Friday, March 31, 2006

Update on the blog collabortation

Dimitri has responded to my rallying call for a blog collaboration. My post earlier this week asked how the developed world (under-developed world to be address later) and Ireland specifically could best adapt to the coming Industrial Revolution. In a very considered post he cited France's new competitive clusters and Ireland's leading edge biotech with a nod towards renewable fuel among other things. He later followed up with two examples of world-dominating innovation.

Does anyone else have any suggestions? You don’t have to be an economist or even a blogger - just give it a read and tell me your thoughts.
Am I barking up the wrong tree or just barking mad to be even trying to see into the future?

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Next time someone asks you...

...what the best free e-mail account is, consider telling them about this.
ippimail raises money through selling banner advertising on the site and they give 45% of the profits to charity and 10% to the Open Source community.
You can also choose which charity you want the money to go to. The options are quite limited at the moment but you can suggest new charities.
The new ippimail email address can forward your mail to an existing e-mail or you can forward mail to it - not bad.

HATTIP Charity Blogger

A Good Call?


Batman had one and after the Cuban Missile Crisis the White House and the Kremlin got one. Would you want a Red Telephone?
Yesterday we passed the mildly surprising milestone of having more active mobile phones in Ireland than people.
This coincided nicely with the news that the EU will order mobile companies to stop charging extortionate rates on roaming calls within Europe. A closer look at the Irish market shows that it is much more profitable for operators than comparable EU countries because we love our mobiles.

So people love their mobiles but they probably don’t love their mobile operators right now. This seems like the perfect fit for the Red Brand and rumour has it they are looking into working with mobile operators to try to offer a Red Phone similar to the Red Card from American Express.
I wouldn't be surprised if the operators jump at the invitation to tap into the niche market of offering consumers such a service. Further down along the line we can look at how much good all of this actually does but right now I’m just interested in seeing how this experiment in the fusion of consumer marketing and giving turns out. Next month will see the launch Emporio Armani (RED), and Converse (RED) in the UK.

Maybe someone could get on the blower to Bono and tell him to launch it here?

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

This is what a map of the world by population looks like...



...and below is what a map of the world showing the worlds births looks like



Notice how Japan, Europe and the US shrinks?

More children are born each year in Africa than are born in the Americas, all of Europe and Japan put together. Worldwide, more than a third of a million new people will be born on your birthday this year.

This is map of the world population of over 65s



There are lot more maps here
Want to see Ireland expand massively? have a look at the world by Dairy Exports, yes that is us - about the size of Canada!

Shaping up for a showdown on Darfur

Finally, Darfur is the topic of conversation in all the most powerful rooms in the world. The recent push began in earnest last Monday in the White House when the Nato secretary-general said that the alliance would support a UN force in Darfur. Within the week the UN Security Council had unanimously passed a resolution that asks Kofi Annan to plan ways in which the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) could reinforce the peace efforts in Darfur and assist the AU mission in logistics, mobility, communications and other areas, and to present a range of options by 24 April 2006. The timing of this push is not surprising.

As host, Sudan opened a one day summit of the Arab League yesterday. Sudan is having limited success in petitioning Arab countries to unite to reject further UN involvement. Sudanese President Omar Hassan Al Bashir statedstated "The African Union [AU] forces are capable of accomplishing their mission in Darfur without any foreign intervention," instead, Bashir called on "Arab countries and the international community to support financially the AU forces". Poignantly the leaders of the two largest members, Egypt and Saudi Arabia were not present.
Bashir was not the only one petitioning the summit. Human Rights Watch and 15 other NGOs, mostly from Arab states, issued a statement urging the Arab League to take action on Darfur. They are calling for Arab leaders to endorse the turnover to UN troops, and also to condemn the human-rights violations they say are committed by rebel groups, the Sudanese government troops, and government-backed militias in Darfur.

China also had a presence at the summit. The Chinese emissary to the League underlined his country’s support for a settlement of Darfur issue in the framework of African Union’s endeavours, expressing satisfaction over close cooperation between Sudan and African Union and the neighbouring countries to reach a peaceful solution to the problem. China is keen to maintain its strong relations with the central Sudanese government with whom it has signed significant oil agreements with. China's actions both inside and out of the Security Council will undoubtedly shape the imminent develops in Darfur.
Nigeria is possibly the African nation with the most influence on the issue. It is currently hosting the stagnant Abuja peace talks on Darfur and Nigeria leads the African Union presence in Darfur. The African Union has officially sought UN help as its operation is strained and ineffective.

I have previously given an overall of the situation in Darfur here.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Feature – Understanding the next Industrial revolution

The following is a bit of departure for me, this post is submitted as a blog discussion paper, so feedback and contributions are not just welcome, it is invited. It is not directly geared towards the under-developed world but I hope to subsequently draw conclusions in that regard. It is inspired by an article Alan S. Memorial Professor of Economics at Princeton University in this month’s Foreign Affairs (subs required)
He served on the White House Council of Economic Advisers and as Vice Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve and he wrote the piece specifically to prompt discussion. I have added my own context and draw some conclusions that are not included in his piece. I want to develop the discussion and try understand what it means for Ireland and the underdeveloped world and like I said I am inviting collaboration, leave a comment or a link to your own post on the matter,


Understanding the next Industrial revolution

Part 1 – What is around the next bend?

The world is in the early stages of the next industrial revolution. It is taking pace in fits and starts but it is slowly accelerating. The first awareness of this phenomenon can be traced to the turn of the century dotcom boom when many of the benefits of the information age were anticipated without consideration for many of the costs of transition. As that scrappy episode showed it is very difficult in times of revolution to find a good vantage point –let alone make decisions.
I believe the appropriate context for examining what is happening right now and what is around the next bend is to develop a vantage point by addressing the stalled Doha round of trade talks and evaluating the success of the six year old Lisbon agenda.
For some perspective the first such revolution was the Agricultural revolution. It was the effect unprecedented agricultural production had on society, specifically the make up and migration of the workforce. It in turn contributed to the Industrial revolution which was the defining change of last three hundred years, when the steam engine replaced large scale manual labour and not only changed the nature of economic growth but it once again also changed the make up and location of the work force. More recently in developed economies the services sector has taken over from the manufacturing sector as the dominant form of employment with further changes in society and regional migration. Once more we are entering a defining era when a fundamental change in the services industry will transform society. This will be the next industrial revolution.

The Doha Round

The Doha round of trade talks began in November 2001 and focuses on global trade in agricultural and manufacturing with a special consideration for the developing world. It is currently stalled and has missed its original deadline of January 2005. It is due to finish before the end of 2006. The talks are stalled on the opening up of developed agricultural markets (EU, US etc) to developing nations (who have a comparative advantage in agricultural production) and the reduction of tariffs in developing countries for the manufactured products of developed countries. In terms of the coming industrial revolution and our vantage point there are two very important features to note about the talks. The first is the rise in power of India, its ability to make its voice heard and the wider shift in the balance away from the EU, US and Japan. In all likelihood this trend will continue for decades and India will more prominently. The second important observation is the fact that the main blocking point is a dispute over trade in Agriculture and Manufactured goods. These are minority sectors in developed economies and yet one of the key issues is the continued reluctance to reduce agricultural subsidies that were introduced decades ago. In hindsight such protectionism should only ever have been short-term; the leaders of the nations concerned should have moved to remove the need for such protectionism a long time ago. The desired reduction of tariffs on manufactured goods is beneficial for both the developed world and the quickly developing world. At the moment developed economies want greater access to developing markets but these tariffs are more likely to swing as a defensive issue for the developed world. It is increasingly the case that developed economies are erecting barriers to slowdown the influx of goods from economies with a massive comparative advantage in manufacturing; see China’s exports to the EU and the US.
What do these observations mean for our vantage point?
As I said, although these are very important sectors in the developed world, they are of minor importance compared to the service sector and that sector is what the laws of comparative advantage are now transforming. What is ‘tradable’ in terms of services is changing and it is changing rapidly. Technology has enabled radiologists in India to be employed by American and European hospitals. In London, the city is in transition as financial back-offices are being outsourced to India. Discount computers programmers in Eastern Europe and Asia are supporting and developing software for every cyber-inch of the industry. Equally significant to our vantage point is that while the Doha round is stuck - on a sector that has been transformed decades ago, Agriculture and one that continues to be transformed, Manufacturing - in our electronically connected world the next round of trade talks will have little influence over the revolution in the services industry.

