brother Nikanor, a Nasdaq broker turned monk, advises former colleagues to put a jar with soil on their desks to remind them where we are all heading and what matters in life.
As western banks fold into each other like crumpled tickets and commentators portray the current crisis as the last gasp of modern capitalism, Hristo Mishkov, 32, shares the pain -- and offers home truths.
His story partly resembles that of Brother Ty, the monk-tycoon protagonist of the 1998 satire God Is My Broker by U.S. writers Christopher Buckley and John Tierney -- he failed on Wall Street and became a monk.
But 10 years later, the similarities are superficial: the Bulgarian had a successful brokering career, does not write self-help manuals and aims to get happy, not rich.
His interest in financial markets began under communism in the 1980s when he and other children created their own play stock exchange in their apartment block's basement in Sofia.
Five years ago, after failing to find happiness in the life he lived, the Christian Orthodox who hadn't practised as a child quit the New York-based market for a dilapidated Bulgarian monastery that once served as a communist labour camp.
Retaining one luxury -- a mobile phone, which connects him with both potential donors and former trading colleagues -- he has brought the rigour of his broking experience to his faith.
He has helped to raise hundreds of thousands of levs (dollars) to rebuild the monastery -- a hard task in a country where charity is not part of the mentality and building shopping malls and golf courses is a priority.
"Many people . . . in the world do not realize that they have not earned the food they eat, that they take without giving," said Mishkov. "But if someone consumes more than they have earned, it means someone else is starving.
"It is right to see people who consume more than they deserve shattered by a financial crisis from time to time, to suffer so that they can become more reasonable."
Being a trader has seldom been more traumatic: placing bets on political decisions about billion-dollar bank bailouts which, if they fail, could mean much more than a bad day for yourself or colleagues, but also jeopardize livelihoods.
Some have found solace in religion, others in humour, but a few fall. Surveys show traders reporting more stress and every news report of a trader suicide is accompanied by suggestions the pressure may have been too much.
"We always search for happiness in the outside world, in material things, which makes us constantly unsatisfied, angry with ourselves and the world," said Mishkov, who exudes a sense of tranquillity, intelligence and humour.
Greed and the marketization of our lives have reached the point where people have been turned into a commodity -- even their health can be traded like a stock, he said.
"We have so quickly lost our human appearance, we have become beasts. . . . There's no one to count on and say 'Hey neighbour come help me.' He will come but demand a payment."
His monastery, tucked among hills 50 kilometres west of Sofia, was founded in the 12th century. The communist regime which banned religion turned it into a labour camp, then a children's pioneer camp and a livestock farm.
Now Mishkov works hard every day milking buffalo cows and building stone walls. He says he is not against rich people but can only respect those who contribute to the good of society -- pointing to Microsoft founder Bill Gates as an example.
As a younger man working for more than two years for Karoll, one of Bulgaria's leading brokerages, Mishkov was good at his job, former colleagues say.
"He was a religious person and that annoyed me sometimes," said Alexander Nikolov, head of international capital markets at Karoll. "There were occasions when he would not show up at work because of some religious holiday."
His colleagues were stunned when he decided to become a monk, but Mishkov felt the time had come to look after people's souls.
"Everybody can be a good broker but this does not bring much benefit for the world," he said. Religion can help people cope in today's stressful times and find answers, Mishkov added.
Churches in New York's financial district reported last month increased attendance at lunchtime meetings, with many more people in business attire than usual, when some of the world's biggest investment banks collapsed.
Steven Bell, chief economist of London hedge fund GLC, said keeping a sense of reality is what traders needed.
"It is very important to just remind yourself that there is a real world out there. In any job but particularly in financial markets, you need to try and keep your feet on the ground," said Bell.
Mishkov says the crash should also help correct a dangerous global trend of an excessive outflow of labour to the service sectors, by people attracted by high pay and an easy life.
"Milk is not produced by computers, bread doesn't come from a good company PR. It is necessary to plow, sow and harvest before that," says the monk.
Small loans assist poorest of the poor Group lobbies politicians to fight global poverty
Friday, October 17, 2008
An expert in providing modest loans to establish self-sustaining small businesses in the Third World can only shake his head at the scope of the financial meltdown in North America.
Alex Counts, president of the Washington-based Grameen Foundation, says the poor are often shunned by the global banking system.
"But what happened in the subprime crisis is that people were given incentives to loan to the poor irresponsibly," says Counts, who'll be in Calgary on Saturday to speak at a fundraiser for the Calgary chapter of Results Canada.
Results Canada is a national advocacy group that pushes for increased political will to support poverty-fighting options such as microfinancing, which consists of providing small loans, usually less than $200, to individuals to establish or expand a small, self-sustaining business.
"In microfinance, we've set up sophisticated ways to ensure the loan officers work for the benefit of the clients," says Counts. "If a woman in Bangladesh can manage with a $70 loan to start her small business, don't lend her $170. And in fact if you do, you'll be punished, not rewarded."
The Grameen Foundation works with a network of 55 local microfinance institutions in 24 countries, providing modest loans to some of the world's poorest people to start small businesses to support their families.
More than 90 per cent of their clients are women and Counts says the payback rate is impressive.
Counts says microfinance officers are in the villages of their clients on a weekly basis instead of hidden away in a Wall Street skyscraper.
"There's a close relationship between borrower and lender. If a woman uses a loan to buy two cows, but one dies and she isn't able to pay the loan on the original schedule, you work something out that's appropriate to that individual situation."
Counts says there's a spiritual, as well as economic, element to the foundation's work with the poorest of the poor.
"You see how a tiny loan of perhaps $80 can act as a catalyst to unlock their entrepreneurial potential and improve their social and economic lives, -- more than you or I will go through in our lifetime," says Counts.
Results Canada organizer Elizabeth Dove says Calgary has one of the most active chapters in the country.
"We believe there are enough resources in the world to end poverty everywhere," says Dove. "It just takes the political will. Our members lobby their MPs and write letters to the editor advocating for positive initiatives like microfinance."
The Results Canada breakfast is set for 9 a.m. Saturday at Stampede Park's Big Four Building. Call 403-399-7369 for tickets.
Help eliminate poverty – invest in women When a woman prospers, a family prospers. When families prosper, communities prosper.
By Christine Grumm
from the October 17, 2008 edition
San Francisco - Those familiar with the issue of poverty might know that although women perform two-thirds of the world's unpaid labor and grow more than half the world's food, they represent 70 percent of those living in poverty.
But what is just coming into focus is that women represent an underutilized resource in alleviating that poverty. When government and philanthropic dollars are invested in financially disadvantaged women, the potential impact is vast.
Research shows that investing in women's education and leadership in Africa can increase agricultural yields by more than 20 percent there. It is estimated that for every year beyond fourth grade that girls attend school, their wages rise 21 percent. And in 2001 the United Nations reported that eliminating gender inequality in Latin America would increase national output by 5 percent.
On top of that, evidence from micro-credit lending indicates that women have superior repayment rates, invest more productively, and are more risk-averse than men in similar situations.
Through programs administered by an international alliance of nongovernmental organizations known as the Women's Funding Network and by other international organizations including UNIFEM, experience illustrates the effectiveness of investing in women. These programs support training and better working conditions for women. They also build entrepreneurship and support asset-building and financial literacy for them.
A hallmark of this work – and key to its effectiveness – is empowering women living in poverty to help direct funding, and to take leadership in the programs it makes possible.
In Washington, programs funded by the Washington Area Women's Foundation have helped low-income women in and around the area collectively increase their assets by $17 million in 2-1/2 years.
Consider Christine Walker, a single mother and university student earning less than $35,000 annually. She watched her personal debt mount even as she pursued the degree that would lead to a better-paying job. Thanks to two programs funded by the foundation, Christine learned how to save $4,000 in just six months. This has made it possible for her to earn her degree in public policy without having to use her credit card to cover school expenses.
Another program supported by the Washington foundation enabled Sharan Mitchell, recently released from prison, to train in construction. Within three months she was helping to build Washington's new baseball stadium and earning a steady paycheck.
On the other side of the globe, a UNIFEM-supported program in Taiwan proved a lifeline for a domestic worker from the Philippines. The program was designed to educate domestic workers about savings. As part of the program, the participants formed a savings club. Eventually they pooled their $19,000 in collective savings and bought a rice mill. One of the participants managed the mill, which soon employed four full-time workers and another four part-time workers during harvest. This woman has risen from domestic worker to manager, benefiting her family and those around her through her new economic impact. And she and the women who invested with her in the rice mill are now owners of an asset that promises to grow in value.
Evidence, and examples from women like these around the world, is both convincing and compelling. When a woman prospers, a family prospers. When families prosper, communities prosper.
Friday is World Poverty Day. You can take a stand by signing a petition against poverty online at the UN-affiliated website standagainstpoverty.org. Those policymakers looking to make an impact and those who control philanthropic funds around the world should recognize that the financial empowerment of women around the world is, yes, a matter of women's rights. But it is also a powerful way to change whole societies. Investing in women is the way to a better world.
• Christine Grumm is president and CEO of the Women's Funding Network, a global alliance of grantmaking organizations directing social investments for women.
Little job from God sends doctor to Malawi Dr. Chris Brooks treats poorest in African nation
Sunday, October 26, 2008
When you first hear Dr. Chris Brooks' story, it's easy to consider him a modern-day humanitarian hero.
A decade ago, Brooks gave up his successful medical practice and a comfortable life in Calgary to treat and heal countless throngs in Malawi, one of Africa's poorest countries.
But for Brooks, president and founder of Lifeline Malawi, it was all about keeping a promise he made years ago.
"When I was 15 and attending a Bible school back in England, I promised God that I would become a medical doctor in Africa," Brooks says.
"When I hit my mid-fifties, I came to this hard realization that I hadn't done what I promised God that I'd do."
After hearing a missionary speak about the plight of Malawi's millions at the church he attended, Brooks knew it was time to take his leap of faith.
"I decided that I'd do whatever I was called to do," recalls Brooks. "It was like God spoke to me and said, 'Chris, I've got a little job for you do to in Africa.' "
The family home and the vintage Mustang convertible were sold. Brooks says he couldn't have walked this path without the support of his wife Heather and daughter Chloe.
"Heather and I sat down and agreed we wanted to do something worthwhile for the Lord," says Brooks.
"Shakespeare was right when he said that our life, 'our time upon the stage,' is pretty short and it's up to us on how we spend it. You can play the fool, or you can do something useful."
Malawi is a narrow sliver of a nation with more than 13-million people, sandwiched between Zambia, Mozambique and Tanzania in southeastern Africa. Brooks says one of the compelling reasons Malawi called to his heart was its serious lack of medical infrastructure.
"Even today, there are perhaps 200 doctors in the entire nation. The medical needs are still pretty mind boggling and the government is appreciative of any help that you can offer," says Brooks.
Brooks first worked for a humanitarian orphanage association, absorbing the cultural sensitivity for Africa that he says is vital for any westerner to do.
That "little job" from God was launched in the humblest of circumstances. Brooks was determined to take his medical skills into Malawi's rural areas so each week, he headed for a remote acreage at Ngodzi, on the shores of Lake Malawi.
"I had a second-hand Toyota Hilux truck and a nurse. We set up a little desk with a few bottles of medicine under a tree and waited . . . and hundreds of people just started to show up," recalls Brooks.
That initial, four-wheeled adventure evolved into an eight-room medical clinic by 2001, which has been expanded through the years through donations, many from Calgary churches, faith and service organizations and individuals. One Calgary businessman is paying for a new maternity ward being built at the Ngodzi centre.
A second clinic at Kasese has been operating for two years, and true to Brooks' vision, staff continue to take their vehicles and medicines into the hinterlands on a weekly basis.
Dealing with steady streams of patients, malaria and HIV/AIDS on a sustained basis can take a personal toll.
"At the end of some long days, Heather and I would look at each other with tears in our eyes and say, 'how much longer can we do this,' " Brooks says. "But with faith, you find strength."
While Lifeline Malawi is unabashedly Christian in spirit, the only criteria for being a patient, Brooks notes, "is to be a human being."
Lifeline Malawi has been embraced by many Calgarians, whether they be small teams from city churches who stay for a couple of weeks to build a staff house or doctors who share their skills and compassion.
Brooks say they invariable return to our affluent city with changed priorities and a richer heart.
Dr. Ian Burgess, a retired pediatrician, spent three weeks lending a hand.
"There are no efforts to proselytize the patients; we're there to preserve peoples' lives," says Burgess.
"There are some major health issues, but you get the sense that progress is being made, that things are improving in Malawi."
Brooks will turn 70 next month and says his role with Lifeline Malawi is now more of an ambassador than a hands-on caregiver.
"As God said to Abraham, 'just walk with me and I will bless you.' To the best of my ability, I think I have walked with God," says Brooks.
While he regularly travels the world to meet with potential supporters and raise funds, Brooks' heart is clearly anchored in Malawi.
"When I get off the plane and see my wife, when I smell the dust and the belching smoke of the old vehicles, and when we get home and I hear the hippos snorting down in the lake -- I know this is where I am supposed to be," says Brooks.
Brooks will be the guest speaker at Lifeline Malawi's annual fall banquet and silent auction, set for Thurs. Nov. 6 at the Calgary Zoo's Safari Lounge.
As Canada and the world head into economic uncertainty, there's a lot of talk of tightening our belts. Yet even amid market turmoil, Canadians cannot forget people in developing countries who are already bearing the brunt of soaring fuel prices and a global food crisis. As our prime minister acknowledged last Sunday, "countries in the South are certainly not responsible, and not the source of this crisis, in any way, shape or form." Developed countries must help poorer countries to deal with the fall out. For Canada that means we need to uphold our international aid commitments.
For many Canadians, global disparity prompts a personal response. They believe that every person on this planet should have the same rights, the same opportunities and the same basic necessities of life regardless of where they happen to be born. They also want to help do something about it. This principle is what motivated me to volunteer overseas with Canadian Crossroads International 37 years ago.
In the summer of 1971, Canadian Crossroads International placed me as a volunteer at the YMCA in Bridgetown, Barbados. I was charged with running a summer camp program for children. One day I visited a hospital ward for youngsters with physical and mental disabilities that also housed orphans and abandoned children. It was heart-breaking to see kids simply being warehoused without any emotional supports or programs. With the assistance of local sponsors, my project was quickly transformed to implement similar programs in that Bridgetown hospital. Thus, Canadian Crossroads International enabled me to reach out and help some very special children. It was a profound experience and ultimately led me to a lifetime commitment of volunteering in my own community.
This year, Canadian Crossroads International is 50 years old. Long before Canada had the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), an enthusiastic group of Crossroads volunteers were meeting in a basement trying to figure out how they could create a more just and sustainable world. Since that time, more than 8,000 people have volunteered overseas with this remarkable organization.
Today, with the government's support and the support of thousands of volunteers and donors Canadian Crossroads International continues to mobilize individuals in communities across the country. Canadians of all ages and from all walks of life have taken up the challenge to volunteer abroad, working on the front lines in the global fight against poverty, women's inequality and HIV and AIDS.
Many of us who have volunteered abroad have seen our own lives changed forever. From afar, in the abstract, it is difficult to grasp the incredible extent of poverty throughout the world and the impact it has on every aspect of people's lives. But this reality becomes crystal clear when you live and work alongside people who lack safe drinking water, nutritious food or access to services such as basic health care.
Prior to leaving for the Bridgetown YMCA I had no idea what to expect. But that relatively brief encounter made me realize how poverty, a lack of community capacity, and the absence of supportive social services can limit and stunt human potential. It was an experience that taught important life lessons and values I have brought to my work in Canada.
Today, the needs in developing countries have changed. Increasingly volunteers are using their expertise and resources to help increase the self sufficiency of local organizations to foster local economic development, increase women's rights and support people affected by HIV and AIDS.
At the Sommet de la Francophonie the prime minster called on developed countries to help developing countries deal with the effects of the financial crisis. The Canadian government also pledged $100-million in assistance to those countries that are especially vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change. This support is commendable.
But now, more than ever, we cannot lose sight of Canada's promise to invest 0.7 per cent of our national income assisting the world's poorest citizens; to work globally to cancel debt owed by the poorest countries; and work for fair global trade rules.
It's time to act. Get involved with organizations such as Canadian Crossroads International and volunteer for an experience that will change your life forever -- and those who you help. Together we can reach beyond our own communities and country and bring positive change to our fellow global citizens.
Calgary's Ward 4 Alderman Bob Hawkesworth is a former volunteer with Canadian Crossroads International, which is celebrating 50 years of international volunteer co-operation with events across the country.
November 3, 2008
Aid Group Says Zimbabwe Misused $7.3 Million
By CELIA W. DUGGER
JOHANNESBURG — The government of Zimbabwe, led by President Robert Mugabe, spent $7.3 million donated by an international organization to fight killer diseases on other things and has failed to honor requests to return the money, according to the organization’s inspector general.
The actions by Zimbabwe have deprived the organization, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, of resources it needs and damaged efforts to expand life-saving treatment, said the inspector general, John Parsons. Zimbabwe’s actions also jeopardize a more ambitious $188 million Global Fund grant to Zimbabwe, due for consideration by the fund’s board on Friday, Mr. Parsons said.
The Global Fund has continued to demand that Zimbabwe return the money, and Global Fund officials say Zimbabwean financial officials have promised to do so by Thursday. But Mr. Parsons said Zimbabwean officials also said they had not repaid the money because they did not have enough foreign currency.
The breakdown of trust between the Global Fund and Zimbabwe’s government comes at a time of widening humanitarian crisis and casts further doubt on the willingness of Western donors to invest heavily in rebuilding the economically broken nation as long as Mr. Mugabe is in charge, even if a deadlock over a power-sharing government is resolved.
Mr. Parsons said in an interview on Sunday that last year the Global Fund deposited $12.3 million in foreign currency into Zimbabwe’s Reserve Bank. He declined to speculate on how the $7.3 million it was seeking to be returned had been spent, except to say it was not on the intended purpose. Civic groups and opposition officials maintain that the Reserve Bank helps finance Mr. Mugabe’s patronage machine.
CREDIT: Pascal Guyot, AFP-Getty Images
Eric Breteau, left, head of French charity Zoe's Ark, and two of his five charity workers charged with kidnapping 103 children in Chad arrive at the courthouse in N'Djamena last December. The group was convicted and sentenced to eight years of hard labour, but later pardoned by Chad's President Idriss Deby and returned to France.
It was billed as a humanitarian rescue of orphaned Sudanese children fleeing the war in Darfur.
The 103 children would be evacuated from neighbouring Chad to France, where new families, who had each paid thousands of euros, would care for them.
The problem? They weren't orphans. And they weren't Sudanese, either.
They were Chadian youngsters who had reportedly been lured into custody with candy and cookies.
Chad's President Idriss Deby was enraged when the Zoe's Ark scandal erupted in October 2007, and suggested the children may have been sold into a pedophile ring or used to supply human organs.
Then he took a swipe at rich countries using poorer ones as a source for children.
"These people treat us like animals. So this is the image of the saviour Europe, which gives lessons to our countries. This is the image of Europe which helps Africa," Deby told reporters a year ago.
The Zoe's Ark incident sparked global controversy about international adoption, its regulation, and in the much broader picture, the ethics of First World people adopting developing world children.
Questions of child trafficking, organ harvesting and unscrupulous deals have also fueled resentment, and in some cases, led to complete border shutdowns.
