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Jolkona has spent the past five years dedicating to bringing transparent and high impact philanthropy to people in need all over the world. With the help of our giving community, we have raised over $700,000 dollars across 45 countries, impacting thousands. However, after gathering five years worth of data, we began to wonder if we were really providing as much impact as possible with such a global focus. What real difference does a thousand dollars make when distributed here and there? What could that money really achieve if it was dedicated to lifting up one country or region at a time?

This was the philosophy that led to the creation of our two newest programs, Lift Bangla and Project Catalyst. Beginning this month, Jolkona will make developing these two programs our primary focus, and we will no longer provide donation opportunities through Give Direct, or Give Together. We believe that these changes will allow us improve our real impact and stay innovative in philanthropy. We hope that you join us as we embark on this new journey.

Lift Bangla takes the model that Jolkona has developed over the last five years – a microgiving platform that provides real feed back for every donation. This time, we will focus on Bangladesh, a growing center of social innovation. We are partnering with Bangladeshi organizations that create new models for healthcare, provide education and many other areas. Previously, finding and funding these projects was a challenge, but we mean to change that with Lift Bangla. As this program develops, we aim to launch Lift in other innovative communities in need.

If you have been following Jolkona in June, you likely saw that the first term of Project Catalyst was a success. This program is another way that we can drive real impact in a developing nation, this time by providing an intensive business development incubator for young social innovators in Indonesia. To learn more about this program, and see the impact it has already had, read the blog pieces covering our first cohort. Our team will dive into selecting the next cohort this month, and the next term of Project Catalyst will begin in October.

Even though we are moving in a new direction, our philosophies are still the same. We are still dedicated to a transparent giving experience that shows real impact. We hope that you join us as we ‘lift’ a new leaf, and once again bring the spirit of innovation into philanthropy. Through August, we will welcome new team members and work on building a thriving community focused on driving social innovation in Bangladesh and Indonesia.

Once again, we want to thank our community for supporting us these past five years, and we hope you are as excited as we are to see the future of these new Jolkona initiatives. Stay tuned for more updates!

Keep up with everything Jolkona by following us on Facebook and Twitter

Note from the Editor: This is a guest post written by Steve Schwartz, Director of Strategy & Operations for one of Jolkona’s newest partners, Upaya Social Ventures.

Meet Upaya Social Ventures from Steve Schwartz on Vimeo.

From the U.S., it is easy to see images of households in far away countries living in a way that looks different than our own and to assume that the differences — a tin roof, a barefoot schoolboy, a pot cooking over an open fire — fit neatly within a universal definition of “poverty.” But scratch the surface and you’ll find some families never worrying about where their next meal will come from, while 100 yards away others search endlessly to find enough work to eat again tomorrow. Not all poverty is created equal, and that relative difference is what Upaya Social Ventures was founded this year to address. An estimated 1.4 billion people worldwide are classified as “ultra poor,” living on less than $1.25 a day and struggling to find work that will pay them enough to afford stable shelter, clean water and three meals a day. The ultra poor often speak of feeling trapped in miserable conditions, with such meager earnings that any progress they make satisfying one need comes at the expense of meeting another. At the very heart of the problem are informal livelihoods — a cluster of irregular activities like shoe-shining, begging, day labor, hawking of second-hand items and trash picking that generate highly unpredictable incomes for those working in them.

Day laborers breaking rocks in a dry riverbed for an average ~$.50 per day

Day laborers breaking rocks in a dry riverbed for an average ~$.50 per day

The Upaya Approach

That’s where Upaya comes in. Taking its name from the Sanskrit word that means “skilled means” and connotes a creative solution to a challenging problem, Upaya is working with local social entrepreneurs to build businesses that will create jobs and improve the quality of life for the ultra poor. It’s a deceptively simple solution — increase a family’s earning potential through steady employment, and pair those jobs with access to affordable healthcare, education, housing and financial services so that the family makes sustained progress out of poverty.

But it is not always that simple, as the ultra poor are marginalized even within their own communities and skeptical of outsiders with “too good to be true” opportunities. For the entrepreneurs, too, there is a struggle to balance social responsibility with running a profitable business, and to attract funding to test their ideas.

Mothers reliant on begging to provide for their families

Mothers reliant on begging to provide for their families

This is why Upaya has created the Life-changing Interventions for the Ultra Poor (LiftUP) Project, a 24–36 month social business accelerator program that provides management support and financial resources to entrepreneurs who create jobs or improve access to basic services for the ultra poor. As a nonprofit organization, Upaya is able to make modest, longer-term equity investments — between $25,000 and $75,000 — in local entrepreneurs with early-stage ideas (any financial returns generated by investments are re-invested in future LiftUP Project partners). In addition to providing business development support, we also help these entrepreneurs create a “social accounting” system for tracking and analyzing the impact their activities are having on the lives of their employees or customers.

An Ideal Partner

And that is what brought Upaya to Jolkona. As Upaya works with businesses to monitor their social impact, we also have a unique opportunity to give donors a forum to track the progress of the causes and businesses they support. Through the Jolkona platform, donors will be able to see quarterly updates on employees’ quality of housing, improvements in the number and nutritional value of meals, status of children’s education and access to affordable healthcare. Upaya is taking a comprehensive approach to tackling the problems of extreme poverty, and Jolkona allows supporters to be active participants in that process.

www.upayasv.com

In part two of this series, we will profile Samridhi, a community dairy initiative in one of the poorest states in India that is creating jobs and providing regular salaries to women in households without any other form of steady income. Upaya has already raised $45,000 for Samridhi since the beginning of August and is looking to double that amount by the end of September.

About the author: Steve is the Director of Strategy & Operations for Upaya Social Ventures, and is one of the organization’s co-founders.  In a career that has run from Wall St. to the footpaths of smuggling routes in West Africa, Steve has long held the belief that all people deserve the opportunity to live their lives with dignity and means.

 

Global Partnership, MDG 8; Jolkona in Africa

Develop a global partnership for development

The final of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals is developing a global partnership for development. This does sound a little recursive, but it is actually significant for the achievement of the other seven goals.

Targets

The UN identifies 6 targets as metrics for achieving goal 8.

  1. Develop further an open, rule-based, predictable, non-discriminatory trading and financial system
  2. Address the special needs of the least developed countries
  3. Address the special needs of landlocked developing countries and small island developing states
  4. Deal comprehensively with the debt problems of developing countries
  5. In cooperation with pharmaceutical companies, provide access to affordable essential drugs in developing countries
  6. In cooperation with the private sector, make available new technologies, especially information and communications

Teamwork

At its heart, the focus of goal 8 is getting everyone on the “same page” when it comes to development work around the globe. This a solution to the fact that many of the problems faced by people in the developing world today are too big or complicated for a single actor–whether an NGO or a government–to take on alone. The aim of goal 8, then, is to demonstrate that organizations can better serve others when they can focus on one area of strength and find partners in other areas. One common disconnect for organizations is between donors and the field: many organizations excel at doing work in the field but struggle with how to connect with donors who can fund their projects.

Small donations having measurable impact

Part of what makes Jolkona so unique as a foundation is that ability to connect individual donors to the larger picture of progress being made on the Millennium Development Goals on many fronts. This is one MDG where Jolkona is directly involved in meeting the targets. By connecting donors and development organizations, not only is Jolkona funding important projects around the world, Jolkona is fostering partnerships.

How you can help

Since Jolkona is directly involved in building these essential partnerships, you can help achieve goal 8 by donating to the Kona fund. This is what keeps Jolkona operating, allows us to add new partners, and allows us to have staff, volunteers and interns working to achieve all of the MDGs.

  1. Donate to the Jolkona Kona fund
  2. Sponsor a volunteer meeting
  3. Add a new project to Jolkona.org

For more information on Jolkona and its mission (especially if you haven’t already!) take a look at our about us page.

Ensure environmental sustainability

As we near the end of our series on the United Nations Millennium Development Goals and how they relate to Jolkona, we look this week at environmental sustainability.

Targets

There are four targets the UN sets for achievement of goal 7:

  1. Integrate the principles of sustainable development into country policies
  2. Reduce biodiversity loss
  3. Halve, by 2015, the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation
  4. By 2020, to have achieved a significant improvement in the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers

Expansive scope

With the exception of the first goal of eliminating extreme hunger and poverty, perhaps no other goal is as broad reaching as goal 7. Any one of the targets of goal 7 could likely be a goal unto themselves. Sustainable development and the preservation of rain forests has a huge impact on environment and economics of the developing world. And there are in fact hundreds of millions of people living in slum conditions around the world today. But the target we will focus on today is that of clean drinking water and sanitation.

Clean water

What makes clean water so important? Quite simply, water is life. While it varies somewhat, the average human can only survive three days without water. Because water is so vital to life, many people are forced to drink unclean water because that is all they have available. The problem is a host of horrible diseases–like Cholera and Hepatitis, for example–can be contracted through consumption of dirty or polluted water.

On top of the risk of disease, a huge economic drain is created when people (most often women and children) are forced to walk long distances to acquire water, whether it is clean or not. This travel time is time spent out of school or work. Some estimates place the economic cost, for Africa alone, at $28 BILLION dollars per year.

The good news is that many organizations are doing a great job of drilling wells and working on other clean water projects. The bad news is that even as there are many organizations working on this, it remains a huge issue for billions of people around the globe.

How you can help

Here are a list of Jolkona projects supporting goal 7:

  1. Plant trees in Ethiopia
  2. Provide clean water in Kenya
  3. Provide ceramic water filters in Kenya

For more information about the issue of access to clean water, check out Charity: Water’s great “Why water” page.

End malaria now_bestdamntech

Combat HIV/AIDs, Malaria and other diseases

Continuing our series on how the United Nations Millennium Development Goals relate to Jolkona, we look today at Goal 6.

One of the biggest challenges in development remains combatting the effects of pandemic, preventable disease. One UN report estimates that malaria alone saps up to 1.3% of the yearly economic growth of some African countries. That 1% might not sound like a lot, but when spread across an entire economy over several years, it could mean tens or hundreds of millions of dollars of lost economic productivity.

In part for this reason, the United Nations Millennium Development Goal #6 is fighting the effects of HIV/AIDs, Malaria and other diseases.

Target metrics

mdg 6

The UN identifies three target metrics for fighting communicable disease.

  1. Have halted and begun to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDs by 2015
  2. Achieve, by 2010, universal access to treatment for HIV/AIDs
  3. Have halted and begun to reverse the incidence of Malaria and other major diseases by 2015

The fight against HIV/AIDs

Currently there are some 34 million people living in the world with HIV. While there is no cure, in the developed world HIV/AIDs rates among the general population remain low and there are treatment options available for managing the disease. In many developing countries however, rates of infection run much higher and few, if any, treatment options are available. Recognizing the role pandemic disease plays in slowing economic development the United Nations Development Programme is one of the agencies at the front of helping countries deal with HIV/AIDs.

Successes

While HIV/AIDs and Malaria continue to be huge problems in public health worldwide, it is important to remember that there have been successes in eradicating pandemic diseases before. Smallpox, which killed an estimated 300-500 million people during the 20th century was completely eradicated by 1979 thanks in part to efforts spearheaded by the World Health Organization. And while the fight against Malaria and HIV/AIDs can seem daunting, some hopeful estimates put Polio–another once pandemic disease–near eradication in the near future.

How you can help

Here are some current Jolkona projects working toward Goal 6.

  1. Supply medicine to children in Sierra Leone
  2. Give care to HIV-infected children in Cambodia
  3. Help build latrines in Haiti

Photo Credit: Drew Olanoff

Improve maternal health

Today we look at the fifth goal in our series on the United Nations Millennium Development Goals. Goal five is improving maternal health.

Two targets

In achieving goal 5, the UN has two metrics they use for measuring success.

