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Posts Tagged ‘New York Times’

As Nigeria’s president Goodluck Jonathan celebrates his re-election, the rest of the region and the world are waiting to see how his victory will effect his country. This Monday, April 25, the World Affairs Council will host Ambassador John Campbell, author of Nigeria: Dancing on the Brink, for an exploration of Nigeria’s post-colonial history and an explanation of the events and conditions that have carried this complex, dynamic and troubled giant to the edge. Can Nigerians push back against corruption and use the nation’s oil wealth to stoke economic investment and growth, or will Nigeria continue to be a place of a wealthy minority and impoverished majority?

Register for the program here and read more about Jonathan’s win in today’s New York Times.

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As unrest continues to spread throughout the Middle East, American officials must re-evaluate relations with longtime allies in the region. Perhaps the most important of these, Saudi Arabia, has taken military action in neighboring Bahrain this week, leading to tensions in the U.S.-Saudi relationship. To learn more about this perilous situation, read this article by WorldAffairs 2011 keynote speaker David Sanger, Chief Washington Correspondent for The New York Times.

Sanger will give an address titled, “Obama’s Dilemma: When Big Uprisings Hit Big Allies (and a few Adversaries)” at the conference this Saturday at 1:15 PM PST, which will be webcasted live. The conference webcast is free to watch. Find out more about the conference and the webcast here.

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Sunday’s New York Times article on Google.org caught my attention. The Times is one of the few daily papers that cover the philanthropic sector, and it does so with the same seriousness it applies to developments in business and government. It is attentive to new philanthropic models that are being tested and refined, and offers a snapshot of a work in progress.

One such experiment is Google’s philanthropy arm, Google.org, or DotOrg for short. Structured as part of the for-profit company, it reflects a fundamental shift in corporate philanthropy.  Whereas corporate foundations used grants and employee volunteer time as their only tools, increasingly corporate executives work to assure that social outcomes are intrinsic to their company’s value chain. Many believe that the right business decisions can unleash market forces that, in turn, can drive positive and sustainable social change.

What sets DotOrg apart is that it is embedded in a search giant in the Information Age, a time when decision-making and authority are decentralized, and the individual, for better or for ill, reigns supreme.

It may be that many of the world’s most daunting problems, as well as their solutions, will be the aggregate effect of millions of individual choices—whether they be to limit the water and energy we consume; to resist taking up arms; to engage in healthy practices; or to vote, and demand that that vote be counted.

Informing those choices can be the ultimate form of philanthropic leverage.

No one understands that better than the executives and employees of a company whose first maxim is “focus on the user and the rest will follow.”

And, so Google has blurred the lines between the company and the philanthropy, naming its brilliant VP for New Product Development as DotOrg’s leader, embedding DotOrg program staff in product teams, and fostering a smart and deep collaboration between Google’s public-spirited engineers and external experts in large problems like poverty or climate change. Their combined talent has produced such products as PowerMeter, which allows the user to track home energy consumption, and in the aggregate, to contribute to mitigating climate change. Google Earth Engine allows the user to monitor deforestation in real time, informing efforts to promote the responsible use of this vital natural resource. Google Crisis Response and Resource Finder enable individual and group relief efforts after natural and man-made disasters. By informing individual choice and action, DotOrg hopes that these products can help to advance the social good more broadly.

Critics argue that these innovations are important mainly in the rich world where computers are ubiquitous. That may be true today. But the introduction and rapidly spreading use of “smart” phones, which provide internet access, is changing that equation.  In the short term, Google has work-arounds like SpeaktoTweet, which shows that states cannot deny the oxygen of unfiltered information to a public yearning for a better life.

But, over the long term, the company’s most significant contribution will likely be its decision to translate the world’s knowledge into the languages of the developing world. Leveraging that innovation will be DotOrg’s largest opportunity to harness information technology to social change. The combination of automated translation and connective technologies can change our world.

The Times article is critical of DotOrg’s prior leadership for making similarly bold claims, thereby raising expectations to a level that could not be met in a period short enough to match our attention span. Fair enough. Perhaps it would have been wise to have been quieter during the philanthropy’s “quiet phase,” as DotOrg defined its goals and honed its method. New models take time to develop and prove their worth.

While that criticism may be fair, in the scheme of things, it seems unimportant.

Like the rest of us, Googlers could not and cannot foresee the full social, economic and political implications of providing the world’s knowledge to those who were previously isolated by poverty or politics. (Although Google Chairman Eric Schmidt co-authored a deeply thoughtful Foreign Affairs article on the subject.)

But Googlers do know one thing, and that is the level at which large decisions will be made–and that is at the level of the individual.

Even for a giant like Google, with 31 billion searches each month, that knowledge alone is humbling—and hopeful.

—Jane Wales

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Over the past few days, the New York Times has offered a telling glimpse into the varied nature of the nonprofit sector and the ways in which it touches our lives—from day-to-day services to high policy. The Times coverage also offers insight into our shared instinct to preserve a sector that has the agility to help address market or policy failures.

Saturday’s paper reminded us that America’s increasing numbers of unemployed rely upon nonprofit food banks and other charitable services when their government benefits are exhausted. Another article reports on one of the most significant developments in nuclear non-proliferation policy—the establishment of a global nuclear fuel bank—enabled by a $50-million gift from philanthropist Warren Buffet to the UN’s resource-strapped and politically hampered International Atomic Energy Agency. The bank would provide low-enriched uranium to states seeking nuclear power, in exchange for their returning the spent fuel and foregoing the indigenous capacity to produce their own fuel, including that which is weapons grade. Thus, the nuclear fuel bank would control the cycle of nuclear production and its associated dangers.

It is against this backdrop that a debate erupted within the nonprofit sector over proposals to alter the tax treatment of the donations on which it relies. The Times covered that as well, treating it as more than an industry’s special pleading. The debate’s starting point is that deficit reduction will require the combination of reduced spending and increased revenues. The question is whether tax breaks for charitable gifts are off limits or on.

A range of organizations from think tanks, advocacy and service groups to churches, temples, universities and hospitals have long benefited from the tax write-off their benefactors enjoy. And, in the past decade there has been an explosion in the creation of new foundations, tax exempt endowments established to advance social causes. The introduction of these new philanthropic players with bold ambitions has created benefits not only for our society but also for others across the globe.

Our tax code reflects the importance we place on the freedom that these philanthropies and other nonprofits enjoy. Reducing charitable deductions could adversely impact a nonprofit’s ability to raise or grant the funds needed to fulfill its mission. The change would occur on the heels of a recession that has already reduced foundation endowments and individual givers’ accounts, forcing their grantees to make do with less. Moreover, as national, state and local coffers have shrunk, nonprofits have stretched to make up for the resulting reductions in government services, providing a safety net for America’s most vulnerable families.

But the impact on nonprofits of a changed tax treatment is likely to be as varied as the non-profits themselves—not to mention the philanthropists that support them. Donors are motivated by a range of factors. Tax relief is among them, but how much is not known. In order to judge whether it is right or wise to ask this sector to sacrifice further, policymakers would need to know the risks and benefits to society as a whole.

While that analysis is undertaken, it would be useful to come to a shared view of the reasons for the favorable tax treatment in the first place. Americans value the sector because it is unconstrained by the need to win elections or generate profits and can therefore take actions and generate ideas that may be unwelcome, unpopular and unprofitable today but produce true societal benefit tomorrow. In the process, they can help identify and tackle truly hard problems.

Among the hard problems the sector can help us address is the need to get our country on a sustainable course.

The sector has already contributed by sounding the alarm and offering specific options for financing the obligations we undertake as a country over time. The continued search for solutions will not only test our willingness as a citizenry to share in the sacrifice, but also our ability to think strategically, ask and answer knotty questions, explore novel solutions—and to imagine. These are the strengths of the nonprofit sector.

While the sector can and will continue to contribute in these ways, informing a larger process, it may also choose to shoulder a greater sacrifice. Whatever choices the sector and we make, let’s never sacrifice the sector’s independence from political and market constraints.

We must and they should preserve the sector’s freedom to help us solve society’s next hard problem.

—Jane Wales

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Today’s episode of NPR’s Fresh Air featured an in-depth interview with CJ Chivers, who will speak at the Council next Tuesday, October 19. A war correspondent for The New York Times, Chivers is the author of The Gun, which chronicles the history of the AK-47, from its early use by Soviet conscripted forces to its spread across the world as the weapon of choice of small-arms dealers. Register for the program here. Listen to the entire Fresh Air interview here.

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This Tuesday the Council will host Larry Rohter, longtime Rio di Janeiro bureau chief for The New York Times and Newsweek. He will provide insight into Brazil’s transformation into the world’s eighth biggest economy, discuss this month’s presidential elections and explore the future of the country. Find out more about the program and register here.

After last weekend’s presidential election failed to produce a clear winner, Brazilians will have to wait until October 31st to vote in a run-off election between ruling-party candidate Dilma Rousseff and opposition-party candidate Jose Serra. To learn more about the candidates and the election, read this article from The Economist.

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On Monday, September 27 the Council will host Philippe Cousteau, Jr. to discuss the health of the world’s oceans. The grandson of Jacques-Yves Cousteau, Philippe is carrying on the Cousteau family tradition as the CEO of the non-profit organization EarthEcho International and co-founder of Azure Worldwide, a strategic development company. He will address the effects of the recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and the work he is doing to draw attention to the environmental consequences of this disaster. The program will be moderated by Julie Packard, Executive Director of the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Cousteau’s appearance follows on the heels of the federal government announcement that BP’s blown-out well is officially dead. In a statement Sunday, Admiral Thad Allan said that the well “poses no continuing threat to the Gulf of Mexico.” Even as the flow of oil slowed and finally stopped, the level of attention on the health of the Gulf and the world’s oceans has continued rise. National Geographic Magazine‘s October issue focuses on the future of Louisiana’s wetlands and the Gulf of Mexico and yesterday’s New York Times included a cover story about the threat of global warming to coral reefs and the world’s fisheries.

To join the dialogue about Gulf recovery efforts and the promotion of ocean health, register here.

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