January 30, 2010

“Global Challenge” Competition to Reward Graduate Students for Developing Business Solutions that Support International Development

College students worldwide are receiving an education not to solely benefit financially in a future career, but to make a social difference as well. Aspiring business leaders are reevaluating success not on the basis of a financial return on investment, but on the social return on investment and the impact on the environment and surrounding communities. And more than ever are we seeing the need to understand the critical role of the private sector in international development. The Global Challenge, a collaborative effort by the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), will reward graduate students from across the United States to employ their creativity, research skills, business acumen and passion for seeking solutions that advance growth and reduce poverty.

According to a press release dated January 28, 2010, the Global Challenge is “a first-of-its-kind competition that challenges teams of MBA (Master of Business Administration) and other graduate students to develop business solutions that support international development. Teams will be tasked with devising a new public-private alliance that allows a private enterprise to meet its long-term business goals while contributing to international development initiatives in a specified region.”

G. “Anand” Anandalingam, dean of the Robert H. Smith School of Business, said, “We invite MBA and graduate students from across the nation to employ their creativity, research skills, business acumen and passion for seeking solutions that advance growth and reduce poverty. It is our hope that future business leaders balance profit-making with social impact and take all stakeholders into account when making decisions, values we are committed to fostering at the Smith School.”

In describing the format of the innovate competition, the Smith School’s announcement explains, “In round one of the competition, teams will submit written proposal in response to a specified Global Challenge prompt, then up to eight groups will be invited to compete in the oral presentation final-round competition at USAID’s headquarters at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington, D.C. on April 23, 2010. Judges will include representatives from USAID, industry-leading private sector companies, and academia.”

Teams will compete for $8,500 in cash prizes: $5,000 for first place, $2,500 second place, and $1,000 third place. Furthermore, students will have the opportunity to establish relationships and receive guidance from business leaders, international development experts, and other students. Winners of the Global Challenge will have their work published and distributed to international development professionals worldwide. Teams may register online through February 5, 2010.

The Global Challenge is sponsored by USAID’s Business Growth Initiative and the Smith School’s Center for International Business Education and Research (CIBER) and Center for Social Value Creation. Launched in 2009, the Center for Social Value Creation’s mission is to engage students in courses and experiential learning programs to enable them to become global leaders who understand how to use business as a vehicle for both economic prosperity and transformative social change, and to support faculty research in related areas.

January 28, 2010

U.S. Government Allocates $320 Million for Rural Broadband Projects

I occasionally blog about the digital divide that exists in developing nations; namely, the issue of that many people in the world’s financially impoverished nations do not have access to the Internet. While the United States is certainly not financially impoverished, a digital divide does exist when comparing Internet access by remote or rural communities to those residing in urban areas. Many people and businesses located in rural America are increasingly becoming dependent on modern information and communications technology (ICT) services to obtain education, financial, and health services. Therefore, I was pleased to read a recent announcement by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to improve the ICT infrastructure in specific rural areas located throughout the United States. (Photo of Cherryvale, Kansas (population 2386) courtesy of U.S. Department of Agriculture)

In a press release dated January 25, 2010, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack “announced the selection of fourteen Recovery Act Broadband Infrastructure projects that will receive $309,923,352 through funding made available by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). An additional $3,551,887 in private investment brings the total to $313,475,239. Altogether, Congress awarded USDA $2.5 billion in Recovery Act funding to help bring broadband services to rural un-served and underserved communities.”

Here is a sampling of the 14 projects receiving grants and loans: Providing middle mile connectivity to 65 communities in Southwestern Alaska, expanding high speed DSL broadband service to remote, unserved households in rural Alabama and fiber-to-the premises broadband service to unserved homes and businesses in North Dakota. Furthermore, people residing in remote and rural communities in Tennessee will see an upgrade to the infrastructure that provide advanced voice, video, and data services exceeding 20 megabytes per second (Mbps), an expansion of fiber-based broadband access to approximately 1,500 households, local businesses and anchor institutions in central California, and extending existing fiber network by building out from the nearest fiber splice point through the funded service area in Oregon, which will provide broadband connectivity to residential and business end users.

USDA explains that “funding of individual recipients is contingent upon their meeting the terms of the loan, grant or loan/grant agreement.” While I continue to be concerned with the increase debt the U.S. government is incurring, I am encouraged to see some the funds provided by ARRA invested in ICT infrastructure to close the digital divide that exists in rural America.

