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This post was written by Tysen Gannon, the Director of Corporate Partnerships here at Jolkona Foundation.

Last weekend I had the pleasure of attending the Pacific Northwest Global Donors Conference. One of the central themes that emerged was importance of and benefits associated with giving to projects that empower women. This resonates greatly with the work Jolkona Foundation is doing with our partner organizations around the world, and coincides with women’s history month and Jolkona Foundation’s highlighting women-focused projects.

In her opening address to the international development focused conference, Kavita Ramdas, President and CEO of the Global Fund for Women, delivered a direct and inspired call-to-action for philanthropists. Ms. Ramdas highlighted the sweeping changes many grassroots women’s organizations have been able to achieve by connecting with grantmakers willing to take risks in funding small projects and organizations. It is often these grassroots groups organizing around simple needs and injustices that offer the clearest and most efficient path to making a measurable difference. Small projects–such as the Global Fund for Women’s contribution to the EcoWomen group in China which fund education and safer handling of pesticides–have achieved remarkable results for women, their health, and, by extension, their families and entire communities.

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This post was written by Danielle Rind, a member of the Jolkona team.

I was first introduced to Half the Sky by my mother after she attended an event featuring Nicholas Kristof. When I received Kristof’s book I had very recently become involved with the Jolkona Foundation, a non-profit that provides a platform for individuals to donate money to causes and organizations around the world. I quickly learned about Jolkona’s partnering non-profits and the help that these organizations provide. But this was only the beginning of what I was soon to learn regarding the endless needs and human rights violations that exist around world. Kristof’s book helped educate me further…

Each page of Half the Sky was a bigger eye opener than the last. Kristof provides detailed and moving stories of women who have suffered more than I ever dreamed possible.

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 This guest post was written by Yifat, on behalf of Madre, a Jolkona Foundation partner.

Fatima Ahmed, the president of the Sudanese women’s organization Zenab for Women in Development, recently stopped by the MADRE office with exciting news.  The ground-breaking women farmers union led by her organization had harvested a successful crop-and the results are changing people’s lives.
Founded by Zenab in 2006 and supported by MADRE, this project has brought together women who make up the majority of farmers working on small-scale organic farms in Sudan.  Amplifying their voices, they have been able to demand access to seeds, better tools, and assistance in farming.

Women have been able to share knowledge on how to better prepare their land for cultivation and how to manage weeds that destroy the crops. Fatima was excited to share that these women have not only been successful in providing food for their own families but have also been able to provide crops for other regions in Sudan.

Fatima shared with us a story about one village where the women had been denied access to education. With her help and with the resources generated by their successful farming projects, they organized a much-needed adult education program. The women built a center where they could host their school and opened the space for community meetings.

Their improved farming has increased production and has enabled them to generate an income, in some areas even allowing them the chance to bring in electricity.  In yet another village, three women farmers were able to raise enough funds to send their daughters to university, a victory that would have been otherwise impossible.

Together, women farmers are creating new possibilities for themselves, their families and their communities.

Submitted by Jorji Knickrehm, Grants Manager at Washington Community Alliance for Self-Help (or Washington CASH).

Figuring out how to foster new small businesses in low income communities is an ongoing passion here at Washington CASH. Yesterday, all twelve of our program staffers packed themselves into a small conference room, and tinkered for 4 hours with the curriculum of our core business development class. Maybe if we add a weekly lab to each of our classes, it will help more of our clients build businesses that will be around five years from now — businesses that will provide them with a living wage income and the happiness that comes from being self-determined. We’ve helped a lot of people, but we know there’s more out there with unfulfilled hopes.

Many times it is people who are new to the U.S. who encounter barriers as they try to get their feet under themselves financially. Tri Nguyen, for example, moved to Washington as a refugee from Southern Vietnam when he was 22 years old with his parents and two older brothers. “Before coming to America, we went overseas from Vietnam to Malaysia where we lived in a refugee camp for 7 years. We were then sent back to Vietnam for two more years, where we continued to await acceptance into the United States as political refugees. Finally, the United States government opened its doors and welcomed us to America, a free country we had been seeking for almost half of our lives.”

After spending two years learning English, he attended Highline Community College where he received his Associates degree before transferring to Washington State University and graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in education. While an undergraduate, Tri worked for two years with a cleaning company where 99% of employees were Vietnamese. His fluency in English allowed Tri to take on a management role within the company, which ultimately provided him the experience and knowledge necessary to start his own venture. “I started my own business to help fellow Vietnamese people by providing job opportunities here in America.”

Tri completed Business Development Training with Washington CASH in June 2009 and has since entered Business Groups, a program providing business support and access to capital in the form of peer loans. His new business, Tri Mountain Cleaning Services, Inc., offers both commercial and residential cleaning services, using only non-toxic products to create a safe environment for pets and children.

The name of his business, Tri Mountain Cleaning Services, Inc., stems not only from his first name, but for the three mountains he says complete his business: himself, family & friends, and Washington CASH. “My company cannot stand by itself. Before CASH, I didn’t know how to do the things necessary to open a business. Now I’m ready to go.”

While he currently has about ten regular customers and employees as needed, Tri envisions expanding to include about five new customers every month, opening more commercial accounts, and hiring more employees. “I was so excited when I got my first customer with Tri Mountain. In that moment, I knew I was going to be successful. Even though it was a small contract, it was a big moment. Owning my own business has given me confidence I never knew I had.” Figuring out how to help more people get that great feeling of empowerment; that’s what gets us out of bed in the morning at Washington CASH.

A few weeks ago, my Nana (maternal grandfather) and I ventured out to Mohammadpur, Dhaka visit BRAC Limb and Brace Fitting Centre (BLBC)- which in case you didn’t know, is a partnering project of Jolkona. Adnan and Nadia were kind enough to extend the offer-so I took on the chance to check it out! We reached the center at about 10 am, a bright, beautiful morning. The center was right across the street form the National Cardiac Institute and surrounded by various orthopedic centers-seemed like the ideal location. Upon arrival, Nana and I were warmly greeted by Dr. Ripon, the director of the center. He lead us to a large outdoor lobby, with seats on the left side, a few handrail structures in the middle, and entrances to smaller rooms and offices on the front and right-side walls. I made awkward eye contact with a few of the beneficiaries, who (understandably) didn’t know how to quite greet the newcomers. After a few nervous smiles and rushed assalamwalaikums,  we were in Dr. Ripon’s office.

Over a cup of tea and biscuits, Dr. Ripon expressed some of the reasons why he started his work at BLBC. To him, there was nothing greaterthan providing individuals the chance to reclaim their lives after a devastating accident or illness. In his own words, Dr. Ripon views his work as a nesha (addiction)-he can’t stop. Many of Dr. Ripon’s patients are financially poor with little hope of regaining the simple chance to walk. Without this ability, there’s no opportunity for self-sufficiency and work-which only asks for poverty. BLBC single handedly provides these very people the right to earn an income through the gift of walking.

We took a tour of the center right after. First, we visited the rooms in which the artificial limbs are constructed. There was an array of tools, plastics, and machines-each being carefully operated by the trained technicians. According to Dr. Ripon, all the technicians at BLBC are trained outside of the country (Thailand) to build quality prosthetics for their patients. Next, Dr. Ripon took us out to the front lobby where patients were practicing how to walk with their newly acquired limbs. At the BLBC, each patient is required to complete a two-week training session to become accustomed to walking. This way, each patient leaves the center fully moving and recovered.

But this is all rather…obvious. I’m not here to blog about what you and I can easily read from a brochure or website. I’m here speak of what I saw next.

Minutes later Dr. Ripon ushered me to the front gate of the building-there was something everyone wanted me to see. First, I an empty rikshaw.  Then I saw a man, presumably the riksha-wallah (the one operates the rikshaw)-a tall man, in his 40’s, wearing the usual shada genji (white t-shirt) and lungi (a cloth worn around the legs-commonly worn by south Asian men). Dr. Ripon pointed at his leg and asked the man to pull up his lungi a few inches, and underneath I saw a beautiful tan plastic leg.

I climbed up on the rikshaw, and minutes later I was outside of the building, the wind blowing gently on my face and hair. The rikshaw-wallah was flawless with his movements, not a grunt, limp, or abnormal maneuvering of his body. He just rode, rode the bicycle with every swift turn of his legs. Of course, I was on the rikshaw for fun…to confirm with my own eyes whether he could actually ride it. But for this man, each push of his leg was food for his family, clothing for his boys, jewelery for his girls, and a sari for his daughters wedding. Each push was a reason to see over the horizon, to hope for possibilities, to climb out of poverty. Each push, each push, both with his real and artificial leg.

“Amra amader Ripon Bhai amader jonno oneg korse”-“our friend Dr. Ripon has done a lot for us,” said the Riksha-wallah as we were heading back to the center. I agree, I can see that Dr. Ripon has done plenty for these people.

I think what I take home from the BLBC visit is it’s 100% successful. The treatment is simple and virtually free of medical complications. I’ve seen hotel sex workers, injecting drug users, HIV/AIDS patients at health clinics where full recovery isn’t this certain. Of course, these centers are no less, but after viewing the trauma, the negative stigma, and the neglect for so many marginalized communities in Bangladesh….the BLBC stories rang music in my ears. There was not a fragment of hopelessness in these patients, not a tear, not a utter of complaint.

But then again, why would they be hopeless?

Last week, I was fortunate enough to represent the World Youth Alliance at the Open Development Bar Camp at the World Bank in Washington D.C. It was a really good camp. I had the chance to meet with my “development expert celebrities” like Owen Barder (yes, I know already, I’m weird kid, my mates fan Angelina Jolie–I fan Bill Easterly) and to listen to really smart development people from all over the world talk about development and how to make development data more accessible to all sorts of people who want to help poor people. I learnt a lot from their discussions and I listened to people from USAID and MCC talk about the challenges they face in development work (one that stuck with me was a USAID official talking about dumb questions the US congress asks like “What is USAID doing for Coptic Christian in Ethiopia ?”..I’m like hunh?? but whatever…) Anyway, I learnt a lot and I am sure you will join the discussion there but I want to comment on a few things I learnt at this event.

1.) Randomized experiments are the in thing !!!! I knew what this term was before the conference , but it was the kind of term I would skim over when I read international development literature. I now realize it has become foundational to development and data research. I just wonder from my limited knowledge of this field what kind of ethics are behind it. I mean, controlled experiment testing for say the impact of a poverty alleviation program in a community may necessitate intentionally keeping a family poor to see what would happen but without the program. If I was the bad experiment for some reason and I didn’t get a chance to get out of poverty because people wanted to compare me to someone who got the help they needed, I’ll be really pissed. But hey, dats just my inexperienced self talking. But I sure hope randomized does development economics some good at the littlest human cost.

2. Where are developing countries? I wondered a lot about why people from developing countries were hardly present at the meeting. Apart from myself, I could basically count the number of people from developing countries that were at the conference and the number is not pretty. At the risk of shameless self aggrandizement, I did mention that it was necessary to involve more developing countries in development efforts. I was happy a lot of people came up to me and said it was very important to do this. I certainly hope that in the future more and more people would see the sense in empowering people from developing countries to get active in development issues.

3. Everyone is looking for a silver bullet. Now this is the point that kind of scares me about development. People in development and you donors have to realize that there is hardly a silver bullet as far as poverty is concerned. Yep. Sorry to disappoint you. None-at least not yet! Not micro finance, not mobile phones, surely not just aid, even the effect of good governance or corruption is somewhat questionable (Alan Beattie’s False Economy has a good article on corruption and economic development. We have to co-ordinate all these efforts to solve poverty. Technology can only do so much. At the conference, I think people romanticized too much about mobile phones and the impact the could make on development. Especially when you consider that the most effective development applications can only be accessed on certain smart phones poor people cannot afford, you tend to wonder whether the bars are’nt being raised too high.

4. In the end development is still all about developing countries. Truth is that in development work, there is only so much you can do as a person especially if what is driving your action is benign intentions and not self interest . Ok. Yes accuse me of launching a capitalist rant but realistically speaking, there is little you can really do if you don’t have skin in the game. When you have skin in the game, the stakes are higher. Perhaps to buttress this point, the projects that most impressed me during the conference were projects from Africa. And what is especially wonderful about these projects is that they don’t need the “African label” to be authentic (something Bill Easterly has roundly criticized). They are wonderful ideas with huge prospects and potential in their own right.

One of the projects from Africa that especially made me beam during this conference was Maker Faire Africa (a project set up by one of my favorite development expert celebrities, Nii Simmonds. The project celebrates African inventors. God knows nothing is more important for development than African inventors and innovators.

5. Technology is amazing. That you are reading this is enough of an explanation.

But in concluding, I still want to press the two things that I think should be kept in mind when we are talking about development. First, that development is primarily the responsibility of people in developing countries. It is important that programs that empower them to take on their role in development are increased. Second students in developing countries are still an untapped resource when it comes to development. Many people still have this binary thinking about education that its return come long term and it costs so much. I disagree. I think students can find dealing with problems in their societies not just as a positive way of putting to use their youth fervor but also very useful for their learning. This way, education is not just a long term cost that should be charged to the IMF credit card or generous donors but something that is in itself productive for developing countries and indeed central to their development efforts. Development people and agencies should increase the incentives for students especially in the developing world to participate in the development of their own countries.

I raise these issues because I am especially concerned about youth like me, who are jobless in Nigeria and other countries but have nothing to do (which is why you receive so much spam email), we should always keep them in mind when we are developing programs. For example, I know a lot youth who will be willing to help with finding data so long as someone is willing to pay for it. Even better, equipping youth with the knowledge and tools they need to be at the forefront of efforts in development is the best investment in a country’s development–because they realize that only the best ideas are good enough since they have “skin in the game”. Maker Faire Africa is trying very hard to do this by partnering with universities like Asheshi University in engaging African students in innovative and productive enterprise. I hope with time, they go farther than that to engage less affluent youth like those creative “yahoo-yahoo” boys who send you spam emails. My joy is that there is a growing awareness of the importance of engaging the youth in developing countries in development efforts especially through technology.

We are at the end of my disjointed rant about everything and I am sure you are releived. However, some of you maybe glumly asking “what can I, the fortunate foreigner, do for the world’s poor ?” The best thing you can do for the poor is empower them to solve their own problems. So donate to Jolkona’s education projects because Africa needs its own home grown Bills, whether they be Easterly’s or Gates.

In case you haven’t figured it out yet, I’ve reached Dhaka safe and sound! Over 24 hours of traveling (19 hour lay over in Singapore, eek!), 5 delicious Muslim meals, 7 carry on bags, 100 pages of President Obama’s autobiography, and one Nikon D40, alas, I’ve made it.

I sort of craved the smog, the heat, the odor of rotting street trash, the erratic harmony of rikshaw bells and car honks, and the monotonous pleas of street beggars. And oh boy, when I got the first whiff of sooty Bangladeshi air, I knew I was home. It was a pleasant reunion.

On the 9th, I had the pleasure of spending my day with Deni Robey, Americans for UNFPA Vice President of Public Affairs and Nicole Paprocki (check out her blog at http://www.americansforunfpa.blogspot.com/ ) to visit a women’s empowerment organization in Bangladesh named Tarango (meaning river waves in Bengali-symbolic of women rising with the waves). Words cannot fully express what I saw and felt that day. I felt hope, I sensed beauty, I saw community, and most significantly, I was surrounded by progressive minded women. The women seeking aid from Tarango are flawless. I use the term flawless because they truly are. They are kind, ambitious, patient, and endlessly warm to everyone around them-with a sense of humor too! But they’re not only women- they’re also mothers, wives, and even grandmothers-incredibly proud ones. From what I saw, Tarango was obviously more than a place to work, it was a haven for women seeking community, friendship, and basic human rights.

