Governments should take a more radical approach to helping the tens of millions of people uprooted by conflicts and disasters, including granting new forms of citizenship, the Red Cross and Red Crescent says.
Issuing temporary work visas, allowing more cross-border mobility, and helping migrants integrate quickly into local communities are other measures that could help ease the plight of those forced to flee their homes.
Over 72 million people, more than 1 in every 100 of the world’s citizens, are displaced, according to the World Disasters Report 2012, the flagship publication of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).
The IFRC says growing numbers of people are being uprooted by violence, political upheaval, disasters, climate change, and development projects, but governments and citizens are becoming increasingly resistant to helping them.
“There is no shortage of innovative approaches that could help to alleviate the trauma of extended exile. However, the difficulty lies not in the new ideas, but in escaping the old ones,” the report adds.
In particular, it suggests the international community consider new ways of viewing citizenship, such as developing regional citizenships or freedom-of-movement accords.
The report points to the example of refugees from Sierra Leone and Liberia who were reissued with national passports as civil war ended, signalling a type of “political” repatriation. But they were able to stay in the host communities where they had settled thanks to agreements providing West African citizens with regional employment and residency rights.
The IFRC says this type of arrangement could be very helpful for second- and third-generation refugees who have never seen their “homeland” – the land their parents or grandparents fled.
The report also points out that migration can help recovery after conflict or disaster by boosting remittances, and urges governments to ease restrictions on employment for those who have fled crises.
It highlights the United States' decision in January 2012 to allow Haitians to apply for temporary work visas as a way of encouraging remittance flows for post-earthquake reconstruction. Brazil has similarly decided to grant visas to many Haitians.
Although governments are resistant to mass naturalization of refugees in protracted displacement crises, the IFRC points out that some local integration is bound to happen over time – through marriage, education, and employment.
The report argues that states should accept a certain level of integration and consider granting formal status to some displaced groups. For example, it could give permanent residency to refugees who own businesses, hold a school diploma, or can fill a labor gap.
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The IFRC admits that such an approach is controversial because it could exacerbate inequalities among displaced communities by favoring those who are educated and more employable. But pragmatists would argue this is better than no solution at all, it adds.
Finally, the report calls for the international community to pay more attention to ways of preventing protracted displacement in the first place, possibly through pre-emptive “micro-level displacement.”
Evidence from Iraq and Somalia suggests that early small movements to safety – across streets or neighborhoods – may avoid longer, more traumatic migration further down the line and can increase the chance of people returning home when conditions allow.
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More than half of American teenagers and young adults volunteered last year, and the best way to enlist this group turns out to be peer pressure: Three quarters of people ages 13 to 22 whose friends volunteer regularly also do so, which is nearly twice the number of those who pursue voluntary activities based on their concern about particular social issues.
The study, based on data from 4,363 young people, found that the most common form of support by volunteers was assistance with fundraising. Thirty-eight percent of those in the survey said they helped with solicitations, prompting the study’s authors to conclude: “Young people are a secret weapon. A donation pitch from a passionate teen is way more influential than a cold call or that newsletter you were thinking about sending.”
The study also found a gender divide in volunteer activities. Boys were more likely to undertake physical activities such as environmental cleanup or working with younger children in sports, while girls were more likely to help the homeless and other needy people or to work with arts groups.
Among other findings from the survey:
• Students in private high schools were 25 percent more likely to volunteer than those in public schools.
• Seventy percent of young people from wealthy families volunteered, compared with 44 percent of those from low-income households.
• Young people who reported sending out frequent text messages were 13 percent more likely to have volunteered last year than those who owned or shared a mobile telephone but did not text regularly, and they were 38 percent more likely to volunteer than those without mobile phones.
• Despite the heavy use of technology by young people, few of those surveyed went online to find volunteer opportunities. Young people were 66 percent more likely to seek volunteer activities by talking to people than by turning to social media or Web sites.
The researchers say the responses to the survey pointed out many ways that nonprofits can do a better job of getting young people to volunteer. Among their suggestions:
Offer ways to socialize. A top priority for many young people in choosing volunteer activities is having a chance to interact with friends, especially those of the opposite sex. “Think of volunteering like a high-school party,” the researchers write. “Volunteering, like everything else, is about blending in, making friends, and having a good time.”
Make volunteer jobs accessible. Proximity to home ranks second of the reasons why young people choose the volunteer activities they do. The researchers advise charities to provide volunteer activities close to home, but not in the home.
Offer one-time or brief activities. Many young people are pressed for time, so offer them tasks that can be completed quickly. “Teens often decide to go last minute, avoid showing up early and almost never stay til the end,” the researchers write. “Being first or last isn’t cool.”
Provide volunteer jobs in familiar settings. In recruiting young people, keep in mind the extracurricular activities they already pursue. Those on sports teams, for example, are more likely to want to help younger kids in recreational programs, while those who play musical instruments are probably more interested in working with arts or other cultural groups.
Focus on providing direct help to people. Hunger and homelessness are issues that many young people care about, the survey found. They tend to be more interested in helping people or animals in need than in volunteering for causes that do not have such direct or personal benefits, the survey found. In practice, that means they’re likely to regard an activity like sending messages to troops overseas as more important than installing energy-efficient light bulbs.
Minimize the focus on young volunteers. At a time of life when many young people are self-conscious, they often prefer to remain anonymous or help from a distance when volunteering, the researchers write. “In the mobile age, they’re more accustomed to anonymity.”
Offer volunteer jobs with benefits. For high-school students, the No. 1 concern about the future is getting into college and paying for it, the survey found. That worry was a bigger concern than getting a good job, having enough money, the environment, crime rates, personal health, or dying. Volunteer activities that can help give young people an edge in college admissions or provide similar incentives will be highly attractive to them, the researchers write.
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For the past 16 years, Ester Evelyn Odhiambo has dedicated herself to improving life on one small island. It’s no small task.
Rusinga Island, in the northeast corner of Lake Victoria in Kenya, is about 16 km (10 miles) long and 5 km (3 miles) wide. About 30,000 people call it home. But the island over the years has become an increasingly inhospitable environment for them.
“If you plant something, it just dries out,” says Ms. Odhiabmo, who runs an organization to help people widowed or orphaned by AIDS. “You try to irrigate, and the water is too little because the sun comes and dries everything.”
The changes have come because of poor management of resources – including forests and fishing grounds – and because of increasing climate impacts.
But now residents are experimenting with renewable energy innovations, environmentally friendly farming, tree planting, and other efforts aimed at improving the island’s environment, building resilience, creating livelihoods, and overcoming shortages of food and water.
Fishing used to be the major source of livelihood for people on Rusinga. But over time, the fish in the waters surrounding the island disappeared as a result of overfishing, changing water temperature, and siltation from tree cutting and land clearing for agriculture.
“You can just see around. We don’t have any trees on the land,” said Evans Odula, the director of Badilisha, a local NGO whose name in Kiswahili means “change.”
According to Odula, the island’s trees were felled mainly to provide fuel in homes and for smoking fish. But there were no efforts to plant replacements.
The loss of trees worsened the island’s already dry climate, Odula said.
“This place is drought-prone,” he said. “We have very short rains, and the normal weather patterns have changed ... which has led to food shortages and poverty.”
The island receives only four months of rain a year, Odula said.
To deal with the worsening problems, Odula now trains farmers in permaculture (permanent agriculture), a concept that originated in Australia.
Odula describes it as “a way of farming where people are able to provide food throughout the year while protecting the environment.”
“We are trying to see people do farming that is eco-friendly and [with] no use of chemicals,” he said. “[We teach] eco-friendly activities that promote good soil, plants, and organisms, and biological ways of pest control.”
On the compound where Badilisha trains farmers there are fodder trees, crops, animal sheds, and water-harvesting tanks. The shade of the trees is cooling, and Odula points out the benefits of the lucerne tree.
“It provides shade [as well as] fodder for the animals, and at the same time firewood,” he said.
Shem Orwa Anditi, a member of one of Badilisha’s self-help groups for farmers, now practices permaculture.
“We are growing cabbages, kale, and tomatoes,” the 63-year-old said. “We don’t use any chemical fertilizer, just compound manure. We don’t burn anything in the farm. We use [plant waste] for mulching, which keeps water in the soil.”
Anditi, a retired civil servant, now is able to grow enough vegetables to sell, as well as being able to feed his family.
“The climate now has changed,” Anditi said. “Where we are standing now was [once] too dry. The project has made us understand that planting trees can make somewhere very cool.”
Farmers are encouraged to use water-harvesting tanks to capture water during the rainy seasons, which can then be used to get them through dry periods. Efforts also have begun to pump water from the lake for irrigation.
