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In June, we launched an awareness drive to increase the membership in our social networks. We had promised to plant a tree for every supporter in Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn. At end of the drive, we gained enough supporters to plant 750 trees. Our supporters decided to plant the trees in India, Ethiopia, and Haiti.

At Jolkona Foundation, we are committed to showing impact for EVERY donation. We try to take that approach with all of our activities. So, we are excited to share videos from our partners – Trees for the Future – showing planting of moringa trees in India. Most of the videos show the planting of the trees while the last video shows moringa trees planted last year.

These videos serve as clear proof of the impact that our supporters had by simply following us on Twitter or becoming a Facebook fan or joining our LinkedIn group. Thank you for the support and we hope you will continue to have even more impact in other projects.

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!

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

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