Sunday, September 30, 2007

Microcredit movement tackling poverty one tiny loan at a time

from the San Francisco Chronicle

Patricia Yollin, Chronicle Staff Writer

A Peruvian widow borrowed $64 and bought a few pigs. For $55, a villager in Ghana went into the mineral-water trade. A mother of nine in Guatemala upgraded her grocery store with $250.

These women from three continents have something in common: They are beneficiaries of microcredit - very small loans to very poor people for very small businesses. The benefactors, in many cases, are ordinary individuals inspired by a movement that is reshaping philanthropy and making it as accessible as the click of a mouse or a visit to a house party.

More and more of us are becoming convinced that lending even tiny amounts of money to destitute people in the developing world can transform lives - theirs and ours.

"My life has changed because of this loan," said 27-year-old Patience Asare-Boateng, in a phone interview from Ghana.

"This is something that people want: a sense of connection and a sense of community," said Bob Graham, founder of NamasteDirect, a microcredit organization in San Francisco. "Because it's decreasing in our daily lives."

The microcredit approach carved out in Bangladesh three decades ago by 2006 Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus has inspired a war on poverty that blends social conscience and business savvy - especially in Northern California.

"It's so recently exploding there," said Sam Daley-Harris, director of the Microcredit Summit Campaign in Washington, D.C.

Jonathan Lewis, who runs a Davis nonprofit that lends money to poor women, called the region "one of the hotbeds of microfinance" in the United States.

In San Francisco, has raised $12 million from more than 120,000 lenders since 2005, and NamasteDirect has gone from 75 to 1,100 donors in the same amount of time. In Davis, MicroCredit Enterprises has funded 55,000 entrepreneurs, and Freedom from Hunger is serving 700,000 women.

Although Yunus, widely regarded at the father of the modern microcredit movement, made his first loan in 1976 and established Grameen Bank - lending to the poorest of the poor - 24 years ago, microlending only recently started seeping into public consciousness. Former President Bill Clinton has enthusiastically endorsed it, the United Nations declared 2005 the International Year of Microcredit and Yunus won the Nobel almost a year ago.

"Now you have something that's really validated," said Matt Flannery, chief executive officer of "It's a quick way for people to think, 'OK, what you're doing is legitimate.' "

Daley-Harris, director of the Microcredit Summit Campaign, agreed - up to a point.

"It's off the back burner," he said. "But the Nobel is not the boost that 'An Inconvenient Truth' has given climate change. It's sad, really, when we know what Lindsay Lohan is up to, but we don't know about things that could make a difference."

How much of a difference? Detractors say microcredit is a drop in the bucket, given the scale of world poverty, or that it absolves governments and institutions such as the World Bank of responsibility. Some companies new to the field, such as 3-year-old Omidyar Network in Redwood City - started by eBay c0-founder Pierre Omidyar and his wife - insist that making a profit is as important as having a sense of mission.

Banco Compartamos, a Mexican microfinance institution, raised the stakes in April when it completed an initial public offering and sold 30 percent ownership of the bank, providing $450 million to existing investors.

Despite the debate over purpose versus profit, one thing is clear: Microcredit is on its way to becoming a household word.

Clinton's latest book, "Giving: How Each of Us Can Change the World," is getting attention. In early September, Kiva co-founders Matt and Jessica Flannery appeared on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" and on "Today." The result: The Web site pulled in 6,477 new users, raised $242,000 in new loans and had no borrowers left because every request was funded. On Monday night, actress Natalie Portman will speak at UC Berkeley about the power of microlending.

For the illiterate, for people who can't afford exorbitant fees and for those with no collateral, microloans are an alternative to banks, where interest rates are usually higher. By the end of 2005, according to a Microcredit Summit Campaign report, a total of 113 million microloans had been issued - 84 percent of those aimed at the poorest clients went to women, who are seen as more likely to repay the loan than men and more willing to use it for the well-being of their families.

"There is no other tool that has the potential to empower more women more quickly," Daley-Harris said.

How come people are suddenly so eager to part with their money?

"There is this whole shift in philanthropy to people wanting more engagement," said Iva Kaufman, associate director for planned giving and endowment at United Jewish Communities in New York.

Melissa Faith Klar, a San Francisco art dealer, is a prime example. She has raised $16,500 from 107 donors since going on a NamasteDirect trip to Mexico last year - all of it designated for one village in Chiapas.

"When I approached my friends, I'd just ask for $20," said Klar, adding that most gave more. "It's the price of a lipstick or a bottle of wine or a cheap dinner in an ethnic restaurant."

Berkeley schoolteacher Dana Whitaker made a different kind of contribution. She traveled to 13 countries to see what microcredit could do. The odyssey led to a book of stories and photographs, "Transforming Lives $4o at a Time," which came out last year.

"It's changing the status quo of how women are perceived," Whitaker said.

It is also altering how they see themselves.

"I feel good and I'm so proud," said Asare-Boateng, who lives in the central Ghana town of Jeikrodua with her husband and baby girl.

Four years ago, she borrowed $55 and started selling bags of mineral water from a cooler in front of her house. Sixteen loans later - the current one is for $1,000 - she has created a reservoir where villagers can bring their buckets. She is also selling products, such as malaria nets, insecticide, condoms and rehydration tablets, through a new Freedom from Hunger program called MicroBusiness for Health.

"I'm no more staying with my family," she said. "I've been able to buy food on my own and clothing. I pay my own rent. And I support my husband when he's in need of money."

Maria Cuc Yaxon, a 40-year-old woman with nine children who lives in Pujujil, a remote village in the highlands of Guatemala, received a $250 loan last year through NamasteDirect.

She invested it in her small grocery store, where weaving thread and sodas are now the hot items and sales have soared.

She repaid the first loan and took out a second, which she also repaid. On Sept. 7, she received a third for $525, and two days later voted for the first time in her life in her country's presidential election - along with most of the others in her credit group, who had never been registered before.

In an e-mail interview translated from Mayan dialect to Spanish to English, Cuc Yaxon said she has learned a lot by being a member of this group: "The loan officer asks us to go to the bank to make the deposits. I had never gone to a bank before. Now I know I can do it."

She also realized she needed to do some things differently.

"It is important, for example, that my kids go to school," she said. "We talk about this in the group. We never went to school and we don't know how to speak Spanish. But our children need to get ahead."

Borrowing successfully has led to new ambitions.

"I want to be less poor," Cuc Yaxon said. "I want to rebuild my house."

In Northern California, MicroCredit Enterprises, NamasteDirect, and Freedom from Hunger fight poverty with four very different approaches, but they rely on the same human impulse - a desire to give.
MicroCredit Enterprises

Giving is an urge that 59-year-old Jonathan Lewis knows well. He worked in the California Legislature for a long time and then owned an international health insurance consulting firm. Five years ago, he sold his business and became a volunteer with Freedom from Hunger.

"I decided to go back to my roots as a child of the '60s," Lewis said.

As a volunteer, he went to Bolivia and saw microcredit in action.

"What impressed me was sitting in the middle of a field with 15 or so women, with three or four kids apiece hanging on their skirts," he recalled. "The women were very unkempt, and the kids were filthy. But when those women sat down and started doing their banking business and counting their money, I felt like I was in the most deadly serious business meeting I've ever been in. It could have been on Wall Street or any corporate board of directors."

The women were speaking Aymara, a pre-Inca language, and wiping their children's noses with the edges of their skirts - because that's all they had, Lewis said.

"This is the sappy part," he said. "When they stood up, they had pride of self. And I was moved by that."

In January 2005, he started MicroCredit Enterprises. Lewis doesn't draw a salary. Forty executives and 12 professional service firms also work pro bono; there is one paid employee.

The nonprofit has lent $9.6 million to microfinance institutions in 15 countries, who have made 55,000 loans - ranging from $37 to $800. It does this by mobilizing private capital, relying on a network of guarantors to secure lines of credit from lenders and in turn make loans to overseas partners who then lend to the poor.

If the financing is complicated, the logic behind it isn't: The poor lack opportunity, and microloans are an effective way to provide it.

"The question is: Is doing good good enough?" Lewis said. "I happen to be a marketplace guy. But capital markets don't factor in externalities, to use the economic term. They don't measure the twinkle in the eye of a proud mom who's feeding her children, or the net asset of that kid's life. All the statistics and all the ledgers and all the reports about microcredit - to me the value is the part that's not on the ledger."

Founded in 2005 by Bob Graham, a retired certified public accountant, NamasteDirect works with female villagers in Mexico and Guatemala. Like other microcredit outfits, it relies on carefully selected field partners to decide who gets loans and to administer them. Unlike others, it focuses only on first-time borrowers - organizing groups of 100 or more women each time it receives $25,000 in donations.

College students in its fellowship program visit the women and provide updates. Namaste also arranges fundraising house parties and offers several trips a year to Central America so that donors can see where their money went.

People frequently ask why microcredit can't be used to help poor people in the United States. Although the domestic version does exist, Graham called it "the small end of the cow" in the overall world of microfinance.

"One hundred dollars won't do anything for anyone in this country, and social collateral hasn't really been used," he said. "In these villages, they've lived there forever and they know everyone. Here in the United States, where people move every two years, who wants to cross-guarantee a loan for somebody who might be moving to Denver tomorrow?"

Now in its third year, NamasteDirect has raised $550,000 and funded more than 3,000 women. Graham, who also works pro bono, said the repayment rate worldwide is very high - 97 to 98 percent.

"For the women, this is the opportunity of a lifetime," said Graham, 71. "The first time they get a loan, it's a door. To show how valuable that experience is: Hurricane Stan wiped out 20 of our borrowers in Guatemala in March 2005. They lost their homes, their businesses, their possessions. Everything. I would have thought that some of those people would default. Their terms were extended, but every one of those women repaid their loans."

The enterprises are varied. Weaving, handicrafts, food production, tamale stands, coffee-growing, animal husbandry and bike repair are examples.

"One woman in Honduras started her own lottery," Graham said. "She got a loan, bought prizes and sold tickets for the prizes. She was competing with the government - but people would rather buy tickets from her.", praised by Clinton in his new book, is the first organization to take microcredit online and link lenders and borrowers. People who want to make loans - the minimum is $25 - choose recipients on the Web site and use their credit cards and PayPal.

Lenders include inmates in an Oregon prison, a resident of Antarctica and a Palo Alto womb dweller not yet born.

Matt and Jessica Flannery created their Internet site in 2005 as a way for people with average incomes to make modest loans to specific businesses.

"Jessica had a social conscience and a huge desire to make an impact on poverty," said Matt Flannery, 30, during an interview in a Mission District cafe. "I always wanted to be an entrepreneur with a startup."

In the early days, money was scarce and it was a scrappy operation. Even as recently as early March, Flannery stayed up all night and responded to 600 e-mails in 12 hours because Kiva had fallen behind in its customer service. Those days are probably over - but Flannery is trying not to lose perspective.

"Microcredit is a really, really valuable part of the poverty alleviation toolkit," he said. "I've seen it transform people's lives. But I think sometimes it might get overblown. You can't end world poverty through microcredit, you can't build a road or a hospital or create an AIDS vaccine through microcredit. But there are a lot of things you can do."

Last year, around Christmastime, Colin McLaughlin of San Francisco heard about Kiva.

"It was a great idea because it was so simple," said McLaughlin, 38, a chef and caterer. "I wondered why it hadn't happened sooner."

He decided to lend $100 to Catherine Musene in Uganda to start a catering business.

Kiva lenders receive updates about the status of their loans and how borrowers are progressing. McLaughlin received a refund instead - the organization discovered during a routine audit that one of its 60-plus field partners wasn't giving some entrepreneurs the full amount. Kiva e-mailed him in mid-August and said that it had begun a new feature to help lenders evaluate their partners' risk levels and past performances.

McLaughlin was impressed with Kiva's thoroughness and integrity, and decided to lend the money again.

Daley-Harris said scams happen from time to time with microlenders. "But more often than not," he said, "these are islands of integrity in seas of corruption."
Freedom from Hunger

Compared to newcomers like, NamasteDirect and MicroCredit Enterprises, Freedom from Hunger is an elder statesman in the world of microcredit. Starting out as Meals for Millions in 1946, it occupies a two-story building in an industrial park in Davis.

Sitting in his office, organization president Chris Dunford conveys a sense of energy and purpose that make him seem like a fresh recruit instead of a seasoned veteran of the microcredit movement.

"Our name tells the story," Dunford said. "We're concerned about people who are poor enough to be chronically hungry."

His nonprofit pioneered "credit with education," in which entrepreneurs receive training in health and nutrition along with their loans.

The organization's reach is vast. It has about 50 partners in 17 countries and has reached 700,000 women.

People often ask if his work is depressing. He always says no.

"It's just the opposite," said Dunford, 59. "It's uplifting. You see a level of resourcefulness and resilience that's absolutely astounding."

The nonprofit gets money from individual donations, grants, foundations and corporations. Unlike, Freedom from Hunger can't "individualize poverty," as Dunford put it, but still has devotees everywhere.

There's an active chapter at Davis High School. Jane Pauley did a segment for an online event Friday - believed a first in the nonprofit world - that included real-time podcasts from India and Africa, video clips and a virtual tour of the Andes. And a New York schoolteacher and his students hold an annual read-a-thon to fund a credit union in Bolivia.

"It was an easy sell," said Dan Kriesberg, a sixth-grade science teacher at the Friends Academy on Long Island. "A $100 donation will help 20 people down the way. I tell the kids that when you ask people for money, it can feel uncomfortable. But people want to help. You're not just helping the people in Bolivia - you're helping the people who want to help. You're making a connection."

In 16 years, Kriesberg and his wife have raised at least $22,000 for Freedom from Hunger - $12,000 from students and the rest from family and friends.

The organization's online event - which can be seen all weekend - includes 42-year-old Sebastiana Ore Meza, a widow with nine children who borrowed $64 and started raising pigs in her Andean village in Peru.

"I want my business to grow bigger to be able to support my big family," she said online.

Like Graham, Lewis and Flannery, Dunford mixes idealism and pragmatism. All four remain optimistic, despite devastating numbers: More than 1.2 billion people in the developing world live below the international poverty line and earn less than $1 per day.

"If you present microcredit as a cure-all for global poverty, you're wrong," Dunford said. "There will always be haves and have-nots, and relative poverty will always be there.

"But absolute poverty - when you just can't meet basic necessities - that kind of poverty can be eliminated."

-- To see an audio slide show on NamasteDirect donor Melissa Faith Klar's visit to women in Chiapas, Mexico, go to

Jonathan Lewis

Chief executive officer MicroCredit Enterprises in Davis

Total loans: $9.6 million

Number of loans: 55,000

Average loan: $397

Countries: 15

Range of loans: $37 to $800

Web site:

Chris Dunford


Freedom from Hunger in Davis

Total cumulative loans since 1989 for Credit with Education program: $606,628,292

Number of loans for last quarter 2006: 437,962

Average loan for last quarter 2006: $168

Range of loans: $20 to $400

Countries for all programs: 17

Women reached through all programs: 700,000

Web site:

Matt Flannery

Co-founder and chief executive officer in San Francisco

Total loans: $12,151,660

Lenders: 121,167

Number of loans: 18,424

Countries: 38

Average loan size: $650

Range: $25 to $200,000

Web site:

Atahuarco, Peru

First loan amount: $64

What it went for: Three pigs

Sebastiana Ore Meza used her microloan to purchase livestock that she will later sell at market for a profit. She lives above 12,000 feet in the Andes Mountains, in the village of Atahuarco.

Jeikrodua, Ghana

First loan amount: $55

What it went for: Mineral water that was sold in bags from a cooler

Patience Asare-Boateng pays back part of her microloan in her central Ghana village

Moding, Kenya

Loan amount: $450

What it went for: Clothing sales

Rose Amoit stands in front of her hair salon in the Teso district of Kenya. Her business also includes making and designing clothing. She also distributes uniforms to the schools in her

Kabul, Afghanistan

Loan amount: $175

What it went for: Carpet weaving

Fatima Syed Shah Esmil is a 31-year-old mother of three living in Kabul, Afghanistan. She has been working for 10 years in carpet weaving. She is married and her husband works in his own mechanic's shop. She started her business during the war to support her family financially. Then she taught her daughter the work. Together, mother and daughter can complete one carpet in six months. Fatima hopes to get ahead with their businesses and to keep working.

Pujujil, Guatemala

First loan amount: $250

What it went for: Staples, sodas, soap, snacks, weaving thread and medicine for her small grocery store

Maria Cuc Yaxon got her first loan from NamasteDirect in San Francisco. She lives in a remote village in the highlands of Guatemala.

Bob Graham

Founder and chief executive officer NamasteDirect in San Francisco

Total loans: $550,000

Donors: 1,130

Number of loans: 3,000

Countries: Mexico and Guatemala

Average loan: $183

Range of loans: $130 to $275

Web site:

E-mail Patricia Yollin at

Report Says Miami-Dade Poverty Agency Was Lax

from CBS 4 Miami

A Miami-Dade County audit made public on Friday accused a nonprofit anti-poverty group funded with more than $68 million in public money failed in the most basic oversight of loans.

The audit, reported by CBS4 news partners The Miami Herald explained how some monies went to shaky startup companies and friends and relatives of the group's trustees. The report was written by county auditor Cathy Jackson.

The agency in question is called The Miami-Dade Empowerment Zone Trust, closely tied to county government since its creation in 1999. Jackson writes that it helped few businesses, created few jobs and met few goals, while its staff ran a haphazard bookkeeping operation that spanned 44 accounts at 10 banks.

Trust Chairman T. Willard Fair and President and CEO Aundra Wallace did not return messages to the newspaper. Targets of county audits are typically given 30 days to respond before reports are made public, but Miami-Dade County spokeswoman Victoria Mallette said the trust had declined.

Trust leaders had earlier told auditors their success was hampered by ''unfulfilled financial promises by the federal government'' of at least $10 million a year. In fact, federal support fell every year, as low as $3.5 million over the three-year period ending in September 2006.

The Miami Herald will publish a four-part series beginning Sunday of its investigation into the nonprofit agency.

The Herald writes that it uncovered a long list of failed business ventures, overdue loans and absent supervision by the Trust's 17-member board and, in some cases, the County Commission. The trust's now-infamous failed project to build a biotech park in Liberty City appears in the audit as just one of nearly 20 projects that squandered money earmarked to create jobs and businesses in Miami-Dade's neediest communities.

The trust was created to oversee federal Empowerment Zone grants.

Ontarians want MPPs to tackle poverty: Poll

from The Toronto Star

45 per cent say the issue should be `a high priority' for next government

Tamara Cherry
Surya Bhattacharya
Staff Reporters

Nearly half of Ontarians think poverty reduction should be a priority for the next provincial government, a poll has found.

But with less than two weeks until election day, Oct. 10, Canada's largest food bank is wondering why the issue isn't in the spotlight.

"It's been an untouched issue," Gail Nyberg, executive director of Toronto's Daily Bread Food Bank, said yesterday. Nyberg was travelling around Toronto asking people to sign cards saying they want politicians to take issue with poverty.

Daily Bread's campaign swing of sorts came after an Ipsos Reid poll, conducted on behalf of the food bank, found that 45 per cent of Ontarians say the reduction of poverty should be a "high priority" for the next government.

Since June, nearly 10,000 people have signed petitions in support of asking politicians "to have a plan, to tell us what the plan is, to tell us what their targets for reducing poverty are going to be, and the timelines," Nyberg said. "That way, the public can hold them accountable."

After signing a card in Toronto yesterday, Anna Zaffina said: "I haven't heard anything about it," from politicians.

Zaffina's Thunder Bay friend, Mary Veltri, said the issue "should be right at the top" of the agenda.

Added Taya Talukdar: "It's a very important issue and one politicians haven't spent enough time on."

"It's hard to come up with solutions to the (poverty) problems," said Gary Kezar. "But it's one of the problems we need to have at the back of our minds."

The online poll for the food bank interviewed a total of 905 adults living in Ontario between Aug. 31 and Sept. 7. The results are considered accurate to within 3.3 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

At a separate gathering yesterday, New Democratic Party leaders said the quality of life would improve for thousands of Ontarians and benefit local businesses if the minimum wage were raised immediately.

Cheri DiNovo (Parkdale-High Park), Paul Ferreira (York-South Weston) and Kathleen Mathurin (Scarborough Centre) spoke at a morning gathering on Roncesvalles Ave. and criticized Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty for giving himself a $40,000 raise.

Ferreira's riding is among the poorest in the GTA in terms of average household income.

"In my riding, a lot of them barely make more than the raise McGuinty gave himself," he said.

About 1.2 million people in Ontario make less than $10 an hour, and of the 237,000 Ontarians who make less than $8 an hour, 61 per cent are women.

"At the current minimum wage, a woman living in Toseseronto and raising two kids has to work 75 hours a week to lift her family above the poverty line," said Mathurin.

Others most affected by the low mandatory wage are the young, people of colour and newcomers, said Ferreira.

A central plank of the NDP platform is that if it becomes part of the government, minority or otherwise, it will try to immediately push the minimum wage to $10 an hour.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Small loans, big returns for Guatemalan women

from AJC

Atlanta-based CARE helps fuel economic success

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Cienega Grande, Guatemala — Eight years ago, when no one would give a poor, indigenous woman with no education a loan, Doris Yaneth Tax became a pioneer.

The Atlanta-based nonprofit CARE came to town and offered Tax (pronounced "tash") and a handful of her villagers a small loan to start a business. She remembers being nervous — $100 seemed like a lot of money to pay back.

But eight years later, Tax has left her rented hut and job as housekeeper. Her family has its own home, a patch of land to grow corn and she runs a profitable business making blouses and bracelets.

Perhaps most importantly, Tax's oldest daughter is about to graduate from sixth grade, once unheard of for a girl in the indigenous communities of Guatemala's poverty-stricken highlands. CARE is one of several organizations providing microcredits to indigenous women in Guatemala and one of thousands providing tiny loans throughout the Third World. In Guatemala, where 70 percent of the country lives in poverty, the demand for microloans is far outpacing supply.

According to a government study, only 20 percent of residents who want a loan have access to one. The idea behind microcredit is relatively simple: Lacking access to traditional banks, the world's poor often need just a small boost to start a profitable business weaving, raising livestock or opening a small store.

Since debuting in Bangladesh more than 40 years ago, microloans have been hailed as the solution to poverty from Asia to Latin America. CARE currently has 3,000 borrowers in rural Guatemala, with loans totaling about $1 million.

CARE operates microcredit programs in 39 countries worldwide, including Ecuador, El Salvador and Peru. But despite the apparent success of microcredits — nearly 100 million were doled out worldwide in 2004 and the idea's founder won the Nobel Peace Prize last year — critics have emerged.

They complain, chiefly, that microcredits don't do enough to change the structures and inequalities that keep people poor, and that while microcredits may have led to individual success stories, they have not led the masses into the middle class. Others worry that governments will slash funding in regions where microloans are prevalent or that microcredit organizations don't provide borrowers with the tools to make their businesses profitable, creating a recipe for failure.

No promise, no loan
The CARE program in Guatemala seeks to address some of those concerns with what is a revolutionary aspect, at least by Guatemalan standards: In order to receive the loans, mothers must pledge to keep their daughters in school at least through sixth grade.

"The idea is not just to give out loans, but to create the conditions so that these women can move forward in their lives," said Amilcar Miron Corado, CARE representative in the region.

Many of the women in the CARE program in Cienega Grande dream of their daughters turning into professionals who then come back to help the community.

"We never had the opportunity to study," said Rosa Margarita Yac Vasquez, the mother of nine children, including an 8-year-old daughter in fourth grade. "I never went to school because there wasn't enough to even buy notebooks. Now the community will prosper because we will have professional women here."

Situated on the side of a mountain and connected to the highway by a bumpy dirt road, Cienega Grande is made up of about 500 families maintaining a traditional way of life. The women and men wear brightly colored dress and speak the Mayan language K'iche Mam, some exclusively. The cornfields have provided sustenance for generations, but agriculture hasn't kept poverty away.

Pedro Can Vasquez, principal of the local elementary school, said 12 girls will graduate from sixth grade this year. Ten years ago only boys finished, he said.

"People didn't give importance to the girls before," he said. "Before, they were getting married at 15 or 16, there was no future for them. Now the community is supporting the girls."

Tax's sixth-grade daughter, Kimberly, says she wants to become a secretary and dreams of working in an office. She shudders to think what her life would be like without school.

"I would already be working, cleaning houses," Kimberly said. "I would think differently. I wouldn't be reading and writing. I wouldn't have ideas."

The indigenous women of Guatemala face some daunting challenges. The highlands bore the brunt of Guatemala's 36-year civil war, which created many widows. Crippling poverty sent many more husbands fleeing to the United States for work. And long traditions of not educating indigenous women left many unable to read or write and unprepared to enter a modern work force.

But the women in the local CARE group have embarked on all matter of entrepreneurial activity: One runs a small store out of her home; a second woman and her husband have a workshop that produces pants and employs three villagers; a third invested in a greenhouse to grow tomatoes.

Confident women
Like most microcredit programs, the loans get bigger as the women show they can pay them off.

The CARE program is one of the most established in Guatemala, and $100 loans have ballooned into loans of up to $2,000 for some. Those who can't make their payments are eased out of the group.

In all, the Cienega Grande group has a combined savings of nearly $7,000, which it has accumulated over the past eight years. Some, like Tax, have graduated from the program and set out on their own.

The women say that while their economic situation has changed — many have traded renting for owning homes — the microcredit program has also given them confidence to confront the world.

"It's taken away our fear more than anything," said Herlinda Juana Batz, the group's treasurer. "It's helped us know that we can speak up and do other things. At the beginning we were nervous, we thought we would fail, but we've learned over time that we can do this."

Friday, September 28, 2007

Kennedy talks poverty, rights

from The Yale Daily News

Justice avoids topic of Court politics

Tyler Hill and Andrew Mangino

He may be the swing vote on the U.S. Supreme Court, but Anthony Kennedy said calling it the “Kennedy Court” might motivate his colleagues to rebel.

“If you keep saying that, the decisions will be 8-1,” Kennedy joked after delivering a lecture at the Yale Law School. His speech, according to attendees, mostly avoided talk about the High Court, its decisions and its internal politics. Instead, he spoke about world poverty, the power of individual rights and how separation of powers and checks and balances are not one and the same.

At Kennedy’s request, the lecture was closed to reporters.

Since the retirement of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor in 2006, Supreme Court watchers have identified Kennedy as the crucial swing justice on a number of controversial issues facing the court. Kennedy, who has served on the court since 1988, was in the majority of all 24 5-4 decisions delivered by the court over the past year.

In his remarks Thursday, Kennedy spoke about issues more wide-ranging than the academic legal questions commonly asked of leading members of the bar. In his talk, delivered without the aid of a prepared text, Kennedy expressed a bold vision for change in the 21st century, attendees said.

Kennedy discussed foreign legal and political concerns, including the relationship between American law and international law; poverty and the rights of citizens in developing countries; and the legal impact of an increasingly unified Europe, attendees said.

In response to a question, Kennedy also discussed his vote with the majority in the 1989 case Texas v. Johnson, which held that flag burning was a form of free speech protected by the First Amendment.

Yale Law School professor Akhil Amar ’80 LAW ’84, a noted constitutional scholar, said he was “dazzled” by what he called Kennedy’s “Lincolnian” quality.

“When was the last time you heard any American seriously talk about solving the crisis of poverty?” Amar said. “It wasn’t about the court at all; it was about the world.”

Emily Lechner ’08, one of the 20 students in Amar’s undergraduate class “Constitutional Law” to land a coveted seat in the Law School Auditorium, said she was impressed by the thought-provoking nature of Kennedy’s comments, though he seemed very intent on not talking about divisive issues regarding the Supreme Court.

An additional 100 students from Amar’s class were given tickets to watch the lecture via a live video feed in another room in the Law School.

Sharifa Love-Schnur ’09 said she was surprised by Kennedy’s views on many of the topics he addressed. She was particularly intrigued by what he had to say about the developing world, she said.

“He is known as and votes as a conservative judge, but he said several things in his lecture that were very liberal-minded,” Love-Schnur said. “I thought it was very interesting coming from this particular justice.”

Thomas Ginakakis ’09 came out of the speech with a perception of Kennedy as a “humble” and “thoughtful” jurist who was not positioning himself as the swing vote on the court. He said Kennedy told colorful stories and seemed unrestrained about saying where he stood on the big decisions decided under his tenure on the court.

“He gave his opinion about a lot of different cases, but I don’t think he was championing himself as the leader of the court,” Ginakakis said, adding that Kennedy spoke on INS v. Chadha as an example of how even a Kenyan can bring light to values dear to the U.S. Constitution.

The speech was part of a “Global Constitutionalism” seminar with top jurists from across the world. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, as well as the former president of the Israeli Supreme Court, the top justice in New Zealand and the chief justice of the highest Hong Kong Court of Appeals, attended Kennedy’s speech — and follow-up festivities and private panels — at the Sterling Law Building and Woolsey Hall.

Kenyans protest unfair trade

from The Sunday Times

Nairobi - Kenyan activists and farmers protested in the streets of Nairobi against what they said were unfair trade partnerships pushed by the European Union.

Protests were held in several African capitals to mark the fifth anniversary of the start of negotiations for Economic Partnerships Agreements (EPA) between the EU and African, Caribbean and Pacific rim countries (ACP), a spokesman for ActionAid said.

In Nairobi demonstrators crushed farm products and waved banners that read “Fight Poverty... Say No to EPAs”.

The EPAs are trade pacts that are set to replace the current preferential trade agreements between Europe and its former colonies, which were deemed illegal by the World Trade Organisation and expire by year’s end.

In a statement, the ActionAid organisation charged that Europe’s “use of strong-arm trade politics will deny food rights and undermine good governance in the world’s poorest countries.”

The preferential trade pacts between Europe and the ACP were initially designed to ensure a steady flow of supplies from former colonies.

Many poor countries argue that they will no longer be able to compete if they lose their special tariffs on exports to EU countries.

“Small scale farmers have systematically been driven out from the export markets in sectors like horticulture leaving only the big players to enjoy the boon,” ActionAid said.

“A reciprocal free trade agreement will worsen this situation while limiting the capacity of our governments to protect agriculture especially for majority small scale farmers who produce most of the staple food.”

Events and protests aimed at raising awareness on the implications of the new trade pacts were also held in Ghana, Mozambique, Cameroon and several other of the 78 ACP countries.

While EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson has upped the pressure on ACP countries to find a common position and press on with the negotiations, east African diplomats said earlier this week there was still no consensus.

Exploit Zambezi’s potential to reduce poverty

from The Herald

From Tsitsi Matope in WINDHOEK, Namibia

WATER resource management experts who attended the second annual Zambezi River Stakeholders’ Meeting here last week said the region should strengthen efforts to tap from the river’s immense potential to help alleviate poverty and enhance development.

About 50 water experts from Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe, whose countries rely heavily on the Zambezi River for the development of various sectors, focused on how best they could increase and maximise the benefits from the robust water-course without over-exploiting the resource.

The experts indicated that there was a lot the region could benefit from the river if its management and coherence in the development of projects that included hydropower generation were properly co-ordinated.

Although power experts had done all the necessary groundwork and ascertained how much energy the region would benefit from, lack of commitment on the part of some Governments and inadequate resources to further tap the aspect of energy could see numerous projects collapsing.

Zambezi Action Plan Project information officer Ms Leonissa Munjoma said eight countries that rely heavily on the river had realised the importance of acting on the challenges facing the sustainability of the river with a view of maximising the benefits accruing to communities.

"It is true that agricultural sectors of the eight countries are heavily supported by the existence of the Zambezi. It feeds into many dams that include Kariba, amongst many others.

"The experts are very sensitive about issues pertaining to land usage around and along the Zambezi River course. This is why they will continue meeting to discuss past agreements to see whether they are being implemented at various levels," Ms Munjoma said.

The experts said the sustainability of the "River of Life", therefore, was under threat and it was up to all the stakeholders, ranging from the Governments, civic organisations to the local communities, to be more serious and organise themselves to see how best to protect the river.

"At least 42 million people live on the Zambezi basin and managing their activities that affect the flow of the river is a major challenge. We need to set up effective systems to be able to reach all stakeholders and influence them to play their part," World Conservation water engineer Mr Lenka Thamae said.

He added that any more delays to the ratification of the Zambezi Water Course Commission by some countries would further hinder efforts being made to protect the river.

"The ratification of this important commission will go a long way in making countries more responsible and help them to prioritise issues to do with the protection of the river," he added.

The Zambezi River sustains agriculture, the fishing industry, tourism and communication, energy, and industry, and sustains the health sector, mining and infrastructure development, among many other essential socio-economic facets.

The Zambezi River is, however, viewed as the river of life, which miraculously starts from a wonder tree in Zambia before it bulges into a very powerful water source that passes through some of the eight countries.

What came out strongly during a session that looked at the water challenges the eight countries were faced with, was the need to properly manage the usage of water for consumption, industry and agriculture.

An example of how arid countries like Namibia properly use and manage water was cited.

The country receives very little rain and this has compelled local authorities to take drastic measures that include putting stickers at all strategic places reminding people of the need to conserve water.

Experts from Zimbabwe said there was need to solve water problems in the country that were largely a result of the Zimbabwe National Water Authority’s poor distribution.

Congress wants to send aid to Americas

from The Miami Herald


Latin American countries and the Caribbean -- but not Cuba -- would get an infusion of $2.5 billion over the next 10 years to help reduce poverty and expand the middle class under a bipartisan Congressional proposal that has the support of the Senate's two Cuban-American lawmakers.

Republican Mel Martinez of Florida teamed up with Democrat Bob Menendez of New Jersey on Thursday to introduce a bill they said would fund programs to improve education, housing, healthcare and economic development in a region where 40 percent of the population lives below the poverty line.

''In an age of globalization, we are inextricably linked to the rest of the world, and to no people are we more closely connected than our neighbors in Latin America,'' said Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on international development and foreign assistance.

''This region has enjoyed the growth of democracy, but not the fruits of economic opportunity,'' Martinez said.

Menendez, who pushed similar legislation in past years as a member of the U.S. House, said the aid is in the United States' best interest, suggesting that it could help create a greater market for U.S. goods as well as curb illegal immigration by improving economic and political conditions.

The Washington Office on Latin America, a liberal research and advocacy organization, welcomed the legislation, noting that poverty, inequality and social exclusion are the three biggest problems facing Latin America and the Caribbean.

Under the proposal, the money would be split between the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Inter-American Development Bank. Countries interested in participating would be required to contribute 10 percent of the cost of a project and a matching fund would be established for private-sector contributions.

Bono gets medal for his work in Africa

from The Charlotte Observer

Irish rocker and activist Bono, accepting the Liberty Medal on Thursday night for his humanitarian work in Africa, exhorted Americans to keep working to solve the world's problems and spoke of those who are without freedom.

"When you are trapped by poverty, you are not free. When trade laws prevent you from selling the food you grew, you are not free," said Bono, wearing his trademark sunglasses even at night as he stood just steps away from Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell.

"When you are a monk in Burma this very week, barred from entering a temple because of your gospel of peace ... well, then none of us are truly free," he said.

Bono and the organization he co-founded - Debt AIDS Trade Africa - received the award from former Liberty Medal recipient Pres. George H.W. Bush at the National Constitution Center.

The award comes with a $100,000 prize, which Bono said will be donated to the organization. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, former finance minister of Nigeria who sits on the group's policy advisory board, accepted the award for the Washington-based group.

Bono, who fronts the band U2, co-founded Debt AIDS Trade Africa in 2002 to work with religious groups on global disease and hunger issues.

In 2005, U2 also was a headliner for the Live 8 concerts held to raise awareness about African poverty and pressure world leaders to cancel debt for the poorest African nations.

Calling America "my country," Bono said he's a fan of the United States despite its problems because of the country's contributions to the world.

"Your America is where Neil Armstrong takes a walk on the moon," Bono said. "Your America gave Europe the Marshall Plan. Your America gave the world the Peace Corps."

"America is not just a country, it's an idea, isn't it? It's a great and powerful idea," he said. "The idea that all men are created equal, that we are endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights. That among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

Bono exhorted Americans to pledge to continue to help the world.

"America has so many great answers to offer," he said. "We can't fix all the world's problems, but the ones we can we must."

The Liberty Medal was established in 1988 to honor individuals or organizations whose actions represent the founding principles of the United States.

Last year, former presidents Bush and Bill Clinton won the medal for putting politics aside to help raise more than $1 billion for disaster relief efforts after Hurricane Katrina and the 2004 tsunami in southeast Asia. Previous winners have included Afghan President Hamid Karzai, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

The medal was first awarded in 1989, and six recipients have subsequently won the Nobel Peace Prize.

Tory targets poverty before upscale crowd

from Canada Com

Mary Vallis, CanWest News Service

TORONTO — Progressive Conservative Leader John Tory, battling comparisons with former premier Mike Harris, argued Thursday his party’s business policies will benefit Ontario’s poor, saying a strong economy and benefits for those in need "go hand in hand."

“I want to build an Ontario where no poverty is permanent, where our shared values and common stability mean that there are no strangers,” Tory said. “As a Progressive Conservative, I believe that economic growth and social progress go hand in hand, and that you cannot have one without the other.”

Tory told the joint meeting of the Canadian Club and Empire Club of Canada that if elected, he will reduce the overall tax burden by phasing out the health tax imposed by Premier Dalton McGuinty’s Liberals, beginning in January, with people earning less than $30,000 a year. Other income groups would follow over four years.

“The tax was created in a way that punished lower-income people and made them pay a higher rate of tax than other income brackets, and that is something that will be corrected first, because it was wrong to begin with,” Tory said.

Tory said the move would affect one million people, saving them each about $300 a year.

Howard Hampton, leader of the Ontario NDP, quickly accused the Conservatives of jumping on the NDP bandwagon with their health-tax announcement.

“I think that the Conservatives are trying to follow us, and I think the truth is undeniable,” Hampton said. “This is one of the most regressive and unfair taxes ever visited on low and middle income families.”

In his own remarks Thursday, McGuinty characterized his choice to raise taxes as “a difficult decision.”

The health tax is at the heart of opposition parties’ attacks on McGuinty’s Liberals as the premier had pledged not to raise taxes before the last provincial election in 2003.

During his speech, Tory also pledged to streamline the provincial budget by two per cent, as well as to reduce the number of government regulations by 25 per cent.

If elected, the Progressive Conservatives also plan to invest $400-million a year in health care; to defer medical students’ debt; and to provide incentives to keep older doctors from retiring.

Tory said he will personally travel to the United States to persuade the 9,000 Canadian-trained doctors practicing there to move back to Ontario.

In London earlier Thursday, McGuinty’s said Ontario voters should accept his party “warts and all.”

But when asked about breaking a promise made during the last election about not raising taxes — before bringing in a health “premium” that costs the average Ontarian $750 a year — he blamed the move on a hidden deficit left by the former Conservative government.

The Liberals on Thursday disputed that figure, placing it instead at $470.

At the same time, McGuinty challenged Tory to detail his plan to cut $1.5 billion in government “efficiencies.”

“You want to play in the big league?” McGuinty asked Tory through the media. “Tell us where you’re going to cut $1.5 billion out of our services.”

— with files from Craig Pearson (Windsor Star) and Andrew Thomson (Ottawa Citizen)

Sharapova, James Team Up Against Poverty

from the WTA Tour

NEW YORK, NY, USA - Maria Sharapova, a United Nations Development Programme Goodwill Ambassador, has invited NBA star LeBron James to team up against poverty on a new UNDP advertisement, designed to garner support for achieving the eight Millennium Development Goals.

Sharapova's work with the UNDP includes promoting international efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. Adopted by 189 countries in 2000, the Goals are clear, time-bound targets for achieving measurable improvements in lives of the world's poorest people. They aim at eradicating poverty, putting children in schools, promoting women's rights, fighting killer disease and providing access to safe drinking water. UNDP coordinates global and national efforts to reach these Goals.

This ad campaign revolves around the concept of Teaming Up Against Poverty to achieve the MDGs. The advertisements feature celebrities from sports, the arts, fashion or business portrayed in teams of two by the world's greatest professional photographers. Fifty celebrities, including UNDP Goodwill Ambassadors and soccer greats Ronaldo and Zidane, have agreed to participate in the initiative to promote the MDGs and are undertaking specific anti-poverty activities.

The advertisements have been produced thanks to photographers, celebrities and advertising agencies who donate time and talent for the fight against poverty. Hundreds of global newspapers and magazines have already published these ads.

World-renowned photographers who have joined the campaign include Dominique Issermann, Peter Lindbergh, Sarah Moon, Satoshi Saikusa, Christian Moser, Ferdinando Scianna, Javier Vallhonrat, the late Jeanloup Sieff and many others, including Sebastiao Salgado. Over 200 media outlets, including from countries such as Italy, France, Spain, Switzerland, Germany and the United Kingdom, have offered full page space to publish the advertisements.

Sharapova and James were photographed by top fashion photographer Patrick Demarchelier who has donated his talent for this new photo that will launch a news series of advertisements to promote the MDGs. The London-based agency Leagas Delaney will produce the advertisement.

The Millennium Development Goals are:
Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
Achieve universal primary education
Promote gender equality and empower women
Reduce child mortality
Improve maternal health
Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases
Ensure environmental sustainability
Develop a global partnership for development

The UNDP is the UN's global development network, advocating for change and connecting countries to knowledge, experience and resources to help people build a better life. They're on the ground in 166 countries, working with them on their own solutions to global and national development challenges. As they develop local capacity, they draw on the people of UNDP and our wide range of partners.

Sharapova was appointed a Goodwill Ambassador for the UNDP in February. Her work with the UNDP includes rallying support for the global campaign against poverty and promoting international efforts to achieve the Goals. She has made a contribution of USD100,000 to eight youth-oriented projects in rural communities in Belarus, the Russian Federation and Ukraine that still suffer the after-effects of the Chernobyl disaster of 1986. The donation funded projects to improve computer access, promote ecological awareness, and restore sports facilities and hospitals in the three countries most affected by Chernobyl. These projects complement a broad portfolio of UN work helping Chernobyl-affected communities regain a sense of self-sufficiency, build new livelihoods, and bring a once-blighted region back to life.

World Bank pledges record 3.5 bln dlrs to aid poorest nations

from Yahoo News

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The World Bank on Thursday pledged a record 3.5 billion dollars to aid the world's poorest countries as it cut the interest rate on loans to big developing countries.

The lowering of loan rates was a concession by the World Bank as it stepped up efforts to get some of the big borrowers such as China and Brazil to contribute to poverty-fighting efforts.

The bank said it was seeking to contribute more than double the 1.5 billion dollars it had pledged two years ago to the International Development Association (IDA), its arm which provides interest-free loans and grants to the poorest countries.

"By boosting its IDA pledge by over 100 percent, the World Bank Group is putting its money where its mouth is," said Robert Zoellick, the World Bank president.

"This should help us gain momentum as we urge donor countries to increase their commitment to help the 81 poorest countries, especially in Africa, through an ambitious IDA 15 replenishment," he said.

Zoellick cited the example of South Africa, which had already pledged an increase of over 30 percent to support IDA.

The World Bank said its board of executive directors also took "a second important step" Thursday, approving the biggest simplification and reduction in loan charges in nine years for the 79 creditworthy low-and middle-income countries that are clients and shareholders of IBRD.

The reduction takes the controversial loan rates to levels last seen in 1998, before rates were raised in the aftermath of the Asian financial crisis.

In a teleconference with reporters, Zoellick said the World Bank executive board had decided to lower by about a quarter percentage point the rate it charges.

"A number of middle-income countries have been raising this issue almost seven, eight, nine years," he said.

The World Bank highlighted that, for the first time, the amount pledged to IDA is also being funded "substantially" from the income of the International Finance Corporation (IFC).

The IFC is a World Bank affiliate that promotes private-sector development through investment and advisory services. The Bank said it plans to expand private-sector investments in developing countries.

The goal of 3.5 billion dollars is expected to be contributed equally by IFC and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), another World Bank affiliate.

About 39 of the 81 countries eligible for IDA assistance are in Africa, and the number of poor in the region has doubled over the past two decades, the World Bank said.

The talks for the fundraising campaign, known as IDA 15, began in March and are expected to conclude in December.

Musical stars plan to tackle world poverty

from The Belfast Telegraph

By Claire McNeilly

A group of local Ulster singing and dancing stars have pledged to bring the curtain down in a bid to help tackle world poverty.

Fortwilliam Musical Society will host two concerts in aid of the charity Serve, which runs outreach projects throughout the world.

Two performances of A Selection from West End to Broadway are due to take place this week in Ballymena and Belfast, as part of a sustained fundraising initiative.

Both concerts, celebrating songs from popular shows, will be sponsored by the Council of the Knights of St Columbanus as their project for 2007.

Belfast man Des Doherty, who is a council member, said that all proceeds from the concerts will go to Serve as a much-appreciated boost to their coffers.

"We have travelled throughout the entire area of counties Antrim and Down to promote this," he told the Belfast Telegraph.

"Each year, young adults from all parts of Ireland, aged between 18 to 35, go overseas as volunteers to different parts of the globe.

"For this work to continue, fundraising is needed and we would like to be able to help make a difference for these deserving projects."

Serve is committed to tackling world poverty. In particular, the organisation strives to combat youth property and to pro-actively unleash, nurture and retain youth capacity.

A concert will take place at the Adair Arms Hotel in Ballymena on Friday at 7.45pm. Tickets cost £20, including supper, and can be obtained at reception.

A second concert will be held on Sunday at St Malachy's College, Antrim Road, Belfast. Tickets cost £12 and can be obtained at Clonard reception. Otherwise call Des on 07980 913 975.

Many New Enrollees Would Be Uninsured

from The Associated Press


WASHINGTON (AP) — Congress' proposal to expand a child health care program gives states the financial incentive to expand eligibility for coverage to families of four earning about $62,000 a year.

That's a figure that seldom emerges in the claims and counterclaims being tossed about.

The Bush administration and many Republicans oppose the proposal as a big step toward socialized medicine. They much prefer to cite $83,000 — the ceiling that would apply to families of four only in New York state, and then only if the Health and Human Services Department approves a requested amendment to the state's current SCHIP plan.

Democrats, 45 Republicans in the House, many Senate GOP colleagues and other supporters of the expansion prefer to rattle off the figure $40,000. They say that about 70 percent to 80 percent of enrollees in the program would be children in families with incomes less that twice the poverty level. The poverty level is defined by the Census Bureau as $20,650 for a family of four.

Just what would happen under the bill passed Tuesday by the House, up for a vote later this week in the Senate and then sure to get a veto from President Bush? Here are some of the claims, and what in fact the bill would actually do:

The claim: The proposal would encourage families to substitute public insurance for private insurance.

The facts: The Congressional Budget Office projects that about 3.8 million people would become insured as a result of the bill, and about 2 million more will move from private coverage to public coverage. CBO Director Peter Orszag said the substitution rate of one-third was "pretty much as good as you're going to get" absent a mandate on employers to provide coverage or the insuree to buy it.

The claim: The proposal would allow coverage of families earning $83,000.

The facts: The bill essentially sets an income ceiling of three times the poverty rate for a family of four — $61,950. Beyond that, the federal government would not pay a state its full SCHIP match, which averages about 70 percent. New York state is seeking a waiver that would allow its residents to qualify if their income is not above four times the poverty rate — $82,600 for a family of four. The current administration or future administrations would have to approve that request. New Jersey would still be allowed to cover families with incomes three and one-half times the poverty rate — $72,275 for a family of four.

The claim: The bill would make it easier for children of illegal immigrants to get government-sponsored health coverage.

The facts: Currently, states are required to seek proof of U.S. citizenship before they provide Medicaid coverage, except in emergencies. The states now require applicants to show documents like birth certificates or passports in order to prove U.S. citizenship and nationality. The bill would allow applicants to submit a Social Security number instead.

Michael J. Astrue, commissioner for the Social Security Administration, said that matching a Social Security number with an individual does not allow officials to verify whether someone is a U.S. citizen.

The claim: The proposed 61 cent tax on a pack of cigarettes is a tax on the poor.

The facts: According to a recent analysis by the National Center for Health Statistics, smoking rates are higher for those who live in poverty or near poverty than among wealthier individuals. Also, a more dated analysis cited by the National Center for Policy Analysis, a conservative think tank, states that two-thirds of federal tobacco taxes come from those earning less than $40,000 a year.

(This version CORRECTS the bill sets an income ceiling for a family of four at $61,950, not $61,800.) )

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Study details poverty issue in Missoula County

from KPAX

A recently released two year study shows that some 14.5% of Missoula County's population lives below the poverty line and as a result have has a difficult time putting food on the table.

Officials say that many who are applying for state and federal food assistance programs find out their income levels are cited as too high so they don't qualify.

Researcher Maxine Jacobson says it's important to adjust the eligibility income guidelines so more people can take advantage of these services.

"What we have in Missoula County are notoriously low wages coupled with high health care, like it is across the country, and also extremely high housing costs. That puts a lot of people into a predicament where they have to make those tough choices."

The study was discussed during a Wednesday night meeting in Missoula.

Anti-poverty Gps Protest Over EU,Ex-colonies Free Trade Talks

from Nasdaq

BRUSSELS (AP)--Anti-poverty activists demonstrated outside European Union headquarters Thursday to demand a halt to free trade negotiations between the E.U. and former European colonies that they argue will undermine development in poor countries.

A coalition of aid groups and anti-poverty advocates, including Oxfam and Action Aid, said five years of talks between the E.U. and members of the 78- country Asia-Caribbean-Pacific - or ACP - grouping had to be halted because they offered poor nations little to no benefit.

Campaigners stacked boxes representing E.U. goods in front of the E.U.'s external relations and trade department to protest the negotiations.

"We think that this agreement, which is going to open these ACP countries' markets to European products is going to cause serious industrial and agricultural problems in these countries," said Kwaku Acheampong from Ghana, who works for the Belgian-based aid group Fund for Development Cooperation.

He said the E.U. would use the pacts to unfairly dump subsidized agricultural goods on African markets, making it impossible for local farmers to compete.

"They should pay more attention to development issues," Acheampong said.

E.U. Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson has appealed to ACP countries to come to an agreement on the so-called Economic Partnership Agreements by the end of the year or face possible import tariffs.

Mandelson argues the new regional pacts are needed to overhaul the E.U.'s special trade ties with Europe's former colonies because they violate world trade rules. The World Trade Organization has set a Jan. 1 deadline for the E.U. to come to a new settlement with the ACP group of countries, because older trade deals are unfair to non-ACP members.

In a letter to protesters, Mandelson and E.U. Development Commissioner Louis Michel acknowledged the negotiations were difficult but said stopping the talks would do more damage.

"Calling for an end to EPA negotiations when there is no credible alternative is playing poker with the livelihoods of those we are trying to help," Mandelson and Michel said.

E.U. officials acknowledged that old rules allowing preferential access to E.U. markets combined with billions of euros in aid has done little to spur development since the E.U. set up special trade and aid ties with the grouping in 1975.

Negotiations have stalled over African nations' fears that they aren't ready to handle regional trade among themselves or to lose exclusive preferred access for their goods to European markets.

The aid groups were joined by the International Trade Union Confederation, which represents labor unions worldwide. It called on Mandelson to seek an extension to an end-of-year deadline imposed by the WTO to redraft the trade pacts.

In a letter sent to Mandelson, trade union leaders pointed to an E.U. working group review of the negotiations that found "substantial" differences still exist between E.U. and African, Caribbean and Pacific country groupings, including market access, liberalization of sectors and the list of products that can be protected.

"These issues are too important to be dealt with in the last rush," they said.

The negotiations, begun in 2002, are way behind schedule. African countries have balked at E.U. demands that they group into regional trade pacts and drop trade barriers between themselves and with the 27-nation E.U.

Many of the ACP countries are loath to give up more than three decades of privileged access to E.U. markets.

The trade accords foresee gradual market openings in parallel with E.U. funding for good governance and reforms in developing nations to spur trade among them.

Over the past months, Mandelson and Michel have held numerous rounds of talks with the six regional groupings negotiating trade pacts with the E.U. The E.U. wants to reach pacts with the Caribbean, West Africa, East and Southern Africa, Central Africa, Southern Africa, and the Pacific regional grouping.

The ACP nations are mostly ex-European colonies. The E.U. has promised them a doubling of aid to EUR2 billion by 2010.

'Poverty Hampers Economic Growth'

from All Africa

Daily Trust (Abuja)

By Chris Agabi

The Speaker, House of Representatives, Mrs. Patricia Etteh has said that poverty hampers Nigeria's economy growth, its democratic ideals and mortgages the fundamental freedom of choice of the poor.

The poor are powerless, unable to influence key decisions affecting their lives and this is threatening their well being and dignity, she said.

Mrs. Etteh was speaking through the ANPP majority leader in the House of Repres-entatives, Hon. Mohammed Ali Ndume, at the formal inau-guration of the House Comm-ittee on poverty Alleviation recently.

According to the speaker: "Poverty exerts negative repercussions on all aspects of our development and existence. It is painful; the poor are constantly subjected to physical, mental and emotional trauma. She noted that the many a social vices and conflicts across the nat-ion can largely be attributed to poverty because, poverty robs a people of their self confidence, potentials and it is a precursor of backwa-rdness and stagnation.

Studies on Nigeria, she said, revealed that "illiteracy, unemployment, income ineq-uality, sickness, failed busin-esses and environmental abuse are some of the causes of poverty".

She called for youth empowerment through the acquisition of skills and sustainable jobs that provide regular sources of livelihood as a panacea against agents of social vices.

"The house committee on poverty alleviation can exp-lore ways of redirecting the creative energies of Nigerian youths in the ICT. The med-ium could be deployed locally in creating cost effective marketing of sundry Nigerian products. "The internet is empowering users and crea-ting new business models. It represents an exciting new frontier with limitless opportunities."

She also tasked them to collaborate with donor agen-cies, governmental and non-governmental organizations, to connect Nigerian youths to legitimate ICT opportunities. The speaker also urged them to find ways of also empo-wering communities with integrated development strat-egies is made to identify and showcase its potentials.

"She called for elicit community-based participation in localized industries to maximize and sustain employment genera-tion and wealth creation and more attention to SMEIS and other service providing businesses."

Mrs. Etteh also tasked them to ensure that NAPEP and other poverty alleviation agencies are properly man-aged and intervention meas-ures get to the end users.

In his Address, the Chairman of the Committee on Poverty alleviation, Hon. Babangida Tijani Banki said "the success or failure of government is the ability or inability of the government to impact positively on the general welfare of the citizens. He noted that the house will be judged not by the number of laws made but more importantly, by the positive impact of those laws on the overall welfare of the citizenry especially poverty alleviation.

He assured that the committee was prepared to ensure that poverty is drasti-cally reduced if not completely wiped out.

The committee revealed it has already mapped out a nine-point strategic agenda which includes the review of all relevant policies and a proposal for necessary legislation in the area.

The chairman assured of harmonious working relatio-nships with all relevant gove-rnment agencies like NAPEP, SMEDAN, MDGs, NGOs, developmental agencies, and other relevant stakeholders to fight poverty.

"We believe that with synergy of ideas and co-oper-ation amongst all stakeh-olders, we can and shall indeed make considerable progress in our collective resolve to fight poverty. Remarking, the National coordinator of NAPEP, Magnus Kpakol, assured of his willingness to cooperate with the committee so as to effectively contain poverty.

He called on all members of the house to work with NAPEP in fighting poverty since they represent the grass root. Every member should be seen fighting poverty, working arm in arm with NAPEP".

World Bank Asks for More Time on EPAs

from All Africa

Inter Press Service (Johannesburg)

By David Cronin

Senior World Bank staff have asked the European Union to consider extending the end-of-year deadline it has set for a series of free trade agreements with Africa.

Peter Mandelson, the European commissioner for trade, has repeatedly warned that African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries will have steep tariffs imposed on their exports to the EU if they do not sign Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) by Dec. 31.

Although economists at the 185-country World Bank say they favour moves to boost trade between Europe and Africa, they have suggested that more time is needed to thrash out the kind of comprehensive market liberalisation accord favoured by the European Commission.

This point has been raised during recent discussions between the Bank and EU trade officials.

A well-placed member of staff in the Bank's Washington headquarters said that while the concept of EPAs has been on the agenda of the EU's relations with Africa for several years, the talks aimed at achieving them have only taken place in earnest for the past two years.

"That is a fairly short period to develop a degree of comfort," the source, speaking on condition of anonymity, told IPS.

The source said there is a lack of clarity about some of the key issues in the negotiations, including the level of assistance that will be granted to ACP countries so that they can build up their capacity to avail of new trading opportunities.

In May, the EU's governments and the Commission committed themselves to granting 2 billion euros (2.75 billion dollars) in annual 'aid for trade' by 2010.

"It's not clear to the Africans and to be honest it's not entirely clear to us how much of the aid for trade will be additional (to funds previously earmarked for development assistance)," the source said.

Some Bank economists also take the view that the EU should not pressure the Africans into hastily accepting clauses on investment and competition issues in the EPAs.

Such issues were removed from the Doha round of world trade talks following intense lobbying from developing countries, concerned that an agreement covering them would limit their capacity to protect domestic firms against multinational corporations. African diplomats and anti-poverty campaigners have accused the EU of using the EPA talks to push these issues back on the international trade agenda.

The Bank argues it is not opposed to the principle of having agreements relating to investment but argues that the Commission should pay heed to concerns raised in Africa. "It might be better to defer these issues until the Africans are ready," the source added.

With the Dec. 31 deadline looming, one idea mooted by African diplomats is that it might be possible to conclude a slimmed-down trade agreement by that date. Such a deal -- described as a 'framework agreement' in diplomatic circles -- would only relate to trade in goods, leaving more contentious issues such as services liberalisation until a later date.

EU officials regard the end-of-year deadline as sacrosanct, as a waiver of World Trade Organisation rules granted to the trade preferences offered by the EU to imports from the ACP countries will expire at the beginning of 2008.

An accord limited to trade in goods should be sufficient to comply with the WTO's requirements.

Nonetheless, African diplomats say that there are serious differences between their governments and the EU on some of the key questions relating to trade in goods. The Africans have proposed that the transition period under which they would have to reduce and in many cases eliminate the tariffs they levy on imports from Europe should be up to 25 years. Yet some EU officials view that period as too long.

"It will still be difficult to come up with a framework agreement considering the time remaining," explained one diplomat.

Anti-poverty activists have highlighted the damage which a flood of tariff-free imports from Europe could have on African agriculture during an international day of action against the EPAs, called for Sep. 27.

Bassiaka Dao, president of the Farmers Federation in Burkina Faso, said that unfettered free trade could compromise his country's ability to feed its own population.

"EPAs are a risk for our food sovereignty," he said. "A free trade agreement with the EU will not only have an impact on our commercial relations but will also limit the national policy space in the field of support policies for our agriculture. That is why we say no to EPAs in their current form."

The dairy sector in Burkina Faso, traditionally a pastoralist country, has already suffered because of increased imports of heavily subsidised milk powder from Europe. Yogurt using imported milk powder has been found to be 10-15 percent cheaper than that using local produce.

Chicken farmers in Ghana, meanwhile, have warned that the face ruin if the country accepts an EPA. The quantity of European chicken sent to the country exceeded 40,000 tonnes in 2004 and will almost certainly rise in the coming years.

"The EU's use of pressure on ACP countries is not acceptable," said Tetteh Hormeku from the Third World Network in Accra, Ghana. "Nor does it make sense. Imposed EPAs will definitely not reflect the EU's interests and trade approaches. They fail to fulfill the development goals the EPAs were supposed to meet."

Michelin plantation an oasis in sea of poverty

from The Globe and Mail

The Ouro Verde co-operative is researching a unique type of rubber tree 'cancer'


ITUBERA, BRAZIL -- It may have taken three planes, a bouncy bus ride and about 18 hours of travel time to get to Itubera, Brazil, but it took only about two minutes of staring into the mouth of a thundering waterfall at Michelin's rubber plantation in the Atlantic rain forest to realize that this place was much more than a rubber factory.

Set in the middle of a largely unknown jungle, one that happens to produce lots of rubber trees, the waterfall is the centrepiece of Michelin's Biodiversity Research Centre in this remote Brazilian area about 200 kilometres south of Salvador, near the Atlantic coast.

When the waterfall wasn't drowning out conversations, its misty fog soon soaked visitors who ventured out on a narrow observation dock to witness its power close up.

The falls marked the spot where, in late 2003, Michelin went from being a rubber producer in the Bahia province, to a community builder of the area, one of the poorest in Brazil. That's when Michelin embarked on its Ouro Verde co-operative, literally "green gold," a project that encompassed developing new low-cost housing and medical facilities for the plantation's workers and families, furthering advanced research into a unique type of rubber tree "cancer" that is globally feared outside its native South America, and promoting scientific study of the Atlantic rain forest, the virtually unknown southern neighbour of the famed Amazon rain forest.

Three-thousand hectares of the Atlantic rain forest is a natural reserve that Michelin has protected with security forces from poachers, and opened up to study by scientists from all over the world. It promises new discoveries of plant life and even small mammals, as well as its own local ecological research efforts.

The plantation also is organizing some leading-edge social development efforts for both Michelin employees and others contracted to local rubber producers, many of whom are now partners with Michelin, which supports them with loan guarantees and tree-farming research.

If that "green gold" project name has the cynic in you assuming that it was simply Michelin's way of making more money in the area, think again. "By 2001, there were so many dead trees in this region, it caused Michelin to question whether the project was sustainable," said Gerard Bockiau, the director of Michelin's Brazilian plantations.

At the time, and to this day, the rubber trees in the Amazon and Atlantic rainforests were being hard hit by a plant disease called microcyclus ulei, or South American leaf blight, which not only killed many trees, but also made the remaining rubber trees much less efficient, producing about half the latex per tree of that which Asian rubber trees produce.

So even with numerous advances in disease resistance, it would still have been considerably less expensive to shelve the project and get on with more efficient sites elsewhere in the world.

"The first and most obvious solution would have been to sell it all," Bockiau said. "But selling it wouldn't guarantee the preservation of this part of the rain forest, and simply wouldn't be the Edouard Michelin way," citing the former Michelin co-chairman, who died in 2006 in a boating accident at the age of 42, but whose legacy remains as a social and environmental leader in an industry often maligned for its environmental practices.

The project also serves as a template for various Michelin projects in developing nations around the world, including in Africa and Asia, where more than 90 per cent of the world's rubber is produced. It's in nations such as China, Malaysia, and Indonesia, as well as parts of Africa, where the great fear is that this fungus will spread to those hevea (rubber) trees, which would spell major upheaval for Michelin, the rubber and tire industry as a whole, and the global economy, environmental experts say.

"If it passes to Asia and Africa, it would be an ecological and economic disaster, affecting three million jobs," said Dominique Garcia, a researcher with the global agricultural consulting group CIRAD, the Centre for International Co-operation in Agronomic Research for Development, based in Montpellier, France.

"With the globalization of the transportation industry, it's only a matter of time that this fungus passes to other parts of the world."

Research into fighting the leaf blight has been going on for 15 years, with the facility evaluating new mixes of native and resistant seedlings every year; the most promising of these are grown into a new type of rubber tree hybrid, which takes a full 20 years.

The research is helping local producers to increase their incomes as well as their rubber production, and will become a key global initiative should the fungus reach southern Asia in particular.

"One tree here makes about five kilograms of rubber per year," said Bockiau, "which is about the rubber needed for one tire on a small car."

Living on the plantation is a relative oasis in a desert of poverty for the 3,500 workers, as the co-operative town effort is a joint project by Michelin, local governments and private NGOs (non-government organizations).

So far, the project has set up a school, a medical clinic and a dentist's mobile office in the area, none of which existed prior to Michelin's purchase of the plantation from Firestone in 1984.

"This village had no water systems or electricity, no phone service," Bockiau said. "In three years, we'll have offered 264 excellent-quality houses [which cost about $7,000], a day-care centre, a shopping mall and recreation facilities - even mobile phone companies are now covering this area."

The $292 (U.S.) a month income that most of the tree tappers receive may be paltry, but it's considerably higher than Brazil's minimum wage of $133 a month, or $1,600 a year. Neither figure would be enough to live on in fashionable Rio or Sao Paulo. But with incomes growing through the planting of secondary crops such as cocoa that produce more quickly than the seven-year startup cycles of rubber trees, workers are literally harvesting the rewards of their productivity growth.

The natural riches of this part of the rainforest are also being discovered now, said Dr. Kevin Flescher, Michelin's director of the Biodiversity Research Centre in Brazil.

"We're in the Stone Ages when it comes to knowing the Atlantic rainforest," said Flesher, an ecology and evolution researcher who specializes in studying medium- to large-sized mammals. "Everybody's discovering new species here."

The facility has about 35 researchers studying various plants, insects, birds and wildlife, with Michelin providing both accommodations and research grants. "We have about 1,000 years of research yet to do."

Those black gumballs that hold up your car may not look very interesting to you, but if you know the years or decades of research, planning and people stories that go into getting them to you, while preserving the natural environment they come from, all of a sudden they become much more interesting.

Why can't Africa tackle poverty?

from the BBC

By Steve Schifferes

As the United Nations (UN) General Assembly begins meeting in New York, little is being heard about the Millennium Development Goals.

The eight internationally-declared goals, on reducing poverty and improving life chances in developing countries, were set in 2000 for achievement by 2015.

But the UN says that halfway to the deadline, sub-Saharan Africa is unlikely to meet any of the poverty-busting goals - nor the benchmarks on education, health, and women's empowerment.

This failure was declared a "development emergency" by UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown at the UN in July. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called an emergency meeting to discuss the issue next year.

But why is Africa falling so far behind in the fight against poverty? And is there the will in the West to help?

Promises, promises

One reason is that the promises by Western countries to double foreign aid to Africa over the next decade - made at the "Make Poverty History" G8 summit at Gleneagles in 2005 - are not being met.

Aid budgets actually fell by 5% last year, according to Hetty Kovach, Oxfam's policy advisor on aid.

She says the situation is "very worrying" with budget difficulties and the economic slowdown likely to increase pressures on aid budgets in France, Germany, and Japan.

Ms Kovach argues that there have also been problems with the quality of aid that has been delivered, with too little directed at improving basic health and education, and in particular paying the salaries of badly needed nurses and teachers.

And she warns that it will be "too little, too late" if countries wait until just before the development goals fall due before putting more money into the pot.

False hopes

Some argue that the Millennium Development Goals may have been unrealistic targets for Africa.

Simon Maxwell, director at the independent think-tank Overseas Development Institute, says that the goals were always meant to be more of a tool of political mobilisation than an exact guide to planning an aid strategy.

But he says they have proved very effective, particularly when used by the UK government, in mobilising world opinion on the issue.

And he argues that, although there have been some signs of progress in Africa, particularly on education and on the spread of democratic institutions, there are more deep-seated problems that aid alone cannot deal with.

These include wars and conflicts, geography (especially landlocked states), over-dependence on the export of natural resources, and poor governance.

The developmental state

In a new report, the UN organisation Unctad suggests that in the future, Africa will have to do more to help itself.

It suggests that Africa should follow the model of the successful East Asian economies like Korea and Taiwan, which have grown rapidly in the past 20 years without foreign aid by mobilising their domestic resources.

It argues that, like in East Asia, the state will have to take a mobilising role in spurring economic growth, because the private sector is too weak, with the barriers to its expansion, such as poor infrastructure and lack of a developed financial system, too great.

"The widespread market failures, along with the huge financial resources involved in implementing the earlier stages of development, imply that the private sector cannot be expected to play the lead role," it says.

But for African governments to be effective in such a role, they have to develop more legitimacy and more competence.

And Africa must save and invest more of its own resources, including making better use of the profits from high commodity prices, and of the remittances from its workers who have moved abroad.

Challenging the 'Washington consensus'

Their argument throws down the gauntlet to the institutions that have traditionally led the world's effort to tackle poverty in Africa, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which will be meeting in Washington next month.

Their model of development, involving increasing liberalisation of Africa's financial and goods markets, along with cutting back the role of the state and limiting budget deficits, has been called the "Washington consensus".

John Lipsky, the deputy managing director of the IMF, told an Oxfam conference this week that "the economic prospects of poor countries depend on their linkage to the global economy" and argues that "new and significant progress to establishing the goals of an effective open economy" are increasingly attainable in Africa.

But both Unctad, and development non-governmental organisation like Oxfam, argue that the IMF model does not produce enough benefits for the poor.

Oxfam argues that, before giving advice, the World Bank and the IMF should have the responsibility to analyse how their policy recommendations will impact on the poor.

But the controversy over the effectiveness of aid is also one factor that is making most Western politicians - and Western people - increasingly reluctant to fund an increase in aid budgets, either for the World Bank (which is seeking another tranche of money) or for meeting the commitments they made at Gleneagles.

So, in the next decade, any progress in reaching the Millennium Development Goals may well depend on Africa itself, and the degree it can mobilise its own economic and political resources.

Being hailed here 'a very big deal'

from The Philadelphia Inquirer

By Dan DeLuca

Inquirer Music Critic
When Bono was but a boy, the rock-star-to-be heard John Lennon whispering inspirational words in his ear.

"That changed the way the world looked outside my bedroom window when I was 12 years old," says Bono, lead singer of U2 and cofounder of DATA (Debt, AIDS, Trade, Africa), a Washington-based advocacy group.

Tonight, Bono and DATA will be honored with the Liberty Medal at the National Constitution Center, whose president, Joseph M. Torsella, cited Bono for proving through his activism "that the office of 'citizen' is the most important in the world."

The award puts the 47-year-old Nobel Peace Prize nominee in rarefied company - over 18 years the award has gone to statesmen and justices, world leaders and scientists, to Nelson Mandela and Vaclav Havel, former Presidents Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush, now chairman of the Constitution Center.

On the phone from his home outside Dublin, Bono talks about the African triple killers of AIDS, malaria and extreme poverty. And he says accepting this medal in Philadelphia, the American home of both Live Aid and Live 8, is "a very big deal."

"In the American body politic," he says, "there's no poetry like the poetry of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution."

Bono doesn't just talk: He "speechifies." He may have a reputation as a pompous world-saver, but in conversation he's relentlessly charming and self-critical, referring to himself as "annoying," adding: "I'm sick of the sound of my own voice. I'm not kidding you." And he mocks the trademark tinted glasses that serve as his Superman's cape: "Without them, I'm an amorphous mass."

He says there's a symbiotic relationship between his day job as front man for one of the biggest rock bands in the world and his second career "moonlighting" as a celebrity agitator lobbying for aid and debt relief for Africa, "a magical, extraordinary place."

To show how he became convinced that music could save the world - growing up in Dublin as the son of an amateur opera-singer father and a mother he lost when he was 14 - he starts to sing.

"Oh my love for the first time in my life, my eyes can see," he sings, slipping into Lennon's "Oh My Love" a cappella. "I see the flowers, oh I see the trees, nothing is clearer in our world."

"That was, like, church," he recalls. "It just made me think - when Bob Dylan was added into that mix, and later, Joe Strummer - that the world, you could kick it into shape a bit. You should never think that things have to be the way they are. You should always question it. And challenge it. And I think we've been doing that since the beginning."

Though tired of hearing his own brogue, he vows to continue to employ it. "Music gave me a soapbox, and I'm going to use it," he says with a laugh. "It gave me a platform and a loud-hailer [bullhorn]. It's put me in a place where people are foolish enough to listen to what I have to say. So use the moment."

U2 rose to superstardom in the 1980s with heroic, stadium-size anthems such as "I Will Follow" and "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For." While his band mate The Edge's guitars rang out, Bono was the guy in the mullet literally waving a white flag. "I still am," he quips, "but with a better haircut."

U2 played at Live Aid, Bob Geldof's 1985 African famine charity concert. The next year Bono and his wife, Alison (the couple have four children), traveled to Ethiopia to work in an orphanage for six weeks.

"Once you become a witness," he says, "it becomes very hard to walk away, knowing you stand a good chance of landing a punch on the problem."

He didn't get deeply involved in African issues until the late '90s, when he joined the Jubilee Movement, a lobbying effort to erase the debt of the world's poorest countries and free up money for health care and education.

That marked the transition of Bono - real name Paul Hewson, but long known by a version of his teenage nickname, Bono Vox, which loosely translates from Latin as "good voice" - from rosy-eyed idealist to real-world pragmatist. He started hanging out with guys like Jeffrey Sachs, the economist who heads the U.N. Millennium Project, with whom he is pictured in GQ as two of 15 men "we believe will change our future."

Bono says his "least favorite verb in the English language is 'to dream.' I think these years that we're living in are about doing. Even Nike. . . figured that out."

So what's he done lately? Besides "reapplying for the job of best band in the world," beginning with U2's All That You Can't Leave Behind in 2000, he's been working as a professional persuader with leaders from George W. Bush to George Soros.

"Many of these stars are counseled by their agents to show a human side," says Sen. Richard Durbin (D., Ill.), who has worked with the rocker on global AIDS issues. "Bono's different. He's clearly committed, and he knows what he's talking about."

And he uses his celebrity, Durbin says, as a super-lobbyist on both sides of the ideological divide. "He can get in to see the president, or Jesse Helms. I don't know that anybody can say no to Bono."

That's because the guy who cofounded DATA, and the anti-poverty One campaign, isn't just another activist. He's Bono, who joined with Geldof in organizing Live 8, guest-edited the July issue of Vanity Fair on Africa, and spearheaded the product (Red) campaign, the alliance with retailers like Apple and the Gap to raise money to supply antiretroviral drugs for HIV-positive people in Africa.

Along the way, the singer skewered by the Mekons in 1989 as "the Dublin messiah, scattering crumbs" has come in for plenty of flak. Paul Theroux, in a New York Times op-ed piece called "The Rock Star's Burden," argued that by treating Africa as a place that needs to be saved, Westerners do more harm than good. And (Red) has been attacked for making self-satisfied consumers feel they can eradicate AIDS by buying a T-shirt at the Gap.

Bono, a former teenage chess prodigy who tries to think ahead, has heard the criticisms.

"They say the real route out of extreme poverty is to grow the middle class. Growth, opportunity, commerce. I agree with them. But having been in rooms where we see people begging for their lives, where there's not even rage in their eyes, I have to ask: What are we going to do in the meantime?"

The (Red) campaign, says the 5-foot-7 rocker, uses the same strategy as Achtung Baby, the 1991 U2 album. "It's like judo," Bono says. "You use the force of what's coming at you - all this media, all this commerce - to defend yourself." (Red) has raised $45 million, he says.

For his activism to be effective, Bono knows that U2, which is working on a new album with producers Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois, must make music that resonates.

"There's enormous pressure to be relevant," says the singer, who feels that "great music is written by people who are either running toward or away from God." (Count him among the former.) "Which is different than successful, and a lot harder."

Harder still is the task of pressuring world leaders to live up to meeting goals like the $25 billion pledge by the G8 in 2005 for African development by 2010.

For the Irishman who plans to wear his leopard-skin boxer shorts - yes, he'll have pants over them - to tonight's gala, the key is to get the American people on his side.

"What I love about America started in Philadelphia," Bono says. "It's the expression of those values that the world needs to see. The America that liberated Omaha Beach, that rebuilt Europe with the Marshall Plan. That put a man on the moon.

"That's the trick. That's how we hold them accountable. It won't be because Bono is in or out of a photograph. . . . It'll be because the American people want to show the world what they're capable of."