October 2009


Friday, October 30, 2009

UN Offices in Lockdown After Attack in Afghanistan

On Wednesday, Taliban gunman stormed a United Nations safe house in Kabul, killing eight people, six of whom were foreign staff.  In response, the UN has ordered most of its workers in the country to stay home and has stopped all UN flights between Afghanistan and Pakistan as it reviews its security policy.  Prior to this attack, the UN has attempted to remain a neutral actor between the various factions in Afghanistan, but the UN has supported the runoff election, which the Taliban has fundamentally opposed.

 

Kenya to Strengthen Rural Banking

The government of Kenya expressed its commitment to increase access to traditional financial services in rural part of the country.  At a three day conference with microfinance leaders, the Kenyan Finance Minister, Uhuru Kenyatta said that said that the “Central Bank and other stakeholders are working on legal framework that would enable branchless banking through use of third party agents like Saccos, micro-finance institutions, retail outlets and petro stations.”  In Kenya, only 27% of the population have access to formal finance institutions, mostly in urban areas.  This plan would allow finance institutions to reach rural communities that would otherwise be unprofitable for a bank to serve.

 

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

IRA Charitable Gift Tax Exemption to Expire

According to the North Bay Business Journal, the Pension Protection Act of 2006 is due to expire at the end of the year with little sign that Congress will vote to renew it.  The act allowed individuals over the age of 70 ½ to donate up to $100,000 per year from their IRA without calling the withdraw income, thus avoiding income tax on the donation.

World Food Program to Text Food Vouchers to Poor Refugees

The United Nation’s World Food Program (WFP) is testing a program in Syria that will distribute food vouchers to Iraqi refugees in Syria via text messaging.  One thousand random families will get donated SIM cards so they can receive text message codes, which are redeemable for food items such as rice, flour, lentils, chickpeas, and oil at certain government run shops.  The program, which the WFP says is the first of its kind, is expected to last four months, though the WFP said it may expand the program based its results.

Head of Rockefeller Foundation Among America’s Best Leaders in 2009

The U.S. News and World Report placed Judith Rodin, the president of the Rockefeller Foundation, in it’s list of America’s Best Leaders 2009.  The article notes how loss of a fourth of the $4 billion endowment did not restrict her ability to tackle global problems. UN News quoted Rodin as frankly stating that “we have a 100-year history, and we’ve seen the Great Depression and x number of recessions.”   Instead, she focused the foundations grants on results, cutting programs that were showing few results and scaling back the number of long term projects in favor of three year commitments.  But this has not stopped her from global efforts, committing a $150 million to a full blown agricultural revolution in partnership with the Gates Foundation.

As we mentioned in our news summary earlier today, Sergey

Sergey Brin

Sergey Brin

Brin of Google fame recently donated one million dollars to HIAS, the renowned Jewish Aid society which helped Brin and his family settle in the United States.

For someone of Brin’s substantial wealth a one million dollar donation might seem modest, but Sunday’s article in the New York Times (and Brin’s subsequent post on his blog, too) are significant for what they hint at about Brin’s future charitable work.

Two quotes from Brin in the article may give some sense of how he views his future as a philanthropist. First, in discussing the relative modesty of the gift to HIAS, Brin says “We’ve given away over $30 million so far, which isn’t so tiny but obviously small in terms of our, um, theoretical wealth”. This reference to his “theoretical” wealth may indicate that since much of Brin’s worth is tied up in the price of Google stock, and is not readily accessible, that he will take his time in giving away substantial sums of money. A mathematician by training, Brin may feel uncomfortable about spending money that could disappear with a drop in Google’s stock price.

A second quote in the article may reinforce the idea that Brin may be slow to move into the big leagues of philanthropy. Brin  mentions  Bill Gates as a model for his philanthropy. Referring to Gates, Brin said, “While everyone was criticizing him, he was generating a whole lot more money for his foundation, and ultimately, when he got serious about philanthropy, he did it really well . . .  I’d like to learn from that example.”  Instead of just writing checks to charities Gates and his foundation have taken a very hands on approach to philanthropy. They have given away large sums, but have closely controlled how that money will be spent. Can we expect the same kind of treatment from Brin one day?

For now, Brin  may not be giving away large amounts, but he is using his internet presence to magnifying his gifts. Brin’s personal blog, too is rarely updated, but when it is, Silicon Valley reads it. On Sunday, Brin wrote a personal update about HIAS and a number of other groups (with links included) which helped him and his family when they immigrated to America. I bet the online donation numbers for those charities had a significant boost. It is a smart move to promote giving in this way and I expect we’ll see novel ways of addressing philanthropy from Brin in the future.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Google Billionaire Gives to Hebrew Immigration Society

In honor of the 30th anniversary of his immigration to the US, Google cofounder Sergey Brin has donated $1 million to the Hebrew Immigration Aid Society (HIAS).  At age 6, the society helped his family and him move from the anti-Semitic USSR to America.  While the donation is small in proportion to his $16 billion personal wealth, Mr. Brin indicated that he may follow the path of Bill Gates, growing his foundation over time until he “got serious about philanthropy.”

Cash Given to Secure the Release of Kidnapped GOAL Workers

After initial reports that no ransom was paid for the release of two women working for GOAL in Darfur, the Sudanese Minister says that the Sudanese government paid over $70,000 in cash to locals during negotiations.  According to Abdul Bagi al-Jailani, who oversaw the negotiations, the “money was given for facilitation to chiefs and stakeholders in the area.”  He said that the Irish and Sudanese ambassadors both knew about the payments, which were not described as bribes, but rather payments for rental cars, gasoline, and other items to facilitate the negotiations.

Gates Foundation Sways Government Dollars

The Gates Foundation has been a key player in school reform, spending over $200 million annually, and is now seeking to influence how the $5 billion in available federal grants will be spend.  While the federal grants can be huge, the application comes with 44 pages of rules, a huge legal and administrative burden for cash strapped states that are laying off teachers.  The Gates Foundation is making it easier for these states to apply by offering $250,000 grants to ease the burden of the federal grant application process, but there is a catch.  In order for a state to receive money from the Foundation, they must demonstrate their commitment to a series of controversial principles often opposed by teachers unions.  The states must show a commitments toward a national testing standard, charter schools, and the ability to link student data to teachers.

Friday, October 23, 2009

French Red Cross Worker Kidnapped in Darfur

A French national, Gauthier Lefevre, was taken hostage while working for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Western Darfur.  Mr. Lefevre was returning from a trip to upgrade the water supply of a remote village when his marked ICRC vehicle was stopped by gunmen.  There were several ICRC employees in the vehicle, but Mr. Lefevre was the only one taken hostage.  The identity  and affiliation of the kidnappers is unknown at this point in time.

USAID Signs Statement on Family Planning After Abortion

On Wednesday, USAID signed a consensus statement with the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics, the International Confederation of Midwives, and the International Council of Nurses that emphasizes the importance of family planning in post abortion care.  Dr. Scott Radloff, the director of USAID’s Office of Population/Reproductive Health pushed for “universal access to post abortion and postpartum family planning” noting the “clear evidence that family planning and pregnancy spacing not only reduce unintended pregnancies and the need for abortion, but also lower morbidity and mortality rates of women, neonates, infants, and children.”

UN Report Supports Lowering Barriers to  Remittances to Africa

The UN’s International Fund for Agricultural Development released a report arguing that restrictive laws and high fees prevent Africans around the world from sending money to friends and relatives in Africa.  Africa receives $300 billion in remittances each year, more than foreign direct investment and development aid.  Western Union and Money Gram control almost 65% of the places n Africa that payments can be picked up and can charge up to 25% of the amount sent.  The report claims that deregulating the industry to allow microfinance banks and other institutions to receive remittance payments would make it easier to pick up payments and reduce the cost of sending money by increasing competition.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

USAID and Grameen Foundation in $162.5m Microfinance Collaboration

On Monday, USAID and the Grameen Foundation launched a 12 year program under the USAID’s Development Credit Authority that would provide additional capital and support to microfinance institutions.  The Grameen Foundation will pool and manage the credit risks of microfinance institutions, helping to insulate them from foreign exchange risk.  USAID and the foundation will also issue joint guarantees.  The Grameen Foundation was formed in 1997 to support microfinance banks.  Muhammad Yunus, the father of microfinance who founded the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, serves as the foundation’s director emeritus.

Gates Foundation Supports Unconventional Public Health Research

On Tuesday, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced 76 new grants of $100,000 a piece for research on innovative solutions to global health problems.  The unusual grantees include a UCLA student trying to make a gum that detects biomarkers in saliva for signs of malaria and another researcher looking to treat malaria with chocolate.  Other grantees are exploring ways to increase the effectiveness of treatments,  vaccines, and tests for tuberculosis, HIV, pneumonia, malaria, and diarrhea.

Social Innovation Fund to Publish Guidelines by End of Year

The Corporation for National Community Service intends to issue final guidelines on grants by the Social Innovation Fund.  The first grants are expected to be awarded by summer for next year.  The Social Innovation Fund was established by the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, though it has not yet received funding through Congress.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Aid Workers Freed from Kidnappers in Darfur

Two workers with the Irish aid group GOAL were freed from captivity in Darfur.  The Irish and Ugandan women were kidnapped on July 3 of this year.  According to Sudan’s state minister for humanitarian affairs, Abdel-Beqi al-Jailani, the two were released yesterday without the payment of ransom and are in good health.

DC Nonprofit Under Scrutiny

David W. Wilmot, a former DC lobbyist for Anheuser-Bush and Wal-Mart, founded Individual Development Inc. (IDI), a nonprofit that runs 11 mental health facilities across the District.  DC officials have asked judges to halt referrals to ISI’s facilities after the deaths of three residents revealed “systematic” problems with the organization.  In addition to poor quality of care, IDI is accused of several questionable governance issues.  According to the organization’s 990 tax filing, Wilmot was paid $105,000 in 2000 for five hours of work per week.  By 2003, he was working 40 hours a week and his salary jumped to $346,743 for an organization with a $12million annual budget funded solely through Medicaid.  Additionally, Wilmot and another member of the three man board took out loans from the organization.  Wilmot also hired his daughter to work for the organization and paid lobbying fees to his law firm, from which he draws a $60,000 salary.

Ronald McDonald House Sued for not Paying Overtime

Ana Siberio is suing the Ronald McDonald House Charities of South Florida over $20,000 in unpaid overtime after leaving her job with the charity in April.  Siberio claims she worked an estimated 70 hours per week and was told she was not allowed to clock in and out to record her time.  The Labor Department investigated her claim and found that the charity violated labor laws by not paying overtime.

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