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So over the last few months I have been involved in several debates on the issue of aid versus trade especially in light of the rejuvenated debate on development financing . I thought it would be a good idea to show you what I wrote (its really middle of the fence) while I prepare a more detailed analysis about why this rehashed 70’s debate is the wrong debate for all these great smart development people to be having.

So here!

What do poor people thin of our debate!

What do poor people think of our debate!

PS: By the way, if this post should inspire you to give to a Jolkona Project, I would strongly suggest clicking on the education and empowerment tabs …so locals are empowered to contribute to this debate and save themselves from poverty!

There are many things in the world that inspire me, but perhaps nothing does so more than writing. There’s something about sitting down and allowing your thoughts to come to life, about having the ability to create something beautiful, something permanent, out of your own experiences. Throughout my life, however, I’ve strived to reconcile writing with action. I almost became a journalist, but after writing extensively for my university’s newspaper, I felt that there had to be something more. I felt as if the impact I could make through writing would be up to chance; perhaps one or two people reading my articles would feel impacted enough to get out there and do something. But leaving my entire life’s impact and legacy up to chance was a huge risk I was unwilling to take.

So then, I turned to law as an option, and I saw in law a way for me to use the power of my words to concretely impact people’s lives and result in measurable goals – thus combining my passion with action. I have become fascinated with international human rights law, international justice, and criminal justice reform. This summer I’ve come to Geneva, Switzerland to intern with International Bridges to Justice (IBJ), an innovative NGO working to reform criminal justice systems in developing legal systems. I am incredibly excited to learn more about justice sector reform and it’s role in the broader human rights movement, as well as about the opportunity to help make IBJ’s JusticeMakers community more well known.

As a rising senior at Northwestern University and an economics and political science double major, I’ve had many opportunities to get involved on campus, especially in public service student groups. Throughout my college career, I’ve also worked extensively on the executive boards of community service organizations like Campus Kitchens and OASIS, and also helped start a student group aimed at improving the capacities of microfinance institutions. Last year, I studied abroad for my entire junior year at the London School of Economics and enjoyed the experience of gaining a truly global perspective. Last summer, I interned with the Global Youth Action Network (GYAN), and currently I am currently the Co-President of Amnesty International at Northwestern University. Needless to say, this is a diverse range of experiences – but I believe that each one has helped form me into someone committed to acting to help better the world.

But I’m here to tell you that writing coupled with action does and can make a difference. I’ve been writing this year at my personal blog, Justice for all, where I blog about political and human rights issues, hoping to better articulate the vital role that young people can play in the movement. As a 20 year old, I clearly don’t know as much about human rights as seasoned experts, but what I have realized is that I can contribute something through my writing: a youthful perspective. Through my blog, I have reached out to so many members of “Gen Y,” and have been able to discuss with them the importance of human rights, and the importance of caring. My words cannot do everything, but through contributing my voice – at least I am joining the movement for change and helping it grow.

And now, I’ll be writing every so often for Jolkona with the same mission of encouraging young people to get involved in making a difference. What I’m most excited about is that with Jolkona, my words can have a real impact. By weaving the narratives of people’s lives, I can bring to light the challenges people face in communities around the world. And through this, I can highlight certain projects that demonstrate great potential in alleviating these problems – thus encouraging you to donate or volunteer your time and effort to a cause. My words can have an impact in raising awareness of a particular cause, and this excites me beyond words. I will write mostly about Jolkona’s human rights and women’s empowerment projects, and I am incredibly excited to start this journey with you all.

Quick update from our online poll for planting the 700 trees from our awareness drive. The top 3 choices are India, Haiti, and Ethiopia. We will plant equal number of trees in the 3 locations. Thank you again for all your support!

We receive special letters from our children in Uganda all the time – children who have been touched by our donors’ generosity.  One recent letter from Stella broke my heart – and I wanted to share it with you.  Stella is in her 7th year of primary school and she is the only child in her family receiving an education.  She spent a portion of her recent Spring Break with her mother and 3 siblings.  Stella shared these experiences about her time at home:

“I was so happy to see my dear mother.  I also got to see my brothers and sister. I felt so sad that my mother is only able to eat once a day.  The food costs are so high and my mother has no income.  I am worried about my brothers and sister, too.  They only have a little to eat and told me they were often hungry…Thank you for that good heart you have…I eat 3 meals a day and I am not hungry.  Our school motto is ‘Education for a bright future.’  So I promise you I will study hard so that I can one day help my family the way you have helped me.”

Stella’s experience with her beloved family is not an isolated story.  People all throughout Africa are eating just one meal a day – sometimes none at all!  Uganda has been experiencing record-high food prices and most recently dire food shortages.  We are on the ground doing all we can but the only way we can ensure our children continue to receive 3 nutritious meals a day is by receiving more resources immediately.

Over the last year, we have made tremendous strides in our sustainable food and water security program.  In fact, our children now enjoy twice-weekly meals with vegetables.  By the end of 2009, that amount will be increased to five meals per week with homegrown fruits and vegetables.

But right now, basic food requirements (the foods eaten daily by the children) remain a significant cost to us.  In some cases, we are paying 50-80% more than we were just a year ago.  Can you help us today with a donation of $25?  There is a serious food shortage in Uganda.  Your gift of $25 will feed 5 children for ONE WEEK! Just click on this badge to give now.

Children of Uganda serves nearly 600 children.  We provide each child education, shelter, clothing and food.  Our mission is to support and empower these vulnerable young people who (in most cases) have no parents or support system to care for them.

Providing them adequate and nutritious food is critical to help develop their young minds and bodies.  Can we count on your special gift today to help us meet the growing financial demand of food costs?  Your tax-deductible donation will go to work immediately and will have a life-saving impact on a vulnerable child just like Stella.

Your gift will also send a strong message of hope to our children – that even in these challenging times our dedicated friends and supporters have not forgotten them.

By making a contribution right away, you will help ensure that our children will not be hungry during this food crisis.

Thank you Jolkona Foundation for your extraordinary vision and for choosing Children of Uganda to be a part of your incredible work.  We are deeply grateful.

Kindest regards,
Pamela

Pamela Brannon
Executive Director
Children of Uganda
www.childrenofuganda.org

Jolkona’s Official launch Campaign in the world of social networking has come to an end. We had announced we would plant 1 tree for every fan on Facebook, follower on Twitter, and member of our LinkedIn group. We are happy to announce that we will be planting 700 trees on behalf of all of your support!

We decided to close the drive over the weekend and at that point we had:

  • Facebook: 286 fans
  • Twitter: 339 followers
  • LinkedIn: 39 members

Total: 664 members

We are letting our supporters decide where to plant these 700 trees. Please show your choice by filling out this quick poll:

We will close the poll at the end of Wednesday (tomorrow). We will plant the trees in the top three locations.

And just because the campaign is done, it doesn’t mean we are done spreading the word. Here are the 3 ways to reach out to our online community:

  1. Become a fan of Jolkona Foundation on Facebook
  2. Join our LinkedIn group
  3. Follow us on Twitter

Please continue to suggest us to your friends and family…and better yet…try out the site and give today!

Forgive me for the offense of using the dorky refrain of one of my favorite musicals to begin this blogging series. Fortunately or unfortunately (if my “exotic” life ends up not interesting you), it is one of the more important things you must know so you can fully grasp where the opinions appearing in this space, under this convoluted name are coming from.

I can’t even begin to tell you about myself without mentioning my name. Not just because it is the standard procedure for introductions such as these but also because it is the ideal candidate for the worst/best of tongue twistas. So here is the challenge : “Iyinoluwa” (yoruba for Praise of God). Yep! That’s what they should call me. But just because I don’t want people staggering on my name ten to fifteen minutes every time they need my attention, everyone just calls me “E”. That should work well for anyone who needs to save time on tonguetwists. Next, you need to know I am Nigerian. Born and bred in various parts Nigeria for sixteen of my eighteen years on earth. I lived in its famous financial capital for the first few years of my life. Then I moved with my parents to one of Nigeria’s coastal Niger Delta cities with my parents soon after they changed jobs. The time and opportunity for qualitative secondary school soon came and so I was bundled off to a Jesuit boarding secondary school (me is the little guy in the Nigerian Traditional “Agbada”/Chieftain robes holding a horse tail in my hand) in Nigeria’s northern capital when I was nine. Six years, I would spend in this place we all fondly called “Local Jail for Children”. It was here I would grow into a man, learn enough Hausa to pass the final regional exams, and earn my initial baptism into politics and scholarship. After a few brief stints at different post secondary academic institutions, from the Nigeria to Canada, I finally settled at the Canada’s answer to Silicon Valley in 2008.

I write. That is much of what I do. That is what I love most to do. Sometimes, I cause more trouble than I should with my writing. (See here, here and the bitter rebuttal.) I can even be annoyingly insulting when I write in anger. With my pen, I overthrow rigid ideological concepts of the world, teleport to my highschool, question my people sadistic silence and resilience,  draw weird analogies from Shakespeare, battle the pope and condoms at the same time, tour on “global beats”, ruminate “Obamaism” whist rethinking King’s message and even  declare fruits my “handy object of the year”. Writing releases to me my  deepest thoughts on the variety of weird things I am inclined to think about-however mundane (and occasionally dumb). I like to think of writing as a journey to truth. Each missive that ink blesses is another testament to the truth of reason and experience.

