Category: Philanthropy

Google offers tech aid to take on humanitarian crises

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Frontier technologies like machine learning and artificial intelligence have revolutionized Google’s business, and now the tech company is looking to share the wealth with those that need it most: people on the front lines of humanitarian crises.

From among 2,600 applicants, 20 winning nonprofits and social enterprises walked away from Google’s AI Impact Challenge with access to a pool of $25 million in funding, expertise from “Googlers,” and a shot to mitigate humanitarian challenges in their local communities.

“We want to see if we can help make the world a better place by bringing the best of Google,” said Jacquelline Fuller, vice president of Google, and president of the company’s humanitarian arm, Google.org. “We look at issues and see where do we think we could have a differential impact. And so some of those areas include economic opportunity, the future of work, thinking about how to bring digital skilling to millions across the globe.”

This year’s winners include the American University of Beirut, which is developing a tool to help Middle Eastern and African farmers save water; Eastern Health of Australia, which uses machine learning to identify patterns in suicide attempts for more effective prevention; and Hand Talk, a startup that is using AI to translate Portuguese into sign language for disadvantaged, deaf Brazilians.

Fuller said the project helps unite tech companies, civil society, and governments to ensure “everyone has access to the benefits of this technology, and that we are applying it to the problems that really matter most to humanity.”

[Cheddar]

Polio vaccine now introduced worldwide

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By the end of 2017 Gavi the Vaccine Alliance, backed by The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Norway and the United Kingdom, had helped more than 75 million children to be immunized against polio with IPV. (Nepal was the first Gavi-supported country to introduce the vaccine in September 2014.) Today, every country worldwide has now introduced the inactivated polio vaccine (IPV)  which protects children against polio.

“Introducing IPV into routine immunization programs is a critical milestone on our journey towards a polio-free world,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization and Chair of the GPEI Polio Oversight Board. “It’s also vital that we use the infrastructure that has built up around polio immunization programs to ensure that all children receive other nationally-recommended vaccines. Achieving universal health coverage means making sure that all children, rich and poor, receive the same protection from vaccine-preventable diseases.”

Polio is a highly contagious viral infection, mainly affecting children under the age of five, which can lead to paralysis or even death. Only three countries – Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan – remain endemic to wild poliovirus. Thanks to global efforts and vaccination, since the beginning of 2019 only fifteen cases of wild poliovirus have been recorded in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Moreover, Nigeria, the third endemic country could be declared polio-free by the end of the year. Polio cases have fallen by 99% since 1988, from an estimated 350,000 cases to 33 reported cases in 2018.

[GAVI Alliance]

Poorest countries bear the brunt as aid levels fall for second successive year

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Experts have warned that the fight against global poverty has taken a backward step after new figures show foreign aid has fallen for a second successive year. Aid levels dropped last year by 2.7% from 2017, with the poorest countries worst hit, according to figures published by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Bilateral aid – direct, country-to-country assistance – to the least developed countries fell by 3% in 2018, with support to the African continent down 4% and humanitarian assistance dropping by 8%.

Toni Pearce, Oxfam’s head of advocacy, said: “The overall fall in aid globally is a worrying trend that risks exacerbating poverty and inequality worldwide. Cutting aid to the poorest and most vulnerable countries is a step backwards in the fight to end extreme poverty.

“With refugee numbers at their highest since the second world war, disasters like Cyclone Idai devastating lives, and food crises looming in Yemen and elsewhere, the fall in humanitarian aid is particularly alarming. Vulnerable people across the world rely on this essential lifeline when disaster hits.”

Angel Gurría, the OECD secretary general, also expressed concern: “This picture of stagnating public aid is particularly worrying as it follows data showing that private development flows are also declining. Donor countries are not living up to their 2015 pledge to ramp up development finance, and this bodes badly for us being able to achieve the 2030 sustainable development goals.”

Only five of the 30 development assistance committee (DAC) members met or exceeded the longstanding aid target of 0.7% of gross national income target: Denmark, Luxembourg, Norway, Sweden and the UK. Turkey and the UAE donated 1.10% and 0.95% of their gross national income.

[The Guardian]

Extreme Poverty: Bad, but better

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The World Bank has used an international poverty line, originally the “dollar a day” line, since at least 1990 to monitor global poverty. In recent years, the line has come under criticism for being too low in value.

When the World Bank convened the Commission on Global Poverty in 2015, 10 percent of the world was living in extreme poverty. We might be entering the hardest stretch in the march toward the end of extreme poverty, which is increasingly concentrated in sub-Saharan Africa.

A recent World Bank report breaks new ground. To construct a more complete picture of poverty, it presents two new sets of poverty lines. The first are poverty lines at higher thresholds—$3.20 and $5.50 per day (in 2011 Purchasing Power Parity dollars)—reflecting typical national poverty thresholds in lower- and upper-middle-income countries. By these criteria, more than a quarter (at the $3.20 line) and almost half of the world’s population (at the $5.50 line) were poor in 2015.

The report also introduces a societal poverty line that increases in value as a country gets richer—a global poverty line that reflects the variation in national poverty lines observed across the world. It is a recognition that poverty is a deeply social and relative experience, so it cannot be detached from the social context of the individual. A refrigerator may be a luxury in a poor country, but it is essential to basic functioning in rich countries. When judged by the relative standard of the society in which they live, almost 3 in 10 individuals were living in poverty in 2015.

The new measures are not without flaws, and lack of timely, high-quality data to monitor poverty in all its forms everywhere remains a challenge. Despite these limitations, close observers of the World Bank would agree that the latest report breaks the mold. It stays centered on its core mandate of monitoring global extreme poverty, while offering a rich menu of complementary indicators that are relevant to a growing world and that encompass poverty in its multiple forms.

When asked about the state of the world, Hans Rosling, the data guru, was fond of quipping: “Bad, but better.” Similarly, this year’s Poverty and Shared Prosperity Report shows that while remarkable progress has been made in reducing extreme poverty, much remains to be done to eliminate poverty in all countries, in all aspects of life, and for all individuals.

[Brookings]

How old is the typical American donor?

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How old is the typical U.S. donor?

[  ] 35 years of age
[  ] 50 years of age
[  ] 75 years of age

Donors aged 65 and older comprise (by far) the largest slice of the American charity pie.

Those under age 35 make up the smallest slice of the same pie. 

In 2017, one of America’s top 10 brand-name charities, a group serving the homeless and addicted, analyzed its vast donor database by age. Its largest group of “active” (i.e., repeat) donors was 87 years old on average. Its largest group of first-time (i.e., new) donors was age 70 on average. 

Even in Australia, a philanthropic market that vigorously courts younger donors, older donors end up ruling the roost. Sean Triner, co-founder of Pareto, that country’s largest direct mail and phone fundraising agency, ran the numbers. He simply concluded: “Older donors are better.” Why? They tend to stick longer and hence give more in total. 

Are younger people less generous? Not at all. But they lack one essential: money to give away.          

Young adults are building lives. They’re buying stuff. They’re forming and furnishing households. They are as caring and concerned and compassionate as anyone else. But unless they were born with the proverbial silver spoon, they probably don’t have all that much disposable income to throw around (especially if they choose to have children, an expensive proposition in America).           

And then things change.           

“At age 55,” Jeff Brooks observed, “people start to become reliably charitable. They’re starting to have some extra money.” There is some surplus in their wallets: the kids are launched, the house is almost paid for. “Then households begin giving to charity,” said Jeff. “And their giving ramps up until age 65, where it levels off.

[GuideStar blog]

Humanitarian investing gathers speed at Davos

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Finding ways to channel more private investment into humanitarian settings was a hot topic this year at Davos — the World Economic Forum’s 48th annual meeting in Switzerland — which included the tentative launch of a development impact bond to create jobs for Syrian refugees.

The IKEA Foundation said it will provide €6.8 million ($7.7 million) to fund the outcomes of the bond, which has been put together by impact finance firm KOIS, and aims to help up to 12,000 Syrian refugees and host populations in Jordan and Lebanon earn a living. 

New research by British think tank the Overseas Development Institute shows that job creation activities have the potential to offer a financial and social return on investment. But some delegates expressed reservations about the role the private sector should play in financing humanitarian efforts.

Mark Lowcock, head of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said that while he sees a big opportunity for the private sector to come in where there are “investable activities,” it is important not to assume too much from investors and businesses that are ultimately profit-driven.

The development impact bond is part of a broader effort to attract new financing for humanitarian efforts in the face of an increasing number of protracted crises. Between 2005-2017, the number of active crises nearly doubled from 16 to 30 and the average length of active United Nations interagency appeals also increased, according to UNOCHA. Despite these growing needs, donor financing has not kept pace. Experts also say funding needs to be longer-term and to embrace the humanitarian-development continuum in order to reflect the extended nature of the crises.

Per Heggenes, CEO at the IKEA Foundation, said that financial tools such as development impact bonds could help bridge the funding gap. “The needs are increasing, and we can’t expect it all to be covered by donors; we have to look to involve the private sector partly on the funding side but also [for] their knowledge and networks which can be more valuable than just money.”

Speaking during a session Tuesday, Peter Maurer, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, said aid actors tend to see fragile states as “places where it is impossible to do something.” While many organizations are working on income-generating activities, they tend to be “left alone by the international aid system,” he said.

[Devex]

A problem with the term ‘philanthropist’

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Fundraising academic Beth Breeze says people who give large donations are celebrated in the US, but British culture has a problem with the idea of a “philanthropist”.

Breeze, who is director of the Centre for Philanthropy at the University of Kent, said that in the US large donations from very wealthy people were celebrated and seen as something to aspire to. “There’s a very distinct culture of philanthropy in the US, one where they’re pretty positive and encouraging about the use of private wealth to advance the public good,” she said.

Despite the UK’s long tradition of charitable giving, she said, British people seemed to be a lot more comfortable celebrating smaller donors. “If you stick a few zeroes on the end of a donation, people get a bit uncomfortable and unsure how to react,” she said. “We reject the word ‘philanthropist’ in this country. Major donors here will often say ‘I’m not a philanthropist, I’m just generous, I’m just doing what I like’.”

She said this problem was often played out in newspapers, which made snide comments about the large-scale giving of billionaire Bill Gates.

[Third Sector]

Creative solutions for refugees, filling a country’s labor gaps

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Nagham Abu Issa was working as an executive assistant in a cement factory in Damascus when the civil war started in Syria. Her family fled to Lebanon. She is a refugee, but she is also a valuable employee, with a degree from Damascus University in English literature and has studied human resources. Now she hopes to take that savvy to Canada, not through resettlement but to fill the country’s labor gaps.

She has interviewed with Talent Beyond Boundaries (TBB), an international NGO that has started pilots in Canada and Australia to match a small number of refugees based in Lebanon and Jordan with employment opportunities abroad. The experiment is aiming high: to forge a new pathway for refugees to be recognized for what they can bring to a country, not for the state of the countries they were forced to leave. In so doing, TBB hopes to shift attitudes about refugees among Western nations and their immigration systems, some of which are under assault by the rise of populism and nativism. Bruce Cohen, co-founder of TBB and former chief counsel and staff director for the US Senate Judiciary Committee, created a searchable database for displaced jobseekers in Lebanon and Jordan that today holds more than 11,000 resumes. “It is really getting rid of this image of refugees as unskilled, poor, pitiful.”

In Canada jobs are plentiful. The government recently announced it will take in 350,000 immigrants in 2021, or 40,000 more than it expects to admit this year. Canadian employers have also expressed interest in hiring refugees. The TBB program works with federal and provincial governments in Canada on visas and connects employers to refugee talent. It helps businesses overcome legal barriers refugees face that traditional economic migrants would not, such as a lack of passports or access to education records.

Heather Segal, founder of Segal Immigration Law in Toronto, is working pro-bono with TBB because she says too many skilled refugees stagnate while nations like Canada face labor shortages. “Why are we obviating a group of educated, skilled people because their country fell apart?” she says. “There is a gap here that needs to be addressed…. We need creative solutions for the refugee system in the 21st century.”

In the United States, the Tent Partnership for Refugees works with businesses to facilitate refugee hires, both in countries to which they first flee and where they are ultimately resettled. Tent Partnership’s leaders argue that it is not just the right thing to do, it makes both strategic and business sense. A report released by Tent and the Fiscal Policy Institute in May, for example, showed higher retention rates and resilience among the refugee workforce in the US market.

[Christian Science Monitor]

Pope Francis criticizes migrant treatment and rising wealth inequality

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Pope Francis criticized rising wealth inequality and the treatment of migrants, saying the world should not ignore those “tossed by the waves of life”.

“Injustice is the perverse root of poverty,” Francis said. “The cry of the poor daily becomes stronger but heard less, drowned out by the din of the rich few, who grow ever fewer and more rich.”

Francis also reiterated his support for migrants saying that people must pay attention to “all those forced to flee their homes and native land for an uncertain future”.

A report this year by Oxfam said 3.7 billion people, or half of the global population, saw no increase in their wealth in 2017, while 82 percent of the wealth generated last year went to the richest one percent of the global population.

[Reuters]

Bill Gates reinventing the toilet

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Bill Gates thinks toilets are a serious business, and he’s betting big that a reinvention of this most essential of conveniences can save a half million lives and deliver $200 billion-plus in savings.

The billionaire philanthropist, whose Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation spent $200 million over seven years funding sanitation research, showcased some 20 novel toilet and sludge-processing designs that eliminate harmful pathogens and convert bodily waste into clean water and fertilizer.

The Microsoft Corp. co-founder explained that new approaches for sterilizing human waste may help end almost 500,000 infant deaths and save $233 billion annually in costs linked to diarrhea, cholera and other diseases caused by poor water, sanitation and hygiene.

One approach from the California Institute of Technology that Gates said he finds “super interesting” integrates an electrochemical reactor to break down water and human waste into fertilizer and hydrogen, which can be stored in hydrogen fuel cells as energy.

Without cost-effective alternatives to sewers and waste-treatment facilities, urbanization and population growth will add to the burden. In some cities, more than half the volume of human waste escapes into the environment untreated. Every dollar invested in sanitation yields about $5.50 in global economic returns, according to the World Health Organization.

Gates, who with wife Melinda has given more than $35.8 billion to the foundation since 1994, said he became interested in sanitation about a decade ago.

[Bloomberg]