August 14, 2010

USAID-Funded Apparel Center to Provide Training to Thousands of Haïtians

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is an independent agency that provides economic, development and humanitarian assistance around the world in support of the foreign policy goals of the United States. The Washington, DC-based agency provides assistance in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and the Near East, Latin America and the Caribbean, and Europe and Eurasia. Many people, for justifiable reasons, criticize the effectiveness of USAID’s programs and policies aimed at helping the world’s most underserved population. While I can write a book about many of USAID’s failures, and several have been written, I wish to discuss an initiative that has the potential of being one of USAID’s successes.

On August 11, 2010, USAID announced the opening of the Haïti Apparel Center (HAC). The new facility will help Haïti grow its private sector workforce by training more than 2,000 professionals per year to help meet the need for skilled workers in Haïti’s garment industry. In addition to providing vocational training, the center will further enable Haïti to maximize the benefits of the Haïtian Economic Lift Program (HELP) Act signed into law in May 2010, which improves U.S. market access for Haïtian apparel exports.

According to the USAID announcement, “In the 1980s there were about 150,000 garment workers in Haïti; now there are around 20,000. The value of Haïtian apparel exports to the United States in 2009 amounted to roughly $512 million, employing more than 25,000 Haïtians. The HELP Act, which has been widely supported by Congress, significantly expands Haïti’s trade preferences to the U.S. It also promotes investment in Haïti and supports the rebuilding of the garment sector which was significantly damaged over the years due to political unrest and more recently by the earthquake. According to a Congressional Research Service report issued in June, rebuilding costs for the industry are estimated at $38 million to refurbish damaged buildings, replace machinery and train new employees.”

The HAC is part of “Konbit Ak Tet Ansanm” (KATA), a four-year, $104.8 million USAID designed and financed job-creation initiative. In partnership with CHF International, it provides training and improves manufacturing skills of workers involved in the textile industry -- including sewing machine operators and mechanics and quality-control supervisors. The facility also offers executive seminars to senior managers, factory owners and leaders in the business community.

All applicants take a test on dexterity, color blindness, basic literacy and numeracy. Students who are accepted as sewing machine operators are then enrolled for a six-week course that includes training on how to work in a formal work environment and a curriculum developed by [TC]2, one of the leading associations that represents garment buyers. After graduating from the program, students will be highly sought after by employers. In advance of its formal opening, the HAC has trained more than 50 sewing machine operators, and 13 operator trainers have already graduated. All of these students are now employed -- and the operators now rank among the top performers in local garment assembly plants.

The more than 6,000-square-meter HAC facility was provided by the Government of Haïti and renovated and operated by USAID partner CHF International-Haïti. It is located in the SONAPI industrial park -- minutes from the garment factories in and around Haïti’s capital of Port-au-Prince and close to workers’ residential neighborhoods.