  1. Reduce by three quarters the maternal mortality ratio
  2. Achieve universal access to reproductive healthcare

Maternal mortality

Childbirth is one of the most dangerous activities for women in the developing world. Any number of things can go wrong in the birthing process that endanger not just the health and life of the child, but the mother as well. From hemorrhaging to breech births to infection, thousands of women die every year giving birth.

Just a quick glance at the statistics reveals how much a concern this is in development work. Compare countries like Chad, Somalia and Afghanistan—where over 1000 women die per 100,000 births—with a country like Germany—where just 7 women die per 100,000 births. (Statistics via the World Health Statistics 2011 report.)

Reproductive health

An important part of reducing the maternal mortality rate is making sure all women have access to reproductive healthcare. This ranges from family planning to skilled birthing assistants to clean, sterile birthing environments.

Family planning is one of the best and most certain ways of reducing maternal mortality–fewer births equal less risk for the mother. However, family planning is also a highly controversial topic in many countries where religious or cultural concerns over contraception and discussion of reproductive issues outside of the family is considered taboo.

Far less controversial is access to skilled birthing assistants, especially midwives and medical professionals. Having a trained birthing assistant with sterile medical equipment and a clean environment goes a long way toward eliminating the risk of infection for both the mother and child.

Take a look at this slideshow from the Gates Foundation for the story of a woman in Nepal and the difference access to a birthing assistant made for her.

How you can help

Here is a list of Jolkona projects that work to support the goal of improving maternal health.

  1. Provide medical supplies in Bangladesh
  2. Support safe births in Palestine
  3. Provide healthcare to Nepalese women
  4. Adopt a mother in India

Child health and mortality

Goal 4 of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals is reduce by two-thirds, between 1990 and 2015, the under-five mortality rate.

What is child mortality?

Child mortality, in this case, is the number of deaths per 1000 children under the age of 5.

Statistics

According to UNICEF, “Most child deaths every year are attributable to six causes: diarrhea, malaria, neonatal infection, pneumonia, pre-term delivery or lack of oxygen at birth.” Further, most of these deaths take place in the developing world. Modern public health efforts and medical technologies have largely eliminated the threats of disease and premature birth in the developed world.

This is abundantly clear when looking at the countries where child mortality is highest and lowest:

Bottom 5 –

  1. Chad – 209 deaths by age 5 per 1000 live births
  2. Afghanistan – 199 deaths
  3. Democratic Republic of the Congo – 199 deaths
  4. Guinea-Bissau – 193 deaths
  5. Sierra Leone – 192 deaths

Top 5 –

  1. Japan, Singapore, Cyprus, Finland, Iceland, Slovenia, and Sweden – 3 deaths
  2. Luxembourg and San Marino – 2

The average for countries in the America’s is 18, in Europe it is 13. In Africa, the country average number of child deaths by age 5 is 127!

(via World Health Statistics 2011 report)

What is being done

Fortunately progress is being made on several fronts to improve the health of children under 5 around the globe. Some of this progress is at a very structural level, increasing funding for hospitals and medical clinics to ensure emergency care is necessary in acute cases of illness. Some progress is also being made in vaccination programs, working to eliminate diseases like measles and polio through coordinated vaccine programs.

For more information, and a few laughs, take a look at Hans Rosling’s TEDxChange talk from September of 2010 about progress being made on Goal 4.

 

How you can help

Here are a list of Jolkona projects that are working toward achieving Goal 4

  1. Save a Young Child from Diarrhea in India
  2. Adopt a Mother in India
  3. Provide Maternal and Child Healthcare in Guatemala

The MDGs and Gender Equality

Promote gender equality and empower women

The third goal of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals is “Promote gender equality and empower women.” This includes equality in education, labor rights, health care, and legal and political access.

Often in the development context, even in situations where all indicators point to progress, women and girls lag behind. For example, a 2008 UNESCO report found that out of an estimated 774million adults who lack basic literacy, 64% are women.

Importance of education

As is often the case in the long-term development context, education is the foundation for real progress. The stated target of goal 3 is, in fact, to eliminate gender disparity in all levels of education no later than 2015.

