Holiday Donations on Behalf of Those With Plenty

In their 10 years together, Paige and Matt Rodgers have given each other a lot of gifts.

When Ms. Rodgers found herself feeling stumped this year, an online search turned up the perfect solution: computer training for school children in Sierra Leone.

Mr. Rodgers, a product manager for a software company, had lamented that his busy life left little time for volunteering. With a few computer clicks from the comfort of their home in Corte Madera, Calif., Ms. Rodgers made a donation in her husband’s name. "I was so excited about it," she said. "I told him about his gift in advance."

Increasingly, people are making donations in the names of spouses, cousins, co-workers and clients, all feel-good gifts to people who want for nothing.

Savvy marketing by charities that tie donated dollar amounts to individual causes make such gifts all the more attractive. An $18 gift can buy a can of worms for a farmer in Ecuador. For $250, a family in Thailand can receive a water buffalo. And for $4,000, an entire school in rural India can receive needed financing.

[Excerpt of an article by Lynette Clemetson, The New York Times]

You don’t have to be rich to give to others

Every day we are confronted with choices: what we wear, what we eat, how and with whom we spend our leisure time. These choices reveal something about us, our priorities and our personal values.

The same is true for our charitable giving. How much (if anything), where, and to whom we give is a reflection of who we are.

But there's another option that allows the donor to have a bit more input in the giving process: family foundations. To dispel a popular myth, you don't have to be a Rockefeller or a Bill Gates to start one. You don't have to give away millions.

The values by which my parents raised my sisters and me: If you can, you should give. Both my mother and father participated in civic activities, supported numerous charitable organizations, and encouraged their children to get involved in local community programs. I was raised to give back to the community the same way I was taught to be kind and honest; it was just something that was expected because it was something my parents valued.

So it was no surprise when my mother approached my adult sisters and me some years after my father died with the idea of creating a family foundation. For her it was a way to foster closer family ties between us and her nine grandchildren and to extend, for future generations, the tradition of giving. My sisters and I had all been giving independently for years, but doing it as a family seemed like a logical progression.

[Excerpt of a commentary by Kathie Klarreich, The Miami Herald]


Tragedy of the death of a child in the developed world

For Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, the ideal of valuing all human life equally began to jar against reality some years ago, when he read an article about diseases in the developing world. He came across the statistic that half a million children die every year from rotavirus, the most common cause of severe diarrhea in children. He had never heard of rotavirus.

“How could I never have heard of something that kills half a million children every year?” he asked himself.

He then learned that in developing countries, millions of children die from diseases that have been eliminated, or virtually eliminated, in the United States. That shocked him because he assumed that, if there are vaccines and treatments that could save lives, governments would be doing everything possible to get them to the people who need them.

As Gates told a meeting of the World Health Assembly in Geneva last year, he and his wife, Melinda, "couldn’t escape the brutal conclusion that — in our world today — some lives are seen as worth saving and others are not."

Gates’s speech to the World Health Assembly concluded on an optimistic note, looking forward to the next decade when "people will finally accept that the death of a child in the developing world is just as tragic as the death of a child in the developed world."

[Excerpt of an article by Peter Singer, The New York Times]

What to Give for Christmas? –The Gift of Life

What is a human life worth? You may not want to put a price tag on it. But if we really had to, most of us would agree that the value of a human life would be in the millions.

Consistent with the foundations of our democracy and our frequently professed belief in the inherent dignity of human beings, we would also agree that all humans are created equal.
With Christmas approaching, and Americans writing checks to their favorite charities, it’s a good time to ask how these two beliefs square with our actions.

We are very far from acting in accordance with that belief. In the same world in which more than a billion people live at a level of affluence never previously known, roughly a billion other people struggle to survive on the purchasing power equivalent of less than one U.S. dollar per day. Most of the world’s poorest people are undernourished, lack access to safe drinking water or even the most basic health services and cannot send their children to school.

According to Unicef, more than 10 million children die every year — about 30,000 per day — from avoidable, poverty-related causes.

[Excerpt of an article by Peter Singer, The New York Times]


US accused of using aid to sway votes in UN security council

The US uses its aid budget to bribe those countries which have a vote in the United Nations security council, giving them 59 per cent more cash in years when they have a seat, according to research by economists.

Kofi Annan, the outgoing UN Secretary-General, expressed his frustration at the power the US wields over the UN in his parting speech last week. In a detailed analysis of 50 years of data, Harvard University's Ilyana Kuziemko and Eric Werker provide the clearest evidence yet that money is used by the council's richest member to grease the wheels of diplomacy.

Anti-poverty campaigners reacted angrily to the findings. 'Aid should go to the people who need it, not as a political sweetener,' said Duncan Green of Oxfam. 'In recent years most rich countries have been making progress on this, but showering bribes on developing countries just because they sit on the UN security council is clearly a step backwards.'

Charities often complain that the US uses its aid as a political tool, and this new evidence of what the authors call 'vote-buying' will raise fears about whether the surge of aid money that was promised at last year's Gleneagles G8 summit will be fairly spent.

Ten of the 15 seats on the security council are filled for two years at a time, by rotation. Kuziemko and Werker found that, in years when they have a seat, countries get an average of more than £8m extra in foreign aid from the US.

Countries with a security council seat also receive an average of £500m extra from the UN itself, most of it channelled through its children's fund, Unicef, over which the US traditionally has been able to exert control. President George Bush recently provoked controversy by appointing a close political ally, former Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman, as Unicef's chief.

[Excerpt of an article by Heather Stewart, The Observer]


Hewlett, Gates foundations team up

In an unusual partnership unveiled today, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation of Menlo Park and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation of Seattle will donate at least $60 million over the next three years to improve Third World schools.

Under the arrangement, the Gates Foundation will give $40 million to the Hewlett Foundation, which will contribute $20 million of its own money. "It is the first time in our history that we have received a grant from another institution," said Hewlett Foundation President Paul Brest.

The Hewlett Foundation already is assisting international organizations and Third World governments to improve education in poor countries. Last year, for example, it joined five other foundations in a $200 million effort to strengthen higher education in seven African nations.

[Excerpt of an article by Steve Johnson, The San Jose Mercury News]


The Consequences of the Death of Empathy

One of the most devastating consequences of unearned privilege -- both for those of us on top and, for very different reasons, those who suffer beneath -- is the death of empathy.

Too many people go to great lengths not to know, to stay unaware of the reality of how so many live without our privilege. But even when we do learn, it’s clear that information alone doesn’t always lead to the needed political action. For that, we desperately need empathy, the capacity to understand the experiences -- especially the suffering -- of others.

The problem with privilege is that it so often leads to incredible arrogance, the belief that one has a right to blurt out in public anything on one’s mind, no matter how uninformed or thoughtless.

Perhaps such arrogance has something to do with seeing the issue from the comfortable position of someone safe in the United States with no direct experience of the struggle and suffering of people [in the rest of the world]..

Most of us in the West live in a country in which he has never had to pass through a checkpoint or justify himself to authorities simply because of the color of his skin, ethnicity, or citizenship.

How can I be so sure of that claim? Because it’s the way I was raised as a white man of European heritage with U.S. citizenship. Comfortable in my privilege, I spent much of my life wondering why so many other people who didn’t look like me complained so much. I understood there was inequality and injustice in the world, but life seemed reasonably fair to me. After all, my hard work seemed to be rewarded, which suggested to me that those not so well off should just work a little harder and stop whining.

Even though I don’t come from the wealthy sector of society, the unearned privileges that I enjoyed had diminished my capacity for empathy. I had access to lots of information, but I was emotionally underdeveloped. I could know things, but at the same time not feel the consequences of that knowledge. That meant I could avoid the difficult conclusion that would have come from a deeper knowing and feeling -- that the inequality and injustice in the world was benefiting me at some level, and therefore I had a heightened obligation to confront it.

As I became politicized later in my life, I realized I not only had to learn more about the world but also had to fight to reclaim an ability to empathize. From there, it moved to the global, by recognizing the poverty and violence suffered by the targets of U.S. power.

Each day we struggle to empathize, we hold onto our humanity.

[By Robert Jensen, dissidentvoice.org]


Clueless in America

While traveling these past weeks in Asia, the following article caught my attention. Allow me to share excerpts with you:

There are millions of Americans who still care about the health of the planet and the rights of other people, and they struggle to be heard above the din of excessive commercialism that overwhelms the senses and causes us to behave like caged rats in a laboratory.

Much of the world sees the average American as detached from reality, isolated from the suffering of others. They see us as self-absorbed, over indulgent, willfully ignorant, and imbued with enormous hubris--characterizations that are difficult to argue against. Unfortunately, I am well acquainted with the type.

Most Americans somehow believe that we are an exceptional people--God's chosen few. Deep down, Americans may reason that if we are to continue our lives of excess, if we are to carry on driving our Hummers and other inefficient motorized polluting obscenities, we need an inexhaustible supply of oil. As keepers of the world's strongest military, we have the means of procuring oil anywhere in the world, and that makes it ours.

From the moment of birth onward Americans are conditioned to think that we are not only special, but are superior to everyone else; that we are somehow entitled not only to our share of the world's wealth, but to everyone else's share as well. While we remain primitive Conquistadors in our thinking, we believe that we are the truly enlightened, the envy of the world, and everyone aspires to emulate our shining example.

[Excerpt of an article by freelance journalist Charles Sullivan] More

Clueless in America II

Material goods and services are a poor substitute for inner tranquility and global community. We are a people bombarded by commercial media every waking hour of our lives. Our troubled existence is a matrix of distracting white noise from which the only escape is the calm slumber of death. The result is that few of us have ever had a true waking moment in our lives. We have replaced wild nature with Disney World and have forgotten which is real and which is bogus. We have recreated god in the image of capital and put him on our currency.

Even so, despite the dominant paradigm of capitalism, there are Americans who have escaped the fate of excess to which so many others have fallen prey. There are millions who were not caught in the web of commercialism, who have maintained a spiritual connection to the earth and to the greater biological community, and to the unfathomable cosmos beyond. There are millions of people who still consider a long walk in unbroken wilderness their greatest blessing--as something beyond valuation by capital.

Despite pervasive cultural brainwashing, there are millions of Americans who still care about the health of the planet and the rights of other people, and they struggle to be heard. It is the conscientious ethical fringe that keeps us afloat and provides hope for a better future by operating outside of the mainstream.

[Excerpt of an article by freelance journalist Charles Sullivan]


Billionaire's Donation Saves German University

Klaus J. Jacobs, a German-born billionaire who lives in England and studied at Stanford, came back to his hometown here the other day to announce that he was donating more than $250 million to the International University Bremen.

The gift is the biggest private donation ever made to a German university - so big, in fact, that its only real parallel is the kind of mega-philanthropy that periodically swells the coffers of American universities.

That is precisely the point for Mr. Jacobs and for the newly appointed president of the university. "I hope that this sets a precedent," Mr. Jacobs, 69, said. "There is a lot of wealth in private and corporate hands in Germany. It certainly would be desirable to see more of it going to institutions."

Jacobs said he hoped his gesture would encourage more large-scale philanthropy in a land where it is largely unknown.

Private giving to German universities is limited by several factors, ranging from the lack of a philanthropic tradition to rules that limit the amount of tax-free donations. The biggest hurdle, however, is the state, which has historically been the main financier of higher education.

[Excerpt of an article by Mark Landler, The New York Times]

Muslim Charity Sue Treasury Dept.

In a new challenge to Washington over its closing several American Muslim charities that it has accused of aiding terrorism, the largest such group sued on Monday seeking dismissal of many of the charges.

Lawyers for the group, the Holy Land Foundation of Richardson, Tex., filed suit in Federal District Court in Dallas two weeks after a federal judge in California called into question a crucial provision in designating terrorist supporters. Since December 2001, the Treasury Department has designated Holy Land and five other Muslim charities in the United States as terrorist supporters, seizing millions of dollars in assets and halting their activities.

No accused charity or any senior officer have been convicted on a charge of terrorism. Some charities have faced no criminal charges.

In a separate case against a Georgia man whom the prosecution identified as a fund-raiser for Holy Land, the defendant pleaded guilty this year to sending money to Hamas, the Islamist Palestinian political party that Washington first designated as a terrorist organization in 1995.

[Excerpt of article by Neil MacFarquhar, The New York Times]


Shakira and Nobel Prize laureate fight poverty in Colombia

Shakira joined with fellow Colombian and Nobel Prize laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez on Tuesday to launch a star-studded foundation to fight child poverty in Latin America.

Backed by the two Colombians and other luminaries of entertainment and finance, the Latin America in Solidarity Action — whose Spanish acronym is ALAS, or "wings" — took flight with a promise to tackle poverty that kills 350,000 children each year in the region.

Spanish singer Miguel Bose will serve as executive director of the foundation, conceived about a year ago by Shakira, who also heads the Colombia-based non-profit foundation Pies Descalzos, or Barefoot, which helps the child victims of violence in that South American country.

The ALAS promoters said the foundation doesn't seek to replace other organizations that work with children or eliminate the obligation governments have to eradicate poverty, but to strengthen existing efforts.

[Associated Press]


Bill Gates on life, philanthropy and competition

From an interview with Bill Gates:
Q What problems do you feel need to be addressed on a global scale?
A Well, 12 million children a year die who shouldn't die, so we might start with that one. That's the biggest priority at our foundation: the way that human life is not treated equitably between rich countries and poor countries. In fact, there are 24 infectious diseases that, if we could come up with the right interventions, you can eliminate the vast majority of the difference.

Q Do you see parallels with your work as a global philanthropist and your work with Microsoft? Or are they completely different worlds?
A They're identical in a lot of ways. It's picking smart people who want to dedicate themselves to the problem, taking a long-term approach, being willing to have some failures and come back around and learn from those things; that paradigm of how we plan, how we pull the team together is virtually the same, and it's partly why the foundation has come in on these diseases. We've been able to galvanize a lot of activity very quickly.

[Excerpt of an interview with Bill Gates, by John Boudreau, The San Jose Mercury News]


Meet Melinda Gates, married to Bill

After the birth of her first child a decade ago, Melinda Gates, the wife of Microsoft Corp. founder Bill Gates, left her job as a manager at the software giant and devoted her time to caring for their children and quietly guiding strategy for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the philanthropic powerhouse the couple founded.

Now that her third child is nearing school age, the 42-year-old Mrs. Gates is stepping into the limelight as an outspoken advocate for closing the global health gap. On Thursday, she plans to announce an expanded initiative with President Bush and first lady Laura Bush's summit on fighting malaria, a mosquito-borne disease that kills one million people a year, mostly children under five.

The Gates Foundation plans to award $83 million in new grants for vaccine research, treatment programs and expansion of its model malaria-control program in Zambia to five more countries. The new grants will bring the foundation's spending on malaria to $765.8 million. The foundation also has given $650 million to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which also finances malaria control.

The Gateses' new alliance against malaria with the president and first lady -- following a high-profile partnership with former President Bill Clinton -- culminates several years of behind-the-scenes consultation with the Bush White House on its AIDS program. The President's Malaria Initiative, a $1.2 billion effort, aims to cut malaria's death toll in half in 15 countries.

In excerpts from a wide-ranging interview, Mrs. Gates talks about juggling responsibilities for her young family and the foundation's management of its global health program, brainstorming with her famous husband and stepping out of her previously unseen internal work for the foundation and into the public arena

[Excerpt of an article by Marilyn Chase,The Wall Street Journal]


Sad state in Aceh 2 years after the tsunami

Former US president Bill Clinton was in Aceh last week and found that two years after the disaster only 30-35 per cent of the homeless had been placed in permanent accommodation.

About 320,000 people, or 70 per cent, of the Aceh homeless, still await permanent homes.

Of the millions donated to the largest aid agencies for victims, a staggering amount still remains in relief agency accounts.

Moreover, some governments that promised set amounts over five years for tsunami relief and Indonesian development, are behind on those promises.


Darfur and International Human Rights Day

Outgoing U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan will ask Friday how the international community can allow the "horror" in Sudan's Darfur region to continue and say there is more than enough blame to shared all around.

In a speech to be given in New York, Annan says blame can be shared by those valuing abstract notions of sovereignty over human lives; those whose response of solidarity puts them on the sides of governments and not people; and those who fear commercial interests could be jeopardized.

"The truth is, none of these arguments amount even to excuses, let alone justifications, for the shameful passivity of most governments," Annan says in the speech to be given to mark International Human Rights Day.

"We have still not summoned up the collective sense of urgency that this issue requires," said Annan, who pledged earlier this week to make the killings in Darfur his priority until he leaves office on December 31.

Some 200,000 people have been killed in Darfur since the rebels took up arms against the central government in 2003, while another 2 million have been driven out of their homes.



Silicon Valley emigres tackle poverty

Vidyashree, a 15-year-old with doleful eyes and a soiled but tidy green-and-white school uniform, works as a servant every morning and evening, making less than $9 a month. In between shifts, she attends school.

The teenager is direct: She does not want to follow the path of her poor parents. She wants out of the slums. She glimpsed her way out when the computers arrived this summer at Government High School, Cotton Pet, courtesy of Silicon Valley's American India Foundation (AIF), a group of high-powered executives who are reinvesting in their native country, and in the process redefining how immigrants give back to their homeland.

Though the teenagers have grown up in India's tech mecca, a city of modern office campuses for countless engineers writing code for the world's elite companies, they had not seen up close, let alone touched, a keyboard before. Vidyashree hopes that learning how to operate a computer, and speak English, will persuade her parents to let her continue school, instead of dropping out to work as a maid and get married.

Vidyashree is the unseen India, the child AIF hopes to help.

"How many people in Silicon Valley think beyond the Indian engineer as far as India is concerned?" asked Lata Krishnan, president of the Santa Clara-based American India Foundation, a 5-year-old philanthropic group. "Nobody stops to think that 500 million people in India live on less than $1 a day and that you have such dire, impoverished circumstances in so many households in India."

Countless Indo-Americans, also known as non-resident Indians, have returned to their homeland with business plans in hopes of participating in an economy growing at more than 8 percent a year. But they also come back to help those whose lives have largely remained untouched by the good times, for those like young Vidyashree

[Excerpt of an article by John Boudreau, The San Jose Mercury News]

Britain’s Military Spending

The British Ministry of Defence quietly secured a £1.7bn increase in its budget.

That's the equivalent of half the annual budget for the Department for International Development. But another billion or two doesn't make much difference when we are already sloshing out £32bn a year on a programme whose purpose is a mystery.

A report by the National Audit Office failed to answer, or even to ask, why we need attack submarines, destroyers, Eurofighters and anti-tank weapons. Are the Russians coming? It is preposterous to suggest that we face the threat of invasion, now or in the foreseeable future.

The UK wants to be able to fight either three small foreign wars at the same time or one large one, which "could only conceivably be undertaken alongside the US". In other words, our "defence" capability is now retained for the purpose of offence. Our armed forces no longer exist to protect us. They exist to go abroad and cause trouble.

Competition for resources means that the regions which possess them - particularly the Middle East - will remain the focus of conflict. As improved education is not matched by better prospects for many of the world's poor, the resulting sense of marginalisation provides a more hospitable environment for insurrection.

Military spending … diverts money from helping the poor; it generates a self-justifying momentum which stimulates conflict.

[Excerpt of ana rticle by George Monbiot, The Guardian]


Clinton Holds Up Cambodia's AIDS Effort as Model

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton praised Cambodia on Monday for its success in fighting HIV/AIDS, saying other countries should take note of its twin strategy of public education and widespread condom promotion.

"There is a hope that Cambodia can be a model for the rest of Asia and perhaps for the rest of the world,'' Clinton said after a signing ceremony on behalf of his Clinton Foundation with Prime Minister Hun Sen.

The impoverished southeast Asian nation has one of the highest HIV/AIDS rates in the region, although infection levels among the adult population dropped to 1.9 percent in 2004 from 3.3 percent in 1998.

It is not known how much HIV/AIDS assistance the Clinton Foundation is giving Cambodia, although Minister of Health Nuth Sokhom said it included testing equipment for at least four laboratories.

[The New York Times]


Arab Nations To Lift Financial Blockade On Palestine

Arab nations hope to lift the financial blockade on Palestine following the US veto on a U.N. Security Council draft resolution which would have condemned Israel's military offensive in the Gaza Strip, reports AP.

The Arab decision to lift the blockade on Palestine was arrived at following discussions at a meeting of 11 Arab foreign ministers and other senior officials and diplomats at the headquarters of the Arab League in the Egyptian capital, Cairo. The Arab League had called an urgent meeting of foreign ministers of its member countries on Sunday to decide how to respond the latest Israeli offensive and the US veto.

The United States had vetoed a UN Security Council resolution that would have condemned Israel for its military operations in Gaza. The US says that the resolution was "biased against Israel and politically motivated." The UN draft resolution, proposed by Qatar, called for an immediate withdrawal of the Israeli forces from Gaza Strip.

Earlier, the Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa had strongly condemned the US decision to veto the draft UN Security Council resolution.



Vaccines tell a wider tale of human progress

Global poverty stretches out across an endless plane, so the caravan of progress can sometimes appear stationary. Yet in fact there is advance:

Since 1990 the proportion of the world's people living on $1 or less a day has fallen by a third, and primary school enrollment in developing countries has gone from 79 percent to 86 percent.

One of the most heartening changes -- and the one for which aid donors most clearly deserve credit -- is improved access to medicines in poor countries. The number of people receiving AIDS drugs in sub-Saharan Africa has jumped tenfold in three years, and yesterday the William J. Clinton Foundation announced plans to boost AIDS treatment for children in 62 poor countries.

Meanwhile, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI), which since 2000 has prevented more than 1.7 million early deaths by supporting immunization programs, pledged to accelerate the deployment of new vaccines.

[Excerpt of an editorial in The Washington Post]


Clinton launches child HIV drug

Former President Bill Clinton and two Indian pharmaceutical companies have struck an agreement to cut prices of HIV and AIDS treatment for children, making the lifesaving drugs far more accessible worldwide, Clinton's foundation's anti-AIDS initiative said.

The companies will supply drugs for HIV-positive children at prices as low as 16 cents a day, or less than $60 a year, according to a statement by the Clinton Foundation HIV/AIDS Initiative.

The deal will enable an additional 100,000 HIV-positive children in 62 countries to receive treatment in 2007, the foundation said.Under the agreement, the two companies -- Cipla Ltd. and Ranbaxy Laboratories Ltd. -- will supply 19 different antiretroviral formulations for prices about 45 percent less than the lowest current rates for these drugs in developing countries, the statement said.



On social inequality

a 1979 Carnegie study ("Small Futures: Children, Inequality, and the Limits of Liberal Reform", Richard de Lone principal investigator) found that a child's future to be largely determined by social status, not brains.

Consider Bobby and Jimmy, two second-graders, who both pay attention in the classroom, do well, and have nearly identical I.Q.s. Yet Bobby is the son of a successful lawyer; Jimmy's works infrequently as custodial assistant. Despite their similarities, the difference in the circumstances to which they were born makes it 27 times more likely that Bobby will get a job that by time he is in late 40s will pay him an income in the top tenth of all incomes in this country. Jimmy had about one chance in eight of earning even a median income.

Now, more than two and one-half decades later, the projected inequality of fates of Bobby and Jimmy's second grade successors is even greater. For a variety of reasons to be here explored, inequality in the United States has increased to the extent that the gap between the rich and poor is larger now than at any point in the past 75 years--greater than that of any industrialized nation (see Edward N. Wolff's 1995 Top Heavy: A Study of Increasing Inequality of Wealth in America, Twentieth Century Fund, and his "The Rich Get Richer: And Why the Poor Don't").

Federal Reserve figures for 1989 found the wealthiest 1 percent of American households (with net worth of at least $2.3 million each) owning nearly 40 percent of the nation's wealth, and the top 20 percent of American households (worth $180,000 or more) own more than 80 percent.

In 1974, when income inequality was at its lowest point, the top 10 percent of U.S. households had incomes 31 times that of the poorest 10 percent and four times greater than median-income households.

Twenty years later, these numbers had inflated to 55 times the poorest and six times the median.


Killing The Children Of Iraq

A sad documentary (75 min) by John Pilger, highlights the fact that sanctions on Iraq since the Gulf War have killed more people than the two atomic bombs dropped on Japan in 1945!

This includes over half a million children - many of whom weren't even born when the Gulf War began.

Video available to view or download


Taking Tiny Loans To The Next Level

An idea, not a person, was the most powerful force in philanthropy in 2006. The choice of the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize winner was a tribute to it. It was truly the year of microfinance.

The energy, money, and brainpower being devoted to the practice of lending to the world's poor is unprecedented. "Previously, if we screamed, people didn't listen. Now, if we whisper, the whole world will hear," says Muhammad Yunus, who shares the Nobel Peace Prize with his Bangladesh-based Grameen Bank.

Yunus pioneered microfinance in the 1970s and continues to expand its boundaries. But some of the most exciting innovations reshaping the field spring from a new breed of philanthropists who hail, in large part, from the tech world. As befits captains of the tech industry, their efforts center on bringing scale, efficiency, and transparency to a fragmented, often inefficient area.

At the heart of microfinance is microcredit, the practice of offering small, unsecured loans to poor people not served by banks. The loans, often just $50 to $150, are used to buy everything from buffaloes that produce milk to sell in markets to mobile phones that villagers can pay to use. Borrowers are usually women, in part because studies show that women are more likely to use their earnings to pay for family needs than men. Repayment rates are said to run from 95% to 98%, though some suspect that figure is overstated.

[Excerpt of an article by Jay Greene and Jeffrey Gangemi, BusinessWeek]


Top 1 percent wary on giving to charity

Giving seems robust whenever Warren Buffett and Bill Gates announce mega-gifts.

But there's room for more donors. Last year, 1.3 million individual Americans are in the exclusive club of those whose incomes are in the top 1 percent, earning more than $328,000 that year, according to the Tax Foundation in Washington.

However, even in a generous nation like America, giving has been flat for the past half-century, at about 2 percent of GDP and income," notes the Catalogue for Philanthropy, which promotes small charities.

Manywith high incomes still worry about having enough money, and some distrust charities, according to a survey done by the Luxury Institute, a New York research firm, which found that 11 percent of respondents have no plans to donate to charity, and another 15 percent were uncertain.


Gates Foundation becoming a leader in underwriting research

The deep-pocketed Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, with a $31.9 billion endowment and a $30 billion commitment from Warren Buffett , last winter gave $2.5 million to the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT to fund a pilot study to create a genetic map of malaria.

Over the summer, the Gates Foundation donated $2 million to help Boston's Partners in Health run a training program in Rwanda on HIV treatment and prevention.

It previously had given $44.7 million to the Harvard-affiliated nonprofit group, co founded by medical anthropologist Paul Farmer , for research on tuberculosis in Peru and Russia.

[Excerpt of an article by Robert Weisman, The Boston Globe]


Profits for Non-Profits

This year, as never before, the line between philanthropy and business is blurring. A new generation of philanthropists has stepped forward, for the most part young billionaires who have reaped the benefits of capitalism and believe that it can be applied in the service of charity. They are "philanthropreneurs," driven to do good and have their profit, too.

Among them are eBay's founder, Pierre Omidyar, who wants to use investment capital as well as donations to expand the microloan industry, and Stephen M. Case, the co-founder of America Online, who is investing $250 million in companies that help consumers gain control of their health care.

Young companies are involved, too: when Google announced its philanthropic effort this year, it unveiled a venture-capital fund rather than a foundation.

The approach of these philanthropreneurs reflects the culture of the business that brought them their wealth: information technology, with its ethos that everyone should have access to information. By their way of thinking, the marketplace can have the same level-the-playing-field impact, and supply the world's poor with basic needs like food, sanitation and shelter.

[Except of an article by Stephanie Strom, The New York Times]


USA and UK, democracies no. 17 and 23

In “The World in 2007”, the British weekly magazine, The Economist, analyzed the level of democracy in 167 countries with the five categories; electoral process and pluralism, functioning of government, political participation, political culture, and civil liberties, maximum of 10 points per each category.

The Economist, based on its analysis, classified the countries into four stages of democracy; full democracy, 28 countries; flawed democracy, 54; hybrid democracy, 30; and authoritarian regime, 55.

Although the recent wave of worldwide democratization, only 13% of the world population is considered to be living in ‘full democracy,’ whereas 40% of them are still under authoritarian regime.

Sweden is the most democratic country, according to the research, with 9.88 average score. Ireland, 9.71 points, the Netherlands, 9.66, and Norway, 9.55.

The US is ranked 17th while Japan is 20th and the United Kingdom 23rd.

The report points out that United States has suffered “a serious erosion of civil liberties” in the context of the war on terrorism and something similar has happened in the UK with a significant declination in political participation.


India Told to Get Grip on HIV in 2007

India must get on top of its HIV epidemic by next year or risk seeing it spiral out of control, the man who controls the richest private anti-AIDS fund in the country and a senior United Nations official warned.

“The signs are still ominous,'' Ashok Alexander, the director of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's $258-million Indian HIV-prevention project, told Reuters in an interview.

He said the rising prevalence of HIV in more than 100 districts in which the foundation operates showed that a decade of government efforts had not slowed the virus, which is now estimated to have infected 5.7 million Indians.

“The huge challenge is scaling up prevention efforts. 2007 is when we need to have done this by,'' added Alexander, who has repeatedly said India's epidemic is at a tipping point. “It's very urgent.''

[The New York Times]


WHO Says Health Gains Made in Africa

African countries are developing innovative methods to tackle illness and disease, but health problems across the continent remain enormous, the World Health Organization said in a report Monday.

The U.N. health agency's report assessed the enormity of problems ranging from the ongoing AIDS crisis to the increasing incidence of diseases such as cancer and diabetes.

It also highlighted innovative strategies being developed across Africa that rely not on expensive methods imported from richer countries, but on local initiatives using readily available resources -- such as the training of community health care workers.

In Uganda, the shortage of doctors meant AIDS patients were going without treatment. To fill the gap, the country turned to its nurses, training nurses to do jobs traditionally done by doctors.

Africa's health report card is catastrophic: More than 90 percent of the world's malaria cases occur on the continent, and less than 60 percent of the population in sub-Saharan Africa has access to safe water.

AIDS has cut a wide swath through Africa, and complicates virtually every pre-existing health issue on the continent. New problems like the recently identified extensively drug resistant tuberculosis in South Africa are also threatening already fragile health systems.

[The New York Times]


Torture guidance from VP Cheney?

A former top State Department official said that Vice President Dick Cheney provided the "philosophical guidance" that led to the torture of detainees in U.S. facilities.

Retired U.S. Army Col. Larry Wilkerson, who served as former Secretary of State Colin Powell's chief of staff, told CNN that the practice of torture may be continuing in U.S.-run facilities. "There's no question in my mind that we did. There's no question in my mind that we may be still doing it," Wilkerson said on CNN's "Late Edition."

"There's no question in my mind where the philosophical guidance and the flexibility in order to do so originated -- in the vice president of the United States' office," he said. "His implementer in this case was [Defense Secretary] Donald Rumsfeld and the Defense Department."

Cheney has lobbied against a measure in Congress that would outlaw "cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment" of prisoners. Cheney has come under mounting criticism for his position. Stansfield Turner, a military veteran who served as director of the CIA during the Carter administration, labeled him the "vice president for torture."

While traveling in Latin America, President Bush defended U.S. treatment of prisoners, saying flatly, "We do not torture."


CIA authorization on torture guidelines

The CIA has acknowledged for the first time the existence of two classified documents, including one signed by the US President, George Bush, that it used as guidelines in the interrogation and imprisonment of terrorist suspects.

The CIA referred to the documents in a letter sent to American Civil Liberties Union lawyers by the agency's associate general counsel, John McPherson.

The contents of the documents were not revealed, but one of them is "a directive signed by President Bush granting the CIA the authority to set up detention facilities outside the US and outlining interrogation methods that may be used against detainees", the rights group said.

The directive from Mr Bush is thought to have been issued soon after the attacks of September 11, 2001, and the Justice Department memo about a year later.

Jameel Jaffer, one of the union's lawyers, said they intended to press for release of both of these documents. "If President Bush and the Justice Department authorised the CIA to torture prisoners, the public has a right to know," Mr Jaffer said in a statement.

[Excerpt from The New York Times]


Charges Sought Against Rumsfeld Over Prison Abuse

A lawsuit in Germany will seek a criminal prosecution of the outgoing Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other U.S. officials for their alleged role in abuses.

Legal documents, filed with Germany's top prosecutor, will seek a criminal investigation and prosecution of Rumsfeld, along with Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, former CIA director George Tenet and other senior U.S. civilian and military officers, for their alleged roles in abuses committed at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison and at the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The plaintiffs in the case include 11 Iraqis who were prisoners at Abu Ghraib, as well as Mohammad al-Qahtani, a Saudi held at Guantanamo, whom the U.S. has identified as a would-be participant in the 9/11 hijackings. (As TIME first reported in June 2005, Qahtani underwent a "special interrogation plan," personally approved by Rumsfeld, which the U.S. says produced valuable intelligence. But to obtain it, according to the log of his interrogation and government reports, Qahtani was subjected to forced nudity, sexual humiliation, religious humiliation, prolonged stress positions, sleep deprivation and other controversial interrogation techniques.)

Lawyers for the plaintiffs say that one of the witnesses who will testify on their behalf is former Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, the one-time commander of all U.S. military prisons in Iraq. Karpinski has issued a written statement to accompany the legal filing, which says, in part: "It was clear the knowledge and responsibility [for what happened at Abu Ghraib] goes all the way to the top of the chain of command to the Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld ."

Germany was chosen for the court filing because German law provides "universal jurisdiction" allowing for the prosecution of war crimes and related offenses that take place anywhere in the world.

[Excerpt of an article by Adam Zagorin, The Times]

The Case against Rumsfield and Gonzales

The November 14, 2006, criminal complaint is a request for the German Federal Prosecutor to open an investigation and, ultimately, a criminal prosecution that will look into the responsibility of high-ranking U.S. officials for authorizing war crimes in the context of the so-called “War on Terror.”

The complaint is filed with much new evidence, new defendants and plaintiffs, a new German Federal Prosecutor and under new circumstances that include the resignation of Donald Rumsfeld as Secretary of Defense and the passage of the Military Commissions Act of 2006 in the U.S. granting officials retroactive immunity from prosecution for war crimes.

The complaint alleges that American military and civilian high-ranking officials named as defendants in the case have committed war crimes against detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan and in the U.S.-controlled Guantánamo Bay prison camp.

The complaint alleges that the defendants “ordered” war crimes, “aided or abetted” war crimes, or “failed, as civilian superiors or military commanders, to prevent their commission by subordinates. The allegation is that the U.S. administration has treated hundreds if not thousands of detainees in a coercive manner.

The United States has refused to join the International Criminal Court, thereby foreclosing the option of pursuing a prosecution in international courts. German courts are seen as a last resort to obtain justice for those victims of abuse and torture while detained by the United States.

[Center for Constitutional Rights]


Build great companies, then help build a great world

Following is an excerpt of a commentary by Jim Fruchterman, published in The San Jose Mercury News , that outlines a challenge for today's new style of philanthropist:

Silicon Valley has become rich by selling products around the world. We have a highly efficient system for creating technology that solves problems and delivers value far beyond the confines of Northern California. But, we have only scratched the surface of what we could be doing to help solve the pressing social problems that confront us.

Charity? Philanthropy? Bleeding hearts? Perhaps, but when you use your heart, you don't have to check your brain at the door. The same skills and sophistication we use to build great companies can and must be applied to the world's biggest problems. One great way to explore how you can apply your business and technical skills is to link up with other like-minded people.

Silicon Valley entrepreneurs are building on the foundations laid by people like Bill Hewlett and David Packard, who long supported global issues and whose foundations continue their work today. We now realize that taking social action is in our direct interest and that of our children, whether it addresses human rights or the likely impacts of global warming.

Human beings respond to incentives, and there are many opportunities to utilize more entrepreneurial approaches to maximize the social returns of investing in social enterprises.

Using the same techniques we apply as business entrepreneurs, any number of us could tackle the problems of the world as social entrepreneurs.

How billionaires give their money away

In 1996, Ted Turner gave a now-famous interview in which he complained that the superrich were being corrupted by the Forbes 400 list. Turner, an impolitic billionaire who actually acknowledges such motivations as ego and one-upmanship, said the richest Americans weren't giving their money away because they feared falling lower on the net-worth rankings. He hoped the mega-wealthy could be induced to compete instead at giving away their fortunes.

Turner followed up his suggestion the next year with what was then the largest gift ever, a billion dollars to support the work of the United Nations.

Slate followed up by starting an annual list of the 60 largest charitable donations. An annual event, which was co-sponsored by the Clinton Foundation and the Clinton School of Public Service, marked the 10th year of the Slate list. The growth in the scale and ambition of major charitable donations in the 10 years of the Slate 60 reflects that there are more people than ever before with more money than anyone could ever hope to spend.

But it also suggests that what Turner proposed really has come to pass. Steve Case, the founder of AOL, said at the conference that he thought competition among nonprofits was now "much more intense" than competition among businesses. These days, billionaires try to outdo each other not just in how much they give away, but also in how smart and effective they can be in tackling a variety of problems.

Case boasted about a program his foundation supports that can supply clean water to African villages for just $6 per person with pumps powered by children playing. Perhaps Richard Branson or Pierre Omidyar, the founder of eBay who has become a significant philanthropic innovator, can figure out a way to do it for $4 while recycling aluminum cans.

As opposed to the race to build the world's longest private yacht, this is a clash of titans we can all applaud. The new philanthropists have much in common. The ethic of the recent technology billionaires, as opposed to the great industrial tycoons, is to be partners rather than patrons. The modern philanthropist dislikes the term charity, preferring to speak about his social investments. His language is entrepreneurial, sprinkled with references to metrics, scalability, leverage, and venture philanthropy. The fashion these days is also to work globally rather than locally, to erect programs rather than edifices, and to focus on those who are absolutely worst off in the developing world, more than on those who are relatively impoverished at home.

[Excerpt of a commentary by Jacob Weisberg, Slate]


Termination of oversight added to big U.S. spending bill

Investigations led by a Republican lawyer named Stuart Bowen in Iraq have sent U.S. occupation officials to jail on bribery and conspiracy charges, exposed disastrously poor construction work by well-connected companies such as Halliburton Co. and Parsons Corp., and discovered that the military did not properly track hundreds of thousands of weapons it shipped to Iraqi security forces.

But tucked away in a huge military authorization bill that President Bush signed two weeks ago is what some of Bowen's supporters believe is his reward for repeatedly embarrassing the administration: a pink slip, in the form of an obscure provision terminating the federal oversight agency that he heads, the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction.

Bowen's office, created in January 2004 to examine reconstruction money spent in Iraq, currently has 55 auditors and inspectors in Iraq and some 300 reports and investigations already to its credit, far outstripping any other oversight agency in the country.

[Excerpt of an article by James Glanz, New York Times]

U.S. Military seeks $160 billion extra to cover war costs

The military services and defense agencies have requested as much as $160 billion in supplemental spending for the remainder of fiscal 2007 -- a staggering figure that would bring wartime costs this year to $230 billion, defense sources said.

The services' requests, first reported by InsideDefense.com, also would make total fiscal 2007 supplemental spending equal to more than half of the regular fiscal 2007 defense budget. The Army and Air Force requested $80 billion and $50 billion, respectively, for the last half of fiscal 2007, sources told CongressDaily. The Navy and Marine Corps appear to have submitted smaller requests.

Congress already has appropriated a $70 billion bridge fund to cover the war costs for the first several months of this fiscal year, $20 billion more than the Bush administration proposed last February in its fiscal 2007 budget request.

Several senior lawmakers, including Senate Budget Chairman Judd Gregg, R-N.H., Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, and Senate Armed Services Airland Subcommittee Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., have become increasingly frustrated by the Defense Department's reliance on massive emergency spending bills, which bypass the authorization committees.

A Pentagon spokesman said it "would not be appropriate to discuss" the services' requests.


International giving on the rise

Driven by mega-gifts from large funders and response to natural disasters abroad, international giving by foundations set a record last year, a new study says.

Giving by U.S. foundations to overseas charities reached $3.8 billion last year, up almost 12 percent since 2002 after adjusting for inflation, says the "International Grantmaking Update," released by the Foundation Center and the Council on Foundations.

Foundations of all types posted international-giving growth rates that surpassed overall giving. A $750 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to the Vaccine Fund was a significant factor in the growth of international giving overall, and the foundation's total international giving in 2004 was $1.2 billion.

Global health organizations received almost one in two international grant dollars, the study says, while more than two in 10 grants awarded benefited international development.

[Philanthropy Journal]


Iraq War will cost more than $2Trillion

Two scholars, one a Nobel Prize winner, revisit their estimate of the true cost of the Iraq war – and find that $2 trillion was too low. They consider not only the current and future budgetary costs, but the economic impact of lives lost, jobs interrupted and oil prices driven higher by political uncertainty in the Middle East.

In January, we estimated that the true cost of the Iraq war could reach $2 trillion, a figure that seemed shockingly high. But since that time, the cost of the war – in both blood and money – has risen even faster than our projections anticipated.

One source of difficulty in getting an accurate picture of the direct cost of prosecuting the war is the way the government does its accounting. With “cash accounting,” income and expenses are recorded when payments are actually made – for example, what you pay off on your credit card today – not the amount outstanding. By contrast, with “accrual accounting,” income and expenses are recorded when the commitment is made. But, as Representative Jim Cooper, Democrat of Tennessee, notes, “The budget of the United States uses cash accounting, and only the tiniest businesses in America are even allowed to use cash accounting. Why? Because it gives you a very distorted picture.”

The distortion is particularly acute in the case of the Iraq war. The cash costs of feeding, housing, transporting and equipping U.S. troops, paying for reconstruction costs, repairs and replacement parts and training Iraqi forces are just the tip of an enormous iceberg. Costs incurred, but not yet paid, dwarf what is being spent now – even when future anticipated outlays are converted back into 2006 dollars.

[Excerpt of article by Linda Bilmes, who teaches public finance at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, and Joseph Stiglitz, a former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors and chief economist at the World Bank, now teaching at Columbia University.]

New audit hunts Iraq's lost millions

A new audit examining 15 contracts signed in Iraq has found new evidence of massive corruption and mismanagement by the US government. The audit of 15 noncompetitive contracts paid for by US government agencies with Iraqi oil money was unable to account for $22.4 million in funds, a UN-led watchdog said.

"In view of these findings, the IAMB International Advisory and Monitoring Board recommends that the Iraqi government seek resolution with the US government concerning the use of resources of the [Development Fund for Iraq], which might be in contradiction with the UN Security Council Resolution 1483," the board said in a statement posted on its website.

The IAMB, which also includes officials from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, was created by the UN Security Council in 2003 to oversee the use of Iraqi oil money while the country was under an interim US administration.

In 2004 an audit, ordered by the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) which governed Iraq after the US-led invasion, found that more than $8.8bn of Iraqi money was missing. The CPA found that the money had been paid for goods and services that were never provided.

In other cases, millions of dollars were paid by the CPA in salaries for thousands of security guards who did not exist. In other cases the money simply vanished.



Netherlands funds TB research

At the recent World Conference on Lung Health, the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced a $38.3 million investment in three partnerships working to develop drugs and vaccines to fight tuberculosis.

The commitment is the largest investment a single country has made in research of the illness to date.

Billed as the second-deadliest infectious disease behind AIDS, tuberculosis kills nearly 2 million people each year.

[Philanthropy Journal]


Religious Leaders Unite to Launch Vaccine Bond

Representatives of the world's leading religions will buy the first bonds in a pioneering $1 billion issue to fund life-saving vaccine projects.

The bond sale is the first of its kind to tap the international capital markets for money to fight preventable diseases like measles, polio and tetanus, which kill more than two million children a year in impoverished countries.

The scheme is the brainchild of British finance minister Gordon Brown, who has long campaigned for bond financing as a way of "front-loading" development aid.

This week's offering is only the first leg of the initiative, which aims to raise $4 billion in the bond markets over the next 10 years.



Gates Foundation helping Diarrhea Research

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is giving a nonprofit pharmaceutical company $46 million to expand its research on new treatments for diarrheal disease, which directly kills more than 2 million children worldwide each year.

The announcement of the grant to the Institute for OneWorld Health, a San Francisco-based pharmaceutical company, was set at the Global Forum for Health Research's annual meeting in Cairo.

The traditional treatment for the disease, which also contributes to the death of an additional 4 million children annually, is rehydration, but the company is working on drugs that inhibit fluid loss in the intestine, said OneWorld spokesman James Hickman.

[The New York Times]


Carnegie "the man who dies rich dies disgraced"

It has taken almost 120 years, but millionaires are finally beginning to follow Andrew Carnegie's advice.

In his 1889 "Gospel of Wealth" essays, Carnegie demanded that the wealthy give away their fortunes in their lifetimes. Those who did not would "pass away 'unwept, unhonored, and unsung'. Of such as these the public verdict will then be: 'The man who dies thus rich dies disgraced.' "

By his own measure, Andrew Carnegie did not die disgraced. Carnegie also heeded his own "gospel," developing a moral philosophy of capitalism that resonates today.

He handed out more than $350 million (tens of billions in 2006 dollars) to small colleges, technical schools and libraries. He established a scientific research institution in Washington; provided trusts to pay students' tuition and professors' pensions; built a library/museum/concert hall complex in Pittsburgh; and gave millions of dollars to campaigns for world peace and to establish the Carnegie Corp., dedicated to the "advancement and diffusion of knowledge."

[Excerpt of an article by David Nasaw, The Los Angeles Times]


China pledges $5 billion to Africa

China's president pledged to double aid to Africa at a conference with dozens of African leaders on Saturday as Beijing tries to build ties in a search for oil sources and export markets.

China is trying to present itself as Africa's partner in economic development. But it faces complaints it is practicing neo-colonialism and supports regimes with poor human rights records.

"Without combined development between China and Africa, there will be no global peace and development," President Hu Jintao said in a speech to the conference's opening session at Beijing's Great Hall of the People, the seat of China's parliament.

Chinese-African trade grew to nearly US$40 billion last year, ten times the 1995 level, according to the Chinese government. China's state oil companies are expanding in Africa, signing deals in Nigeria, Angola, Sudan and elsewhere. Manufacturers are trying to expand exports to African markets.

Hu said Beijing will double aid to African countries from its 2006 level by 2009.

China will provide US$3 billion in preferential loans and US$2 billion of export credits over the next three years, while creating a US$5 billion fund to encourage Chinese investment in Africa, Hu said.

He said Beijing will forgive the poorest African countries' debts to the Chinese government and increase the number of categories of their exports that receive tariff-free import status.

China will train 15,000 African professionals, build schools, hospitals and anti-malaria clinics and send agriculture experts and youth volunteers to Africa, Hu said. He said China would double the number of scholarships given to African students to 4,000 by 2009.

World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz accused Chinese banks last month of ignoring human rights and environmental standards as they lend more to Africa. He warned that the flood of new credit could fuel corruption and African debt burdens.



U.S. near the bottom in Privacy Study

Individual privacy protection in the U.S. ranks amongst the worst in the democratic world, according to a London-based privacy organization.

The U.S. is on a par with China, Russia and Malaysia as far as private citizens' privacy, according to Privacy International, which surveys developments in 70 countries, assessing the state of technology, surveillance and privacy protection.

But the U.S. is not the worst performing democracy identified in the study. Britain is, placing last among all EU countries

It ranked Germany and Canada as those that best protect the privacy of its citizens.

More than 200 experts from around the world provided materials and commentary for the study. The participants range from law students studying privacy to high-level officials charged with safeguarding constitutional freedoms in their countries. Academics, human rights advocates, journalists and researchers provided reports, insight, documents and advice.


West Coast entrepreneurs and Bengali economics professor

Over the Labor Day weekend of 1995, a ponytailed, bearded young software engineer named Pierre Omidyar wrote a code that eventually became eBay. Not long after the company went public, in 1998, Omidyar's share of the stock offering was roughly ten billion dollars, and he became the richest thirty-two-year-old in the world.

With his wife, Pam, he started a foundation to give away large sums of money, but he was frustrated by the constraints and inefficiencies of the nonprofit world. Omidyar was searching for a way to change things on a grand scale, and, like many other highly successful young West Coast entrepreneurs, he became interested in a field called microfinance, or microcredit.

In November, 2004, he and Sergey Brin and Larry Page, the co-founders of Google, and other leaders of the high-tech community gathered at the San Francisco home of the venture capitalist John Doerr for a weekend session with Muhammad Yunus, who is considered the godfather of microcredit.

Yunus, an economics professor at Chittagong University, found the theories he was teaching maddeningly irrelevant; so he went into a neighboring village and began talking to the poor. He experimented with ways of helping them-initially, he lent twenty-seven dollars to a group of forty-two villagers-and before long he became convinced that he had a remedy for their condition: providing very small individual loans to the impoverished to start activities ranging from making bamboo stools to buying a dairy cow. In 1976, after local banks refused his entreaties to make the loans, he resolved to do it himself, and he founded the Grameen Bank.

[Excerpt of an article by Connie Bruck, The New Yorker]


Millions in credit to the world's poor

Muhammad Yunus founded the Grameen Bank in 1976, and the idea of reaching billions of the poor by achieving "scale" - a word invoked ceaselessly in the microfinance community- has enticed foundations, rich individuals, even investors into channeling millions into microfinance.

The $1.2-billion Michael and Susan Dell Foundation-established by the founder of one of the world's largest computer manufacturers-has begun making grants to microfinance institutions in India, a country of 1.1 billion people, most of whom have no access to financial services.

In October, 2005, Google established a philanthropic entity called Google.org, with seed money of about a billion dollars, to fight disease, global warming, and poverty; microfinance is expected to be a key component of its poverty portfolio.

And last April the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced that it would devote an undisclosed amount of money to expanding financial services for the poor in developing countries. Dr. Rajiv Shah, who oversees the new Gates program, said of microfinance, "This can reach hundreds of millions of people, and do so in a way that helps them move out of poverty and that sustains over time."

[Excerpt of an article by Connie Bruck, The New Yorker]

How to get foreign aid from the U.S.

American administrations have insisted for decades they do not engage in grubby vote-buying practices. Yet poor countries that serve on the influential Security Council typically receive substantially more U.S. aid dollars and find it easier to obtain loans or grants from financial institutions that are strongly influenced by the United States, according to recent academic studies.

The findings underscore the importance the United States places on cultivating even the weakest members of the Security Council, the lone international body with the power to impose universally binding economic sanctions and grant legitimacy to military adventures.

A two-year seat on the Security Council, for instance, can generate a 59 percent spike in U.S. assistance, according to a study by two Harvard University scholars that tracked U.S. economic and military assistance from 1946 to 2001.

In times of crisis, U.S. aid to some member countries has increased by as much as 170 percent.
Those aid levels tend to recede after the country leaves the 15-nation council.

"On average, the typical developing country serving on the council can anticipate an additional $16 million from the United States and $1 million from the U.N.," wrote Harvard economics graduate student Ilyana Kuziemko and Eric Werker, an assistant professor at the Harvard Business School. "During important years, these numbers rise to $45 million from the U.S. and $8 million from the U.N."

Kuziemko said the study did not uncover "smoking gun" proof that the United States has used aid to buy influence. But she said the investigation uncovered a statistical pattern "that is very consistent with vote buying."

The largesse has extended to U.N. financial institutions, primarily the International Monetary Fund, where the United States holds sway. Romania, Zimbabwe, Ecuador and other countries that frequently backed resolutions sanctioning Iraq for its 1990 invasion of Kuwait received sizable IMF loans, according to a study by a political scientist and two scholars at a Swiss university.

The U.S. mission to the United Nations and USAID declined requests to comment on the findings.

[Excerpt of an article by Colum Lynch, Washington Post]


US raid, instead of US aid

I've posted opinions before that economic aid and assistance does more to win friends in foreign countries than war raids and missile attacks.

Well, ABC News has learned it was a Predator missile attack that destroyed a religious school in Pakistan earlier this week. The raid was launched after U.S. intelligence received tips and examined Predator reconnaissance indicating that al Qaeda's No. 2 man may have been staying at the school.

Despite earlier reports that the missiles had been launched by Pakistani military helicopters, Pakistani intelligence sources now tell ABC News that the missiles were fired from a U.S. Predator drone plane.

The Asia Times reports that the pre-dawn attack on the Islamic seminary claimed the lives of scores of people. AP adds that Pakistan's most influential Islamist political leader, Qazi Hussain Ahmed, said, ''They killed 80 teenagers who were students of the Quran. This is a very cruel joint activity (between the U.S. and Musharraf governments).''

AP adds that as many as 20,000 people protested Tuesday in Khar, the main town in Pakistan's northwestern tribal Bajur district, claiming innocent students and teachers were killed in the attack. They chanted: ''God is Great!'' ''Death to Bush! Death to Musharraf!'' and ''Anyone who is a friend of America is a traitor!''

Fears were high that Monday's attack will fan unrest across Pakistan.

Church goers sharing less of income

While the majority of charitable giving is directed to churches and other religious organizations, giving by churchgoers has dropped slightly, a new study says.

The study, "The State of Church Giving through 2004," is the 16th annual study of congregational giving by Empty Tomb, a Christian research and service organization based in Champaign, Ill.

Giving by a group of 40 Christian denominations, representing 40 million church members, dropped 1.16 percent in the portion of inflation-adjusted income donated.

The churches studied spent an average of 2 cents of each dollar on international missions, the study says, ranging from a high of 9 cents per dollar in the Primitive Methodist Church to a low of 1 cent for the Episcopal and Presbyterian churches.

Had churches given the traditional tithe, or 10 percent of income, giving by congregations would have increased by $164 billion, the study says.

[Philanthropy Journal]


Who gives more? US or Europe?

It is an oft-quoted belief in philanthropic circles that the US is years ahead of Europe when it comes to charitable giving.

But new research is now calling for a rethink, revealing that Europe's corporate foundations give more than their American counterparts.

Research by the magazine Philanthropy in Europe (PiE) shows that annual spending by Europe's top 25 corporate foundations last year outstripped the US by over €500m ($638m), distributing €1.7bn ($2.17 bn) compared to €1.1bn ($1.4 bn) in the US.

One explanation is that many of Europe's top 25 are the legacies of centuries-old corporate foundations and have amassed huge fortunes from a history of mergers and acquisitions.

In contrast, US corporate foundations have been established more recently by companies solely as an expression of their philanthropic intentions.

[Excerpt of an article by Annie Kelly, Guardian Unlimited]


Generation Y is involved

Alex Wells switched shampoos over animal testing. She won't buy clothes produced by child labor. She yells at those who don't recycle.

She spent a month in India this summer teaching English to preschoolers. Last year in high school, she helped organize a protest over genocide in the Sudan that raised $13,000 for Darfur relief.

Wells, 18, of Los Gatos, Calif., may be pretty typical of her generation. A growing body of academic and market research suggests millennials - who are in their mid-20s and younger - are civic-minded and socially conscious as individuals, consumers and employees. This generation, also known as Generation Y and Echo Boomers, has been pressed for its vote, sought for its purchasing power and watched closely by sociologists and historians for insight into the way its members will shape the future.

They may be less radical than baby boom activists in the 1960s and 1970s, whose demonstrations for civil rights, women's equality and protecting the environment and protests against the Vietnam War became flashpoints for their times. But thanks in large part to the Internet, this generation is much more aware of the world. And because national tragedies such as the 9/11 terrorist attacks and Hurricane Katrina have scarred their youth and adolescence, experts see signs these young people are creating their own brand of social consciousness.

[Excerpt of an article by Sharon Jayson, USA Today]


International giving higher in Europe than U.S.

Europe's largest corporate foundations give more than their counterparts in the U.S. and have a more focused approach to international charity, a new study says.

Philanthropy in Europe magazine ranked the 25 largest corporate funders in Europe and compared them to the top 25 in the U.S. and found the European firms outgave the American group by $680 million.

Europe's largest funders are also more willing to fund beyond their borders, the study says, with six in 10 of the top 25 making international grants, compared to fewer than half of U.S. corporate foundations.

Corporate foundations in Europe also tend to have more structured international grants programs, the study says, while American funders tend to give in response to disasters in the foreign communities in which they operate.

[Philanthropy Journal]


Governments say they follow U.S. on jail treatment

Some countries try to refute criticism over their treatment of prisoners by saying they are only following the U.S. example on handling terror suspects, a U.N. human rights expert said.

Manfred Nowak, the U.N. investigator on torture, told a news conference that "all too frequently" governments respond to criticism about their jails by saying they handled detainees the same way the United States did.

"The United States has been the pioneer of human rights and is a country that has a high reputation in the world," Nowak said. "Today, other governments are kind of saying, 'But why are you criticizing us, we are not doing something different than what the United States is doing.'"

Nowak, along with other U.N. human rights officials, has criticized U.S. policies against terror suspects, including secret jails, harsh treatment and the lack of due process. He turned down a visit to Guantanamo Bay because he could not interview detainees and prison officials in private.

Nowak, an Austrian law professor, said the new U.S. law adopted earlier this month, which outlaws rape and most forms of torture, still allows harsh interrogation methods rights advocates say border on torture.

[Excerpt of an article by Evelyn Leopold, Reuters]

On the subject of Jails and Torture

[It is estimated] that the United States is holding some fourteen thousand persons in prisons around the world.

[We do not] yet have the full story of Abu Ghraib since some of the photos—which the Republicans showed only to their own members in a closed door Congressional session from which Democrats were barred—are photos of rapes and murders. These more damning pictures have yet to be released--despite a court order issued more than a year ago(!)--because the government alleges that their release “could damage the U.S. image [and] make matters worse.”

So what do we make of an America where Truth is the new enemy and none of the real architects of the torture policy are held accountable? Only Janis Karpinski, the female National Guard general who had been head of Abu Ghraib was called on the carpet and demoted to colonel. None of the career generals in command in Iraq nor Vice-President Cheney, Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld, nor Attorney General Alberto Gonzales whose staff formulated the pseudo-legal justification for ignoring the Human Rights provisions of the Geneva Convention were chastised in any way.

Indeed, three weeks after the Senate, in early October of 2005, voted 90-to-9 to “ban the use of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of any detainee held by the government”, Cheney and CIA Director Porter Goss met with Senator John McCain to press him to exempt the CIA from the torture ban.

[Excerpt of article by Bill Strickland, Black Commentator]


Gates Pledges $23 Million to Fight AIDS in India

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have pledged $23 million to help fight HIV/AIDS in India, which has the world's highest number of people living with the disease, India's health ministry said.

The funds, to be disbursed over the next three years, will enhance the capacity of the government's HIV prevention response and will target high-risk groups such as homosexuals, prostitutes and drug users, a statement said.

The money is part of an additional $58 million committed to the Foundation's "Avahan" project -- a $258 million five-year prevention program launched in 2003.



Millions in prize money to promote good governance in Africa

A Sudanese billionaire is putting up millions in prize money to promote good governance in Africa and to encourage leaders on the world's poorest continent to step down once their democratic mandates have expired.

Judges of the Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership will rate 53 African countries each year on progress in economy, health, education and security.

Each leader awarded the prize will receive $5 million spread over 10 years after leaving office. If still alive when the initial prize is exhausted, prize-winners will receive another $200,000 annually until they die.

In an opinion piece published in The Guardian newspaper on Thursday, Ibrahim said he was trying in part to address reluctance to relinquish power on a continent where military dictators and presidents for life have long held sway.

"A situation in which leaders face three choices -- relative poverty, term extension or corruption -- is not conducive to good governance," Ibrahim wrote in The Guardian. "And the continent's problems will not be solved unless governance improves radically."

The prize -- the largest of its kind, surpassing the $1.4 million Nobel Peace Prize -- will be awarded based on criteria developed by Robert Rotberg, a professor at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government Policy.



American Residents Shut Out of West Bank

Abdelhakeem Itayem, a Palestinian with American citizenship, was counting on a simple overnight stay when he traveled from the West Bank to Jordan on a business trip. Six months later, he is still there, trapped in bureaucratic limbo.

Israeli officials, who control the border between Jordan and the West Bank, refused to let him return when he presented his U.S. passport at the crossing from Jordan. "I came to Amman for one day. I had one suit and a change of clothes for one day. And now I can't go back," Itayem said by telephone from the Jordanian capital, where he has rented an apartment while awaiting an answer.

The long delay has kept him from his wife, Lisa, and their seven children, who remain in the family's home near Ramallah, said Itayem, 41. It also has cost him his job as a manager for a Palestinian distributor of foreign consumer goods.

His plight is not unique. Activists say scores of Palestinians who carry foreign passports, mostly American, have been denied entry this year since Israel moved to close a loophole that once allowed residents to enter repeatedly on renewable Israeli tourist visas.

The policy has created a quandary for the Palestinian Americans who remain: If they leave to get a new three-month stamp, they may not be allowed back. If they stay, their current Israeli visas will expire. Many say their previous applications for formal residency in the Palestinian territories were rejected by Israel or never acted upon.

"The Israelis are turning their back to any logic," said Adel Samara, whose wife, Enayeh, was refused entry in May after she crossed to Jordan to get her American passport stamped with a fresh Israeli tourist visa.

Samara, a Palestinian economist and writer, said his wife, 56, is staying with a sister in Chicago after living in the West Bank for 31 years on a succession of short-term Israeli visas. Making matters worse, he said, Israel won't let him leave because of his past involvement in nationalist Palestinian groups. "I can't go outside, and she can't come inside," Samara, 62, said in Ramallah. "It is like a form of divorce."

The new restrictions have created uncertainty and anger among Palestinian Americans, especially in the West Bank, where they number at least 30,000 and are leading players in business and academic life.

[Excerpt of an article by Ken Ellingwood, Los Angeles Times]


Living Large, but Doing Good

Madonna Louise Ciccone, a k a Madonna, pop icon and global philanthropist, sailed into Malawi this month and showered money on that ill-starred nation in the name of helping impoverished children.

It was all part of Madonna's "big, big project" to lift one of the world's poorest nations; the project is open to everyone willing to log into her personal charity Web site, www.raisingmalawi.com, and click "Donate."

But, you might ask, should you? Just what does a singer and author of a soft-core coffee-table book know about helping Africa's orphans that Unicef doesn't?

The answer is not as obvious as it seems. Africans are the cause célèbre of celebrities these days, and the spectacle they create, comically riveted by their own righteousness, can seem almost a caricature of Hollywood shallowness. Philanthropists, in fact, have never had to be like Mother Teresa, eschewing vanity or conscience-salving. Andrew Carnegie was a robber-baron steelmaker, not a Thoreau. But look at what he did for American literacy.

Says Trent Stamp, the executive director of the watchdog group Charity Navigator, "I suspect a lot of Americans hadn't ever heard of Malawi until this week."

[Excerpt of an article by Michael Wines, The New York Times]


Small Loans, Good Intentions

Can you have a big impact with a small amount of money?

Just over a week ago, Grameen Bank and its founder, Muhammad Yunus, won the Nobel Peace Prize for their work making small loans to poor people with big dreams. Mr. Yunus helped popularize the term "microfinance," and many organizations now use it describe wide-ranging attempts to use tiny sums of money to effect social good. [Some Grameen Bank loans being as small as $12.]

Several Web sites have sprung up in the last few years in this vein. They let individuals give or lend small amounts to others, who post their funding needs. The investment group of eBay founder Pierre Omidyar has funded many of the services, and it borrows liberally from the auction site's open-marketplace model.

There are three ways to get in on this: You can give money away, lend it out and charge no interest or make loans and hope to profit. But all of the options have this in common: You usually get to decide which person or group gets your money. It's not up to a nonprofit staffer somewhere.

[Excerpt from an article by Ron Lieber, The Wall Street Journal]


Russia Halts Activities of Many Groups From Abroad

Russia suspended the activities of Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the International Republican Institute and more than 90 other foreign nongovernmental organizations, saying they failed to meet the registration requirements of a controversial new law designed to bring activists here under much closer government scrutiny.

Across the country, foreign grass-roots organizations that investigate human rights abuses, promote democracy and work with refugees folded their tents until further notice, informing staff that all operations must cease immediately. The only work officially authorized was the paying of staff and bills.

The law, signed by President Vladimir Putin at the start of the year, drew broad criticism as part of a general rollback of democratic freedoms in Russia. Activists said it was intended to rein in one of the last areas of independent civic life here; Putin called it necessary to prevent foreigners from interfering in the country's political process.

[Excerpt of an article by Peter Finn, The Washington Post]


Another Buffet Charitable Spend-Down

Howard Buffett, Warren Buffett's son and recipient of $1.1 billion of the elder Buffett's disbursed fortune, plans to operate his Howard G. Buffett Foundation until a date in the distant future, at which point he will give away his remaining assets and shut down.

The foundation, whose assets will soon increase to $2.2 billion from $130 million, supports efforts to increase food production and clean water in Africa.


Charities Tackle Accountability

Despite headlines over Warren Buffett's $31 billion pledge to the foundation of his good friend Bill Gates in June, much of the growth in the nonprofit sector in recent years has come from much smaller charities.

Today there are at least one million U.S. charities and foundations, excluding religious groups, up nearly 60% in the past decade. A key issue [for charities and foundations] is accountability -- and whether the $3.37 trillion nonprofit sector is capable of policing itself.

Two years ago, the Senate Finance Committee told nonprofit leaders it was considering "comprehensive reforms to protect charities from bad actors and strengthen their accountability to donors." The warning followed public outrage over disclosures about costly perks being reaped by private foundations, and questions about governance practices at the Nature Conservancy, the American Red Cross and other nonprofit organizations.

In response, Independent Sector, a leading umbrella organization representing charities and foundations, organized a blue-ribbon panel to discuss overhauls and make recommendations, including a redesign of the tax form charities file to the Internal Revenue Service.

[Excerpt of an article by Sally Beatty The Wall Street Journal]


Large Donations Help Bring Attention to Philanthropy

In recent months, philanthropy has had much to celebrate. The unprecedented lifetime giving by Warren Buffett to the Gates Foundation and family-led foundations has been heralded as the largest commitment in philanthropic history.

Gifts such as Buffett's capture the headlines and our imaginations on the role that private giving and philanthropy can play in fostering innovation, initiating positive change, and building solutions for the welfare and good of citizens globally and locally.

From its position of leadership, the Gates Foundation invites and challenges us to get involved as volunteers in issues that we care about and to shape our own life's work around nonprofit organizations and philanthropy.

[Excerpt of a commentary by Darcy Oman, The Richmond Times-Dispatch]


Nonprofits Question Terror Guidelines

Nonprofit groups say revised government guidelines intended to prevent donor dollars from ending up with terrorists still are too onerous and vague.

In response to complaints from nonprofits, the Treasury Department has twice revised the November 2002 guidelines, first in December 2005 and again two weeks ago. In the first revision, the Treasury dropped certain mandates, such as requiring charities to investigate banking relationships of their aid recipients to ensure they aren't laundering money.

In the latest revision, the Treasury moved or modified certain language, such as clarifying that charities aren't agents of U.S. law enforcement. But it has otherwise largely retained the thrust of the guidelines, according to OMB Watch, a government watchdog group. These include requiring charities to investigate aid recipients by searching "public information" for any terror links; to get recipients to certify that they don't fund groups that "support" terrorism; and to compile contact information for aid recipients' subcontractors.

"Even if it were possible for charitable organizations to collect the suggested information, the costs involved in doing so would likely be prohibitive," the Council on Foundations wrote in February to the Treasurey.

[Excerpt of an article by Sally Beatty, The Wall Street Journal]


In Brazil, Field Trials To Treat World's Poor

Adriana Pereira da Silva's family and friends are a weary lot who spend their days coaxing whatever crops they can from the red dirt that surrounds their thatch-roofed shacks. It's a tough life, which Pereira da Silva assumed was why so many people seemed perpetually worn out.

But another explanation hides in the dirt itself: Up to 80 percent of the people in her village are infected with hookworm, a vitality-sapping parasite that crawls up from the ground, penetrates the skin and settles in the intestines.

"People seem tired all the time, and they never eat," said Pereira da Silva, a nurse who lives in Americanias, a small village here in Minas Gerais state, in eastern Brazil. "They don't know what's wrong with them."

The global health community has known for a long time about the wide-ranging complications that hookworm causes, but pharmaceutical companies have had little incentive to develop a vaccine: Most of those infected are too poor ever to pay for medicine, so recovering expensive development costs would be a long shot.

But now the medical ghetto of neglected diseases -- the field concerned with ailments affecting the 2.7 billion people who live on less than $2 a day -- is undergoing a transformation, thanks to an influx of cash from wealthy philanthropists and an emerging development model that promotes public-private partnerships.

The project has been made possible with grants totaling more than $53 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which, along with other donors such as the Rockefeller Foundation and Doctors Without Borders, has in recent years provided the financial incentive to get several such ventures off the ground.

[Excerpt of article by Monte Reel, The Washington Post]


A $3 life-saving straw

A Danish company has come up with a clever invention it hopes will slash the death toll from water-borne diseases which claim some 6,000 lives a day in developing nations.

The Lifestraw is designed to make dangerous water drinkable. The plastic tube has seven filters which remove at least 99.99 percent of many parasites and bacteria from water, according to a report in the New York Times.

Vestergaard Frandsen, the textile company behind the invention, is already developing a toddler version of the tube which will be squeezable.

The Lifestraw can be worn on the neck, lasts a year and costs as little as $3 to manufacture. Some 70,000 have already been handed out to survivors of last year's earthquake in Kashmir.

It is less effective against viruses, and it doesn't filter out metals like arsenic. But in villages where the only water source is a filthy pond it could prove a lifesaver.


Madonna child leaves Malawi

A small private jet carrying the one-year-old Malawian boy pop star Madonna hopes to adopt took off from the southern African country on Monday, a Reuters witness said. The child, David Banda, was accompanied by one of Madonna's bodyguards on his flight out of his native Malawi and is believed to be en route to Johannesburg.

Eye of the Child, the leading child advocacy group in Malawi, said on Saturday the request for an injunction would be filed in a magistrate's court in the capital Lilongwe on behalf of about five dozen non-governmental organizations. Malawian law prohibits adoptions by non-residents, but officials are granting an exemption or waiver to Madonna, who has confirmed her intention to adopt the child who lives in a dilapidated orphanage near the Zambian border.

Madonna spent most of her time in Malawi visiting orphanages and meeting charity workers as part of a campaign to publicise the plight of some 900,000 orphans in this nation of 13 million people, where AIDS has destroyed many families.

She has pledged to donate about $3 million to the campaign to help these children, many of whom are infected with HIV. The effort is being spearheaded by her Raising Malawi charity.


Developing China's nonprofit sector

As Chinese nonprofits grow and diversify, they are finding themselves stretched by the rising demand for their services.

A recent McKinsey study found that gaps in management skills and program expertise, as well as an underdeveloped domestic funding base, have hindered the nonprofits' ability to respond.

Corporations can help fill these gaps by offering more flexible financial support, along with hands-on efforts to teach nonprofits skills critical to running effective organizations.

In addition to increased corporate involvement, a combination of government policies and nonprofit initiatives will be necessary to develop the sector and ensure that nonprofits get the resources they need.

[McKinsey Quarterly]