The Classy Awards, the largest philanthropic awards ceremony in the country honors the best philanthropic achievements, as decided by public voting and judges in several categories, including philanthropic businesses.
The Classy Awards are hosted by Stayclassy.org, a Social Fundraising platform that offers powerful fundraising and communications tools to nonprofits without any upfront charges.
This year we are happy to report that again two of our featured businesses, have also been nominated:
Panera Cares and Comcast's Care Days, which we mentioned in our post about back to school corporate volunteerism. In addition Panera has been named as a finalist!
There are so many nominees and finalists in all the categories including business philanthropy that are worthy of receiving the award - I congratulate all of them and wish them good luck.
I look forward to the hearing who all the chosen winners will be at the ceremony. This year I have been invited as a guest to attend the Classy Awards and will get a chance to personally meet the nominees and the winners. This will a terrific opportunity to meet the founders and the creators of these businesses and philanthropic programs and learn firsthand about their mission to make their communities and the world a better place through their business and their employees.
Check out the stories about their featured nominees and come join me at the Classy Awards. For tickets to this fun and inspiring event check out their site.
Why NGOs prefer bad news
And now for some good news out of Africa. Poverty rates throughout the continent have been falling steadily and much faster than previously thought, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research. The death rate of children under five years of age is dropping, with “clear evidence of accelerating rates of decline,” according to The Lancet. Perhaps most encouragingly, Africa is “among the world’s most rapidly growing economic regions,” according to the McKinsey Quarterly.
Yet US journalism continues to portray a continent of unending horrors. Last June, for example, Time magazine published graphic pictures of a naked woman from Sierra Leone dying in childbirth. Not long after, CNN did a story about two young Kenyan boys whose family is so poor they are forced to work delivering goats to a slaughterhouse for less than a penny per goat. Reinforcing the sense of economic misery, between May and September 2010 the ten most-read US newspapers and magazines carried 245 articles mentioning poverty in Africa, but only five mentioning gross domestic product growth.
Reporters’ attraction to certain kinds of Africa stories has a lot to do with the frames of reference they arrive with. Nineteenth century New York Herald correspondent Henry M. Stanley wrote that he was prepared to find Zanzibar “populated by ignorant blacks, with great thick lips, whose general appearance might be compared to Du Chaillu’s gorillas.” Since the Biafran War, a cause célèbre in the West, helped give rise in the late 1960s to the new field of human rights, Western reporters have closely tracked issues like traditional female circumcision. In the 1980s, a famine in Ethiopia that, in fact, had as much to do with politics as with drought, set a pattern of stories about “starving Africans” that not only hasn’t been abandoned, but continues to grow: according to a 2004 study done by Steven S. Ross, then a Columbia journalism professor, between 1998 and 2002 the number of stories about famine in Africa tripled. In Kenya, where I was a Peace Corps volunteer in the late 1960s and where I returned to live four years ago, The New York Times description of post-election violence in 2007 as a manifestation of “atavistic” tribalism carried echoes of Stanley and other early Western visitors.
But the main reason for the continued dominance of such negative stereotypes, I have come to believe, may well be the influence of Western-based non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and international aid groups like United Nations agencies. These organizations understandably tend to focus not on what has been accomplished but on convincing people how much remains to be done. As a practical matter, they also need to attract funding. Together, these pressures create incentives to present as gloomy a picture of Africa as possible in order to keep attention and money flowing, and to enlist journalists in disseminating that picture.
Africans themselves readily concede that there continues to be terrible conflict and human suffering on the continent. But what’s lacking, say media observers like Sunny Bindra, a Kenyan management consultant, is context and breadth of coverage so that outsiders can see the continent whole—its potential and successes along with its very real challenges. “There are famines; they’re not made up,” Bindra says. “There are arrogant leaders. But most of the journalism that’s done doesn’t challenge anyone’s thinking.”
Over the past thirty years, NGOs have come to play an increasingly important role in aid to Africa. A major reason is that Western donors, worried about government corruption, have channelled more funds through them. In the mid-1970s, less than half a dozen NGOs (like the Red Cross or CARE) might operate in a typical African country, according to Nicolas van de Walle, a professor of government at Cornell, but now the same country will likely have 250.
This explosive NGO growth means increasing competition for funds. And according to the head of a large US-based NGO in Nairobi, “When you’re fundraising you have to prove there is a need. Children starving, mothers dying. If you’re not negative enough, you won’t get funding.” So fierce is the competition that many NGOs don’t want to hear good news. An official of an organization that provides data on Somalia’s food situation says that after reporting a bumper harvest last year, “I was told by several NGOs and UN agencies that the report was too positive.”
Rasna Warah, a Kenyan who worked for UN-Habitat before leaving to pursue a writing career, says that exaggerations of need were not uncommon among aid officials she encountered. “They wanted journalists to say ‘Wow.’ They want them to quote your report,” she says. “That means more money for the next report. It’s really as cynical as that.”
Western journalists, for their part, tend to be far too trusting of aid officials, according to veteran Dutch correspondent Linda Polman. In her book The Crisis Caravan, she cites as one example the willingness of journalists to be guided around NGO-run refugee camps without asking tough questions about possible corruption or the need for such facilities. She writes, “Aid organizations are businesses dressed up like Mother Teresa, but that’s not how reporters see them.”
Pushed and pulled by slashed budgets and increased demands, journalists are growing increasingly reliant on aid groups. Sometimes that involves not just information or a seat on a supply plane, but deep involvement in the entire journalistic process.
In an online essay written in 2009, Kimberly Abbott of the International Crisis Group discussed a 2005 Nightline program on Uganda that her NGO helped to produce and fund. It was hosted by actor Don Cheadle, the star of Hotel Rwanda. Nightline’s Ted Koppel explained in his introduction, as retold by Abbott: “Cheadle wanted his wife and daughters to get a sense of the kind of suffering that is so widespread in Africa. The International Crisis Group wanted publicity for what is happening in Uganda. And we, to put it bluntly, get to bring you a riveting story at a greatly reduced expense.” According to Abbott, “versions of such partnerships are happening now in print and broadcast newsrooms across the country, though many are reluctant to discuss them too openly.”
Daniel Dickinson, a former BBC reporter who is now a communications officer for the European Union in Nairobi, has seen the impact of technology and economics on reporting on Africa first-hand. “The big difference in the past five to ten years is the expansion of the Internet,” he says. “Journalists have got to feed these animals. Add to that the financial crash, and more and more internationals are taking the content we offer them.”
Ben Parker, co-founder and head of IRIN, a news agency that is part of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, admires Dickinson’s success. “He does stories and they’re picked up whole,” Parker says. IRIN itself can point to many similar successes in finding takers for its stories on aid projects. “The Western media won’t reprint us verbatim,” he says. “But some plagiarize.”
Lauren Gelfand, a correspondent for Jane’s Defence Weekly who is based in Nairobi, says most reporters she knows string for three or four news organizations to make ends meet, and can’t afford to do time-consuming stories. She saw the effect when she took a year off from journalism to work for Oxfam. “If reporters were going to cover a development story it had to be easy,” remembers Gelfand, noting that the simplest sell was a celebrity visit to an aid project.
Gelfand says that her Oxfam experience helped her to understand just how much attention ngos put on getting their story told. “All the talking points are carefully worked out…. It’s a huge bureaucracy and there are as many levels of control as in any government,” she says of Oxfam, adding that many NGOs are reluctant to cooperate with media unless they know they’ll be shown in a positive light.
To be fair to the NGOs, Gelfand says, “It’s easier to sell a famine than to effect real, common-sense policy change.” And, she says, she continues to believe that most aid workers do what they do because they want to make a difference. Nonetheless, “A lot of what Oxfam does is to sustain Oxfam.”