January 26, 2010

EpiSurveyor: A Data Collection Tool Transforming Public Health for Underserved Populations

Mobile phones are widely used throughout the African continent and we are seeing unique services in health care, banking, and education. This blog has presented different telemedicine services and I think there is value in discussing an innovative solution that uses mobile phone technology and the Internet “to deliver more effective public health services throughout the developing world,” according to a Voice of America (VOA) report by Natalia Ardanza. This report provides another prime example of using information and technology (ICT) solutions in providing essential services for the world’s underserved populations. Click here to watch Ms. Ardanza’s video report. (Photos: DataDyne.org)

Joel Selanikio and Rosa Donna co-founded DataDyne.org, a nonprofit dedicated to providing sustainable information technologies in poor areas. Ms. Ardanza says that with financial support from the United Nations Foundation and the Vodafone Foundation, Selanikio developed EpiSurveyor -- a free, mobile, Web-based and open-source data collection tool that is transforming the way public health is practiced in under-served areas of the world.” EpiSurveror was developed in collaboration with the Kenyan Ministry of Health and DataDyne’s website notes that its “multiple-award-winning EpiSurveyor.org is the first web 2.0 application for international development and global health.”

Furthermore, according to Ms. Ardanza, “EpiSurveyor replaces cumbersome and costly paper-based data collection that can take months, and sometimes years to produce results. ‘Instead of collecting data today to plan for a campaign next year, changing from that to collecting data today to plan for what we do tomorrow,’ Selanikio explained. ‘That is a pretty radical change.’ Public health relies on the rapid collection of accurate data to track disease outbreaks, monitor vaccine supplies and other similar functions.” Watch a demonstration video of EpiSurveyor on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5aS6R1fUCBU.

DataDyne provides consulting services combining information technology, mobile phones, epidemiology, public health, and clinical medical care into a valuable service in treating underserved populations in developing nations. According to DataDyne’s website, the Washington, D.C.-based organization creates and implements ICT solutions for a clinical setting, evaluating a public health program, or building a SMS-based drug notification system.

DataDyne’s EpiSurveyor is now used as a World Health Organization (WHO) standard method of data collection. In addition, more than 500 organizations in over 100 countries are using EpiSurveyor in areas such as agriculture and public opinion polling. In 2009, Dr. Selanikio was the recipient of the $100,000 Lemelson-MIT Award for Sustainability.

January 24, 2010

Gates Foundation to Help Poor People Save Money

In my blog post, Microfinance 101, I explain the different components of microfinance, which include loans, savings, money transfer services and microinsurance. From my experiences working in the developing world, microloans to help economically impoverished people climb out of poverty are the most common microfinance vehicle. While it exists in a few markets, I rarely see savings mechanisms in place to help underserved populations. Therefore, I was pleased to read that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is helping “microfinance institutions (MFIs) provide the poor with safe, affordable places to save their money” by allocating $38 million in new grants, according to a press release dated January 13, 2010.

The Gates Foundation’s announcement explains that “six grants will help 18 MFIs, which currently focus on microcredit, expand their portfolios and make savings accounts available to an initial 11 million poor people across 12 countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America over five years. The grants will create new ways for the poor to make deposits and withdrawals, expand the availability of existing savings products, and fund savings-focused marketing campaigns.”

Why is the promotion of financial savings among the world’s poor important? Citing a National Bureau of Economic Research report, the Gates Foundation announcement says “that poor households with access to savings accounts are more likely to invest in education, increase productivity and income, and reduce vulnerability to illness and other unexpected events.” The challenge remains that very few MFIs offer “savings accounts, and more than 90 percent of the world’s poor still lack access to financial services and resort to risky, expensive, and inefficient ways to save.”

“Providing access to safe, affordable savings accounts has been a challenge because of the high costs for both banks and customers,” says the Seattle, Washington-based philanthropic organization. “For banks, the costs of physical buildings, with dedicated bank tellers, are expensive, especially in remote areas or where there is a limited number of clients with small deposits. Poor clients often live far from banks so the cost to reach a branch may exceed the amount of their deposits.”

Allocating to a diverse group of international MFIs, “the grants will use a variety of approaches to offer savings accounts to poor people. ShoreBank International, for example, will broaden its reach by sending staff on motorbikes with handheld devices to rural clients in India. Women’s World Banking will revamp its savings products to make them better fit the needs of the poor and fund marketing campaigns in the Dominican Republic. The Grameen Foundation will work with its partner MFIs to ensure they have the business systems and staff to manage emerging client savings programs.”

