Author Archives: Raeli Savitt

About Raeli Savitt

Innovation excites me. I am interested in leveraging recent technological tools, Web 2.0, new theories of social responsibility, and new med

Rich Countries Have Been Sending Aid to Poor Countries for 60 Years

…and yet poverty is still rampant in many of those countries.

Don’t believe me?

Read this policy analysis from 1986. Or this article from a newspaper in Ottowa in 2006. Or just ask William Easterly.

Simply giving to desperately poor countries will not fix them. It is becoming all too obvious that to truly implement change, members of affluent societies (such as myself) must rethink traditional methods of charity.

One intriguing idea that’s been popping up all over surrounds cell phones. We’ve covered the phenomenon before, and I just saw a great TED talk by Iqbal Quadir, a Bangladeshi social entrepreneur who will convince you that cell phones are doing more for Bangladesh than foreign aid ever has.

If you have 15 minutes to spare, I highly recommend watching:

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Want to host a fundraiser for an official charity of the LA Dodgers?

It’s always great to see when an organization is able to engage its fanbase in an innovative way. ThinkCure, a non-profit that raises communal funds cancer research, calls on its community to help find a cure. They actively encourage supporters to host and manage their own fundraisers, in collaboration with the organization itself.

They also provide a great event planning guide.

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A New Platform for Transparency

13 of 365: Water.org HQ
Image by tswicegood via Flickr

Water.org recently launch The Giving Network, a social media platform that will allow anyone to get regular updates on projects in developing countries. Currently, you can only follow two projects. However, the organization plans to make the platform an open-source project after beta testing.

What makes this so exciting?

Normally, it is extremely difficult to know what is happening on the ground in international development projects. Sure, a charity will tell you about all the problems that need solving, show you pictures of children in Africa, and ask you for money. But rarely does a supporter of the organization know how the current aid projects are progressing. At best, you could look at some abstract figures in an annual report.

This platform looks like a completely different approach. By utilizing new developments in social media, Water.org is allowing anyone with an internet connection to get daily updates on progress.

In its current state, the platform leaves much to be desired (there is little tangible information). However, it is something to watch and see how it progresses.

As they develop the platform, Water.org is hoping that it will be able to expand the project to follow many more projects. And even better, they want other organizations to use it as well:

Ultimately, however, it wants the portal to be available for use by all charities. As a result, the project is open source. It uses a Django platform that incorporates support for Facebook, Twitter, and Google Maps, and can also display content from the photo-sharing site Flickr, the video site Vimeo, and the blogging platform WordPress. [Philanthropy.com]

Right now, they are asking for feedback on the platform. So take a look. Give them some feedback! If you already have Facebook or Twitter (and who doesn’t?) there no need to create a new username or password.

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How to Solve a Drinking Water Problem: A Comparison

Mwamanongu Village water source, Tanzania. &qu...

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Problems:

1. Boston, Mass. – May 1st, 2010. 8 million gallons of water per hour are gushing into the Charles River. One-third of people in Boston did not have access to clean water. Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick declares a state of emergency. Officials advise residents to boil their water before consuming it.

2. Mprumem, Ghana – 1970s. Guinea worm disease afflicts the population, leaving many unable to work or attend school. The local water sources are contaminated with larvae-containing water fleas. Once a villager drinks the water, the worm larvae hatch and grow up to 3 feet long. The victim then spends weeks in agony as the worms emerge from open sores in the skin.

Solutions:

1. In the Boston area, many people rushed to local stores to buy bottled water, causing the supply to run out in most places. The state asked companies to ship more water to Massachusetts, and the National Guard distributed emergency water. Mayor Thomas Menino said that schools would remain open, as 80% of schools already used bottle water, and the rest would receive emergency supplies. As for the burst pipe, the New York Times reports:

Workers managed to stop the spill on Sunday and to begin repairs on the pipe — which was buried 20 feet underground. Officials with the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority said that the water pressure was steady Sunday night.

Though it was a major problem, for now, it seems under control. Clean drinking water in Boston and 29 surrounding suburbs is expected by Wednesday

2. In Mprumem, things have improved over the last 40 years. Through international aid, the residents now have piped water coming in from the nearby city of Wineba, and the chief has also built a water reservoir to tide people over during cutoffs. Guinea worm disease has been largely eradicated from the town.

A UN Summit in 1977 set the goal of universal access to clean water and sanitation, with a 1990 deadline. Today, according to the Red Cross, 900 million people do not have access to clean water, and 2.7 billion people do not have access to sanitation.

The goal has not been met.

Under the Current Millennium Development Goals, the UN has declared a commitment to halve the number of people without access to clean water by 2015.

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Diamonds from Sierra Leone

No, I’m not talking about Kanye West. I’m talking about the guys who toil in the hot sun to find the precious stone. There are a lot of them in Sierra Leone, where the annual diamond production is estimated at $250-300 million.

Guess how much of that goes to the diggers. Martin Rapaport, a diamond industry giant, went to find out.

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Al Gore Launches New Youth-Focused Climate Initiative

Al Gore's Hearing on Global Warming
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The new initiative launched today, April 22, Earth Day 2010.

Named Inconvenient Youth, a nice play on Gore’s famous “An Inconvenient Truth,” the initiative was created because Gore and his organization (The Climate Project) believe that teens have the power to create real change.

Sound Familiar?

From The Climate Project (TCP) website:

“Inconvenient Youth is built on the belief that teens can help lead efforts to solve the climate crisis. It will give this generation – which has a unique stake in this issue – a chance to organize and exchange ideas with other young people who want to do their part to address the climate crisis. Perhaps most importantly, this initiative was inspired by youth and shaped by youth with their unique viewpoint guiding it forward,” said Gore.

There is also a brand new social network to go along with it, where teens can share ideas, and start taking steps towards action. While it doesn’t seem all that different from other large teen social action networks (DoSomething, GenV),  the backing of Mr. Gore and the connection to his world-famous documentary will no doubt help its popularity.

Perhaps the most exciting news to any young environmentalist  is the opportunity to become an official TCP Presenter on climate change. Thousands will apply to be trained by Mr. Gore and his organization. A select five will go to Nashville to participate in the Our Choice training program run by TCP.

For anyone interested, you can find the application here: http://www.inconvenientyouth.org/ourchoice. Hurry though, as the deadline in May 15.

Links to social networks mentioned in this post:

http://www.dosomething.org/

http://www.genv.net/

http://www.inconvenientyouth.org/index.php

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How to Evaluate a Fundraising Project

Virgin Money Giving's office
Image by HowardLake via Flickr

Charitable fundraising is a simple concept: collect cash for a specific cause or organization. The money is then used to pay for something that is severely needed, such as medical aid and scholarships for underprivileged students, or to simply keep an organization operational.

There are two basic questions to ask when evaluating a fundraising endeavor:

  1. What are the funds used for?
  2. How is the money raised?

For the first question, we encounter a number of dilemmas. There are a wide range of opinions around what causes are most important, what the world’s pressing needs are, and why you should care about everything from overfishing in Japan to the lack of educational resources for teachers in your local schools.

Forget what others are rallying you to care about. When deciding if funds are going to the right place, it really depends on what you are passionate about.

Once you have focused on a specific cause, the evaluation can begin. There are a whole host of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), government programs, and other large fundraising efforts that have been raising and spending enormous amounts of money for the past few decades.

Bill Easterly, in his incredible book, The White Man’s Burden, provides chapters of analysis of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and other large global efforts to combat global poverty. One thing that he constantly stresses is the lack of practical results from such large efforts. One case he cites as an example are malaria nets. Intended to protect children while they sleep, many nets are currently being used for fishing because the distribution is improperly managed.

What does this mean for you? Its important to note that even very large organizations do not always do things well. Executives working in New York don’t know how to meet the needs of a rural farmer in Ghana. Check that the organization you work with can prove that their efforts are making an impact. If they can’t show you what the funds are accomplishing, then why donate to them in the first place?

Unfortunately, most organizations are not able to show how their funds will directly serve their stated cause. One major exception to this rule is Charity Water. They are committed to transparency,  provide data on all projects, utilize Google Maps to show where there projects are happening, and even put their financial reports on their website for anyone to look over! There are many organizations that can learn a lot from Charity Water.

For evaluating the methods of raising money, there are a number of great online resources that evaluate large organizations. Charity Navigator is the leader in the field.

To answer our second question, we start to get a bit more technical. There are tons of metrics that are used in the business world that can be applied here, so let’s go over two basics:

  1. Expenses vs. Income: In the business world, this is what is called profit. If you spend more than you make, you aren’t doing a very good job. Especially for charitable causes, where a large percentage of your income comes in through donations (which are 100% pure profit), it shouldn’t be too difficult to be “profitable.”
  2. Fundraising Costs as % of Total Expenses: If you are evaluating an organization that fundraisers and provides direct aid, this is an invaluable metric. A good range can vary widely depending on the type of cause, fundraising models, and size of the charity. However, when fundraising costs seem to be a large chunk, such as with these non-profits on charity Navigator’s Top Ten Inefficient Fundraisers, something is seriously wrong.


Remember, there are tons of ways to go about this. These are just a few things you can quickly do to make sure that your efforts are having maximum effect. Also, if you cannot find an organization for your cause that meets the criteria mentioned above, then maybe you should think about starting your own. Just a thought.

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