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The Business of Giving

Exploring philanthropy, non-profits and socially motivated business, from the Gates Foundation to your donation. A fresh look at the economy of good intentions.

December 17, 2010 at 5:52 PM

Talking back: from charity to solidarity

Posted by Kristi Heim

Seattle organizations that spend money and time addressing issues in developing countries are now seeing the ideas and energy flow the other way. Through an international fellowship program called iLEAP that encourages social innovation, young people working to improve conditions in Latin America, Asia and Africa are being cultivated as leaders in Seattle. They stay for a three-month intensive training program and work with local nonprofits such as Pangea and the Seattle International Foundation. Britt Yamamoto, iLEAP executive director, said it's part of a larger effort to change the paradigm from seeing people in poor countries as victims needing charity to one that promotes sharing and equity.

I asked this year's fellows to speak directly about what they wanted donors, students, policy makers and others in Seattle to understand about their countries.


Fellows at the iLEAP program are (left to right) Madeline Mendoza (Nicaragua), Mabilia Joj (Guatemala), Rocío González (Mexico/Guatemala), Agueda Ordeñana (Nicaragua), Raphael Okumu (Kenya) and Emmanuel G.V. Dolo (Liberia)

Madeline Mendoza (Nicaragua): We need to change the perspective of charity. What we need in our world is not charity but justice. Charity doesn't change the root causes. It promotes dependency: the donors are saviors. We need to help create the structural changes that will make disappear what is called charity. We need a different approach rooted in solidarity and awareness of what I do and what the results are. It's not about me being so good and nice and I want to go save these poor people. If we really want to change the world we need to address the structural causes of poverty and injustice.

Human rights... I think it's important for donors or foundations to support grassroots organizations that are focusing on the realization of human rights, but as a whole, without separating civil and political rights from economic, social and cultural rights. It is also important to be aware that official development aid system is structured in a way that reinforces the advancement of neoliberalism in the world. For our countries, free trade agreements harm small farmers and small producers.

Liberalization policies have affected food security in our countries, for example, now we are importing a lot of corn flour that is produced with genetically modified corn. Because this corn is cheaper than the one produced in Nicaragua (small local farmers can't compete with subsidized imported crops). We are changing our local crops for crops that are created in laboratories and there's not conclusive data about the long-term effects of GMOs (Genetically Modified Organism) on humans. That is changing the food we have eaten for generations and threatening our health.

Development aid very often comes with many strings attached, which respond to the political and economic interests of "donor" countries. For example, if we receive aid from Spain (as it has happened with many projects in Nicaragua), we need to buy services or hire agencies from Spain. So, considering the reality of official development aid and its interests, for small grassroots organizations trying to create real structural changes, independent donors can make a huge difference.

Mabilia Joj (Guatemala): Lack of health in rural communities and how can we improve the situation for women. Women can invest all their money in a business with a microloan. But they not only need capital to invest in businesses. The reality is in the rural areas we know they need to get money for many things. Our partners hired an assessor to look at the business run by a woman. They said OK, you only invest 50 percent in the business and the other amount in other things such as food and daily necessities. Maybe you only need a loan for half as much. But we're talking about very small subsistence businesses. How can we improve their situation? I think it's a challenge and I know it's a long process. It's not like now we begin the project and next month they have changes.

Rocío González (Mexico/Guatemala): Help both sides, not just work with locals but with leaders and managers of these organizations. It's so easy to fund programs but I don't even know one that is working to train leaders. Nonprofits are not collaborating. We are not getting together to talk and nobody is interested in putting us together to share and learn from each other.

Agueda Ordeñana (Nicaragua): I think donors need to know the reality of the countries. I work with small farmers with land of less than 10 acres to improve the quality of products for export. Many are producers of organics. Sometimes these organizations feel alone because they don't have support. Rural areas are vulnerable to climate change. The conditions are very bad, and they don't have basic services like clean water and sanitation. People's lives are very hard so they migrate to other cities or to Costa Rica. In big cities you see people that are not skilled for jobs. Women raising the children have the burden of more work.

