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Posts Tagged ‘information technology’

An article in yesterday’s Washington Times addresses the role of philanthropy  in spurring economic growth in developing countries as government aid lessens due to the financial crisis.  The article covers the Forum on Philanthropic Giving and U.S. Foreign Policy that was organized by the Council of Foreign Relations in Washington last week.   It quotes our CEO & President, Jane Wales,  on the potential impact of the spread of information technology on the world’s poor:

“[M]any of the problems we face, and many of their solutions, will lie in the individual choices made by millions, hundreds of millions, of individuals; and … informing those choices could be the most important thing that we do.”

Read the full transcript from the forum here.

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Across all panels in the past two days, and especially this morning, we have seen that technological innovation now arms us with unprecedented opportunities for alleviating poverty. In our final panel for the poverty alleviation track, we heard about the nexus between information and poverty from moderator Sonal Shah, Head of Global Development Initiative at Google.org, Holly Ladd, President & Director of AED-SATELLIFE, Brian Richardson, Founder & Managing Director of WIZZIT Bank in South Africa, and Mary Ellen Iskenderian, President & CEO of Women’s World Banking. Each panelist highlighted the great opportunity presented by mobile technology in expanding and accelerating access to financial services, and explored other ways to leverage information technology to strengthen the service delivery of existing health and microfinance initiatives. Sonal asked each to discuss how technology can best collect and share information about poor communities and individuals, such as demographics, health statistics, credit history, etc.

Holly emphasized that our challenge is to alleviate the burden of disease, so that we can move to alleviate the burden of poverty; creating wealth by creating health. She argued for the use of new technology to capture data more effectively – and more importantly, to make every effort to make this information widely available. Brian seeks to provide affordability, accessibility, and availability in financial services for the poor, and believes that mobile technology is the best way to achieve this. Banking via mobile phones enables up-and-coming entrepreneurs to save valuable amounts of time and productivity. While there remains a lot to be done on regulation and building trust in the security of mobile banking, he is working to prove scalability and commercial viability to take his model global. Mary Ellen pointed out that despite the attention the microfinance movement has received, only 133 million people in the world have access to its services. Banks need information on customers, but we must work out the sensitivities of who owns the information. Sorting this will be fundamental to enabling microfinance to have the impact that it can and should.

At the close of working group sessions, we all moved to the ballroom for the final plenary with Prime Minister Gordon Brown and President Clinton. We learned of the range and depth of commitments made this year in our 3 days together, and heard from past commitment makers who have made extraordinary progress. Prime Minister Brown spoke of the financial crisis, and argued that there is no future for isolationism, just as there is no future for protectionism. The essential thing to do is to begin to restore confidence in markets, and to do so globally – for this global problem requires a global solution. President Clinton reflected that instead of pouring money into the narrow housing market, we should have invested in our poor neighborhoods, in a clean, independent energy future – in solar power or wind power or bio-diesel or electric cars – into making an energy partnership with Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and our other neighbors in the Caribbean. It would have been a different world out there, and a lot fewer people would have taken improvident risk. He urged us not to forget that as it turns out, doing the right thing is the best economics, and that over the long run, it’s the best politics too.

Now that CGI has concluded for another year and production staff is busy pulling down the lights and microphones, we must pause, reflect, and take with us what we’ve learned. The poor are worthy of our efforts and it is time for us to make good on our promises. It requires a real commitment and true audacity from each of us. I have been moved by each of the members of CGI – experts, activists, philanthropists – and I look forward to advancing their work and the work of others in the year ahead.

Jane Wales
President & CEO, World Affairs Council of Northern California
Working Group Chair, Poverty Alleviation, Clinton Global Initiative

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This morning, we were swept onto the campaign trail as Senators Obama and McCain shared their plans for US policy in each of CGI’s four focus areas: education, poverty alleviation, climate change, and global health. Each addressed the current financial crisis, and the international cooperation that we need going forward to overcome it. Both also discussed the imperative of addressing malaria, diversifying our energy use, and improving education. Senator Obama emphasized the role we each have to play – “the scale of our challenges may be great; the pace of change may be swift, but we know that it need not be feared. The landscape of the 21st century is still ours to shape.”

Each candidate touched on the rise of food prices globally. Over the past 24 months, grain prices have doubled, prices of fertilizers and fuels have tripled, and 30 countries across the world have seen food riots. Today in areas as distinct as Haiti, Bangladesh, and Ethiopia, millions of people face starvation. Devastation wrought by drought, misguided corn ethanol subsidies, and protectionist agricultural policies have skyrocketed world grain prices, spiraling many of the worlds poor further into poverty.

In light of this relationship between food security and poverty, the Poverty Alleviation Track started the day with a panel on this topic. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright argued that we must frame the food crisis as an issue of national security if we are to overcome our ‘crisis fatigue’ and drive our leaders to take action. There is the danger of a ‘billiard ball effect’, of domestic policies that worsen the situation in neighboring countries, leading to heightened tensions and the risk of conflict. Amos Namanga Ngongi of Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) explained the need to focus on small-holder farmers, for they constitute the vast majority of farmers in Africa. He emphasized taking a comprehensive approach to smallholder agricultural development, improving seeds, soil, production, and transportation to market. Eleni Gabre-Madhin, CEO of the Ethiopia Commodity Exchange, believes commodity exchanges bring necessary order, integrity, efficiency and transparency to all market actors – and thereby reduce risk. She has set up electronic price boards throughout Ethiopia to instantaneously provide crucial price information to farmers, consumers and traders. Ken Lee, co-founder of Lotus Foods, described the labor intensity required to educate US consumers about the value of traditional agriculture sourced from developing countries, pointing out that customers are willing to pay a premium for these products. At table discussions, CGI members identified the importance of increasing small farmers’ access to finance, leveraging information technology to strengthen the entire value chain, and instituting legal protection for land ownership.

Nick Kristof of the New York Times built on these early themes with our post-conflict panel, where speakers emphasized the risk of falling back in to conflict, and the need for post-conflict leaders to provide immediate results in improving livelihoods and opportunities, giving former combatants a stake in the new order. One in two countries that has emerged from conflict will return to violent conflict within five years, and thus immediate and sustained action is crucial. Peter Buffett of the NoVo Foundation, Donald Kaberuka of the African Development Bank, and Mayu Brizuela of HSBC El Salvador, all underscored that women must be central at all stages — from ending conflict, to restoring trust and to securing longer term stability and development. Peter warned against ‘philanthropic colonialism’, or assuming that we know best – instead we must see, experience, and listen to the people we are trying to help, because they know best.

We concluded the day with a joint panel with the Climate track to explore the interplay between the climate crisis and poverty. We learned that while climate change will have the most devastating effect on the poor, addressing this crisis poses an opportunity for lifting the poor from poverty through millions of new green jobs. The panel urged outside-the-box thinking when it comes to addressing these challenges simultaneously. Dr. Pachauri, Director General of TERI – The Energy Resources Institute– provided the example of his “Lighting a Billion Lives” initiative whereby women entrepreneurs rent out solar powered flashlights to communities in India that are not currently electrified, enabling school children to study at night and villagers to eke out a better living. President Calderón of Mexico called for the creation of a Green Fund that all countries could contribute to and take from to respond to consequences of climate change. And Oakland’s Van Jones and Judith Rodin of the Rockefeller Foundation put forward the need to bring new partners to a “Green Growth Alliance” to realize the economic potential for creating millions of new green jobs.

All in all, a whirlwind day – brimming with ideas and opportunities in the face of crisis.

Jane Wales
President & CEO, World Affairs Council of Northern California
Working Group Chair, Poverty Alleviation, Clinton Global Initiative

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