Empowering women doesn’t mean men don’t count. Quite the contrary.

What’s a smart way to empower women worldwide? Get the men involved and give them a chance to feel like they are a part of the solution. In other words, build collaboration.  This past week, Ritu Sharma, co-founder and president of Women Thrive Worldwide, wrote an op-ed, “Violence against women is no ‘women’s issue’” for Politico about the importance of men’s involvement in empowering women.  Using examples from various countries, Sharma gives proof that men need to be involved in shifting the belief systems around customs that tolerate and even promote violence against women.  One example stands out about a man who “didn’t know [he] was not supposed to beat [his] wife,” but who learned through adult education classes that this learned behavior wasn’t necessary, nor productive.  It’s a bit of a shock to read that mindset, but it is not unusual. While working in rural Kenya a couple of years ago, I heard a few men make similar claims, or explain that, according to (insert religious text here), they had the right to treat women as their subordinates and discipline them as necessary. Similarly, some women felt that their husbands had the right to hit them and that this act showed their commitment.

As the article infers, violence against women requires changing the mindset of all those involved – the men and the women of all ranks. Honoring the status bestowed upon men in many cultures promotes more lasting and successful attitudinal changes in the communities.  This has been proven from Haiti to South Africa. Seattle-based Landesa, an organization working to secure land rights in the developing world, has many success stories about men and women empowering each other by working together. For such a story, read Deborah Espinoza’s blog entry, “Land rights for women – a ripple effect.”

Sharma’s op-ed came out the same week the Senate was kicking around the expired Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and trying to cut out key pieces of the Act to purportedly save a few dollars. On Thursday, it passed (phew!), with less funding, but with all key elements still intact. That the VAWA was even considered negotiable is an embarrassing message to the world (if anyone out there can still stomach listening to our politicians).  Communities of men and women in developing countries are challenging themselves to change their mindsets and adhere to a more respectful attitude towards women and structures of dominance.  Such work could prove beneficial right here, too.

Kim Who? Some Thoughts on the World Bank’s Newest President

The mix of knowledge, insight, and experience made for compelling conversations at Wednesday’s wine reception before the screening of  Bonsai People. With financial managers mingling with social entrepreneurs, it seemed the perfect venue to ask people what they thought about the new president of the World Bank. Some attendees weren’t aware of the selection, or if they were, had few opinions about it. This ambivalence is telling. At a cocktail party for people engaged in improving the financial health of the world’s poorest, in a hub of global health and development, the response is “Kim who?” This isn’t to say that folks don’t care or aren’t paying attention, but that the World Bank, its leaders, and what they do, is so far removed from those on the ground, that this kind of news just isn’t on the top of people’s news feeds.

A few facts: On Monday, Dr. Jim Yong Kim became the latest president of the World Bank. An anthropologist and physician, he is co-founder of Partners in Health, is a former director of the HIV/AIDS at WHO, and has served at the president of Dartmouth College since 2009. The other two nominees were Nigerian finance minister and former World Bank managing director, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, and former U.N. official and Colombian central banker, José Antonio Campo.

Some people said that Dr. Kim “sounds good on paper,” while others, such as Alan Leong, Director of Research at Biotech Stock Research, noted the controversy of the developed world (namely the U.S.) once again having the control, despite the goal to have more leadership from the developing world, like from Nigeria, or Colombia, for instance. Others expressed frustration with the institution, likening it to big banks and their culture of taking care of their own (executives) rather than the people they are meant to serve.

One attendee framed it this way: “What does the World Bank do that actually reaches real people?”  Others, like Eric Youngren, of Solar Nexus International, hoped that Dr. Kim could start making investments that truly lead to sustainability. Michael Kaemingk, project manager at Lumana, considers the selection a nice surprise that will provide the World Bank a more relevant perspective: “He’s less removed from the concerns of the developing world.”

Zbigniew Bochniarz, a visiting professor at UW Evans School of Public Affairs, acknowledged that Kim is “a good man” and that his record in health care should provide some needed perspective to an organization that has been heavily criticized for neglecting the social aspects of development. “Here’s a guy who knows the issues and is sensitive to them,” he noted, while also congratulating President Obama taking the risk and nominating someone with a development background.

If you decide to dig in and learn more about Dr. Jim Yong Kim, be sure to include this video from last year’s Dartmouth Idol Finals. Wait through a few minutes of that sappy Dirty Dancing theme song, and you’ll witness Dr. Kim doing the robot and rapping in white leather, neon bracelets, and spacey sunglasses. Dr. Kim certainly has the personality, playfulness, and skills of collaboration to bring new leadership and  ideas to the stiff-limbed World Bank.

 

 

 

 

Opportunity for Action Asks Us All to Pave a Better Future for Today’s Youth

The Microsoft-commissioned report, Opportunity for Action, brings us a new perspective on a tale already told about the lack of opportunity for today’s youth. Reports on this dilemma have been written already; the International Monetary Fund made it the focus of their March 2012 Finance & Development magazine , and the International Labour Organization issued its report “Global Employment Trends for Youth: 2011 update” in October ’11. But Opportunity for Action stands out for its overall feeling of optimism.  Written by the International Youth Foundation (IYF), the report is a call to action for everyone.

Keeping in mind that the audience will reach beyond policy makers, the report presents the complex problem in an accessible style and structure, centered on six improvements that will help today’s youth move forward:  quality education, marketable technical skills, jobs, decent working conditions, entrepreneurship opportunities, and life skills.

Each section of the report highlights an organization that is successfully bringing about change. These sidebars provide examples of what can be done and add a welcome boost of hope to the findings. It should be noted that the organizations share a common factor: funding from Microsoft and/or IYF.

Scanning the membership list of the Global WA network, we can find a number of organizations whose work to improve the future for the world’s youth could also be highlighted:  Smiles Forever trains young women in Bolivia  as dental hygienists, Rwanda Girls Initiative focuses on bettering education, Kabissa uses ICT to connect African communities, Committee for Children produces life skills training programs for young adults. The list goes on.  A common factor they share is the  job of  securing the funding or building the partnership that would allow their programs to soar to even greater heights.

Microsoft commissioned this report to “[generate] dialogue about how technology and other investments can help bridge the divide for youth around the world and is committed to working with businesses, the NGO community, and governments to help youth succeed in the global economy.”   The report gives each sector ‘Action Items’ to help guide forward progress. Those for NGOs and civil society are

• Identify and implement proven practices at large scale.

• Experiment and innovate with new models that use technology effectively and that reduce costs without sacrificing impact and evaluate results.

• Collaborate with the private sector to create demand driven training.

• Work closely with vulnerable youth to strengthen their competencies in preparation for employment or entrepreneurship opportunities.

There is no doubt this report will generate dialogue and encourage all sectors to take some action.  There still needs to be more robust dialogue about how collaboration between NGOs and the private sector will be facilitated and by whom, and from what sources will NGOs find the funding to ‘experiment and innovate with new models that use technology.’  It’s good to read that Microsoft is committed to work across  sectors. Hopefully, more will follow its lead, and NGOs already engaged in helping today’s youth will have the opportunity to strengthen and broaden the scope of their work.

Protecting Endangered Languages

Endangered languages don’t attract nearly as much attention as endangered animals or plants. In fact, they get almost no media attention at all. Should they?

On Tuesday evening, September 27th, Global Washington and Microsoft (more specifically Microsoft’s Local Language Program) hosted a special screening of the documentary “The Linguists,” at MOHAI, followed by a talk with one of the linguists in the film and visiting specialist at Microsoft, Dr. David Harrison.  The event brought together a diverse audience of high school students (kudos to Roosevelt High’s AP Human Geography class), educators, representatives from an array of local non-profits and Microsoft techies, among others.

The documentary follows Harrison and his sidekick Greg Anderson, of Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages, to various parts of the world as they seek out languages that are disappearing, and provide each a resurrection through their interactions and recordings.  It’s a documentary well worth the hour, not only to learn about the vulnerability of certain languages and their intersections with more dominant languages and cultures, but also for the humor, insights and adventures Harrison and Anderson share with the viewers. They take us to corners of the world seldom noticed, provide tidbits of curious information, and remind us that the answers we seek are often in the least likely of places.

The evening’s presentation brought to the fore the importance of learning from the languages before they vanish. Harrison emphasized that technology is now working towards elevating languages, but also pointedly stated that one does not need to travel to remote places, nor tap into technology to find endangered languages. Seattle, he noted, is a “fascinating linguistic mosaic,” with a variety of endangered indigenous languages. All that is required to seek out and appreciate these languages, Harrison stated, “is a shift in attitudes, the ability to value what people know.”  He suggests that we “always be in tune to the linguistic environment around [us] and learn from that.”

“People light up when they see you are interested in their language,” Harrison shared. “People do love their language and do want to keep it.”

Harrison provided a number of reasons to value linguistic diversity:  It provides intellectual diversity, makes you smarter, and broadens cultural knowledge.  “It’s an intellectual asset to know another language.” Prioritizing language acquisition, and the intellectual benefits of such, will also be discussed in depth at Global Washington’s Summit on Global Education on November 18th. “Children don’t have to give up one language in order to learn another one,” Harrison opined.  “But once they make that decision, it tends to be irreversible.”

Efforts towards maintaining languages are making inroads.   Native People’s groups in the States, such as the Cherokee, have made a decision to keep their language, Harrison noted, while many other communities are pushing back at linguistic oppression to hold onto their language.  “Linguistic rights are human rights,”  he stated. “A connection needs to be made between the two.”

So,  in this blogger’s opinion, yes, endangered languages and their cultures do deserve more attention and protection. And for those of us looking to learn a new language or travel, some wise words from the linguists: “You’ve got to breath it in, get out there and dance with the people.”

Global Washington’s Global Social – Bringing Some Attention Back to Latin America

Signs of a successful gathering? Tasty food, chilled drinks, compelling conversations, and people still talking way past closing.

Global Washington’s Global Social on Wednesday evening scores high marks on all four, as more than 40 members and guests came to mingle, listen and connect. Four panelists shared their observations and  concerns about development work in Latin America. While each brought unique stories, all agreed that Latin America is hard to define as one region and that the current focus on the region’s economic progress is overshadowing the issues of increasing economic inequalities and rates of violence, both of which impact how organizations interact with countries in the region.

Following are summaries of the four panelists’ presentations.

Mauricio Vivero, the Executive Director of Seattle International Foundation, began the presentation by noting that in relation to the rest of the world, Latin America is currently being ignored. “It worries us,” he stated, noting that this lack of attention has created a window for China and Brazil, who are exploiting natural resources (China) and political leadership (Brazil) within Central and South America. While this kind of investment leads to economic progress and an overall percentage drop in poverty, inequality is growing. “Inequality in most countries has gone up in the last ten years,” cited Vivero.

Of prime concern is the assumed economic equality because of recent progress. For example, Vivero noted that in 2010, citizens in El Salvador received US$3.8 billion in remittances, mostly from family members and connections in the U.S. He went on to explain that these remittances now dwarf corporate investment and complicate development policies. But they don’t provide a country security. “How do you do development in a rich country?” posed Vivero, also noting that in El Salvador, and throughout Central America, the main issues of the day for people are crime, violence, and insecurity caused by the growing inequalities.

 

Sam Snyder, Executive Director of the Create Good Foundation, shared how his perception of the region was far removed from the reality of what he saw in Guatemala. He had gone there to meet with coffee co-ops and farmers as part of the Pura Vida coffee business, but was “surprised to see the exact same poverty as I saw in Africa.” (Before joining Create Good/Pura Vida, Sam was a Peace Corps volunteer in Cote d’Ivoire.) “There was no water, sanitation, they didn’t have enough land.” Snyder’s focus quickly transitioned to asking the farmers what their needs are and focusing on those through the Create Good Foundation. They started to partner with Ecofiltro, a Guatemalan-owned water filtration business, to handle their distribution to many communities from which they buy their coffee. Crime does concern him. He’s aware of the impact it has on the people with whom he works and questions how to deal with such a complicated issue.

 

Dick Moxon, Special Projects Coordinator for Global Partnerships, focused on the status of micro-finance programs in the region. He pointed out that “this is a relatively optimistic time in South America,” making it easier for organizations to be successful. While the U.S. still muddles through a financial crisis, “Latin American countries have come out of their crises and are doing well.” All of this bodes well for investors, and thus for micro-finance programs. The problem begins with the political models of the various countries. “There are two models in vogue,” Moxon explained. “The Chavez model and the Lula model.” Countries with the more authoritarian, or left of center, Chavez model are perceived as more risky. “Our funders don’t want us to put too much money in those countries,” Moxon stated, giving Nicaragua as an example. That said, Moxon pointed out that many countries, such as Bolivia, have excellent micro-finance laws and have regulated interest rates, while “our friends in Mexico have their own unique system.” Moxon also noted that crime has many impacts on their work, citing how organizations in El Salvador now have to pay into a protection racket. Global Partnerships has begun to also focus on short-term financing options, and has  partnered with Sustainable Harvest.

 

Serena Cosgrove, Assistant Professor at Seattle University and author of Leadership from the Margins: Women and Civil Society Organizations in Argentina, Chile, and El Salvador, wrapped up the presentations by looking at the issues from a “micro level.”

“Ethnographic detail absorbs me,” Cosgrove stated as she focused on how violence and insecurity is impacting El Salvadorans on a daily basis. She noted that the country has one of the highest homicide rates in the world. Cosgrove lived in El Salvador from 1989 to 1993, during some of the gravest years of the country’s unrest. But today, she states, “it feels more unsafe now than in 1989 [a particularly gruesome year during the 12-year civil war.]”

She provided a poignant example of the issues of security with a story of a friend’s daughter whose cell phone is stolen each time she takes the public bus. Yet, if she doesn’t take a phone with her, what does she do if something happens to her? Cosgrove encouraged all of us to imagine what it would be like if our daily lives were dictated by such choices of personal security. She noted how these increasing levels of violence and crime impact all levels of society, citing that young women in the middle class have very limited movement because of the violence.

Further challenging the illusions of progress, Cosgrove impressed the need to notice the income inequalities and extreme poverty in Latin America. One woman in El Salvador even mentioned to Cosgrove “we are worse off now than during the war. At least during the war we had a dream.” Despite the fact that big donors are investing less money into the region, Cosgrove noted that some sectors of civil society are doing great, mentioning that many organizations that are successful are women-directed. “The struggle has only just begun,” finished Cosgrove. “There is still so much that needs to be done to address the inequalities that lead to the conflict.”

Many of the attendees stayed to meet with one another to discuss their programs and strategies. It was an evening charged with energy and intention, and one that will no doubt lead to more people paying a bit more attention to this complex region we call Latin America.

Volunteerism: Finding the Perfect Match, and Then What?

It seems like the perfect match: nonprofit organizations need to accomplish their goals with less money and less staff, while unemployed professionals need to keep their skills fresh and their minds alert. Surely these two groups can help each other out. But, creating a mutually beneficial match isn’t as easy for organizations and individuals as it might seem. Sometimes it happens: Take, for example, Global Washington’s ability to corral a team of volunteers and interns to build and develop everything from blogs (this one included) to events to policy reports. But often, organizations struggle with how to handle the volunteer sector.

A couple of statistics, from the Volunteering in America Fact Sheet for 2009, get the mind spinning. (It’s a bit out of date, but socioeconomic trends haven’t changed that much, right?) One survey shows that the higher the education level and the more “robust the nonprofit infrastructure”, the higher the volunteering rates. But, contrary to all logic, higher unemployment rates lead to lower volunteering rates. Can we assume then that well-educated individuals volunteer less once they’re laid off?

Washington State, and Seattle in particular, have some more comforting statistics. Our state ranks 10th among the 50 states and DC in volunteers. Factors accounting for this are our above average level of education (30.7% state vs. 27.7% national with college degrees) and a slightly higher than average number of nonprofits (4.75 per 1,000 residents state vs. 4.45 per 1,000 residents national). But, despite rising unemployment, Washington State actually increased in volunteer hours in 2009, defying the national trend. Kudos to all, Seattle ranks 4th out of 51 large cities for the volunteer rate from 2007 to 2009. (Portland beat us though, coming in 2nd.)

Washington beats out the rest of the US with 20.6% providing professional and management services, versus the national average of 16.7%, with most of the work happening at religious institutions and at schools. The other top jobs in volunteerism are general labor (26.5%) and, no surprise, fundraising (25.2%).

Worth noting from these surveys is the retention rates of volunteers. In other words, once you get people to work for free, how do you keep them? Retention rates increased for volunteers providing activities that they do professionally, namely in management (69.5% to 82.3%) and administration (61.2% to 75.6%). On the other hand, fundraising is one of the few areas where retention rates decreased, from 63.4% to 61.4%.

Why? According to a study conducted for the article, “The New Volunteer Workforce” (Stanford Social Innovation Review, winter 2009), volunteers leave because the organization fails to do the following: match skills to assignments, recognize volunteer’s contributions, measure the value of volunteers, train volunteers (and train staff to train volunteers), and provide strong leadership.  Many studies, including those mentioned above, encourage nonprofit organizations to rethink how they manage volunteers. Considering that the value of one hour of volunteer time in Washington state is $21.62, according to the Independent Sector website, successful volunteer management makes financial sense.

How do organizations and individuals find one another? Online resource centers provide both parties a quick and easy way to detail skills, time frames, and expectations in such a way that both parties can make better choices. Global Washington’s Careers in Global Development site is a great resource for finding volunteer opportunities with member organizations, and for Global Washington members to find like-minded volunteers. With proper management and with volunteers able to treat their volunteer ‘gig’ with professionalism, it is possible to make a near perfect match.

Learn more about best practices in volunteer management and how to attract the skill set your organization wants at Global Washington’s workshop, Harnessing Volunteer Power, on August 23rd.