Stories featuring aid projects often rely on dubious numbers provided by the organizations. Take Kibera, a poor neighborhood in Nairobi. A Nexis search of major world publications found Kibera described as the “biggest” or “largest” slum in Africa at least thirty-four times in 2004; in the first ten months of 2010 the claim appeared eighty-three times. Many of those stories focused on the work of one of the estimated 6,000 or more local and international NGOs working there, and cited population figures that ranged as high as one million residents. Recently, however, the results of Kenya’s 2009 census were released: according to the official tally, Kibera has just 194,269 residents. In 2010, Rasna Warah wrote in the Daily Nation, a Kenyan paper, that while working for the Worldwatch Institute, an NGO, she had published inflated population estimates using UN-Habitat data, despite knowing there was no consensus on the numbers among her former colleagues at the organization. Sometime after 2004, she wrote, population estimates for Kibera started to rise, and “Before we knew it, the figure spread like a virus.” She added, “The inflated figures were not challenged, perhaps because they were useful to various actors…. They were particularly useful to NGOs, which used them to ‘shock’ charities and other do-gooders into donating more money to their projects in Kibera.”Questionable figures of another sort are to be found in reports on the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, a series of targets on poverty reduction and other measures of well-being. UN and NGO officials routinely describe Africa as failing to meet the goals, and the press routinely writes up this failure.
But some experts, among them Jan Vandemoortele, one of the architects of the MDGS, have expressed concern that the goals are being misused. He wrote in 2009 that the MDGS were intended as global targets, but have been improperly applied to individual countries and regions. “It is a real tragedy when respectable progress in Africa is reported as a failure by international organizations and external observers,” Vandemoortele wrote, voicing the suspicion that particular measurements have been selected “so as to present Africa as a failure, solely to gain support for a particular agenda, strategy, or argument.”
Nonetheless, when the UN met in September, The Associated Press quoted UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as saying, “Many countries are falling short, especially in Africa,” while the Los Angeles Times quoted an Oxfam report as saying, “Unless an urgent rescue package is developed to accelerate fulfillment of all the MDGS, we are likely to witness the greatest collective failure in history.”
The consequences of skewed or incomplete reporting on Africa are not just a disservice to readers but also have the potential to influence policy. “The welfare model [of Africa] is still dominant on the Hill and in Hillary Clinton’s world,” according to van de Walle. Among corporate officials, says Catherine Duggan, an assistant professor at Harvard Business School, the perception is still that “Africa is where you put your money once you’ve made it somewhere else.” Moreover, such reporting is demoralizing to Africans working for change. Martin Dawes, a unicef regional chief of communication for West and Central Africa, says that when there is a disaster, journalists “come to us as aid workers but often don’t talk to the government, which is often what we’re working through. It means that the chances for Africans to show an engaged response is limited. They are written out of their own story.”
Even with shrinking resources, journalists can do better than this. For a start, they can stop depending so heavily, and uncritically, on aid organizations for statistics, subjects, stories, and sources. They can also educate themselves on how to find and interpret data available from independent sources. And they can actively seek out stories that deviate from existing story lines.
But in the end, it will probably take sustained economic progress to break the current mold. Sunny Bindra, the Kenyan management consultant, recalls that in the 1980s, “Japan got attention because it was whacking the US. It’s the same with India and China now.” Until that happens, a sick African woman in labor will continue to be treated as poverty porn, and most Africans will have to starve in order to make it onto the evening news.
This article was adapted from a paper (pdf) written for Harvard’s Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy.
Here are three stories culled from the February 17 editions of Kenya’s two largest newspapers, The Daily Nation and The Standard: “Neglect led to famine, say NGOs”; “NGO gives Sh20m for schools upgrade”; “North Rift leads in gender violence” (about an NGO report).
What all these stories, and several more on the same day, have in common is that they were generated by one of Kenya’s (and Africa’s) biggest industries, the aid industry. Comprised of over 6,500 registered NGOs, as well as international organisations like UN agencies, Kenya’s aid groups are a major source of news in the form of press conferences, reports and project visits.
If you study such news carefully, as I’ve been doing since 2005, when I returned to Kenya after many years away, you begin to realize that it contains two recurring themes: One is that Kenya has terrible problems; the other is that the aid groups know what to do to solve them.
Local journalists play a key role in getting these messages out, both to the Kenyan public and to the world of donors beyond. Many have what strikes me as a healthier level of scepticism about the aid groups’ activities than their foreign journalistic counterparts. Nevertheless, the local press corps as a whole seems to me to be far too willing to accept aid officials’ statistics, story ideas and view of the world.
“Most journalists follow the frame created by the NGOs,” says a Kenyan journalism instructor who worked for several NGOs earlier in her career. “They are lazy when it comes to reporting. They want quick data and they report it very shallowly.”
The aid groups’ stated objectives are laudable: they want to eliminate the very real problems that exist on the continent. Understandably, in this context, they want to create a sense of urgency about dealing with them. As a practical matter, they also have to attract money. “When you’re fundraising you have to prove there is a need,” says the head of the Kenya office of one large NGO. “Children starving, mothers dying. If you’re not negative enough, you won’t get funding.”
Together, however, these two factors - a desire to call attention to the problems and a need for money to address them - can lead to exaggerated claims and, in turn, distorted news. “They wanted journalists to say ‘Wow,’ they want them to quote your report,” says Nation columnist Rasna Warah, speaking of former aid organisation colleagues. “That means more money for the next report. It’s really as cynical as that.”
Lauren Gelfand, a Nairobi-based correspondent for Jane’s Defence Weekly, got to see an NGO media operation first-hand during a year she took off from journalism to work for Oxfam. “All the talking points are carefully worked out,” she says. “It’s a huge bureaucracy and there are as many levels of control as in any government.”
Gelfand says she remains convinced that most aid workers do what they do because they want to make a difference. Nonetheless, she says, “A lot of what Oxfam does is to sustain Oxfam.”
One recent example of dubious data, and of the way in which it can contribute to distorted news, involves Nairobi’s Kibera neighbourhood, which for several years was increasingly referred to as the largest slum in Africa. One typical locally-written story in early 2010 about the work of a French NGO claimed a population of “between 700,000 and one million people.”
Visiting dignitaries from Barack Obama (when he was a Senator) to entertainers and UN officials have all trooped to Kibera, often accompanied by Kenya government officials who use the opportunity to plead for more assistance. A few months ago, however, the results of Kenya’s 2009 census were released. According to the Kenya National Bureau of Statisics, Kibera has 194,269 residents.
The Daily Nation, to its credit, given that it had done its share of “largest slum” stories, was the first to report the census data (with a slightly different tally), in a September article by Muchiri Karanja. Acidly referring to the “largest slum” characterization as “one big lie”, Karanja described it as a lie that “has been fed to all, from poor residents of the slum who have since grown accustomed to flashing camera lights from tourists taking shots of ‘the biggest slum in Africa’ to schoolchildren who cram the lie everyday in geography classes.”
Karanja’s article was followed by a column by Rasna Warah, who wrote that she was “among those people who have published inflated population estimates for Kibera without having any solid evidence to back up the figures.” This, she said, occurred while she was working for Worldwatch Institute, which got its data from UN-Habitat, where she had also worked.
She said that sometime after 2004, population estimates for Kibera started to rise, and “Before we knew it, the figure spread like a virus…However, even within UN Habitat, there was no consensus on what the actual figure might be.” She added, “The inflated figures were not challenged, perhaps because they were useful to various actors…They were particularly useful to NGOs, which used them to ‘shock’ charities and other do-gooders into donating more money to their projects in Kibera.”
Questionable figures of another sort are to be found in UN and NGO reports on the Millennium Development Goals, a series of UN targets on poverty reduction and other measures of well-being. UN officials have repeatedly described sub-Saharan Africa as failing miserably; for example, UN General Assembly President Srgjan Kerim said in 2007 that “in sub-Saharan Africa we may not achieve a single goal by 2015. This is indeed an emergency situation.”
Here in East Africa, a story in Business Daily in January 2010 quoted a World Bank analysis as saying that “additional aid required to attain the MDGs is somewhere between $40 billion and $60 billion a year.” It concluded that “developing countries are likely to register poor performance on several goals, especially the eradication of extreme poverty unless there is significant improvement in policies and funding in the remaining five-year window.”
