Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Reaching the Globe

On November 16th I presented at the 2010 Global Education Conference (http://www.globaleducationconference.com/).  This was an incredible honor bestowed upon me because I got to speak to Educators around the world.  I spoke about my findings in my independent study as well as the concept of microfinance.  To my knowledge, 28 people attended my session live, not including those who tuned in at a later date.  I had people from Côte d'Ivoire, Nicaragua, Western Canada, and all over the USA.  Going into the presentation, I had no clue what it would yield me, if nothing else I would improve my speaking skills.  Afterwards I realized that it had a better outcome than I could have ever expected.  Firstly, people in my session exchanged contact information and are now working on projects together.  Secondly, one teacher from Côte d'Ivoire contacted me to consult on programs to do with her children.  Thirdly, a teacher at my school has decided to start loaning on Kiva after she saw my presentation.  Lastly, I am set to speak to a group of 8th graders about microfinance to prepare them for loaning with Kiva that they will do in their class.  I am very proud that all these various things came from my 30 minute presentation at the conference.  However, most importantly, this showed me that these seemingly little acts have such a big product.  If nothing else,  I learned that I can educate a lot of people about microfinance by doing small things like this.  Although I didn't think I would reach such a large audience, I am pleasantly surprised how big this conference really was.  This historic event had upwards of 20,000 in attendance.  This number not only gives me hope for the future but also shows me that educators around the world are committed to see advancement in Global Education.  

Here is the link to my presentation:http://bit.ly/drxdUe

Monday, November 1, 2010


Simply, microfinance is the idea of banking to the poor. As many know, especially in developing nations, the poor are not even given loans by banks let alone let into banks.  Because of this, they are never able to grow and have capital.  The main problem with this is that if people are never given the chance to grow they will always stay the same, and in some cases they will continue to live in poverty.  A seemingly simple solution to this problem is to start giving trust and support to the poor.  In reality, throwing supplies and money at a situation will only get people so far, empowerment is the key.  Mohammed Yunus the creator of microfinance and the founder of the Grameen Bank found how a small loan made a disproportionate difference to a poor person.  With this new realization, Yunus got money from the Bangladesh government to loan to women.  He found this was incredibly successful and now, over 6.55 billion US dollars have been distributed with a 98% loan recovery rate.  This bank specifically loans to 97% women in order to empower them to build a better life despite the male dominated world they live in.

As I was recently watching a TED video by Jessica Jackley , co-founder of Kiva, a microfinance organization, it suddenly dawned on me that we shouldn't look down on the poor because they aren't less human than us, we should find a way to empower them because in reality they are hard working entrepreneurs that need something to grow on.  Of course there are some who are beyond this stage of poverty, but for those who have skills to make something of their lives, microlending seems like the perfect solution.  I think the reason I am so drawn to the idea of microlending is because the fact that banks won't lend the poor because of lack of security, trust and societies rules seems petty.  The reality is that these incredibly small loans to us could be the jump start to another's life. 
Jackley also highlights a lesson she learned that I think is important to understand.  She alludes to the fact that everyone has their own customs whether they are religious or social they mean something.  These customs affect not only the way they think but also what they do.  She points out its not about changing peoples' views or customs, but rather about helping them grow in their own way.  Jackley believes in the potential of others and I don't think she is over idealistic.  She knows that its not about all the fancy economic terms and the loads of money being pushed around, its about trusting and believing in each others potential to be great. 

"This belief in each other, knowing that without a doubt and practicing that everyday in what ever you do, that, is what I believe will change the world and make tomorrow better than today."
                                                            - Jessica Jackley

Jessica Jackley's TED talk

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Connectivity is productivity

Recently I watched a TED talk by Iqbal Quadir and as the TED motto says, he has ideas worth spreading.  He talked about connectivity, microfinance and the idea of empowerment, and although I could speak about all of these topics at great length, I will focus on one idea he mentions.  
The idea of aiding developing countries has long been approached, however more than 60 years after embarking on the journey, we still live in a world where some do not have access to clean water.  After all the aid given, why does poverty persist?  Quadir asks the same question in his talk and it is definitely warranted.  He explains that in the past we have consistently been empowering the authorities.  We give money and aid to authorities in countries that benefit them, but not their people.  Herein lies the problem; we need to start empowering people directly rather than their authorities.  This makes sense, we can't continue to throw money at countries and hope that this will fix their problems.  Money is a part of it but we must focus on creating a better life for the future, not just today.  

About 12 years ago, Iqbal Quadir started to wrestle with the idea of implementing technology in developing nations.  His research showed him that the more connected people were, the more efficient they could be.  In essence, connectivity is productivity.  In his case he experimented with cell phones, however my idea is using the internet.

Since 2007, organizations such as One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) have sent laptops to children in developing nations.  Their mission is "to create educational opportunities for the world's poorest children by providing each child with a rugged, low-cost, low-power, connected laptop with content and software designed for collaborative, joyful, self-empowered learning."  Since 2007, they have sent 1,494,500 laptops to over 12 countries including: Sierra Leone, Rwanda, Uraguay, Peru and Colombia.  This idea is great because it allows children to have a new way of enhancing their reading and writing skills.  However, the connection seems to end there.  We need to find a way to connect the modern world and the developing world so that we can work together.  The fact is that we have so many resources here that can easily solve problems for others.  The idea that many people in developing nations still don't have access to clean water is mindboggling, however by sharing our resources we can improve others' everyday lives.  By showing them how to make use of solar power, clean water and wood resources, just to name a few, we could dissolve their everyday problems.  From all of this came my idea to create a wiki where I compile resources from the Peace Corp, Red Cross, etc. that focus on improving healthcare, sanitation needs, as well as education.  This idea seems so simple and yet it has the potential of making a huge difference.  

Iqbal Quadir's TED talk:

Sunday, October 10, 2010


The video above is so simple to understand that it’s actually hard to believe.  Basically empathy is this idea that it is human nature to see someone doing something whether they are feeling happy, sad, angry, scared, etc. and feel it ourselves.  Although there is science to understanding that, once you accept the concept, the rest makes sense.  We are soft wired to experience another person’s plight as if we are experiencing ourselves.  However over time, humans started to only have that pertain to people of their own blood, religion, country, etc.  Once that happened we no longer had empathy towards those we don’t feel are our own kind.  This concept is sad on its own, but the fact that we have let this lead to allowing other people to suffer because we have put ourselves into groups and shut everyone out of them seems a little ridiculous when looked at it from the outside.  As Rifkin says, is it really so impossible to imagine a world where we imagine everyone as one?  This is not to say people can have their own opinions, etc. but just to think that we don’t separate ourselves and no longer support others based on religion, country of birth, and viewpoints.  Like I have said before, we ARE all human beings and as such we all deserve to live whether we are a wealthy man from New York City, or a poor man from Ghana.  In my mind, both lives are equally valuable.  People like Jacquline Novogratz, Paul Farmer, Greg Mortenson, Mohammed Yunus, and the other humanitarians are just taking a head start on our path to this empathic civilization.  This place is not a perfect world; however, it is a place where we will all think of each other as an extended family despite our tribal, religious, ethnic, and national ties.  

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Mountains Beyond Mountains

      "Ah, but that is not my oeuvre.  To see my oeuvre you have to come to Haiti" 
                                                                               -Dr. Paul Farmer
Mountains Beyond Mountains is a book by Tracy Kidder based on the life of Dr. Paul Farmer.  This book takes us on the journey of Farmer, a boy from Florida trying to find his niche, to a world renowned "Doctor to the Poor", whose organization Partners in Health now serves poverty stricken people around the world.  He can simply be described as a straight talking, passionate leader who wants to cure the world.  Some have said he is too idealistic and that his goals are unreachable, however I believe that he proved them wrong in this book.  His personality is probably the most controversial part of the book because he is somewhat non-human.  He is able to have a strong emotional connection with patients he has just met, yet is virtually unaffected when apart from his family for long periods of time.  Farmer is so immersed in what he is doing that he can't and won't remove his focus from it.  I think it is truly remarkable that he is so passionate about curing the world that he won't let anything get in the way, even himself.  He pays attention to his patients needs over his own.  This book really resonated with me because I feel like I can understand his passion and drive.  All he wants in life is to cure the world.

As I read the book I tried to understand where Farmer was coming from.  Why did he care so much?  What led him to the conclusion that he must help the peasants of Haiti?  Then I got to page 24 and it hit me.  Farmer said to Kidder one night "I can't sleep.  There's always somebody not getting treatment.  I can't stand that."  He went on to say, "If you're making sacrifices, unless you're automatically following some rule, it stands to reason that you're trying to lessen some psychic discomfort."  I got it.  I knew what he meant; he was saying that there was something inside of him that made him want to help people and it was almost unthinkable to him that these Haitians weren't being helped.

While reading the book, I also looked for Farmer's epiphany.  I wanted to take note of the moment when he realized this is what he would dedicate his life to.  It happened during his first trip to Haiti.  He stopped in Cange, a town he would eventually implement his first hospital in, where he saw people living in the most unfathomable of conditions.  At one point, Kidder noted, "An individual might exist in misery this great almost anywhere, but it was hard to imagine an entire community poorer and sicker than this."  After seeing Cange, the picture was permanently embedded in his brain.  As he moved through Haiti, he came across a nice American doctor who was leaving Haiti in the coming days.  Farmer asked, "Aren't you worries about not being able to forget all this? There's so much disease here." The doctor replied "No, I'm an American, and I'm going home."  Later that day, Farmer had a pregnant women come in with malaria who needed a blood transfusion.  This proved to be difficult since there was no blood bank in that clinic.  The women and unborn child sadly died and the distraught sister of the women said in anguish, "This is terrible.  You can't even get a blood transfusion if you're poor.  We're all human beings"

From that moment on it was apparent to Farmer, as well as to me, that it doesn't matter whether you are American, Haitian or anything else, no one should live like those people from Cange, because at the end of the day, we are all human beings.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The start of my journey...

"There is no passion to be found playing small in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living" - Nelson Mandela
No one could have said this better than Mandela himself.  For me, passion is my driving force and settling is not in my vocabulary.  To that effect, when I decided to embark on this journey to find my passion, I knew there were no limits on what I could accomplish.  In this blog, I will talk about amazing people doing unthinkable things and it will quickly be apparent how much one person, with hard work and passion, can accomplish.  Whether I am analyzing Mohammed Yunis' idea of  Micro-finance, reviewing a book by Jacqueline Novogratz, or examining a TED talk by Bill Clinton, throughout the way I will ask the question, what led them to think this way?  Why are they passionate about helping those who have never gotten a chance? Along the way, hopefully I will discover why I am passionate about aiding those who never got a first try at a great life and why I believe it is my job to create a better life for them.