One woman’s struggle to escape extreme poverty | 

DSC_0041Yala, Kenya  - The world’s leaders want to reduce extreme poverty to three percent by 2030. Mary Anyango would like to see progress now.

Getting to the overall target means halving the number of people living in extreme poverty worldwide by 2020 to nine percent, World Bank President Jim Kim said earlier this month.

“Our strategy calls for more investment in fragile states, and it also calls for working on a variety of fronts to combat climate change; and to improve health and education systems, especially for the benefit of girls and women,” said Kim at the Bank’s annual meeting.

But it is one thing to talk about lifting people above the $1.25 line; it is, of course, another thing to do it.

The Millennium Villages Project (MVP) is an initiative aimed at showing how and it started in Sauri, Kenya in 2005. By providing a series of opportunities and interventions, the MVP was designed to meet some of the Millennium Development Goals and create an environment that would tackle problems like extreme poverty. Continue reading

Jeffrey Sachs: The man who failed to end global poverty | 

News Analysis (See also Part 2 – the Prequel, a chat with Sachs about his controversial big ideas)

Jeff Sachs
Jeff Sachs
Earth Institute

Yes, that’s a ridiculous headline. Oddly enough, it’s not that different from recent headlines on otherwise serious media reports and punditry regarding the anti-poverty economist Jeffrey Sachs. To wit:

Globe and Mail How Jeffrey Sachs failed to save Africa

Pacific Standard The Not-So-Great Professor: Jeffrey Sachs’ Failure to Eradicate Poverty in Africa

Power Line How Not to Save The World

Holy Cow! I had no idea this single Columbia University academic was so powerful and that we, the world community, had entrusted him with the responsibility of eradicating global poverty. What a huge disappointment then to discover his failure. No wonder everyone is so upset. Continue reading

End poverty by cutting foreign aid | 

Effective and working governments are necessary for prosperity. However, foreign aid is getting in the way of government progress, says Princeton University’s Angus Deaton. The author of the new book The Great Escape: Health, Wealth, and the Origins of Inequality argues his case in Project Syndicate.

Unfortunately, the world’s rich countries currently are making things worse. Foreign aid – transfers from rich countries to poor countries – has much to its credit, particularly in terms of health care, with many people alive today who would otherwise be dead. But foreign aid also undermines the development of local state capacity.

This is most obvious in countries – mostly in Africa – where the government receives aid directly and aid flows are large relative to fiscal expenditure (often more than half the total). Such governments need no contract with their citizens, no parliament, and no tax-collection system. If they are accountable to anyone, it is to the donors; but even this fails in practice, because the donors, under pressure from their own citizens (who rightly want to help the poor), need to disburse money just as much as poor-country governments need to receive it, if not more so.

It comes out the same week that the UN will deliberate how to proceed after the Millennium Development Goals expire in 2015. Advocates like the ONE Campaign and Jeff Sachs are making the case for more aid, not less. The book should revive the academic debate over whether foreign aid causes more harm than good.

Is education the most effective anti-poverty investment? | 

School in Kabkabiya, North Darfur.
School in Kabkabiya, North Darfur.

Global Poverty Project CEO Hugh Evans made the case for supporting education in a recent blog post for the Global Partnership for Education (GPE). He makes the case that investments in education are “perhaps the most effective and quickest way to reduce poverty.” Others point out that the evidence is not quite as clear as Evans says.

“Here is an opportunity to really make a difference to the lives of the most disadvantaged people on the planet,” writes Evans. “By increasing how much money is directed to the GPE, the US can be sure that its foreign assistance will see greater returns for the world.”

The United States lags when it comes to funding education through the GPE, says a new OECD report. The US ranks second to last among OECD countries. Only one place ahead of Romania. Continue reading

What are our responsibilities towards Haiti? | 

Did you miss us?

The Humanosphere podcast is back, now that I’m back in Seattle.

Earlier this month, I went to Haiti to work on a documentary film about UN peacekeepers who are supposed to protect, rather than sexually exploit, the population. I took the above photo in 2011, after publishing stories about the abuses.

So this week, Tom and I talk a little bit about the film, but we move on to discuss what Haiti is like now, more than three years after a huge earthquake devastated its biggest city. The cholera epidemic continues. (Don’t miss Al Jazeera’s new documentary, where they chase UN officials, trying in vain to get answers about its liability for introducing the disease.)

More than half of all American households donated millions of dollars to aid groups after the earthquake. Do we care about the results? They’re disappointing, for reasons over which we have a lot of control.

What have been the success stories since the quake? Why has Haiti fared worse than Dominican Republic, on the other side of the island? How are the families who lost their homes doing? What about economic growth? And what can foreigners do help in a genuine way? I’ve covered Haiti for a few years and try to offer some insights.

But before all that, we go over the headlines, starting with a quick debate over the conflict in Syria. Then Tom analyzes the global implications of Washington’s pot legalization. And we’re both excited about Al Jazeera’s new bureau in Seattle, part of its brand new American cable news channel.

Tune in below. Subscribe and rate the Humanosphere podcast on iTunes. Find past podcasts here.

Little progress for some of the world’s poor, says report | 

UntitledThe UK-based Catholic charity CAFOD interviewed 1,420 people in 56 communities across Uganda, Bolivia, the Philippines and Zimbabwe. They found that factors outside of the control of people are increasing poverty. Issues including environmental degradation, violent conflict, food price changes and economic crises all impact the lives of the poor. While many factors contribute to poverty, often occurring at the same time, the report says that gender-inequality is a cross-cutting problem.

“This research reveals above all is that poverty is hugely complex and controlled by myriad forces,” says CAFOD’s lead post-MDGs policy analyst Neva Frecheville. ”The interconnectedness of the world through globalisation means the poorest and most marginalised face negative pressures from all quarters making it harder and harder to sustain a livelihood.”

Continue reading

How a prize-winning computer programmer fights poverty | 

Yaw Anokwa

If you’ve ever spent time in a hospital in the developing world, you see all kinds of problems. Sometimes conditions are decrepit, or the facility is understaffed, or it’s charging too much for healthcare.

Then there’s “the paper problem.” Data about each patient – name, age, symptoms, everything that’s critical to good treatment – gets scrawled on slips of paper. Often these slips get filed away, but they’re inaccurate or badly written. Or they get lost. The whole system is cumbersome and slow, which means worse health outcomes for patients.

In a challenging resource-poor setting, how do you solve this issue?

Yaw Anokwa figured it out. He’s one of the minds behind the Open Data Kit (ODK), a data collection platform that’s been implemented in hospitals in Rwanda and Kenya, where the it cut down processing times for AIDS patients  by months. Farmers in Uganda, street children in India, election monitors, even environmental activists in Brazil – all of them have used Open Data Kit in innovative ways to collect data using smartphones and then use the information swiftly and productively.

Anokwa himself has come a long way. He moved to the United States from Ghana at a young age, and his passion for computer programming once got him suspended from school for a week. Now he has a new software company called Nafundi whose business is built around ODK.

Tom Paulson talks to Anokwa about his personal story, why he eschews more lucrative technology work, and where Open Data Kit goes from here. ODK is an amazing technology, but the story of how Anokwa has used it – carefully, keeping it open-source, and in partnerships with local organizations around the world – is just as important. Before the interview, our Boston correspondent Tom Murphy and I discuss the headlines from this week, including food aid and corruption.

Listen to the end for Anokwa’s tantalizing comments on what the next generation of this technology looks like. (And don’t forget to subscribe to the Humanosphere podcast on iTunes.)

Volunteers cause homelessness, claims Hedge Fund Manager | 

4950640437_f1d6997864_nAndy Kessler, founder of the billion-dollar Palo Alto investment firm Velocity Capital Management, thinks that homelessness in the United States is caused by the people who volunteer at homeless shelter. The hedge fund manager took to the Wall Street Journal to condemn volunteering.

He opens with the story of a couple he meets at an airport in San Francisco. They are waiting to pick up their daughter who just traveled to volunteer in Guatemala, not to attend camp much to Kessler’s dismay. He criticizes the millions spent on volunteering projects and says the money could have been invested in a local entrepreneur.

Kessler then wags his crotchety old man finger at the younger generations who have it all.

I understand that overbearing parents encourage their children toward such do-good interludes, hoping that it will get them into Brown, but why does this generation go along with it? My take: Because they have it all. The baby-boom generation gave way to the slacker Gen-Xers, followed by Gen-Y and now we’ve moved up the alphabet to Gen-G—for Guilty.

It is not the first time Kessler has voiced his disdain for things that are new. He took a swipe at Wikipedia in an OpEd for the New York Times in 2007.
Continue reading