Bill Clapp


Humanitarian community weirdly silent on USAID “Cuba Twitter” fiasco | 

Students in Cuba gather behind a business looking for a Internet signal for their smart phones in Havana, Cuba, Tuesday, April 1, 2014.
Students in Cuba gather behind a business looking for a Internet signal for their smart phones in Havana, Cuba, Tuesday, April 1, 2014.
AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa

If lack of public outrage is any indication, many in the humanitarian field appear to be just fine with the recent revelation that the U.S. government’s lead anti-poverty agency has been spending tax dollars to operate a secret project aimed at fomenting political unrest in Cuba.

You may remember when news leaked out in 2011 that the CIA had faked a vaccination program in Pakistan in its effort to find Osama Bin Laden.

It took a while for the humanitarian community to respond, and condemn, that scheme. But most did and the dire predictions that the CIA ruse would endanger aid workers (and undermine the crucial polio campaign in Pakistan) turned out to be tragically accurate. As Laurie Garrett recently wrote in Foreign Policy, the CIA scheme gave militant extremists all the justification they needed for targeting polio vaccine workers and the murders go on today – and polio continues to spread.

Now, thanks to an AP investigation, we learn that USAID (the U.S. Agency for International Development) has since 2009 been running a secret social media scheme in Cuba aimed at using cell-phone text messages to foster political dissent against the communist government. The AP reported that the project, dubbed “Cuban Twitter” involved creating secret shell companies and foreign bank accounts.

Bill and Paula Clapp
Bill and Paula Clapp
Seattle International Foundation

“So we’re back to the days of USAID acting like the CIA?” said an exasperated Bill Clapp, a Seattle-based philanthropist who with his wife Paula has been working for decades on a variety of anti-poverty and empowerment projects throughout Latin America. “If our goal is to promote open societies around the world, I’m not sure having our lead aid agency running covert foreign policy operations is the way to do it.” Continue reading

This high-powered, low-profile Seattle gang fighting global poverty means business | 

I’m not easily surprised, but I have to admit to being surprised at how few folks in Seattle appear know about the Initiative for Global Development.

You’d think an anti-poverty organization started by leading Seattle philanthropist Bill Clapp, founding EPA head Bill Ruckelshaus, Bill Gates Sr. (yes there are lots of jokes about the predominance of Bills), former US Senator Dan Evans and late former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. John Shalikashvili would get a lot of public attention. Nope.

“We’re more well known in Washington, D.C., than we are in Seattle,” chuckled Jennifer Potter, who is stepping down as president and CEO of this powerful but locally off-the-radar organization launched here in 2003. Former Wisconsin Congressman Mark Green, who just started this week, is taking the helm.

Jennifer Potter and Bill Clapp celebrate a decade of the Initiative for Global Development, a uniquely Northwest contributor to the fight against global poverty
Jennifer Potter and Bill Clapp celebrate a decade of the Initiative for Global Development, a uniquely Northwest contributor to the fight against global poverty

The project, IGD, was first conceived by Potter and Clapp largely in response to the terrorist attacks of Sept, 11, 2001. Continue reading

Seattle pushes women’s rights & private sector to fight poverty | 

It’s International Human Rights Day and you may be surprised to learn that the modern notion of human rights is little more than half a century old. The universal declaration of human rights was made largely due to the Holocaust, the atrocities of WWII.

Locally, the focus of two leading humanitarian organizations is on advancing women’s rights and finding more effective ways to combine traditional aid and development strategies with a supposedly kinder, gentler and more socially responsive private sector.

It’s the Seattle approach – socially liberal and business friendly, if not economically conservative.

“We are compassionate, creative and outward looking,” Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn said at Global Washington’s annual meeting last week. McGinn noted how at the World’s Fair in Seattle some 50 years ago, many predicted we would have flying cars and jet packs when, in fact, today we continue to have poverty, inequity and injustice — here and abroad.

“We care about that and are doing something about it,” he said. “And that’s what it really means to be a city of the future.”

Two meetings last week back up the mayor’s claims. (Sorry I’m a bit late, but I had a family emergency and this is a one-man news operation)

Global Washington, an organization dedicated to building up the region’s burgeoning humanitarian and social enterprise community, held its annual meeting with an opening keynote talk by Dr. Sakena Yacoobi, an activist and educator who is promoting women’s rights and childhood education in Afghanistan despite threats against her life.

Sakena Yacoobi, speaking at Global Washington

“I believe education is a key issue to transform life,” said Yacoobi, who described the many obstacles she has faced and what motivates her despite the risks. Women’s and girls’ rights are critical, she said: “Afghanistan will have peace when the women of Afghanistan are leaders.” Continue reading

Thousand in Seattle support ‘controversial’ anti-poverty scheme | 

Nearly 1,000 gather for Global Partnerships annual luncheon

It didn’t used to be controversial.

But one way to say this is that nearly one thousand people turned out for a Seattle event Tuesday to celebrate and support an anti-poverty scheme that many experts in the aid and development community contend doesn’t work.

Microcredit loans.

Rick Beckett, CEO Global Partnerships

“We have something like $70 million in loans to 57 partners in 12 countries, serving about 2.2 million clients each of whom support on average a family of five people,” said Rick Beckett, president and CEO of Global Partnerships, a Seattle-based organization and one of the biggest practitioners of microfinance anywhere.

The organization, founded in 1994 by local philanthropists Bill and Paula Clapp and focused primarily on assisting the poor in Central America, held its annual fund-raising ‘Business of Hope’ luncheon yesterday. Nearly a thousand people were estimated to have attended. The organization raised $540,000 for microcredit last year and hoped to do better this year.

