Saturday, February 21, 2009

Social Justice for Social Moms: LTE workshop

I had the most wonderful experience with my neighborhood letter-writing group today. Five women- all moms- gathered together to take on a new challenge. Instead of our usual formula of discussing a topic for an hour before writing to our members of Congress about it, the group took the first step toward becoming media advocates by writing letters to the editor. It was incredible!

I had written an op-ed about the $5 billion shortfall the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria will soon be facing because donor nations - including the U.S.- are backing out of their commitments. Our group seized upon the topic with great enthusiasm. Handwritten letters to our reps and senators were cranked out quickly and then the real work began. It was like the workshop I never had when I was struggling to learn to write LTE’s by myself at home alone in the middle of the night! The thing that really amazed me was the way 3 different people (one had to leave and will write later) took the same information, talking points, and coaching to apply it in completely different ways.

Julie was filled with the moral aspects of the issue. Her tone is strong, American, and proud in a way that mine never is. She taps into her passions very easily. I’ve appreciated that about her personality and now I appreciate it in her writing. She placed her personal commitment firmly in her call-to-action line by saying, “I have written my members of Congress” before urging everyone to do the same. Why didn’t I ever think of that? I’m always so worried about word count that I probably would have chickened out of saying it anyway for fear of losing space for sometimes not-so-inspiring facts.

Kate attacked the exercise like her son playing a video game. As a teacher, she has a great appreciation of language and communicating well. She immediately knocked out 192 words using an a statistic comparing the needed funding ($1 billion in 2009) to the Christmas bonuses given to Meryll Lynch execs after the bailout (3.6 billion) that is intellectual, shocking and timely. The constraint of staying under 150 words was a great challenge that she relished.

Sondra, ever practical and ever giving, saw the brilliant and simple opportunity to offer readers different ways to help. She invited them to do anything to help the Global Fund from writing members of Congress to making direct individual contributions – she even provided the website – to using a Starbucks (RED) card. I loved watching her satisfaction as she hit her word count exactly.

I’m so happy we took this step together as a group. It was eye-opening for me and I feel more energetic about my own writing…seeing more possibilities as I learn from the energy and experiences of my friends.

Friday, February 20, 2009

U.S. must fight diseases of poverty: Chicago Trib LTE

This is a letter to the editor that ran in the Chicago Tribune online edition on Feb 19, 2009. I'm going to use this as an example of grassroots advocacy at work. Members of two chapters of RESULTS (Chicago-Oak Park group and N. Chicago group) have met with Rep. Jan Schakowsky to ask her to champion the cause of the Global Fund. This LTE was generated to
- help raise awareness of the issue in our area
- show our IL members of Congress that we are actively working on it
- offer praise and support to Schakowsky (and Durbin)
- get a reminder out to Schakowsky about what we want her to do and a suggestion for Durbin

It's important to know that members of _both_ groups wrote in to the Trib. A letter has a much better chance of getting published if the paper has also received others on the same subject. That tells them that more than one of their readers cares about an issue. So, if you want poverty issues to get more print space than the latest Britney Spears scandal, rally your troops and get a lot of letters in at once. --ccyl

U.S. must fight diseases of poverty
February 19, 2009
The increase in internationally introduced tuberculosis in Chicago ("Border a crossroads for TB," News, Feb. 16) highlights a reason the U.S. must fully fund efforts to fight diseases of poverty. Global health issues become more local every day. Yet even if we could keep tuberculosis out of our borders, we wouldn't be free of our moral obligation to save lives. Nor could we ignore political effects of global disease when our military is sent into volatile areas destabilized by hunger and life-claiming illness.

Sadly, the U.S. backed out of its commitment to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria. Our fair share is an urgently needed $1 billion for 2009, less than one-third of December bonus money given to Merrill Lynch executives. Illinois leaders like Rep. Jan Schakowsky and Sen. Richard Durbin with strong records supporting global health should push their colleagues and President Obama to authorize funding to fulfill our Global Fund commitment.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Global health is a local issue

Here is an op-ed I wrote about the Global Fund running into funding shortages due to donor nations backing out. Usually, it's enough just to post the piece here, but I want to use it as an example of how media advocacy can work together with face-to-face advocacy.

Two weeks ago, my RESULTS group had an amazing face-to-face meeting with Jan Schakowsky asking her to champion full funding of our fair share. She agreed to look into it and work more with the RESULTS staff in DC on it, so I am helping her out and hoping to inspire her further by linking the issue to our local interests in local media. This ran in her district and in at least one paper in a neighboring district.

My RESULTS group will try to get even more mileage out of it by having others write letters to the editor about it and post comments on the on-line versions of the paper. All of the media we generate will be sent to the Congresswoman and her aides, so they can see that we are her partners in this endeavor and we are actively working on promoting the issue to her constituents. Since we also are lucky enough to have a Senator strong on global health, I also mentioned him and will send copies to Senator Durbin's office as well.

Please read on! -ccyl
Global health is a local issue
February 19, 2009

Times are hard. Regular folks are cutting back on charitable donations and they're not alone. Countries are doing it, too. Donor nations backing out of established commitments to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria are projected to cause a $5 billion shortage in 2010. The U.S. is falling short by $1 billion for 2009.

Many Americans react to such news by thinking, "That's unfortunate, but things are tough all over. We need to keep our money at home." One billion dollars seems like a lot to send overseas when families right here are making routine trips to the food pantry.

The problem with this view is a matter of scale. When considered out of context, a billion dollars sounds deceptively large. Despite misconceptions that five, 10 or even 20 percent of our national budget is given away to help developing nations, only a 0.16 percent sliver of last year's $13 trillion pie went to development assistance.

