A video interlude..

This is Medecins Sans Frontieres‘ (MSF) new fundraising video. While this is not so much advocacy as it is straight up fundraising, seems like MSF (one of the best NGOs out there, in my opinion) is following the advice imparted by Bill Easterly and Laura Freschi over at Aid Watch.

I find this 1 minute clip sober and powerful Рdefinitely makes me want to give to MSF. What do you think? (h/t @jdlippi )

Some lynx


I thought I was being witty by saying “lynx” as opposed to “links”. Don’t mind me. It’s been a long week.

Someone left a comment this week asking for some Rony Brauman resources. You can easily type his name in Google, and peruse your heart out – he has said and written a lot. Here are a couple of “lynx” to get you started (he has a lot of academic papers that are published in various journals – if you have access to that type of publication through your university or research institution, and have interest in reading about controversial positions on humanitarian aid, I highly recommend Brauman)

Politics and Humanitarianism: http://www.cceia.org/resources/transcripts/4961.html

On the “Zoe’s Ark” debacle: http://www.causeur.fr/rony-brauman,153

Gated paper: From Philanthropy to Humanitarianism: Remarks and an Interview
The South Atlantic Quarterly – Volume 103, Number 2/3, Spring/Summer 2004

I’ve been reading a lot about “BoP Business” (Base of Pyramid business), which is absolutely fascinating – both in terms of the intellectual/philosophical perspective that informs the thinking on it, but also the amount of literature and activity surrounding the topic. One of my favorite reads these days is “The Next Billion” blog – highly recommended.

In other news, migrants from Africa are still having a really hard time reaching their promised land. I read somewhere this week that Italy has seen a doubling of immigrant arrivals in the country in the last 6 months – I can’t remember where for the life of me, though. In any case, no wonder European politicians can so easily appeal to people’s xenophobic sentiments, given the way immigration is playing out on Europe’s coasts these days…

The Girl Effect

Great video, don’t you think?

Trusty MS alerted me about the existence of The Girl Effect and this video – I find this film to be really powerful, and, even though I’m tempted to say that it tends to oversimply/dramatize issues surrounding the empowerment of women, if I’ve learned anything in the past couple years about attracting the general public’s attention to these types of issues, it’s that you NEED to present facts simply and dramatically. So, the development practitioner in me says ” oversimplified”, takes away from seriousness and complexity of the issue….etc. The non profit manager in me says “Fabulous! what a powerful video!”.

To me, it seems that NGOs always have to toe the line between getting attention for their cause and keeping the integrity of their message, as well as of their work. It’s definitely a debate when it comes to celebrity endorsement of humanitarian causes – sure, you mobilize public opinion a lot easier and faster that way, but are you educating the public, or merely bringing the issue into the spotlight in a unidimensional fashion? Doctors without Borders (again) rejects celebrity endorsements, while others, like the Red Cross embrace it. Check out the (ridiculous??) video below…

Point of View – Rony Brauman

My new life has so far not afforded me quality time for thinking/blogging – I need to refocus my energy! I’ve been reading a lot though, and feel constantly inspired to share thoughts with all (2 or 3) of you – after blogging about the ICC and Bashir’s indictment last week, I read this great piece written by Rony Brauman, who was the head of Doctors Without Borders (as you might know, one of my all time favorite NGOs).

He also happens to be a former professor of mine, whose analysis and vision of the world had a profound impact on me. He is one of those disheveled guys that you would probably not think much of at first glance – but he is an amazing thinker (dare I say philosopher??), and is held in the highest regard by field practicioners who have worked with him.

This piece definitely characterizes his controversial take on most issues – his views are almost always counter-intuitive, but he is extremely convincing. His views on genocide are absolutely worth reading about – if this piece piques your interest, I strongly encourage you to look further into his work (drop me an email if you’d like some recommendations)

Apart from the judicial inflation to which it gives rise, the major problem with this perception of armed conflicts as “genocides” (the former Yugoslavia, Sudan, and undoubtedly more to come) is that it removes them from history and politics, in order to subject them instead to a purely moral judgment. To qualify a war as genocidal is to leave the terrain of politics, of its relations of force, of its compromises and contingencies, in order to situate oneself in some metaphysical beyond in which the only conflict is between Good and Evil: fanatics versus moderates, blood-thirsty hordes versus innocent civilians….

Read the full piece here.

Meanwhile, African Union soldiers are wearing blue plastic bags on their helmets to indicate they now operate under the UN… Boy, do we care about the situation in Darfur or what?? Very unsatisfactory state of affairs – as much as I am a huge supporter of strengthening international law, I am even more a believer in putting your $$ where your mouth is… Which, quite unfortunately, most countries, most leaders fail to do, time and time again.

Getting the Word Out

Surprisingly, the hardest thing about running a nonprofit is not to come up with strategy, to work efficiently with partners, to make “executive” decisions with my co-director, to deal with the daily administrative chores… No, the hardest part is to get people to be interested in what you’re doing.
Obviously, to me, anyone who doesn’t think that The Niapele Project is a cool organization that deserves to be supported is clearly a misguided individual. But there are SO many organizations out there – some doing fabulous work (Doctors Without Borders), and others ruining international NGOs reputations (Zoe’s Ark – a real life horror story about humanitarianism gone wrong: BBC Profile on Zoe’s Ark.)

Not only that, but for a novice to the world of NGOs, it’s hard to differentiate between organizations, to decide if you want to support, and which one, which KIND of organization you should support, depending on your sensibility….

There are at least two major categories of nonprofits out there, and perhaps this nomenclature will be helpful to some of you, in order to navigate the complicated world of charity work:

– International NGOs (non-governmental organizations): Within this category, you find orgs. such as The Niapele Project (tiny) and Doctors Without Borders (huge). Their missions vary – humanitarianism, development work, private-public partnerships…. the list goes on. One thing they all share: they operate independently from governments and States.

Well, at least in theory. Because a lot of INGOs receive funding from governments and are thus subject to certain guidelines and standards. Furthermore, when an INGO has a high profile (ie. Save the Children), it can’t always say or do what it wants – their public funding does not come with no strings attached.

In any case, a lot of people around the world support this type of organization with private contributions (depending on the country you live in, these contributions may or may not be tax deductible), and these organizations work really contribute to alleviating suffering, poverty, disease, etc….. It seems to me that there is an NGO out there for everyone’s sensibility, and, as the notion of global consciousness is taking root, it’s our duty to share some of our privileges with those less fortunate.

Oh sure, I sound patronizing, don’t I?

I know these words can sound very hollow – but seriously, there are thousands of NGOs out there, doing work ranging from helping unemployed mothers in your neighborhood start a business to feeding the downtrodden in far flung corners of the earth – there really is something for everyone to support.

People always complain that their taxes never contribute to ameliorating anything – well why not pay less taxes, and choose where you want that money to go? For example, towards a cause that you feel strongly about?

Also, the vitality of NGOs contribute to the overall strength of civil society – which is the bedrock of functioning democracies. Also, interestingly, consider that international NGOs, which garner support from around the world, are helping the “global consciousness” we always hear about become a reality – no longer just a hazy concept, “global consciousness” relates to the notion that we are all part of the same human family, and that, as such, there are transnational issues that transcend particular interests (perfect example: climate change)

Anyway, I’ll post about the other category of nonprofits tomorrow – I’m trying not to bore you too much, faithful readers (Hi Mom)

Check out what Bill Clinton has to say about YouTube NonProfit Initiative: