US yogurt billionaire’s ‘Humanity first’ solution to immigration

Hamdi Ulukaya, a Kurd who built yogurt empire Chobani after immigrating to the US in the mid-90s, is challenging Americans to rethink the way they view immigration.

Ulukaya has sought to keep his mission of assisting refugees above the political fray. But on occasion he has denounced the administration’s immigration policies and the way it enforces them. The issue is deeply personal for Ulukaya — a self-made billionaire who grew up tending goat and sheep in rural Turkey.

Ulukaya said, “I have nothing against ‘America first’, but ‘humanity first’ too.”

Ulukaya started recruiting immigrants and refugees to work at Chobani in 2010 — a strategy that drew vicious attacks from far right-wing conspiracy theorists who have spread lies about the company, including allegations Chobani embarked on a secret plot to increase America’s Islamic population.

About 30 percent of Chobani’s employees are immigrants or refugees. He says his employees and suppliers are worried. “They ask, ‘What’s gonna happen to me, will I be able to see my mother, or if they’re gonna come and visit me?’ ”

Ulukaya calls America a “magic land,” alluding to its historic standing as a beacon of hope and opportunity. “Above and beyond all, I hope the idea of magic land doesn’t get damaged,” said Ulukaya.

[CNN]

Mobilizing resources to meet the needs of international refugees

Over the last several years, Hamdi Ulukaya has been making a passionate pitch to assist refugees through Tent Partnership for Refugees, Ulukaya’s nonprofit dedicated to helping improve the lives of refugees. He argues that resources, especially from corporate America, should grow to match a historic migration crisis that has displaced over 65 million people worldwide, including 25 million refugees.

Ulukaya, who launched Tent in 2016, has successfully urged companies to develop solutions by “mobilizing resources, innovation and the entrepreneurial spirit of the business community.”

This week, Tent added 20 brands to a growing list of partners pledging to hire refugees or help them build a better life. The latest companies to commit to the cause include Hilton, pasta maker Barilla, Microsoft and Uniqlo. In total, Tent has secured promises from more than 100 companies.

Ulukaya is alleviating the plight of refugees at a time when the US government is reducing foreign aid and lowering the number of refugees the US will admit. Earlier this month, the Trump administration announced a refugee cap of 30,000 in 2019 — the lowest level since 1980.

“Even if governments were stepping up to do the right thing, which many, including the US government, are not, the crisis is too big for government,” said Samantha Power, the former US ambassador to the United Nations from 2013 to 2017, as she presented Ulukaya the Atlantic Council’s Global Citizen Award this week.

[CNN]

Syrian refugees in Turkey showcase their new skills at fashion shows

Fashion shows are not often associated with development projects, but it made perfect sense as a group of Syrian women refugees in Turkey showcased the skills they acquired through a vocational training in apparel manufacture. The project was funded by Japan and implemented by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO).

The event was however much more than a display of fashion creations. It was an opportunity to reflect on how the training has helped Syrian refugees regain the sense of pride and hope that has been washed away by the events that forced them to flee their country to find refuge in Turkey.

“When the war started in Syria …the Turkish people approached us in a brotherly manner and we felt very close,” said Mecid Abdulkrem, a graduate of the vocational training, at the event. “We started living in camps and times were difficult. This course was very important for its psychological and vocational contributions. Now we have hope for the future and we would like to thank all stakeholders of the project.”

The  project aims to improve the livelihoods, social stability and resilience of Syrian refugees living in Turkey – in particular women and youth – by providing them with skills to help them find work so they can provide for themselves and their families. The training course focused mainly on sewing machine operation, equipment maintenance, pattern-making and production management. Around 1,000 people graduated from the course, out of which 350 attended a seminar on how to set up a business and apply for work permits. All the graduates were also registered for the employment pool, run by the Turkish Labor Agency, an important step in finding a job.

The Ankara event was the second of two fashion shows organized this week. The first one was held in the Kahramanmaraş refugee camp where the vocational training center was established as part of the project. Combined, vocational centers have trained more than 2,100 refugees, making a real difference to their lives and that of their families.

[ReliefWeb]

Becoming a Water Warrior

High School freshman Fiona is a warrior. A water warrior, that is!

With the science fair coming up, Fiona had chosen water filtration as her project. Fiona studied in-depth the effectiveness of different water filters, performing experiments with lake water and other contaminated water sources. To her surprise, all of them worked – some better than others.

After completing her science fair project, Fiona’s parents encouraged her to think bigger. To not just think about how this water impacts herself but the world around her.

At World Concern, Fiona learned about the need for clean water in some of the world’s poorest, most remote places. A spark ignited. Returning home, Fiona began a campaign for water filters – herself being the first donor.

The desire to help was infectious. Before she knew it, Fiona’s classmates organized bake sales and collected spare change in jars to raise money for water filters. So far she and her fellow fundraisers have raised almost $2,000.

“Just do it – it will be worth it,” she said without missing a beat. “You can’t really mess up. However much money you raise, it’s helping! Even just one water filter helps.”

