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43 posts categorized "Global Health"

Capital and the Common Good: How Innovative Finance Is Tackling the World's Most Urgent Problems

November 23, 2016

Over the past decade, the financial industry has been the subject of harsh criticism — and not without cause. Disillusioned by the abuse of esoteric financial instruments and repeated examples of corporate malfeasance, large numbers of Americans have grown tired of Wall Street and what they see as the financialization of the economy. Finance, however, is only a tool, and as with any tool, it can be used for good or ill.

Cover_capital_and_the_common_goodGeorgia Levenson Keohane, executive director of the Pershing Square Foundation, professor of social enterprise at Columbia Business School, and author of Social Entrepreneurship for the 21st Century: Innovation Across the Nonprofit, Private, and Public Sectors, makes the case in her new book, Capital and the Common Good: How Innovative Finance Is Tackling the World's Most Urgent Problems, that traditional financial tools can be used to innovate solutions to some of the world's greatest social and environmental challenges and urges readers to regard finance not as an instrument of exploitation but rather as a force for good.

Central to her argument is the distinction between financial innovation — the creation of new, increasingly complex instruments of financial engineering — and innovative finance — the use of existing tools to overcome market failure and meet the needs of the poor and underserved. Divided into five thematic chapters, the book explores how innovative finance can be used to fund solutions to environmental, healthcare, financial inclusion, and disaster relief challenges around the world, as well as problems in the United States.

Revisiting Adam Smith's theory of the "invisible hand" in the context of public need, Keohane shows how financial techniques previously used in the pursuit of private interest can be adopted across sectors to benefit the common good and provide economic opportunities for those at the bottom of the wealth pyramid. "When markets fail to produce a set of broad-based and sustainable public goods," she writes, "we need a more visible hand: concerted efforts by governments, multilateral agencies, philanthropies, and, increasingly, socially minded investors to meet needs and solve problems." It is a perspective rooted in the power of agency, the core of which she describes as "aligning incentives in ways that encourage people — individuals and government leaders — to make decisions that both are in their own self-interest and benefit the society." The logical extension of this argument is that many negative externalities (e.g., CO2 emissions) can be internalized by the market with the judicious application of the right tools — for example, cap and trade — while certain failures of the market can be redressed by the deployment of hybrid incentive models such as pay-for-success bonds.

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Weekend Link Roundup (November 19-20, 2016)

November 20, 2016

Tgiving-2Our weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Climate Change

William McDonough, an author/architect and inventor of the concept of "cradle-to-cradle," wants to change the way we talk about carbon. FastCoExist's Adele Peters explains.

Communications/Marketing

Consultant (and former Chronicle of Philanthropy reporter) Peter Panapento shares some tips designed to help you write an op-ed that actually gets published.

Corporate Social Responsibility

Looking for a job that offers more than a check? Amy Elisa Jackson and her colleagues at Glassdoor have compiled a list of eleven companies that give back — and are hiring.

Current Affairs

If the 2016 presidential election told us anything, it's that the divide between rural and urban America is widening. To learn more about what that might mean for the country, The Atlantic's Sommer Mathis spoke with Kathy Cramer, whose new book The Politics of Resentment "traces the rise of conservative Gov. Scott Walker and the political evolution of Wisconsin." (The Badger State went for Trump in this election, the first time a Republican candidate has won there since 1984.)

"The scandal [of this election]," argues Travis LaCouter in a piece for Philanthropy Daily, "lay in the fact that that outcome came as such an utter surprise to half the country, and as such a desperate necessity to the other half." Looking ahead to 2020, 2024, and beyond, this is something foundations can have a direct impact on. "Programs that [bring] together partisan Democrats and Republicans to teach them the basics of dialogue," writes LaCouter, "would help bridge the empathy gap currently wrecking our politics. It sounds childish, perhaps, but also necessary given the tone and quality of this electoral season."

It's been a tough couple of weeks for a lot of folks in the nonprofit sector. As Vu Le writes in his latest blog post, "It will take us a while to understand what happened and what we need to do." In the meantime, Le, in his latest post, shares seven "agreements" designed to help folks navigate through the difficult weeks and months ahead.

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Weekend Link Roundup (October 1-2, 2016)

October 02, 2016

Ears-up2Our weekly round up of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Corporate Social Responsibility

Every year, B Lab, a nonprofit organization that serves a global movement of people using business as a force for good, puts together a list of "the best companies for the world." Business Insider's Ariel Schwartz has the details.

