June 02, 2009
Eve Ensler on the Atrocities in the Congo
Eve Ensler, probably most well known for her creation of Vagina Monologues, was interviewed on the D stage last week. She's not a geek, VC or a start-up or Fortune 500 CEO, so it was an interesting and curious add to the schedule.
When she came onto the stage, 20% of men walked out of the room. A couple of days later during a reading of her new play OPC in Los Angeles that I attended, she said, "I think they see themselves as business men."
Meaning perhaps that business men who have their own issues, don't need to know about or be aware of the issues in the Congo, what companies could do to create rape-free products, or how it may in fact impact their own businesses tens of thousands of miles away.
Years away from her original work on female sexual violence, she's speaking up around the world and putting new movements and voices into action. At D, she talked about what was happening in the mines in the Congo, how hundreds of thousands of women are getting raped and die, and how most of them go undiscovered.
If the women don’t die immediately from the rape, they die years later from AIDs. The mines are largely controlled by Rwandan and Uganda troops. Control means something entirely different in central Africa where dictators get away with things that are too painful for people in the west to talk about.
Troops come into a town and rape women in front of their husbands, force sons to rape their mothers, encourage gang rapes and then take over the mines. They use sexual violence as a tactic to enforce slave labor for no or minimum wage. They control the mines by raping a husband’s wife in front of him. They demoralize men and their self esteem. After taking control, they export the minerals from the mines and profit.
As for what can be done to stop these atrocities, Eve says boycotts are not a good idea. "A boycott would increase the violence," she says. "Boycotts will hurt the Congolese people.
They are already too poor. They're only making $4 a day in these mines or $300-500 a year. It needs to be done in a way that serves the people of the Congo. Companies should hire those third parties to survey these mines. Those who are currently working the mines would turn them into the militia if we created boycotts."
It's not enough to simply have a signed piece of paper that says a product comes from a conflict free area. She talks about how things are all interconnected, a way to demonstrate to those still in the room and sadly to those who walked out, that because everything is connected, awareness in the west matters, particularly among men who have power and money.
"Is it an accidental thing that I’m a playwright who gets moved into a world of sexual exploitation and violence who has then moved into a world of larger human rights violations and issues?"
She adds, "we can’t really look at sexual exploitation anymore without looking at economic exploitation. $7-11 billion is being made a year from sex trafficking and sexual violence tactics are being used more and more because its cheap warfare."
"What would you do in the Congo?" asks Kara Swisher who is one-on-one with her on-stage. Eve answers quickly - "have companies document and trace the roots of the mines, have surveyors witness the atrocities and track them and to ensure that this sexual violence doesn’t happen. Learn how to create rape-free products."
"All of these issues are very much intermingled. Documenting and putting surveyors there who can oversee things and witness what’s going on. Ensure that human rights violations are not occurring. People need to learn what is happening to get these products.”
About her work with V-Day, they're apparently now in 130 different countries. She encourages companies to think of their involvement in creating rape-free products as a 'selling and marketing proposition.' It’s something that can move the economy forward.
She says, "we have to think about how to create products that are not connected to violation of human rights. We have to see this as a much more holistic integrated process – this is crucial."
Some companies have made pledges to clean up their products, but companies can do much more than a pledge to ensure people don’t suffer in the process of creating their products. It's about the bigger picture: specific work that changes the situation on-the-ground and human consciousness in the rest of the world.
Hear hear Eve. I was most definitely one of the 80% who didn't leave the room and was eagerly listening in the front row. What happens in the Congo should matter to us in the west. By turning our backs on something that doesn't impact us directly, we turn our back on humanity. Why else are we here?
Go Eve. And go to whoever Eve touches who can make a difference, whether that be their time or their wallets.
March 24, 2009
The Blue Sweater
Last week, Acumen Fund CEO Jacqueline Novogratz held a book reading in San Francisco as part of the launch of The Blue Sweater, her new book, which is now available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Half.com.
The Blue Sweater takes us on a journey, through one inspiring personal memoir after another. She read us an excerpt from an experience she had in the eighties where she helped a group of unwed mothers start a bakery.
In the book, she reveals how traditional charity often fails. A key mission of Acumen Fund is to use entrepreneurial approaches to solve the problems of global poverty. It's a combination approach: "small amounts of philanthropic capital combined with large doses of business acumen, can build thriving enterprises that serve vast numbers of the poor."
Why they feel charity alone isn't the answer: "poor people seek dignity, not dependence." Frankly, everyone seeks dignity and all too often, we don't get it.
She tells us "why the blue sweater?" I was obviously curious as were others. When she was around ten, she wore a sweater with zebras on it well into high school before she finally parted with the garment. Years later, when she as in her mid-twenties, she spotted a zebra sweater on a little boy in Africa.
With emotion, she tells us how she ran over to check the label and sure enough, it was her very own zebra sweater she wore as a child. "It's an example," she says, "of our own interconnectedness. Those of us who have lived in the developing world all have a blue sweater story -- where something we have done has impacted someone's life and we don't learn how until much later on."
