KIVA microlending Update II: Integrated Internet Development Policy Revisited

In my last article on this topic, I reintroduced KIVA and showed how 1.) what they do really can help create successful small businesses in East Africa and how those businesses help the community in which they exist, and 2.) how our efforts on the blogsphere have helped KIVA become so successful that they cannot keep up with the outpouring of help. But they are also bringing on the businesses in need of loans faster than ever, so jeep checking back. Congratulations to all who are making this such a success.

In this diary I want to reiterate the context in which KIVA works and how we also have to help that context. This will partly be a reiteration of diaries I have written before, explaining why I am calling for an "integrated" approach to development that we in the blogsphere can participate in. This is my vision of how you and I can change the world from the bottom up.

KIVA works to create small businesses in developing nations so that those small businesses can be the foundations of stable economies. But the areas that we are talking about are facing massive problems: considerable environmental degradation, lack of education, economic exploitation by the developed world, etc. And currently there is also massive famine. Within this negative context, I question the value of KIVA's approach. Can the small businesses they help survive long term within such a negative context? (I should note that KIVA currently has a handful of business loans in Honduras that need filling. Although this doesn't relate directly to what I discuss in this diary, I urge people to fill these loans...can we fill these loans within the next 24 hours?)

The solution is not to give up. Nor is it to hope the UN and governments of developed nations will come to the rescue. The efforts of the UN and developed nations have mostly simply put developing nations deeper into debt and profited mainly big corporations. This is not to say that the UN and developed world have done nothing. But their approach has too often been inappropriate and ill timed resulting in debt and instability in the very nations they seek to help. I propose a grassroots approach where regular people like you and me help through small scale efforts to improve the context within which groups like KIVA operate. You and I, by pooling our efforts, can help the environment, the role of women, the education and the availability of food without having to hope that George Bush suddenly decides Africa is worth helping.

My proposal is this: a coordinated effort by the progressive blogsphere that will focus on several interconnected issues with a view towards REGIONAL and COMMUNITY based development. I have been proposing the target area of Uganda/Kenya/Tanzania (roughly the Rift Valley/Lakes region of East Africa) as a trial run for this idea because of the critical environmental issues, the presence of excellent groups like Kiva, and the fact that these nations are just stable enough have a chance for becoming actually prosperous if the immediate crises can be survived. In a later diary I will discuss, in the spirit of KIVA's expanded efforts, an expansion of my own proposal.

Here I cover ways we can help deal with the famine, environmental issues (including population control), women's rights, education and economic development (focusing on small businesses, the bedrock of any healthy economy). Pick your favorite issue and PLEASE act upon it in a big way. If we ACT, we will make a difference.

An outline of my proposal:

I. Dealing with the immediate famine: East Africa needs food. Now. That cannot be ignored. The scale of the famine is huge and so far is not being addressed by the international community anywhere near adequately. The only way they will get it is if human beings from all over the world, including us, help them out. You and I can start by helping to get East Africa food aid. A donation to Oxfam is probably the best thing you can do to help East Africa in its most immediate crisis.

II.Dealing with the environmental root causes of drought and famine: What are the root causes of this famine? People can point to several. But fundamentally there are some fundamental problems that quite simply trump all other root causes. Currently Africa is facing, simultaneously, a rapid decline of its fresh water lakes, a rapid decline in its forests, and a rapid increase in population. The combination creates an environmental situation that inevitably will lead to more and more droughts and hence to more and more famines. These environmental issues are on all levels the most important long-term issues that need to be addressed. No economic development plan, no food aid, no political changes from within can end African instability if these environmental crises are not addressed. These African environmental issues are also part of a global trend. The entire WORLD is facing a decline in fresh water sources, decline in forests and increased population and these trends are leading to wars, famines, and global warming.

Across the globe, one of the most destabilizing factors in any society's history, be it Japan or Haiti or Kenya, is deforestation. Sane forest management, after economic problems caused by deforestation, is one of the secrets of Japan's success. Bangladesh, on the other hand, faces an annual cycle of devastating floods followed by devastating droughts because of deforestation in the Himalayas. The theme of the devastating effects of deforestation and the benefits of forest management and reforestation recurs often in Jared Diamond's book Collapse though it is also obvious to anyone familiar with the problems of a nation like Bangladesh. Diamond simply argues it more formally and globally than I have heard before. And, of course, deforestation is also one of the factors contributing to global warming. One of the most important thing that any human being can do to help Africa as well as the world is to contribute to forest management and/or reforestation.