What would our fair share contribution do? First and foremost, it would save lives. It would put the U.S. in a leadership position to leverage contributions from other nations so the Global Fund can continue its groundbreaking programs. Last year alone, the Global Fund distributed 70 million anti-malaria bed nets, provided antiretroviral drugs to 2 million people living with HIV, and treated 4.6 million cases of tuberculosis. Other activities included helping children orphaned by disease, sheltering women disowned by husbands who infected them with AIDS, teaching remote villagers to detect and treat malaria locally, and even protecting Cook County residents from the global rise of drug-resistant TB.

It's a mistake to assume that the problems of global poverty are full of exotic diseases and have no impact on Americans. Failure to control TB in concentrated areas anywhere in the world can give rise to a more dangerous strain of drug-resistant TB that's just a plane ride away from infecting our country. Diseases of poverty also affect national security. Our friends and relatives in the armed forces risk their lives in countries where poverty has created conditions ripe for violence and instability.

Many of us fall into the trap of thinking widespread global disease and poverty are unsolvable problems. Don't believe that for a second. Since 1980, the percentage of people in the developing world living in extreme poverty has fallen from 50 percent to 25 percent.

The choice does not have to be whether we use our resources to take care of us or "them." The choice can be both. Though foreign aid funding is an easy target in a recession, it uses a very small portion of our resources.

The decision whether or not to honor our pledge to the Global Fund will be greatly influenced by the actions of U.S. representatives, senators and a president from Illinois. There is a saying that "all politics are local." The old adage is particularly true for us in Illinois. Our leaders like Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-9th, and Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., have strong records of supporting global health programs.

All politics may be local, but when we consider the tremendous impact of reducing HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria in the world today -- our local politics are global.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Slumdog Entrepreneur

Slumdog Entrepreneur
by Sam Daley-Harris

When my wife and I slipped into our theater seats to watch Slumdog Millionaire, we braced ourselves for a journey into urban slums, a world inhabited by over one billion people globally.

But unlike the movie-goers in the theater that night who pinned their hopes for one chai wallah (tea seller) escaping the horrors of the slums of Mumbai, India, on the long-shot odds of his winning the Indian version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, we knew that right now there is a tool that has helped not just one movie character but more than 100 million of the world’s poorest people actually begin to escape the worst devastations of poverty. That opportunity is not a game show but microcredit—small loans to start or expand businesses like selling tortillas or cell phone time to your neighbors. And if there was an Oscar for assisting beggars, thieves, and prostitutes to find a dignified route out of the slums, I’d know where to look for the winner.

I wouldn’t look in the cool dark of a movie theater, but in the bright, hot sun of Nairobi where you can see the success of entrepreneurs in the urban slums, Jami Bora’s “slumdog entrepreneurs.” Jamii Bora, which means good families, is a Kenyan microfinance institution that has grown from lending money to 50 women beggars ten years ago to serving more than 200,000 members today. One of those entrepreneurs is Joyce Wairimu. Wairimu was one of the 50 women beggars who started Jamii Bora with founder Ingrid Munro in 1999. Munro calls Wairimu one of the fast climbers out of poverty. How fast? In ten years Wairimu has built six businesses and employs 62 people.

Another of the fast climbers is Wilson Maina. Before Jamii Bora, Maina was a thief, one of the most wanted criminals in Mathare Valley slum. Starting with a loan of $20, Maina has built four businesses and a new life for himself and his family. Along the way, he has convinced hundreds of youth to get out of crime. Now that’s a “lifeline” that really matters.

Munro didn’t stop at proving microcredit to help the poorest slum dwellers. She decided to build a town with decent housing and business space for her entrepreneurs. “Every poor person’s dream is to move out of the slums,” Munro says, “not patch up the slums.” On January 30th, that’s exactly what happened when the first 246 families moved out of the slums and into the newly created Kaputiei town with nearly 1,800 families to follow. For the same monthly mortgage they had paid for their one-room shacks, each family now lives in a home with two bedrooms, a bath, a kitchen and a living room. But this is ultra sub-prime lending that works because in order to qualify for a mortgage the residents have to have successfully repaid three micro-business loans.

Where does Munro’s capacity to innovate and defy conventional wisdom in the microfinance field come from? It started 20 years ago when she and her husband adopted three street children. It was in the fertile ground of Munro’s relationship with the mothers of her sons’ friends in the streets—women who were beggars— that her profound insights would grow. When Munro, a Swedish trained architect and urban planner, retired from the African Housing Fund in 1999, she thought she would also retire from the little group of 50 beggar women with whom she had been working. But when the women pled with her not leave them, Munro agreed to stay and insisted that they must lift themselves out of poverty. For Munro that meant the women had to start developing the discipline of saving on a regular basis.

She had them come every Saturday with about 50 cents in savings. When they deposited their 50 cents she would give each of them two scoops of corn and one scoop of beans for free. She admits now that for those first two months she was tricking them into saving with the lure of free corn and beans. After two months, the bags were empty, but the beggars continued to save and the free corn and beans never returned.

Another of Munro’s breakthroughs is that all Jamii Bora staff are former members, previously destitute themselves.

Winning the war against poverty won’t come from summoning the right “final answers” to a handful of trivia questions to strike it rich on a game show. Winning the war against global poverty will come when we realize that we have one of the answers—microcredit—and summon the political will to lift up those microcredit programs that have figured out how to reach the world’s most destitute people. This is a final answer we can stand behind.

Sam Daley-Harris is Founder of the Microcredit Summit Campaign which seeks to reach 175 million poorest families with microcredit and of RESULTS which seeks to create the political will to end poverty
Sam Daley-Harris, Founder
RESULTS and Microcredit Summit Campaign
750 First Street, NW, Suite 1040
Washington, DC 20002
C 202-390-0012