Seattle International Foundation


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

Seattle takes it personally – women and girls | 

Editor’s Note: I have neither the time nor the inclination to engage in the journalistic pretense of objectivity today, which is why I am calling this post an analysis. It’s not really going to be very analytical, but that’s the word journalists use when they actually say what they think.

Yvonne Mutoni Musiime, Rwanda Girls Initiative
Yvonne Mutoni Musiime, Rwanda Girls Initiative


Here at Humanosphere, the world’s leading news resource for global health and the fight against poverty (okay, that’s not true), we frequently pretend to be objective.

Journalistic objectivity is, of course, more an ideal than a practice any individual can achieve in reality. But we do try to be fair and accurate and not engage in too much personal opinion. We strive to give people the whole picture, as we see it.

I don’t have the time and inclination for all that objectivity head-faking today.

I don’t have the time because of two powerful gatherings that took place in Seattle this week, one by Global Washington and the other by the Seattle International Foundation (or SIF, which I need to disclose is one of Humanosphere’s leading financial benefactors). Both of these yearly confabs truly exemplify what’s so special about the local humanitarian scene. And by happening on the same week every year (WTF?) they also annually consume what little free time I have for that week.

I also don’t have the inclination – to engage in the pretense of objectivivity, in case I lost you – because, well, we were all blubbering this morning over our breakfast. It’s hard to report objectively when you’ve got tears in your eyes.

So what was the blubber fest? It was SIF’s annual Women in the World breakfast.

Paula Clapp
Paula Clapp

“The voices of women are often ignored … or punished for speaking out,” said Paula Clapp, co-founder of SIF and one of the region’s leading philanthropists. Clapp has been devoted to empowering (and protecting) women for a long time, but she still choked up speaking this simple truth. So did many in the auditorium at the Four Seasons Hotel. But they were mostly women. I was a guy and damn if I was going to start crying. 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

Women’s issues dominate at the UW’s Global Social Enterprise Competition | 

Team Ruby Cup

Every year, the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business holds its Global Social Enterprise Competition aimed at inspiring young entrepreneurs to find business solutions for the problems of poor countries.

Last year’s winners were focused on finding a better toilet, an MIT business venture called Sanergy that has since taken off in a big way — mostly in the slums of Kenya.

This year, women’s issues dominated.

Continue reading

Former Microsoftie offers “Talking Book” solution to global illiteracy | 

Literacy Bridge

Talking Book

It can be difficult to make lasting gains in the ongoing effort to fight disease, improve health, boost a poor farming community’s output or sustain most humanitarian efforts if none or few in the community can read.

“Fighting disease or knowing how to improve agricultural productivity often involves long-term behavior change,” said Cliff Schmidt, founder of a Seattle-based organization called Literacy Bridge. Many humanitarian projects turn out to be unsustainable, Schmidt says, simply because those most in need cannot read or follow written instructions.

Words, it turns out, can be just as important as vaccines, drugs or better seeds when it comes to helping the world’s poorest. Schmidt has created a device to get these valuable words out to the world’s poorest. It’s called the Talking Book.

Literacy Bridge

Kids in Ghana trying out the Talking Book

Today is International Literacy Day, which the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) notes is perhaps hardly not cause for much celebration since nearly a billion people on the planet still remain illiterate.

Here’s a story out of Zimbabwe, published today by ONE, about the transformative power of literacy and another report on the educational needs in Haiti by Seattle-based journalist Peter Constantini based on his recent visit to the troubled island nation.

But I digress. This is mostly a story about Schmidt, a former Microsoft super-geek (I can say that. I know him and he has a degree in cognitive science and artificial intelligence from MIT) who years ago had an idea.

Schmidt started drifting away from his tech job at Microsoft many years ago, doing volunteer work for humanitarian organizations like CARE and RESULTS. In 2007, he went along with some UW students on an international studies project to Ghana. Schmidt also talked about his extracurricular poverty interests with Microsoft colleague Arthur Tao, who shared his interests.

To make a long story short (here’s a longer version I wrote for the Seattle PI in 2008), Schmidt recognized that literacy was critical to almost every kind of effort aimed at helping get people out of poverty. And he wanted to put his tech talents and brainpower to work on finding a solution.

Thus, Talking Book — a fairly inexpensive ($35, with plans to cut that in half), portable and durable talking computer that can be easily programmed to “speak” in local languages, instructing mothers on safe childbirth, telling farmers how to improve their crop productivity and so on. It can also answer some questions in an interactive fashion.

Here’s Schmidt’s pitch:

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

Turning Seattle’s hodgepodge of do-gooders into a community | 

Flickr, papalars

Seattle has become a hub, or more accurately a hodgepodge, of international do-gooders.

To begin with, there’s that internationally oriented foundation based in Seattle run by a couple of mega-billionaires.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the world’s largest philanthropy, has made the Emerald City (do we still call it that?) an epicenter for matters of global health, poverty reduction and such.

But there’s much more going on here than the Gates Foundation. And, well, nobody seems to really have a handle on everything going on. It’s a hodgepodge.

That’s where another internationally oriented foundation in Seattle comes in. Appropriately enough, it’s called the Seattle International Foundation.

“We live in this amazing community where so many people are trying to make a difference,” said Maurico Vivero, executive director at the Seattle International Foundation (aka SIF).

But most of these people, and their organizations, Vivero says, have tended to work in relative isolation on their causes. The goal of SIF, he says, is to encourage collaboration among the literally hundreds of local organizations working globally to fight poverty and improve the welfare of the world’s poorest. Continue reading