NDN Blog

NDN Expansion Team in South Africa

Over the summer while working in Cape Town, a group of my friends and I had the fantastic opportunity to be trained as refugee camp monitors by the South African Human Rights Commission. At the height of the xenophobic attacks that occurred, many people were displaced and lives were severely disrupted. In touring the camp, the extreme conditions were eye opening. Some of the most critical problems were those which affected children's access to health, education, and the aiding of their development into young adults. Finding solutions to these problems are obviously difficult, but NDN's contribution along with the great work of Melanie Martin from Connect-123 were a tremendous help. In coordinating a shipment of soccer balls from its path-breaking Mas Que un Partido campaign, NDN helped to provide children in these camps with access to a much beloved pastime. A small step in a great direction. Take a look at the pictures we just received last night of the children putting the soccer balls to good use:

Xenophobia in South Africa

Hey everyone! I just touched down in Cape Town, South Africa, where I'll be working this summer on entrepreneurial small business development projects through TSiBA Graduate Business School. I'm looking forward to building upon the knowledge I gained as an NDN intern this past Spring, and sharing my experiences right here on the NDN blog. And if my first few hours are an indication of what's to come, I'll have plenty to discuss.

As I stepped onto South African soil Sunday night I had no idea what to expect. For months I've planned to work in Cape Town for the summer, but with the recent attacks on foreigners in the country, I was forced to become more cautiously optimistic of my plans. When I arrived everyone was extremely welcoming, but I was truly amazed when during breakfast this morning, I looked out the window to see hundreds of people protesting the recent xenophobic attacks marching down the street.

What I saw opened my eyes to multiple aspects of this problem that have been somewhat overlooked. First, while the media portrays the attacks as attacks on foreigners, they are largely assaults on Mozambicans, Zimbabweans, Malawians, Nigerians, and others who have been accused of stealing jobs from South African citizens, not attacks on tourists or volunteers who are also foreigners in the country.

In addition, the situation reminded me of an exacerbated parallel of the Minutemen in the United States who task themselves with patrolling the American border with Mexico. In drawing this similarity it can be seen that these feelings of xenophobia are not exclusive to South Africa, however the means will hopefully remain vastly different.

Moreover, in Peter Fabricius' article (subscription only) in the Cape Times, he brings up the point that this violence has tremendous potential of completely changing the way that South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki conducts foreign policy in the region. Interestingly enough, while the Nigerian foreign minister has said that South African apologies are not sufficient in making things right, the foreign nations whose citizens are being attacked have been surprisingly understanding of the violence. (With its strong words, Nigeria at this time has not requested compensation.)

Lastly, in a time when the world is suffering from tremendous humanitarian problems all at once, the way in which Mbeki handles the growing refugee problem in the country will determine how effectively South Africa can manage its own, as well as act as a leader in African humanitarian efforts in the time to come.

African Development Bank: Recommendations from the High Level Panel

Taking a break from the 2008 Presidential Election, last Thursday I attended an event hosted by the Center for Global Development focusing on recommendations from the High Level Panel to the African Development Bank (ADB). Speaking at the event, Former Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin discussed the areas of most need and the best strategies for bringing about long lasting change on the continent. The following are the four essential strategies for implementing this plan:

Increase Infrastructure
- Create the means to transport products to markets on well developed road and rail systems.
- Focus on agricultural practices to improve output and help rural population.
- Foster sustainable climate change policies before it's too late. With 20% of world's rainforests, Africa should develop mitigation strategies to emphasize land rehabilitation and bio energy.

Building Capable States
- Give attention to fragile and post-conflict states with ADB involved as a monitor of regional security.
- Provide income opportunities to former combatants to give them meaningful strengths and keep them from going to private militias.

Promoting Private Sector
- Economic growth will drive employment and poverty reduction, so let companies function without strict government interactions.
- Make sure that the ADB and other financial powers on the continent don't crowd out private sector.