Girls who receive an education have a higher income earning potential than those who do not, between 10% and 20% more for every year of education they complete. With higher income comes a healthier family, as women can buy better food for their children. They can afford to keep their children in school longer, instead of keeping them home to work. Educated women are also more likely to participate in politics, not just by voting but also by running for public office.

Change now

While education is important in the long-term for women in developing countries, they face many pressing short-term issues as well.

Women, whether they have received an education or not, face great discrimination in the work place. They lack equal pay for equal work, lack maternity leave, face sexual harassment, or are not allowed to hold the same jobs or do the same kinds of work as men. A report from UNICEF in 2007 found that while women perform 66% of the world’s “work” and produce 50% of all food, they earn just 10% of the income and own only 1% of the property.

If women are to meet the short-term metrics of the MDGs, significant political and economic reform must take place in many developing countries. There is hope for change though. CGAP, an independent policy and research center housed at the World Bank, says the following about what happens when women are the focus of micro-finance development programs:

“Women often become more assertive and confident. In regions where women’s mobility is strictly regulated, women have often become more visible and are better able to negotiate the public sphere. Women involved in microfinance may also own assets, including land and housing, and play a stronger role in decision making. In some programs that have been active over many years, there are even reports of declining levels of violence against women.” (via CGAP.org)

 

Making change happen

How you can help

As I am sure you have noticed, Jolkona launched a new campaign with the Seattle International Foundation to provide grassroots leadership training to women from around the world. Though the Groupon deal that helped launch the campaign has ended, you can still contribute through the Jolkona project page.

Here are a list of additional projects Jolkona currently supports that are in line with the Millennium Development Goal of promoting gender equality and empowering women.

  1. Provide education to the females of Afghanistan
  2. Support women farmers in Sudan
  3. Ignite girls’ leadership in Pakistan

For more information on the work the United Nations is doing focused on goal 3, take a look at the UN Women MDG page.

MDG 2: Achieve universal primary education

Achieve universal primary education

Today we continue looking at the connection between the United Nations Millennium Development Goals and Jolkona. The second of the MDGs is achieving universal primary education. This means that every child receives the equivalent of an American sixth grade education.

A sixth grade education does not sound like much, and for those of us in the West we often think of someone who’s formal schooling stops at elementary school as being at a massive disadvantage compared to others with a high school or college diploma or other advanced academic degree.

But with a sixth grade education comes at least basic literacy and arithmetic skills—skills vital for economic development. Farmers need to know what price they are paying for seeds, store owners need to read property leases, and parents need to read and understand medical dosage information for treating their sick children.

Current progress

According to the United Nations 2011 MDG Report, as of 2009 about 67 million children are still out of school, down from 106 million in 1999. Of that 67 million, about 48 million live in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia (32 million in Africa, 16 million in Asia). The biggest barriers for the 67 million children still out of school remain gender (being female), poverty and/or being located in a rural community.

Still, some of the poorest countries in Africa (including Burundi, Rwanda, Sao Tome and Principe, Togo, and the United Republic of Tanzania) have managed to achieve the goal, giving hope that even the least developed countries can still achieve universal primary education by 2015.

How you can help

Jolkona supports a variety of projects aimed at achieving universal primary education. Here are a few:

  1. Provide tutoring to indigenous children in Guatemala
  2. Help teachers at a school in rural Zambia
  3. Support children’s education in India

For more information you can visit the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) education web site.

MDG 1: Eradicate Extreme Poverty and Hunger

Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger

A few weeks back we began our discussion of the Millennium Development Goals and Jolkona. Today we will continue by looking in depth at the first of the MDGs.

The first of the MDGs is the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger.

Targets for eradicating extreme poverty

There are two target metrics the UN has set for the eradication of extreme poverty.

  1. Halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people whose income is less than $1/day
  2. Achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all, including women and young people

Economists use two bars for determining who in the world is considered economically poor. The first, people living on $2/day, are considered “merely” poor. The second, those living on $1/day, are considered the “extremely poor”.