The NY Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) has three programs trying to preserve the forests, lakes and wildlife of East Africa. Their focus is on BOTH the environment and the human populations in the area, integrating the economic and social needs of communities with the needs of the environment. One program focuses on preserving the entire regional environment in Albertine Rift region of Africa, mostly centered on Uganda, Rwanda and the Congo. This is one of the most critically threatened regions of Africa's environment. Preservation of this region is critical for the economy and freshwater supply of the region, the ecotourism industry of the region, and for preservation of the world's forests as a buffer for global warming. I strongly urge a donation to the WCS Albertine Rift Program. A second program focues on the preserving the Uganda environment in particular. The third program focuses on preserving the entire habitat of the mountain gorilla, an effort that includes some of the East African environment that provides the watershed for the nations we are focusing on. I include this program partly because it covers some of the same environmental regions as the other two programs, but also because the preservation of the Mountain Gorilla is another of my pet projects. So this is an opportunity to urge people to help two of my pet projects: helping East Africa and saving the Mountain Gorilla.

Overpopulation is also a global problem, as many pointed out in the diary on Daily Kos discussing the politics of African famines. We are all familiar with Planned Parenthood, which addresses BOTH population issues and issues of women's reproductive rights and health. To those who view Africa's and the world's problems as primarily a population issue, Planned Parenthood's International organization will be of considerable interest to you. I also can recommend Engender Health, a wonderful group that deals with population issues within the general context of women's and children's health. But this concatenation of population and women's issues leads to my next section.

III. Women's Rights: One of the most important measures of development is the place of women in society. As a first approximation, women's rights go along with development. A more equal role of women in society seems to correlate well with improvements in health, education and prosperity. The equation is not simple, but women's rights are, in my view, an integral part of stable, sustainable development. Furthermore, in addition to access to family planning services (see above for International Planned Parenthood Federation for this), the best means for controlling population increase is through women's literacy and economic empowerment.

So, I want to highlight some groups in East Africa that are addressing women's rights. The Uganda Women's Network (UWONET) is an advocacy and lobbying coalition of National Women's NGOs, institutions and individuals in Uganda, founded in 1993. UWONET was born out of the East African Women's Conference held in Kampala in 1993. Their aim to "engender policies, laws and programmes, structures and processes in order to address the needs of both women and men leading to the achievement of gender equity and equality." In Tanzania, Kivulini Women's Rights Organization is a registered Non-Governmental Organization based in Mwanza, Tanzania. In Kiswahili, Kivulini means "in the shade." The word implies a place under the tree where people discuss and support each other.

IV. Education: Education is one of the most important aspect of any individual person's or any society's formula for success. In East Africa, education is not free. School fees prevent many individuals from getting even a basic education. Girls, in particular, are poorly served by education in Africa. You can help sponsor the secondary school education for a child in Kenya or Tanzania, though in this case you have to send a check to the Canadian Harambee Education Society. Find out more on their website.

V. Fair Trade Export Economy: In addition to small business that are the foundation of the local economy, we need to help the developing world enter the global economy not just as exploited victims, but as partners in fair trade. This movement is still in its infancy, and there are not many products that you can purchase from East Africa through fair trade. But there are some. Here are a handful of products you can purchase that are fair trade and will help the economy of East Africa:

Fair Trade Coffee from Ugaqnda. Most of us love coffee. Why not use your addiction to help out farmers in Uganda?

Fair Trade baskets from two companies in Uganda. Very beautiful looking items, if you are into baskets.

How about cool handicrafts from several companies in Kenya? All fair trade, these companies sell items like sculptures, jewelry and drums.

And there are a couple of handicrafts companies in Tanzania as well  selling fair trade items.

Finally, SERRV International has wonderful fair trade items from around the world, including many from East Africa. Baskets, coffee, tea, nuts, musical instruments, jewelry, etc. from cooperatives around the world. Great company!

Thank you to all who are joining me in making a difference.

Tags: africa, Education, Environment, famine, forests, fresh water, kenya, Kiva, microlending, population, Tanzania, Uganda, women's rights (all tags)


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