Devastating effect of higher food prices on developing nations

As last month’s World Population Day reminded us, we have over 7 billion mouths to feed. And we have to make a place at the table for the 9 million-plus projected by 2050. To do so, we’ll have to ramp up food production by 70 percent, according to United Nations estimates.

In 2011, world food prices went up by some 37 percent during the Russian wheat crisis, driving another 44 million people into poverty, according to the World Bank. This year, the effects of drought may signal more of the same for food prices in coming months.

And climate scientists predict extreme weather events with the potential to disrupt the food supply – including floods and droughts – will be far more common in the coming years.

Changing demographics are also putting new strains on our food supply, as millions of “up and coming” consumers in places like India and China buy more milk and meat to reflect newly middle class tastes, as chronicled in the Journal of Nutrition. In just this decade, there will be a 30 percent increase in global demand for milk, Tetra Pak’s own dairy index forecasts.

Furthermore, food crops and farmland are increasingly being diverted into biofuel production around the globe, making commodity crops scarcer and more expensive.

Price spikes hurt people in developing nations more, simply because they spend a much higher fraction of their incomes on food.  Whereas U.S. households spend about 6 percent of their total expenditures on food, this compares with 35 percent in India and 45 percent in Kenya. As a result, a major uptick in food prices in developing parts of the world is beyond devastating — it’s destabilizing.

A holistic approach in grantmaking

Community foundations in South Africa often use a holistic approach in their grantmaking, addressing multiple, inter-connected issues simultaneously, such as education, employment and health care.

Community foundation leaders in South Africa intentionally focus on creating positive local change from the bottom up, initiated by citizens, instead of the top down, initiated by elected officials, say those in the field.

“If we believe in the community foundation movement, and I do, we need to get down to the ground level and talk with the people living there and hear how they are affected by our community’s problems,” said Beulah Fredericks, executive director of the Community Development Foundation Western Cape based in Cape Town, South Africa. “We need to hear their voices and what their aspirations are. We should be asking: ‘What do you want to change? Where do you want your life to go?'”

Elsewhere in Africa, community foundations that are in varying stages of development are being created in response to local needs. These newer foundations are able to bring a holistic approach to their grantmaking, which means addressing multiple, inter-connected issues simultaneously, such as education, employment and health care.

“Before, people in a community would be told: ‘We’ve got money for water; where do you want your pump?'” one participant says. “Instead of assuming they all need pumps, community foundations are instead asking: ‘What do you see as your most urgent need? What assets do you have? How can we help you meet this need?'”

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Donor-advised funds give you bang for your buck

A popular route through which to make a significant social impact without the high costs or administrative hassle is through a donor-advised fund.

A donor-advised fund offers an individual the opportunity to create an easy-to-establish, low cost, flexible vehicle for charitable giving as an alternative to creating a private foundation or direct giving.

Donor-advised fund are managed by charitable organizations and are easy to set up, often with as little as $5,000. The tax benefits also make these funds popular. Individuals are allowed a federal deduction of up to 50 percent of adjusted gross income for cash donations and 30 percent for appreciated securities.

Aside from the tax savings and ease of establishing a fund, your buck has more bang. You’re pooling money with like-minded individuals, sharing the overhead expenses with all the other donors who support the charity.

There’s no magic grid for how to choose a fund, but with a little research, you can find one that matches your mission.

Turning Oppression into Opportunity

Nicholas Kristof likes to take his kids with him when he travels, but they don’t spend a lot of time at ­resorts. In 2008, he took his eldest son, Gregory, then 16, to South Sudan, and they sneaked without visas into two parts of northern Sudan—Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan, where the war is now raging. At 13, his daughter, ­Caroline, complained to him that her friends always went to the Caribbean for vacation. “So we went to the Caribbean—Haiti,” he says with a wry smile. “The cholera clinics.”

The New York Times columnist, and co-author of Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, Nicholas Kristof has raised our consciousness about the struggle for gender equality and forced us to look at injustice around the world. Kristof uses his twice-weekly New York Times column as a bully pulpit to advocate against one uncomfortable global injustice or another, from government abuses in the Sudan to the torture of circumcision that mothers ­inflict on their daughters across Africa and parts of Asia.

He has spent the last ten years focusing on the oppression of women. Half the Sky, published in 2009, tells heart-wrenching, grisly stories of female exploitation, sex trafficking, slavery, and death. Not the typical stuff of Oprah’s Book Club, but after Winfrey devoted an entire show to it, sales of the book skyrocketed and it spent more than 60 weeks on the best-seller list. The book inspired the kind of grassroots activism that MoveOn.org would envy: It’s been discussed among prison populations, turned book groups from Connecticut to Oregon into fund-raisers for women’s organizations, and inspired a documentary series by the same name that will air on PBS in October.

Today, Kristof continues to make us think about the world’s unsung victims and heroes. “We in the news business don’t cover reproductive health, sex trafficking, and maternal mortality very well,” says Kristof, who has made it his job to change that record.

“People always ask me, ‘Do you get depressed when reporting on poverty and global conflicts?’ …I go back because it is hard to deal with.”

Weibo philanthropy in China

Nine months after Ma Chunhua’s baby was born, she was diagnosed with leukemia. Ma, a low-wage worker in Hubei province, said she grew desperate, knowing her family couldn’t afford the chemotherapy and bone-marrow transplant needed to save her baby. So she turned to China’s online masses, tweeting pictures from the hospital and posting their plight.

Chinese citizens are increasingly depending not on their government nor officially sanctioned nonprofits, but on Twitter-like microblogs called Weibo for donations.
The emergence of Weibo philanthropy has been spurred on by widespread suspicion and exasperation among Chinese with their government’s decades-long stranglehold over the social assistance and charity sector.

Current laws prevent the existence of any nonprofit unless it is partnered with a government-related entity. Even then, such groups cannot raise money — a right reserved for a small number of government-controlled charities.

And for the ruling Communist Party — in the midst of a once-in-a-decade transition of leaders — the trend towards Weibo fundraising suggests a troubling disconnect. The fact that increasing numbers of citizens would rather donate to random strangers online than to state-managed charities points to a growing distrust in government institutions. And donations to official charities has declined over the past two years.

“Weibo is putting great pressure on the government because it shows that if they don’t solve basic problems they are responsible for like food and health, the people will solve it without them,” said Deng Fei, a former investigative journalist.

The less religious are more stingy in their charitable giving

A new study on the generosity of Americans confirms the suggestion that the least religious are also the stingiest about giving money to charity.

The study released by the Chronicle of Philanthropy found that residents in states where religious participation is higher than the rest of the nation gave the greatest percentage of their discretionary income to charity.

Northeast residents, with lower religious participation, was the least generous to charities.

The study was based on Internal Revenue Service records of people who itemized deductions in 2008, the most recent year statistics were available. By focusing on the percentage given to charity from discretionary income — the money left over after necessities are paid for — the study aimed to remove variables such as the differing costs of living around the country. Churches are among the organizations counted as charities by the study.

Who gives how much in America

A study by The Chronicle of Philanthropy, based on Internal Revenue Service records, provides an unusually rich look at giving by geography and income level. The study uses the most recent data available and provides detail about the relative generosity of US states, cities, towns, and even ZIP codes based on the share of discretionary income their residents gave.

The Chronicle’s study examines taxpayers who earned $50,000 or more. They donated a median of 4.7 percent of their discretionary income. Altogether, they provided $135-billion to charity, nearly two-thirds of the $214-billion donated by all individuals in 2008, according to “Giving USA,” the benchmark of American giving.

Among other findings:

The rich aren’t the most generous. Low-income people give a far bigger share of their discretionary income to charities. People who make $50,000 to $75,000 give an average of 7.6 percent of their discretionary income to charity, compared with an average of 4.2 percent for people who make $100,000 or more.

As for the 1 percent: Rich people who live in neighborhoods with many other wealthy people give a smaller share of their incomes to charity than rich people who live in more economically diverse communities.

Religion has a big influence on giving patterns. Regions of the country that are deeply religious are more generous than those that are not.

Grantmaking to Latin America

While the nonprofit sector in Latin America is among the smallest in the world, these nations are on the cusp of significant philanthropic transformation. This is due, in part, to a rising middle class, technology connecting more citizens and increasing corporate social responsibility (CSR).

Concerning grantmaking in Latin America and the Caribbean: Findings show that Canadian and European foundations favor funding programs in Central American and Andean countries, while Caribbean foundations almost exclusively fund within their own region. U.S. foundations favor Mexico and Brazil, although grants are made extensively across the region.

Nearly two-thirds (64.2 percent) of all grant dollars went to two countries—Mexico and Brazil. Four other countries—Peru, Colombia, Argentina, and Chile—comprised the next 22 percent. The remaining 13.8 percent was distributed among the other 39 countries of the region.

Net US migration from Mexico dips to zero

Mexico has directed more immigrants to the United States over the past four decades than any other nation.

In fact, the United States’ Mexican immigrants represent the largest chunk of immigrants in any country in the world.

But now Mexican migration into the States has come to a standstill and may soon reverse, according to a report by the Pew Hispanic Center. This marks a dramatic change in the wave of Mexican migration that brought 12 million people to America over four decades.

Between 2005 and 2010, about 1.4 million Mexicans immigrated to the United States, which is roughly the same number of Mexicans who left over the same period.

The report attributes the drop to the drastic decline in birthrates in Mexico, the increasingly dangerous passage across the border, and the flagging American economy.