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By Michaela Maynard, Global Health Issue Analyst

Nicholas Kristof coined the phrase in his article, published in the New York Times Magazine this past Sunday: “Do-It-Yourself” Foreign Aid; it’s a shift from the usual ‘wealthy country’ gives to ‘poor country’ to improve health and development. Mr. Kristof introduces readers to several of these D.I.Y. individuals: a woman working to manufacture sanitary pads in Rwanda, so that females will not have to miss work or school because they are menstruating; a 23-year old who developed a children’s shelter in Nepal, a mission that started with the $5,000 she had saved from babysitting jobs during high school.

The dedication and commitment that these and other D.I.Y. individuals demonstrate is inspiring. This kind of altruism reminds me that despite all the hardships in the world, there is hope. Today, the delivery of foreign aid does not depend on presidents, United Nations officials or even multi-millionaires. It is the workings of passionate but ordinary individuals with great ideas who are chipping away at huge global challenges. And, that’s the problem I guess, we are only chipping away at the issues.

The article made me question the long-term effects of foreign aid and the sustainability of these projects. If the goal is to make long-lasting changes, shouldn’t we be working towards more systematic development? Shouldn’t we be trying to help countries, economies, and governments help themselves? 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.

Read the rest of this entry »

When I read this New York Times article concerning the finding of mineral deposits in Afghanistan, my response was really?? To me, there is little good that can come of this discovery.

Firstly, while the discovery of mineral deposits in Afghanistan is wonderful for the Afghan economy, what percentage of the profits from mining will actually go toward the local economy? The Pentagon has already created a task force charged with creating a development plan for mining the minerals, and international firms are already lining up to take advantage of this new resource.  How much of the profits will actually stay in Afghanistan and go toward fostering local, sustainable community growth? In my opinion, judging from the history of international interests in national resources, the answer is not much.  The article discussed the fears of the Pentagon that nations such as China will step in to dominate the control and sale of these minerals.  But concerns over the impact on the actual people of Afghanistan was not mentioned, nor was the affect on the environment.

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly from an environmental perspective, is the potential for destruction of Afghan land.  There is no way to mine anything without causing harm to the surrounding environment.  Stripping the land of any kind of resource removes the balance that is needed to keep an ecosystem functioning.  The mining of minerals for use in the international gadget market (where minerals like lithium, which powers our electronics like laptops and smart phones so often end up.  According to the Pentagon, this new find could make Afghanistan the “Saudi Arabia of lithium.”) strips the land of its nutrients, flora, and fauna in order to feed the international need for technology.  Also, the fact that the government will be acquiring the rights to the land mean that the people currently on the land will be forced to give it up — including any kind of farm or livelihood they were cultivating on that land.

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I recently watched two awesome documentaries relating to the environment.  One was Flow, about the effects of privatization on water resources and communities around the world, was an excellent reaffirmation of how important water issues are.  The other was The Greening of Southie, about the first green building to go up in South Boston.  It is the latter that left me with several questions about the impacts of green building.

First, let me start by saying that the film does a great job of explaining what green building is, how one gets the LEED points necessary to be a ‘green building,’ and the challenges that go with creating a green building.  It also brought up issues about community impact, without actually saying anything about them, that I will expand on below.

LEED is a standard of building that promotes using green materials to reduce the impact of a building, whether residential or commercial on the environment.  LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.  There are several different kinds of LEED, one for neighborhood design, one for renovations, and several others.  While the movie was from 2007 and thus a little dated, the property managers aimed for earning enough points to earn a gold rating.  Each point comes from doing something green — using local vendors is worth one point each, using renewable resources like bamboo over hardwood is one point, etc.

All of this sounds wonderful, and there have even been updates to LEED to take into account new technologies and the transportation costs of transporting materials.  However, there are some drawbacks to green building that the film did a wonderful job of pointing out.   Read the rest of this entry »

So well articulated.  So true.

Post by Alejandro Nadal, http://www.triplecrisis.com

International conferences on poverty and the environment come and go. There’s always a big pachyderm in the meeting room. It’s got the words “macroeconomic policy” written on its forehead. Nobody wants to talk about it.

Consider the following. The Millennium Development Goals were debated in many conferences, but nobody spoke about the macroeconomic policy framework needed to achieve them. As if reducing hunger and extreme poverty, generating employment and providing health services and education had nothing to do with fiscal policy, monetary policy and financial deregulation. Aside from some pious words about financing and overseas development assistance, the implicit message was to carry on with the same macroeconomic policies. That could only have been based on faith in the trickle-down potential of neo-liberal globalization.