In order to keep their new abundance of produce fresh, some farmers have begun using a type of refrigerator that uses locally available materials and requires no electricity. It is lined with charcoal, into which water seeps through a hosepipe fed by a bucket. The wet charcoal absorbs heat and keeps the items inside the fridge cool.
Each fridge costs about 5,000 Kenyan shillings ($59), which makes it affordable to most farmers, according to Odula.
Odhimabo says a shortage of water to irrigate crops is the major cause of poverty on the island. Water tanks remain unaffordable for some, and homes with thatched roofs cannot harvest rainwater effectively.
But unclean drinking water is also a problem, leading to illness and expensive medical bills. KISIBOM, Odihambo’s NGO (the name means “come and learn” in Kiswahili), is promoting solar water disinfection to help provide safe supplies.
Waterborne organisms that cause diarrhea and other diseases can be killed simply by exposing them at the right temperature to ultraviolet rays in sunlight, Odihambo said. Plastic containers are filled with water and left in the sun. To speed the warming process and retain the heat, the bottles are painted black on one side and placed on a black-painted iron sheet.
“After five to eight hours, there will be no micro-organisms in the water and it will be ready and safe for drinking,” explained Odhiambo.
The same results can be achieved by leaving 20-liter (5 gallon) jerry cans in the sun for one week, she said.
Renewable energy – and energy conservation – is being used wherever possible. Odhiambo’s compound is designed to reduce costs and environmental impact. An energy-saving stove is used to prepare meals for the orphans who live at the school there, the staff who look after them, and the groups of widows who make handicrafts for a living.
A solar system provides light in the kitchen, offices, and classrooms. The trees around the compound provide shade, which is welcome when workshops spill outside from the training hall.
• Pius Sawa is a freelance science journalist based in Nairobi, Kenya.
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Beep beep! For some students, hopping on the school bus is hopping into the classroom. Four communities are using solar-powered mobile classrooms to overcome inaccessibility to the power grid.
Last week, we looked at a bus in Chitradurga, India, that brought modern computer technology to students in energy-poor rural schools through solar power. SELCO, a private energy company, engineered the bus with 400 watts of solar modules, 10 laptops, fans, and lights.
Circumventing the area's erratic power supply with its solar panels, this bus provides much-needed modern computer education and exposure to the advantages of solar energy. Motoring through rural villages in Chitradurga since January 2012, the bus has reached “60 schools and 2,081 children,” the New Indian Express reported in early September.
We found three more pretty exciting examples of solar-powered mobile schools that bring computer education to some of the world’s poorest:
Bangladeshi floating schools
Where there’s more water than land, boats replace buses, and with rising sea levels, low-income Bangladeshi students have difficulty getting to school altogether.
Pushed to inaccessible riverside settlements that lack basic infrastructure, students often can’t get to school due to monsoon flooding. Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha, a nonprofit organization started by Mohammed Rezwan, rides the rising tides with his solar-powered floating schools.
Trained as an architect and personally experienced with soggy school disruptions in Bangladesh, Rezwan rode a brainwave that led him to floating schools. Combining the best of traditional boat design and modern sustainable practices, the organization's 54 boats have been operating since 2002 and have served over 90,000 families.
The boats have been outfitted with waterproof roofs, solar panels, computers, high-speed Internet, and solar lamps, which allow students and their families to study or work at night and save money on kerosene lamps, which are traditionally used but smoky and expensive. According to IRIN, Rezwan gives the lamps as incentives for top students. This doubles as advertising—the sale of these lamps helps fund and sustain Rezwan’s NGO.
The floating schools were so popular, Rezwan added library and health clinic boats as well. As seen in this video, it's not just the school-aged who benefit from this armada of enlightenment.
Women and girls, who are often denied traditional education opportunities, can find out about sustainable farming techniques, health and sanitation tips that they can share with their community. With a little creative thinking, Rezwan has turned water—that once divided—into a channel for knowledge and communication.
Samsung solar-powered internet schools
In Africa, Samsung implements part of its corporate social responsibility initiative in the form of mobile solar-powered internet schools, which come in the guise of shipping containers.
While the containers are not as mobile as the SELCO bus or Bangladeshi boats, these energy-independent classrooms still overcome the energy barriers that keep students from being trained in modern computer technology. These 40-foot-long shipping containers can be transported via truck to various rural communities, and with the durable, rubber-based solar panels mounted on the roof, they can power 21 computers for up to nine hours a day.
As reported by Engineering News, Samsung launched a pilot project in Boksburg, South Africa, a year ago and the company now says that it provides a “technology-rich learning and teaching environment to K-12 classrooms across five countries in Africa—South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, and Sudan" and aims to scale into more countries in the coming years.
Samsung has a keen interest in educating Africa’s youths and ensuring a technologically savvy workforce in the future. In fact, Samsung has a “Built for Africa” product range and has signed South Africa’s 39M Pledge, which is a “government-endorsed initiative that aims to encourage a national culture of energy saving for a sustainable future."
Moreover, in an article in the Engineering News RecordSamsung Electronics Africa president and CEO K.K. Park said:
"With the goal to grow our business on the continent, we also know that we have to sustain our level of innovation. This can only be achieved if we invest in education to facilitate African thought leadership and to ensure we have access to a large workforce of skilled engineers in the future.
"The solar-powered internet school is a great example of this strategy at play," he concluded.
Maendeleo Foundation mobile solar computer classroom project
Starting on a smaller platform, but with an equally big vision, two SUV’s bring laptops powered by solar panels to students in Uganda.
In a country where only 9 percent of the population has access to a power supply and only 3 percent can afford it, modern computer education seems like a pipe dream. With an SUV retrofitted with solar panels and five laptops, the Maendeleo Foundation sought to redress this problem. With the help of a grant from Intel in 2009, the foundation now operates two mobile solar computer classrooms, training 15 people at a time and 200 per day.
It also opened an advanced training center in early 2012, where students who show potential and interest can receive further training and education. Through a succession of grants and recognition, the Maendeleo Foundation furthers its mission of “nurturing progress in east Africa through technology training, job creation … and the power of the sun.”
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These four initiatives—SELCO's bus, Rezwan's boats, Samsung's shipping containers, and Maendeleo's SUVs—all consist of simple, solar-powered solutions to a complex and insidious energy poverty problem. Many of these solutions are still in their nascent prototype phase, so it’s difficult to judge whether the intended outcome of trained, job-ready workers has been fulfilled. The sun shines on us all, but not all of us can get our fingers on the technology that will most likely drive our future. And from an article from Next Billion, this is indeed the crux of the matter:
"On one hand, Western universities and philanthropic organizations are encouraging inventors to create technologies for development by offering grants, hosting competitions, and showcasing the solutions in the media. On the other hand, very few people in low-income communities around the world are benefiting from these inventions, let alone know that they exist."
These innovative models can’t do much good until they’ve got a sustainable funding model like Rezwan's floating schools and solar lamp combo, or scaled up with the support of government and other local players. Then we'll start to see the sun shine its way into every classroom.
The country’s biggest foundation underwent a makeover this year—and its benefactors, Bill and Melinda Gates, took a little persuading that all the changes were for the better, says the fund’s chief executive.
In an interview, Jeff Raikes said the reorganization of the staff involved in grant making overseas, which employees dubbed a “global redesign,” will ensure greater collaboration among its employees and projects.
Staff members who make grants to groups that focus on advocacy and shaping public policies will now report to a single leader, as will employees in Africa, China, and India. The foundation’s global-health and global-development grant programs will work more closely together, he said.
Mr. Raikes, who has led the foundation since 2008, said the importance of this kind of “integration” registered during a trip two years ago to Ethiopia.
Standing in a clinic in the country’s highlands, he realized that health workers were focused not only on delivering babies and vaccinating children but on helping people gain access to clean water, improve sanitation, and grow nutritious food.
As part of the reorganization, some health grants—family health, vaccine delivery, and polio—will fall under the purview of Christopher Elias, who leads Gates’s global-development program, rather than with the global-health division.
It took the grant maker’s founders a little time to warm up to that idea, said Mr. Raikes.
“Bill and Melinda really viewed these as elements of global health,” he said. But Mr. Raikes said he explained that the changes could be a “catalyst” for making the foundation’s work more effective.
The Gates chief also said he’s listening to the foundation’s critics, particularly those who dislike its strategies designed to improve U.S. schools.
He said it’s “a little premature” to say how the critics’ perspectives might change his thinking. But, he added, the foundation must do a better job of clearing up misperceptions about its work.
“Some of the anti-reform movement has the perception that what we believe in is a complete focus on standardized-test-based accountability, and that couldn’t be further from the truth,” he said. “We need to dial up our message on that.”
In its efforts to improve U.S. schools, the foundation is focused on strengthening the skills and performance of teachers, he said.
“But that will be done by teachers, not to teachers,” he said. “Too often the education-reform movement positions things in a way that makes it seem like this is about doing things to teachers.”