The Lisbon Agenda
In March 2000, the EU Heads of States and Governments agreed to make the EU ‘the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-driven economy by 2010’. Such a commendable goal was targeted due to the acknowledgement and anticipation of a continued decline in comparative advantage in many areas of industry, in relation to large and growing regions outside of the EU. Much of the effort so far has consisted of doing nothing until the halfway mark and then to begin trying fix Europe’s massive unemployment problem and encourage economic growth. Of course these should have been national priorities regardless of any summit on Lisbon. The EU budget has very little effect in the investment in a ‘knowledge-driven economy’ - the significant investment comes from national budgets which indeed give it a high priority. As it has been noted in observing the increasing ‘tradable’ nature of services, highly skilled, highly paid services jobs are already beginning to be done for western companies elsewhere in the world. If this trend continues its trajectory in the coming years just being highly skilled not be enough for future job seekers. Having an expensive education in IT, biotechnology or radiology will not guarantee a future job and the current education and training infrastructure will not be appropriate.

Part 2 – What is further down the road?

Analysing some other trends also broadens the view from our vantage point. It can safely be assumed that growth in computer capacity and online connectedness will continue to accelerate; a plateau is not yet in sight. The way that businesses manipulate this increasing connectedness will continue to be innovative and it is difficult to anticipate the consequences of these developments. There however are some things we can be quite sure of if we continue on this path; it will be very difficult for some services to become ‘tradable’. Developed economies will continue to need doctors, waiters, teachers, hairdressers and other such personal services. Other industries are less dependable; it will be interesting to see how long it will be before Indian universities begin offering the basis for US legal and accounting qualifications. Such industries are personal but a large function of their behind the scenes work could be easily outsourced as many such employers are already global. From there the next natural progression would be offering similar courses in British and Irish professional subjects. This may all seem very far fetched but not so long ago it would have been ridiculous to think that impatient commuters standing on platforms in England could call to enquire about the next train and end up seamlessly speaking to someone 5,000 miles away in a call centre in India. The information age will narrow the education gap at all levels.
So it seems that developed economies will soon have a very serious comparative disadvantage in many services and unlike agricultural and manufacturing trade future leaders will be largely powerless to slow down the inevitable transition through protectionism. The logical question and one that is not being asked, least of all by the Lisbon Agenda is ‘what can we do to successfully lead the working population through this transition?’ It should be noted that in spite of Luddites, previous industrial revolutions have been overwhelmingly beneficial for the whole of the societies that have participated in them. The best beacons have always been creativity and entrepreneurship. It may well be a case of ‘the more it changes the more it stays the same‘, it will be capitalism but not as we know it now – so how do we prepare?

Monday, March 27, 2006

Chilling Elephants

Africa likes it big and wild. In the developed world we have agricultural pests like rats and rabbits; Africa laughs and sends herds of elephants to pester its farmers. African farmers already face many considerable challenges but how can they cope with elephant populations which often run rampage on their land? How expensive would effective ‘Jurassic Park’ style fences cost and how could African farmers possibly afford them? Moreover the law isn’t on their side – elephants are protected. Thankfully someone has developed a simple cheap solution.
Elephants hate chilli! If you construct a twine fence smeared with crushed chilli-peppers you won’t have to worry about waking up to see elephants on your land, they never forget the sensation of chilli on the tips of their trunks. Many African farmers are now growing chilli peppers and what they don’t use as elephant repellent they sell as a cash crop.

Opinion: Living with Oil for the rest of the Oil-age

A significant section of charity and philanthropy is directly related to environmental issues. As yet I have not dealt much with this but I don’t want to exclude it from my blog. I like to focus on things I can understand rather than those I can't.
I don't understand how the climate changes, I'm not sure that it can be easily understood. Economists have trouble understanding phenomena with many variables because they have very limited opportunities to observe and control, I think climatologists could be in an even more limited position in this respect. I do understand that burning oil is toxic for us and even more toxic for our environment and that the global economy is addicted to it.
This in itself makes it a problem that needs to be fixed urgently. It seems that there is an awful lot of oil left to burn and as the stone-age didn’t end because people ran out of stones, the oil-age won't end because we are going to run out of oil. That is the easy part, understanding more and figuring how best to fix the problem of oil addiction is something I am less sure of but I'll address developments as they arrive. I would like to stake out what I think is possible.

-Consumers
Lowly consumers have some power and if their preference is distinct enough they can, to some degree, shape how energy needs are met. This will probably only have a limited impact but it may hasten the end of the oil age. Much more powerful forces are governments, oil companies and oil and gas producing nations and it is has been the producers who have dictated to the industry for decades.

