Joy Portella


Seattle’s GiveBIG seeks collaboration amid the competitive chaos of our day of giving | 

Give-BIGToday is the annual GiveBIG event in Seattle, a massive online giving spree sponsored by the Seattle Foundation aimed at raising money for good causes and for fostering a broader “collective” identity and appreciation for this region’s many charitable and humanitarian endeavors.

“GiveBIG is an opportunity to focus on the collective work we are doing to build a healthy community,” said Mary Grace Roske, spokeswoman for the Seattle Foundation. “It’s a day to come together.”

It’s also a day that drives many people nuts due to all the competing demands for attention from the 1,400 non-profit organizations hoping to get you to donate during GiveBIG – thanks to the event’s promise to ‘stretch’ donations (not quite matching, but adding to donations, up to $25,000) and its random Golden Ticket award.

Joy Portella
Joy Portella

“I recently returned from a weeklong vacation to find my email inbox clogged with more than a dozen appeals from nonprofits pleading for donations on May 15. Feeling overwhelmed, I did what many people in my position might: I deleted everything,” wrote Joy Portella, in a guest column for the Seattle Times entitled Has Seattle Foundation’s GiveBIG campaign gotten too big?

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Guest post: Welcome to Seattle President Obama. Now, about those foreign aid cuts … | 

President Barack Obama is scheduled to be in the Seattle area tomorrow, as part of a West Coast campaign fund-raising push.

Given this city’s largely liberal and Democratic bent, Obama is likely to be warmly welcomed and celebrated. But our local humanitarian and aid community may not be so welcoming and friendly — given Obama’s proposed budget cutbacks to U.S. foreign aid, disaster relief and global health.

Here’s one such perspective from Joy Portella of Mercy Corps in Seattle:


Mercy Corps

Joy Portella

This week, President Obama submitted his 2013 budget request to Congress. This request included the international affairs budget, which among other things, provides aid for impoverished families around the world.

Foreign assistance amounts to less than 1 percent of the total budget. That may shock many Americans who think we spend 5 or 10 percent – or even more – on aid.

President Obama’s request for foreign assistance is a mixed bag. Overall, the President would like to increase the aid budget by 2 percent over what he proposed last year. On one level, that looks like a strong commitment to the world’s poor, but a closer look at the numbers reveals something different.

If the President’s proposed budget is accepted, the United States’ ability to help families grappling with poverty, famine or natural disaster would be seriously undermined – at the same time that needs are growing around the globe. Continue reading

News update: Aid organizations continue to do media’s job | 

As I noted earlier, members of humanitarian organizations are often doing the media’s job overseas — of being there (when the media organization isn’t) and “reporting” on what’s happening.

Joy Portella of Mercy Corps (the subject of my earlier post) is back in Seattle after traveling in East Africa and sharing her observations for her organization’s blog — as well as doing stories for other media. Portella was in the world’s newest nation South Sudan for its first independence day celebration and after that traveled to do reports on drought-stricken east Africa.

Portella worked with many media and wrote a number or articles, including these compelling stories for CNN. Here she is on CNN being interviewed for further perspective:

The reports all feature photos credited to Mercy Corps and the latest CNN interview with Portella ends with a suggestion that people donate funds to Mercy Corps and other such organizations.

Portella also wrote this op-ed today for the Christian Science Monitor contending, correctly I think, that the famine now killing thousands in the Horn of Africa is at least as deserving of American aid as was Japan after it was hit by a devastating quake and tsunami:

The people of the Horn of Africa are suffering in numbers bigger than those that inspired the Live Aid anti-famine movement of the 1980s. Things won’t get better in the coming months leading up to the hoped-for fall rains. If we – American donors, the U.S. government, and other donor countries, together with the governments of the affected region – don’t act now, the vice will keep tightening, and families will get squeezed dry.

I think Portella’s stories and op-eds are great. But I also think it’s important to note that she has been serving as a proxy for media organizations who are not on the scene and not really doing the reporting. The fund-raising pitch at the end of the CNN video is a little disturbing, as another indication that the line between those doing aid and those reporting on it is getting blurred.

I would be interested in seeing a comparative analysis of both the humanitarian response and the media’s response to the tragedies in Japan and East Africa.

I think I’m on solid ground saying that the media devoted much more attention and resources to the tragedy in Japan than it has, so far, to the much more severe and devastating catastrophe unfolding in East Africa. What about the humanitarian response? Did we actually give more money to Japan?

Is the lack of investment by the media in telling the story of the crisis in East Africa part of the problem here? Is the increasing practice of asking members of aid organizations, people like Portella, to act as proxies for the absent media a stop-gap solution, or also a potential problem?

Joy in Africa: Are humanitarian groups doing the media’s job overseas? | 

There was a flurry of stories within the last week or so about the world’s newest nation, South Sudan, a nation with a tortured past and a future full of promise, uncertainty and plenty of lhumanitarian needs.

Mercy Corps

Mercy Corps' Joy Portella at South Sudan Independence Day

Joy Portella with Mercy Corps‘ Seattle office was there in the new South Sudanese capitol city of Juba, sent by the Northwest-based humanitarian group to witness and report on the new nation’s declaration of independence.

Portella travels a lot and reported out of the new South Sudan capitol city of Juba, including doing this article for the Seattle Times. Portella says pretty much the same thing on one of her earlier blog posts for Mercy Corps, ending with this concluding paragraph:

South Sudan will soon start the hard work of building a nation from the ground up in the face of challenges such as extreme poverty and lack of access to almost everything – roads, education, medical care, electricity – the list goes on. But today was a day to put those concerns aside to celebrate and imagine the possible. After decades of war and sacrifice, the South Sudanese have certainly earned their celebration.

Chris Sheach of World Concern, also from Seattle (okay, well Shoreline) was also in Juba reporting on this historic event for organization. One post from Sheach focused on Sudan’s educational needs and mentions some of the work World Concern is doing on this front: Continue reading