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May 11, 2010

News Briefing: China's Crackdown on Nonprofit Groups Prompts New Fears Among Activists

  • Seventy-eight innovative science projects win $100,000 each from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.  [Reuters]
  • Lenny Kravitz, Ani DiFranco, and Mos Def are among the headliners for a benefit concert to support relief efforts for those affected by the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.  [Associated Press]
  • The Chinese government has intensified a subtle but steady tightening over the country's civil society sector, with some nonproft groups saying they are feeling increasingly harassed.  [Washington Post]

September 15, 2008

News Briefing: Matt Damon, Wyclef Jean Visit Haiti City in Ruins

  • "Fruit philanthropists" voluntarily harvest surplus fruit and donate it to food banks, centers for the elderly, and other nonprofits in the Berkeley area.  [New York Times]
  • Twenty-one Indonesians die in small town after beign trampled outside the gates of a wealthy family's home.  [New York Times]
  • New York City Council standards committee to discuss requiring board members of nonprofits to submit long and detailed financial disclosures.  [New York Times]
  • Two kidnapped employees of the World Food Program are released; 11 aid workers still remain in captivity in Somalia.  [Associated Press]
  • Matt Damon and Wyclef Jean visit Haitian city after storms submerge parts of the country.  [Associated Press]

July 29, 2008

News Briefing: Amnesty Slams China's Broken Olympics Promises

  • Amnesty International slams China for failing to honor its Olympic human rights pledges.  [Reuters]
  • Televangelist Kenneth Copeland is one target of a Senate Finance Committee investigation into allegations of questionable spending.  [Associated Press]

April 25, 2008

News Briefing: Rockefeller Gives Harvard $100 Million

  • David Rockefeller donates $100 million to Harvard University.  [Associated Press]
  • Olympic sponsors respond to Mia Farrow's Dream for Darfur group, which recently issued a report card criticizing corporate progress in confronting China's human rights policies.  [New York Times]
  • Sharply rising food prices threaten UN-backed feeding programs for 20 million children.  [Washington Post]

July 11, 2007

Wealth & Giving Forum: Breaking Generational Stereotypes

Think philanthropy is the province of later-in-life multi-millionaires whose major life's work is behind them? Think again. Philanthropy is all the rage on the online social networks, as young Americans wear their causes as important indicators of who they are and who they want to be. Amidst the tycoons and household names at the Wealth & Giving Forum's gathering at the Greenbrier were stories of college students and young entrepreneurs breaking free from the generational stereotypes of materialism and disinterest.

A group of students from three North Carolina colleges took the state the first day, after an introduction from Jeff Flug, the CEO and Executive Director of Millennium Promise Alliance - himself a former high-powered bonds trader at JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs who traded in his pinstripes and bonus pool for development work.

"This is a group of 19- and 20-year-olds who are passionate about wanting to help others. They understand at a young age that people are more important than stuff."

Lennon Flowers, a recent graduate of the University of North Carolina, spoke directly about what is generally written about her generation and its attitude toward material gain.

"€œThe reputation of my generation is one of apathy, that we'€™re too numb behind our iPods to care about what's going on in the world. I think there'€™s a lot of passion out there, but passion along isn't what'€™s valued."

UNC, Duke, and Bennett College have joined together to sponsor a Millennium Village, part of an effort to achieve the UN's Millennium Development Goals by 2015. The students are raising $1.5 million (including matching pledges) in the first student-led sponsorship of a Millennium Village - essentially, the adoption of a small village in the developing world - as "a tangible way of demonstrating students'€™ commitment to the international effort to eradicate extreme poverty." The group's pledge shows a different side of a young, activist generation:  

We the students of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Duke University, and Bennett College, as members of a greater global community, feel a responsibility to dedicate our energy and resources to empower those in extreme poverty, and to demonstrate the role of universities as catalysts for global change.

Furthermore, we see this as a unique opportunity to unite students, faculty, and community members to engage in an academic dialogue to critically assess and improve sustainable development strategies such as the Millennium Village model.

Emily Glenn, senior at Duke University, and Sharrelle Barber, a Bennett grad and UNC graduate student, also spoke passionately about the cause that united students at three very diverse campuses. Said Glenn:

"€œWe don'€™t see ourselves as a group, it's a movement. We all agree that it€'s fundamentally unacceptable that people die from diseases that are easily preventable."€

The students admitted to some frustration as they approached potential supporters with their plan - they learned quickly that ideas alone often don't sell philanthropic contributions.

Another young entrepreneur, former New York nightclub promoter Scott Harrison, told the gathering later in the weekend how he ditched the glitz and early morning hours of Gotham's velvet-roped precincts for a lowly staff photographer's gig on a Mercy ship bringing medicine and services up and down the west coast of Africa. The experience stirred his interest in clean water, which led to the creation of charity: water - which charges $20 a bottle for spring water with 100% of the price going to dig wells for clean water in Africa. He showed this video, created at Sundance, before his talk the Greenbrier:

charity: water @ Sundance - Current TV pod

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œAt another plenary session, Jean Case, CEO of the Case Foundation, spoke passionately about her involvement with PlayPumps International and the battle to bring clean water to African, but she also touched on the optimism she feels about the younger generation of activists and philanthropists. Almost half the world's population is under 25, she noted, and many are getting deeply and personally involved in causes in way that hasn't happened before:

“We are seeing such a huge opportunity to engage individuals at all levels. And this space has not yet been fully tapped. Social networking opens up exciting opportunities to bring people together and to define themselves by what they care about...

“I think we’ll look back at philanthropy as this quaint time when rich people wrote checks and we’ll be living in a time when philanthropy is part of everyday life.”

June 27, 2007

News Briefing: Google to Help Non-Profits With Maps

  • Google helps nonprofits use map and satellite images to raise awareness, recruit volunteers, and encourage donations.  [Associated Press]
  • Stars of Ocean's Thirteen raise $5.5 million for U.N World Food Program, Save the Children, the International Rescue Committee, and Oxfam.  [Associated Press]
  • Florida charity's use of telemarketers comes under fire.  [Boston Globe]
  • A California teen thanks troops the old-fashioned way; by sending letters - 4 million of them.  [Associated Press]

June 06, 2007

News Briefing: Amnesty International Monitoring Darfur

  • Human-rights activists are using high-resolution satellites to keep watch over Darfur; posting images online.  [Associated Press]
  • Heinz Endowments President to retire next spring, after nine years and $500 million in grants.  [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette]

May 24, 2007

News Briefing: Experts Worry About Shopping for Charity

  • Shopping for charity has become increasingly popular - but is it effective?  [Associated Press]
  • Brad Pitt, George Clooney raise money for Darfur refugees; using Ocean's Thirteen press to draw attention to the cause.  [Reuters]
  • Medical researchers and hedge fund managers team up to fight cancer.  [Reuters]

March 29, 2007

Ending Torture: One Skoll Story

Alternative funding, return on social investment, new structures for financing and sustainability. All important, but they hardly carry the human story, do they? With hundreds of social entrepreneurs here in Oxford for the Skoll World Forum, I thought it might be time to at least tell one story from the field.

But this begins at the taxi stand at the Oxford train station late on Monday, when your feverish flu-ridden correspondent waited for a cab in the gathering Oxfordshire evening. Ahead of me on line was a another attendee at Skoll, anxious to get to her dinner and running late. She introduced herself politely as Karen Tse. "I'm a social entrepreneur," she said. They're everywhere, thought I, and we chatted briefly about the conference.

Fast forward to tonight's Skoll Awards presented in the stifling Sheldonian hall. The Skoll Foundation showed four short films highlighting the work of previous winners of the award - one of them was Karen Tse. And it's quite a story.

Karen Tse took on routine torture of criminal suspects in Cambodia, beginning in 1994, when there were only ten lawyers left alive in the post-Khmer regime. Trained as a public defender at UCLA and the daughter or Filipino immigrants, Tse had always been interested in human rights causes and wanted to put her training to work.

The stories of the prisoners moved Tse, who is also an ordained Unitarian Universalist minister. She learned that the problem had less to do with abject cruelty (though cruely was certainly present), than with practicality and economics; there were no public defenders, and there was no system for legal questioning that preserved prisoners' rights. So she started in on creating one, as described in a recent US News and World Report profile:

All of the stories carry the message of what Tse calls "the power of transformative love." It's a philosophy that Tse has successfully channeled throughout her career, including with one of the first prison directors she worked with in Cambodia. "He had a huge scar in the front of his forehead, and he was known to be very cruel," Tse says. "The first time I met him he said, 'If we see any of the prisoners coming down, we will hit them down like rats.'"

The prisoners, stuffed into dark quarters with no opportunity to challenge their sentences, were clearly suffering, but the director wouldn't let Tse inside. Looking for "the Christ or the Buddha," Tse decided not to fight. "I said, 'Can we go for a walk?' And I remember he looked at me--incredulously--and turned to his guards and said, 'Did you hear her?' And then he said, 'OK. Let's go for a walk.'" Eventually, Tse won the director's trust, and soon she was in the prison every day. Working together, Tse and the director tore down the prison's dark cells, built a garden, and started exercise classes--for both the prisoners and the guards.

Tse founded International Bridges to Justice in 2000; it's based in Geneva and employs less than 20 people with a small yearly budget. Yet, the organization has dramatically improved and even saved the lives of everyday citizens by training and supporting criminal defense lawyers and establishing a network of Defender Resource Centers throughout China. Plans call for expansion in China, as well as Vietnam, Cambodia and other countries where programs are expected to reach critical mass due to public awareness and the creation of professional associations of trained advocates and judges.

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