Not everyone thinks the picture is quite so gloomy. Some experts, in fact, think that Africa is actually doing reasonably well. But they rarely get quoted in the press. William Easterly, an economist in the US, wrote in 2007 that school enrolments were growing faster in Africa than at a comparable period in Western development. Despite the educational progress, he noted, the continent won’t meet the relevant MDG goal: universal primary school enrolment by 2015.
Easterly has repeatedly raised the possibility that the MDGs were intentionally set in the way they were in order to satisfy the interests of aid groups, a suspicion shared by Jan Vandemoortele, one of the architects of the MDGs. Vandemoortele wrote in a 2009 paper in an academic journal that the MDGs were intended as global targets, but had been improperly applied to individual countries and regions.
“It is a real tragedy when respectable progress in Africa is reported as a failure by international organizations and external observers,” Vandemoortele wrote. He added, “It is unacceptable that targets are set and metrics are selected so as to present Africa as a failure, solely to gain support for a particular agenda, strategy or argument.”
Nonetheless, when the UN met last September to assess progress on the MDGs, most reporting and opinion - in East Africa as elsewhere--continued to reflect the framework of failure. The Associated Press quoted UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as saying, “Many countries are falling short, especially in Africa.”
A Daily Nation editorial of September 16 glumly began: “The latest review of Kenya’s progress toward eliminating hunger and poverty in line with the global development goals makes depressing reading.” A widely-quoted Oxfam report stated that “Unless an urgent rescue package is developed to accelerate fulfillment of all the MDGs, we are likely to witness the greatest collective failure in history.”
If East African journalists are to be in a position to properly evaluate, and sometimes to challenge, the data and assertions of international NGOs and aid agencies, they need to adequately educate themselves about development issues. They also need to cultivate their own sources of data and statistics—think-tanks, academic experts and the like - rather than to rely so heavily on aid agencies. And they need to question descriptions of events that put aid groups at the centre of the action.
Some East African journalists are already doing just that. Salim Amin, the founder of Nairobi-based A24, a video agency inspired by Al Jazeera that packages and sells video news from around the continent, says that his company sometimes uses raw footage from NGOs. But, he says, the NGOs don’t have a say in how the footage will be used.
“If, for example, we want to do a general piece about water issues, maybe we will use material from an NGO that’s working on a water project,” he says. “But we will shape the story.” Amin adds, “A24 will still tell the negative stories, but it will tell them from an African perspective and with African context.”
And finally, East African journalists need to develop their own “lens” through which to view what is going on around them. Too many journalists fall into the easy habit of thinking that “development” equals “foreign-funded project”. But all over Africa, “development” is occurring that has nothing to do with NGOs or aid agencies.
One of the most interesting stories I’ve read in this regard was a piece in The Star (where I’m a consultant) two years ago, written by environment and health specialist John Muchangi. Following up on an invitation from an NGO (but paid for by his employer), Muchangi had gone to visit one of the “Millennium Villages”—a group of 14 sites that have received large amounts of financial and other assistance from western donors. After completing his interviews there, he decided to also check out a nearby village that had no Millennium Village funding but that he’d heard was making impressive progress. According to his report, he found that the second village was doing as well, and in some ways better, than the first, which he concluded was the result of enlightened local leadership.
East Africa needs more of that kind of reporting, and it has plenty of journalists capable of producing it.
Karen Rothmyer has worked for US publications ranging from The Wall St. Journal to a political weekly. This article is adapted from a paper she wrote while a fellow at the Shorenstein Centre on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University.
Legal interns are required to work with NLG for a period of at least 12 weeks (shorter terms considered under special circumstances). The Guild is committed to working with interns who are pursuing academic credit and encourage interns to seek outside funding as no stipend is provided. Interns will work alongside the Chapter's executive director and other staff to assist in all aspects of the Chapter's litigation. Work will include:
- Review of current law, as well as pending legislative reform;
- Drafting of complaints, motions, briefs, and related court documents;
- Legal research and analysis;
- Participation in all aspects of discovery review, including initial fact gathering.
- Display a strong commitment to public interest, civil rights, and civil liberties;
- Have excellent research, writing, and communication skills;
- Have the ability to analyze complex legal issues and to think strategically and creatively about the use of litigation to achieve policy reform
- Show initiative for identifying areas in need of legal reform and self-motivation sufficient to the completion of cases and projects.
New England Law has a student group, National Lawyer's Guild (NLG) NESL Branch, that is on both TWEN and Facebook. For more information on NLG, Massachusetts chapter please visit its website.
Training will be provided by experts in CORI law between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. on September 14th, the location TBD.
EMPLOYER NAME & ADDRESS: HAWC | Healing Abuse Working For Change 27 Congress St., Ste. 201 Salem, MA 01970 (http://www.hawcdv.org/)
EMPLOYER CONTACT & TITLE: Jennifer Hatch, Family Law Staff Attorney
EMAIL ADDRESS: firstname.lastname@example.org
PHONE NUMBER: 978-744-2299 ext. 20
FAX NUMBER: 978-745-6886
NUMBER OF ATTORNEYS: 2
EMPLOYER INFO & PRIMARY AREA OF PRACTICE: HAWC (Healing Abuse Working for Change, formerly known as Help for Abused Women and their Children) is the oldest agency to provide comprehensive services to victims of domestic violence on the Massachusetts' North Shore. It's services include a 24 hour hotline; domestic violence shelter; support groups; therapeutic counseling for children and parents experiencing domestic abuse; immigration, family law, & restraining order advocacy; community education; etc. Moreover, HAWC has satellite offices in Gloucester, Lynn and Beverly, and on-site advocates in the district and probate courts, as well as Salem Hospital and Union Hospital.
JOB DESCRIPTION & ANTICIPATED STUDENT RESPONSIBILITIES: Students will assist HAWC's Family Law Staff Attorney on divorce, custody, visitation, etc. cases in the Family & Probate Court, as well as assist the Immigration Law Staff Attorney on preparing UVisa and VAWA Petitions. The students' responsibilities will include, but may not be limited to assisting in drafting court documents, meeting with clients, conducting legal research, and appearing in court on restraining orders or other matters. Students will gain insight into how the law and legal system can be used to both protect victims of domestic abuse and place them in physical danger. They will learn how to articulate the client's experience of abuse for the court through affidavits, witness testimony, or other evidence. Students will also learn how to develop an attorney/client relationship with someone who has or is experiencing trauma from domestic abuse.
This would be an unpaid internship. Downtown Salem is accessible by commuter train from Boston. It is preferable that students be 3:03 certified by the time they start the internship.
Helen, is this the best you could do for your old buddy? A war zone, a batshit crazy, holy war, stone queers..to death.. war zone? WTF did he do wrong
Not much of a lifestyle from your guarded, barricaded compound over there buddy.
Cue the left wing scumatariat screeching to bring him back like they do our troops? No? Why not?
Enjoy the spiral landings, bowel loosening drive to the compound and being too scared to open a window lifestyle Chris. You deserve it.
Here is a handy google search for the "scene" buddy. The first answer is a doozy.
On another note. Helen, is this the best you could do for your old buddy? A war zone, a batshit crazy, holy war, stone queers.. to death... war zone?
WTF did he do wrong?
I hope the ginga Hughes thinks long and hard before he grovels for some crumbs. Poor bugger might end up working in Mogadishu.
Or is this Helen's way of telling all her old mates to stop calling?
The internship program will place interns in Suffolk, Middlesex, and Norfolk Probate and Family courts where they will work directly alongside courthouse staff. The position is unpaid however it provides invaluable experience and a flexible schedule. Senior Partners hopes to accommodate all students at one of the following locations:
- At Suffolk (located near North Station and Government Center), interns staff the very busy Register’s office and have the chance to help the Lawyer for the Day and observe court proceedings.
- At Middlesex (located in East Cambridge, at the Lechmere stop of the Green Line), interns rotate between different departments, gaining broad exposure to areas including Divorce and Paternity.
- At Norfolk (located in Canton, accessible only by car), interns work directly with the court staff members who assist unrepresented litigants, and they have a chance for more one-on-one interaction at a less busy court.