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Q&A: Nicholas Kristof on D.I.Y. Foreign Aid

Kristof answers our questions about a new movement called do-it-yourself foreign aid-its pros and its cons.

This weekend's New York Times Magazine features a story by Nicholas Kristof about a new revolution called D.I.Y. foreign aid. It's about creative people and great ideas colluding in the age of internet and social media—and how you can get involved. Kristof was kind enough to answer a few of our questions.

GOOD: When did you first begin to notice this thing that you call "Do-It-Yourself Foreign Aid"?


NICHOLAS KRISTOF: When reporting for Half the Sky, we kept coming across examples of individuals who had done something truly amazing. And they preferred to do it on their own, rather than joining a large aid organization. We were a little skeptical at first about whether it world work or make a difference overall. But as a whole, while there are some lousy projects, there are also some excellent ones.

G: What qualities, in your mind, make it a revolution?

NK: One of the mistakes people make is to come up with a great idea around a conference table, bounce it across the world, and immediately implement it. It's crucial to listen to local people and find out the best way to implement it. Our role as Americans is to be sherpa to local people, not to be the grand poobahs.

G: Your story profiles a bunch of young, entrepreneurial women bent on changing the world. Did you encounter similarly ambitious young men, too? Is there a discrepancy?

NK: There are certainly men involved as well as women, with men drawn to the more technical side involving computers, finance, the environment. But especially on the social side, it is disproportionately young women that are running those projects. There’s an awful lot of young women in high school and college who are looking for some kind of fulfillment, some way of finding meaning in life beyond just a high powered job on Wall Street and they really get tremendous satisfaction from these kind of enterprises. A lot of young women initially go into some kind of service work to dress up their resume or for graduate school, but once they do it, they find it not only rewarding but also extremely satisfying. I'm a big believer in requirements for service work.

G: We seem to be living in a time where passion and great ideas can flourish in a way they never have been able to before. What is possible? What are the dangers?

NK: One of the mistakes people make is thinking that it’s all about idealism and wanting to do the right thing and it’s not. People can have the best of motives and come up with projects that leave people worse off. It's harder to help people than we realize—everything goes wrong, nothing works as expected. Idealism is a wonderful thing to have but it also requires some real understanding of how conditions work, listening to people, experimenting, and being willing to make mistakes. That mindset is really important and it’s also one reason why it’s important for young people to go off and travel and spend time away—gap years, before college, during college, after college. I think it’s really important to have spent time in the middle of nowhere.

G: You write about well-meaning individuals not being able to fundamentally change the nature of things and sometimes doing more harm than good. Are these small, hyper-local efforts enough? Is this simple an issue of scale and reach?

NK: There's been a tremendous emphasis on scalability and it’s really important. But I tend to think of it in terms of a parallel to the restaurant industry, that there are some restaurant models, say, like McDonald's and scalability—models you can plunk down anywhere. But there are other models that utilize an individual chef and are not scaleable at all. We would eat more poorly if we only had one or the other. It's really important to have NGOs that are good at coming up with models and scaling them. But a lot of models are all about an individual. It takes all kinds, with no one model, no one solution being the answer. Instead, it's a patchwork of all of them.

G: Will making a donation ever feel as good as starting your own thing?

NK: It depends a lot on how a donation is modeled. If you’re just writing a check to a big organization and it’s not going to make a specific difference, than it's not very satisfying. More recently, aid groups have done a good job at making you feel you are helping a very specific person. Malaria has become a big success in this way, with $8 individual mosquito nets going to help out a particular family. But all of theses models are a little bit misleading in the sense that you're also paying for administration, follow-up. The trend in the future is the sense that you are doing something very specific, with a way of connecting our individual checks with specific outcomes abroad.

G: You direct us to a list of resources. What's your go-to site?

NK: A lot depends on what’s meaningful to a particular person. Some people will be more interested in maternal health, others in sexual violence, or girls' education—there’s no one answer. It completely depends on what resonates with a particular person.

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This article was produced in partnership with the United Nations to launch the biggest-ever global conversation on the role of cooperation in building the future we want.

When half of the world's population doesn't share the same opportunity or rights as the other half, the whole world suffers. Like a bird whose wings require equal strength to fly, humanity will never soar to its full potential until we achieve gender equality.

That's why the United Nations made one of its Sustainable Development Goals to "Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls." That goal includes providing women and girls equal access to education and health care, as well as addressing gender-based discrimination and violence against women and girls.

While there is still much work to be done, history shows us that we are capable of making big leaps forward on this issue. Check out some of the milestones humanity has already reached on the path to true equality.

Historic Leaps Toward Gender Equality

1848 The Seneca Falls Convention in New York, organized by Elizabeth Lady Stanton and Lucretia Mott, is the first U.S. women's convention to discuss the oppression of women in sociopolitical, economic, and religious life.

1893 New Zealand becomes the first self-governing nation to grant national voting rights to women.

1903 Marie Curie becomes the first woman to win a Nobel Prize. She is also the only woman to win multiple Nobel Prizes, for Physics in 1903 and Chemistry in 1911.

1920 The 19th Amendment is passed in the U.S. giving women the right to vote in all 50 U.S. states.

1973 The U.S. Open becomes the first major sports tournament of its kind to offer equal pay to women, after tennis star Billie Jean King threatened to boycott.

1975 The first World Conference on Women is held in Mexico, where a 10-year World Plan of Action for the Advancement of Women is formed. The first International Women's Day is commemorated by the UN in the same year.

1979 The UN General Assembly adopts the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), also known as the "Women's Bill of Rights." It is the most comprehensive international document protecting the rights of women, and the second most ratified UN human rights treaty after the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

1980 Vigdis Finnbogadottir of Iceland becomes the first woman to be elected head of state in a national election.

1993 The UN General Assembly adopts the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, the first international instrument to explicitly define forms of violence against women and lay out a framework for global action.

2010 The UN General Assembly creates the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) to speed progress on meeting the needs of women and girls around the world.

2018 The UN and European Union join forces on the Spotlight Initiative, a global, multi-year initiative focused on eliminating all forms of violence against women and girls.

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As the UN celebrates its 75th anniversary, it is redoubling its commitment to reach all 17 Sustainable Development Goals, including gender equality. But it will take action and effort from everyone to ensure that women and girls are free from discrimination and violence. Learn more about what is being done to address gender equality and see how you can get involved here.

And join the global conversation about the role of international cooperation in building the future by taking the UN75 survey here.

Let's make sure we all have a say in the future we want to see.

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Perez claims he was responding to insults hurled at him by the officers. The police say that Perez was picking a fight. The altercation left Perez with a broken nose, scrapes, swelling, and bruises from his hips to his shoulder.

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