She's right. We all have our blue sweater stories even if we haven't lived in the developing world. Having an impact on others in an unselfish loving way is ultimately why we're here. Giving back to the world is what really feeds us at the end of the day and often, its the smallest of "gives" that have the most impact.
March 21, 2009
June Arunga on Western Attitudes Towards Business in Africa
November 17, 2008
The Kilili Self Help Project
Check out the Kilili Self Help Project, an initiative that trains Kenyans in sustainable farming practices. It's interesting to note that half the graduates are women. The project supports the work of trained and certified Kenyan community workers who teach farmers the GROW BIOINTENSIVE method of organic farming and soil fertility management.
Through the generosity of donors, more than 86,000 families are now using simple, ecological methods to achieve food security and economic self-reliance. Highly productive GROW BIOINTENSIVE gardens provide extra crops to sell. Family health improves and children can go to school, often for the first time.
November 16, 2008
Learning about the Q Fund
I ran into some folks tonight who know the founders of the Q Fund, an organization dedicated to ensure a free education for vulnerable children so they can realize their dreams and talents. Yes, education, but its about so much more as I geared up to hear more.
No surprise that the discussion came about as we were discussing my upcoming trip to South Africa. The founder was living South Africa in 1997, not long after I was living there the second time around. As she came face-to-face with the plight of millions of orphaned African children, she used photography to recount their courageous and heartrending story in her book, African Journal: A Child's Continent, an inspiring narrative of how these children taught her the true meaning of love.
The Q Fund has developed partnerships with numerous like-minded organizations and individuals and is spearheading a collaborative effort to build the Mucinshi School - a world-class high school in Zambia which will become the prototype for a scalable, replicable model that can be used to help children and communities in need anywhere in the world.
I plan to dig deeper but didn't want to miss an opportunity to introduce the organization to people who may never have heard about them. Introduce and of course share their core values:
Free education for vulnerable children.
To honor cultural differences and heritage of communities.
To design and build facilities and infrastructure that conserve, protect and enhance natural resources.
To empower individuals and communities to achieve financial independence.
To deliver measurable results within a specified timeframe with transparency and complete accountability.
To develop community-based businesses which become the foundation of thriving, sustainable economies.
To acknowledge through our mutual endeavors our growth and development as human beings.
June 22, 2008
Jenni Wolfson: A Storyteller of Genocide & Human Rights Violations
She sat in a chair and walked us through one Scottish woman’s journey as a UN human rights worker, living and loving under fire in post-genocide Rwanda. Heartbreaking, humorous and hopeful.
Prior to WITNESS, Jenni worked for 12 years with the United Nations and UNICEF, including 3 years in Rwanda and 2 years in Haiti. Her field work involved investigating the genocide and human rights violations, as well as training the military, police, judiciary and NGOs in human rights standards.
Theatrical in her storytelling, we listened to the brutality she experienced in Africa over the past decade. A remarkable and very moving story. Be sure to check out Jenni's blog, where you read a number of these accounts in great detail.
J.D. Steele & Shangilia
Musician J.D. Steele performed at the PUSH Conference this year. He and his siblings started performing together as children, forming that other singing family group from Gary, Indiana.
Since then, J.D. has performed with The Steeles all over the world, and his talents as a composer, arranger and vocal artist have earned him recording contracts, awards, commissions for musicals, operas, movies and commercial jingles.
On stage, he is quietly charismatic in a zen-like way, meaning he exudes passion but is completely in his own body, controlled, relaxed and calling us all to do nothing but smile and fall into his music.
Steele's most recent project is with Shangilia, a 200 kid orphanage in Nairobi, where he has led the group in performances at the Kennedy Center and toured Tanzania, the U.S. and Greece.
It started when twenty-three children gave their first public performance at Nairobi 's National Theatre in July 1994. The occasion was the visit to Kenya of four members of the United Nation's Committee of Ten (established to monitor the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child). The children's exuberant performance culminated in the building of a human pyramid from the top of which Kamau, wearing filthy tattered clothing, proclaimed the Rights of the Child.
As their site says, "the show is designed to expose and sensitize society to the rising predicament of those young lives lost on the street, sniffing glue, picking pockets and exposed to prostitution. Besides raising funds for the children's plight, performances have proved that the performing arts are effective to both rehabilitate the child in gaining self-confidence and worth, as well as demonstrate the potential of all children."
We learn about his experiences with the children through humorous stories, slides and song. Being involved with such an amazing life-changing organization, its no wonder that Steele looked rejuvenated and joyous as he sang African songs to the PUSH audience.
PUSH Conference in Minneapolis
I've been wanting to go to the Minneapolis-based PUSH Conference for awhile now but since its always in June, there has always been a conflict. This year was no different as I was in launch mode, but I somehow found myself on a Northwest flight heading to the midwest last week.
President Cecily Somers often has a hard time describing the event, which she puts in the 'brain food' category. It's a miniature Davos in a way, in a mini-TED-like format, so its small enough that you can still meet nearly everyone at the conference if that was your goal.