At UNFCCC-COP events, everyone recognized there are serious issues in terms of financial resources for mitigation and adaptation. Vulnerability and poverty go hand in hand, it is said. But, again, nobody wanted to discuss the relationship between neo-liberal macroeconomic policies and poverty, as if they had no connection.

Read the rest of this entry »

In every generation there is a social movement that captivates the minds of the youth and challenges the establishment. A generation ago the battle was for social justice, today the youth fight for the global environment. On college campuses throughout the United States, from the gates of Cornell to the waves of San Francisco, universities have begun to create sustainability committees in an attempt to “Go Green.” These committees were formulated by the growing demand of their students to take a proactive role in greenerizing their institutions. Petitions were drafted and student organizations were created in an attempt to challenge their universities levels of sustainability. Many of them have succeeded. Starting two years ago, presidents from universities in all 50 states and Puerto Rico signed an agreement to redesign their infrastructures and become sustainable centers of learning.

The American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment, (ACUPCC), provides a framework for participating institutions to neutralize their greenhouse gas emissions. While funding scientific research for sustainability, the universities will incorporate such developments into their curriculum, influencing the next generation of leaders in this country. Due to the strong demand by progressive minded students, presidents like Michael Hogan of the University of Connecticut, saw this as an opportunity for academia to lead the nation and serve as a model for modern America. As a part of the university’s commitment, Hogan instated a sustainability committee that is responsible to develop a sustainable divisional plan. Working with representatives from the administration, transportation, residential life, dinning services, community outreach, health services, and the student body, this committee brings together the entire university to solve a universal problem. This communal effort is being repeated throughout this country from the ivy universities to local community colleges.

As these committees make assessments of their universities, their discoveries and suggestions have begun to be implemented. 27 institutions have implanted some degree of green building requirements. The majority of them have adopted LEED certification standards. The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, (LEED) certified buildings are scored on their sustainability, efficiency, materials used, and their environmental impact. The Los Angeles Community College District is implementing one of the largest public sustainable building efforts in the United States, allocating $2.2 billion for their LEEd certified projects. Serving 130,000 people, this program will serve as a model for cities all across the country. With 130 campuses already having sources of renewable energy, 70 more institutions including New York University and Santa Cruz are joining the list. In December of 2007, College of the Atlantic became the first US university to be carbon neutral. The signatory is on track with its 10 year commitment to renewable energy. These redesigned institutions will serve as an example of how we as individuals can have an influence in our communities.

The environmental consciousnesses of students on college campuses across the United States lead to the ACUPCC. With in two years there has been a dramatic investment by institutions. Committees have been formed, assessments made, funding allocated, and construction begun. With only 150 signatories, there is still much progress to be made. The grassroot youth is needed to begin about such changes. For more information on the ACUPCC or for information on how you school can sign the Commitment please visit their sites. After all, the torch has been pasted to a new generation of Americans.

Trinidad is abuzz with talk of the upcoming 5th Summit of the Americas.  Port of Spain’s public transportation schedule has been changed to accommodate the influx of visitors, two giant cruise ships (the summit venues) sit docked in the harbor, and radio hosts take public calls to determine how Trinidad will benefit in the long run.

The 5th Summit represents Obama’s first opportunity to dialogue with Latin American and Caribbean presidents about issues facing the hemisphere.  With Trinidadians already wearing “I -heart- Obama” t-shirts, hopes are high that his visit will chart a new U.S. policy towards the region.

According to Jeffrey Davidow, Obama’s coordinator for the summit, the U.S. will “focus more on dialogue and collaboration, be pragmatic, and look for concrete results, social inclusion and look to reduce extreme poverty.”

But delegates of the Assembly of Caribbean Youth posed an important question this morning:  collaboration and pragmatism according to whom?  For centuries the Caribbean has been at the whim of foreigners, some of the islands changing hands a dozen times or more.  Anticipating the soon to be consequences of the current economic crises–one that did not originate from within the Caribbean–today’s delegates, representing youth organizations from Trinidad, Barbados, Bahamas, Grenada, St. Vincent, Jamaica and Suriname, emphasized the importance of focusing on self-development and sustainability, both as countries and as a region, before entering into agreements with external markets.