January 19, 2010

All Nonprofits Helping Haïti are Not the Same

It has been one week since a massive earthquake shook the Republic of Haïti, which has killed an estimated 200,000 people and left 1.5 million homeless. It is with great sorrow that this entry follows the previous two entries outlining excellent examples to facilitate sustainable development in Haïti through innovation initiatives. While I am following the rescue and recovery efforts closely, I am also amazed by global response in financial contributions to assist the Haïtian victims. I commend the overwhelming positive response from people worldwide, but we must also be mindful to which charities to support and that our generous donations are properly allocated.

According to The Chronicle of Philanthropy article dated January 18, 2010, donors have contributed more than $210 million to major U.S. relief groups within six days after the massive earthquake struck Haïti. Despite the troubled economy, “The pace of giving for Haiti is running ahead of the amount donated in the same period after the Asian tsunamis in 2004, but slower than the outpouring of gifts after the flooding caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. In the six days after the flooding started in New Orleans, Americans gave at least $457-million for relief efforts. In the nine days after the Asian tsunamis, major U.S. relief groups raised $163-million.”

In PBS Newshour’s Ray Suarez interview on January 18th with Stacy Palmer, Editor of The Chronicle of Philanthropy, Ms. Palmer discusses what questions a donor should ask about a nonprofit organization when considering making a financial donation. “One of the most important things to look at is, does the charity have experience working in a place like Haiti? And that's the most important research thing you can do. Have they already done things? Do they have a track record?”

Ms. Palmer then talked about the importance of a nonprofit’s experience and accomplishments. “There are plenty of Web sites that say, how much overhead cost does the charity provide? But, really, you want to look at results. What is it that the charity has accomplished? Have they been there before? This is not a tragedy where people can just come in and parachute in and do good, no matter how experienced they are. They have to have relationships with the community. And that's probably the most important thing that experienced aid workers say to look at.”

Donors should also question organizations who claim 100 percent of your donation goes to the charity. “Sometimes, that is too good to be true,” says Ms. Palmer. “And links in e-mail, people you don't know, go to the Web site, Google it yourself. A lot of people try to do copycat kinds of things. They will play on the name of the charity. So, be very careful about that. Do your research. And if you're being pressured into giving, don't give. That's a sign, again, of a charity that's not doing the right thing.” Ms. Palmer’s interview in its entirety may be found in the video below:

Recognizing my professional experiences in Haïti, many people have asked for my recommendation on which organizations to support. The American Institute of Philanthropy (AIP) posted its top-rated list of charities involved in Haitian earthquake relief efforts. While not on the AIP list, I highly recommend the Florida Association for Volunteer Action in the Caribbean and the Americas, Inc. (FAVACA), a Florida-based nonprofit organization serving the needs of the people in Haïti and throughout the Caribbean for over 25 years. Funds raised will go to support medical programs, disaster assistance, recovery and rebuilding programs in Haïti.

I am pleased to announce that I am participating in a fundraising event on January 21, 2010 hosted by Casuelitas Caribbean Café in Seattle, Washington. Casuelitas will be serving spicy Caribbean bites and Haïtian Rum Punch with 100 percent of the profits from food and beverage sales going to FAVACA for Haïti earthquake relief.

A Splash of the Caribbean, a Seattle-based unique triple bottom line Caribbean art import company that supports artists by purchasing directly and selling online and at restaurants throughout the Puget Sound region, will feature a Haïtian Steel Oil Drum Art Sale with 50 percent of net proceeds going to Haïti earthquake relief. Click here to view the official press release for the fundraising event. (Photo coutesy of Alyssa Johnson/A Splash of the Caribbean)

Why FAVACA? I have a relationship with the organization's executive staff and board of directors and as I stated above, the nonprofit organization has 25 years of working in Haïti. During these years, FAVACA has established a strong track record in delivering tangible results to thousands of underserved people. Having advised FAVACA on fundraising and strategic planning strategies, I am familiar with FAVACA's financial statements and I can attest that the nonprofit organization has kept their overhead expenses to a minimum leaving a large majority of funds raised to be used on effective programming.

For those who reside outside of Seattle, you can donate directly to FAVACA at http://www.favaca.org/?q=node/30. Thank you for your support.

