Posted tagged ‘International Development’

For women, poverty can lead to empowerment

May 15, 2009

Consider this sobering fact:

Worldwide, women and girls make up 70% of the estimated 1.3 billion people living in poverty, two thirds of the one billion illiterate adults, and two thirds of the 130 million children who are not in school.

Now consider this story:

A teacher by training, Lynne Randolph Patterson never expected to find herself at the helm of a multi-national financial services company.

Twenty years ago, she was volunteering at a young mothers club in La Paz, Bolivia, where her husband had been posted for work.

She was there to deliver empowerment lessons but the women, who attended twice a week in exchange for donated food, all told her one thing: “We need to earn money.”

Along with her colleague, Carmen Velasco, a psychologist, they began to offer the women business training and tried to find them credit.

Inspired by Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, whose founder Muhammad Yunus pioneered microfinance, they began to offer small loans of around $50.

The women formed groups to guarantee each other’s loans, and made simple business plans showing how they would invest and repay their first loans.

“Not being very financial, we made lots of mistakes in the beginning,” she says.

But they persevered, and Pro Mujer (Pro Woman in Spanish) as their organisation is now called, now provides 222,000 women with loans, business training and healthcare in five Latin American countries. [BBC]

And this one as well from Kigali, Rwanda:

A group of 15 female entrepreneurs will receive business courses at university level, which includes mentorship through a partnership with fellow female entrepreneurs in the US, as part of the “Peace Through Business” programme later this August.

The group of 27 was short-listed after completing an extensive eight-week course largely administered by last year’s pioneers, with their graduation ceremony being held at Christ’s Church in Rwanda (CCR), at Gacuriro Estate last Sunday.

Jane Natukunda, a mother of three and a tea dealer is one of the entrepreneurs who were simply ecstatic after being named at the graduation ceremony.

“I really feel very happy being among the fifteen women. We learnt many useful business skills in the past few weeks,” a cheerful Natukunda said.

“Previously, most of us conducted business without the proper know-how, but have learnt much – bookkeeping, networking, business management, risk management and even leadership. I am highly empowered and motivated to teach others as well.” []

And before I continue, consider this fact as well:

Research has shown that women are more likely to repay loans in full and on time than men. It has also been established that giving a woman access to primary education will ensure that her entire family receives better health care and nutrition. This indicates that providing equal access to education, credit, property and employment for women, will ensure economic justice and sustainability for all.

*Ref: Empowering Young Women to Lead Change

Produced by WMCA and Supported by the United Nations Populations  Fund, published in 2006

So what’s the lesson here?

Simply put, investing in the education and training of women worldwide leads not only to self-empowerment and independence, but also encourages the self-sustainability of small enterprises that promotes business and trade at the grassroots level.

Sometimes an overlooked part of the population, in many communities women are the backbone of the family. Empowering them, empowers more than just an individual.


BBC’s “Develop or Die” Debate

April 20, 2009

Earlier this year, BBC ran a series on sustainable development titled “Develop or Die.” I have compiled the two-part program focusing on Asia after having found the clips on YouTube.

My thoughts: While there is some finger-pointing toward the West (especially the U.S.), there is recognition that each country needs to take responsibility as well, especially in encouraging sustainable innovations within their own borders. That is an important recognition, although there probably always will be finger-pointing to some extent.

As per the YouTube description:

A debate from BBC series “Develop or Die” on the challenges facing Asian countries in their need to develop further while at the same time facing the need to do so sustainably and in an ecologically friendly way. Discussing options, alternatives, challenges and advantages of sustainable development. Recorded from BBC News on 22.02.2009.

Can Ecotourism Save Haiti?

April 15, 2009

Spider Lily – Haiti, originally uploaded by alan2onion.

As the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, Haiti’s troubles have escalated due to political instability, poor living conditions, natural disaster and perhaps a bit of donor fatigue. However, recently the country has made it back into the international spotlight with global donors agreeing this week to pledge $324 million in aid to the impoverished Caribbean nation.

There is no doubt that such aid is desperately needed, but the question still remains: What can Haiti to do save itself?

The obvious thing would be to look at Haiti’s past. Before political turmoil hit the country, it was a popular tourist destination and a common stop for many Caribbean cruise lines. The remains of gorgeous beach resorts still exist in the country today, but few are open for business. Will they ever reopen their doors? Can tourism make a come-back in Haiti and serve as a self-sustainable means of development?

Yes, voices familiar with Haiti’s situation say, especially when it comes to the potential ecotourism brings as the nature and wildlife in Haiti could attract many visitors hoping to observe and help save the country’s threatened ecosystems. But much needs to be done in preparation before such a venture becomes a reality. (more…)

Giving back to the “Motherland”

April 1, 2009

For decades now, America has been known as the world’s largest patchwork quilt. Some would even argue that we have become a nation of hyphens: African-Americans, Asian-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, Irish-Americans, German-Americans, Indian-Americans … you get the picture. Only a small minority of us can actually trace our ancestral roots to the United States.

And so it’s natural to want to go back and see the kind of lives we could have lived. But with a younger, more educated generation of diaspora coming of age, interest in the motherland has become more than a yearning to quench one’s curiosity. Many of us are returning to our ancestral countries and making positive contributions.

Carole Ketnourath is one such individual. Her parents brought their family from Southeast Asia to the United States in search of a better life. A string of events soon brought Carole back to Southeast Asia where at age 26, she is living in Thailand as the director of operations for a non-profit she co-founded called The Warm Heart Foundation. The organization is involved in numerous projects ranging from public health, water projects, micro enterprise and children’s homes. Carole is one of many Americans who is helping by giving back to the part of the world her family once called home.

While Carole’s journey to the motherland was by choice, KK’s was not.

“KK” is a Khmer who escaped Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge era to Long Beach, California. A teenage life of gangster affiliation and crime led to his de-portation back to Cambodia four years ago. Channeling his love for break dancing as well as his affection for his native land, “KK” started a break dancing school for at-risk youth.

The following video differs from the clip featured in the previous link. Watch and listen as KK tells his story and see the contributions he is now making to the children in his birth country.

Why the Daewoo-Madagascar Deal Would Have Struggled Anyway

March 23, 2009

women in Madagascar, originally uploaded by Zé Eduardo….

A while ago I wrote about the issue of food security and the ethical implications that have arisen in relation to it, using the Madagascar-South Korea Daewoo deal as an example. The now failed agreement will serve as a text book case study for large conglomerates and nations seeking similar partnerships in the future, especially as they relate to issues of conflict-resolution.

(For background details on the issue, please click here.)

Over the weekend we learned that the tenant farming deal is now null. Due to political unrest in Madagascar, the island has brought into power a new leader who has scrapped the deal with Daewoo, much to the pleasure of the country’s citizens.

Says the BBC:

Correspondents say Malagasy people have deep ties to their land and some had condemned the deal as “neo-colonialism”.

While there is no denying that such a deal had the potential to bring about positive change for the impoverished nation, even if the agreement had gone through to implementation, Daewoo and Madagascar’s government would have faced an uphill battle from the start.

If the people such changes are meant to benefit aren’t on board with the plan, conflicts are sure to arise. Judging by the reports I have read, there was little support among the domestic population for this agreement.

This isn’t to say that over time, the domestic population would not have gradually accepted the agreement and would have come on board with the plan, especially if they were seeing immediate positive change. Of course, that is such a big “if” when they are resisting the proposal from the get-go.

A great book that deals with issues of development, the environment and indigenous peoples (although in the context of Southeast Asia) is The Politics of Environment in Southeast Asia: Resources and Resistance, edited by Philip Hirsch and Carol Warren.

While the tone of the book did tend to have me on the offensive (as I am a strong believer in development and the good it can bring impoverished populations), I did take away one important thing and that was the realization that there is a wrong way and a right way in terms of dealing with the web of relationships involved with international development, relationships that include the physical development itself, the environment, the people who will benefit and the people who will not (in many cases indigenous communities whose land and resources are affected by the changes).

While it’s not my place to point a finger at any one party in relation to the failed Daewoo-Madagascar deal, I will say that the approach taken in introducing the plan to the domestic population seemed to lack citizen participation in the decision-making process. (At least based on the mainstream media reports I have been reading). And while citizen participation may not have necessarily saved the deal, it could have perhaps lessened the feelings of antagonization that developed further down the road.

BRAC: Empowering the poor (and self-financing 80% of its work)

March 20, 2009

A constant theme on this blog is the idea that aid is especially valuable when it can empower the recipients and help them become self-sufficient. Many international organizations do this but there is one in particular that has caught my attention – mostly because it has been able to self finance 80% of its work.

BRAC works with people whose lives are dominated by extreme poverty, illiteracy, disease and other handicaps. With multifaceted development interventions, BRAC strives to bring about positive changes in the quality of life of the poor…

Active in Asia, Africa, the U.S. and United Kingdom, the organization’s main areas of focus include economic development, education, health, human rights and legal services, social development, agriculture, environment, knowledge and capacity building, governance and finance and social enterprises.

From the organization’s blog (which we will link to our side bar), we have re-posted an interview with Ian Smillie, the author of Freedom From Want, who talks about what makes BRAC so unique. (And while visiting their blog, be sure to check out the story about Asiya in Bangladesh who has done amazing things with her BRAC loan.)

[H/T to Global Voices Online.]

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “BRAC Blog: Have you ever heard of an …“, posted with vodpod

Putting Haiti Back on the Radar Through Volunteerism and International Awareness

March 11, 2009

Haiti is one of those countries that tends to fall off the international radar – unless something bad happens, such as a hurricane, civil unrest or political corruption. Otherwise, as the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere, the country seems to symbolize what happens when a nation undergoes donor fatigue. Over the years, the world has continuously poured money into the country only to see little progress being made…and so we forget that Haiti even exists.

As one who has spent time in Haiti in the past, I have noticed that while foreign aid organizations or government assistance quietly come and go, it is volunteerism at the grassroots level that keeps the country afloat. I’m talking about volunteer work groups, mostly coming from the U.S., who pair up with local organizations or individuals to pitch in where they can.

I haven’t been to Haiti since 2000, but from my recollection, these volunteers consist of church groups, college work teams (I remember crossing paths with some students from Chatham College) and visiting physicians who bring with them their own team of experts. (The Peace Corps also operates in Haiti.) (more…)