mari Posts

Rats for Dads


Today, New York Times columnist Nick Kristof ran an op-ed urging his readers to make meaningful gifts this Father’s Day.

“Wouldn’t most dads feel more honored by a donation to any of these organizations than by a donation to commercialism?,” he asked.

Many of the organizations he mentioned in his article are hosted on GlobalGiving, and we were, of course, thrilled and appreciative that he chose to highlight our partner organizations in this way.

To date, Kristof’s article has raised just under $30,000 from over 600 donors for just one of the projects he mentioned—the landmine detecting, mega-smart hero rats.

And the number goes up by the minute.

To us at GlobalGiving, this is yet another powerful reminder of how one person—or one idea—can make a hugely significant impact on a corner (or in Nick’s case, many corners) of the world.

I’m particularly appreciative to Nick given that this article falls on the day after his own father passed away.

Given what Nick has said about his father’s life, it’s no surprise that he would raise a son who would have such a broad, positive impact on the world. To all the great fathers out there, and the wonderful values they instill in their kids.

Mari Kuraishi is Co-Founder and President of GlobalGiving.

Stop the Madness, GlobalGiving Style

Yesterday Bill Easterly, one of the first economists I got to know and admired immensely at the World Bank working on Russia, gave a talk at the Center for Global Development about his new book, Reinventing Aid.

Bill has since become a valued friend, and it’s with both admiration and much gratitude that Dennis and I have contributed a chapter to this book. It’s one of the benefits of being part of an edited volume–you can admire the book because of all the other amazing thinkers who contributed to the volume, whose reflected glory benefits your own work, “judged by the company you keep, etc.” More on their chapters later.

I’m also pleased to blog about the book because it gives me an excuse to highlight a little known obsession about Robert Dubois and Alison McQuade–some of the youngest and most dynamic staff members we have here at GlobalGiving. You see, to paraphrase Bill, Reinventing Aid is a collection of some of the most interesting thinking around how to “STOP THE MADNESS”–that is, stop doing what we know doesn’t work, and start trying something else.

And for some reason that I can’t fathom–besides the fact that this is one of the most insufferable music videos I’ve ever seen–“STOP THE MADNESS” is Robert and Alison’s favorite video. They love to play it at the end of a long hard day of work and leave us all at a loss as to what draws them to a video that was made just about the time they were born. You can be just as puzzled too–here it is:


Working within the box and out of the box

Courtesy of NPRDennis has just blogged about Tim Kane’s observation when he first visited Japan in the 1980s-where he encountered a humbly equipped man sweeping the tarmac at Narita airport as if his life depended on it. Kane linked it to the overwhelming ratio of perspiration v. genius that adds up to excellence.

There’s something else there though. It’s symptomatic of how intensely Japanese individuals and organizations have come to focus on discovering value within their constraints. Toyota’s continuous reform (kaizen) program is justly famous for the way they look at change as a continuous stream, but a lot less is said about the implicit mindset that allows for what feeds that continuous stream. It’s the idea of working your framework so intensely and carefully and allowing the individual changes combine and “re” form the whole until you’ve eventually got a different box. But you didn’t start out insisting on getting out the box. In fact, it comes from a culturally mandated willingness to focus intensely on where you are and what you have. (The flip side of course, is that it can drive you mad to be so constrained, but more on that another time.)

What I was saying about the incredible Tokyo discipline to obey what can seem like a pettifogging rule of standing on the left is, I’m convinced, part of the same phenomenon-everyone is intent on getting the most out of every frigging commuting minute. It just wouldn’t happen that way otherwise. Same reason Japanese geeks are the most intense geeks anywhere. Or why Japanese classical concertgoers bring sheet music to performances. And why I am currently obsessed with us doing a better job facilitating the exchange when our project leaders can convey to donors the sense of incredible value and adventure that every project on our site represents. Here’s just a hint of what donors say when when the value gets uncovered. (It’s also why I try to wash and reuse our ziploc bags. It just seems un-Japanese not to.)

Only connect: Mother’s Farm

Sometimes a donor comment on a project will make me smile. More rarely, a donor comment makes me want to read it out loud to anyone who will listen. And perhaps even more infrequently, a donor comment will make me come back to my dormant blog and restart the blogging engine. This is one such comment, on, appropriately enough, a project called Mother’s Farm in Sudan–here’s an excerpt:

I am glad that the ladies started with sorghum this year as conditons are very condusive to sorghum harvest … I am really proud of the way Ms. Fathima has been able to do the work necessary. Please continue this work to enable women to do better and educate them as well in agricultural practices. I for one am willing to help.

For more

E.M. Forster was right. Only connect.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Becoming a locavore

As some of you know already, I looove food. I love to eat it, to cook it, and will go to great lengths to experience and learn more about it whenever I can. And lately I’ve been quite taken with the idea of becoming a locavore, of eating foods that are grown within a certain radius from where you live. It means you’re more likely to know who and how it was grown, and in theory you are reducing your carbon footprint by lowering transportation costs. I say in theory because aI recently found out in a recent excellent piece in the New Yorker, calculating carbon footprints are not so easy, and eating a lamb chop originating in New Zealand in London is actually more ecologically sound than eating a lamb chop bred and butchered in the English countryside.

So as I was musing on the aesthetic elegance and ecological complexity of being a locavore, I came across a very different slant on being a locavore as I visited this amazing social enterprise on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, courtesy of our good friends at HelpArgentina. The social enterprise is called La Juanita, and it’s a self-organized coop engaged in a number of revenue generating ventures, including a well-known bakery. Their most recent success has been to build a partnership with a prize-winning chef, and turning out baked goods that could be sold at a premium to companies and individuals in the wealthier parts of Buenos Aires. The thing that struck me though, was that the price they were quoting for their pan dulce was almost 3x the regular price of pan dulce—and they were charging that price 1) because it was for a holiday occasion, and the market could bear that cost, especially when consumers factored in the idea that their pan dulce purchase was in part a donation; 2) the pan dulce was that good; and 3) they needed to charge that price because this social enterprise needs to cross subsidize the sale of that same pan dulce to the local community as below market prices.

The last point is where I started muttering, “But, but … that’s crazy. They should absolutely charge what the market can bear, but they should charge a price that is sustainable and delivers a long-term stream of income that allows La Juanita to establish a clear brand in people’s minds, and they should sell all their pan dulce to their high-paying customers, not keep any of it back to sell at subsidized prices to their local community.” But before I could say this, their chief baker intervened. He said that often there are those that produce, and those that consume, and usually the twain don’t meet. And it’s really important for the impoverished community around La Juanita to have access to the top-quality baked goods that they produce so that they too can experience what high quality is.

Morality aside, as a cook and a foodie, I had to agree. Because, you see, cooking is experiential. And you can’t learn how to make great pan dulce unless you know what great pan dulce is, can visualize it, and smell it and taste it. And a lot of other things besides cooking are experiential as well. And perhaps taking a strict business or economics view glosses over that experiential gap that can develop when one community produces and the other consumes. Perhaps being a locavore isn’t a short-term logical choice, but at La Juanita, it might lead to some kid there becoming a committed foodie, or the new Iron Chef from Argentina.