Apr 22, 2015
“Folks sometimes forget that philanthropy is addressing the very problems that have defied market solutions or in some cases are the result of market failure," says Phil Buchanan, President of the Center for Effective Philanthropy.
But sometimes that is overlooked or underestimated by the start-up world, according to Buchanan.
“There's way too much ignorance about the sector," Buchanan tells us. "Particularly given what an important role it has played in this country, and the fact that our nonprofit sector, with all its flaws and all its faults, and all the ways it could be better, is the envy of the world."
Apr 2, 2015
A small percentage of the second-hand clothes we donate to charity actually end up on the store shelves of our local Salvation Army or Goodwill, according to our guest Andrew Brooks. Eventually the clothes end up in the hands of for-profit companies, which sell our old t-shirts and jeans to poor people halfway across the globe.
Brooks' new book, Clothing Poverty - The Hidden World of Fast Fashion and Second-hand Clothes, describes a multi-billion dollar industry rife with complications and even deceit.
Mar 11, 2015
Emily Troutman photographs and writes about people living in poverty across the globe. She's a freelancer and to help pay the bills, Troutman sometimes took lucrative commissions - up to a thousand dollars a day - photographing the work of aid groups. Her two years in post-quake Haiti were no exception.
"For most of the freelancers I knew in Port-au-Prince, nonprofit gigs were a lifeline," Troutman writes in her blog Aid.Works. "I never wrote about the organizations I worked for and tried to keep a wall between those two parts of my life."
That wall came crashing down earlier this year when USAID announced that it had suspended one of its biggest nonprofit contractors, International Relief and Development, from receiving additional federal contracts. USAID said investigators found “serious misconduct” in IRD's performance and the way it managed taxpayer funds.
Troutman was especially disturbed by the allegations because IRD twice paid her to photograph its work in Haiti. "When the IRD scandal blew up, I was looking at my Facebook, I was looking at my Twitter feed, I knew a lot of people who had worked for IRD and nobody said anything," Troutman tells us.
She says that silence reflects a larger culture of reticence among aid workers. "Nobody wants to say anything about it because nobody wants to bite the hand that feeds them. That's the problem. These organizations make a lot of money for a lot of people."
Feb 23, 2015
Nonprofit advisor Caroline Fiennes has a lot to say about how we assess charities. She used to run one herself. In those days, Fiennes tried figuring out whether her organization was achieving its goals but admits she wasn't always forthcoming about the findings. "When the results were good, we would share them," she tells us. "And when they weren't, we didn't." Fiennes suspects many charities do the same.
Fiennes has now made it her mission to improve the quality of data produced by and about nonprofits. "Charities vary markedly in how good they are, so wouldn't it be a good idea if we could figure out which are the good ones, and get people to fund the good ones and to not fund the bad ones? It's hard to make evidence-based decisions if loads of the evidence is either missing, or bad quality, or you can't find it."
Feb 5, 2015
Adia Benton spent two years looking at HIV support groups in West Africa. What she saw unsettled her. "It calls into question what international programs like this do to people," she tells us. Benton is an assistant professor of medical anthropology at Brown University and author of the new book, HIV Exceptionalism: Development through Disease in Sierra Leone.
Internationally funded HIV support groups often urge people to disclose their status. But Benton cautions that not everyone is comfortable going public with their illness. "A lot of it is about fundamental assumptions people make about Africa, which is that it's a community-oriented place where people do everything in the collective and for the collective good. But in fact there are people who are very private, and discretion is very much prized."
The public health benefits of disclosure are clear: it reduces stigma and rates of transmission and can help HIV positive people to feel less alone. Even so, Benton found many HIV positive people had mixed feelings about disclosing or did not understand why they had to speak out. "People are very ambivalent about this because they want to contribute to public health but they also want to protect themselves," she says. "It's a difficult juggling act. I heard a lot of people, or leaders, pressuring others to be 'good activists'. They wanted everybody to be a good activist and they wanted everybody to be a good advocate, and not everyone can do that."
Jan 20, 2015
Carrboro High School in Carrboro North Carolina is an unlikely meeting place for leaders from the world of international aid and development. But over the years, global studies teacher Matt Cone has given his students face time with an impressive list of guests: from former USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah to Nobel Peace Prize winning economist Mohammed Yunus to First Lady Laura Bush.
Most meetings between students and guests have taken place by Skype and speaker phone but last year, Cone's students flew to New York to meet with World Bank President Jim Yong Kim. Cone says his students, steeped in issues of economic development and international aid, were "thrilled" to meet Kim, as you can see from this selfie.
"I wanted to teach a course where students had access to people who were trying to make a difference in the world," Cone said. "And I thought that if they got something that was different from a fairytale version they might actually become interested in being engaged citizens."
It seems to be working. Carrboro students have gone on to work in rural Africa; another, inspired by the work of Paul Farmer, is now pursuing a career in global medicine; a couple more headed off to the Peace Corps.
Cone says he feels good about the world when he’s with his students. "I feel like they're going to push this thing forward far more than my generation did."
Jan 6, 2015
“It's confounding for doctors, for me, when you see that your idea of how a patient is doing is completely wrong, and deadly wrong,” says physician Joel Selanikio about his time treating Ebola patients in Lunsar, Sierra Leone.
Looking to the future, he is optimistic about bringing down Ebola in West Africa but remains concerned about the bigger picture in the developing world – the broken systems such as government and healthcare.
He describes his experiences with Tiny Spark.
Dec 3, 2014
Dayo Olopade discusses her new book The Bright Continent: Breaking Rules and Making Change in Modern Africa. The Nigerian-American journalist spent two years traveling across 17 nations in Sub-Saharan Africa. She comes away with a promising view of the continent. "I invite the world to reimagine all of the challenges that you hear about in Africa as an opportunity to innovate."
Nov 20, 2014
Nigerian-American journalist Dayo Olopade discusses her new book, The Bright Continent: Breaking Rules and Making Change in Modern Africa.
Nov 6, 2014
Diana Jue and Jackie Stenson wanted to figure out a way to bring high-quality products to the world's poor. So, they founded Essmart, a for-profit company that uses India's network of ubiquitous mom-and-pop shops to reach rural consumers.
Aug 22, 2014
A veteran humanitarian aid worker offers candid insights into the lessons he's learned - and the personal dilemmas he's faced - during a long career trying to do good across the globe.
Aug 6, 2014
Promo: Lessons from an Aid Worker by Tiny Spark
Jul 18, 2014
I recently watched a new documentary about inventor Dean Kamen. He's the guy who invented the Segway, that impressive but only moderately successful people mover.
Well, Kamen is back with a new invention called the Slingshot; a high tech solution that promises to turn even the dirtiest water into clean drinking water. Given the world's water crisis, you'd think there would be enormous potential for this sort of device.
But in the film, Kamen's technology is repeatedly rejected by potential partners, which include the World Bank and United Nations, according to the film's director. Frustrated and out of options, Kamen ends up turning to Coca Cola; a decision that has been met with some criticism. Kamen is quick to defend his partnership with the company, which, he explains in the film, has bottling operations is 206 nations. "That's more than the number of countries that are admitted into the United Nations!" Kamen explains. "We realized if we could partner with them, they could be the link that takes our technology everywhere it needs to be."
May 28, 2014
We speak to Dean Karlan, Yale economist and co-author of the book More Than Good Intentions. Karlan advocates evidence-based aid and has devoted his career to figuring out which programs work and why.
May 23, 2014
What Works? The Case for Evidence Based Aid by Tiny Spark
Apr 8, 2014
The Soccket: A Follow-Up Investigation by Tiny Spark
Jan 27, 2014
This story was originally broadcast on PRI's The World. In the latest installment of our Tracking Charity series, I travel to Senegal to spend time with some community health workers who have been working for a decade without pay. Our story explores the ethics and complexities about payment for volunteers who live in poverty.
Sep 18, 2013
Vanity Fair contributing editor, Nina Munk, decided to document a high-profile campaign to end extreme poverty. For six years, she followed celebrated economist Jeffrey Sachs’ Millennium Villages Project; a five-year campaign designed to eradicate poverty from a dozen African villages.
"I thought to myself, if one of the most admired, most respected macro economists in the world believes that we can end poverty in our lifetime, I'm willing to follow him and watch what happens."
Munk, a former Fortune magazine writer and Forbes editor, followed Sachs on his official trips to Africa. She visited and revisited two of the Millennium Villages sites, living among the people there, to see how the project was panning out on the ground.
At first Munk saw real progress as the cash began flowing in to the villages. But later, she says all kinds of problems began to emerge. "In some ways," she told us, "everything that could go wrong, did go wrong."
An interview with Nina Munk about her new book, The Idealist - Jeffrey Sachs and the Quest to End Poverty.
Sep 17, 2013
Here's what's up next on Tiny Spark.
Aug 16, 2013
Here's the first installment in a new series I'm producing with the public radio program The World. It's a global investigative project called Tracking Charity. In this story, we investigate a promising new technology designed to combat malaria. I visit the Africa nation of Malawi where, a decade on, serious problems are beginning to arise; ones that may have been avoidable. After the story, I speak with The World's host, Marco Werman, about the Tracking Charity series.
Jan 25, 2013
Promo of Tiny Spark's story on TOMS Shoes and whether giving away free shoes is good aid.
Oct 29, 2012
In this holiday edition of Tiny Spark, we explore what happens when someone refuses to accept the idea of a "lost cause" and instead gets down to the work of transforming a troubled life.
Oct 29, 2012
Jennifer Hemsley and her husband wanted to adopt a girl from Guatemala but they immediately suspected fraud. Jennifer feared the worst: that the infant might have been kidnapped. “We were very concerned that her mother might be looking for her,” Jennifer tells us. What ensued was a years-long quest in which Jennifer sought to uncover the truth about the origins of the girl she wanted to adopt.
Tiny Spark looks at a seemingly good idea - international adoption - and its underside: fraud, corruption and child trafficking.
Oct 10, 2012
In our latest episode, Tiny Spark takes a look at the quality of care medical volunteers have provided in crisis zones. We discover that many volunteers who deployed to Haiti after the earthquake had never before worked in international humanitarian emergencies. Many had never practiced medicine in low-income nations. While these volunteers may have been well-intentioned, their lack of specialized training would sometimes have severe repercussions for patients.
Aug 20, 2012
TOMS founder, Blake Mycoskie, says there are millions of children around the world who are in need of shoes. He's based his entire business model on this premise. His for-profit company has enjoyed handsome gains by getting consumers to buy into his idea. In our story, we question whether Blake's assumption is accurate and if it is, whether giving children free shoes is the best solution.
"It starts with a solution that we, or the donor, or the giver, thinks is appropriate," Laura Freschi of New York University tells us. "That is, 'We would like to give people shoes,' which, in my opinion, is backwards because the way it should really start is with the person receiving to say, 'Well, what is your priority? What is it that you need?'"
We also look at TOMS' Giving Partners; non-profits the company works with to distribute its shoes to children around the globe. As I started to compile a spreadsheet on TOMS Giving Partners, I was surprised to see the number of Christian Evangelical groups that kept cropping up. This got us looking into Blake Mycoskie's particular brand of Christian faith and how it may be informing the groups his company partners with and how they distribute TOMS shoes.