-Governments and Producers
A major source of waste and pollution is the process of oil refining and in the larger scheme of things it is relatively easy to improve. The oil price is currently high largely because demand has grown quicker recently than appropriate existing refining capacity has been able to meet with supply. There has been very little investment in refining capacity in the last decades because oil producers have been hurt before by over supply and subsequent low prices. The straining ancient infrastructure of oil refining is the single biggest source of oil inefficiency and therefore it may be the source of most of the unnecessary pollution. About 10% of potential end petro-products are lost in this highly-polluting process. Right now oil producers, that is companies and countries, are making enormous profits and are beginning to invest in new refining capacity - this is an excellent and possibly a once off opportunity to make sure that the next generation of oil refinery is much cleaner and more efficient than it is now or has been previously.

Governments and consumers must make sure that this opportunity is not missed. All things being equal with the new refining capacity that is beginning to be built (regardless of its environmental friendliness) the price of oil will go down due to increase supply capacity. As this happens governments should slow down the decline in the oil price by increasing taxes on oil. This would not unduly affect the economy as consumers have already shown that they can handle higher prices. All the revenue from this increase in taxes should be used to insure that innovation and research continues to make refining cleaner. Oil companies and producers profits will fall as the price falls but the investment in refining will still need to continue. If we reach a stage were marginal improvements in efficiency are no longer necessary then the fiscal revenue could be diverted to other related innovation.

In step with the above national regulation in consuming countries should keep raising the bar to what is acceptable in regards clean and efficient refining and cleaner burning petro-products. Such regulation and cooperation between major governments, companies and producing countries is a massive task. Finding the correct balance of regulation, tax and investment would probably be more a difficult and politically sensitive operation than the Central banker’s task of manipulating interest rates. Many countries, both consumers and producers, may be reluctant to cooperate. The oil companies much publicised commitment to innovation in this area may be shown up to be lacking. Regardless of these problems it must be understood that the usage of oil as the dominant oil source for next twenty years is probably unavoidable and if we want to make it cleaner the cooperation described above is essential. The story of the oil-age so far is that the defining decisions on investment levels have been made exclusively by OPEC and oil companies. If the situation is to be improved to any degree of satisfaction parties representing consuming countries must have a powerful voice and cooperation between consuming nations must be increased.

It is difficult to imagine the best structure for this. Ideally an independent Energy Commissioner would be appointed to represent each of major oil consuming blocks, the US, EU, Japan, China etc. They could be non-partisan like a central banker or a Supreme Court judge. The obvious problem would be the source of their leverage and influence on oil producing nations and oil companies. This would have to be developed but sources could be regulation on the emission levels of refining and end products. The EU and the US have different standards for level of cleanliness for oil, gasoline and diesel. Lead in petrol has already been eliminated as a problem by regulation. If consumer countries cooperated they could quickly phase out the purchase of oil from inefficient refineries provided that there is adequate investment in cleaner refineries. Cooperation between national Energy Commissioners would be essential and maybe to a greater degree than how cooperation between Central Bankers is beneficial. They would also have a domestic role in encouraging the use of the best alternative energy sources. Initially they could expand the use of gas as it is a much cleaner fuel. They could foster preferences for hybrid technology or even for nuclear energy if needed.

In the end the way our energy needs are being met is evolving all the time and it is about time that more influence on that evolution is drawn away from parties whose interests do not prioritise the environment.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

The Media Mimicking Art but Mocking the Truth

It is not news to anyone in the blogosphere that the mainstream media is at heart a business and frequently a journalist’s or editor’s priority is their career rather than the merits of a story. This helps explain the tension that exists between the media and charities. The Guardian has a piece today which notes
Charities and the media can't do without each other, but it is not exactly a friendly relationship - sometimes it is fraught with tension, conflict and danger.

Such general sentiments are vague and of little use until cases are specified.
Harper's is a prestigious US magazine that seeks to ‘explores the issues that drive our national conversation’. Undoubtedly, in the wake of the Oscars, one of these issues has been the behaviour of Big Pharma in Africa as portrayed in the Constant Gardener.
This months Harper's runs a shocking expose (edited version here) that is an eerie echo of the damning fictional plot. It reports similar deaths as a result of wilful gross negligence, scandalous testing on AIDS patients and the intentional dressing up of dangerous drugs as safe in order to protect a well connected behemoth corporation.
What is even more shocking is how quickly the credibility of the report and that of author has been shredded. The South African Treatment Action Campaign, a group that fights for affordable treatment for HIV patients, has already taken time out from its life saving work to issue a report citing 56 errors in the story.
Stuart details some of the author’s background and her controversial beliefs.

A tense relationship indeed, watch this space to see how the blogosphere measures up.

ExxonMobil-Phoney? Big-Oil makes blood boil

Sometimes corporations start good initiatives and sometimes they pay lip service to buy PR. Sometimes they are the victims of unjust smear campaigns and sometimes it is fully deserved.
Here is a case where it just doesn’t look good for ExxonMobil -
Public Interest Watch, a nonprofit watchdog group that receives donations from Exxon Mobil, urged the Internal Revenue Service two years ago to audit Greenpeace, an environmental group that has been a longtime critic of the oil company, reports The Wall Street Journal.

...eh what was that about receiving donations...?
The tax filing for Public Interest Watch shows a donation of $120,000 from the oil company, the vast majority of the group’s total donations of $124,094.

Some explaining to do…?
A spokesman for Exxon said that the company had given money to the watchdog group, but that he wasn’t aware of the audit and that the company played no role in initiating the request.

Follow-up
Greenpeace was notified by the IRS this month that the charity still qualifies for tax exemption.

There is no doubt that Greenpeace and Exxon have a long history and sometimes what is called philanthropy is quite self serving but this looks like a case of ‘when buying PR goes wrong’.

HAT-TIP Trent

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Dawn after the African World War?

Poignantly Thomas Lubanga’s first day of trial at the International Criminal Court coincided with the Spring Equinox. Lubanga faces charges for his conduct during the long war in the Congo and he is the first person to face the ICC, but why is that conflict known as the African World War?

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire) is more than three times the size of Turkey, it is estimated that more than 240 languages are spoken there and during the conflict (1998-2003) that nine African states were involved in, an estimated 3.8 million people died making it the bloodiest conflict since the second world war. In a complex clash there were broadly four factions; the Tutsi aligned, Hutu aligned, Uganda aligned and Kinshasa aligned forces, stemming from neighbouring countries. Although the conflict officially ended in 2003, the DRC is still a humanitarian crisis - Doctors without Borders listed it in their ten most underreported humanitarian issues of 2005.

So is a dawn breaking? In December 2005 a new constitution was approved by 84% of the 25 million who turned out which is considered an impressive response given the country's administration problems. The new constitution allows for 25 semiautonomous provinces drawn along ethnic and cultural lines. Yesterday, Kofi Annan travelled to the country to pledge international support for the planned June Presidential elections. German troops will lead a 1,500 strong EU troop presence which aims to provide security for the elections. The Ituri conflict still rages in the east of the country were eight Guatemalan special forces serving as UN peacekeepers were killed earlier this year.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Links

I have found the UK-based Charity Blogger via Roger’s excellent development blogs hub.
I am not the best at updating links but I’ll start a blogroll to celebrate!

The word from inside the corridors of power

Newly named Irish World Humanitarian, John O’Shea, has recently met with Kofi Annan and gives an overview of the inadequate international response to Darfur. Mr O’Shea assesses the depressing reality of the UN Security Council-
Despite the US using its presidency at the UN Security Council last month to push through a resolution setting out the size and terms of such a UN force for Darfur, support for a resolution was found wanting at the top table of the Security Council. And the reason is obvious. Any Security Council resolution to authorise a force is likely to be blocked as permanent members of the council continue to put their own perceived interests - commercial, diplomatic and political - ahead of the humanitarian needs of Darfur’s millions.

China's veto which looms large at the UN has said it will kill any resolution threatening sanctions on Khartoum. It is the largest customer for Sudan's rapidly-growing oil exports as well as being a major investor in the petroleum industry there. Russia is also a significant exporter of arms to Sudan - a lucrative market which has thrived under the arms embargoes imposed by the US and the EU.

On a brighter GOAL-related note, GOAL’s Venetian Masked Ball will be held on Friday 21st April, 2006 in Dublin, anyone familiar with GOAL balls or Venetian Carnival will agree it promises to be a wonderful event

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Is this the first serious contender for invention of the Century?

DEKA Research was founded in 1982 by Dean Kamen.
It makes a lot of seriously useful applications.
The last thing Dean Kamen invented was the Segway, that funny gravity defying two-wheel scooter thingy. His latest work looks to be a lot less frivolous.

The Slingshot, a machine the size of washing machine, combines an electricity generator which burns anything to produce a constant kilowatt of energy and a water purifier which can take even sewage and produce 1000 litres of clean water per day.
As the man says – ‘Eighty percent of all the diseases you could name would be wiped out if you just gave people clean water’. Their plan for distribution looks state of the art. It is still an expense prototype so that is probably why it is little more than rumour at the moment.

Podcasting the undiscovered country

Thou openest the mysterious gate
Into the future's undiscovered land
…The herald Hope, forerunning Fear,
And Fear, the pursuivant of Hope.
Thy destiny remains untold;
For, like Acestes' shaft of old,
The swift thought kindles as it flies,
And burns to ashes in the skies.

Unicef have been podcasting from the Congo, Tsunami affected regions and New Orleans in the last year and they’ve had 3 million downloads. Recently they have begun Vodcasting but iTunes seems to have available the most recent Podcast.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

That there’s some corner of a foreign field that will always be...

...Darfur

”I woke to the sounds of shots being fired, and I went out on the street to see and it was total chaos,” said a 50-year-old shopkeeper. ”I heard planes and helicopters flying overhead and saw men riding in on horseback and then in vehicles.” A 63-year-old farmer whose 17-year-old son had been killed in a previous attack outside of Terbeba, said: ”I heard shots and screaming. Everyone was running. Bullets were coming down like rain.” Said an 18-year-old woman whose husband was working in Libya at the time of the attack: ”I was awakened by shots and went outside to see. The Janjaweed were everywhere on foot and on horseback. They saw me and came towards my house, pushing me out of the way to find my husband. My child was right there and I just grabbed him and ran away.”


Accounts from survivors of the assault on Terbeba, Darfur collected and reported this month by Physicians for Human Rights.


Background

Sudan is the largest country in Africa. The Darfur region is the size of France and was once home to six million people. Since colonial times Darfur has been at best neglected by the power centre Khartoum. More recently the powerful Muslim north has been at war the Christian and Animist south for most of the years since 1983. Throughout the 1990s the central government armed the minority Arab herders in Darfur, these became known as the Janjaweed. The dictator Brig. Omar Hassan Ahmed El Bashir has ruled Sudan since 1989. In early 2003 two non-Arab rebel groups attacked government outposts demanding greater political and economic representation for Darfur in the Arab-controlled Sudanese state. In response the Janjaweed and government forces launched a massive attack on thousands of non-Arab villages across the region. Between 2003 and October 2005 the two combined to kill hundreds of thousands and displace over 2.5 million people. Those 2.5 million people are the survivors of a journey from their attacked villages to refugee camps in Chad and the South of Darfur where they live today, a journey across land that is slowly loosing its battle with the expanding Sahara which many did not survive.

Monday, March 13, 2006

What is bigger than a Google?

Google’s kudos for ‘not being evil’ took a bashing recently when it decided to help prop up the Great Firewall of China. As a fully fledged multi-billion dollar corporation it seems Google is in danger of drifting into the Microsoft league of growing, old, big and hated. However it is worth noting that like Bill Gates the founders of Google, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, have serious philanthropic plans. A couple of weeks ago Larry Brilliant was named as the Executive Director of Google.org - the company’s one billion dollar philanthropic arm. Brin and Page raised some eyebrows when they declared they
‘hope that someday this institution will eclipse Google itself in overall world impact by ambitiously applying innovation and significant resources to the largest of the world's problems’.

Google.org supports the Acumen Fund, TechnoServe and PlanetRead.
The Acumen Fund has had much success with a new generation of mosquito bednets, called "Long-Lasting Insecticide-Treated Bednets." Unlike existing nets these do not need to be re-treated for their entire lifespan of five years, and are made of polyethylene, which is much stronger than polyester, preventing damage to the net.
Google also run Google Grants has donated $33M in free Google advertising to more than 850 non-profit organizations in 10 countries.

Friday, March 10, 2006

The Rich List

The Forbes Rich List is out and there are apparently 102 more billionaires than there were last year. Bill Gates heads the list for the 12th straight year. I covered some of his work here.
A much more worthwhile list, in my opinion is the Slate 60, which covers 60 largest US charity donors for each year.

Victor Connell Trust Fund Appeal

Gavin has posted in order to raise awareness and money for his cousin Victor Connell who suffered a terrible spinal injury while playing rugby for Longford RFC. The rugby club have set up this website which tells his story and lists the following events which have been organised for him.