While Mr. Raikes stressed the importance of encouraging honest feedback, he said he doesn’t think many people are afraid to criticize the foundation.
“We have a lot of critics,” he said. “I don’t know too many voices that are squelched.”
Some critics of Gates’s work overseas have argued that the foundation focuses too much on scientific and technological fixes—new contraceptives, toilets, vaccines—at the expense of other solutions.
Mr. Raikes disagreed, saying the foundation is also trying to spur innovations in the delivery of health care.
But he said the foundation’s “core competencies” lie in science and technology and that “we understand that a lot of our contributions will be through technological and scientific advances.”
While the Gates foundation’s assets fell last year—from $37.4-billion to $34.6-billion—Mr. Raikes said he expects the fund will give away $3.4-billion, compared with $3.2-billion in 2011. (The assets fell because of investment declines.)
During the conversation and in Gates’s new annual report, Mr. Raikes described the foundation’s priorities for the coming year.
Eradicating polio and expanding access to family planning top the list globally, he said. In November he plans to visit Nigeria, one of three nations where polio remains prevalent, to encourage local leaders to vaccinate children for the disease.
Another area of focus: supporting the spread of information. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation gave nearly $18.4 million in 2011 for news-media and communications work, according to its annual report. Mr. Raikes, who this month began a new blog for the foundation, said he was pleased with the results of those grants but did not anticipate the foundation spending a larger share of its money on journalism.
The Gates fund chief, who spent 27 years at Microsoft before he took the philanthropy job, also discussed how his family foundation influences his leadership at Gates.
The Raikes Foundation, which gave away about $5.5 million in 2010, aims to build confidence and develop positive attitudes among young people ages 10 to 14.
Because of that work, Mr. Raikes says he is more attuned to ensuring that the Gates foundation’s efforts to assess teachers consider not only their effectiveness in boosting student academic achievement but also in developing students' ability to succeed beyond the classroom as well.
“There’s a nice synergy there,” he said.
Inside one of several aviaries a parliament of owls perches on a branch, watching and waiting until they are fit for release.
The Barred owls are recuperating here at Wildlife in Crisis (WIC), a nonprofit organization that helps heal more than 5,000 wounded, ill, and orphaned wild animals a year. While it specializes in songbirds and birds of prey, WIC also nurtures animals such as fox and skunks, fisher cats and bobcats. Eventually, nearly every animal under WIC’s care will be released.
“They are very wild when we release them. If they aren’t we are not doing our job,” says Dara Reid, WIC’s founder and director. To ensure success each animal has no more than two human caretakers at a time.
Ms. Reid, who has a background in veterinary science and wildlife biology, started WIC in 1988. She had seen how suburban sprawl affected native animal populations.
The increased pace of development helps explain why so many birds of prey are recovering at this center deep within the woods of Weston, located about 45 miles northeast of New York City. In Connecticut roads often follow the tree line. So when a hawk swoops down for a kill it risks injury by car or truck.
“All the animals are brought to us by people who care,” Reid says. “We are the front line of defense for animals.”
The story of WIC also tells the story of Connecticut’s wildlife resurgence, says Dara’s husband, Peter Reid. The now-banned pesticide DDT had killed thousands of predatory birds.
“Thirty years ago you never saw a red-tailed hawk. Now the population is exploding, they are the dominant species in Connecticut,” he says, walking past an enormous outdoor cage holding recuperating red-tail hawks. Birds are released once they can feed, perch, and fly unassisted.
The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and the US Fish and Wildlife Service license WIC. It's the only organization of its kind in the state. Volunteers from around the United States and abroad tend to the animals, housed in wooden buildings on the property.
Inside the animal clinic a hawk with an injured wing perches on the cage of a blind blue jay. On one counter three bats in separate cages hang, wings curled over their tiny bodies. Woody a mallard duck who has imprinted on humans, quacks noisily. Woody and the hawk are WIC’s odd birds: They no longer possess the necessary skills to survive in the wild.
Actor and director James Naughton became involved with WIC several years ago after finding an injured fawn curled under a fern in his yard. The high level of care and dedication of its volunteer staff impressed Mr. Naughton.
“It’s been a mom and pop operation for so long. It’s been Dara and Peter and the interns who work all day and all night for nothing,” Naughton says. “Fortunately, there is an expanding group of people who recognize the worth of what they’re doing. There are a lot of people out there who get very moved about what happens to animals.”