The theme this year was "The Fertile Delta," which while it has a great name, is hard to summarize in one line. It addressed one of the things I've been feeling in a bigger way over the last eighteen months - the widening of gaps in the U.S.
After visiting Mexico last year, I was not only reminded that our dollar is in decline, but it was thrown in my face. And it wasn't just the dollar that I felt in Mexico and every other international trip I've taken in the last year or so. America is turning into a third world country (some argue that it already is) and the transition is gradual like they so often are, that many living in the top 20% barely notice, or if they do, its easier to turn a blind eye than to face it.
Issues addressed at PUSH including some of these very themes, here and abroad:
--while globalization is bringing more players to the table, many more are being left behind.
--this widening gap in resources, wealth, education, technology and healthcare is a destabilizing influence --this trend is unsustainable and we need to re-think business models and social systems for agility and for solutions that are truly sustainable (look at the state of our education and healthcare system for example) --Phrases such as the "Digital Divide" and "Two Americas" refer to this growing chasm within.
Where The Fertile Delta comes in, is that "while this space in between faces extreme challenges, it represents enormous, untapped opportunity."
Cecily hopes PUSH will leave people with at least a few reasons why polarization never looked so good.
This brain food event brings in together academics, politics and international issues. While so many of the issues discussed were global in nature, the attendee base was largely from greater Minneapolis and other pockets in the midwest, unlike last year which was closer to 50/50. The slowing economy and soaring airline costs could be part of this shift.
A couple of my favorite speakers included Thousand Hills Venture Fund co-founder Antoine Bigirimana and University of Rochester Assistant Professor of Religion Anthea Butler.
While based in the states, Bigirimana spends the majority of his time in Rwanda as a philanthropist, supporting the Kigali Center for Entrepreneurs. Bigirimana was born in Rwanda and is a central figure in Rwanda's information and communication technologies (ICT) community.
He talked to us about how Rwanda is making a transition from agricultural subsistence to a knowledge–based economy that will act as the information–technology hub for neighboring countries in Eastern and Central Africa. Because Rwandans reached bottom, sustainable change is happening in remarkable ways and quickly. Implementing some of these changes in neighboring countries could have a profoundly positive impact on central Africa.
He was incredibly moving and inspiring and gave us hope that change can happen rapidly on a continent that has suffered a series of slow starts over the decades. His passion centers around technology and to-date, Bigirimana has been successfully building Internet infrastructure in Rwandan villages, programs which can be replicated elsewhere in the region.
Speaking of inspiration and passion, enter Anthea Butler who recently wrote Women in the Church of God in Christ. Able to fluently blend women's issues and religion, her stance on the PUSH stage was on fundamentalism.
Up right after a speaker on Islam, she encouraged us that while the radicals get most of the media stage, there's another point of view, another way of behaving within the same religion. These are the stories so rarely told and even when they are, they often get buried. Be sure to listen to her on video on the PUSH website.
May 03, 2007
Bloggers Bring Media Attention to African Gorillas
Bill Cleary is on the OnHollywood stage introducing a video about the endangered Gorillas on the Congo. Thanks to African bloggers on the ground for generating media attention, enough attention to put pressure on the poachers.
We see a video led by Dr. Richard Leakey, an anthropologist who talked about an organization called Wildlife Direct. In the Congo, there are only around 700 mountain gorillas left. It's amazing that these bloggers generated over 400 newspaper articles. Most definitely unusual on a technology social media conference stage.
March 17, 2007
Three Powerful Wishes
Goldie Hawn on the TED stage last week in Monterey. The session was entitled – “I have a dream.”
This is how it works: each prize winner gets a ‘wish.’ James Nachtwey wants to break a story he feels the world ‘needs to know about.’ In order to do this, he needs to gain access to a place in the world where a critical situation is occurring and document it with photography.
A man passionate about nature, EO Wilson wants to create the Encyclopedia of Life to help inspire preservation of the Earth’s biodiversity. This encyclopedia would be open to allow scientists to contribute to the site and in doing so, make the world aware of the importance of this initiative.
He is looking for a major website design combined with a powerful search technology that can aggregate existing biological information and make it easily accessible to everyone.
Clinton’s wish revolved around Africa, more specifically, Rwanda and its rural healthcare system. He is asking people to support the Clinton Foundation and Paul Farmer’s Partners in Health Organization who are already on the ground in Rwanda.
Part of their efforts is to provide free primary healthcare access and education for the poor, including AIDS prevention and treatment. Funding for this initiative is not cheap, perhaps as high as $4 million or higher a year for the next five years.
In addition to funding, he is looking for transportation solutions, generators, solar panels and rainwater collection systems.
Says Clinton, “Poverty is worse than corruption in third world countries, but the systems are not in place for drugs to reach people who need them. We need to develop a model for rural healthcare in the developing world, a model that can be implemented in other third world countries, one which can sustain itself without any foreign donors after 5-10 years.”
After the session, Clinton shakes hands and says hello to TEDsters both on and off the stage.
Clinton with other prize winners on stage immediately following the award presentation: