Archive for September, 2008

 

From Peanuts to Saltwater greenhouses: Innovative synergy at the Development Marketplace 2008

Posted by Marc Maxson on September 25th, 2008

It took almost an hour to get past security at the World Bank, mostly due to errors on my part. But at least it gave me time to read through the brochure for the 2008 Development Marketplace. By the time I had secured a pass, I knew exactly which projects I most wanted to visit in the expo. Social entrepreneurs from all over the world had been invited to present their ideas at the Development Marketplace, an effort started by GlobalGiving’s founders.

Being a scientist, I have a love for projects with novel adaptations of technology to problems in the world’s poorest countries. For example, the first project on my list to visit used modified kegs to transport chilled milk by bicycle to market in Ugandan villages. The project offered innovations along three lines: equipment that could be built locally and maintained for up to ten years, an energy-efficient vacuum chilling system, and a low enough initial investment cost that a milk-producer could recover costs in a fraction of a year.

Next I visited a Senegalese biofuel-powered motorboat project. Having criss-crossed Senegal in 2003 as a Fulbright studying the impact of Internet in rural schools, I found myself curious both about the science and how it would change transportation in Senegal.

I was momentarily disappointed when the oilseed “biofuel” turned out to be peanut oil. It sounded so… ordinary. But then I saw a diagram of the device that produced it.

“It’s a press connected to a small motor. One can build this peanut processor for about $600,” Daniel, the presenter, assured me.

“That means any village could afford to convert peanuts into oil?” I asked. This was an improvement even beyond what the presenter might have guessed. For years, getting groundnuts (the name for peanuts in Africa) to market in The Gambia has been the single largest source of low per capita income. By the time the peanuts travel down the dilapidated roads, the crop has sat in sun and moisture long enough that it cannot pass safety standards for US and European markets. Instead it is diverted to much less lucrative secondary markets. You see, old peanuts grow fungii that produce aflotoxins when they sit too long. And despite nearly all Gambian farmers living a horse cart’s ride from the Gambia river, no barges have yet to travel from the capital to collect the crop quickly.

Daniel had been helping to redesign outboard motors to run on peanut oil. With a different propeller and a few modest adjustments to the engine torque using an internal system of pulleys, any standard motor could run on the crude peanut extract. As a bonus, even the fuel processing was sustainable, as each liter of peanut fuel could power the peanut refining machine to produce five more liters of fuel.

As impressive as turning peanuts into a gasoline replacement might seem by itself, the potential synergy between Daniel’s project and the project presented by his immediate neighbor at the expo was even more so. Although thousands of miles apart in real life, motors running on peanut fuel might be just the sort of low-tech piece in the larger puzzle of turning seawater into life-sustaining food and water for desert communities that his fellow innovators have been looking for. Some clever engineers demonstrated that exposing seawater to sunlight in a green house would humidify the air and stabilize temperatures to create optimal growing conditions. Adding an energy-efficient compressor allowed a 100 square meter greenhouse to produce several tons of water each day, more than enough to supply a village. As a bonus, the village could grow some of its food in the greenhouse, enabling the community to endure droughts.

How the seawater greenhouse works

Unfortunately the initial cost was high (around $50,000) relative to the purchasing power of the world’s poor, water-hungry villages, but the costs could be much lower if the 2.5 kilowatts required to operate the saltwater greenhouse could come from peanuts grown within it, rather than from pricey photovoltaic solar panels. Such synergy is still difficult to achieve over the surface of our vast Earth, but online communities like GlobalGiving are just the sort of place where project leaders might one day bump into each other and notice the merit of each other’s approaches, combining efforts, achieving unexpected breakthroughs.

All of these projects are the sort of groundbreaking ideas we try to attract to our site. After, it is up to the site’s visitors to find the best ones and convert these possibilities into realities.

Global UK Launches!

Posted by dennis on September 19th, 2008

Last Monday, GlobalGiving UK launched its brand new web site in London at a big gathering of NGO, private sector, and government leaders.  This is particularly exciting since UK donors are among the most generous and progressive in the world when it comes to supporting causes overseas.

The creation of GlobalGiving UK has been supported financially by the Charities Aid Foundation‘s Venturesome Fund and the Travel Foundation, with key advice and operational support from Google, Expedia UK, Paypal, and Isango.  Booz and Company hosted the launch on Monday and provided office space in the start up phase.  The GlobalGiving US team worked overtime to provide back-end services and adapt the front-end website to the UK context.

Minister Shahid Malik of DFID (the UK’s aid agency) gave the keynote speech and made the first donation through the site, which speaks volumes.  DFID is at the very top of official aid agencies in terms of innovation and leadership in key areas.

The GG UK team is outstanding.

It is headed up by Sharath Jeevan, who has the kind of eclectic background that makes him specially suited for the job.  Most recently, he ran eBay‘s charity division in the UK. Previously,  he has worked at the international NGO ActionAid, been a project leader at Booz Allen, and has even done a high-tech startup in Asia.  Having grown up near London, Sharath has an economics degree from Cambridge, an MBA from INSEAD in France, and graduate degree in creative writing from Oxford.

UK team members include Rachel Smith, who heads up relationships with NGOs and campaigns, Svetlana Gitman, Tanya Serov, Ann Dugan and Becky Hill – all of whom have played key roles in the launch.

We at GlobalGiving US are proud of our new cousins in London.  But we are a little nervous, too.  They have already introduced a couple of key innovations that we don’t have on our own site :)

One Financial Institution Doing Well, And Doing Good

Posted by dennis on September 15th, 2008

In 2001 I went to Budapest to attend a conference of excited people exploring new ways of doing philanthropy and international aid. The commercial dot-com boom had already gone bust, but the possibilities in the do-good sector were only just coming into view.For most of us, anyway. But not for Shari Berenbach, the President of the Calvert Foundation, which was by then five years old. The Foundation, which was launched by and housed in the for-profit Calvert mutual fund company, had long been experimenting with many of the ideas being proposed in Budapest.

So I was pleased to see the following last week in the Washington Business Journal:

Calvert Social Investment Foundation has doubled its assets to $200 million over three years. The Bethesda-based nonprofit, which lets investors provide affordable credit to impoverished communities, has sold $160 million of its community investment notes through over 50 financial industry intermediaries.
Now that’s exciting. Congrats, Shari, and congrats, Calvert…

Fighting Violence with Generosity – and Opportunity

Posted by dennis on September 11th, 2008

Each year as we mark the anniversary of the worst terrorist attacks on U.S. soil, people wonder what they, as individuals, can do to mitigate the consequences of terrorism.

Conventional thinking encourages us to rely on our government to respond to terrorism and extremist acts – though foreign policy, military action, bilateral talks. But when it comes to private citizens, the only guidance we have been given is “go shop”.

I prefer Gene Steuerle’s approach. Gene lost his wife when her plane was crashed into the Pentagon. He was humbled and moved by what he saw as an outpouring of goodwill toward families who had lost loved ones.

Based on that experience, Gene decided that he and other 9/11 families should send a message to the world: peaceful collaboration and opportunity are among our best antidotes to terrorism over the long term.

Whether it’s fast tracking education for Afghan women and girls, financing microlending in rural Afghanistan, or establishing health clinics in Pakistan, Americans who want to play a role in combating terrorism over the long term can make a donation and give people opportunity and hope.

Visionary philanthropy like Gene’s can help create the conditions that make it much harder for extremist networks to take root. And the good news is that it costs a lot less than guns and bombs.

So far, the US government has allocated more than $500 billion for the military “war on terror.” This is around $10,000 for each citizen of Iraq an Afghanistan.

By contrast, using Gene’s “Safer and More Campassionate World” approach, a mere $100 can provide 56 Afghan women with basic healthcare and health education. And that amount is within reach of nearly all of us.

“Plus ça change…

Posted by alison on September 9th, 2008

…plus c’est la même chose.”  So goes the old French expression that translates to “the more things change, the more it’s the same thing.”  But with last Friday’s relaunch of the GlobalGiving website, we’re hoping that the more things change, the BETTER they will be for the GlobalGiving community!

In the old days, we did alot based on “gut.”  What we thought donors would like, or would make it easier to give, or even just what colors we preferred. Sometimes we hit on something that worked, but just as often we struggled to figure out why people weren’t responding as we anticipated.

But over the past few years, we started to focus a lot more on asking our donors and community members what they thought.  We started watching the way that users interacted with GlobalGiving, and listening closely to what you had to say – through the surveys you fill out on our website, in small focus groups, and through hands-on user testing. And while people generally felt that our site was easy to navigate, there were many areas for improvement.  For example, testing showed that users had trouble finding all of the information they were looking for…and that they preferred bigger pictures on project pages.

To address these findings, we created a new site layout and navigation.  We even expanded the physical size of the site on the screen to display more content since we saw many users were now using larger monitors.

Have we gotten it right?  Early feedback and data suggests we’re moving in the right direction, but we’ll be doing a lot more testing to keep honing how the site looks, feels, and works for you – the goal being to make it easy, fun, and informative to give to projects on GlobalGiving.

When we look back now at how the site looked a few years ago, it’s almost like looking at an old high school yearbook…did GlobalGiving really look like that?!?!?!

World Bank “Menu” of Green Energy Opportunities?

Posted by dennis on September 5th, 2008

Yesterday the Center for Global Development (CGD) invited me to a conference to make some remarks on the World Bank’s forthcoming Climate Change Strategy.

The previous World Bank president nearly forbade the mention of the term “global warming.”  But Bob Zoellick is now encouraging the Bank to play a leadership role.

The meeting was well attended, which was encouraging.  In addition to senior World Bank and CGD staff, there were experts from the International Finance Corporation, Millennium Challenge Corporation,  US EPA, US Treasury, US Department of the Interior, World Resources Institute, NRDC, National Wildlife Foundation, NOAA, World Watch, Johns Hopkins, Deutsche Bank and others.

I made the following points:

1. This is a global emergency.

2. It will take everyone in the room to solve it – not  just the World Bank.

3. We cannot deal with it solely or even primarily by top-down mandates.

4. The issue is complex, but nothing will happen unless  we cut through the complexity with some simple, clear, and catalytic approaches.

5. I used a World Bank example in Indonesia (the posting  of signs in the town square saying what Bank funds were being used for), and  the example of our voluntary scoring system on GlobalGiving Green as examples of simple things that can catalyze big changes in behavior.

6. I suggested that the Bank find something analogous.   One option would be using a range of carbon shadow prices for their projects – and publishing the results.   This would show, for example, that even though coal-fired plants may be cheaper financially, solar installations would be more profitable if the cost of carbon emissions were taken into account. The difference in the financial costs of the two approaches (for example, coal and solar) would be highlighted, and other aid donors could have a look and fund that difference if they wanted to.  This approach would give other donors a “menu” of  projects that they could subsidize to help fight climate change, and would not force all subsidized decisions to go through a centralized World Bank mechanism.

7. This approach could help mute the resistance the Bank is facing  to mandatory use of carbon shadow prices in making actual project decisions.  Instead, the Bank would highlight the cost of the cleaner alternatives and allow other donors to fund the gap on a voluntary basis.  Different donors would fund different things according to their interests and resources.  Rapidly growing private donors could join the fray to supplement the resources of official agencies.  This approach may actually result in faster action, more funding, and more innovation than a mandatory, centralized approach that may never even get off the ground.

This isn’t about Bristol Palin, but it is about teenage girls

Posted by Donna Callejon on September 3rd, 2008

“There are 600 million teenage girls living in poverty in the developing world. This project benefits girls in one of the world’s poorest countries: Uganda. The project addresses the prevalent inequalities created by subordination, early marriage, frequent pregnancy, abandonment, divorce, domestic violence, marginalization and exclusion through financial and social interventions. The effect is a higher standard of living for families, villages, and the entire country.”

The excerpt above is a summary of the need in Uganda addressed by one of the projects available for funding and  posted by BRAC on GlobalGiving. Last week BRAC was awarded the 2008 Conrad Hilton Humanitarian Prize.  The annual $1.5 million award honors a charitable or non-governmental organization that has made extraordinary contributions toward alleviating human suffering anywhere in the world.

Congratulations BRAC!

When i read this announcement last week i was reminded that  the 2006 winner – Women for Women International – is also a GG partner organization that works with women and girls in conflict areas.

And then I remembered that the 2005 winner was yet another member of the GG extended family – Partners In Health – who provides (among other things), reproductive health services to teenage girls in developing countries.

We adhere to the notion around here that you should surround  yourself by people/organizations you can learn from, and aspire to be like.  These are three great examples.