Monday, November 26, 2012

In Alsace, land of my ancestors, people still live off the land to surprising degree

This was originally published on The Huffington Post on Nov. 13, 2012.
Germaine cooking in her kitchen
HOUSSEN, Alsace, France -- Here in the village from where my great-great grandparents emigrated to America, in the former province known as Alsace, those who derive their living from the land are now a fraction of what they were at the time my ancestors left in 1872. But many, including the Eckerlens, my modern-day relatives that I know best, still live off the land to a surprising degree -- especially in the late summer and early fall.

During a visit here in September, I had a dinner and two lunches at the home of Germaine Eckerlen who lives in the village of Houssen, where my great grandfather Eugene was born in 1867. And yet everything, or nearly everything, I ate came directly from her backyard in the village. Germaine, 80 years old, is the widow of my father's third cousin. She treats me like a long-lost relative which, in fact, I am: I only discovered this village in 2000 after many years of genealogical research.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Using technology to talk to Ethiopian university students about HIV

The home page of

This article originally appeared on The ONE Blog on Oct. 26, 2012.

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — The most dramatic demographic divergence in Ethiopia in recent years has been an explosion in the number of young adults enrolled in post-secondary education. Ten years ago, there were 15,000. In 2012, that has risen to 380,000 students attending state universities — a 25-fold increase. Most of them moved out of their family homes and also from the protective shields of their parents, with all the implications that has for their sexual and reproductive health.

To reach them in the most effective way with information about protecting themselves from HIV and other sexually-transmitted infections, health programs in Africa are increasingly turning to technology — digital, mobile and social. In Ethiopia, for example, DKT Ethiopia, an affiliate of the non-profit organization DKT International, launched the Higher Education Initiative in 2009 in an effort to get on top of this demographic trend and the potential negative health consequences it portends.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Kenyans struggle to come to terms with abortion and its impact on maternal health

This was originally published on The Huffington Post on Oct. 17, 2012.
NAIROBI, Kenya -- The abortion issue in Kenya is raucous, rancorous and highly emotional and political, just like in the U.S., but there is one major difference: In Kenya, abortion rights have been liberalized in certain cases in a Constitution approved in a public referendum two years ago.

I spent four weeks in Kenya this year working with the Reproductive Health and Rights Alliance, a coalition of six Kenyan organizations committed to improving maternal health, to communicate better to key groups the nature of those changes. I talked to some 40 doctors, gynecologists, nurses, lawyers, government bureaucrats and technocrats and non-governmental workers and journalists. And a few taxi drivers.

The issue of abortion is so sensitive and taboo in Kenya that it almost derailed the constitution-making process. I discovered that even though the debate was heavily covered by the Kenyan media leading up to the August 2010 referendum, there's still a lot of misinformation on what exactly the Constitution changed, or didn't change -- even among health providers. Some think the Constitution legalized abortion on demand. Others think it changed nothing and abortion remains virtually illegal. The truth lies somewhere in the middle.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Using sexiness to stop unsafe sex

Sexy condom ads like this helped DKT increase condom sales in Brazil.
This article was published originally by Fast Company's Co.EXIST blog on October 5, 2012.

Sex and sexuality have long been used to market a variety of consumer products in wealthy countries. But when it comes to HIV prevention and family planning in developing countries, global health practitioners have mostly shied away from using the titillating strategies so effective in the commercial world.

The Pleasure Project and a small group of like-minded nonprofit partners are trying to change that, by shaking up an international reproductive health community that tries to promote safer sexual behavior by influencing the most intimate aspects of the lives of people in developing countries. With their motto, “Putting the sexy back into safer sex,” the Pleasure Project is spreading that message far and wide. At the XIX International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C., this summer, they held a session entitled “Pleasure at AIDS 2012: Everything You Wanted to Know About Pleasurable Safer Sex but Were Afraid to Ask” that explored whether pleasure and eroticism can be harnessed to enhance HIV prevention. The conclusion was that they can indeed, even though most campaigns don’t even try.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Faith-based organizations believe in family planning

British Prime Minister David Cameron speaking at the London Summit.
This article was originally published on Impatient Optimists on July 19, 2012.
Faith-based organizations (FBOs) were well represented at last week’s London Summit on Family Planning thanks to the summit organizers, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the British government. Ten faith leaders participated and, like most of the delegates, they thought the summit was a smashing success by securing financial commitments to reach an additional 120 million women and girls with voluntary family planning services.

Gary Darmstadt, head of the foundation’s Family Health Division, made clear his belief that FBOs are “critical to family planning” in a post-summit blog, pointing out that FBOs “provide up to 40 percent of the total healthcare in many countries in Africa.” It may be even higher than that in some countries.

“The only way the ambitious goals in child health and family planning can be reached is to mobilize the faith community along with other stakeholders, an ‘all hands-on-deck’ approach,” said Ray Martin, executive director of Christian Connections for International Health (CCIH) . “Often the hardest-to-reach populations in rural areas and the urban poor are the ones most likely to be reachable by FBOs.”