Click here to visit water filter campaign and learn more about the impact of clean water

Conquering the Global Water Crisis one loan at a time

More than half a billion people could solve their own drinking water and sanitation needs if they just had access to small loans.

This month, Water.org reached a critical milestone, attracting and mobilizing $1 billion in capital to support small, easy-to-repay loans for people in need of access to water and sanitation. Water.org now is in 13 countries, cultivating new partnerships and graduating partners who continue to lend on their own.

This $1 billion of mobilized capital demonstrates that finance is a viable tool to help meet the funding gaps to achieve the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal 6 (SDG6) which calls for clean water and sanitation for all people. The funding gap for extending safely managed access—fully meeting SDG6—is $89.6 billion a year. That dollar amount can seem overwhelming. But at Water.org we don’t believe that SDG6 is only aspirational, it’s also attainable in our lifetime.

We know that for every $1 invested by donors, Water.org leverages 40 times that amount from capital markets to fund vital water and sanitation services. Bottom-up financing is an in-demand solution for millions of people.

Take for example Lackshmee, a woman in India who used a small loan through WaterCredit to finance access to drinking water in her home, freeing her from the burden of spending large amounts of time, energy and money to obtain clean water for her family. Instead of using hours each day searching for water, Lackshmee now uses that time to sew. That work earns Lackshmee money to send her kids to school and to repay her loan. And the money from the repaid loan is recycled to help another family gain access to water and sanitation.

Lack of safe drinking water within a 30-minute round trip from their home traps hundreds of millions of people—nearly one out of every nine people on the planet—in poverty. Unsafe water increases the risk of disease. And the burden of retrieving clean water falls disproportionately on women and girls. Easy access to safe water keeps girls in school and empowers women to earn income to invest in their future.

So what can a $1 billion buy? It can buy an acceleration to the end of the global water crisis, strengthen our global economy and help bring millions of people the good health, power, and dignity that come with access to a tap and a toilet.

[Excerpts of article by Gary White, CEO and co-founder of Water.org]

The Global Partnership for Education

Grant approvals by The Global Partnership for Education (GPE) have reached almost US$300 million in 2018.

“GPE is putting this new education financing to work so that all children can go to school and get a quality education,” said Julia Gillard, Board Chair, Global Partnership for Education. “We are … helping countries strengthen their education systems that will be the backbone of their future prosperity and stability.”

The recent approval of US$55.7 million in new grants for Bhutan, Sierra Leone, Somalia and Zimbabwe follows a first set of grants of US$95.3 million approved in March for Cambodia, Cote d’Ivoire, The Gambia, Guinea Bissau and Madagascar and a second set in May providing more than US$45 million to Cabo Verde, Cambodia, Chad, Comoros and Somalia.

In addition, the Board approved close to US$100 million in allocations to 11 countries from the GPE Multiplier, GPE’s new innovative financing instrument. This funding is set to leverage more than US$400 million in additional financing for these countries.

“The GPE Multiplier has quickly gained traction and is successfully crowding in significantly more investment for education,” said Alice Albright, GPE’s Chief Executive Officer. “The new Multiplier is another example of how GPE continues to evolve to deliver impact and extend its role as a leading catalyst of progress toward the Sustainable Development Goal to educate all the world’s children by 2030.”

[Global Partnership for Education]

A year after deadly Maria, Puerto Rico still struggles with aftermath

Even before the Category-4 storm hit, Puerto Rico was financially bankrupt with $120 billion in debt and pension liabilities it cannot pay. A year after Maria, the island is far from prepared for the next big storm, with an ever-fragile power grid, damaged infrastructure and the same crippling debt.

The storm knocked out power and communications to virtually all of Puerto Rico’s 3.2 million residents, while destroying the homes of thousands. Last month, the U.S. Commonwealth’s government sharply raised the official estimate of Maria’s death toll to almost 3,000 after an independent study. The exact death toll figure remains unknown, and the governor has admitted his administration failed to properly record storm-related deaths.

More than 200,000 people left the island after the storm, mostly to the U.S. mainland, according to government data.

There are still some 45,000 homes with so-called “blue roofs,” or tarps installed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The San Juan mayor has noted that the island has seen only a fraction of almost $50 billion in recovery funds Congress approved for Puerto Rico, including $20 billion in HUD funds.

“Most of the people that have requested help from FEMA … have not received enough assistance to be able to take care of their problems,” Mayor Cruz said, adding that “a lot of people that don’t have a title deed and they really are not eligible to receive any type of support or help.”

[Reuters]

How Bangladesh digitized education aid for 10 million families

March 1, 2017, was a milestone in the story of financial inclusion in Bangladesh. On that day, 10 million low-income mothers received their first digital payment from Mayer Hashi (Mother Smile), a long-standing government-run program that offers financial aid to the parents of primary school students.

There are many good reasons for countries to digitize government-to-person (G2P) payments. Digital transactions are more transparent and traceable than cash-based ones, and also faster. But there are just as many challenges. In some countries, too few recipients may be enrolled in a mobile money service to support a switch to digital delivery. In others, a lack of mobile money agents may make it too difficult for recipients to convert digital payments into cash, rendering the payments useless. The government departments involved in a payments program may also be unwilling or lack the skills to support a transition away from cash.