March 11th 2006: Bucket collections around Lansdowne Road before and after Ireland Vs Scotland

March 2006: Specially commissioned Rugby Tech 4Victor jerseys go on sale

April 2006: Race night at Longford Rugby Club on Saturday 22nd April

Spinal Injuries Ireland provides help and assitance for the injured and their families.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

When the rains don’t come, the economics of famine slaughter

The seasonal rains in East Africa have once again failed leaving tens of millions at risk of famine. Thos facing the greatest danger are pastoralist farmers who live off herds which are being decimated by the drought. Those animals that do survive are of less and less value, reuters reports that the price of an adult cow has fallen from 7,000 Kenya shillings (US $96) to 800 shillings ($11). Camels fetch less than 5,000 shillings ($68), down from 20,000 shillings ($274).
As a result the pastoral communities can not afford to buy maize, of which there has recently been a very successful harvest, and so they face starvation.

The governments of most of the countries are characterized as corrupt and undemocratic and have abdicated responsibility for these largely lobby-less pastoralist communities to international aid organisations. The necessary reform to protect the vulnerable is very slow in coming.

- Kenya which has the largest and most developed economy in the region has the largest pastoralist community and is therefore most at risk. These aid agencies work there.
- Somalia was a violent anarchic state for 13 years up until 2004, its newly formed central government is in no position to meet its responsibilities. Most of it population is pastoralist.
It already had 1.3 million people in dire need of food aid before the rains failed.
These aid agencies work there.
- Eritrea led by dictator is Isaias Afwerki is more concerned with threatening its neighbours, relations with which are virtually all strained, than reforming. These aid agencies work there.
- Ethiopia has the largest livestock population in Africa but its farmers are not allowed to settle in urban areas or open bank accounts. These aid agencies work there.
- Tanzania is one of the poorest countries in the world, these aid agencies work there.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

International Women’s day

...I am the sun's toy--because I go against
The grain I feel the brush of my authority,
Its ripples straying from a star's collapse.
If I travel far enough, and fast enough, I seem
To be at rest, I see my closed life expanding
Through the crimson shells of time...

from Venus and the Sun by Medbh McGuckian



113 years ago New Zealand became the first country to introduce universal suffrage and yet Richard H. Robbins asserts that -

Women do two-thirds of the world's work, receive 10 percent of the world's income and own 1 percent of the means of production.*


This stark reality is something to ponder today on International Women’s day. The Global Fund for Women is a group that recognises that the fight for ‘universal’ suffrage goes on beyond the borders of western countries that have largely recognised and protected their female population’s rights. These are some events that are happening in Ireland to mark the day.


*Richard H. Robbins, Global Problems and the Culture of Capitalism, (Allyn and Bacon, 1999), p. 354


UPDATE ---
Fiona describes the day's background and lists some related political appointments in Ireland

Monday, March 06, 2006

A two-week birthday celebration for Fairtrade

The Fairtrade label is 12 years old today. In order to commemorate the milestone Fairtrade Fortnight begins today in the UK. The concept was established to redress the anomaly that the growers of some of the most exclusive and high quality agricultural commodities are so poor that they do not even have access to clean water. On its 12th birthday Fairtrade is not just about coffee and chocolate anymore, there are over 1300 Fairtrade certified products in the UK from footballs to flowers to wine and beer. The products are now found in many mainstream retailers. Fairtrade is a follow on from the Boston-based for-profit company Equal Exchange founded way back in 1986.

The economic benefits of these initiatives are disputed by some economists who question the wisdom of selling above the global market price. Such controversy is somewhat academic however as even the most optimistic forecasts suggest the Fairtrade industry will remain at a niche level. The high-profile growth of the Fairtrade movement may mean that is most far reaching beneficial result will be a broad improvement in ethical corporate behaviour.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Red Carded – Cui Bono?

The American Express Red Credit Card was launched yesterday by Bono and Elle MacPhearson. The gist is it’s a normal credit card with no annual fee which donates 1% of what you spend to combat AIDS in Africa. It seems like a great development and the first of many from the Red Brand which includes Giorgio Armani and Gap.
12.9% APR seems competitive but Credit cards are almost always the most expensive form of debt so clear it every month.

It has been emphasised that this is a business venture, its good business sense for the corporations to target the section of consumers that are concern about AIDS in Africa.

I’m going to try get one – I’ll let you know how it goes.


---- UPDATE ----

The Card isn't available in Germany or Ireland yet - just the UK and US.
I've contacted them to find out when it will be available.