August 9, 2010

Eating a Balanced Meal on a Tight Budget

Having traveled to developing countries worldwide, I routinely see people of all ages malnourished as a result of a poor diet. Moreover, given the current economic climate, poor nutrition is a systematic problem in industrialized nations as well with the primary obstacle caused by the high cost of food. To help people overcome this obstacle, Gopal Kapur launched FamilyGreenSurvival™, which according to his website, “is designed to build a deep commitment to green living, develop knowledge and empathy for the world’s low income and poor population, deliver a program of healthy nutrition practices to combat obesity, and to provide education scholarships for students from low income families nationally and internationally.” The organization’s goals are:
  • Deliver a program of personal practices designed to develop deep commitment to ‘green living’ to save energy and reduce packaging waste;
  • To help develop knowledge and empathy for the world’s low income and poor population;
  • Deliver a program of nutrition education, smart food shopping, healthy cooking and eating skills to help combat obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer;
  • Deliver a national and international program of school, college, and university scholarships for students from low-income families; and
  • Partner with local, national, and international organizations, communities, and government agencies in support of green living, nutrition education, healthy cooking and eating, and financial support for low-income families.
FamilyGreenSurvival offers a variety of programs for good nutrition at a very low cost. For example, the EatingGreen™ program is based on the adage: “Think Globally, Act Locally,” and asks people to pledge to eat only raw ‘green’ foods one day a month. ‘Raw’ foods such as vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, honey—all of which have been minimally processed after harvesting—and water from the tap. The guidelines for Eating Green include:
  1. All food is eaten raw, choose foods that have been minimal processed and shipped after harvesting; visit local or nearby farmer’s markets;
  2. No wood or charcoal fires, gas burners, or barbeques;
  3. No electrical appliances – micro wave oven, blender, juicer, coffee maker, stove, or oven. Use only mortar, pestle, and manually operated devices;
  4. No disposable plates, cups, napkins, paper towels, or plastic utensils;
  5. No bottled water, no soft drinks, no alcohol, no coffee or tea; this is the opportunity to drink just water or hand squeezed juices; and
  6. Minimal TV, telephone, and computer use; it’s a day to reflect, talk, walk, exercise, garden, sing, dance, relax, and frolic.
FamilyGreenSurvival’s EatingRightWhenOurBudget’sTight™ program consists of healthy, tasty, and easy to prepare breakfast, lunch, and dinner dishes where the cost of the daily menu averages around $6 per person. When this shopping and cooking program is followed diligently, it will go a long way in helping to reduce the obesity problem and related chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. The following program components are provided free of cost to program participants:
  1. Nutrition education, smart shopping, and recipe tasting sessions conducted through churches, food banks, and similar public service organizations;
  2. Selected recipe ingredients distributed to session participants;
  3. Recipes featuring breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snack dishes, with cost per serving and nutrition analysis information; and
  4. Nutrition education and cooking demonstration videos (DVD/CD).
Here is an interview of Mr. Kapur about the EatingRightWhenOurBudget’sTight™ Program on Sacramento, California’s KTXL-TV:

August 5, 2010

Center Opens to Help Develop Renewable Energy Solutions in West Africa

Photo of a wind farm
in Cape Verde:
Martin Lugmayr/UNIDO
Among the many challenges facing Africa is having regular access to electricity, which is necessary for commerce, education and general development purposes. While Africa possesses vast sources of renewable energy, the current sources of energy for millions of Africans stem from fossil fuels or large-scale hyrdo dams that dramatically disrupt fragile ecosystems. Therefore, I was pleased to read the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) announcement that a regional center to help develop the renewable energy potential for West Africa opened in Cape Verde.

Based in the Cape Verde capital of Praia and supported by UNIDO and the Government of Austria, Cape Verde and Spain, the Center for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (ECREEE), a specialized agency of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) “will help develop renewable energy and energy efficiency markets in West Africa, in policy and capacity development and quality assurance, in designing financing mechanisms, and implementing demonstration projects with potential for regional scaling-up.”

“The current energy systems in the ECOWAS region are failing to support the growth prospects of the over 262 million inhabitants, especially the needs of the poor. The creation of ECREEE is a central milestone in efforts to accelerate the deployment of renewable energy and energy efficient technologies and services in the region,” said Yoshiteru Uramoto, Deputy to UNIDO’s Director-General. “Investing in renewable energy systems and introducing energy efficient technologies will contribute to the region’s economic and social development without harming the environment,” he added.

Photo of wind farm
in Andalucía, Spain:
Beatriz Feichtenberger/EXTENDA
I am familiar with Spain’s advances in renewable energy and it is encouraging to see countries like Austria and Spain provide financial and technical assistance to programs such as ECREEE, and their willingness to export technology to developing countries. Technology sharing from industrialize nations is vital to achieve sustainable development in the world’s most underserved countries.

UNIDO's July 6, 2010 announcement further explains, "Estimates suggest that a total of 23,000 MW of large and small hydroelectric potential is concentrated in five of the ECOWAS Member States, of which only 16 per cent has been exploited. There is good potential for all forms of bioenergy. Traditional biomass is already the main source of energy for the poor majority and accounts for 80 per cent of total energy consumed for domestic purposes. There are also considerable wind, tidal, ocean thermal and wave energy resources available. The region has vast solar energy potential. UNIDO has a number of projects in Africa where renewable energy sources like small hydro, biomass gasification, wind energy, solar thermal and photovoltaic, are used to promote the development of small industries, particularly in rural areas, that contribute to growth and poverty reduction."

Aaron Rose is an advisor to talented entrepreneurs and co-founder of great companies. He also serves as the editor of Solutions for a Sustainable World.