David Bornstein

RECENT POSTS

Bornstein calls out charity: water for simplifying clean water solutions | 

Daniel Ek, founder of Spotify, pumping water at the well that bears his name in Giramagogo, an Ethiopian village.

charity:water

Daniel Ek, founder of Spotify, pumping water at the well that bears his name in Giramagogo, an Ethiopian village.

Despite what some may say, solving the world’s water crisis is not so simple.

David Bornstein picks up on a recent New York Times Magazine article that profiled a trip of high profile philanthropists with charity:water. The organization that has managed to move millions for clean water receives a rather soft treatment from the piece that raises some questions for Bornstein. He points to promising examples of clean water solutions and criticizes the way that charity:water has simplified the problem.

The organization’s fundraising is guided by the imperative of giving its donors a satisfying experience. However, to do this, Charity: Water has had to simplify the problem and narrow in on one piece of the solution — the piece with the most potential to deliver that experience: individualized water projects, like wells or purification systems, that can be photographed, located on Google Maps, and commemorated with plaques featuring donors’ names. To get the work done, the organization identifies partner organizations across the developing world with track records of delivering results, and provides flexible funding to meet local needs.

To be fair to charity:water, the organization has undergone a lot of learning since it was founded. Founder Scott Harrison is working closely with veterans in the clean water space and the organization made changes in the past to its claims in order to more accurately reflect its impact. Further, charity:water is getting in on the tracking game by installing computer chips to track whether wells are actually working and being used. Continue reading

Behind the scenes with the Gates Foundation’s ‘strategic media partners’ | 

media horde Flickr
Flickr, MMR d

Just kidding.

I wasn’t actually allowed behind the scenes at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s recent meeting in Seattle entitled “Strategic Media Partnerships.”

The Gates Foundation funds a lot of media – more than $25 million in media grants for 2012 (but still less than 1% of the budget). 

I’m media but I wasn’t invited. I asked if I could come and report on it, but was told the meeting was off the record. Those attending included representatives from the New York Times, NPR, the Guardian, NBC, Seattle Times and a number of other news organizations, non-profit groups and foundations. Not all were grant recipients, or partners. Some just came to consult.

Spoiler alert: Nothing sinister happened. But there’s still a story here.

The public doesn’t see much coverage of the media’s collaboration with the Gates Foundation. Yet it’s substantial, influential and, despite the media’s distaste for reporting on itself, I feel compelled. So here’s my news analysis…. Continue reading

A chat with NY Times’ David Bornstein about ‘solutions’ journalism | 

Abigail Gampel

David Bornstein

David Bornstein is what many would consider a rare bird — an optimistic and forward-looking journalist.

Bornstein is also one of my favorite writers on aid and development issues, for the New York Times Opinionator column and as an author of a number of important books including one on the anti-poverty scheme known as microfinance, The Price of a Dream, and his more recent book How to Change the World, a look at the social enterprise movement.

On Thursday, it was announced that Bornstein and his NYTimes colleague Tina Rosenberg were among the winners of 90 new grants, each of which starts out at $100,000, from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Grand Challenges Explorations program.

That wasn’t quite right: Bornstein later responded, after the awards were announced, that he and Rosenberg will not receive any of the grant money and are only collaborating on the Gates-funded project at Marquette University.

“We are cooperating with Marquette. But they prepared the proposal and they will be doing all the work and receiving the full grant.”

Here’s what the Gates Foundation said in announcing the grant winner: “The Institute for Transformation of Learning at Marquette University, USA, will partner with David Bornstein (How to Change the World) and Tina Rosenberg (Pulitzer prize-winning The Haunted Land) to build the first Wiki-style platform that packages solutions-journalism (specifically NYTimes Fixes columns) into mini-case-studies for educators around the world to embed in, and across, the curriculum.”

I missed the nuance there. Sorry about that.

Bornstein, who contacted me after this post was published, said the NY Times prohibits them from accepting grant money (for work done at NYTimes) and they are unpaid collaborators with Marquette, allowing them to repurpose their columns and to help them think through the process.

The Grand Challenges Exploration program was created by the Gates Foundation mostly to fund ‘wacky’ (aka high risk) scientific projects and that’s mostly still what it has supported among its 800 projects funded to date.

Gates Foundation

One example pictured at right: Agenor Mafra-Neto and his colleagues are building inexpensive laser bug sensors that accurately count and identify flying insect pests from a distance. Because it’s always good to know exactly how many and which types of bugs there are.

Anyway, you can read more about the latest round of wacky scientific winners at the philanthropy’s website.

I’m going to focus on Bornstein, as an example of how the Grand Challenges initiative has expanded its scope to include funding communications efforts that show “Aid is Working.” Continue reading