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By Sydney Kornegay

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) received their 20-year old check-up at the MDG summit in September. The diagnosis? While some of the goals are on track for completion by 2015, others- like reducing maternal mortality- have experienced only patchy progress. The poorest and most vulnerable communities continue to suffer, and have unequal access to basic human services. These trends are particularly true for women.

According to a UNICEF report of the conference, 1,000 women still die every day from complications in pregnancy and childbirth, mostly in Sub-Sahara and South East Asia. That’s one woman every minute. And while that number represents a one-third reduction in the maternal mortality ratio since 1990, it’s not fast enough to satisfy MDG 5. This goal calls for a three fourths reduction in the maternal mortality ratio and universal access to reproductive health care by 2015.

“MDG 5 is not on track for success, based on current trends. An orchestrated global effort will be needed to achieve it.”

“By focusing our efforts on scaling up practical interventions that reach the poorest and most marginalized women, we can reach MDG 5 more quickly, more cost-effectively and more equitably.”

These cost-effective, equitable solutions are already being implemented in several countries.

Take Brazil: In 1996, just over 70% of poor mothers received skilled care during childbirth. According to a recent report by World Health Organization and UNICEF, coverage of skilled birth attendance became almost universal in the country, by 2007, even amongst the poorest.[1] Brazil has focused on sending Read the rest of this entry »

An inspiring news article from Grassroots International:

Six Organizing Principles for a Sustainable Future
Lessons from Wendell Berry and Grassroots International Partners

By Carol Schachet
July 27th, 2010

Some of the most important lessons I know about grassroots organizing come from the poet Wendell Berry, who advises, “Invest in the millennium; plant Sequoias.”

Growing trees, like organizing for social change, may not provide the short-term gratification. (A tomato plant will feed you this summer, and a bake sale might provide books for a single classroom, but a forest preserves soil for generations, and good educational policy funds entire school systems.) While they are not planting Sequoias but other indigenous trees, grassroots organizers from Latin America to the Middle East and beyond personify the vision that Berry describes. Combining their great work with Berry’s insights, here are some of the organizing principles on which our survival depends.

1. Hope is a tangible thing.

If we are going to invest in the future – or at least the millennium – then we need to shift our return-on-investment timeframe. If, as Berry says, you see your “main crop is the forest that you did not plant, that you will not live to harvest,” you have to believe someone will ultimately be in a better place because of your work.

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Since the presidency of FDR, our nation has made agreements with foreign nations to secure vital interest for oil, mainly in the Middle East. Over the decades, it has become apparent that America is dependent on foreign oil and our economic life depends on it now; with that, our security both domestically and internationally is at risk.

The oil crisis in the 1970’s made it obvious that we are subject to the will of others. In the mid 2000’s, again our nation was hit with another oil crisis, followed by a recession that we are in today, which has put us deeper in debt with foreign nations. Brazil, on the other hand, began its trek toward energy independence in the 1970’s and now is energy independent.

Recently, President Obama announced that he would allow off shore drilling exploration, ending the ban that has existed for 20 years.  President Obama has said

“We need to move beyond the tired debates of the left and the right, between business leaders and environmentalists, between those who would claim drilling is a cure all and those who would claim it has no place. Because this issue is just too important to allow our progress to languish while we fight the same old battles over and over again.”

The President’s statement shows his understanding that in order for our nation to be free as it once was we must shake ourselves free of the foreign entanglements that endanger the security of our nation.

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Hilary Clinton’s trip to Latin America this week has ended in disappointment after Brazil’s president, Lula da Silva, rejected U.S. pleas to support tougher sanctions on Iran. This firm stance in the face of Western pressure is not simply meant to be a slap in the face to U.S. diplomacy. Rather, it symbolizes a geopolitical power shift where an increasingly important Brazil seeks a central space for itself on the world stage – as a superpower with an equal status to other global giants.

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Guest post from Tim Newman, Campaigns Assistant at International Labor Rights Forum:

As finance ministers from the G-20 nations prepare to meet in London, reports are emerging that 425321 Western nations are ready to accept some proposals for an increase in power for developing countries in the International Monetary Fund (IMF).  The Washington Post stated this morning that “the big winner will be the developing world, with the United States, Europe and Japan offering China, India, Brazil and other emerging nations unprecedented new influence in global financial decisions.”  The notion that industrialized nations currently holding sway in the IMF have to ability to “offer” developing countries a voice in the lending policies that deeply affect their economies highlights some of the power imbalances within international financial institutions — it also brings to mind Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s controversial comments last week about the global economic crisis.

The issue of representation in the decision-making bodies at the IMF is a real concern.  Currently, Europe holds a third of the chairs in the executive board and continues to follow the “tradition” of filling the managing director position with a European while the US has veto power at the IMF due to its large voting share.  The power structure at the IMF, and other international institutions, needs to be changed, but the bigger question is how will these changes can result in a qualitative shift that promotes policies that support poor and working people globally?

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While the expansion of the typical G8 to a G20 was an important first step towards more equal representation in international economic forums, the meeting convened Saturday in D.C. to address the global financial crisis remained fundamentally flawed. First, it excluded the countries most vulnerable and whose citizens will suffer most from its effects. Second, it failed to question the abuses and miscalculations of the institutions that got us here in the first place. In fact, proposed bailout packages redirect power and legitimacy to the same private regulatory institutions that preach speculatory investment over long-term investment in public infrastructures that improve people’s lives, meet human needs, and protect human rights.

Among these institutions are the previously waning IMF and World Bank, who are now regaining their footing as international lenders to developing countries. IMF and World Bank loans have been notorious for enforcing Structural Adjustment Programs that slash public spending, often eliminating a county’s ability to meet the needs of its population.

This, my friends, is what we call a gross infringement of national sovereignty. Developing countries must be free to pursue the same expansionary economic policies pursued by the wealthy nations that created the current crisis. Especially in a time of global recession, countries must have mobility to meet important social needs.

An appropriate case study is Brazil’s Bolsa Familia—the world’s largest conditional welfare program for the poor.  Where families keep their children in school, get them vaccinated, and attend regular health check ups, they receive a monthly stipend of up to $82 USD.  The national program serves 11 million families (close to 50 million people), and many of the country’s poorest towns are seeing their first secondary school, health clinic, and even potable water source as a result. While Bolsa Familia still has a long way to go to improve national education standards and job training, it is being studied by dozens of other Latin American and African countries as a model that appears to be reducing poverty and improving certain social behaviors when it comes to education and health—two essential ingredients to development.

So, as the governments of the richest countries act more quickly and decisively to bail out the banks and financial institutions than they have the crisis of poverty, marginalization, and deprivation that continues to afflict nearly half the world’s population, stop and think.

Stop and think about what a global economic structures and policies would look like that put peoples’ needs first, respect and promote human rights, ensure decent jobs, sustainable livelihoods, and essential services such as health, education, housing, water, and clean energy. Public assistance programs like Bolsa Familia are a good start, but they represent only a piece of the solution.

Exploring other pieces of the puzzle is a growing mobilization of international and regional networks and organizations that are asking the world to take lesson and take charge of our democratic (and not so democratic) systems to give people greater control over the resources and decisions that affect their lives.

The world is not flat, and it is not a box.  And there are far to many alternatives yet to be discovered to  accept life in a box.

Today, I attended the Y2Y Global Youth Conference 2008 in Washington, D.C.  Titled “Empowering a Generation:  Developing Skills and Capacities in Youth” and organized by the Youth-to-Youth Community of the World Bank, the conference was intended to be a conference for youth by youth.  While the morning panels heavily addressed skills for work and life, afternoon sessions presented topics such as youth-led initiatives, leveraging partnerships among multiple stakeholders, and challenges in project design and evaluation.

Though the conference attempted to highlight the importance of a holistic approach to empowering youth, few stepped outside the proscribed D.C. conference box to clarify the difference between “youth development” and “youth in development.”  Therefore, I couldn’t help but smile when Eric Rusten of the Academy for Educational Development—no longer a “youth” by conference standards—opened his presentation by criticizing the day’s buzzword of “training.”  His criticism: overemphasis on formalized job training, especially when dealing with disadvantaged youth, can actually constrain or, worse, deny the importance of genuine learning opportunities.

Mr. Rusten went on to make a second provocative point.  His number one rule in project design, he bellowed, “Do no harm!”  Well, duh, you might say.  Who’s going to intentionally harm youth if the objective is to empower them in the job market and in life?  The answer is not as much about intent as it is about process—a point Sam raised in his discussion of the $2 A Day Challenge a few days back.

After his presentation, Mr. Rusten filled me in on an example in which a non-governmental organization in northeastern Brazil developed a partnership with a corporate sponsor to provide IT training to a group of young people.  In pursuit of an output to justify their investment, the corporate sponsor gave the NGO just three months to train participants and secure the majority with jobs that would last at least three months after the training.  Desperate to produce the demanded results, the NGO immediately contacted a national supermarket chain and requested that a three-month internship be designed to receive the participants of its IT training.  Can you guess what position those young people held for three months?  My guess was cashier; at least that had to do with numbers.  Grocery bagger.  The outcome?  A group of successfully trained, successfully employed, yet humiliated young people.

While the conference pedestalled a “participatory and demand-driven approach” as key to avoiding such ineffective and short-sighted programming, I think Mr. Rusten’s point aims deeper, begging much more difficult questions about the formalization of hierarchical decision-making and evaluative procedure in international development.  For example, at what point did funding cycles and easily quantifiable outcomes start to take precedent over the intended beneficiary?


August 2020

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