Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Make a REAL Difference

More than $1 Trillion in developmental aid has gone to Africa over the past 50 years. So, what kinds of benefits has all that money provided to the people who live on the continent? Not much, says former World Bank consultant Dambisa Moyo in her book Dead Aid: Why Aid Is Not Working and How there Is a Better Way. Her thesis is that aid given as a hand out does not work and never will, as it does not hold the governments disbursing the aid accountable. A continent which is awash with dictators who preside over failed states, aid as a concept seems to have had very little long term impact. Present and past political regimes have used the bureaucracy of international aid to further their primary goal of maintaining a grip on power. Robert Mugabe is a great example for our times.

Institutional aid coming from governments, The World Bank, UN and IMF have proven to be ineffective. According to Dambisa Moyo there is a growing sentiment among experts and African leaders that aid does not foster entrepreneurship and therefore on the long run does not benefit the people of the receiving nation. Therefore she recommends African nations to decline aid and get off the wagon of panhandlers and foster entrepreneurship among its people.

One cannot deny the abject poverty that needs to be dealt with on a short term basis to bring about a level of stability. Non governmental organizations such as Oxfam, Doctors Without Borders and countless others are doing a phenomenal job in tackling poverty. What can you do, (other than writing a check to one of these organizations and not knowing how the money is being spent) where you can truly feel empowered?

In her book Dambisa Moyo mentions an American Internet based not-for profit-organization called KIVA which is providing a commendable service by offering micro-credit to entrepreneurs in poor countries. I immediately went to and was amazed by the brilliance of the idea. Within minutes I found an African woman in need of money to get her small store off the ground. Using my paypal account I donated $25. Hours later I found out she had received her money and she was able to raise the finance she needed from several individuals like me to start her business. The best part, the money I gave was a loan and not a hand out. She is supposed to pay it back when her business improves and there is a term limit on the loan.

I have given money to organizations which work with the poor many times. I am an Oxfam patron. But this is the first time I could genuinely see, almost in real time, my money at work.
It was truly empowering and satisfying and I felt I was contributing to more than one person or family. I urge everyone to go to and make a REAL difference.

Even in these tough economic times we are better off than most people in the world. We can still give and giving is what will bring us back from the brink. It is what it is.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Larry plugs Gupta

Flipping through mindless television in my nightly vegetative solitude I stumbled upon Larry King doing his shtick about the audacity of greedy AIG executives. Three fourths of the way into the show he takes a break to announce to the world that Dr. Sanjay Gupta (one of the other CNN super anchors) had become a father for the third time. Soon the fresh baby's picture was splashed across the screen and the doctor was on the phone giving us the medical details. I could almost hear the viewing audience go "aaahhhh". In the two minutes that followed the doctor told us that this was his third daughter. He did not know "if this was meant to be a punishment or a reward". While he had delivered his second daughter he did not perform the delivery this time. Despite his hectic schedule we learned he had been a good husband being present for every ultrasound except one. Then we found out that he was present in the OR for all his children's deliveries and this time the journalist in him had him flip the camera on in one hand while the other cut the umbilical chord. Interrupted by Larry he spared us the remaining details and we all found out what a stand up father, husband and doctor Sanjay Gupta really is.

Did we really need to know all this? Do we really care? He is not exactly a family friend, he is just a face on TV. He may be a dashing young accomplished surgeon with an angular chin, "ethnic" and articulate, but at the end of the day he is just another TV reporter, a ruse for a journalist, trying to transform himself into a celebrity by virtue of being on TV. And here was CNN taking part in that very process by shoving his personal life into our face.

There was a time when journalism was about the story and not the person bringing us the story. But with the advent of the Diane Sawyers and Barbra Walters TV journalism has become as much about the face as the story. The cult of personality of TV reporters has become an acceptable aspect of TV news reporting. The respective networks that these personalities represent market them as faces of authenticity and integrity. If it is coming from the mouth of a Blitzer or a Brokow then the news has a certain element of gravitas, and therefore must be credible. If not it would be just drivel. And hence that cult of personality has to be shaped through promo spots and having absurd names for news programs like AC 360ยบ. News has to be delivered in a constant state of climax, otherwise the 30 second sound byte would be lost in the air waves of an infinite TV universe.

So while TV networks conspire in creating the cult of personality for their anchormen and women, one should be aware that they are playing the role of the paparazzi in a surreptitious way. Thus the anchors walk a dangerous line of potentially falling victim to their own personality. There is only six degrees of separation between CNN, Fox News, ABC News and TMZ.

The difference being Larry King will not take a break to reveal to the world if Dr. Sanjay Gupta were to be involved in a child custody battle or an extra marital affair.

It is what it is.