Still, many nature centers are exiting the business of care and conservation because “it’s just too costly and labor intensive,” Mr. Reid says.
Many of the animals, particularly the orphaned babies, require feedings every 20 minutes to 30 minutes. Donations and fundraisers such as the one held Oct. 21 at the Greenwich Audubon Center are vital to WIC’s health.
Through its education efforts WIC busts myths. For example, raccoons seen during the day aren’t necessarily rabid. Mother raccoons are usually searching for extra food for their babies. Moreover, less than 1 percent of bats have rabies. And mother birds won’t reject their young if they are touched by a human hand.
WIC fields about 15,000 calls a year, often dispensing advice – such as don’t give milk to baby birds – on the phone. However, sometimes an animal needs intensive care.
“I was shocked by the terrible condition some of the animals are in when they come in,” says Anna Clark, who interned at WIC.
Now working at the Rainforest Alliance in New York City, Ms. Clark recounted the time a badly injured snake came in. It had gotten caught in a mousetrap. After three weeks of intensive care, the snake was sent slithering on its way.
“It’s always bittersweet to release the animals. You really fall in love with these creatures,” Clark says. “Dara puts an unending amount of love and care into any animal that comes in, regardless of whether it’s an endangered owl or a common sparrow.”
Peace building and conflict resolution conjure up images of persuading rival leaders to sit down at a table to talk.
They don't often bring to mind producing a TV soap opera.
But in 17 countries around the world, soap operas are one of the principle ways the nonprofit Search for Common Ground is breaking down barriers between religious, ethnic, and economic groups and building a basis for ending or averting violence.
Each of the soap operas concerns a soccer team, simply called called "The Team," and is adapted to fit the situation in each country. In Kenya, the members of the team come from different tribes; in Morocco, they're both urban and rural, rich and poor. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the players on an all-girls team are all having problems related to sexual violence.
"The messages are interjected into the plots," says John Marks, president and founder of Search for Common Ground. In much the way the US television program "All in the Family" dealt with the thorny social issues of the 1970s, these stories make for compelling viewing while making a point about choosing nonviolence, he says.
Now marking its 30th year, Washington D.C.-based Search for Common Ground has become the biggest conflict-resolution and peace-building organization in the world, with offices in 30 countries and a staff of about 600. It also works with about a thousand partner groups around the world.
"We have a very diverse toolbox [of approaches to problems], which includes having people sit around the table," Mr. Marks says. "But it also includes [making and broadcasting] a music video, participatory theater, TV soaps." For example, in the DRC, he says, "We're retraining about 25 percent of the Congolese army in respecting the rights of women."
His organization's funding comes mainly from government sources, including the United States but mostly in Europe. "USAID and the [US] State Department both support us, as does the European Union, the British government, the Dutch government, the Danes, the Swedes, the Norwegians. We try to have a diversity of funding, which gives us a good degree of independence."
While the group can't safely operate in situations of open warfare, such as in Syria today, it does play a role in some pretty volatile countries, including Pakistan, Tunisia, and Yemen, as well as in Jerusalem, "places of danger with some violence," he says.
Marks founded Search for Common Ground in 1982 after a career in the foreign service and as an author. He had been a vocal critic of the Vietnam War.
"I got to the point in my life where I saw that what I was doing to a large extent was being defined by what I was against," Marks says, "and I decided I wanted to build a new system rather than tear down the old system."
At first Common Ground concentrated on reducing tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union. "That there might be common ground between America and the Soviets was not a very popular idea at the time of the Evil Empire," he recalls.
Today, with conflicts or the potential of conflicts around the world, Common Ground is busier than ever. "We're going to be growing 25 percent this year," Marks says. "I wish it were the opposite. I'd like to be unemployed."
On Nov. 8 the group's annual Common Ground Award will honor five peacemakers. Past recipients have included President Jimmy Carter, South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and boxing legend Muhammad Ali.
The five honorees:
• Ingoma Nshya (“New Era”) is Rwanda’s only female Hutu and Tutsi drumming troupe and is the subject of a new documentary film "Sweet Dreams." ("Drumming was a man's thing in Rwanda," Marks says. "It's the national music form but it wasn't something women did.") The group provides a place where ethnic hatred can be replaced by a culture of hope, faith, love, respect, and tolerance.
• Charlayne Hunter-Gault, the TV, radio, and print journalist, helped integrated the University of Georgia as one of its first two African-American students. She has written about her experiences in a new book “To The Mountaintop: My Journey Through the Civil Rights Movement.”