January 11, 2010

An Innovative, Sustainable Art Form Helping to Alleviate Poverty in Haïti

By Alyssa Johnson

Haïti is full of talented internationally renowned artists and some of the most beautiful artwork found in the Caribbean from paintings and beadwork to steel oil drum sculptures and hand sewn accessories. The innovative recycled steel oil drum sculptures are some of most popular and unique pieces found in Haïti. Used 55-gallon oil drums are purchased from the port and transported to Croix-des-Bouquets, Haïti, a small town with the largest concentration of steel oil drum metal artists resides located just 45 minutes outside of the capitol, Port au Prince. The art form started in the mid 20th century by blacksmith, Georges Liautaud, from Croix-des-Bouquets. (Photo of roadside stand of painted recycled steel oil drum sculptures in Petionville, Haïti courtesy of Alyssa Johnson)

Artists start with old oil drums and remarkably, they use every piece of the oil drum used in different art pieces including the cap and edges. Several homes and workshops in Croix-des-Bouquets are lined with fences made from unused edges of the oil drums. (Photo of Jean Emelie and Jean Pierre Richard negotiating a metal art purchase in Cap-Haïtian, Haïti courtesy of Alyssa Johnson)

The drums are stuffed with straw or banana leaves and lit on fire to burn off the residues. Once cooled off, the flattened drum becomes a rectangular sheet approximately four by six foot wide. They are flattened and designs are chalked out on and then cut out with a mallet and chisel. Different textures sculptures are created by hammering in "bumps" of different heights. Some are finalized with brightly painted designs, others are left in raw form.

In a country where, according to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency's World Factbook, 80 percent of the population live under the poverty line and 54 percent in abject poverty, this small art industry has allowed families to build their own businesses, export internationally and earn higher wages. Formal unemployment in Haïti, the Western hemisphere's poorest nation is at approximately 66 percent. This labor intensive art form allows skilled craftspeople to earn fair wages in Haïti and makes a direct positive impact of poverty alleviation. (Photo of remnants of the oil drums are used for fencing in Croix-des-Bouquets, Haïti courtesy of Alyssa Johnson)

Alyssa Johnson is founder of A Splash of the Caribbean, a Seattle-based unique triple bottom line Caribbean art import company that supports artists by purchasing directly and selling online and at restaurants such as La Isla and Casuelitas Caribbean Café, among others throughout the Puget Sound region. Ms. Johnson may be contacted at oroazulllc@gmail.com(Photo of the Musical Mermaid Screen by Atelier D’Art of Croix-des-Boquets, Haïti is courtesy of Alyssa Johnson. In Haïtian culture, the mermaid depicts La Siren, the Vodou spirit or lwa with power under the sea who enchants sailors with the melodies of her trumpet.)

January 7, 2010

Cleaning Up Haïti: Converting Human Waste to Fertilizer through Innovation

On January 4, 2010, CNN posted an article on its website written by Eliott C. McLaughlin, "Group seeks answers to Haiti's woes in its toilets," about an organization that is implementing a sustainable solution of proper sanitation by composting human waste through public dry toilets. Founded by Sasha Kramer and Sarah Brownell in 2006 and based in Cap-Haïtien, Haïti, Sustainable Organic Integrated Livelihoods (SOIL) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting soil resources, empowering communities and transforming wastes into resources in Haïti. By facilitating the construction of dry toilets that compost human waste to be used as fertilizer, the results include greater access to clean water, greater agricultural output, and reduction of human mortality by preventable diseases.

During my visits to Haïti during the past few years, I have witnessed the impact poor or nonexistent sanitation in the urban areas has on the natural environment and local population. Traveling through Haïti's rural areas, I observed low agricultural output caused by poor soil fertility, soil erosion and lack of fertilizers, which are often cost prohibitive to the impoverished farmer. In identifying the problem further, according to SOIL's website, "16% of rural Haitians and 50% of those in cities have access to adequate sanitation facilities, by far the lowest coverage in the Western Hemisphere. People are forced to find other ways to dispose of their wastes, often in the ocean, rivers, ravines, plastic bags, or abandoned houses."

Why soil? The nonprofit organization explains, "Maintaining soil is the essence of sustainability from both environmental and social perspectives. The basic elements that make up living matter all come from, and return to, the soil. Nutrients from the soil are constantly flowing through all living organisms. Healthy soil retains and cleanses water resources and protects communities from natural disasters. All of humanity is dependant on soil, biologically, economically, socially, and spiritually. Human health, livelihood, and wellbeing are inextricably linked to the soil."

Here is a video that provides additional details about the workings of the dry toilets:

"Toilets are one example of SOIL's outreach," writes Mr. McLaughlin. "The group also holds contests urging children to recycle garbage into something useful and Brownell's husband, Kevin Foos, spearheads a photo empowerment project called 'Looking Through Their Eyes,' which allows children to capture what they love and hate about their communities on film. SOIL also supports special centers in Shada, Milot and Le Borgne where Haïtians can present and test technologies for improving their health, environment and economic independence."

Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times posted a video, "American Ingenuity in Haiti," on his YouTube channel about SOIL's worthwhile efforts to resolve a problem that each individual contributes: human waste.