The Kuwait Fund

A cloud gathers, the rain falls, men live; the cloud disperses without rain, and men and animals die. In the deserts of southern Arabia there is no rhythm of the seasons, no rise and fall of sap, but empty wastes where only the changing temperature marks the passage of the year. It is a bitter, desiccated land which knows nothing of gentleness or ease….Men live there because it is the world into which they were born; the life they lead is the life their forefathers led before them; they accept hardships and privations; they know no other way.

Wilfred Thesiger, Arabian Sands

Of course it is not the clouds above that have dictated the fate of the Kuwaitis for the past half century. The oil reserves below the small ‘fortress built near water’ have resulted in a steady rain of billions of petrodollars. Kuwait has 10% of proven world oil reserves and is one of the wealthiest states in the world. Bedouin hardship is said to be engrained in the blood of the people so it is not remarkable that the country has the distinction of having created the first aid agency to be established by a developing country. Established in 1961, The Kuwait Fund is an indication that they are aware that there are many peoples who still share the hardship of their forefathers, who live and die by cloud behaviour.

The operations of the Fund were originally confined, in accordance with its initial mandate, to the Arab countries. In July 1974 the scope of the Fund's activity was extended to the rest of the developing world. Kuwait foreign assistance, channelled mainly through the Kuwait Fund, is considerably higher than the 0.7% of GNP target specified by the United Nations for development assistance. In 2004 it funded 21 projects with total loan commitments of about USD 300 million. The total number of beneficiaries reached 86 countries including 16 Arab countries, 35 African, 22 Asian and European countries, and nine Latin American and Caribbean countries. The Fund focuses on development loans for transportation projects (33% of funding), Energy (22%), Agriculture (16%) and Water and Sewage (11%).

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Bringing the islands closer to the main…

…No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were. Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee…

That millions die each year in developing countries from diseases, cures for which are ignored by the busy minor-miracle workers of billion dollar pharmaceutical companies, gives lie to John Donne’s meditation on the interdependency of the human race and its awareness and concern for the morality of all its members.

And yet is it a deeper meditation of our nature to observe that corporations who concern themselves with expensive developments for clients, who could not possible make such work worthwhile in a monetary sense, have no future?
Is it the river’s fault that gravity does not lead it to some planes and favours others, resulting in fertile banks to contrast barren expanses?
Is it the river or the arid planes fault that they cannot kindle a dam and irrigate themselves?

Thankfully this pondering is interrupted by the Global Health Initiative.
The question was asked ‘What would the minor miracle workers of science be developing if the poorest in the world could afford treatment for the serious diseases that they suffer from?’ The prize for the most promising deliverable technologies is hundreds of millions of dollars in research grants principally from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation with additional funds from the Wellcome Trust and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.
After 32 months of work they have formulated 43 Grand Challenges to focus on examples of which include;
-Heat Stable Vaccines, vaccines are generally developed for populations with easy access to refrigeration – these are not appropriate for Africa.
-Single Dose Vaccines, most vaccines need boosters that are administered over weeks or months, these are highly unsuitable for families that have to travel long distance to the nearest clinic.
-Revolutionary methods to control certain Mosquito populations
-Encouraging the growth of more nutritious stable crops
-New HIV Vaccine strategies
-Technological innovation specific for diagnosis in the developing world

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Lent in the Land of Lakes and Volcanoes

Nicaragua is about 50% larger than Ireland. With the Pacific to its west and the Caribbean to its east, this tropical bridge between the Americas boasts beautiful beaches, the continents second largest rainforest and forty volcanoes (many of which are active). It is also home to one of the largest freshwater lakes in the world, Lago Nicaragua and breathtaking cloud forests. Tragically civil war, military dictators and Hurricane Mitch (1998) have condemned this uniquely stunning land to be one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere.

Its population is 5.2 million of which half live below the poverty line and it has an adult literacy rate of only 67%.

Nicaragua is the focus of Trócaire’s 2006 Lenten campaign. Trócaire, the official overseas development agency of the Catholic Church in Ireland, funds 16 projects for the population of the agricultural north of the country who are too remote from the central government.
Trócaire works to enable them to secure enough nutrition to feed their families. Its educational projects also encourage the local communities to make the most of their land rights, credit opportunities, agricultural potential, local government entitlements and lobbying possibilities.
This is a full list of Trócaire’s current work in the country.

Make a donation to Trócaire’s 2006 Lenten campaign.

Here are 22 other charities working in Nicaragua.