Raphael Okumu (Kenya): In Kenya we used to have and still have great corruption crushing our economy, and tribal issues affecting our social affairs. We are in a total shift with a new constitution. We now have a good level playing field. We need a new level of civic education for our people to understand and own the constitution better.

It's true we have our challenges. We have the solutions to our challenges. All we need is the means and capacity to facilitate this to happen at both level. We don't need you to be there as a policeman or policewoman it might not be sustainable.

If someone is willing to give support, one of the questions they should ask is whether they are willing to invest their time and stick in our dust of challenges within our local slums and informal settlement. Change can not be bought from just pressing a button. Things are totally different. In the USA everything is just press the button. I believe the youth can take our Kenyan economy into next level of self sufficiency and hope. There is strong hope in Africa. It's not lost and we will never lose it. Don't be sorry that people cannot use an ATM and buy a latte for $6. Let's share love and love where we have chosen to help. He who wears the shoe knows how it pinches. We can rebuild our hope.

Emmanuel G.V. Dolo (Liberia)
: The impression lots of donors have about my country through the media is different from the reality. The notion that as long as there is no fighting or firing of guns in the streets that mean we have peace. The truth is that down the line, most people are still carrying grief, hatred, the desire for revenge, and other vices that give rise to violent conflicts.

Liberia is like a minefield: On top, you see green grass; but underneath, are explosives. There is a critical need to help the country in the recovery process by rebuilding trust and sustainable reconciliation among former warring tribes and traditional leaders; there is a need to help us create a space where our local leaders can work together to define their problems and work together through dialogue to solve them not hut at the top political level but also at the grassroots level.

Also, another challenge is the high unemployment rate (around 80%) in the face of a not-too-successful DDR (Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration) program for war affect youth. Most Liberian youth are now roaming in our rubber plantations, national parks, and other places struggling for survival. I really appeal that the global community help to rescue these young people because I strongly believe that they can be redirected to become responsible, peaceful, and productive citizens again. Violence was never a choice for them; they were ensnared by heartless politicians and brutal warlords to become victims'.

Despite the economic crisis and too many domestic and international problems, the American people still honor their responsibility of promoting humanity dignity and freedoms around the world. This effort of sharing give hope to the world poorest.


That's a wrap for this blog for 2010. The experience over these last two years has been incredibly valuable and now it's time to move on. I will be focusing on longer pieces and projects for the paper and experimenting with other media technologies for storytelling. I'll continue covering topics in business, philanthropy, technology and health from a global perspective and exploring Seattle's connections with the world. Thanks for reading.

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December 17, 2010 at 1:29 PM

Non-profits counting on year-end fundraisers, volunteers corps

Posted by Kristi Heim

Stacy Noland knows that connecting environmental sustainability to jobs for disadvantaged youth in Seattle is a great idea, in theory. But with nonprofit organizations struggling just to keep their doors open, work that used to be paid is increasingly done by volunteers.


Stacy Noland is founder and CEO of Moontown Foundation.

Noland, who founded the Moontown Foundation train low-income young people for green jobs, said a lot of those jobs haven't materialized. Meanwhile, many small charities are hurting and may close. They're appealing to the same local foundations for help, and those foundations have all taken an financial hit.

"There's serious donor fatigue," he said. "Everybody and their brother is pinging them."

In talking with other nonprofit leaders, at least a dozen told him their organizations are "on the verge of going under because they just cannot raise the money to keep staff and build capacity," he said. "Their only option will be to go down to being volunteer based organizations."

As a result, end of year fund-raising has become a make-or-break activity.

"Everybody is essentially banking on their ability to raise funds at their end of year breakfast or dinner event. A couple folks said their faith lies with how philanthropic people are in coming to their event. If they don't raise a certain about of money, they won't have an office space."

Nonprofit mergers are also likely.

Sustainable Seattle, a 20-year-old non-profit that promotes urban sustainability, is "a beehive of activity" these days, but it's also surviving largely with volunteers, says board member John de Graaf.

The current financial crisis has severely affected its balance sheets so it's counting on new support for future operations, he said.

"I think times have been tough," de Graaf said. "Sustainable Seattle has been run essentially as a volunteer organization after many years in which it had a pretty good budget."

The good news is that the organization is seeing "an explosion of interest," he said, from people who want to help launch a new project called the Happiness Initiative and other efforts related to improving the environment and community health.

These days, it's easier to get volunteers because people have time on their hands and less money.

"People are unemployed, but they do want to contribute," de Graaf said. "People see the volunteer work as fun and meaningful also as a way to get something on their resumes and make contacts. "However, "It's tough to keep an organization functioning that way over time."

Sustainable Seattle held a major fund-raising dinner this week. Other organizations are campaigning for funds on the web.

A third of charities' online donations are made in December, and 22 percent of online gifts are made in the last two days of the year.


John de Graaf, board member of Sustainable Seattle and founder of the Seattle organization Take Back Your Time.

These challenges come at exactly the time when more people will be needing services because state funding for them is being cut. Gov. Chris Gregoire challenged charities to fill in the gaps.

The proposed budget eliminates subsidized basic health insurance by March 1 for 66,000 individuals, saving $48 million. Disability Lifeline and medical programs would also be eliminated to save $43 million for the state.

"For the functions government no longer will be able to provide, we must turn to neighbors, private charities, faith-based organizations, and other local programs," she said.

"We are deeply distressed about the potential elimination of the Disability Lifeline and Basic Health Program," said Richard Bray, director of donor & community relations at the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. "The needy associated with these programs are some of the most vulnerable in our state."

St. Vincent de Paul has 53 all-volunteer groups who make home visits to the needy throughout Seattle and King County. The 2-1-1 community services line has referred about 50,000 calls to the organization this year, Bray said.

Eliminating the disability lifeline, the only source of income for many people who are unemployable because of physical or mental disabilities, is likely to increase homelessness, he said. Without health insurance, more people will require costly emergency room visits, Bray added.

Even more reason why Noland hopes that more nonprofits serving the poor will survive into next year.

"I really don't want to see these organizations go belly up," said Noland. "The people they serve are a lot of times between the cracks."

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December 16, 2010 at 1:04 PM

Decade of vaccines begins with new models, funding challenges

Posted by Kristi Heim

One of the most significant philanthropic initiatives of 2010 was the start of a "decade of vaccines" supported by the Gates Foundation with a $10 billion commitment to reach more children around the world dying of preventable diseases.

This past week saw significant milestones in new research partnerships, rollouts of immunizations in hard hit countries, and new models for financing and developing vaccines. But with a major shortfall in funding, the effort faces some daunting challenges.


Health workers in Burkina Faso prepare to give meningitis vaccinations.

--PATH and the World Health Organization introduced a new vaccine for bacterial meningitis, the first vaccine developed specifically for Africa, based on a new model that cut the cost to one-tenth of the $500 million usually required to bring a new vaccine to market. A key to the success of MenAfriVac, which costs about 50 cents per dose, was transferring technology to a manufacturer in India that was prepared to produce it far less expensively.

--A new vaccine to prevent pneumonia was introduced this week in Nicaragua, the same year it was made available in the United States. The delay in getting vaccines to developing countries has typically been as long as 20 years. Poor nations can't afford them, and drug companies can't make a profit there. But Nicaragua is one of the first places where a program called Advance Market Commitments (AMC) is being tried. While the vaccine was still in the testing phase, drug makers Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline signed a deal with the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisations (GAVI) to supply millions of doses per year to developing countries at a cost of $3.50 to $7 per dose in exchange for guaranteed purchases.

--PATH, the Seattle-based global health nonprofit, announced a new partnership with Merck and NYU Langone Medical Center to develop a malaria vaccine that would prevent the malaria parasite from entering the liver. PATH's Malaria Vaccine Initiative (MVI) is already working with GSK on another vaccine candidate in the final stage of clinical trials in seven African countries. With that one on the horizon, "we are ramping up our efforts to seek out and invest in scientific approaches for malaria vaccines that could potentially be even more effective and protect more people," said MVI Director Christian Loucq.

--And this week also brought news that British scientists are developing a new type of vaccine to eradicate polio with a "hoax virus" that tricks the body into developing immunity.

Could such milestones pave the way to successfully develop and distribute future vaccines against other big killers -- HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis?

Bringing multinational pharmaceutical companies, nonprofits, governments and universities together in so called public-private partnerships has enabled progress and is the way of the future, proponents say.

Yet newer vaccines cost more, and GAVI, the global health partnership that leads funding for most vaccines to developing countries, is currently facing a $4 billion funding shortfall. That's because donor nations and private donors are feeling the effects of the global economic crisis.

Reaching people who would benefit most hinges on bringing prices down dramatically, according to report by Oxfam and Doctors Without Borders.

"The new and most expensive vaccines continue to be produced by a handful of multinational pharmaceutical companies whose oligopoly status allows them to charge high prices," the report said.

It called for more vaccine R&D by U.S. public universities and labs, such as the U.S. Army-led development of several vaccines after World War II.

More low-cost producers are emerging in places such as China, India, Brazil and South Africa. MSF and Oxfam held up the PATH and WHO partnership with the Serum Institute of India as the type of model that should be encouraged with donor funds.

Dr. Janet Englund, a Seattle Children's Hospital doctor and professor of pediatric infectious diseases, said even with that model, the cost also depends on the complexity of the specific vaccine.

"If a vaccine is very difficult and expensive to manufacture... even all the best will and effort in the world can't get the price down as low as the MenAfriVac vaccine," she said.

Another issue is intellectual property. "If a particular company owns the technology to make a vaccine," she said, "then there are many legal issues to deal with, in addition to the scientific issues, production issues and the issues dealing with documenting efficacy."

UNICEF estimates that more than 9 million children worldwide under the age of five died from preventable causes in 2007, including pneumonia, diarrhea and malaria. This WHO child mortality report compared the $17 billion spent in North America and Europe on pet food with the $7.5 billion cost of scaling up vaccination and other types of prevention to reach every child in the developing world.

"More innovation is needed," writes Doug Holtzman, senior program officer in infectious diseases at the Gates Foundation. "In addition to expanding access for current vaccines, we must develop new vaccines that protect against a broader range of disease types and are more affordable."

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December 15, 2010 at 1:34 PM

U.S. foundations' international giving holds steadier than overall giving

Posted by Kristi Heim

American charitable foundations gave about $6.7 billion last year for international purposes, down 4 percent, according to a report by the Foundation Center.

That dip was less than half of the 8.4 percent decline in overall giving last year.

The relative strength of global giving was buoyed by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which awarded more than $2.7 billion, at least two of every five international dollars.

Despite the economic crisis, the findings show that U.S. foundations have a "firm commitment to addressing global issues," said Bradford K. Smith, president of the Foundation Center.

The largest share went to health (39 percent), followed by international development (21 percent) and the environment (17 percent).

International giving grew 49 percent between 2006 and 2008, while overall funding grew only 21 percent. Foundations other than Gates increased their international giving by 62 percent.

International programs based in the U.S. received about two-thirds of the grant dollars, while overseas recipients received about one-third.

The full report can be found here.

Meanwhile, in roughly the same period, gifts to charities from wealthy Americans plummeted by an average of nearly 35 percent from 2007 to 2009.

Those who had donated an average of about $83,000 in 2007 gave only about $54,000 two years later during the economic downturn, according to a study by Bank of America Merrill Lynch and the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University.

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December 9, 2010 at 9:00 AM

Billionaire pledge swells with Facebook's Zuckerberg and others

Posted by Kristi Heim

Seventeen more of America's richest people, including Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, have pledged to give the majority of their wealth to charity.

They signed on to the Giving Pledge, the effort led by investor Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates to persuade the wealthiest people in the world to donate their fortunes.

Today's news brings the total to 57 families, following the first 40 who announced their intentions to take the Giving Pledge in August. The pledge is not a binding legal contract and doesn't involve pooling money for causes. Most of those signing said they hoped a public declaration would encourage other wealthy to give.

New names signing on include AOL co-founder Steve Case, junk bond pioneer Michael Milken and hedge fund manager Carl Icahn.

Icahn said he never considered making his philanthropic intentions public before, but "I hope that by adding my voice with those who are supporting this project, we will all encourage others to participate."

Previous signers also include Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, CNN founder Ted Turner and film director George Lucas.The full list is here.

"In just a few short months we've made good progress," Buffett said in a statement. "The Giving Pledge has re-energized people thinking about philanthropy and doing things in philanthropy and I look forward to many more conversations with families who are truly fortunate, and whose generosity can and will change lives."

"People wait until late in their career to give back. But why wait when there is so much to be done?" said Zuckerberg, who is 26. "With a generation of younger folks who have thrived on the success of their companies, there is a big opportunity for many of us to give back earlier in our lifetime and see the impact of our philanthropic efforts."

The billionaires have plenty to spare. As noted in a speech by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), the top 1 percent of Americans by income earned 23.5 percent of all income in the country in 2007. Thanks to Tom Paulson for video link.

UPDATE: (Dec. 14) President Obama met with Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates today, according to the White House, to discuss the Giving Pledge and other ideas for improving the economy and education. Buffett and Gates, the two wealthiest people in America, were in favor of ending tax cuts for the rich, and Gates supported a measure that would have created a state income tax in Washington.

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December 8, 2010 at 3:21 PM

Q&A with Phil Bereano on genetic engineering in agriculture

Posted by Kristi Heim

Phil Bereano, co-founder of the project AGRA Watch, has long focused on the ethical and social aspects of global trade and biotechnology. He is professor emeritus at the University of Washington, where he taught technology and public policy. He was also a negotiator in the formation of the UN's Cartagena Biosafety Protocol. Bereano talked about why he has become an outspoken critic of the Gates Foundation's approach to agriculture in Africa.


Q: One of the projects the Gates Foundation is working on with Monsanto, Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA), is being billed as a way to deal with worsening drought due to climate change, a serious problem for farmers.

A: It may use water more efficiently, but it's not drought tolerant. Drought tolerance is a complicated interplay between several dozen different genes.

There are thousands of varieties of maize, including drought tolerant varieties. The problem is they can't be patented and sold because they are in the public domain. Multinational corporations like Monsanto are attempting to gain control over food by patenting GMO seeds and presenting them as a savior to peoples' needs.

Q: Do you believe any genetic modification (GM) of food has merit?

A: It's very hard to say the existing GM products satisfy any criteria I would find socially useful. A UN and World Bank study said there is no necessary role for GM in the future in order to deal with issues of hunger and increasing production. Agroecological methods are able to do it.

None of the technologies which have been presented respond to the genuine needs of people. Herbicide resistance has not increased food production or reduced food costs for farmers.

But no one really knows because there are no adequate scientific assessments of the risk with the potential benefits. We actually don't know whether it's worth it.

Q: But haven't we eaten many genetically modified foods here in the U.S. for years?

A: Yes, but no research has been done on the impacts. Many conditions take years or decades to manifest themselves. It's estimated mad cow takes 20 years to manifest itself after exposure. We have seen an increase in autism, diabetes and obesity, yet no one is doing this research with regard to changes in the food supply.

Any reasonable approach to new technology would be doing an assessment of it, but the FDA does not do assessments. They claim they are in favor of scientific regulation, but the U.S. government relies on industry assessments.

The burden is being put on the wrong side of the equation. The burden of proof on safety should be on the company introducing the new technology.

Q: It has been about a year since the World Food Prize Symposium in which Bill Gates talked about an ideological divide between those who favor a technology or an environment based approach getting in the way of solutions. Is this divide growing?

A: First of all, we are not anti-technology. Agroecological methods are based on technology and have been shown by a number of studies, including the IAASTD, to be as good if not better at dealing with African hunger. The technologies we support are comprehensible to local farmers, under their control, and not protected by intellectual property rights. The difference is one of control. Food sovereignty is about ownership and power. The difference is not a difference between people who are pro-technology and Luddites.

No one wants to see starving people in Africa. People understand climate change is a major threat, but the justification of these kinds of technologies changes. They used to say GM food was required to feed the world; now they say it's required to feed the world and deal with climate change.

Q: What has been the result of the AGRA Watch campaign so far?

A: It's clear that they're paying more attention to these concerns than they did a year ago. Otherwise the chief of legal affairs of AGRA, African regulators and industry people wouldn't have shown up at the panel discussion we sponsored in Nagoya at the fifth meeting of Cartagena Biosafety Protocol.

The press release we put out on the Gates Foundation buying Monsanto stock appeared all around the world, including the Guardian in the UK. The cat is out of the bag now. There are a lot of voices questioning the Gates Foundation.

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December 8, 2010 at 3:04 PM

Seattle-led coalition tells Gates Foundation to change approach

Posted by Kristi Heim

A coalition of groups led by Seattle-based activists has sent a letter and online petition to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, saying its current approach to agriculture in Africa is unlikely to solve problems of hunger, poverty and climate change, and may make them worse.

The letter, signed by 100 organizations and individuals from 30 countries, was released to coincide with protests at the UN climate talks in Cancun.

Led by the Seattle-based Community Alliance for Global Justice (CAGJ), the coalition said the foundation and its private sector partners are pushing industrialized agriculture and genetically engineered crops at the expense of small farmers and the environment.

The Gates Foundation has made agricultural development one of its priorities in recent years, launching the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) with the Rockefeller Foundation in 2006.

The Gates Foundation spent about $316 million last year on agricultural development, which it says is part of a larger strategy to reduce hunger and poverty by giving small farmers tools and opportunities to boost their productivity and increase incomes.

The groups signing the letter, including environmentalists, academics and groups opposed to genetic engineering of food crops, said they're concerned the foundation's grants are "heavily distorted in favor of supporting inappropriate high-tech agricultural activities, ignoring scientific studies that confirm the value of small-scale agroecological approaches."

"Both the UN climate negotiators and the Gates Foundation must recognize that false solutions such as GMOs and agrofuels that threaten our biodiversity will further Africa's exploitation, not salvation," said Anne Maina, a member of the African Biodiversity Network, a civil society group based in Kenya.

The Gates Foundation responded that it's working comprehensively and with many partners, including African leaders and small farmers.

"Our goal is to help poor farmers grow and sell more so they can feed their families and build better lives," foundation spokesperson Susan Byrnes said. "This is an extremely complex challenge - and there's no silver bullet."

Byrnes said approach is to support seeds, soil, farm management and effective policies. "We're in this for the long haul and only interested in long-term solutions that are sustainable for the economy and the environment."

The petition urged the foundation to redefine its funding priorities in favor of small-scale agroecological agriculture, citing the findings of the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), initiated by the World Bank and
the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

That report concluded that a radical transformation of world food and farming policies is needed, and reliance on technological fixes, including transgenic crops, is unlikely to address persistent hunger and poverty.

Industrial agribusiness has contributed to the erosion of food and livelihood security in the
poorest countries, it said.

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December 3, 2010 at 4:40 PM

Video: Paul Allen talks more about the WSU gift

Posted by Kristi Heim

My story today on Paul Allen's historic $26 million donation to Washington State University touched on WSU's global ambitions in the field of animal health. Allen talked with reporters more about why he made the gift and how he's doing following treatment for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

Allen said the issue of animal health in Africa resonated with him since he has been spending more time there. His donation bested Bill Gates by $1 million. Was there a little rivalry going on? Allen says no. But his name is the one going on the building.

If Seattle has a reputation for research into human diseases, Pullman's land-grant university roots and agricultural economy are tied to plants and animals. Since many new diseases jump from animals to people, the fields are increasingly linked and expertise in both could be a powerful combination for the state.

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