In Bangladesh, several leaders in government and the private sector spearheaded Mayer Hashi’s digitization initiative, which likely gained cooperation from some who may have otherwise not supported the effort. This approach may be applicable in other countries.

Rolling out digital payments also required the support of mobile money agents and teachers. The program needed 400,000 primary school teachers to identify low-income mothers who qualified for financial assistance, help program applicants fill out know-your-customer forms and open linked bank accounts and assist with disbursement paperwork. These teachers mailed hard copies of recipient lists to SureCash, which digitized the data and sent them back to the teachers for verification. This process reduced the error rate to 5 percent. SureCash rewarded teachers with a small fee for each record correctly entered into the database of eligible recipients.

Agents were another crucial partner. SureCash raised commissions and offered agents a subsidy for an initial period to ensure agents’ support even during the ramp-up phase.

SureCash had to handle more than 10 million account application forms in just a few months. It imported 45 high-speed scanners capable of processing 60 pages per minute and set up a form processing center staffed by up to 240 people in peak periods. It also upgraded its character recognition software to a custom solution that not only recognized the text in scanned documents, but also color-coded its level of confidence in the scans to flag problematic areas, speeding up human validation.

[Consultative Group to Assist the Poor]

Gang violence and extortion in Central America

Born in the aftermath of civil war and boosted by mass deportations from the U.S., Central American gangs (maras) in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras are responsible for brutal acts of violence, chronic abuse of women, and more recently, the forced displacement of children and families.

But it is extortion that forms the maras’ criminal lifeblood and their most widespread racket. By plaguing local businesses for protection payments, they reaffirm control over poor urban enclaves to fund misery wages for members. The maras have helped drive Central American murder rates to highs unmatched in the world: When the gangs called a truce in El Salvador, homicides halved overnight!

The maras are both victims of extreme social inequity and the perpetrators of brutal acts of violence. Many of the murders in El Salvador and Honduras can be ascribed to confrontations with the police, rivalries, score-settling or intimidation carried out by the two outstanding mara organizations: the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13); and the Barrio 18, or Eighteenth Street gang (B-18).

While difficult to know the exact number of mara members today, the U.S. military Southern Command’s estimate of 70,000 in Central America continues to be cited, even though it dates from a decade ago. More recent and specialized studies assert there are 70,000 members in El Salvador alone, while the UN Office on Drugs and Crime provides modest estimates of 22,000 in Guatemala, and 12,000 in Honduras. Though imprecise, these figures underline the magnitude of the challenge posed by the gangs.

Violence meted out by the gangs include killings of transport workers, the criminal control exerted over prison systems and the forced displacement of families from their homes. In Guatemala, an estimated 80 per cent of extortions are commanded from prison. El Salvador’s gang-run extortions have been described as a “system of terror that subjects community dwellers to see, hear and remain silent”.

Extortion is the economic engine and represents the largest share of gang income – with an estimated direct cost to businesses of $756 million a year in El Salvador alone. So extreme is extortion in Honduras that the Chamber of Commerce no longer publishes a registry of its members. It is one of the leading causes of forced displacement in gang-controlled communities through the threat it poses to powerless civilians, especially women and children.

[Excerpts from 2017 report by International Crisis Group]

Despite dangers and intimidation, Guatemalans still seek a better life in US

Despite the Trump administration’s immigration clampdown, newly released data show the number of Central American families and unaccompanied children crossing the Southwest border illegally has risen sharply.

Why? A day’s wage in Guatemala, tending a cornfield or working on a construction crew, is 40 quetzales — equivalent to $5.23. With this income, a family can afford to eat meat maybe once a week. They cannot send their children to school. And there is no savings to buy a motorcycle or small truck to haul their produce to market, much less build a dream house with cement blocks and indoor plumbing.

Alex Cano knows the American dream first-hand. He worked as a roofer in Jacksonville, Fla., making $120 a day, until he was arrested and deported.

A hundred yards away on the main street, Secundino Funes lives in a rough-hewn house with chickens scurrying in and out. He’s 30 years old, with a wife and five kids. He, too, makes 40 quetzales a day tending a corn plot.

Last year, he borrowed 85,000 quetzales, about $11,000 — an astronomical sum for a subsistence farmer — to make the trip north. He paid a smuggler to take him to Florida where his brother said he could get him a farm job. Funes saw it as his only way out of penury. But the Border Patrol caught him, and now he’s in a predicament. “I owe 85,000 quetzales. I have to pay it back. I can’t earn it here,” Funes says. “So I have to go back to the other side again to earn some money to pay my debt.”

Some Guatemalans, like Funes and Cano, flee to the United States to improve their economic status. Others leave in a hurry to escape gang violence and extortion rings which are epidemic in Central America. The challenge of successive U.S. administrations has been how to convince these Central Americans to stay home.

[NPR]