Faith-based organizations hope to have a positive impact at London Family Planning Summit

Three African presidents and Melinda Gates at Family Planning Summit.
This article was originally published in the "On Faith" section of the Washington Post on July 10, 2012. 

When the British government and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation bring together governments, donors, civil society, the private sector and the research and development community in London on July 11 for a major summit that hopes to rekindle the neglected embers of family planning, there will be one constituency there that might surprise some people — people of faith, including Christians (Catholics, mainline Protestants, and evangelicals), Muslims and other faiths.

These religious leaders are working to mobilize the faith community to work with governments, donors and other secular partners to bring family planning back as a major force in maternal, child and community health, something that has been downplayed the past two decades, in part because AIDS and other health issues took precedence, and in part because of the religious and political sensitivities to sexuality and family planning.

This faith support for family planning ranges from progressive Christians to Catholics and evangelicals.

Friday, July 6, 2012

In management of G8 and G20 summits, Mexican performance was vastly superior to U.S.

NGOs meeting at Los Cabos to prepare for their first press conference.
NOTE: This was originally published on the Huffington Post on July 2, 2012.
This year's G8 Summit took place at the secluded Camp David presidential retreat in the mountains of northern Maryland. The G20 Summit took place in Los Cabos, Mexico, the beach resort area at the southern tip of Baja California, where American tourists partied in clubs and frolicked on the beaches while 26 heads of state grappled with the world's most pressing problems.

Apart from the striking difference in venues, there was another huge contrast in the American and Mexican summits -- the level of transparency and the manner in which the two governments managed the process of consulting outside groups, including non-governmental organizations (NGOs), otherwise known as civil society. Guess which country had a very transparent and inclusive process, with multiple opportunities for civil society engagement, and which made used a dedicated website and a suite of social media tools, including Twitter, Facebook, You Tube and others, to share information.

If you guessed the United States, you'd be wrong. As a member of the G8/G20 Global Task Force, a group of international NGOs advocating for their issues in the two summits, I saw firsthand that the Obama Administration's management of the G8 process was none of that:

In advancing food security at G20, civil society can learn from business

NOTE: This was originally published on the Impatient Optimists of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation on June 20, 2012.
LOS CABOS, Mexico — One of the remarkable developments of this G20 Summit is the meteoric rise of the B20 (Business-20) and its championing of an issue that is also a priority for non-governmental organizations (NGOs) — food security and nutrition.

The B20 describes itself as “an international forum aimed at fostering dialogue between G20 governments and the global business community,” with a main objective of providing heads of state with meaningful recommendations from business.

Food security and nutrition might not have achieved the prominence they have at this summit if not for the B20. And they have achieved prominence—if not many concrete results — as evidenced by Mexican President Felipe Calderón’s op-ed in the Financial Times Monday entitled “Why food security comes first:”
We will have failed if we manage to get the richest nations back on track while the poorest still experience famine. That is why my country insisted on placing food security at the top of the G20 agenda, alongside the restoration of economic growth and global financial reform.

What NGOs want from the Mexico G20 on food security and nutrition

NGOs holding one of our two press conferences at the G20 at Los Cabos.
NOTE: This was originally published on the Huffington Post on June 18, 2012.
LOS CABOS, Mexico -- On the eve of the G20 Summit, which opens here on June 18, I've been looking into what nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) want to get out of the G20 Mexico on an issue that is a priority to NGOs as well as the Mexican presidency of the G20 -- "enhancing food security and addressing commodity price volatility," in the words of the Mexican government.

And I discovered that the biggest NGOs and NGO coalitions here in Los Cabos are advocating for many of the same food security and nutrition issues, but also have some differences.

In its paper titled Food Security: A G20 Priority, the Mexican government defines food security "not only as an increase in production, but also the availability of, and access to, food by the population."

In a sense, that is one of the highest priorities of NGOs advocating on this issue at Los Cabos -- to ensure that the G20 not only takes steps to increase food production but also to make sure that the most vulnerable, especially women and children, have access to it.

"Wise-Up" helps Ethiopian sex workers find new vocations

NOTE: This was originally published on the Huffington Post on June 18, 2012.
SHASHEMENE, Ethiopia -- Three years ago, Munayie, 25, made her living as a commercial sex worker here in Shashemene, a city of over 100,000 in the lake resort area of southern Ethiopia, about 240 kilometers south of Addis Ababa. She wanted to do something else but sex work was the only thing she knew that brought in the money she needed to provide for herself and her 8-year-old son.

Eventually, she and other sex workers found their calling as café owners with support from "Wise-Up," a condom promotion program of the non-profit organization DKT Ethiopia that targets sex workers, their clients and gatekeepers, and other "most at-risk populations." Wise-Up is grounded in the belief that promoting condoms to these groups will reduce prevalence of HIV and other sexually-transmitted infections (STIs) because 1) prevalence is generally higher among these groups and 2) they act as "bridging" populations that spread HIV and STIs to the general population.

In 2009, Wise-Up created a cooperative of 15 sex workers and Munayie became its leader. In 2011, the cooperative opened a café and condom shop in Shashemene.

Monday, May 28, 2012

WHO finds social media indispensable in managing global health crises

Inside SHOC, the "situation room" of the World Health Organization.
NOTE: This article was first published on the Huffington Post on May 21, 2012.

GENEVA, Switzerland -- This month I was visiting the Strategic Health Operations Centre (SHOC), deep inside the World Health Organization. SHOC is WHO's equivalent of the White House Situation Room, where a multi-disciplinary team of experts gather to access and share information that enable rapid situation assessment and decision-making during global pandemics and other health crises.

Along with an impressive array of state-of-the-art communications, collaboration and coordination tools were four large screens for monitoring crises. I was fascinated to see that one of them displayed TweetDeck, the application that facilitates Twitter searches by selected key words or phrases.

WHO uses social media to manage global health crises, I asked Christine Feig, WHO's head of communications? Yes, they are, and she recounted a tale of how social media have fundamentally changed WHO health surveillance in the age of Twitter and Facebook. WHO's seminal social media event occurred the last time the SHOC was staffed 24/7 -- the Japanese tsunami and Fukushima radiation crisis of 2011. Here's how it played out:

On March 14, three days after the tsunami hit Japan, WHO observed via social media that some people were drinking wound cleaner, which contains iodine, because it was thought to protect them from radiation. Via Twitter and Facebook, the WHO social media team warned people not to drink it -- that it would not help and could be harmful.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Do you think you know where faith groups stand on family planning? Think again

This husband and wife are World Vision-trained community health workers in India who advocate birth spacing. They began using family planning when their son (right) was born.

NOTE: This blog was originally published on Impatient Optimists, the blog of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, on April 3, 2012.

Religious leaders from a diversity of faiths—Muslims, Buddhists, Christians, and Hindus—have come together to profess support for family planning access around the world. This multi-faith support for family planning is something we simply don’t hear enough about in the United States. But we should.

Last year in Kenya, an interfaith meeting led by Christian Connections for International Health (CCIH) of the U.S., Deutsche Stiftung Weltbevoelkerung of Germany, and Muhammadiyah of Indonesia resulted in an “Interfaith Declaration” unanimously endorsed by well over 200 Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist religious leaders.

The declaration expressed clear support for providing couples with the information and means to plan the timing and spacing of their children “consistent with their faith,” and called on others to support this initiative to influence government and donor policies and funding.

The truth is that faith-based organizations have been providing health care and even family planning for decades.

Friday, March 9, 2012

NGOs can also contribute to innovative financing

DKT advertises IUDs in Indonesia.
NOTE: This blog was originally published on Impatient Optimists, the blog of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, on Feb. 2, 2012.

In difficult economic times like these, governments are looking for ways to cut their budgets. Foreign aid is often an easy target. Innovative financing—the idea of using a range of non-traditional tools such as micro-contributions, taxes, and public-private partnerships—has developed over the last 10 years as an alternative to traditional donor aid. Innovative financing mechanisms have raised $2 billion over three years, according to a 2010 report, mostly for health.

Most innovative financing has originated with governments—such as UNITAID and the International Finance Facility for Immunization—and private sector efforts such as Project RED, which engages in “cause marketing.”

But NGOs can also play a role. In fact, they have already been doing this through social entrepreneurs like Muhammad Yunnus (Grameen Bank), Bill Drayton (Ashoka), and Jacqueline Novogratz (Acumen Fund).

Monday, January 2, 2012

Top Ten Global Development Communications Stories of 2011

The first ladies of Kenya and South Africa tweeting for the first time at the Social Good Summit in New York.
This was originally posted to the Impatient Optimists, the blog of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, on Dec. 21, 2011.
As was the case in 2010, global development non-profits continued their love affair with social media, finding Twitter, Facebook and the like amazing tools for communicating and advocating on a wide range of global issues. From global health to climate change to political systems, we’ve seen health improved, lives saved, policies changed, and governments overturned when we harness these new information pathways effectively.

Based on the 11,196 non-profit professionals surveyed in the 3rd Annual Non-Profit Social Network Benchmark Report,  the Facebook average member community size increased 161 percent in 2011, and the average Twitter base was up 2 percent. International groups reported the highest use of Facebook up by a whopping 97 percent, and nearly double the number of Twitter followers as compared to all non-profits. As a global health and development communicator, I’ve been tracking the incredible progression of how health and development organizations use both new and traditional media to connect, engage, and inspire.

It’s why I’ve created my very own Top 10 list of favorite global development communication picks of 2011. Now, on to my other subjective picks for 2011 (and, yes, the Gates Foundation is on the list!) in no particular order: