January 2011

Photo Credit:  Washington Post.

(Washington Post) Rajiv Shah, the new administrator of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is looking toward making major changes in operations.  “This agency is no longer satisfied with writing big checks to big contractors and calling it development,” he boldly asserted in a speech last week.  Dr. Shah wants to emphasize local construction as opposed to shipping standardized housing from the United States; using work done in Haiti as an example.  Instead of sending over prefab housing, Mr. Shah said that contractors who develop contruction with Haitians use rubble from the earthquake–so it’s sustainable–and also build houses that can better weather earthquakes.  Though the process is slower at this point, it is, Dr. Shah believes, a better long-term system.  With looming budget cuts–the new Chairman of the House of Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) affirmed plans to implement foreign aid budget cuts a month ago–might put some of Dr. Shah’s reforms on hold.


(The Guardian)  A Canadian NGO, Engineers Without Borders, has done what many would fear most: publish its failures.  EWB has recently launched Admittingfailure.com and already has pledges from other NGOs who plan to likewise publish their mistakes.  The goal of the site is to encourage NGOs to learn from one another and to inform the public–the main source of funding–where its money is going.

(Seattle Times)  Ken Jennings, a record-holding champion on the game show “Jeopardy!”, is competing again, this time for charity.  He will be up against Jeopardy champion Brad Rutter and “Watson,” an IBM computer.  Both Mr. Jennings and Mr. Rutter have pledged half their winnings to a charity, and IBM will donate 100% of its winnings to charity.  Mr. Jennings chose to donate his charity money to VillageReach, a Seattle-based social enterprise that distributes medical care in Africa, because he sees “the great effort VillageReach is making to improve the lives of those in the developing world who are in critical need of health care.”  Mr. Jennings will play his two opponents on February 14, 15, and 16.

(Financial Times)  Nearly 20 years ago, London School of Economics student Park Won Soon was inspired by the numerous Oxfam charity stores dotting his commute to class.  When he returned to South Korea, he started Beautiful Store, a charity chain similar to Oxfam that currently employs 300 paid staff and 5,000 volunteers.  Mr. Park’s work has now inspired Oxfam to develop programs for MBA students–particularly international ones–that teach ethical trade to future business leaders.  For the first time, Oxfam is collaborating directly with business schools in hopes of solving global issues, such as poverty, in the long run.  Oxfam’s trading director David McCullough said that after conversations with Mr. Park, Oxfam decided ethical trading workshops could have a deep effect on global greater good.  “We decided that influencing business students’ thought processes was a good place to start. And when they return home, we’re hoping for some kind of multiplier effect,” he said. “It’s a very long-term strategy but it could have a profound impact on a new generation of leaders in the economic powerhouses of the next 20 to 30 years. Oxfam works with major international supermarkets and retailers to improve their supply chains and build factories that are not only more productive but have a higher degree of ethical standards and give workers a living wage. So we have lots of practical examples we can tell students about.”

 (BBC)  It has been a  year since the devastating earthquake in Haiti, but conditions are still dire for Haitians despite vast aid efforts.  Approximately $11 billion in aid money has been promised to Haiti, but due to fears about government corruption, a significant portion of that money has been witheld.  Former US president Bill Clinton, who is co-chair to the Haiti Reconstruction Commission, is asking for patience, but with cholera outbreaks, brutal rapings, and homelessness as everyday trials, Haitians are worried about the future.