The Chronicle asked Michael Hoffman, chief executive of See3 Communications, a consulting company that helps nonprofits use video for advocacy and fundraising campaigns, to share lessons from the success of “Kony 2012,” the video about the African warlord Joseph Kony. His essay follows:
Invisible Children’s controversial “Kony 2012″ video has reached unprecedented heights for a social-cause video.
It has already received more than 100 million views on YouTube and Vimeo. The most amazing thing to many people is that the video is nearly 30 minutes long, which surely breaks the “rule” that online videos need to be short to be effective.
Starting From a Strong Base
It is important to understand that Invisible Children has been working for a decade building a strong, active, and passionate base of young supporters around the world. The San Diego advocacy group has one of the strongest social-media networks of any nonprofit in the world.
But Invisible Children also created a compelling video that inspired those supporters to watch it and share it. Why did it work?
Here are three reasons:
• The organization told its own story first, a story of how it developed passion for the issue, how its members came together, and why it is critical for its supporters to act. The video follows a storytelling pattern developed by Marshall Ganz, a lecturer at Harvard University and is taught by the New Organizing Institute. Mr. Ganz says this pattern uses three stories: the story of self, the story of us, and the story of now.
• It made the story simple. The issues in Northern Uganda are very complicated. But Invisible Children chose to simplify those issues by focusing the video on the story of one bad guy: Joseph Kony, head of the Lord’s Resistance Army, operating in Central Africa. The video places a strong focus on emotion, which, in turn, inspired many viewers to share it and take action.
• It made the viewer the hero. This video isn’t about Mr. Kony. It’s about the viewer and how that viewer can be the hero by taking action. In the video, Mr. Kony is portrayed as evil – as if he is a villain in a Batman movie. And if he is the evil villain, then you, the person fighting him, are the hero.
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Running a city? Yeah, there’s an app for that.
Smart growth seems to have taken an evolutionary step in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. IBM has brought their Smart Cities concept to the former Brazilian capital, a model that uses information and communication technology to improve economic efficiency, thus enabling further development.
Services are carried out via the IBM Intelligent Operations Center. Think of it as a mission control for cities, white lab coats included. They are able to leverage real-time city information, anticipate problems, and coordinate available resources.
The system was originally integrated in Rio as a way to improve the city’s emergency response system following the 2010 floods. By using a forecasting system that synthesizes data from the river basin, topography surveys, historical rainfall logs, and radar feeds, the operations center is able to anticipate heavy rains, flash floods, landslides, power outages, and traffic hazards.
But the fun doesn’t stop there. IBM kicked things up a notch by fully integrating 30 city agencies into a single operations center, constantly tracking the pulse of city operations. By breaking down inter-organizational silos, they speed response and recovery time.
Residents can simply download an app to their smart phone or track city alerts via Facebook and Twitter. Car accident or traffic jam? Simply pull up the app and it will calculate the most efficient route based on current and predicted traffic patterns. City workers, meanwhile, can monitor emergency responses to the same event.
This prompts the questions: Why has this taken so long, and where else could it work?
Perhaps IBM's expertise made the difference in Rio. The computing giant is just one player in the expanding smart systems market, but the operations center (the only one of its kind) is its unique advantage. The logic is that if the Smart City model can work in a large city like Rio, especially during Carnaval, it can be applied anywhere. IBM has reported that it is already productizing the model and is able to scale it to small and medium-sized cities.
At the behest of IBM, Rio even installed a chief operating officer to oversee the operations center, allowing it to run autonomously.
Can you run a city like a business? Should you? Some residents of Rio are asking. Many are also concerned that smart technologies serve affluent neighborhoods better than Rio’s favelas, or slums.
With a price tag of $14 million for the IBM project, perhaps we should question whether cities should first invest in addressing basic infrastructure and economic disparities before installing a new operating system.
You can check out a demo of IBM’s Operation Center here.
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In Zambia during the current planting season, a corn crop will go into the fields that begins the process of rapidly boosting vitamin A content by as much ten-fold – helping to address a nutritional deficiency that causes 250,000-500,000 children to go blind annually, most of them in Africa and Asia. In China, Kenya, and Madagascar, also this planting season, farmers will put out a crop of Artemisia annua that yields 20 to 30 percent more of the chemical compound artemisinin, the basis for what is now the world’s standard treatment for malaria.
Both improvements are happening because of fast-track breeding technology that promises to produce a 21st-century green revolution. It is already putting more food on tables – though it’s unclear whether it can add enough food to keep pace as the world’s human population booms to 9 billion people by 2050.
Fast-track breeding is also giving agronomists a remarkable tool for quickly adapting crops to climate change and the increasing challenges of drought, flooding, emerging diseases, and shifting agricultural zones. And it can help save lives: In the absence of prevention, half those victims of vitamin A deficiency now die shortly after going blind, according to the World Health Organization; and in 2010, lack of adequate treatment – meaning artemisinin – contributed to the deaths of 655,000 children from malaria.
The fast-track technology, called marker-assisted selection (MAS), or molecular breeding, takes advantage of rapid improvements in genetic sequencing, but avoids all the regulatory and political baggage of genetic engineering. Bill Freese, a science policy analyst with the Center for Food Safety, a nonprofit advocacy group, calls it “a perfectly acceptable tool. I don’t see any food safety issue. It can be a very useful technique if it’s used by breeders who are working in the public interest.”
Molecular breeding isn’t genetic engineering, a technology that has long alarmed critics on two counts. Its methods seem outlandish – taking genes from spiders and putting them in goats, or borrowing insect resistance from soil bacteria and transferring it into corn – and it has also seemed to benefit a handful of agribusiness giants armed with patents, at the expense of public interest.
By contrast, molecular breeding is merely a much faster and more efficient way of doing what nature and farmers have always done, by natural selection and artificial selection respectively: It takes existing genes that happen to be advantageous in a given situation and increases their frequency in a population.
In the past, farmers and breeders did it by walking around their fields and looking at individual plants or animals that seemed to have desirable traits, like greater productivity, or resistance to a particular disease. Then they went to work cross-breeding to see if they could tease out that trait and get it to appear reliably in subsequent generations. It could take decades, and success at breeding in one trait often meant bringing along some deleterious fellow traveler, or inadvertently breeding out some other essential trait.
Molecular breeding enables growers to get the improvements they want far more precisely, by zeroing in on the genes responsible for a given trait. If genetic engineering is a tool for “bludgeoning the genome,” as Cornell University researcher Susan McCouch puts it, what molecular breeding does instead is to “open a window” into how the genome works, enabling researchers to collaborate with it.
Sequencing the entire genome of a species is the first step, and this process, which cost millions of dollars a decade ago, is down now to the low thousands. Next, researchers sort out which genes are responsible for a given function, the bottleneck in the process so far, though McCouch says it becomes faster and cheaper with each new species that gets sequenced, because nature tends to employ the same mechanisms from one species to another. Finally, researchers map out markers – bits of genetic material that are linked to those genes, to flag whether or not the desired genes are present in a given individual.
“It’s not uncommon for a company to want to combine 10 or 20 traits in a variety,” says Harry Klee, a specialist in tomato breeding at the University of Florida in Gainesville. In the past, to get the perfect combination of traits using conventional methods, “you would have to put out millions of plants in the field.” Instead, breeders typically simplified, narrowing down their wish list to a few key traits.
With tomatoes, for instance, as many as 30 or 40 different genes influence taste – too many variables to juggle. So shelf life and appearance inevitably trumped taste. “But this is where molecular breeding really pays off,” says Klee. Breeders now use genetic markers to automatically screen one-inch-tall seedlings and immediately weed out the 99 percent they don’t want, cutting years off the breeding timetable. That makes it easier to get to desirable cross-breed quickly – and also stack up a complex array of traits in a single strain. As a result, says Klee, even mass-produced supermarket tomatoes should actually taste good five years from now.
In the two decades since researchers first proposed molecular breeding in 1989, high costs and the difficult work of discovery have largely confined the technology to big companies working in commodity crops like corn and soybeans. But as costs fall even faster than Moore’s Law would predict and genetic methods become routine, researchers are now also applying them to the so-called orphan crops on which much of the developing world depends. Molecular breeding is not as effective so far for crops that propagate clonally, including such tropical staples as cassava, sweet potato, yams, bananas, and plantains. But for rice and many other crops, it enables breeders to quickly tailor a plant to a particular environment or taste.
“Every village has its own favorite rice,” says Ian Graham, director of the University of York’s Centre for Novel Agricultural Products. “The challenge is if you come up with a great trait, how on earth do you put that trait into all these local varieties easily, economically, and quickly? Sequencing gives you the tool to do it. That’s the secret of really making molecular breeding work for the developing world.” There are still economic barriers, he says, but equipment to set up a basic laboratory in a developing country “is on the order of $100,000 instead of millions.” Thus genetic methods have the potential to make breeding more local, more democratic, and aimed at enhancing biological and agricultural diversity, instead of stripping it away.
The Green Revolution of the 1960s largely achieved its huge leap in productivity by streamlining plants and farming methods to work across hundreds of millions of hectares, regardless of local tastes or environments. It re-designed plants for high-input industrial agriculture, so they could respond to an intensive regimen of fertilizers, water, and pesticides, regardless of the environment. But the molecular Green Revolution will work, says McCouch, by fine-tuning crops to perform in a particular environment, minus additional input. Farmers are backing off growing rice in water, for instance, “because they can’t afford the water, there isn’t enough water in the world.”
Molecular breeding will also build crops, McCouch says, to “respond constructively to changes in the environment that we cannot predict,”like flooding and drought. “A really big challenge in discovery genetics right now,” she says, “is to understand how plants sense environments: How do they count number of days? How do they count the number hours of daylight? How do they know when to grow and when to hold their breath if they’re underwater? Once we make the discovery of which genes allow the plants to sense these things, then we can do marker-assisted selection” and move those genes into local varieties that already have the other traits farmers want.
The potential for molecular breeding to help farmers adapt to a rapidly changing world became evident last month when Nature Biotechnology published an article about rice breeding in Japan. Geneticists at the Iwate Biotechnology Research Center 130 miles north of Fukushima were already using molecular breeding to improve the cold-tolerant rice variety preferred by farmers there, when last year’s earthquake hit. The subsequent tsunami left a huge swath of rice paddies – 58,000 acres, representing almost a fifth of the nation’s rice supply – contaminated with too much salt for conventional farming. The researchers promptly switched their focus to salt-tolerant genes. Instead of taking five years to produce a suitable crossbreed by conventional methods, they now hope to deliver those seeds to affected farmers in just two years, for the 2014 growing season.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Richard Conniff, a 2012 Alicia Patterson Journalism Fellow, is a National Magazine Award-winning writer whose articles have appeared in Time, Smithsonian, The Atlantic, The New York Times Magazine, National Geographic, and other publications. He is the author of several books, including The Species Seekers: Heroes, Fools, and the Mad Pursuit of Life on Earth. In previous articles for Yale Environment 360, he has written about the decline of wildlife in Africa and about Namibia’s community-based wildlife management system.
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These five women are fighting poverty in a serious way, but they’re not handing out aid. We hope to see them scale up their models this year and make an even bigger impact.
Leila Janah – Leila knows that what poor people really want is a job: steady income that pays for food, school, and medicine. But American companies that "outsource" work to poorer countries aren't exactly popular right now. To Leila, the concept of “microwork” isn’t exactly outsourcing, either. She founded Samasource, a social enterprise that takes simple, computer-based tasks from companies like Intuit, Google, and LinkedIn and turns them into jobs for poor people in places like Kenya, Haiti, and India. These are tasks that would have been done poorly by a machine or not at all. For example, tagging user-generated content would be difficult for a computer, but the job also wouldn’t pay enough for a US employee to make a comparable living. For Haitians who typically make $1 or $2 a day, a job that pays $5 a day can make all the difference in the world (and can buy a lot more in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti, than it can in New York City). Starting the year with a fresh grant from Google, watch Leila and Samasource scale the model this year. You might just see a meaningful way to reduce poverty and people rethinking what "outsourcing" means.
- Follow Leila Janah: @leila_c
- Follow Samasource: @Samasource
- Samasource website
- New York Times Opinionator blog: Outsourcing isn’t (always) evil
Esther Duflo - When you think of a wonky, numbers-obsessed economist, skeptically testing and retesting hypotheses, add a French accent and you’ve got Esther Duflo. When Esther spends hour upon hour with her nose in a stack of data, she’s not doing it to publish her work in a journal that will pick up dust on the shelf. She’s solving global poverty. Esther is a founder of the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL), an MIT-based think tank that says the only poverty solutions worth continuing are those that work. And we only know what works if we test it. That’s not to say it’s not worth pursuing new, innovative solutions. On the contrary, that’s exactly what we should try when Esther’s team finds evidence that a traditional policy isn’t actually working. 2011 saw the publication of Esther’s enthralling book, "Poor Economics," written with her partner in poverty-fighting crime, Abhijit V. Banerjee. We think 2012 is the year the Poverty Action Lab sees some serious action.
- Follow Esther’s team: @pooreconomics
- Poverty Action Lab website
- Check out Esther’s interactive book website
Jacqueline Novogratz - Jacqueline’s organization, Acumen Fund, has been around for a decade, but watch her this year because "slow money" is gaining speed. Where most traditional investors want to bet big with sure-fire wins, Jacqueline’s idea of "patient capital" means returns won’t be quick and they won’t be big, but they’ll transform how we fight poverty. Her group identifies smart entrepreneurs who see the poor as customers who can make choices for themselves rather than as recipients of aid, and invests up to $2.5 million over five to seven years in such projects. For example, Acumen Fund invested a cool million into Global Easy Water Products, a for-profit company that developed an inexpensive, water-saving drip irrigation system sold to poor farmers. The company used the funds to scale up its production and has sold 350,000 systems, creating jobs and significantly increasing farmers’ incomes. If you want to finance something worthwhile and get a big social impact (if a slightly smaller future return), the results of being patient are worth it.
- Follow Jacqueline: @jnovogratz and @acumenfund
- The Acumen Fund’s 10 year anniversary website
- Jacqueline's op-ed in BusinessWeek, The case for patient capital
Gabi Zedlmayer - You may know Hewlett-Packard for its information technology solutions, but soon you may know it for transforming the way companies leverage their expertise to alleviate poverty. It's been called "shared value," the "new capitalism," and "social investment." Gabi calls it her passion. She leads HP's global social innovations team, which combines its most innovative tech know-how with the brightest minds from nonprofit and government sectors to find real solutions to the world's most complex problems. Gabi's team is figuring out ways to bridge the so-called "digital divide" and intersect shareholder and social value. In concrete terms, Gabi's team has been working with small business entrepreneurs from Abujaq, Nigeria, to Tikamgarh, India, and recently figured out a way to instantly diagnose HIV in infants in Kenya. We're betting on Gabi to be this year's driving force in revolutionizing how private companies view people at the bottom of the wealth pyramid as partners in development.
- Follow Gabi's team: @hpglobalcitizen
- Watch Gabi speak at DLD-Women 2011
- HP's Global Social Innovation website
Shainoor Khoja - In a country with 34 ATMs, cash is king. But it's not secure. Shainoor most recently led the social responsibility team at Afghanistan's largest telecommunications company, Roshan, using the group's technology edge to address her country's massive poverty challenges. The company created the world's second mobile money platform (behind Kenya's M-PESA), which has revolutionized financial transparency: For example, police officers are being paid their salaries without fear of cash-related security risks or the books being "fixed." Mobile money also boosts women's empowerment: Women can now be employed as microloan officers since they don't have to carry cash. In a country known for its lack of transparency and an extremely conservative stance on women's rights, Shainoor's position is unprecedented on many levels.
- Watch Shainoor speak about inspiring peace through social entrepreneurship at Social Venture Network's 2011 Member Gathering
- Roshan's website
- Read about Roshan's innovative telemedicine project, linking rural communities with urban health centers via e-consultation, wireless video conferencing and mobile.
Anne Thomas is a teacher who was living in Sendai, Japan, at the time of the massive earthquake and tsunami. A letter that she sent to her friends and family, describing resilience and cooperation amid the devastation, went viral.
"If someone has water running in their home, they put out sign so people can come to fill up their jugs and buckets," she wrote. "People keep saying, 'Oh, this is how it used to be in the old days when everyone helped one another.' . . . Somehow as I experience the events happening now in Japan, I can feel my heart opening very wide. My brother asked me if I felt so small because of all that is happening. I don't. Rather, I feel as part of something happening that much larger than myself. This wave of birthing (worldwide) is hard, and yet magnificent."
Still in Sendai, Anne kept writing letters, which are now being published in a book. A year after the tsunami, she sends this update:
Dear Family and Friends,
It seems hard to believe it has been a year since the Great Japan Earthquake and Tsunami came rumbling through, causing so much havoc and dismay. So much has happened since that tumultuous time, and so much has yet to be done. But where are we now? How are things one year later?
Change is very uneven. So the way you would answer that depends on where you are. In Sendai, life bustles. Construction is going on everywhere. Old buildings are being torn down or repaired. New places are springing up. Water and sewage systems are being replaced and roads repaired. It is definitely a city rebuilding itself, and stands proud in the process.
The magnificent supportive beauty so overtly apparent a year ago is still with us. But the general feeling now is one of deep sadness, or of waiting.
But step outside the city proper or look deeper than physical reconstruction, and things can be very different. Last year, of course, there were seas and mountains of rubble, thousands of people in shelters, and rescue work in full swing. Now much, but not all, of the immediate debris has been cleared away, leaving huge tracts of empty space with only frames of houses left to show where thriving neighborhoods once stood. Evacuation centers have reverted to their original purposes – schools, hospitals, and community centers. And now temporary houses have sprung up along the entire coast and within cities. Some are in small groups with a few families, others almost like villages. But the clearing up of the debris continues almost non-stop, and the remains of bodies are still being uncovered.
Happily, ever so slowly people are being allowed to open temporary shops, housed in structures similar to the new homes. These small establishments are in clusters, making small restaurant alleys or teeny arcades of shops for fish, vegetables, or tea.
“We are so thankful for this opportunity to work again,” one man told me. “It gives us hope. But we can be here only two years. Then we have to stand more on our own. Can we do it? I don’t know. The entire backbone of our economy, fishing, has been broken. It will take a long time, say 10 years or more, before we are back to where we were. That is, if we ever get there. Our future is so uncertain. We have today. Only that. I have this shop. I hope it does well. I hope we all do well. We are supporting each other. But we need other people’s support, too. Thank you for coming to my shop today.”
Other people are not as fortunate. The economic situation in this region is very depressed. Thousands are still without work; hundreds are homeless. Displaced people from Fukushima have flocked to Sendai and live in rickety old dormitories, waiting, hoping to someday be allowed back home. But the fishing and farming industries, the basis of that once-welcoming prefecture, are in shambles. People just shake their heads and say, “poor souls” whenever Fukushima is mentioned.
Depression is on the rise, and suicides. So volunteers are being trained as “Listening Counselors.” They go and simply listen, lending support as people pour out their woes and try to work through the confusions of their current lives.
Everywhere there is still a strong urge to support and help others. The magnificent supportive beauty so overtly apparent a year ago is still with us. But the general feeling now is one of deep sadness, or of waiting. Sadness and wonder. Waiting and determination. And also hope that comes from the strong belief that if we try hard enough, we can make things better. And we make every effort to find the courage to accept what life gives us and find reasons to be grateful.
Coupled with the darkness and depression of these times, there is a sense of promise. Priorities have shifted. Values are more basic, more connected to people. Gratitude for small things once taken for granted finds a place in every home.
The other day I went to visit friends and their new baby. “She is our future,” they proudly said to me. “And she is our contribution to Japan’s future, too. That is why we named this teeny sparkle of hope what we did: Niina, “Encircled in a Rainbow.”
• This article originally appeared in YES! Magazine. Anne Thomas adapted this letter for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. Anne is the author of Letters from the Ground to the Heart – Beauty Amid Destruction, a collection of her letters in the days immediately following the Japan earthquake, and some of the responses she received from people around the world. Proceeds from the book go to the Sendai Yomawari Group, a long-established organization serving the needs of Japan’s homeless, a population which is now exploding.
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Cross-posted from ClimateProgress.
For many Christians, the 40-day period of fasting and reflection before Easter known as Lent is a chance to get in mental and spiritual shape.
People give up chocolate; quit drinking or smoking; avoid meat; start reading the Bible regularly; or even give up social media – “fasts” intended to discipline and re-direct one’s mind to the divine. For Catholics, liturgical Protestants, and, increasingly, non-denominational Christians around the country, Lent fasts can often feel like New Year’s Resolutions 2.0: a second attempt at giving up small indulgences for personal betterment.
But this year, thousands of Christians worldwide are making a bigger statement: giving up carbon to help save the planet. (Of course, it’s nearly impossible to “give up” all carbon. But devoted Christians are doing their best to reduce their carbon footprints during this time.)
Faith groups leading the charge have dubbed this practice a “Carbon Fast.” From taking on daily ecological-minded actions like walking to work, to engaging in national advocacy and carbon-reduction campaigns, these groups are determined to bring awareness of human involvement in climate change and promote stewardship of the earth throughout the 40 days of Lent.
First started by a bishop in Liverpool in 2007, Carbon Fast has been developed and promoted among individuals, Bible study groups, and churches by the UK-based Christian development organization Tearfund since 2008. Its simple message of carbon reduction as a path to environmental and spiritual renewal has taken hold, and this year communities in Canada, the Netherlands, India, Hong Kong, Australia, and Brazil are observing Carbon Fast as well.
“We have found it to be a great resource for introducing Christians to the issue of climate change and how we can respond,” says Tom Baker at Tearfund UK. “[It] provides people with ideas about how they can respond to the injustice of climate change. … It’s a great way for people to start.”
In the United States, several faith-based groups have created their own Carbon Fast materials. Interfaith Power & Light circulated a calendar of daily actions and alterations, ranging from the straightforward (“Turn down your thermostat by one degree”; “Remember to bring reusable bags to the store”) to the deeply symbolic (“Remember your baptism today, and the power of water. Try to conserve: Leave a bucket in the shower or kitchen sink, and collect ‘grey water’ to water the plants.”)
The Catholic Archdiocese of Washington’s Environmental Outreach Committee produced a similar calendar. And the United Church of Christ’s Ecumenical Carbon Fast, in which over 6,000 people took part in 2011, mails daily suggestions to reduce carbon and pairs it with a weekly focus for the church.
A major focus of the fast is on poverty and the environmental injustice of climate change, a concept that is appearing more frequently in concerns from both secular and religious green groups. The Evangelical Environmental Network (EEN), a Carbon Fast partner with Tearfund, has designed weekly devotionals around the idea of relationships and putting things to right, from God and others to Creation.
“We are charged to ‘do no harm’ and climate change is a part of that,” says Alexei Laushkin at EEN. “We have to reconnect with our context. Changes in our consumption points to changes in policies that lead to cleaner sources of energy. This effort personalizes it and makes it real.”
Indeed, though the daily actions are limited to personal or family habit, the fast is geared toward community impact and campaigning action to demonstrate public support for climate change.
“We’re keen to emphasize that personal lifestyle actions alone won’t be the solution to global warming,” says Mr. Baker. “We need international action.” And though the fast’s full influence is difficult to measure, Tearfund UK estimates that the actions, if taken throughout an entire year, would save over 7 tons of CO2.
It would be easy to dismiss climate awareness actions like the Carbon Fast as “silly religion stuff,” says Mr. Laushkin. “But spirituality at large is increasingly grappling with this. A large spectrum of folks are grappling with this question. For Christians, this relates to our faith. We develop a keen awareness for how [climate stewardship and faithfulness], that are separate in our mind, are connected in God’s mind.”
Catherine Woodiwiss is a special assistant with the Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative at the Center for American Progress.
Women have proven to be a powerful force in the fight against global hunger and poverty, especially in agriculture. Worldwide roughly 1.6 billion women rely on farming for their livelihoods, and female farmers produce more than half of the world’s food. In sub-Saharan Africa alone, women account for 75 percent of all the agricultural producers.
Today we observe International Women’s Day, a global celebration and recognition of women’s achievements.
Women farmers face a variety of obstacles, including a lack of access to information technology, agricultural training, financial services, and support networks like co-operatives or trade unions. Without these services, women cannot develop resilience to political, economic, social, or environmental upheaval, and they remain dependent on their male family members.
The good news is that women worldwide are developing and utilizing agricultural innovations to sustainably nourish their families and communities. Today we celebrate 12 innovations that are helping women get access to credit, improve their incomes, feed their families, introduce sustainable crops to markets, and reduce rural poverty:
- Co-ops. Co-operatives, or co-ops, are a type of business characterized by democratic ownership and governance. In the war-torn country of Côte d’Ivoire, Marium Gnire partnered with Slow Foods International to organize a women’s farming cooperative that would provide quality local food for school meals in her village of N’Ganon, increasing both the women’s income and the health of the community.
- Creating Links Between Women Producers and Markets. In Africa’s Western Sahel, the production of shea butter is boosting women’s entry into global markets. Women-run cooperatives across the region are tapping into the global demand for fair trade and organic beauty products by selling the skin-care cream they produce from the shea nut crop to cosmetics firms such as Origins and L’Oréal. These companies in turn pay a fair price for the products and invest in the women’s communities.
- Educating Girls on Family Planning. The United Nations Foundation sponsors Girl Up, an organization that encourages a world where young girls can avoid the pitfalls of too-early marriage and childbearing and can instead go to school, enjoy health and safety, and grow into the next generation of leaders. In the Amhara region of Ethiopia, where half of adolescent girls are married, Girl Up is helping to promote education for young girls. The project offers basic literacy classes, family-planning information, and agricultural training. In delaying motherhood, even for a few years, girls can gain critical years of education, where they often gain knowledge about successful agricultural practices.
- Empowering Young Girls Through Agriculture. When young girls learn valuable agricultural skills, they gain the power to avoid dependence on men for food and financial security. In Rwanda, the Farmers of the Future Initiative helps to empower young girls and other students by integrating school gardens and agricultural training into primary school curriculums. Over 60 percent of students in Rwanda will return to rural areas to farm for a living after graduating instead of going on to secondary school or university. As young girls learn these skills, they become self-sufficient and empowered.
- Extension Services. Extension services are an important way of disseminating agricultural knowledge to farmers, but unfortunately, women have been excluded from many extension programs, whether as service providers or recipients. When women are included in extension programs, they receive an education, raise their agricultural yields, increase their incomes, raise the nutritional status of their household, and contribute to the improvement of their communities. To improve female inclusion in extension programs, the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture’s Sustainable Tree Crops Program created videos that women could watch in their homes or in groups, without disrupting their childcare or fuel-gathering obligations. Since 2006, nearly 1,600 farmers in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana have received cocoa-production training directly through Video Viewing Clubs.
- Female Trade Unions. In developing countries, women are commonly disenfranchised and not offered the same opportunities and rights as men, such as access to credit and land ownership. The Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), a female trade union in India that began in 1992, works with poor, self-employed women by helping them achieve full employment and self reliance. SEWA is a network of cooperatives, self-help groups, and programs that empower women. Small-scale women farmers in India have particularly benefited from this network that links farmers to inputs and markets.
- Increasing Access to Water. In sub-Saharan Africa, improved access to water means the difference between barely scraping by and eating balanced meals, affording education, and owning a home. In Zambia, Veronica Sianchenga, a farmer living in Kabuyu Village, saw improvements in her family’s quality of life when she began irrigating her farm with the “Mosi-o-Tunya” (Pump that Thunders), a pressure pump that she purchased from International Development Enterprises. In many parts of sub-Saharan Africa, the task of gathering water can take up to eight hours of labor per day and usually falls to women. Because of the pump, her children are eating healthier and she is enjoying increased independence.
- Microfinance Credit. Globally, women fall well short of receiving the same financial benefits and opportunities as men. Only 10 percent of the credit services available in sub-Saharan Africa, including small “microfinance” loans, are extended to women. The New York-based nonprofit Women’s World Banking is the only microfinance network focused explicitly on women, providing loans of as little as $100 to help women start businesses. Microfinance institutions from 27 countries provide the loans to women who in many cases have no other way to access credit.
- Vertical Farming. Over 800 million people globally depend on food grown in cities for their main food source. Considering that women in Africa own only 1 percent of the land, a practice called vertical farming gives these women the opportunity to raise vegetables without having to own land. Female farmers in Kibera, Nairobi’s largest slum, have been practicing vertical farming using seeds provided by the French NGO Solidarites. This innovative technique involves growing crops in dirt sacks, allowing women farmers to grow vegetables in otherwise unproductive urban spaces. More than 1,000 women are growing food in this way, effectively allowing them to be self-sufficient in food production and to increase their household income. Following the launch of this initiative, each household has increased its weekly income by 380 shillings (equivalent to $4.33).
- Urban Farming. In Kenya, about 20 urban farmers grow fruits and vegetables on a small strip of land in Kibera, an urban slum in Nairobi with nearly 1 million people. These farmers do not formally own this land and farm through an informal arrangement. More than once, they have been forced to stop farming, and they often see their water supply cut. However, the farmers are continuing to come up with innovative ways of raising food – and incomes – on the farm. With the help of the farmers’ advocacy group Urban Harvest, the farmers are not only growing food to eat and sell, but, perhaps surprisingly, becoming a source of seed for rural farmers.
- Women’s Collectives. In many countries, women’s subordinate position in society makes them easy targets for domestic and sexual violence when working in the agricultural sector, which greatly inhibits their ability to work to their full potential. In India, the Tamil Nadu Women’s Collective focuses on advocating for women’s rights and improving food and water security. The collective reaches over 1,500 villages spread across 18 districts in India’s Tamil Nadu state and has helped many women see an increase in crop yields. The collective provides counseling and support for female victims of domestic violence, promotes women’s participation in local government, and helps women strengthen local food systems through education on natural farming techniques.
- Women-Run Community Seed Banks. Studies have shown that women farmers typically have lower crop yields than their male counterparts. Rural women farmers’ lower productivity compared to male farmers may be due to women lacking access to high-quality seeds and agricultural inputs. The GREEN Foundation has partnered with NGOs including Seed Savers Network and The Development Fund to create community seed banks in India’s Karnataka state. Women run these seed banks, gaining leadership skills and acquiring quality organic seeds that yield profitable crops and their food security and incomes.
Although these innovations inevitably help men as well as women, it is important that policymakers, scientists, farmers’ groups, and the funding and donor communities focus on ensuring that these women harness the power of these innovations so we can create a more equitable and nourished planet.
Franco Majok says his ability to read a map saved his life.
Mr. Majok, who serves as executive director of the organization Village Help For South Sudan, escaped from southern Sudan when he was a teenaged high school graduate. Knowing which direction to go and how to get to the northern part of Sudan was the most valuable skill he could have had, he says.
“I feel very strongly that education saved me,” he says.
Today Majok’s organization, Village Help For South Sudan (VHSS), has built a school in the village of Wunlang in the new Republic of South Sudan, which became an independent country last year. Between 600 and 800 boys and girls currently attend the school. VHSS also has built a water pump and a health clinic in Wunlang, and it has extended its projects to Thiou, another village in South Sudan. VHSS initiatives in Thiou and Wunlang include repairs to the Wunlang school, finding qualified teachers for it, and obtaining medical equipment for the Wunlang health clinic. VHSS would also like to build a multipurpose center where married women could come to learn farming and business skills.
Majok, who lives in Lynn, Mass., near Boston, was a high school student in southern Sudan in 1983 when the Sudanese government began interrogating those with an education, who were thought to be more likely to sympathize with rebels. Two of Majok’s brothers had already left to join the rebel movement.
“It was a time when a lot of people who were in high school disappeared at night,” Majok says. “It was a very bad situation.”
Majok’s father told him to leave and try to go to northern Sudan. Using maps and directions, Majok was able to do so and settled in the capital, Khartoum. But eventually the city became unsafe and he traveled to Cairo.
Cairo was having its own problems finding employment for Egyptians, let alone new arrivals. He needed to move again to find a reliable job. While in Cairo, he applied to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees for refugee resettlement and was approved to go to the United States.
“Being in Cairo for 10 years, not knowing what was going to happen, then receiving the news that I could go to the US – it was the only chance in my life, and I got it,” Majok says.
After working at the Seaport Hotel in Boston for six months, he applied to be a case manager at Lutheran Social Services in the suburb of Newton, Mass., a job he still holds. He works with children from Sudan who come to the US after being displaced by the violence in that country.
Majok feels he is uniquely qualified for the job. “For me, it was a dream come true,” he says of being able to help the children. “I knew their language and their culture.”
After a second Sudanese civil war ended in 2005, Majok was able to return to his home country for the first time and visit his village. He was shown what he was told was the village school and was confronted with children, many of them without clothes, sitting outside under trees.
“I saw that situation and it touched me,” he says. “I decided I needed to go back to the US and do something.”
Majok is a member of the First Lutheran Church in Lynn, Mass. After returning to the US, he asked the congregation for help in raising money to build a school in Wunlang. Ron Moulton, who works as a project manager in the Technology Services Group at the First Church of Christ Scientist in Boston [Editor's note: The First Church of Christ, Scientist, publishes The Christian Science Monitor], volunteered to help him.
After raising funds through the First Lutheran Church, Majok and Mr. Moulton decided to apply to become an official nonprofit foundation. They did so and have recruited the other members of the VHSS board of directors.
While VHSS now addresses many kinds of challenges faced by people in South Sudan, Majok says he tackled education first. If the situation in the country ever becomes dangerous again, he says, more children will be able to escape if they are educated – or perhaps they will help stop the conflict altogether.
“If there's a war, they can save themselves,” he says of the children in the villages. “They can be the leaders of the community.”
How can you reduce surgery costs while boosting local employment? Paraskilling, that’s how.
The paraskilling framework is as old as the assembly line, but it's got a new modus operandi.
By re-engineering complex systems into simplified tasks that can be performed by a larger, lower-skilled workforce, an organization is able to cut its greatest cost: highly skilled workers. This creates a subsequent increase in development and employment in disadvantaged communities.
India provides two paraskilling success stories: the Aravind Eye Care System and Gyan Shala School.
Aravind Eye Care employs para-skilled paramedics to assist the patient through most steps of a procedure. The doctor is only responsible for diagnoses and surgery. Paraskilled workers then take over a wide range of clinical duties, such as outpatient care, counseling, operating-room assistance, and administrative staff. The result is a boost in community employment and clinical productivity. Aravind completes 2,400 surgeries per doctor per year compared to 300 in standard Indian clinics.
Gyan Shala shows us that applying paraskilling to the education system can also produce significant results.
The Gyan Shala education model has split the traditional headmaster/teacher hierarchy into three new roles: design-management team, senior teachers, and junior teachers.
The management team designs a standardized curriculum, adding extensive learning aids and lesson plans. High-school-educated junior teachers instruct, and senior teachers monitor junior teachers and their class.
Classes are generally located in one-room buildings close to slums, making them more accessible to needy communities. Because junior teachers are recruited from the area, staff have close ties with students and their families, hold themselves accountable, and take greater pride in their community. As junior teachers improve their skills, they have the opportunity to become senior teachers.
Not only are residents gaining more skills, but student enrollment has increased. And they’re learning – a lot. Gyan Shala students are outperforming public school children in nearly every category, according to the 2008 Gyan Shala Annual Report.
Sounds great. So why aren’t more organizations paraskilling? Too often they focus on minimizing labor costs. Poor staff and sub-par training lead to program failure.
Training and retention is the real value driver, ensuring both success and sustainability. After all, paraskilling is really an investment in community. Continuous skill-building creates opportunity for upward mobility, leading to job satisfaction and low turnover. Efficient and effective training also allows the model to scale quickly and better serve the needs of the community.
The paraskilling model could work well in other emerging economies, too.
Communities in sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia, and former Soviet republics could enjoy huge social and economic impacts through the paraskilling model. It has the potential to lower organizational costs, increase employment opportunities, improve education and labor skills, and improve the quality and efficiency of health care.
The real question is: What’s stopping us?
• Read the full report, “Emerging Markets, Emerging Models,” by the Monitor Group here.
A special kind of peanut butter has been bringing malnourished children back to life for years. Pharmaceutical company Abbott Labs is hoping it will help revive the Haitian economy, too.
International healthcare organization Partners in Health (PiH) has distributed Nourimanba, a ready-to-use nutritional paste, to combat malnutrition in Haiti since 2007, and demand has only increased following the 2010 earthquake there, according to The New York Times.
As many as 300,000 children suffer from malnutrition in Haiti, says UNICEF. For these kids, Nourimanba is a lifesaver. Made from peanuts, milk powder, vegetable oil, sugar, and a scientifically formulated mix of vitamins, it’s like a souped-up version of common child favorite peanut butter. This helps to explain why it’s been successful: It actually tastes good.
There are other advantages, too: The main ingredients are all found in Haiti, where peanuts are grown as a crop, so it can be produced cheaply and locally. It’s also easy enough to use that parents can give it to their own children at home, rather than taking them to a hospital.
Nourimanba production in Haiti was feeding malnourished children before Abbott arrived on the scene, but somewhat small-scale and slow-moving. Abbott Labs took a look at what PiH was doing and saw an opportunity to turbocharge it. Abbott is donating $6.5 million to help PiH and local Haitians scale up and improve their production of Nourimanba. This means building a new, $3 million plant in Corporant, Haiti, that is projected to quintuple production. The old plant could produce about 70 tons of Nourimanba to feed 10,000 children a year; the new one should be pushing out 350 tons and will reach 50,000 kids, writes The New York Times.
Abbott isn’t just boosting quantity – it's also using its expertise to help PiH improve the quality of Nourimanba. The new factory will mechanize the removal of bad peanuts, and safety and sanitation standards will be much higher, according to the Stanford Social Innovation Review. Abbott also wants to tweak the formula to find a local replacement for milk powder, which currently must be imported.
“Local" is a key part of Abbott and PiH’s mission. They don’t just want to make Nourimanba better – they want to make it a sustainable business. Local products and employment should help ensure that Nourimanba benefits Haitians of all ages for years to come. There’s room for expansion, too: Abbott says the factory could make extra money in the future by producing normal peanut butter for consumer purchase.
The collaboration between Abbott and PiH is unique in the world of corporate-nonprofit partnerships.
“This is a departure," PiH’s associate coordinator for nutrition in Haiti, Joan VanWassenhove, told the Times. "It’s not Abbott coming in and saying we have an idea we can do. It’s more like saying we want to take your vision and make it the best possible.”
The corporate-nonprofit partnership pays off for both parties.
“This is an investment rather than charity,” Kathy Pickus, vice president of global citizenship and policy for Abbott, told the Stanford Social Innovation Review. “We wanted to work in the country to spark the economy.”