I asked Beckett how he has been able to dupe so many folks: Don’t all these people know that many experts in aid and development say microcredit loans don’t work to raise people out of poverty? That it’s a sham, and even an abuse?

“That’s sort of a leading question, isn’t it?” he laughed. 

The rise and fall of the public image of microfinance has been misleading at both ends of the spectrum, Beckett said. Continue reading

Seattle aid organization seeks to end the neglect of Central America | 

Flickr, szeke

A few decades ago, Seattle’s relationship with Central American nations like El Salvador, Nicaragua or Guatemala was perhaps most defined by this community serving as a haven for refugees in the nationwide sanctuary movement for people fleeing the violence of the civil wars.

On Tuesday, at Microsoft’s Redmond campus, I attended a meeting sponsored by the Seattle International Foundation (one of Humanosphere’s sponsors, I should note) called the Central America Donors Forum which illustrated how much things have changed — and how much still needs to change.

Like most such meetings, this one largely featured people standing up at the lectern talking about what they do. I would argue that you don’t really need a meeting for that. Just tell people to read your website mission statement.

But  further discussion at this all-day confab — which was aimed at creating new collaborations among attendees — did provide, for me anyway, a new insight:

Much of the aid and development community seems to ignore the needs of Latin America.

“There’s been real progress made in Central America, but we are now at a moment of significant urgency and crisis,” said Mauricio Vivero, executive director of the Seattle International Foundation (aka SIF). “For just one example, the rates of violence against women in Central America are higher than anywhere else in the world outside a war zone.”

Continue reading

Seattle philanthropy seeks changed mindset in world murder capital | 

Flickr, Curtis Gregory Perry

Down with Drugs

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden is in Mexico and soon will be on his way to Honduras, meeting with Central American leaders to figure out an effective strategy for combating the surging, deadly drug trade.

Many Latin American leaders say the so-called ‘War on Drugs,’ which emphasizes aggressive law enforcement, has failed and only led to increased violence. Some want to explore de-criminalizing drugs.

The Obama Administration and others remain steadfastly opposed to legalization, and appear to be planning stepped-up hemispheric drug enforcement actions.

But what if the illicit drug trade is just a symptom of the real problem?

“What’s really needed is a new mindset, about changing the culture so that the people with wealth and power in these countries invest in improving the lives of their own citizens,” said Mauricio Vivero, executive director at the Seattle International Foundation.

Puget Sound Business Journal

Mauricio Vivero

Vivero just got back from Honduras, which some have dubbed the current murder capital of the world, where he met with business leaders, politicians, philanthropists and development experts. He attended a meeting in San Pedro Sula called by the Honduran government and World Bank and featuring the Central American Leadership Initiative — an organization launched in 2007 by Bill Clapp, co-founder of the Seattle International Foundation, along with other business leaders in the region.

Biden is headed to Honduras Tuesday in part because the drug cartels are moving there, forced south due to the crackdown in Mexico.

The fight against drug cartels often resembles pushing on a balloon. Continue reading

The global state of Washington state | 

It’s natural to become a bit self-centered when times are tough and uncertain.

Yet times are tough all over (for most, the 99 percent?, of us anyway) — and a lot tougher and uncertain for those living in the poorer parts of the world.

Today is the kick-off of an event by Global Washington aimed at counteracting our natural tendency toward self-absorption (and even good old American isolationism) — by celebrating, and fostering, the growth of Washington state’s global development community.

The global state of mind in Washington state, says Global Washington executive director Bookda Gheisar, is needed now more than ever.

“I think most people understand generally that a healthy global economy is good for all of us,” said Gheisar. “But many people think we spend something like 20 to 25 percent of the federal budget on foreign aid and development when it is really less than one percent.”

The Seattle area has a long history in international commerce, involving items such as airplanes, timber, coffee or software. Because of that, people here may understand better that assisting the poor overseas benefits us, she said. Continue reading

A(nother) guy named Bill creating Seattle’s do-gooder community | 

Bill Clapp

Some of the most amazing people I know on this beat — covering Seattle’s role in global health and poverty reduction — are named Bill.

There’s Bill Gates, of course, his bold and insightful (and often funny) dad Bill Gates Sr., Bill Foege, the local doc who figured out how to beat smallpox, and then there’s Bill Clapp.

I can’t really quantify this, but I don’t think many would argue with me if I said that Bill Clapp has probably done more than any other single person (named Bill or not) over the years to try to promote the culture, the emerging community, of do-gooders in Seattle and throughout this region.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is the 8,000-lb gorilla on the scene today, of course. The Gates Foundation and its primary mission of global health tend to dominate the do-gooder conversation and media coverage.

But Clapp and his wife Paula were active philanthropists fighting poverty years before Bill and Melinda Gates got into the act — and well before most of us were really paying that much attention.

Flickr, papalars

This is the second of three parts in a series looking at how Seattle’s burgeoning humanitarian “sector” is coalescing, coming together. As noted in the first post, it’s a bit of a hodgepodge right now, with hundreds of groups working on their own, often unaware of others with shared interests and missions.

Moving from this creative chaos to community has long been one of Clapp’s primary aims.

“I believe in synergy, the power of collaboration,” he said.

He and Paula have launched or helped launch several initiatives aimed at creating this kind of synergy — the Seattle International Foundation (subject of my first post), Global Washington and the Initiative for Global Development.

Arguably, all of them are different means to the same end — bringing people together to figure out how to make the world a better place. Continue reading