• Peace Child International, which also marks its 30th year this year, encourages youths to take action for peace.
• An interfaith award to three leaders from different faiths: Lord George Carey of Clifton, former archbishop of Canterbury; Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, founder of the American Society for Muslim Advancement; and Rabbi David Rosen, international director of inter-religious affairs, American Jewish Committee.
In addition, a posthumous award will be given to Christopher Stevens, the US ambassador to Libya who died in an assault on the US embassy there in September.
"His sister is coming to collect it," Marks says. "He was a friend of mine. I've known him for 15 years. We were in Libya at his house in July, my wife and I.... So we have a very close connection to him.... We felt he was exactly the kind of person we wanted to honor."
In most of the world’s slums, sanitation is a daily challenge. In the absence of sewage systems, people living in slums in Nairobi, Kolkata, and São Paulo rely on rows of pit latrines shared by hundreds of other people, while others use “flying toilets” to dispose of waste. Disease and infection spreads easily in such environments.
But some social entrepreneurs in Nairobi, Kenya, are picking up where the government has left off and attempting to provide sanitary options to the slums. Sanergy, for example, is a company launched by a group of students at Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) Sloan School of Management. The group has designed low-profile sanitation centers that can be constructed anywhere to provide hot showers and clean toilets.
These facilities can be built quickly and easily with affordable materials. Waste from the centers is deposited into airtight containers that are collected daily. Then it’s brought to processing facilities that can convert it into biogas. The biogas generates electricity, while the leftover material is made into fertilizer.
The company won a $100,000 grant from MIT and has been building its first units in Nairobi. It charges a low pay-per-use fee and hopes to grow by franchising the operation of its units, creating an income opportunity for enterprising residents.
As the number of toilets proliferates, so too will the amount of energy the company is able to generate from its processing facilities. It hopes to eventually generate enough energy that it can sell its power to the national grid.
The company’s unique and innovative approach is notable for the way it combines the decentralization of waste collection with the centralization of waste processing. Retrofitting the slums with proper sewage drains is a near impossibility and can be an expensive and potentially politically volatile effort in areas where landownership is at best ambiguous.
The self-contained units grant access to sanitary facilities to even those far off the grid. But by centralizing the processing of waste, Sanergy’s facilities will take advantage of the economies of scale present in the waste-conversion process.
By creating products of value out of the waste, the company creates an incentive for others to set up their own facilities in partnership with Sanergy. The company hopes that there may eventually be facilities on every neighborhood block, significantly increasing the number of people with access to clean sanitation.
The energy generated through the waste production will be a clean option to power a growing economy, and the fertilizer is a nutrient-rich alternative to expensive petroleum-based fertilizers.
• Jeffrey Lamoureux is a research intern with Nourishing the Planet. To purchase your own copy of "State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet," please click HERE.
Pots of colorful flowers line the steps to Brass City’s office, which is actually no more than an iPad on a conference table. Just behind the table two large pools await the arrival of trout. Outside stand raised-bed gardens. Some are filled with Asian eggplants, others with tomatoes hanging like Christmas ornaments from the vine.
Nonprofit Brass City Harvest operates the "Connecticut Grown" farmers markets in Waterbury, providing what its executive director, Susan Pronovost, calls “real food” for hungry people. And next month Brass City Harvest will open a year-round farmers market, selling produce and goods produced by about eight Connecticut farms.
Chase Manhattan Bank once occupied the 3,000-square-foot space where the farmers market will stand. Grants from the University of Connecticut and Wholesome Wave, a nonprofit group dedicated to make fresh food more available, helped make the market possible.
The new market will be a food hub, Ms. Pronovost says. According to the US Department of Agriculture, one-third of Waterbury is a "food desert." That means that either at least 500 people, or 33 percent of the population, have a poverty rate of 20 percent or higher and live more than one mile from a supermarket or grocery store.
“People are hungry. They knock at our door and ask if we have something,” Pronovost says. “The problem of food security and poverty in Waterbury is deeper than we can imagine. I think every year it’s getting worse.”
Pronovost was born and raised in Waterbury, known as the Brass City because it was once famous for its brass works. She worked for the city for years. She has seen too many hungry people and too many abandoned lots and buildings, particularly in the past several years. The state of the city gnawed at her.
Thinking there must be a better way to feed people Pronovost started Brass City Harvest in 2007. Today it’s a seven-day-a-week operation that sponsors two farmers markets. Brass City’s staff includes a nutritionist, nurse, and social worker. It also offers vocational training to homeless men.
Still, Pronovost thought more could be done to keep the supply of fresh food and produce flowing year round.
“If people to the north can do it, we certainly can,” she says.
Brass City’s year-round market will offer fresh produce, poultry, beef, goat soap, flowers, and candles. It will also provide cooking and nutrition classes. It’s important that those who shop at the market know how to cook and prepare the food they buy, Pronovost says. One of the Connecticut farmers has a commercial kitchen and is considering making pre-cooked meals people could heat and serve.
Pronovost knows she will have to do a lot of outreach to make the market a success. Many of her clients rely on food-assistance programs.
“We hear you can’t buy real food with food stamps, that real food is macaroni and cheese or processed food," Pronovost says, citing two bits of misinformation.
"There is a tremendous amount of education needed for what real food is,” she says.
That wholesome food is grown on this block is a testament to Pronovost’s grit. Across the street from Brass City Harvest stands the fire-scarred Nova Dye and Print building. Last spring flames engulfed the building, and the fire burned underground for a week. The inferno nearly destroyed Brass City's hoop house, its garden warmed and protected by a plastic covering.
Brass City itself sits on top of a brownfield. The soil is filled with lead and other hazardous materials, Pronovost says. The City of Waterbury inherited the lot and had three choices – leave it alone, dig 30 feet down and replace the soil, or pour a concrete cap over the toxic soil. The city chose to cover the area with concrete. Brass Harvest has built its raised bed gardens over the concrete.
Waterbury is not going to return to its past as a thriving industrial city, Pronovost says, adding that she has no patience for those who say they are just waiting for businesses to return.
“You reinvent yourself," she says. "You have to do what will be sustainable in the future.”
Saudi Princess Ameerah Al-Taweel says she wants to use philanthropy to bridge cultural divides and prevent violence like the recent attacks on US embassies sparked by an anti-Islam video.
In New York last month for former President Bill Clinton’s annual philanthropy summit, the princess spoke about her ambitions for the Alwaleed Bin Talal Foundations, where she serves as secretary general. The philanthropies are financed by her husband, Prince Alwaleed, a multibillionaire and nephew of the Saudi king. They give away at least $70 million a year in 70 countries, she said.
With $2 million in initial financing, she is starting a project called Opt4Unity, which she describes as an “uncommon table” of nonprofit leaders, business executives, and philanthropists who can tackle big problems like youth unemployment in the Middle East, agricultural development in Africa, and religious and cultural divisions.
She says she hopes to introduce courses at 20 universities aimed at bridging cultural divides; start the first “Food University” designed to improve agricultural production; and encourage young people to take to social media for the promotion of tolerance, not violence.
Sitting on a couch in the busy lobby of the Plaza Hotel, Princess Ameerah, 28, cited the example of a young Saudi man studying in the United States who, after the embassy attacks, uploaded a video designed to educate Westerners about the Prophet Muhammad.
“He’s a bridge builder whether he knows it or not,” she said. “If you want to change people’s ignorance about Prophet Muhammad, then teach about it. We want to have 10,000 young people uploading videos of them and how they can bridge build.”
Princess Ameerah has become an outspoken advocate for women’s rights, a bold step given that Saudi Arabia is one of the most restrictive countries in the world for women.
Her family’s philanthropies supports entrepreneurship programs for Saudi women. After the government began to enforce a law permitting women to work in lingerie shops – over opposition from conservative clerics – the philanthropies created a course to train women in retail work.
Princess Ameerah is also backing efforts to strengthen the role of women in politics. She says she is bringing together 200 women professionals for a dinner in November to organize their voices and encourage them to speak out collectively in the media and in public.
She disputes the idea that change can only happen from the top down. “The change comes bottom up, and this is what we’ve seen in the Arab revolutions,” she says. “Saudi women have been quiet for a long, long time, and it’s about time we spoke up.”
Princess Ameerah says that Saudi Arabia is hindered by its small number of nonprofits – roughly 600, she says, compared with 3,000 in Bahrain.
She’d like to see more young Saudis choose jobs with nonprofits, she says, but they often view those positions as unattractive and poorly paid. “We need to think about how we can make working in [nonprofits] appealing,” she said.
The Arab Spring, she says, has had the short-term effect of constraining the work of nonprofits across the Middle East. But she hopes that when the political situations stabilize, nonprofits and philanthropies will be able to step up their work.
“People want to do good, and that will continue whether you have a dictator or a democratic government,” she says.