Meeting Ms. Kohinoor Yeasmin, the current manager of Tarango, was also deeply influential. She spoke vibrantly about the women in Tarango, the work being done, and most importantly, the work she aspires to accomplish in the future. She’s a modest dreamer. Every time she outlined a potential plan, she always concluded with, “but it’s only a dream right now.” But every reality starts with a dream, and I’m certain that Ms. Yeasmin-with her caliber and passion-can make all her dreams true for the women in Tarango.

On a side note, later that afternoon, Deni, Nicole, and I had the chance to have lunch with Mr. Fuad Chowdhury- a renowned film director in Bangladesh. He gave us a quick tour of his company, United Network Limited, and explained a bit of what he did. His work ranged from directing advertisements, to short commercial films, to even Bangladeshi Sesame Street episodes! But most remarkable of all was his involvement in producing documentary films. He took the time to share one of these films, “Nodeer Mohonai Barisaler Mehndigonj” (Mehendigonj of Barisal at Estuary of Meghna). It was a beautiful short film about how the people of Mehendigonj are seeking national and international aid to stop the river erosion for the rehabilitation of those affected. I brought a copy with me and am hoping to share it with the Seattle community!

It has just been so gratifying to see Bangladeshis empowering minorities at so many levels!

 
 
 
 

 

 

Recently, Semonti, one of our bloggers, visited Tarango – a project in Bangladesh that empowers women by helping them produce fair trade handcrafted products.

Here is a video that Semonti created based on her visit to Tarango

Here is an excerpt about Tarango from their website (http://www.tarango-bd.org): “Tarango works with some of the most marginalized women in the country, and assists them with entrepreneurship development, marketing facilitation, business advisory services, gender rights training, and personal and family health services.”

Semonti will soon follow up with a full-blown blog post about her Tarango experience.

Nicaragua is the second poorest country in the hemisphere with an estimated 50% of the workforce unemployed or underemployed. A traditional way for women in Nicaragua to bring an income in to their household is making pottery. At least 85% of the female potters are also peasant farmers, or live in families where agriculture is an important part of their livelihood. Increasing poverty has forced many people to leave the agricultural areas or their traditional lives as artisans in hope of better wages in the urban sector. This trend is leading to a loss of cultural traditions, technical and craft skills, and inevitably, further impoverishment. Potters for Peace has worked in Nicaragua for 23 years offering support to women potters of Nicaragua through assistance with appropriate technologies sustained using local skills, education of new processes, and assistance in marketing that improves their livelihood while preserving cultural traditions. With assistance in better production methods, we can avoid the loss of this traditional way of making a living for these women.

With 23 years experience, we have listened to the artisans and buyers to find out what our focus should be, and responded with appropriate programs. With frequent visits and seeing the changes in their workshops, their families and the leadership roles they have taken in communities, we have been able to gauge their needs and respond quickly. We’ve established a Training Center in La Paz Centro where we can bring the artisans to a central location to work and learn improved methods, designs, finishing skills and new technology to improve their production yet maintain cultural integrity. We’ve found that bringing the artisans into a school/workshop environment they can devote all their time to learning over a week long period for an intense training. We can bring in a specialist and maximize the number of people learning new techniques and designs. The artisans in turn go back to their communities and teach others what they have learned, exponentially increasing the number of benefactors from this learning experience.

With a contribution of $25, you will sponsor an artisan to attend a week long training. The tangible impact is an immediate increase in their production, as well as the ability for the artisan to offer more products at better quality thereby increasing orders. Education being the way out of poverty, your contribution is setting an artisan on the immediate path of improving the living standards of their family and community.

(This is a guest post by Beverly Pillers of Potters for Peace)

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!

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