First Amendment

In an article on the Knight Foundation site, Sam Gill, the foundation's vice president for learning and impact, shares key takeaways from a survey of university students in which they were asked to weigh in on First Amendment issues and freedoms. Very interesting.

Global Health

In a guest post on the Humanopshere blog, Sean McKee, a policy translation specialist at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) in Seattle, reports that mother and child death rates are improving dramatically in most parts of the world.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, have pledged to commit $3 billion to cure, manage, and end disease by the end of the century. How should they spend the money? Devex's Catherine Cheney shares some thoughts.

Higher Education

The Steve Fund has launched a free online resource center that aims to connect college students of color with mental health information and support. Claudia Lamberty reports for the Campus News.

Although they're often overlooked, community colleges are a key driver of rural economic development and opportunity. Science Foundation Arizona's Caroline VanIngen-Dunn reports.

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Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (June 2016)

July 03, 2016

Happy Fourth of July weekend! Hope you're spending it with family and friends. Before we head back out with more shrimp for the barbie, we thought we'd revisit some of the great content we shared here on PhilanTopic in June. Enjoy!

What did you read/watch/listen to in June that got your juices flowing? Feel free to share with our readers in the comments section below. Or drop us a line at mfn@foundationcenter.org.

Africa’s Hunger Challenge

May 20, 2016

African_smallholder_farmerAfrica is the most undernourished region in the world. Even in the best of years, the continent is unable to feed itself. Despite decades of massive development aid aimed at making African countries food self-sufficient, more Africans go hungry today than did thirty years ago. And while the main culprit is a fast-growing population that has outstripped the continent's ability to produce more food, a number of other factors also contribute to growing hunger there.

The current population of Africa is 1.2 billion, twice what it was in 1985 — and it is projected to double again by 2050, surpassing the populations of both China and India by 2023. At the current rate of growth, Africans will comprise half the world's population by 2035.

Higher population densities increase pressure on the land, reducing farm sizes, soil fertility, and the quality of pastures. Today, one in four Africans, or nearly three hundred million people, are hungry, their lives impaired by poor diets. A fast-growing population combined with stagnant food production only means more hungry people in the future unable to enjoy healthy and productive lives.

Another contributing factor to hunger on the continent is rapid urbanization. While most Africans still live in rural areas and depend on subsistence agriculture, urbanization on the continent is occurring at an unprecedented rate — indeed, half of Africa's population will be living in towns or cities by 2030. Unfortunately, these new urban dwellers will only exacerbate the rapid expansion of impoverished slums on the continent.

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[Review] The Reproach of Hunger: Food, Justice, and Money in the Twenty-First Century

May 10, 2016

To critique a critic: that is the task before me. In The Reproach of Hunger: Food, Justice, and Money in the Twenty-First Century, David Rieff offers an erudite and well-researched analysis of the problem of world hunger and the challenges associated with international development. While occasionally dense, his book both exposes the contradictions of the philanthrocapitalist dogma currently in vogue and challenges readers to reexamine the causes of growing development inequality among countries.

Bookcover-the-reproach-of-hungerIn outlook, Rieff, whose previous books include Slaughterhouse: Bosnia and the Failure of the West (1997), A Bed for the Night: Humanitarianism in Crisis (2003), and At the Point of a Gun: Democratic Dreams and Armed Intervention (2006), is unapologetically pessimistic. "Hunger and poverty are inseparable," he writes, "and despite the many real successes in poverty reduction in many parts of the Global South, it is highly unlikely that these gains will be sustainable if rises in the price of staple food significantly outstrip the rise in incomes of the poor as a result of sound development policies." Due to the 2007-08 global economic crisis, recent extreme weather events, commodities speculation, and the diversion of corn to ethanol production, he notes, there is a "new normal" for global food production characterized by high prices and surging demand. And "[i]f significant changes to the global food system are not made, a crisis of absolute global food supply could occur sometime between 2030 and 2050…when the world's population will have risen…to nine or perhaps even ten billion."

Central to Rieff's critique is what he sees as philanthrocapitalism's unquestioning adherence to the secular faith of progress first promoted by eighteenth-century Enlightenment thinkers, subsequently nurtured by Gilded Age capitalists, exalted by Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, and promoted today by their neoliberal acolytes. The intellectual embodiment of this hope, says Rieff, can be found in the thought and work of Bill and Melinda Gates, the development economics of Columbia University professor Jeffrey Sachs, and political scientist Francis Fukuyama's triumphalist "end of history" thesis that capitalism and democracy were inevitable following the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

While Rieff seems to delight in putting a few dents in Sachs's worldview, his real aim here is to carve out space for a thoughtful critique of the historical, economic, and social forces underpinning international development as it is presently understood and practiced. To that end, he frequently challenges the "impatient optimism" advocated by the Gateses as well as their foundation's technocratic approach to the problems of global poverty and hunger. Similarly, he has little patience for those who insist that the line between the public and private sectors has been "blurred" — a trope, he says, that disingenuously ignores the ideological underpinnings of the neoliberal system, resulting in impoverished dialogue and the dismissal of intellectual alternatives.

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[Review] Hoping to Help: The Promises and Pitfalls of Global Health Volunteering

May 06, 2016

Global health volunteering — medical missions, health brigades, "flying" surgeons — is a huge and growing enterprise. An estimated two hundred thousand Americans engage in such activities each year, and their time is valued at more than $750 million — not including the hundreds of millions of dollars in direct costs such as air travel, administration, and supplies.

Book_hoping_to_help_for_PhilanTopicDespite this enormous investment of resources, very little is known about the actual benefits of short-term volunteer service trips, of which the vast majority last less than two weeks. Volunteer trips are seen as opportunities to "make a difference" or to "give back," and most people who engage in such activities intuitively believe they accomplish some measure of good. Yet whether these efforts actually benefit the host communities, how those benefits are measured, and what other objectives are involved are rarely discussed or considered.

As they have grown in popularity, such activities — often grouped under the heading of "voluntourism" — have become a target of criticism. In a scathing critique in the Guardian a few years back, Somalian blogger Ossob Mohamud wrote: "Voluntourism almost always involves a group of idealistic and privileged travelers who have vastly different socio-economic statuses vis-à-vis those they serve. They often enter these communities with little or no understanding of the locals' history, culture, and way of life. All that is understood is the poverty and the presumed neediness of the community, and for the purposes of volunteering that seems to be enough."

Judith N. Lasker engages this debate with her latest book, Hoping to Help: The Promises and Pitfalls of Global Health Volunteering. A professor of sociology at Lehigh University, Lasker examines the landscape of short-term volunteer trips; the benefits and drawbacks of such activity from the perspective of the sponsoring organizations, the volunteers, and the host communities; and what can be done to make such activity more effective, particularly for the latter. The research on which the book is based includes a national survey of a hundred and seventy-seven U.S.-based sponsor organizations, more than a hundred interviews, and participant observation by the author on two short-term trips.

To assess effectiveness, one has to identify program goals, and in the case of voluntourism that ends up being more complicated than simply saying "improving the health of host communities." Indeed, sponsoring organizations — which include churches, universities, hospitals, and NGOs, as well as large corporations and other profit-making companies — often state that providing health services and building public health capacity in underresourced communities is one of their primary goals. However, organizations oftentimes have other, competing interests, including their ability to recruit talented professionals and their own financial sustainability. "[E]nhancing the organization's reputation" and "promoting volunteers' personal growth," writes Lasker, "are often considered just as important [as any benefits created for the host community], raising questions about whether a focus on them might reduce the effectiveness of a group in promoting health."

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A Cure for HIV: Cracking the Code

March 30, 2016

Crack-the-codeIt is rare in the field of biomedical research that a complex scientific challenge can be reduced to a quartet of deceptively simple sounding steps. After thirty years of incremental progress and steady accumulation of knowledge — and close to half a billion dollars expended by amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research alone — we've reached such a juncture in our quest to find a cure for one of the most deadly viruses of our time — HIV.

The principal barrier to a cure is the reservoirs of persistent virus that remain in a person even after they have reached a so-called "undetectable" level of HIV as a result of antiretroviral therapy (ART). The four key questions that need to be answered all relate to these reservoirs: Where exactly in the body and in which types of cells are they located? How do they become established and how do they maintain themselves? How much virus do they contain? And, finally, how can we safely get rid of them?

HIV cure research has largely evolved from a process of discovery to a technological challenge. We need to develop the tools and agents to answer these key questions. Once we have answers, we can begin to cure some of the people some of the time, then most of the people most of the time. Ultimately, we hope, we'll have a safe and effective cure that can be made available to all who need it.

At the outset of World War II, the United States and its allies found themselves in a race against time and a Nazi war machine that was making alarming progress toward the development of an atomic bomb. And so the Manhattan Project was born. President Roosevelt marshaled the best scientific minds in the nation and provided them with the resources necessary to mount a massive collaborative effort and be first to the finish line.

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Weekend Link Roundup (March 26-27, 2016)

March 27, 2016

CherryblossomOur weekly round up of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Climate Change

Forty-one percent of Americans — a record number — believe global warming poses "a serious threat to them or their way of life." Aamna Mohdin reports for Quartz.

Another sign of the times: The Rockefeller Family Fund, a family philanthropy created by Martha, John, Laurance, Nelson, and David Rockefeller in 1967 with money "borne of the fortune of John D. Rockefeller," America's original oil baron, has announced its intent to divest from fossil fuels, a process that "will be completed as quickly as possible." You can read the complete statement here

And the New York Times' coverage of new findings warning of the potentially devastating consequences of unchecked global warming, in a much more compressed time frame than previously thought, should get everyone's attention.

Conservation

What is the most effective way to protect wild lands? Traditional place-based conservation? Or through efforts to reshape markets and reduce demand for the development of those lands? Nonprofit Chronicles blogger Marc Gunther explores that question with Aileen Lee, chief program officer for environmental conservation at the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, one of the largest private funders of environmental conservation efforts in the world.

Corporate Social Responsibility

"What we are seeing," write Brigit Helms and Oscar Farfán on the Huffington Post Impact blog, "is not just a passing trend, but the beginning of a new form of business — a business that looks beyond profits to generate social value, the business of the future. Tectonic forces are accelerating this movement. At the global level, the most important one involves a cultural shift driven mainly by millennials. The new generation sees the main role of business as that of 'improving society', and not just generating profits...."

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[Review] Getting Beyond Better: How Social Entrepreneurship Works

February 12, 2016

Changing the world is a lot like writing a novel: many people say they want to, but only a few actually accomplish their goal, and fewer still succeed in creating something that gets noticed.

Cover_getting beyond betterIn Getting Beyond Better: How Social Entrepreneurship Works, business strategist Roger L. Martin and Sally R. Osberg, president and CEO of the Skoll Foundation, provide an overview of the burgeoning field of social entrepreneurship and share the stories of several social entrepreneurs who have changed — and are changing — the world for the better. And, like the entrepreneurs they highlight — nearly all of whom have been recognized by the Skoll Foundation for their efforts — Martin and Osberg mostly succeed in their objectives, providing a definitional framework for the field, explaining the joys and challenges of the work, and finding compelling examples of people who have overcome those challenges.

Martin and Osberg define social entrepreneurship as direct action aimed at transforming, rather than incrementally improving, an existing system; in the process, a new equilibrium is created. Moreover, social entrepreneurs work in "ways that do not fit neatly into the traditional modes of government and business." Whereas businesses are constrained by a need to earn profits, and government-led change efforts are designed to provide services to citizens rather than cultivate new customers, social entrepreneurs are able to "[negotiate] these constraints. The creative combination of elements from both poles...is what enables [them] to build models designed for a particular context."

Through their work at the Skoll Foundation and the Skoll World Forum, Osberg and Martin have observed that transformative change involves four key stages: first, the social entrepreneur must understand the system she is trying to change; then, she must envision a future in which that system has been changed, build a model for achieving the change, and, finally, scale a solution.

It is not enough, for example, to be repulsed by a tradition such as foot binding or female genital cutting that has been standard practice in certain societies for centuries. Rather, the social entrepreneur "sets out to make sense of the problematic equilibrium itself: how did it come to be and why does it persist?" To do that, Martin and Osberg write, the social entrepreneur must "navigate three powerful tensions" with respect to the world they wish to change: abhorrence and appreciation; expertise and apprenticeship; and experimentation and commitment.

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[Review] No Such Thing as a Free Gift: The Gates Foundation and the Price of Philanthropy

December 09, 2015

In No Such Thing as a Free Gift: The Gates Foundation and the Price of Philanthropy, Linsey McGoey, senior lecturer in sociology at the University of Essex, excoriates what she sees as the historical illiteracy of many of today's philanthropists. Armed with good intentions, wealth, and (as they would have you believe) inerrant business acumen, the new breed of "philanthrocapitalist" applies terms like impact, theory of change, and social entrepreneurship to their philanthropic activities and are intently concerned with generating "shared value." In reality, however, these "TED heads" (as McGoey calls them) are simply following in the footsteps of their philanthropic predecessors.

Book_no-such_thing_as_a_free_gift_for_PhilanTopicIndeed, the main difference between the new breed of philanthropist and their robber-baron forerunners is rhetoric, argues McGoey. Like their modern progeny, Carnegie, Rockefeller, and Ford each earned their fortunes through anti-competitive practices, aggressive lobbying for favorable legal treatment, and risky financial engineering; each used his philanthropic benevolence as public cover for the ethically dubious (and often illegal) means used to amass his wealth; and each claimed his business acumen made him a better custodian of the public good than government or traditional charity. Or, as Carnegie famously put it: "[T]he millionaire will be a trustee of the poor, intrusted [sic] for a season with a great part of the increased wealth of the community, but administering it for the community far better than it could or would have done for itself."

McGoey will have none of it. The billionaire-knows-best style of philanthropy is as paternalistic as it is ineffective, she argues, and the simple truth of that observation is as lost on today's philanthropists as it was on Carnegie and Rockefeller. The typical philanthrocapitalist insists, for example, that philanthropy has, until now, been ineffectual — a claim made without any acknowledgment of the difficulty inherent in measuring social impact, or that the actual influence of any one foundation’s grantmaking on a social problem is nearly impossible to isolate. One case is particularly instructive for McGoey: former President Bill Clinton has said in the past that microfinance is responsible for lifting more than a hundred million people out of poverty. But while it's true that more than a hundred million people have received a microcredit loan, she writes, most studies indicate that even for "successful" microfinance programs, insufficient evidence exists to demonstrate a link between their activities and poverty alleviation. Moreover, the few studies that were able to demonstrate a statistically significant link showed only very modest increases in the income of loan recipients, while several studies have found that the high interest rates attached to such loans — and favored by microfinance investors — often exacerbate rather than alleviate poverty among loan recipients. Investors, on the other hand, have seen consistently positive returns on their investments; little surprise, then, that microfinance advocates are adamant in their opposition to interest-rate caps and other regulations that would stifle the “success” of microlending.

McGoey herself further argues that today's TED heads are different from their more modest progenitors in the way they shamelessly leverage their charitable donations to advance private economic interests. Whether it's a wealthy mining magnate using a generous donation to the Clinton Global Initiative to earn himself an introduction to the foreign minister of a resource-rich developing nation, or the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation supporting agricultural initiatives in Africa and South America to increase the economic influence of U.S. agribusinesses, she details how modern philanthrocapitalists consistently blur the line between charity and business. While there may be nothing legally wrong with using charitable largess to reap financial rewards, for McGoey such practices raise important ethical questions about the use of philanthropy to advance a corporation's (or nation's) economic interests.

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Weekend Link Roundup (August 15-16, 2015)

August 16, 2015

Julian-bond-1940-2015Our weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content from and about the social sector, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Data

In the first Q&A for their new Community Insights series, the folks at Markets for Good speak with Andrew Means, co-founder of the Impact Lab and founder of Data Analysts for Social Good.

Giving

Good post by Beth Kanter on six fundraising platforms that have disrupted charitable giving forever.

In a review of Will MacAskill's Doing Good Better: How Effective Altruism Can Help You Make a Difference, Nonprofit Chronicles blogger Marc Gunther says that if "Effective Altruism catches on more widely – and that's a big if – it will disrupt traditional philanthropy, change the way individuals donate to charity and force nonprofits to get much better at measuring impact...."

Global Health

Think the world is getting worse? Max Roser and the folks at OurWorldinData.org have a dozen or so charts and tables that suggest otherwise.

The continent of Africa recently celebrated a year without a single recorded case of polio. On Slate, the Gates Foundation's Jay Wenger explains why that is cause for optimism but not complacency.

Governance

In an op-ed in the Chronicle of Philanthropy, Sonya Campion, a trustee of the Seattle-based Campion Foundation, argues that advocacy is a basic responsibility of all nonprofit boards.

Nonprofits

On the Social Velocity blog, the Packard Foundation's Kathy Reich, who usually doesn't agree with those who urge nonprofits to act more like for-profits, says there is one area where nonprofits lag their for-profit peers: talent assessment, development, and management.

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Weekend Link Roundup (July 25-26, 2015)

July 26, 2015

Dog_days_summerOur weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Criminal Justice

The people who credit mass incarceration for reducing crime in the United States have it all wrong, writes Allison Schrager in Quartz.

Democracy

In advance of National Voter Registration Day on September 22, Independent Sector, the National Council of Nonprofits, Nonprofit VOTE, and United Way Worldwide have launched Nonprofit Votes Count, a national campaign aimed at encouraging every eligible nonprofit staff member and volunteer to register and vote.

Disabilities

Sunday is the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the ADA National Network and its ten regional centers  have out together a nice tool kit to mark the occasion.

Education

The folks at Vox have posted a new explainer on the Common Core.

Global Health

On the NowStand4 site, Grant Trahant interviews Andrea Tamburini, CEO of Action Against Hunger, about his organization's efforts to treat malnutrition and end hunger around the globe.

With the goal of helping PEPFAR (President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) in its ongoing efforts to increase data transparency and general participation in the COP process, amfAR, the Foundation for AIDS Research, has launched a PEPFAR Country/Regional Operational Plans (COPs/ROPs) database featuring planned funding reported in publicly released 2007-2014 country and regional operational plans

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[Review] 'Geek Heresy: Rescuing Social Change From the Cult of Technology'

June 26, 2015

Don't be fooled by the title of Kentaro Toyama's Geek Heresy: Rescuing Social Change From the Cult of Technology: this is not an iconoclastic anti-technology manifesto. Nor is it a paean to an idealized pre-digital age when social change was driven by "people in the street." Instead, as back-cover blurbs from both Bill Gates and William Easterly, the NYU economics professor whose book The Tyranny of Experts: Economists, Dictators, and the Forgotten Rights of the Poor excoriated the kind of "technocratic" global health interventions favored by the likes of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Geek Heresy presents a nuanced argument for a human-centric approach to development work that leverages, rather than relies on, technology to create change.

Cover_geek_heresyA "recovering technoholic," Toyama, co-founder of Microsoft Research India and now the W.K. Kellogg Associate Professor of Community Information at the University of Michigan, once believed fervently in the power of technology to solve a range of "social afflictions." Like many of his peers in the tech industry, he embraced the idea that digital technology and cleverly designed devices could improve failing schools, eliminate health disparities, and lift communities out of poverty. But his work in India and elsewhere soon disabused him of that notion, convincing him, instead, that technology's role in society, not to mention its many grave consequences, was widely misunderstood. He couldn't ignore the fact, for instance, that Microsoft Research India's pilot projects, though successful in well-funded, closely monitored demonstration schools, faltered when scaled to underfunded government schools — in part due to the lack of adequately trained teachers, engaged administrators, and tech support and infrastructure. In those situations, technology not only didn't improve things; it exacerbated existing problems and disadvantages.

This "Law of Amplification" is the crux of Toyama's argument. "[T]echnology"s primary effect," he writes, "is to amplify human forces...[and] magnify existing social forces" — another way of saying "the degree to which technology makes an impact depends on existing human capacities." While it isn't a novel idea, as the author himself admits, Toyama sees it as a useful framework for a discussion of how NGOs, development experts, and industry leaders can leverage technology more effectively to address poverty, educational disparities, and other development challenges.

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Restoring Eyesight: Leveraging Tech to Empower People

June 24, 2015

Wasty_steinberg_maguire_phillips_200.2Jadi Begum Bi lives in a small mud house near Sargodha, Pakistan. She may never meet Shakil Khan, a member of a displaced community near Syedpur, Bangladesh, or Raju Sharma, a laborer in Patna, India. They all have one thing in common, though: they had been blind for years, until their eyesight was restored and their lives transformed as part of RS Foundation's ocular procedures program.

A Canadian nonprofit organization, the RS Foundation has facilitated more than fourteen thousand procedures for men, women, and children over the past six years by funding local and international partners such as OBAT Helpers USA, Sightsavers in the UK, and the Seva Canada Society. Other organizations engaged in this work in a significant way include 20/20/20 (U.S.), the Fred Hollows Foundation (Australia), the Aravind Eye Care System (India), LRBT (Pakistan) and Unite for Sight, whose eye clinics have benefited 1.9 million patients in Ghana, Honduras, and India.

According to the World Health Organization, 60 percent of the estimated half a million children who go blind every year in developing countries will die in childhood. WHO further notes that restoring sight is the single most cost-effective health intervention in reducing global poverty. For the cost of dinner at an inexpensive restaurant, a poor, visually impaired individual can have their sight restored, regain the ability to work and provide for their family, and recover their lost dignity. Indeed, studies have found that eye surgery interventions in developing Asian and African countries "significantly increase personal consumption expenditure (PCE) among operated cases" and raise "productivity among vulnerable groups, in particular females, [the] elderly and those with the [least] economic opportunity."

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