Developing Skills
- By 2030, African population will be equal to that of China or India. World must instill a tradition of education now before the problem affects hundreds of millions more in 20 years.
- Encourage secondary education.
- Promote use of local labor. When expatriates are hired, they bring everything they need, thus technology and skill transfers are kept to a minimum.

Lastly, Prime Minister Martin spoke extensively on the need for an African Economic Union to unite all the countries in Africa much like how European countries function under the European Union. Creating interdependence, Martin argued, can prevent regional conflicts and ensure that more international players get involved when problems do arise due to intertwined economies.

The Kiva.org Revolution

Last week was my dad's birthday and much like most children around holidays, I started tearing my hair out trying to find a fitting present. I couldn't decide whether to go with a tie that he would never wear, or golf binoculars that would never be used since all his shots slice into the woods (sorry Dad). Ultimately, the day was saved with a Kiva.org gift certificate.

Started in March of 2005, Kiva.org is modernizing the way every day people can help problems in the developing world. The organization's focus is through an intricate system of microloans aimed at allowing any everyday person to directly loan money to a person of their choice somewhere else in the developing world. Kiva.org works with microfinance organizations and then posts on their website a list of individual people in need of a certain amount of money. Whether it be basket weaving, raising livestock, or selling produce, individuals are now directly getting the money to start their own business. As an "investor" you can choose exactly which person you would like to directly loan money to and in return the overseas entrepreneur will provide you with updates about how the business is going. In addition, while you have the option of donating as much money as you would like, Kiva.org loaners typically loan anywhere from $25-$500 dollars thus revolutionizing the way people are able to support these developing entrepreneurs. Eventually, your investment is paid back, without interest, and then you can either take your money back, or reinvest it in another entrepreneur elsewhere in the world.

To date, 251,966 people have loaned $22.8 million, with an astounding repayment rate of 99.87%. By breaking the mold of normal donations, people looking to help the developing world can do so by making individual choices, rather than donating to large global organizations like the Red Cross or Amnesty International where once you donate your money, you simply must trust that it's going to good use. Furthermore, with such a hands on system, people are widely using Kiva gift certificates, as mentioned earlier, and further promoting the program in whole.

An important lesson is being taught though the example of Kiva. As we've known for quite some time now, the Internet is completely changing the dynamic abilities of the individual. As we can see in the recent presidential primaries, grassroots efforts are proving to be the most valuable tool in candidates arsenals in spreading awareness, gaining support, and raising money at a rate never before seen. This model being applied to something even as obscure as microfinance underlines the strength of utilizing grassroots efforts to any variety of fields. With people now more interconnected than ever before, the possibilities are virtually limitless. Now the next real question is how can we apply this model of 250,000 individuals working separately towards a single goal to other areas in need, and revolutionize every cause with the support of thousands of active supporters.

Simon speaks in Israel and London

Yesterday, Simon Rosenberg spoke at IPPR while in London. Since 1988, IPPR has been one of the UK's leading progressive think tanks, constantly producing innovative policy ideas and top of the line research. In Simon's speech, he discussed the changing media landscape and its effects on the broadcasting of political campaigns. In addition, he explained how technology is changing the dynamic of campaign fundraising to one more focused on the individual. He also addressed the evolving demographic within America today, specifically noting the importance of two groups we focus on here at NDN: Hispanics and Millennials.

Please click here for a full recording of Simon's speech as well as an interesting Q & A session.

Also, earlier this week Simon spoke at the Herzliya Conference, Israel’s premier foreign policy forum. He spoke on a panel which dealt with globalization and the impact of technology on the global economy. You can view a video of his opening statement on the panel by clicking here; click on “Monday” on top of the page then scroll down until you see Simon’s name under the Monday sessions. We'll embed the video when we can.

Joe Garcia on Plum TV

Recently, our own Joe Garcia was interviewed by PlumTV in Miami Beach. Take a look at the full interview on their website.

As the Economy Screams

This morning I had the opportunity of attending the "As the Economy Screams" discussion hosted by the New America Foundation. Focusing on the current problems of the United States economy, the senior economic advisors for presidential candidates Barack Obama, John Edwards, Hillary Clinton, and John McCain explained their candidate's economic agenda in a few short minutes and fielded questions from the crowd and press. I've bulletpointed some of the remarks made by the advisors below.

Austan Goolsbee
Senior Economic Advisor, Barack Obama for President

- In order to maintain the status of richest and most productive nation in the world, it is essential to focus on long-term investments in the areas of education, energy, and technology.
- Many of the economic fears that we are now facing are a result of a troubled healthcare system, college becoming less affordable, and a distribution of income that cannot promote a healthy economy. As a result, savings are falling and consumer debt is rising.
-In the short run, it is essential to have tax relief for the middle class and invest in the long term issues enumerated above in order to provide a light at the end of the tunnel for many struggling American workers today. In increasing savings by setting up an automatic enrollment program, and not just tax cuts alone, workers can immediately begin to save for their future.
- "ipod" style of government, where everything works easily, smoothly, and responds fast to problems can bring our country to new heights

Leo Hindery
Senior Economic Advisor, John Edwards for President

- "John Edwards feels like Paul Revere in search for a horse."
- The United States economy is falling and the only ones not feeling it are those sitting on the top.
- First off, it is unfair to label the sub-prime crisis as a misfortune brought about in America by the poor failing to live up to their responsibilities. The credit crisis in general was brought about not only by people struggling to make their payments, but also by irresponsible lenders, so this problem ranges widely across the economic spectrum.
- There are about 90% of Americans living in stagnant growth and this period of time has the most unequal economy since 1928.
- When it comes to the effects of globalization, America needs to look at trade as a fairness issue, similar to many environmental practices. Overall, the economy severely needs quick action and cutting Americans small checks that won't arrive until June will not benefit anyone.

Gary Gensler
Senior Advisor, Hillary Clinton for President

- There is currently a huge disconnect between the debates in Washington and the people of the United States. Many Americans are living a single pink slip away from foreclosure and have virtually no savings to assist them.
- If America can have long-term optimism for universal health care, addressing the needs to get students from kindergarten through college, and creating a savings program, short-term drops will be eliminated.
- The American people need to find a plan to be dependant on our own resources because it will help the economy and reduce serious national security threats.

Kevin Hasset
Senior Advisor, John McCain for President

- If you add up all the promises that the United States makes versus the revenue that the country has coming in, we are about 50-60 trillion dollars short.
- Foreign countries continue to buy up American securities, but if the American government cannot address the long-term problems facing the country, the foreign investors that the United States relies upon will begin to question their investments.
- There are many opportunities to fix stimulus problems, but the United States can't and shouldn't continue to "borrow money from the Chinese to drop from helicopters" in order to provide short-term relief for workers across the country.
- Restoring the competitiveness of US corporations by giving companies more room to function will help businesses create a more competitive edge in the future. In short, helping firms will help the people.

Some interesting Q & A

Question: If in office starting Janurary 20th, what specific aspect of a stimulus package would immediately be put forward first?

Hindery (Edwards): There needs to be a reformation of the current health care system and implement ideas from the "green economy" that is constantly in the news. Take resources at the disposal of the federal government and put them into domestic needs like heating costs. It is important to realize that putting cash in hands of the consumers will only pay off their amounting bills, not encourage them to go out and spend more.

Goolsbee (Obama): The biggest criticism of fiscal stimulus is that the government can't get money into the hands of the people in time. If you apply an optimistic view, looking at America's history, recessions typically last for about eleven months before turning around. If the first checks can't get in the hands of the consumers until June and additional checks might be needed, there is possibility of the market correcting itself, and then the influx of $150 billion or more, then actually leading to further inflation. The only solution to this problem is immediate cash in hand to the people who are in most dire need.

Gensler (Clinton): Stimulus package announced last week is the United States' best option with $40 billion dollars given in immediate tax rebates in addition to money to help people facing foreclosure. Then a large portion of the package will be given to the states so that each state can analyze and implement a plan that works best in their specific citizens.

Hasset (McCain): Stimulus packages will most likely not work unless it is associated with permanent tax cuts to dispel the fears of the American people of further recession and give them the opportunity to spend more money. In addition, by lessening restrictions on corporations, they can adapt to the economy and respond today, not in June when checks might be written. By allowing companies to act more freely, everyone will benefit from their productivity and gains.

Question: How should the government deal with growing debt?

Goolsbee (Obama): Openness and transparency is a problem. America needs to regain a trust in credit rating agencies and all other forms of government. Establishing a more critical review process for agencies is not anti-business or anti-market. Furthermore, Americans need to realize that losses from the mortgage crisis are large, but not huge when compared to the economy as a whole. By starting with correcting the problems with homeowners and lenders on a micro level, losses then further up the chain to large corporations can be minimized or avoided.

Hindery (Edwards): As seen in this mornings increase, European and Asian markets are better at recognizing the long-term effects of the United States economy on the world. The United States problems arise from 25 years of trade, state, consumer, and corporate fluctuations and often-regulatory responses have been neglectful. If we can reform these systems, the chances of this kind of economic downturn can be side stepped in the future.

Oprah Under Fire

This weekend Oprah Winfrey faced controversy from her own supporters over her backing of presidential candidate Barack Obama. Since Oprah joined Obama on the campaign trail to lend her support in Iowa, more than 600 of her own fans have harshly criticized her for her choice of Obama rather than Hilary Clinton. While it is a fair assumption that not everyone in the demographic that watches Oprah will agree with her political views, some of her fans have surprisingly gone so far as to call her a traitor for her decision to support a candidate of her race rather than a candidate of her gender.

The conversation, sparked by a post from user Austaz68, resulted in over 600 responses, underlining the long known power of blogs in the political arena. In this case, it is also indicative of the level of support received by folks like Oprah who make endorsements. In creating dissent among her own fan base, Oprah may potentially be forced to limit her own interactions with the presidential campaign to make sure she doesn't isolate her own fan base, thus taking away one of Obama's most famous and influential supporters.

And if that wasn't enough by itself, today Oprah's attack from the democrats continued when she announced that Rabbi Shmuley Boteach would receive his own show on Oprah's XM satellite radio channel. Rabbi Boteach is a strong Rudy Giuliani backer who has actively participated in raising money for his presidential campaign. Oprah's fans once again protested at this action not only because it takes support away from Obama and the Democrats in general, but also because this has now aggravated the population she speaks to. The speculation of Giuliani's questionable treatment towards women and lack of distancing himself from some of his racist supporters offend both groups that Oprah appeals to.

Bush Emergency Fiscal Stimulus Bill Soon to be Announced

Following Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke's stimulus package speech yesterday, President Bush has announced his intentions of soon providing immediate strategies to fight off looming recession. While the specifics of the plan are not yet known, and unlikely to be explained in depth at the plans' announcement today at 11:50am, Bush has called for the plan to be "effective, simple, and temporary". Such a plan would most likely call for direct tax rebates giving consumers cash in hand to bolster the economy while being able dispel their own fears.

At the opening of the market, Wall Street responded well to this announcement having risen 125 points at the time of this writing. While it is still far too early to forecast the larger scale impact of this recent problem, Bernanke is optimistic saying, "We're not forecasting recession but, rather, at this point, slow growth."

Clinton Plays Flight Attendant

In a break from her normally serious candor, today Senator Clinton showed off her comedic side while on a flight leaving Las Vegas. Traveling along with the press on what is now being called “Hill Force One”, Clinton fired off a series of pre-departure instructions including:

  • "that in the event of an unexpected drop in the poll numbers the plane would be diverted to New Hampshire.”
  • "We know you have a choice when you fly — so we are grateful that you have chosen the plane with the most experienced candidate."

Check it out and feel free to comment below:

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