The backlash against international adoption -- including violence against adoptive parents, agencies and their workers in foreign countries such as Guatemala and Chad -- also speaks to strong nationalist sensibilities that erupt when abuses are revealed.
Indeed, international adoptions spark many complex ethical questions from opponents and proponents of the practice.
At the heart of the issue is a thorny question: Is it right or wrong for westerners to adopt children from poorer nations?
According to critics, people from rich countries are pillaging poor countries' richest resource -- their children -- much to the anger and resentment of nationals in the countries of origin.
At the other end, advocates of international adoptions contend an impoverished child is rescued from a miserable life by an act of humanity and charity.
Even those who've adopted children from foreign countries are divided.
"It is an extremely good option for children. It is very likely the best option for children who don't have homes, don't have families, don't have food, don't have anyone to care for them," says international adoption expert Elizabeth Bartholet, a faculty director of the Child Advocacy Program at Harvard Law School in Boston.
But Karen Dubinsky, a history professor at Queen's University in Kingston, Ont., and international adoption expert, believes it isn't cut and dried.
"Everybody is really encouraged to think of international adoption only as a good thing," says Dubinsky. "It can dazzle us, blind us to what's really going on," she says of the rescue explanation.
An adoptive mother herself of an eight-year-old Guatemalan boy, the Ontario university professor says these polemic views lead to dead-end discussions.
Conflicted about her child's adoption and others' reactions to it led Dubinsky to research the subject.
"It's harder and way more complicated to think about what are the sources of poverty that are creating the need for adoption," says Dubinsky, who is writing a book about these issues called Babies without Borders.
An estimated 40,000 children around the globe are adopted internationally every year and millions more -- the world's most impoverished children -- are left behind.
Trends in international adoptions are "at a crisis moment now," a consortium of adoption advocates, including the American Bar Association, declared in August.
In a position paper, the group lashed out at "powerful political forces" that would make regulations more restrictive. The group argues this leads to more border shutdowns, ultimately hurting the world's poorest orphans.
The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), however, points to serious abuses surrounding international adoption, saying its growing popularity has led to "lack of regulation and oversight," particularly within countries of origin, which in turn has led to many abuses, including abduction, coercion of birth parents and bribery.
The practice "has spurred the growth of an industry around adoption where profit, rather than the best interests of the children, takes centre stage," UNICEF says.
Before inter-country adoption is considered, families should get support to raise their own children, and if they can't, "an appropriate alternative family environment" within their country of origin should be found, the organization believes.
But UNICEF's stance is a "powerfully hostile position" and unrealistic, as all the world's poorest children can't be properly cared for at home, counters Bartholet.
"We increase the chances of those (abuses) happening when we make international adoption illegal or almost impossible," says Bartholet, an adoptive mother of two Peruvian children and author of several books on the subject.
She challenges the policy-makers who restrict international adoption to weigh out the evils of an impoverished birth mother being compensated for a child she puts up for adoption versus a child who spends years being raised in institutional care.
"It's a small problem compared to the death and destruction of these kids."
However, Dominic Nutt with Save the Children, U.K., argues that demand for adoptees is fed by orphanages that make money from "selling children."
That commodification of children
creates conditions for abduction or simply puts pressure on birth parents, who, hoping to give their children a better life, relinquish them to local orphanages, he says. In that way, the system creates
"orphans," even if one or both parents are still alive.
In the case of Cochrane couple
Anjanette and Robin Bailey, their new three-year-old Ethiopian son's birth mother is still alive and living in the
impoverished east African country of
The couple adopted the boy in April and met his mother before bringing the youngster home to Canada.
"There are so many children who have no family, but do I think it's probably best for them if they stay in their own country? Yes, but it's such an overwhelming issue," Anjanette says, pointing to the systemic poverty.
Turn on the Tap, an ambitious three-year initiative by the Calgary-based Christian relief organization Samaritan's Purse, has hit the midway mark.
Launched in April, 2007, the fundraising campaign has brought in more than $3.5-million of its $6.5-million target. A successful conclusion will see at least 65,000 new BioSand water filters built and installed in homes and villages in dozens of Third World countries.
Those filters are designed to supply safe, healthy water for eight to 10 people for years to come -- all for the cost of about $100.
John Clayton, director of projects for Samaritan's Purse, says more that 100,000 filters have already been distributed in 28 countries.
He says Turn on the Tap is grounded in the philosophy of "trying to help those on the fringes of global society.
"We want to work together with people to take responsibility for their own health," Clayton adds.
Part of the cost of a water filter installation includes instruction for recipients in hygiene and sanitation basics as well as maintenance tips to keep the filters at peak performance.
Clayton says long-term tracking of existing BioSand units shows a commendable endurance record for properly-maintained filters.
He adds that while Samaritan's Purse is proudly an evangelical Christian organization, there are no strings placed on those receiving a water filter.
"Absolutely, our help is never conditional on the recipient believing in God," says Clayton. "But, yes, when we have a chance, we tell people about Jesus. As an evangelical organization, we feel called to talk to people about a God in whose image they are created."
A number of local Christians have made journeys to developing countries to help build and install BioSand filters, whose technology was developed by Calgarian Dr. David Manz.
Brian Mackie, a local high-tech management consultant, spent 10 days in Cambodia and Vietnam and came home with a spiritual booster shot.
"I went over there to help these people, but I got so much more in return," says Mackie.
"You always hear the old cliche that it's more blessed to give than to receive. I came away blessed by these loving, thankful people."
Mackie notes those receiving a BioSand filter are expected to either pay a nominal amount toward the cost or contribute labour to the construction of the filters.
"That produces a sense of ownership for the filters. It's very grassroots stuff, working with local partner organizations and using local materials to build them," says Mackie.
He recalls meeting a father of seven in Cambodia who was seeing dramatic, positive developments in his family simply by having a dependable supply of clean water.
"The dad was able to hold down steady work and his children were able to attend school on a much more regular basis because they weren't battling diarrhea-related diseases all the time," says Mackie.
Country music star Paul Brandt, a Samaritan's Purse supporter, raised more than $300,000 for Turn on the Tap during a recent tour for his new album Risk. Participants paid $100, the cost of one filter, to meet Brandt backstage and get a photo taken.
"With all the success I've enjoyed in my career, there came a point where making music was good, but it wasn't really challenging people," says Brandt.
"I wanted to point people toward Jesus. It's good to do good things for people, but you have to speak to their souls too."
Brandt spent time in Ethiopia delivering BioSand filters.
"I remember the two little girls in one family who were getting a filter. They put on their best dresses because they knew their lives were about to change for the better," says Brandt.
He calls the transformation of murky, polluted water drawn from stagnant ponds and local streams into clear, healthy water after running through the BioSand filter "almost unreal.
"When I see the changed lives, when kids are not dying of diarrhea, I know I'm getting an incredible return of this investment of my gifts," says Brandt.
The global financial crisis can become an opportunity to help the world's worst off, says the Nobel Peace Prize laureate known as the "banker to the poor."
World leaders could encourage new types of lending that would let the poor take themselves out of poverty without the risks of the traditional system that has just failed, said Prof. Muhammad Yunus.
Yunus was awarded the Nobel in 2006 along with "micro-credit" bank Grameen Bank, which he founded in his native Bangladesh in 1983.
The bank has lent more than $7 billion US, in tiny increments of a few dollars to a few thousand, to millions of poor borrowers-- almost all women --to run small businesses. Seamstresses would be lent money to buy a sewing machine or cloth, for example.
"This is the disaster of a lifetime, and disasters are very painful, but it's also an opportunity," Yunus said. "There's lots of things you don't do in a normal period, you keep on piling up problems. Now you can address it fundamentally."
The crisis, he said, was created by a handful of people driven by "extreme greed," but "it's the poor people, the bottom half, three billion people, who'll be hit the hardest through no fault of their own."
Although an eager capitalist, Yunus has long warned about the excesses of globalization and free markets unchecked by regulation. The recent meltdown of markets around the globe has only reinforced his belief that the world needs a regulatory structure, like a world central bank, to referee a financial system that is inextricably linked.
He also argues for new accounting and legal standards that would allow for a second, separate industry, so-called "social businesses" such as Yunus's own Grameen Bank, to emerge.
Yunus said U. S. president-elect Barack Obama is in a unique position to "create his own history" and rebuild the financial system in such a way that an entirely new class of companies, driven by both profit motive and a desire to improve society, can be launched.
Yunus was in Silicon Valley to receive the James C. Morgan Global Humanitarian Award as part of the Tech Awards. The award's past recipients include Microsoft Corp. co-founder Bill Gates and Intel Corp. co-founder Gordon Moore.
November 27, 2008
Giving Thanks to Heroes
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
This is a column to give thanks to you, the reader. You don’t know it, but some of you are keeping women like Sajida Bibi alive here in this remote Pakistani village. And that is a far grander reason to celebrate Thanksgiving than even the plumpest turkey.
Sajida is a 29-year-old college-educated woman from a Christian family here (and a reminder that oppressive values in Pakistan are not rooted just in Islam). She scandalized her family by marrying a man she chose herself — and then becoming pregnant.
The next step was brutal: Several women held Sajida down as a midwife conducted an abortion, while she struggled and wept.
Then her brothers weighed what to do next. Sajida’s eldest brother wanted to sell her to a trafficker who offered $1,200, presumably intending to imprison her inside a brothel. Two other brothers just wanted to kill her.
The brothers fought for days over this question. So Sajida ground up sleeping tablets and baked the powder into chapati bread that she fed her brothers for dinner — and then sneaked out as they slept.
Sajida made her way to Mukhtar Mai, one of my heroes, and that is why this is a Thanksgiving column. For years, I’ve written about Mukhtar, an illiterate woman who used compensation money after being gang-raped to build a small school in which she herself enrolled.
Readers responded to the columns by flooding Mukhtar, who then used a variant of her name, Mukhtaran Bibi, with more than $290,000 in donations, funneled through Mercy Corps, an international aid group based in the U.S.
With that financial support, Mukhtar now runs four schools with 900 students. She also operates an ambulance service, a school bus, a women’s shelter, a legal clinic, and a telephone hot line and women’s crisis center — all in this remote village in the southern Punjab. (For information about how to help, go to my blog.
Sajida is now safe in Mukhtar’s shelter, while hoping to rescue her 14-year-old sister, Shafaq. Her brothers have forced Shafaq to drop out of school and may now be trying to sell her to a trafficker. When Sajida and I managed to contact Shafaq, she balked at fleeing — fearing that if her brothers caught her, they would kill her.
These women in Mukhtar’s shelter are extraordinary, partly because in a culture where women are supposed to be weak, they are indomitable. These aren’t victims. These are superheroes.
Another of those whom Mukhtar is helping is Shahnaz Bibi (Bibi is a second name used by many young Pakistani women; none of these women are related). Shahnaz is short, frail and wears a traditional full veil on the street — and is as courageous a person as I’ve ever met.
Shahnaz was kidnapped when she was taking her 10th-grade examinations, then gang-raped for two months by her kidnappers (including a policeman and a cousin) and, eventually, sold for $2,500 to be the third wife of a 65-year-old businessman. After being locked up for two years in a windowless room, Shahnaz was finally rescued by her family.
Her father begged her to drop the matter, for otherwise word would spread that she was not a virgin — utterly dishonoring her entire family. Yet Shahnaz insisted on prosecuting her kidnappers.
The police refused to act, so Shahnaz sought out Mukhtar, who paid for a good lawyer. The case is now proceeding. As a result, the kidnapping ring is using its police connections to try to force Shahnaz to withdraw charges, according to Mukhtar and Shahnaz.
The mayor himself has threatened Shahnaz and ordered her to drop the case, she says. The police chief called in Shahnaz and her family, slapped her and threatened to throw the entire family in prison for life unless she signed a paper withdrawing the charges. Then the police tortured Shahnaz’s father and brother in front of her until they gushed blood, demanding that she sign the document, according to her account and her brother’s.
The brother pleaded with her to sign. She refused.
“After what I endured for two years, I refuse to give up,” she said. Shahnaz keeps getting death threats, but she keeps pushing ahead. “I strongly believe in God and the power of truth,” she said.
(Note to President Asif Ali Zardari: The mayor is from your political party, so expel him before he discredits you. And, to the mayor and police chief, a Thanksgiving pledge: If anything happens to Shahnaz, I’m coming after you, armed with my notebook.)
So how about a Thanksgiving toast: Let’s give thanks for the courage of these magnificent women, and to those readers who had the faith to send checks to an illiterate rape victim in a remote Pakistani village.
December 4, 2008
Raising the World’s I.Q.
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
Travelers to Africa and Asia all have their favorite forms of foreign aid to “make a difference.” One of mine is a miracle substance that is cheap and actually makes people smarter.
Unfortunately, it has one appalling side effect. No, it doesn’t make you sterile, but it is just about the least sexy substance in the world. Indeed, because it’s so numbingly boring, few people pay attention to it or invest in it. (Or dare write about it!)
It’s iodized salt.
Almost one-third of the world’s people don’t get enough iodine from food and water. The result in extreme cases is large goiters that swell their necks, or other obvious impairments such as dwarfism or cretinism. But far more common is mental slowness.
When a pregnant woman doesn’t have enough iodine in her body, her child may suffer irreversible brain damage and could have an I.Q. that is 10 to 15 points lower than it would otherwise be. An educated guess is that iodine deficiency results in a needless loss of more than 1 billion I.Q. points around the world.
Development geeks rave about the benefits of adding iodine and other micronutrients (such as vitamin A, iron, zinc and folic acid) to diets. The Copenhagen Consensus, which brings together a panel of top global economists to find the most cost-effective solutions to the world’s problems, puts micronutrients at the top of the list of foreign aid spending priorities.
“Probably no other technology,” the World Bank said of micronutrients, “offers as large an opportunity to improve lives ... at such low cost and in such a short time.”
Yet the strategy hasn’t been fully put in place, partly because micronutrients have zero glamour. There are no starlets embracing iodine. And guess which country has taken the lead in this area by sponsoring the Micronutrient Initiative? Hint: It’s earnest and dull, just like micronutrients themselves.
Ta-da — Canada!
(Years ago, New Republic magazine held a contest for the most boring headline ever. The benchmark was from a Times Op-Ed column — not mine — that read “Worthwhile Canadian Initiative.” Alas, that’s salt iodization!)
Pakistan is typical of the challenges. Until recently, 6 in 10 Pakistani schoolchildren were iodine-deficient. Iodine just wasn’t on anyone’s mind.
“I had never heard of iodized salt,” said Haji Sajjawal Khan, a 65-year-old owner of a small salt factory here, near the capital of Islamabad. Officials from the Micronutrient Initiative and other aid agencies reached out to factory owners like Mr. Khan and encouraged them to iodize salt, in part to help make Pakistanis healthier and more intelligent.
“It will prevent people’s necks from being swollen and will make people smarter,” Mr. Khan said. So he agreed to add an iodine drip into his salt grinder.
One of the obstacles is the rumor that iodized salt is actually a contraceptive, a dastardly plot by outsiders to keep Muslims from having babies. That conspiracy theory spread partly because the same do-good advertising agency that marketed iodized salt also marketed condoms.
Yet progress is evident. One of the attractions is that a campaign to iodize salt costs only 2 cents to 3 cents per person reached per year.
“We are spending very little, but the benefit is enormous,” said Dr. Khawaja Masuood Ahmed, an official of the Micronutrient Initiative here. “We’re preventing people from becoming mentally retarded.”
Indeed, The Lancet, the British medical journal, reported last month that “Iodine deficiency is the most common cause of preventable mental impairment worldwide.”
Occasionally in my travels I’ve been unnerved by coming across entire villages, in western China and elsewhere, eerily full of people with mental and physical handicaps, staggering about, unable to speak coherently.
I now realize that the cause in some cases was probably iodine deficiency.
Indeed, the problem used to be widespread in the Alps. The word “cretin” is believed to come from a mountain dialect of French, apparently because iodine deficiency in the Alps produced so many cretins. The problem ended when food was brought in from elsewhere and salt was iodized.
There is talk that President-elect Barack Obama may reorganize the American aid apparatus, perhaps turning it into a cabinet department. There are many competing good causes — I’m a huge believer in spending more on education and maternal health, in particular — but there may be no investment that gets more bang for the buck than micronutrients.
So, yes, salt iodization is boring. But if we can add 1 billion points to the global I.Q., then let’s lend strong American support — to a worthwhile Canadian initiative.
December 9, 2008, 4:16 pm
Business Defeating Poverty
By Nicholas Kristof
I was at a conference over the weekend in the Bahamas to explore issues relating to global poverty — a bit incongruous a setting, to be sure. Maybe we should have done it in Haiti. The conference was sponsored by Templeton Foundation and was focused on using business rather than foreign aid to whittle away at poverty.
The conference was off the record, but one of the participants, Kim Tan, said it was fine to quote him. He runs a venture capital company in London, SpringHill Management, that invests in the developing world, and he argues strongly that foreign aid isn’t going to rescue poor countries but that foreign direct investment just might be able to: “FDI is the key. I’m from Asia, and that’s how Asia has developed, bringing in capital, technology and inspiring young entrepreneurs who build businesses.”
I’m also a believer in aid, particularly health and education interventions. But I also believe that business can raise living standards on a scale that aid never can, and that we need to focus more on building manufacturing in poor countries. The need to bring more of a business-sensibility to development has been growing in recent years and is also a theme in two recent books. One is Philanthrocapitalism: How the Rich Can Save the World, by Matthew Bishop and Michael Green, which I’m in the middle of reading right now. Another is The Blue Sweater, forthcoming from Jacqueline Novogratz, head of the Acumen Fund, which is next on my reading list.
It’s something that I probably haven’t written enough about, and I’ll try to pursue the issue some more in the next year.
December 14, 2008
The Glaxo-Gates Malaria Vaccine
Researchers have been trying for more than 70 years to develop a vaccine against the elusive malaria parasite without notable success. Two studies conducted in East Africa suggest that they are finally closing in on their goal.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation deserves huge credit for enabling this research to go forward when the drug manufacturer was unwilling, on its own, to take the financial risk to try to develop a vaccine.
The new studies showed that the most advanced candidate vaccine — made by GlaxoSmithKline — cut illnesses in infants and young children by more than half and could safely be given with other childhood vaccines that are already routinely administered throughout Africa. The results were published in The New England Journal of Medicine, along with an editorial that called the vaccine’s performance a “hopeful beginning” toward prevention of the disease.
There is no guarantee of success. The studies were carried out in areas with relatively low transmission of malaria; no one knows if the vaccine will work as well where malaria is more rampant. And the vaccine must still undergo much larger trials next year.
Even a vaccine that is partially effective could save hundreds of thousands of lives a year. It would bolster the gains already being made by insecticide-treated bed nets that prevent mosquitoes from spreading the parasite and by malaria pills to treat sick patients.
That the candidate vaccine has gotten this far is a tribute to the power of charitable contributions to generate and sustain industrial interest.
Glaxo had been funding development of a vaccine aimed at military personnel and travelers but was unwilling to undertake pediatric studies unless a financial partner could be found. That’s when the Gates Foundation came to the rescue. It has pumped in $107.6 million so far. Glaxo says it has spent about $300 million and expects to invest $50 million to $100 million more to complete the project. If all goes well, the vaccine could be submitted for regulatory approval in 2011.
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