Some 30 countries taking part in a convention in Oslo, Norway, this week, are being encouraged by activists and government officials to join a treaty banning the use of cluster munitions and help halt their harmful impact on civilians, the Cluster Munition Coalition (CMC) said.
More than 100 governments are at the summit in the Norwegian capital.
A total of 111 countries have joined the Convention on Cluster Munitions, which was adopted in 2008 and entered into force in 2010, but superpowers Russia, China, and the United States are among those that have not, Laura Cheeseman, the director of the disarmament group CMC said.
The convention prohibits the use, production, stockpiling, and transfer of cluster munitions. It also requires destruction of stockpiles, clearance of the weapons, and victim assistance. Among the convention’s signatories, 75 countries are legally bound by its provisions, and ratification is under way in most of the remaining 36 countries.
"We’ve got half the world on board, but there are a number of countries that remain outside the ban,” Cheeseman told AlertNet from the conference. “There’s really no good reason for any of these countries not to come on board and to sign up to the convention.”
The weapons consist of small bomblets that open and explode across a wide area when they are launched from the ground or dropped from the air.
“These weapons harm civilians both at the time of use because of their wide area effect – but they also fail to go off on impact a lot of the time, so they lie on the ground deadly and active for years – sometimes for decades – after a conflict has ended,” Cheeseman said.
More than 17,000 cluster munition casualties were reported globally in 2011, according to the coalition, which is made up of more than 350 nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). The group estimated in a recent report that the true number of casualties might be between 20,000 and 54,000.
Civilians accounted for 94 percent of casualties. Of these, 83 percent were male and 40 percent were children, the report said.
Almost 745,000 cluster bombs containing almost 86 million bomblets have been destroyed since the convention came into force in 2010, the report said.
“What we want is for these countries to look into these reports of cluster munitions use and make sure they never use the weapon again,” she added. “We want them to work to join the convention.”
Also under discussion at the convention is how national legislation required by signatory countries that have yet to ratify the treaty could undermine its original intent.
Article 21 of the convention says that signatories may engage in joint military operations with governments who are not legally bound by the treaty.
The spotlight is on Australia and Canada, two countries setting out legislation that cites occasions when they might be able to take part to help in joint military operations where cluster munitions are being used, Cheeseman said.
The proposed Canadian legislation, which could be completed within six months, goes against the letter and the spirit of the law, Paul Hannon, the executive director of Mines Action Canada who also sits on the CMC advisory board, told AlertNet.
"Our view is that this is a great treaty, and it bans cluster munitions for all time, and that means no Canadian should ever be involved in use of cluster munitions for anyone, in any place, at any time, for any reason,” Hannon said from Oslo.
Campaigners were unsuccessful in their fight to change the Australian legislation, which was ratified in its parliament in August, but has not yet been passed into law.
“The Australian [CMC] campaign fought for two years to get the legislation changed, so the government knows there’s a huge stigma against not only the weapon, but on the possibility of the Australian government being involved in its use,” Hannon said.
“I’m hoping the Canadian government has been paying attention to that as well and is more open to making changes and amending our legislation," he added.
• Sign up to receive a weekly selection of practical and inspiring Change Agent articles by clicking here.
Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is battling to reform one of the world's most corrupt nations without support from the shadowy "godfathers" who wield power from behind the scenes.
But while Western nations and international agencies admire her drive from afar, they hold little sway in Nigeria. Ms. Okonjo-Iweala's ability to fight corrupt interests is constrained by her lack of support from wealthy figures such as ex-state governors, military officers, and ruling party hacks who use huge patronage – or sometimes violence – to drive politics back stage.
"Her only 'godfather' is the international community, and that doesn't cut it," said a senior adviser to the national assembly, who asked not to be named.
When she quit her Washington job and flew back home, Okonjo-Iweala knew her second stint as finance minister would be tough. She now admits it has been even tougher than she imagined.
"It was much harder. It has not been easy, and the struggle is still ongoing," she told Reuters in her office in Abuja, the capital, exhausted by a night negotiating with oil unions. "You make progress, then you get courage to make more ... Fighting corruption is something we need to keep working at."
Okonjo-Iweala has started to tame government expenditure and make limited reforms, but her room for maneuver is limited by her restricted access to state revenue, 80 percent of which comes from oil. She has also found herself again fixing problems she tackled during her first term that ended six years ago, only for these achievements to have been undone in the meantime.
Okonjo-Iweala, who missed out on the World Bank presidency earlier this year, may yet decide to take another high-profile international job. She is tipped as a possible next World Trade Organization head, although she has so far shown no interest.
Should she decide to leave Abuja, her biggest challenge will be ensuring any reforms she makes can't be undone.
Nigeria's dysfunction is hugely profitable for some. Its moribund power grid allows importers of generators and diesel to make immense sums; dilapidated refineries leave Africa's top oil producer dependent on imported petrol that has made billionaires of a handful of tycoons thanks to a corrupt fuel-subsidy scheme. Ports are clogged with goods held up by bribe-seeking officials.
Some of the elites which profit from these inefficiencies are blocking attempts at structural reforms, including Okonjo-Iweala's, such as curbs on state spending and the removal of the fuel subsidy, raising doubts about how much they can achieve.
"[Her] intent is absolutely the way for fiscal policy to go. The difficulty is likely to be in the implementation of those plans," says Razia Khan, head of Africa research at Standard Chartered. But she adds: "There is a sense that ... if it can't be done by Ngozi, then it is unlikely to be achieved by anyone."
Backing from President Jonathan has given Okonjo-Iweala some clout. Nevertheless, she has had to move cautiously, hoping for piecemeal rather than revolutionary change.
Analysts give as an example port reform and the Sovereign Wealth Fund (SWF), set up to manage Nigeria's oil savings, which her predecessor Olusegun Aganga designed and pushed through parliament. Okonjo-Iweala has in turn had to win over powerful state governors, who initially opposed the fund.
Okonjo-Iweala points out that the budget deficit fell from 2.95 percent of total economic output in 2011 to 2.85 percent in 2012. A further drop to 2.21 percent is projected for next year.
She is tackling the recurrent spending that makes Nigeria's government one of the world's most costly, she says. Simply running the administration – before a single road or hospital is built – is swallowing 71 percent of total spending this year.
That is down from 74 percent last year, and in 2013 it will drop to 68 percent, but it still dwarfs an equivalent figure of about 40 percent in the continent's top economy, South Africa.
Domestic borrowing is also down from 852 billion naira ($5.38 billion) in 2011 to 744 billion naira in 2012, even though GDP growth is forecast to slip to 6.5 percent this year from 7.4 percent in 2011.
"Bringing back fiscal prudence and steadying the macro-economy, that's no mean achievement," she told Reuters, wrapped in a bright green-and-pink traditional dress and head scarf.
She says port delays have been cut to one week, from three before she took office, and wants to cut them to 48 hours.
Yet some of this progress has involved returning to problems she already tackled when she was finance minister from 2003 to 2006 under former president Olusegun Obasanjo.
At that time she won acclaim for getting Nigeria's foreign debt forgiven. When she left office, recurrent expenditure was 65 percent of the budget, lower than where it is now.
Nigeria's Excess Crude Account (ECA), where the state saves oil money when prices are high, had $20 billion in 2007 shortly after she left, but raiding had cut it to $4.22 billion by the time she returned. It is now being restored to $7.35 billion.
Nigeria's patronage system, which squanders much of the revenue raised from the 2 million barrels of crude oil the country produces a day, shows no sign of weakening. An attempt to remove the wasteful fuel subsidy in January provoked strikes and protests led by unions backed by the fuel marketers, forcing the government to reinstate it partly.
Okonjo-Iweala has responded to evidence of multibillion-dollar fraud in the fuel subsidy by imposing tougher conditions on payments. Unions, backed by the marketers, are threatening to strike again and leading a campaign for her to resign.
"When you fight corruption, corruption fights you back," wrote columnist Omoade Adelani in Nigeria's Business Day daily. "Those whose means of livelihood are tied to the corrupt sources are threatened by her determination to restore accountability."
Most financial leakage occurs before revenue even gets to the treasury, at the state oil firm or oil ministry level, areas over which Okonjo-Iweala has no oversight.
Nigeria's federal system also means oil money is distributed between states and local councils before what's left over arrives at her ministry.
Other problems strangling Nigeria's prosperity, such as with the power supply and oil refineries, lie outside her remit.
"All these reforms can't just be left to the finance ministry. These are huge institutional changes that need commitment across ministries," said Bismarck Rewane, head of Lagos-based consultancy Financial Derivatives.
The biggest drain on Nigeria's budget, the fuel subsidy, is an explosive issue. Her support for an abortive attempt to remove it earlier this year damaged her credibility and she has since shelved it. "It's above my pay grade," she says.
Sovereign debt researchers like Standard Bank's Samir Gadio think efforts to tame government spending don't go far enough. Fiscal policy is "exceptionally loose. Nigeria should be running a massive fiscal surplus,", given high oil prices, said Gadio.
Neither has Okonjo-Iweala done much to reform the opaque way in which budgets are put together. Nigeria bases its budget on an oil price that is well below market levels and production assumptions that are well above actual output.
Next year's budget assumes oil at $75 a barrel, even though Bonny Light crude is trading now at about $115, and production is at 2.5 million barrels a day.
Oil income above the budget price is supposed to go into the ECA, which can then be used to finance the deficit or cushion against price shocks. The money can also be saved for the future or distributed to institutions, but there is little disclosure about how it is used, and it is often raided even when prices are high.
"Despite her efforts, there's no transparency in the assumptions on which the budget process is built," said Antony Goldman, head of Africa-focused PM Consulting. "Until that is cleared up, there's going to be little confidence that the budget is a real representation of what's earned and spent."
Perhaps her most lasting impact could be championing the sovereign wealth fund. If used properly, it could put oil funds out of the reach of even the most profligate of future rulers.
She overcame opposition from the state governors, who fear it means less money for them. After eight months of talks, they agreed to it in June. As a compromise, it starts with a modest $1 billion, but once it has enough momentum, it could achieve what has long eluded Nigeria: investment for future generations.
"She's playing the long game. The governors were blocking the SWF and without their support, it was never going to take off," said Kayode Akindele, partner at Nigeria-based consultancy 46 Parallels. "But once it's up and going, its going to be very hard for the governors to kill it."
If she can do that, she could take another international job knowing that at least one major reform can't be undone.
• Sign up to receive a weekly selection of practical and inspiring Change Agent articles by clicking here.
An international aid charity is taking an unorthodox approach to helping people in Cambodia and Vietnam improve sanitation and hygiene: It asks beneficiaries to help pay for the construction of latrines and hand-washing stations, but then gives them cash rewards when they get results. The effort will now spread, thanks to a $10.9-million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
The East Meets West Foundation, in Oakland, Calif., works with local groups to provide hygiene education, train masons to build high-quality latrines, and broker low-cost loans that families can use to install latrines and hand-washing devices. Families receive a $10 rebate to help offset construction costs after an independent group has verified that the latrine is in place.
Communities also get incentives: They receive cash awards to be put toward public-works projects, such as roads and sanitation facilities in schools, when the percentage of households that have latrines and hand-washing devices hits 30 percent, and the communities receive more money when those rates reach 95 percent.
Millions of people in Vietnam and Cambodia lack sanitation facilities, and the cost of building them ranges from $50 to $250 per household, depending on the region, says John Anner, the organization’s president.
“There’s simply no way that philanthropy is going to fill that gap or that the government is going to put up that kind of money,” says Mr. Anner.
Beneficiaries bearing part of the cost helps scarce grant dollars go further, he says, and scale is important because the benefits of improved sanitation, such as better health and cleaner water, depend on large numbers of people in the community adopting good hygiene practices.
East Meets West says it will be able to use the Gates grant to bring hygiene education and well-built latrines to 344,000 households, or more than 1.7 million people.
Mr. Anner says that the number of participants in areas where the organization has already offered the program has consistently exceeded its forecasts.
“Everybody knows that when you’re sick you can’t go to work; kids can’t go to school,” he says. “Medical costs are paid for out-of-pocket in a lot of these places, and they can be very, very high.”
The loans also help the charity identify people who will take the project seriously and keep the facilities in good repair, says Mr. Anner.
“Straight-up charity makes it very difficult to distinguish between people who really, really want what you have to offer and people who are just willing to take anything’s that free.”
• Sign up to receive a weekly selection of practical and inspiring Change Agent articles by clicking here.
International aid organizations are finding out if and how people are using their products thanks to tiny sensors developed by Portland State University’s SWEETLab.
A lack of reliable data makes it hard for aid organizations to know whether technologies actually improve the lives, health, and prosperity of people in communities around the world. But SWEETLab (Sustainable Water, Energy, and Environmental Technologies Laboratory) is looking to change that.
The lab has developed remote-sensing technology to monitor the use of development infrastructure, such as latrines, cook stoves, and water filters. The sensors send information about the frequency of use and behavior patterns back to partner organizations, such as Mercy Corps, The Gates Foundation, DelAgua, and Vestergaard Frandsen, said lab director Evan Thomas.
The goal, Thomas says, is to “have better information about what’s going on in the field, because monitoring projects is usually based on somewhat unreliable [paper] surveys.” And, according to Thomas, "the sensors help us answer two questions: Does the product work, and do people use it?"
Thomas, a professor of engineering and faculty fellow in the Institute for Sustainable Solutions at Portland State University, is also the program director for DelAgua Health and Development Programs, a partner organization using the sensors on a large program in Rwanda. He sees the sensors as a way to better evaluate the effectiveness of aid projects and, by extension, donor dollars.
The project in Rwanda "demonstrates the potential to deploy and monitor international health programs like this on a very large scale," Thomas predicts.
The $50 million Rwanda project will distribute water filters and cook stoves to 600,000 homes throughout the country’s western province over the next year to improve clean water access and reduce the demand for wood fuel for cooking, according to Thomas. SWEETLab’s sensors will be installed on about 500 of the stoves and filters to monitor their use and tell DelAgua whether the products are being embraced by local residents.
The efforts in Rwanda are also unique because they use an innovative carbon-credit financing scheme to generate revenue and fund the scaling-up of future projects. Information about the use of the technologies can now be accurately recorded and sent back to DelAgua.
SWEETLab’s sensors are being used well beyond Rwanda, too. In Indonesia, SWEETLab's first partner, Mercy Corps, had been using spot surveys to determine whether people were using new latrines and hand-washing stations, Thomas told SmartPlanet. But only with remote data collection did Mercy Corps find that fewer people were using the hand-washing stations at night, and some people were just using them before prayer time.
"When the sensors are transmitting data, we’re getting what we hoped for: frequent data on the use of water and sanitation infrastructure in our target communities," Laura Bruno, Mercy Corps’ senior program officer for Southeast Asia, told Fast Company. Mercy Corps can use this information to adjust sanitation education programs.
Other SWEETLab partnerships include a project with the Gates Foundation that installed 60 sensors on sanitation stations in India, designed to assist in a study evaluating behavior change around open defecation, according to Thomas. Another partnership with Mercy Corps will put sensors on cook stoves in Haiti.
Data collected by the sensors is compiled by partner organizations, which use the information to understand the behavior patterns of people they serve and to assess and improve the effectiveness of their projects.
Each sensor is powered by five AA batteries, and “cell phone networks send data to a web-based platform, where the results directly inform any adjustments to the technology or educational efforts on the ground,” according to Portland State.
That’s much faster and more reliable than relying on costly surveys and spot checks, which can provide valuable qualitative information, but often fail to fully identify challenges to the success of projects.
Thomas is hopeful that outcomes of current projects will allow SWEETLab to continue to expand its partnerships and monitor the effectiveness of more aid projects through remote-access data.
More accurate information about how well aid projects are working will let organizations tweak their approaches to better meet local needs.
Could the next big breakthrough in medicine or technology come from the developing world?
We Americans may think of poorer nations as hotbeds of war and disease, a place to send our charity checks. But emerging economies are actually an invaluable breeding ground for innovations that could change lives in the United States.
Examples of reverse innovation range from the prosaic – low-cost Levi’s jeans that debuted in China and hit American stores last spring – to the revolutionary: a portable, seven-pound heart monitor developed by General Electric engineers in Bangalore, India.
Chris Trimble is an adjunct professor at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business and has written an influential book on reverse innovation with his “super star” (according to The Economist) colleague Vijay Govindarajan.
In an interview with Latitude News, Trimble argued that globalization is forcing big, bureaucratic companies like GE and Proctor & Gamble to change the way they do business.
“Emerging economies,” he says, “are the globe’s high-growth hotspots, and most of the world’s growth over the next two decades will be there. It used to be that you could grow a big corporation at a good clip in just the US, Europe, and Japan. That’s not the reality anymore.”
In order to stay competitive in the global marketplace, Western companies have discovered they must tap into emerging economies, where experts predict that 90 percent of the world’s middle class will live by 2030. And multinationals can’t just “dumb down” existing products for consumers in the developing world by stripping away features and lowering the price.
“If you’re trying to serve the people that live rich in poor countries, the old model is fine,” says Trimble. “But the needs of the middle class in the developing world are rising dramatically. The challenge when you go from the U. to, say, India is that where before you had one consumer with $10 to spend, now you have 10 consumers with $1 to spend. So there’s no way you can take your rich-world company and just customize your product for the middle class.”
Other experts agree.
“You really have to start from scratch,” says Joanne Lawrence , a professor at the Hult International Business School in Boston. “It’s not business as usual. These are different places with different markets, different consumers, and different needs.”
For example, Lawrence explains, India is a very poor country with a very high rate of heart disease. But GE’s standard electrocardiogram (ECG) heart monitor wouldn’t do much good there. It weighs 65 lbs., costs thousands of dollars, and requires a good deal of electricity and training to use. In India, most people don’t live near a hospital or clinic, and the power supply can be intermittent at best.
So GE engineers in Bangalore designed the MAC 400, which is hand-held, runs on batteries, and retails for just $800. Lawrence says that the product has great potential for poorer rural and urban areas in America, as well as emergency rooms and doctors’ offices.
Chris Trimble points to another GE product, a cheap and portable ultrasound device called the Vscan that was developed in China and is now for sale in the US. “The current generation of kids is the last one that will need stethoscopes to dress up as doctors,” he says. “The next one will be carrying around these hand-held ultrasound devices.”
Reverse innovation has actually been happening for a long time, according to Mike Grandinetti, who teaches entrepreneurship at Hult. The sports drink Gatorade, for example, was born in 1965 after University of Florida scientists noticed a study showing that carbohydrate-rich drinks helped save the lives of Bangladeshi cholera patients (it’s called Gatorade after Florida’s football team, the Gators, who used the drink to re-hydrate).
But Grandinetti argues reverse, or “frugal,” innovation has a lot of room for growth as consumers and corporations look to cut costs. “Look what’s happened to the global economy,” he says. “There’s no question people are living on different budgets than they have in the past. The West has moved to a different mindset about purchasing, and there are all sorts of opportunities for innovation at the bottom of the pyramid.”
Reverse innovation is, in part, a defensive strategy. Foreign companies like Tata (cars), Mahindra (tractors), Mindray (health care) and Lenovo (technology) are all making cheap products and selling them in domestic and, increasingly, Western markets. If big multinationals don’t keep up, they’ll find their markets have been “cannibalized” by low-cost competitors from abroad.
And Trimble says Western corporations still have a long way to go:
“Reverse innovation is still an emerging phenomenon. Companies are working on it, doing some things – but not everything – right. It’s tough because these are companies like GE, like Pepsi, like Proctor & Gamble, that have grown up in a different world.
“If you look at these big multinationals,” he says, “while they may have both a technology and a sales team in India, chances are they’re not even in the same city. And chances are they report back to different people in the US.”
For Trimble, perhaps the most important take-away of reverse innovation is what it means for today’s students. “For young people to be successful later on,” he argues, “they’ll have to be just as curious about the needs and opportunities of places like Brazil and India and Japan as they are of those in the US. That’s pretty daunting.
“There are places in America that are very worldly. But for the most part, this country is pretty insular, and it’s going to be an enormous challenge for us.”
Through a for-profit reinsurance company called MiCRO (Microinsurance Catastrophe Risk Organisation), formed in March 2011 by the global humanitarian agency Mercy Corps and Haiti’s largest microfinance institution Fonkoze, female microentrepreneurs who hold policies will have their loans cancelled and receive a $125 payout to replace damaged inventory or repair homes or businesses.
From the Wall Street Journal:
"The program is an example of the growing use of so-called microinsurance to help protect some of the world's poorest people from the devastating economic effects of catastrophes. While business owners in the developed world count on insurance to help them rebuild and recover after a disaster, people in places like Haiti have historically had to start from scratch.
"Haiti, plagued by more than its share of devastating earthquakes and floods, is Exhibit A for how Mother Nature can deliver massive setbacks. Fonkoze's borrowers, which include shopkeepers, hairdressers and farmers, have suffered major losses in recent years."
“For many years, I watched women entrepreneurs struggle to climb the ladder out of poverty, only to be knocked down time and time again by catastrophic losses from hurricanes or earthquakes,” said Anne Hastings, CEO of Fonkoze. “Now for the first time, MiCRO has made it possible for those women to quickly recover their losses, rebuild their source of income, and avoid a potential poverty trap.”
MiCRO offers its clients a unique hybrid insurance product, or parametric policy: a set of weather-related triggers corresponding to wind speed, rainfall levels, and earthquake magnitudes that offer a timely payout, combined with additional coverage to the extent that the triggers do not reflect actual losses on the ground.
"These women have the pride and dignity of being the valued customer of a commercial enterprise, not beneficiaries of charity," said Neal Keny-Guyer, Mercy Corps CEO.
Fonkoze took advantage of its existing infrastructure in Haiti, including 46 branches and more than 2,000 credit centers, to implement the insurance. According to the Wall Street Journal, Fonkoze "now requires most of its roughly 60,000 borrowers to contribute 3 percent of their loan values to help defray the cost of the insurance. That covers about half the cost of the coverage, with Fonkoze and its partners, including the governments of Switzerland and the United Kingdom, contributing the rest. Then Fonkoze's insurer, called MiCRO, buys backup protection from Swiss Re AG, a massive reinsurance company that has been among the leaders in the insurance industry in efforts to develop microinsurance products."
In the company’s first year, MiCRO has provided $1.64 million in payouts that Fonkoze has used to provide funds to nearly 6,800 Haitian women.
One of the key barriers to the growth of microinsurance is the cost of on-the-ground assessments and policy administration. To address this, MiCRO's clients help determine whether fellow policyholders are entitled to additional loss-based payouts. This reduces costs and helps put the purchase of microinsurance within their reach, but further cost reductions are needed in the future for Fonkoze and MiCRO to meet ends and become profitable.
Bill LeVasseur never set out to become an ethnographer. Or a historian, anthropologist, migration specialist, or scholar of syncretism for that matter. He was an American advertising executive living in Mexico City who simply liked Mexican folk art.
But in the past two decades he has become all of those things, of sorts at least, amassing a collection of hundreds of Mexican masks from remote villages across the country that today he hangs on the walls of his museum in San Miguel de Allende. In doing so, he has singlehandedly preserved a piece of Mexican culture that few realize is still thriving today.
“Some of the best compliments I get are from Mexicans,” he says. “ 'Thank you for preserving this,' they say. 'This is part of our culture that we can't lose.' "
Masks have a crucial place in Mexican society, a pre-Hispanic custom that evolved but continued after conquest by the Spanish. Today, particularly in the thousands of tiny towns across the country, artisans still carve them for use in ceremonial dances to celebrate feast days and patron saints, most of it fusing elements of indigenous customs with Roman Catholic narrative.
Mr. LeVasseur stumbled upon masks innocently enough, as an expat on a stint abroad in Mexico City. A colleague gave him one as a present, piquing his curiosity. He started reading. He began going to art fairs to look for new renderings. Then he started traveling the switchbacks across the country.
“I felt like I was looking through a keyhole back 400 years in time,” he says of his first experiences watching dancers in costume marching down the streets of dusty Mexican towns.
Today his collection, The Other Face of Mexico, spans the spectrum: representations of saints and devils, adorned with tigers and snakes, carved from mahogany or avocado wood. His one requirement: that they have previously been used in a dance or ritual, so that they are a living piece of history, not simply a piece of art.
LeVasseur has retired from his job and moved permanently to San Miguel de Allende, where he and his wife, in addition to the museum, run a bed-and-breakfast. But he still travels extensively, adding to his collection each year.
Taking five or six journeys annually, he has helped spread maskmaking knowledge across the country. Some towns are so small that that residents communicate and share crucial news via loudspeaker. He remembers showing up at one and paying the equivalent of a dollar for a town member to advertise that a man was there, interested in seeing what masks were available for sale. Artisans, carrying their most detailed work, walked in droves towards him. While many have spent lifetimes etching wood, a skill passed down from family to family, they have little idea of the art being created in the rest of the country. LeVasseur always bring photographs to share and leave with them.
At home in San Miguel de Allende, a popular destination for American retirees in central Mexico, his musem draws visitors from across the globe. But some of his most important visitors are the school children that come in busloads weekly.
The indigenous represent about a 10th of Mexico's population – there are more than 60 indigenous languages officially spoken throughout the country – and they preserve their culture not just through language but through their celebrations and the structure of their kinship. But school curricula treats indigenous culture as history, LeVasseur says. The students learn that the Spaniards conquered Mexico in the 16th century, and are pointed to the archeological ruins of Teotihuacan in central Mexico or the Maya ruins of Chichen Itza in the Yucatan Peninsula to learn about indigenous history. But it often stops there. “This is not just history,” LeVasseur says, “it's contemporary.”
The proceeds from the museum go to a local daycare, which looks after the children of indigenous women who sell crafts on the streets to tourists during the day. Eventually LeVasseur hopes that his collection ends up in a university in the United States. In the meantime it continues to grow, as artisans stay busy and the dances thrive, exposing everyone from a five-year-old Mexican to a Finnish housewife to a slice of culture that might otherwise remain isolated in the high mountains or tropical lowlands of Mexico.
Agriculture employs more than one billion people worldwide – about 34 percent of global workers – making it the second-largest source of employment globally.
Yet agricultural workers remain one of the most marginalized, oppressed, and exploited groups in the world. According to a report by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Labor Organization (ILO), and International Union of Food, Agriculture, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco, and Allied Workers’ Associations (IUF), the global agricultural workforce is “among the most socially vulnerable; the least organized into trade unions; employed under the poorest health, safety, and environmental conditions; and is the least likely to have access to effective forms of social security and protection.”
In many countries, up to 60 percent of agricultural workers live in poverty and less than 20 percent have access to basic social security, according to the Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development (SARD) initiative. The agricultural sector also has the largest numbers of child workers—nearly 130 million children between the ages of 5 and 17.
Innovations to lift the world’s agricultural workers out of poverty can simultaneously promote sustainable agriculture and international development. Today, Nourishing the Planet offers six solutions to help lift the world’s agricultural workers out of poverty:
1) Support organized labor. Labor unions play an important role in minimizing exploitation among agricultural workers by advocating for higher wages, improved living conditions, and safer work environments. Agricultural workers are often one of the most disempowered groups within societies, and in many countries they lack access to basic health care, education, and participation in government. Unions advocate for worker rights and fight to stop the exploitation of children.
In Ghana, 70 percent of the country’s 23 million inhabitants are involved in the agricultural sector. The General Agricultural Workers Union (GAWU) is the largest union in Ghana and represents many marginalized agricultural groups. The union supports rural communities by providing support in training, learning new skills, and microcredit. GAWU is currently investing in a youth development center, and organizes training workshops for union members. The union has campaigned for better farm wages, so that families don’t have to send their children to work in the agricultural sector.
By supporting community-based organizations, such as the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), consumers in the United States can help ensure that farmworkers' rights are recognized and enforced. The CIW is a coalition of farmworkers working low-wage jobs in the state of Florida and is responsible for advocating farmworker rights via hunger strikes, boycotts, interfaith prayer vigils, rallies, and marches. The CIW is organizing a Labor Day Weekend of Action and is calling on the public to actively protest Publix in your state.
2) Include women in agricultural development. Innovative technology solutions can help disadvantaged agricultural workers ease their work burdens and increase productivity. Women make up over 40 percent of the global agricultural workforce, yet are one of the most vulnerable groups among these workers. Female agricultural laborers form an invisible workforce, as they often work on the fringes of the formal economy assisting their husbands with manual labor or producing food to feed their families as opposed to food for sale.
In India there are more than 258 million people working in the agricultural sector, and up to 70 percent of rural women are engaged in the agricultural workforce. There have been some noteworthy success stories in India around the creation of innovative technology solutions for agricultural workers. An Indian midwife, Arkhiben Vankar, became known as the pesticide lady when she developed an herbal pesticide that was efficient, low-cost, and toxin-free. This innovation provided Indian women engaged in agricultural work with an alternative to harmful chemical pesticides.
Another technological innovation was designed by Subharani Kurian, who developed a bicycle-operated duplex pump to draw up ground water. The innovation assists women based on the idea that leg muscles are more powerful than hand muscles, making a bicycle pump more effective to operate.
Lack of communication, education, and access to technology among women, particularly in developing countries, has often prevented women from receiving the same benefits and opportunities as men in the agricultural sector. For the last 50 years, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has helped to bring scientific knowledge and technology to poor agricultural workers in developing countries through initiatives like the Collaborative Research Support Programs (CRSPs). According to USAID, “by empowering women farmers with the same access to land, new technologies, and capital as men, we can increase crop yields by as much as 30 percent and feed an additional 150 million people”.
3) Support worker advocacy organizations. Research can be a useful tool to examine risks associated with the agricultural industry and how to mitigate them in the future, thus ensuring that vulnerable workers do not risk losing their livelihoods. Agriculture is one of the most dangerous industries to work in due to hazardous machinery, livestock, extreme weather conditions, dehydration, and exposure to pesticides.
In China there are an estimated 225 million agricultural workers, but farms are increasingly worked by the youngest and oldest residents of rural communities, as many middle-aged wage workers seek employment in cities. Injuries are abundant due to use of heavy machinery and result in millions of deaths and disabilities among farmworkers each year. A collaborative research project between the Colorado Injury Control Research Center, the Center for Injury Research and Policy at The Ohio State University, and the Tongji Injury Control Research Center was undertaken between Chinese and American researchers to find solutions to reduce agriculturally related injuries in China. The program has trained more than 80 researchers, published studies on agricultural injuries, and opened a center for injury prevention in China. The project aims to provide insights on how to train agricultural workers to safely handle new machinery to avoid future injuries and deaths.
Consumers can make a positive contribution toward the health care of farmworkers in the United States through nonprofit organizations such as the National Center for Farmworker Health (NCFH). The organization is dedicated to improving worker health in the United States by providing services like resources for migrants, training programs, and education and policy analysis. The public can get involved through NCFH’s Gift of Health program, which accepts donations that are invested in promoting the health of America’s farmworkers.
4) Get involved and be aware—locally and globally. Local initiatives that invest in the well-being of vulnerable communities can effectively help change the conditions of agricultural workers. Farmworkers are often described as hidden people, usually subjected to impoverished living conditions, with limited access to basic services like water and electricity.
South Africa’s wine and fruit industry alone generates $3 billion a year for the South African economy. Yet, according to a Human Rights Watch report, farmworkers benefit very little from the profits, and are often forced to live in substandard housing. Solms-Delta is an example of a South African wine estate that has established its own initiative, the Wijn de Caap Trust, to break the cycle of poverty among farmworkers on the Solms-Delta estate. The trust receives 33 percent of profits from the estate’s wine sales, which aims to improve the lives of farmworkers by providing quality housing, investing in education facilities for children, and providing medical care to families.
Consumers in the United States can also become directly involved in community farming enterprises by volunteering or working at local farmers’ markets, participating in volunteer days at nearby farms, or even apprenticing on a farm for a season. Visit https://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/internships/ to learn more about on-farm opportunities in the United States and Canada.
5) Promote universal education. Education can be used from a grass-roots level to dispel ignorance and empower local communities. Agricultural workers often migrate in search of seasonal or temporary work and can be unaware of their rights due to poor education, isolation within rural areas, and fragmented organization. Education programs can also help inform consumers on ethical considerations of food production and educate young leaders on policy formulation and advocacy.
Student Action with Farmworkers (SAF) is an innovative nonprofit organization that uses popular education to raise awareness of issues around farmworker conditions in local US communities. SAF works with farmworkers, students, and advocates alike, and has provided support to over 80,000 farmworkers to gain access to health, legal, and education facilities.
6) Vote with your dollar. Consumers can choose products produced in environmentally friendly and socially responsible ways. By purchasing products that are not linked to the exploitation of agricultural laborers, they send the message to agricultural employers that consumers do not support abusive labor conditions and that they are willing to pay an often-higher price for ethically produced goods. This helps ensure that workers are paid fairly and do not work under poor conditions.
Fair Trade USA is an international movement that allows customers to buy products from all over the world that support poverty-reduction projects, relieve exploitation, and endorse environmental sustainability. The Fair Trade standards enable agricultural workers to work in safe and inclusive environments, follow economic trade contracts with fair pricing, improve their own living conditions, and avoid child labor. There is growing demand from consumers for socially responsible food production; North America will soon implement its own Food Justice label. This label will also help lift American workers out of poverty by guaranteeing fair wages, adequate living conditions, and reasonable contracts.
Agriculture will not be viable while the vast majority of its workforce lives in poverty around the world, and innovative measures to break this cycle of poverty, along with your contributions, are crucial to fostering a healthier food system.
• Catherine Ward is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project. To purchase "State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet" please click HERE.
It’s time for New England’s longest river to come clean.
The dry summer and low water levels exposed thousands of plastic bottles, cans, and food containers along the 407-mile long Connecticut River. However, after annual "Source to Sea Cleanup" sponsored by the Connecticut River Watershed Council (CRWC), the waters will be running a little cleaner.
On Sept. 29 thousands of volunteers are expected to fan out across the 11,000-square-miles of the Connecticut River watershed.
This year the cleanup has an international flavor. TransCanada Corporation, based in Calgary, Alberta, but operating hydropower plants throughout New England, is a lead sponsor. It’s also the first year Source to Sea will be registered under the umbrella of the Ocean Conservancy's International Coastal Cleanup (ICC), considered the largest one-day volunteer effort to haul trash from streams, rivers, and oceans.
This kind of involvement is important because it “gives the cleanup context,” says Andrew Fisk, executive director of the CRWC, a nonprofit organization based in Greenfield, Mass.
Volunteers work individually or in groups. Clubs and businesses form groups too. People of all ages and abilities are encouraged to join the effort, on foot or by boat. They will clean the river itself or one of its historic tributaries, Mr. Fisk says.
If people don't want to scoop up Styrofoam themselves, they may donate supplies or sponsor a group, Fisk says.
“We have Brownie troops and volunteer firefighters. We have large groups and small groups, each of them responsible for 200 to 300 yards of river. Smaller groups cover even less ground. So registering with ICC helps people understand they are part of something bigger,” Fisk says.
TransCanada donated $10,000 to the cleanup effort because it operates several hydropower projects throughout the northeast. The Connecticut, New England’s largest and longest river, starts flowing from Fourth Connecticut Lake in New Hampshire, just 300 yards from the Canadian border. It eventually defines the border between Vermont and New Hampshire, crosses central Massachusetts, and pours into the sea on the Connecticut coast.
“We stepped up our sponsorship this year because we feel the health of the Connecticut River is very important,” says Matthew Cole, community relations specialist for TransCanada Hydro Northeast.
The watershed council wants volunteers to track the trash they find.
“We use this information to advocate for policy,” Fisk says. “If you are making product stewardship laws, whether it's bottle bills or deposits on tires, [the information] helps inform policy decisions. We can see whether we should be doing something different.”
For example, the CRWC will use the data gleaned from the cleanup to help support an expanded bottle-deposit bill in Massachusetts, Fisk says.
In the past 15 years people have pulled more than 707 tons of trash from New England’s longest river, according to CRWC. Volunteers picked up 7,000 beverage containers in 2011, down from 12,000 in 2010, says CRWC cleanup coordinator Jacqueline Talbot.
“There are similar cleanups all over the world because, unfortunately, there is trash everywhere,” Ms. Talbot says. “Inland debris pollution of rivers is a huge community problem, and we appreciate all cleanup efforts that bring attention to this issue as well as helping hands to our natural resources. Our effort, like all local efforts, is important because we are cleaning up our waters that contribute so much to our communities. “
In addition, the CRWC is asking residents in Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Connecticut to report trash sites. In 2010 a tip led cleanup crews to a massive illegal tire dump in Hadley, Mass.
Even without tips CRWC knows where to go.
“The way river hydrology works, there are places where stuff always collects,” Fisk says.
Last year tropical storm Irene toppled numerous trees throughout Vermont and Massachusetts. Water flow remains partially blocked in places along the river and its watershed, creating conditions for large deposits of debris.
Some of TransCanada’s hydro division storage reservoirs are still recovering from Irene. Last year workers filled 11 20-yard dumpsters with man-made debris, including insulation and plastic water bottles, Mr. Cole says.
Working at a business incubator in San Francisco, I see incredible social innovations springing up from nonprofits, start-ups, and small businesses everyday. But the truth is, the big guys down the road in Silicon Valley are setting a fierce pace by sharing their core technology for social good.
Here’s what they’re doing to lead the field and how your social enterprise can benefit.
For decades, corporate leaders have been dabbling in philanthropy and corporate social responsibility, with mixed results. We all know that once Corporation X earns Y amount of money, they ought to launch a foundation and start giving back. Right?
Well, luckily, we now have a strong wave of corporate intrapreneurs that understand the business case for sustainability. Instead of making money from polluting and then giving a few dollars to re-plant trees, corporate leaders are paying attention to planet, people, and profit within their business. However, finding the right recycled paper, solar-powered servers, fair trade makers, and so on, can be daunting!
Certainly companies with a well-rounded corporate social responsibility plan are to be applauded and encouraged. But all of corporate America can take a lesson from high tech leaders such as LinkedIn, eBay, Salesforce.com, and Facebook and start by maximizing their core product (and strength!) to make a positive impact.
Sharing Powerful Tools
LinkedIn is leveraging its professional networking platform to connect professionals (all 160 million of them) with nonprofits and social causes. Meg Garlinghouse, Head of Social Impact for LinkedIn, and her team are working with the companies’ developers and designers to make small platform modifications that have a big impact.
By allowing and encouraging users to list their favorite causes, nonprofits, and pro bono experience, it will be easier for nonprofit leaders to find quality support and easier for corporate hiring managers to find the best employees. Meg’s team has also developed a resource center with free tips and tricks for nonprofits and social enterprises.
- Add your volunteer experience and favorite causes
- Check out LinkedIn’s Learning Center for Nonprofits
eBay, the world’s largest online marketplace, boasts more than 100 million active users and $68.6 billion in goods sold in 2011. In addition to running a cutting-edge foundation and engaging top-notch employees committed to green economic development and social entrepreneurship, the company is also empowering a social innovation team to utilize their marketplace as a sales platform for green, socially-responsible, and cause-driven products.
eBay’s Sustainable Commerce and Green Teams united with Patagonia to launch the Common Threads Initiative to resell used gear and keep it out of landfills. The eBay Giving Works provides an easy way for sellers to donate 10-100% of product sales to a charity of their choice. Since their launch in 2003, consumers have responded and Giving Works has sent over $250 million to US nonprofits.
- Sell a product and donate to a cause on eBay using Giving Works
- Buy reused, green, and socially-responsible goods
Salesforce.com, a cloud computing company with a flagship Customer Relationship Management (CRM) product used by over 100,000 customers, has pioneered the 1/1/1 philanthropy model. The aim is to “donate 1% of salesforce.com’s resources to support organizations that are working to make our world a better place.” They work to share the company’s best resources: employee time, product, and equity.
How does this break down?
First of all, employees are offered six paid days a year to volunteer for causes they care about. Secondly, founding equity is given out in the form of grants to youth, technology, and employee-inspired projects. And lastly, the Salesforce CRM, the company’s core product, is donated and/or discounted for nonprofits and mission-driven companies.
Salesforce developed a special nonprofit software package and offers 10 free Enterprise Edition licenses to qualified charitable organizations. Sound like a freemium version? Well, yes. But can you blame them? With over 15,000 nonprofit customers, the company has a tremendous reputation and social organizations, large and small, are flocking to use their software for contact, fundraising, and relationship management. Salesforce.com offers sliding scale pricing for small businesses and a discount to for-profit B Corporations with a strong social and environmental commitment.
Facebook proved its worth in the social sector from the very beginning. The site has been used to share updates, photos, and information during crises such as Joplin, Mo.’s recent tornado. It offers a free, easy way to organize, engage, recruit, and educate fans and followers.
Some may argue Facebook got lucky with this good press and usership. But their platform is social by nature, and good things happen when we’re allowed to connect to each other. Facebook has attracted use from 89% of all nonprofits (2012 Nonprofit Social Network Report).
Libby Leffler, Facebook’s Strategic Partner Manager noted in a recent Forbes interview, “the goal for our team is simple: provide causes and nonprofit organizations with the tools that they need to best utilize our open platform to engage with supporters and inspire advocacy.”
Facebook’s recent effort to register new organ donors in partnership with Donate Life America was a remarkable win and underlines the company’s ability to make a huge social contribution. They tweaked their platform, started spreading the word on the Facebook Timeline, and will be saving lives for a long time to come.
Moving the Dial
Whether you believe these companies are making change for positive brand management, customer engagement, new market access, or because there’s an army of activists within their ranks – these corporate leaders are making a tremendous impact and redefining corporate philanthropy.
At the same time, many corporate social innovation, social responsibility, and green teams are still understaffed and under-resourced. Each year they need to make a strong business case in order to maintain, if not increase, their internal resources.
These innovators depend on public support and customer feedback, so I encourage you to share their good work as they share theirs.
(Editor's note: Although this piece was written independently, we want to disclose that Salesforce.com donates financial support as well as CRM licenses to CommonSource, the publisher of Shareable Magazine.)