Akins Vidale, President of the Trinidad Youth Council, emphasized four main points for regaining and maintaining economic strength within the Caribbean:

  1. Agrarian Reform and Food Sovereignty – many of the islands don’t produce their own food.
  2. Basic Infrastructure for a Single Caribbean Market – while Suriname may have the capacity to produce food for its neighbors, it hasn’t the efficient means to ship it there.
  3. Independent Economic Strength – local cooperatives and credit unions provide an accountable alternative to predatory loans from international banks.
  4. Integrated Methods for Moving Forward – you cannot judge present by the present.  Solutions needs to demonstrate that they are sustainable and do not compromise the future.  We must be careful of what we rationalize in the name of economic progress.

These young people are all engaged with their national governments towards the development of these community-based solutions, but they need the support and respect of the hemisphere’s heavy weights–the number one actor being the U.S.

It is absolutely critical that in addition to mastering the economic theories and recommended “best practices” for development, we listen to our peers in the Caribbean (and elsewhere) and encourage our government to consider their perspectives when determining policy.  As a friend from Oxfam America said recently, we don’t do development, people develop themselves.  Sometimes they just need our help in clearing the way.

According to Tom Loudon, co-director of the Quixote Center in Washington, DC, the Obama administration, which recently affirmed its intent to move quickly on the Panama FTA, has yet to truly reconsider the model which has increased inequality in the region.  Loudon predicts that “President Obama will likely be surprised by what he encounters in Port of Spain.” Much has changed in the hemisphere in the past few years, and more and more people are beginning to catch on.  Formulas from the past will continue to fail.  We need a fresh perspective.

Open-minded, passionate youth, are starting that process here in the Caribbean.  Where are we?

The present condition of the United States economy has led President-elect Obama  to focus much of his first term on reinvesting in the United States’ infrastructure.  With crumbling roadways, turbulent energy costs, rising unemployment, change in the global climate, and a system with gaping holes in it, the United States is posed for a make over.  The difficult task is in deciding where to begin.  In doing so, the United States should look to a small country in the Middle East, the United Arab Emirates, where the country’s capital is developing the worlds first zero carbon, zero waste city.

In what is known as the Masdar Initiative, it is a global, collaborative, development between the top of academia and the innovative corporations of this planet.  With a capacity of sum 50,000 residents, the car-less city will produce zero emissions as well as zero waste with itsMasdar Initative recycling of goods.  Powered by solar panels and wind turbines, the city will become a producer of technology rather than just a consumer.

As America is in dire need for the creation of jobs, there is an entire industry sitting idly as other countries take advantage of it.  Putting together their most educated minds in a capitalistic environment, there are countries that are transforming into self-sustaining, self-reliant states.  Producing their own energy, growing crops, development of efficient mass transit, while all the more creating a competitive future for their citizens.  It is time that we build the cities of tomorrow, today.

Last week, our office meetings were all about the money – budgets, grants, financial retirement planning, and fair trade. As Americans, often our real power comes not from our ballots, but from our wallets. Yet with markets and companies so hopelessly intertwined, and with all the different steps and materials that go into each product, it is extremely challenging – and not always the most rewarding – to shop responsibly. For example:

· Most retirement portfolios invest a substantial percent in “large-cap” companies, which includes major arms manufacturers, oil companies, and others with questionable records (Nike, Wal-mart, Nestle…), because these companies have the largest returns.

· Seemingly reputable brands are often owned by disreputable parent companies. Both Kraft foods, Nabisco and Philip Morris are owned by Altria

· With so many variables to consider, which do you choose? Fair trade or organic? Sweat-free or locally produced? Environmentally sustainable or socially responsible?

Luckily, with a little research, there are ways to spend responsibly without sacrificing your budget, retirement fund, or sanity. Here are some solutions and resources to help you become an informed shopper:

1) Be Label Savvy – Know your symbols: Fair Trade, Organic, etc, and look for Who (brand),

What (ingred.), Where (produced), and How (its made)

2) Act Local – Support local producers and ask local shops to carry responsible products

3) Invest in the Future – before making a big purchase or investment – from a diamond ring, to

a college education, to a retirement fund – know where the money is going,

and ask the institution or company to divest from irresponsible sources

Learn More:

The Rough Guide to Shopping with a Conscience –covers shopping, finance, travel, and more

The Blue Pages – rates companies based on ethical policies and practices

The Green Pages – directory of socially responsible companies / products / services

www.responsibleshopper.org

www.transfairusa.org – Fair Trade

http://www.socialfunds.com/ – information on socially responsible investing


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