This may seem like a strange distinction to make but it’s important because while we would all like to see everyone living in poverty to have a chance at a better life, it is those living on $1/day or less who are the most vulnerable to climate change, natural disaster and economic hardships like recessions or changes in food prices.

The best way to lift these people out of poverty is meaningful work. Article 23 of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights states, “Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.”

Target for eradicating hunger

  1. Halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people suffering from hunger

The most obvious cases of hunger are usually acute famines, such as what is currently transpiring in East Africa. A mix of political instability and climate change can create a situation in which crops are unable to grow, and people and livestock die as a result.

Food security is also an issue closely tied to poverty. People who are poor or extremely poor often cannot afford to buy the food they need for themselves or their families, especially in light of food prices that have risen sharply in the past few years. For some people, undernourishment or malnourishment is a way of life.

Poor nutrition hits children especially hard, and has long lasting effects. Children who do not receive a proper diet suffer from physical and mental developmental issues. This can range from simply being under-height and weight when they reach adulthood, to severe mental retardation as a result. According to one USAID report, even before the 2008 global financial collapse and concurrent rise in food prices, 178 million children (about 1/3 of all children) were suffering from chronic malnutrition.

What you can do to help

Eliminating extreme poverty and hunger would not just meet the first of the MDGs, it can have a huge impact on all the others as well. Here are some ways you can get involved through Jolkona supported projects:

  1. Provide seeds or farming tools to a family in Nicaragua
  2. Provide healthy meals for children in Uganda
  3. Help families fleeing famine in Somalia

For more information, take a look at the United Nations Development Program’s Millennium Development Goals page.

Here at Jolkona, we like to talk about how our projects line up with the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). But we haven’t talked much about what the MDGs are and why they are important.

What are the Millennium Development Goals?

The United Nations MDGs are the most current and probably most important multi-lateral development effort in the world to date. While “development” is a somewhat nebulous term, in this case it refers to any effort by governments or nonprofits to improve, among other things, the living conditions, health or education of a country or people group. This could range from small rural medical clinics to massive infrastructure projects such as new dams or highways.

Before the MDGs, development work was mostly done piecemeal, with organizations and governments determining their own goals and metrics for success. The MDGs represent the first time every member country of the UN — along with a number of nongovernmental organizations — agreed to the same development objectives, committing to see eight specific and measurable goals achieved by 2015.

History of the Millennium Development Goals

In 1996, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development began working on a framework for what the goals and strategies of development in the 21st century would look like. The Millennium Development Goals are the combination of that framework and the Millennium Declaration, a document signed by all United Nations member countries after the September 2000 UN Millennium Summit. Since that time the MDGs have been the main framework for doing global development work.

Eight goals for development

There are eight goals identified by the MDGs, the first seven of which are measurable and the eighth which is more of an ideal than a goal:

  1. Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
  2. Achieve universal primary education
  3. Promote gender equality and empower women
  4. Reduce child mortality rates
  5. Improve maternal health
  6. Combat HIV/AIDs, malaria and other diseases
  7. Ensure environmental stability
  8. Develop a global partnership for development

Why Jolkona uses the Millennium Development Goals

Though Jolkona does not pick projects based on their connection to the MDGs, all of our projects align with them. Connecting our projects to the MDGs allows Jolkona and donors to track how our work is contributing to key development metrics. Not only can you see your donation’s impact on a micro level — through the feedback you receive from our partners in the form of school grades, photos or field reports — but you can also see how your gifts are making a difference on a macro level as countries achieve the various goals. Your funding one child’s education, for example, also moves the country that child is in closer to achieving universal primary education, the second MDG.

How to get involved

Now that you have a better understanding of what the MDGs are, take a look here on the Impact page of the Jolkona site to sort projects by the specific MDG they work toward. On each project page you can also see which MDGs that project aligns with (note the colored bars on the right in the image below).

For the most up-to-date information and statistics on progress toward the goals, take a look at the UN’s MDG homepage.

You can also keep an eye on our blog — in the coming weeks, we’ll drill down on each of the goals, talking more about what they hope to achieve and highlighting Jolkona projects that work toward them.

I know! I have been away for some time. Been too busy to communicate to you my thoughts

Well you shouldn’t blame me too much. First, its summer so I have been extra busy, reading writing and putting my life in some form of order. Also, don’t forget that I am also working and we have had a lot of work to do at the World Youth Alliance. I should just tell you about a few of the things I have been up to lately. I have been….

1. Reading certain very important works on international development especially on the subject of good governance, democracy and the like. The two books I am reading concurrently (I know this is crazy but this was how I learnt to read) are War, Guns and Votes by Paul Collier and One Economics by Dani Roodrik. I have learnt a lot from the educated insights of these two men and I would strongly recommend these books to people who are really interested in development. I must note however (being the trouble maker that I am) that Colliers misinterpretes certain aspects of Nigeria’s last elections. For example, he states somewhere in the book that Nasir El Rufai contested elections in Abuja and lost. Well, that never happened.

2. Reading awful and wonderful articles about International Development and Foriegn Policy. I’ll be direct. My worst article about international development over these past two weeks was Nicholas Kristof’s article on maternal mortality. Now before I get attacked or misunderstood by the good readers of this blog. Let me clarify in as few words as possible and then probably write a rebuttal if you rile me up enough. I have been very much interested in Maternal mortality so I have researched it a lot about it. I hated that Nicholas Kristof tried to make the victims family the culprit when the blame should rightly have gone to the UNFPA which has collected about 900 million dollars from donors but still has the worst performing MDG as the one it is responsible for. i.e Maternal Mortality. Kristof’s argument that the family would have earthed out 300 rupees if the baby was a boy hardly hits at the home run issue which is that even the local clinic should have skilled birth attendants who can be easily trained to deal with birth complications. People should have  a right to give birth whereever they wish and still have the appropriate resources available to the,. End of short rant.  My best article was on Jay Z and foreign policy in America. It really has nothing to do with development though. However, let me state my biases. Ether is my favorite rap song ever! (Warning: Explicit content)

3. Working on a personal project called the Cheetah Fund. You follow this blog so you deserve a sneak peek. So I suddenly decided that I was tired of “talking” about development and I was going to do something about what I think are the root problems in development: Lack of Education and encouragement for young entrepreneurs. So the Cheetah Fund, inspired by themes from Africa Unchained by George Ayitteh will basically try to solve both porblems. It will be a micro-credit club  replicated in local schools in development countries for youth between the ages of 16-21. Basically, the kids will be loaned some money to buy shares in companies and then they will be asked to formulate a business plan that will enable them repay the loan (without interest, I’m not gonna go all MFI on kids), make some profit. In the program, they would be given occasional guidance by successful business people in these countries on best practices in business. They would also have to learn about best practices in international development. At the end of the program, they will have to decide which development project to spend 20% of their profits on. The program will be run as a competition amongst these local schools and the winners will be presented with the opportunity to have summer internships with Fortune 500 companies in New York. Its a lot of work and I know we’ll have to start out small and all but I think I’m prepared to face the challenges. Its still in the pipes anyways..so no frets.

4. Finally, I have been monitoring some really importnat debates at the UN where I work for the World Youth Alliance. One of the many sessions I have been monitoring is the UN’s CEDAW review session where I have been learning a lot about the state of women all around the world and what more needs to be done to ensure that discrimination against women is brought to an end. It has been interesting and perhaps it would form the butt of a post on this blog one of these days. The most I can say now is that from what I have heard women in Liberia have it really rough especially with FGM and rural women especially elderly rural women, bear the brunt of discrimination against women in most developing countries. I also monitored the Responsibility to Protect Debate at the UN. Bill Easterly read my mind on this one. He just missed the point about the reform of the security council which I point out here.

5. Having fun. I have been having over different high school friends studying in other parts of America visit me here in New York. I have been forced to resort to “touristy stuff” like visiting Time Square, taking pictures of everything and riding the Staten Island ferry. And yea, parties…never forget the parties!

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.

GET INVOLVED!