But then truth is useless if it does not mean action. So I don’t just seat at a desk pontificating about the ills of the world from the comforting veil of my computer screen. I go out to do something about it. This summer, I am at the World Youth Alliance in New York,advocating for young people, all over the world at the United Nations.  In the fall I will be helping my friend expand  a quickly growing group called “Future of Africa” which will provide a medium for young Africans in diaspora and in the homeland to forge a common front for advancing Africa’s developmental interests at home and abroad. In the Winter, I hope to return home to help with voter Registration efforts in Nigeria. As I embark on this varied forms of civil action, I gain new experiences that enrich my writing.

This continuous cycle of  writing and work has taught me one thing : that the full circle of knowledge comes only with action.

At the Jolkona Blog, we will not just write so you can know but so you can act and know even more. That is why this space will not just be my writing space–but our knowledge space because each entry won’t just be another lecture about what works and what doesn’t work in say micro finance. But instead we will learn together where giving works and why it should work better.

There is an African proverb that says “a hippopotamus can be made invisible in dark water” meaning that ignorance obscures. I concur. But I like to say to those that use this ancient wisdom to justify arm chair tactics“that the fact that a hippopotamus can be made invisible in dark water does not mean it will emerge from clear water.”

Hopefully, you’ll want to do more than watch hippopotamus swim underwater–that’s boring!

Big results from small solutions?

It seems counter-intuitive, but take a look around and notice that some of the world’s most widespread solutions stem from the simplest of ideas. Believe me, I know this-I’m a Bangladeshi. My country, a developing nation with a per capita income of $1400 (as compared to global average of $10,200), has spearheaded the invention of the globally recognized Microcredit and the Sono Arsenic filter. I’m certain the inventors, Dr. Muhammad Yunus and  Dr. Abdul Hussam respectively, along with the world, triumph over the simplicity of these solutions. They really are that simple.

For those unaware, microcredit is the granting of very small loans to poverty stricken communities/people that show potential in repaying it through entrepreneurship. There’s no need to explain the economic implications of such financial innovation because the results speak for themselves. From worldwide women’s empowerment to the sprouting of new industries, microcredit has proven to drastically improve the quality of life for millions of the impoverished. Similarly, the Sono Arsenic filter, with it’s simple design and $40 cost, can filter water of fatal impurities for 2 families. What was once a critical arsenic poisoning crisis in Bangladesh, is no longer. This is incredible! 

Dr. Yunus
Dr. Yunus

 

As my first post, I want to emphasize the importance of small actions inspiring huge results. Sort of like a Jolkona (water droplet) creating ripples in a pool of water. You can be the small drop that brings ripples of change in your community, in your world. Take a look at the projects the Jolkona Foundation has listed on this site, and you might just find your opportunity.

I’m excited beyond belief for my upcoming trip to Bangladesh! I hope to witness more examples of what I call, the Jolkona Effect. What are some other examples that you know of today? How are they simple? How are they widely effective?

But more importantly, what are your ideas and visions of small solutions providing widespread change?  Who knows…maybe we’ll speak of you one day!

A quick update about our awareness drive. In the week since we launched our awareness drive we have little more than 300 people fan us on Facebook, or join our LinkedIn group or follow us on Twitter. Our original goal was to reach 3,000 people through these three social websites. We are 10% of the way there.

If you have already supported our drive, then, thank you and please continue to spread the word to your friends, colleagues, and family members. If you have not yet joined our drive, you can do that with three easy clicks:

  1. Become a fan of Jolkona Foundation on Facebook
  2. Join our LinkedIn group
  3. Follow us on Twitter
Jolkona Foundation will plant a tree for every Facebook fan, LinkedIn group member, and Twitter follower. So, with 3 quick clicks you can not only show your support, but, also plant 3 trees. Happy clicking!

Yesterday I came across this NPR article about the decrease in giving amounts in USA. The chart below sums up the main trend information showing the change in contributions from donors and the change in funds received by charitable groups from 2007 to 2008:

Source: Giving USA Foundation; Credit: Alyson Hurt / NPR

Source: Giving USA Foundation; Credit: Alyson Hurt / NPR

Couple of interesting observations in this chart. Firstly, the foundations are the only ones that gave more in 2008 despite seeing the biggest drop in contributions. I am not sure that those two groups are the same but, if they are, we should expect foundations to give less in 2009 and probably 2010. For example, Gates Foundation’s endowment dropped by about 6.6% in 2008. I expect that to impact their giving activities in at least 2009. Secondly, I find it interesting that religious, public benefits, and international affairs groups saw an increase in funding. Given the economic hardship and political instabilities in 2008, I think this trend makes a lot of sense.

I decided to dig deeper into the original Giving USA report which was the source of the NPR article. Here are some other interesting tidbits I found in the report:

  1. Giving made up 2.2% of the GDP in 2008, down from 2.3% in 2007.
  2. Individual giving makes up 75% of total giving at an estimated $229.28 billion. Comparatively, corporate giving was only an estimated $14.5 billion.

I am interested to hear your thoughts on how you think these numbers will change in 2009? Do you think religious organizations will continue to see an increase in contributions? Please share your thoughts.

We are celebrating our official launch milestone by kicking off an awareness drive.  Through this awareness drive, we are looking to increase our visibiity through the number of Facebook fans, number of Twitter followers, and number of members in our LinkedIn group. You can be a part of this drive by taking the following 3 simple actions:
To encourage this drive we promise to plant one tree for every new supporter in our groups over the next 10 days. We are looking to plant up to 3,000 trees through this drive.
We hope you will take a few short seconds to help us reach our goal of planting 3,000 trees and increasing our visibility in the next 10 days.  All you need to do is show your support and spread the word to your friends on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter!

Finally, after 6 months of Beta testing and incorporating 100s of feedback we are excited to remove the Beta tag from Jolkona Foundation’s website. Please check out our newly updated website available at www.jolkona.org. As our closest friends and supporters, you are invited to try out the new site today.

We will start a concerted outreach program next week. But, we wanted to give you the ability to try out the new site before anyone else.

Here are some highlights from this release:

  1. New branding and logo. One of the major feedbacks we received was that our logo does not clearly communicate our mission. We spent significant amount of time revamping our logo and the tagline. One of our co-founders, Adnan Mahmud, explains the new logo in more detail in an earlier post.
  2. Anyone can create an account. We have removed the invitation code and now anyone can sign up for a Jolkona website account and give.
  3. Deep integration with Facebook. We understand that you might not want to create another web account. If you are a Facebook user, you can sign into Jolkona website using your Facebook account.
  4. Invite your contacts easily. You can easily import your contacts from your web email accounts (e.g. MSN, Gmail, Yahoo, etc.) and invite them to also join the Jolkona Family.
  5. Share your Jolkona Experience with others. You can now find us on various social websites. We encourage you to become a Facebook fan, follow us on Twitter, and join our LinkedIn group.

We still have a long way to go, but we are now officially open for business.

After several months of testing our website with a small group of users on an invitation-only basis, Jolkona Foundation is excited to emerge from the Beta phase. Today marks the first step with the unveiling of our new logo and the launch of our Twitter account – @Jolkona.

Over the past few months we have spent a significant amount of time learning from our Beta users. One of the major feedbacks we received was that our original logo and the tagline – Every drop counts – gives the impression that we are a water-related non-profit organization. Along the same lines, few folks encouraged us to look for an alternative logo or tagline or both that would clearly and concisely connect with our work. We believe our new logo addresses these concerns.  Here are some of the reasonings behind the new logo:

  1. We did not want to change the original name of the organization. Jolkona is a unique name and it literally represents the impact we would like to have.
  2. The new tagline “Your choice. Your impact. Your world.” represents our model of allowing the donor to choose the projects she/he wants to help, to give small donations to the project, and then, to see their impact they have on the world.
  3. The logo icon has 5 colors representing the 5 categories of projects we support- Public Health, Education, Environment, Cultural Identity, and Empowerment.
  4. The icon also represents community. Jolkona Foundation is committed to 3 constituents – donors, partner organizations, and aid recipients. We help donors feel confident about how their gifts gets spent, we help our partners improve their efficiency and most importantly, we help get to those who need it (this is the critical piece) in the way they need it. While our site has a donor focus right now, our vision is to make sure we can eventually meet the needs of all 3 stakeholders.
Here is the new Jolkona logo:

New Jolkona logo

More than anything this new logo is a result of Jolkona Foundation’s evolution through the Beta process and the good fortune of having passionate users who constantly give us great feedback. The website is still featuring the old logo, but, expect that to change within next few days.
 
I am personally very excited about our Twitter presence. It opens up a great avenue for Jolkona Foundation to reach out to our target users and connect with them through a familiar media. Social media is a very useful tool for any small start-up, especially non-profits. We plan to use @Jolkona to not only give short updates on Jolkona Foundation, but also to share some industry and worldwide news/trends/events that are catching our attention. As always, we would love to hear how you think we should be using @Jolkona.
I must thank our beta users for the great support they have extended to us thus far. We could not have gotten here without your help! That’s all for today’s announcements. Let us know your thoughts on these updates!

GET INVOLVED!