Monthly Archives: March 2012

Eco-soldiers and Green Battalions

The connections between keeping the peace, climate change and economic well-being might not seem obvious at first glance. But we are beginning to see that they may be far more connected than previous conventional wisdom foresaw. Certainly, as humanity’s demand for natural resources increases, this puts more pressure on countries to ensure that those valuable resources are well-protected.

And globally, militaries and other security forces are suddenly finding themselves in an interesting and unusual new position. i.e., “protector” of water, timber, and other natural resources, from illegal plundering. In essence, these new “eco-soldiers” are protecting their national interests as the world wakes up to the both the environmental and economic value of these resources.

One example of this is happening in Nicaragua, (which isn’t exactly a country unused to conflict) where soldiers more accustomed to hunting down drug runners, are finding themselves tracking down illegal loggers instead, and even planting trees.

From the article linked above: ” ‘Since 2006, we are losing $200m (£126m) a year in lost agro-production due to climate change,’ says Dr Paul Oquist, who is President Daniel Ortega’s adviser for national development policies and representative to world climate change forums…. So, he says, ‘Nicaragua is not waiting for the global community’ to act on climate change.”

What I also love about this program is that besides the admirable efforts against global warming, the soldiers are actually also gaining an appreciation for the natural world and enjoy the benefits of being outside surrounded by nature. They are also gaining some skills along the way and after they have served their terms in the military, this will pay off in educated and interested potential forestry students. It’s a win-win-win situation, well, except for the loggers.

Thanks for stopping by,

Heather McC

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The Third Billion

One of the best ways to improve the lives of people in poverty is to channel development money to them. It’s the old, “Teach a man to fish” theory. Only what has become increasingly apparent over the last few decades is that it’s actually more effective to channel small amounts of finance, usually via micro-finance programs, to women. Women, for whatever reason, tend to use the money to pay for their children’s education, cover healthcare costs, and use the money for improvements to their community, raising standards of living for everyone. (Recently, one woman in India, in rebellion against the low standards of sanitation in India and specifically her new home, took a stand for a modern toilet, and was even rewarded by an international aid agency!)

But finally, the idea that empowering women and providing them with access to finance works, is becoming mainstream, to the point where even the U.N. is recognizing this fact. There was an interesting article about this process recently, but going even further, and speculating on the enormous and untapped economic power of the women in developing countries, referred to as the “Third Billion.”

And it’s pretty easy if you want to help support women in developing countries these days thanks to traditional organizations’ increasing adoption of micro-finance as a development tool, “social businesses”  like Kiva.com, and even organizations like  Microplace.com which provide investment opportunities for people in the developed world benefiting those in the not-so-developed world.

But this is more than just a huge increase in both entrepreneurs and consumers into the global marketplace. Women have different styles of working which are often less competitive and more collaborative. In the future, we may have a very different kind of economy if current trends continue.

Thanks for stopping by,

Heather McC

Green Jobs Everywhere?

Everyone wants jobs. People in the U.S. want them, people in the Arab Spring countries want them, people in the poorest countries on the planet want them too. But are there enough to go around? Or more accurately, are there enough jobs that people want and can do, to go around? (There’s definitely a never-ending demand for physicians, engineers, and other professionals that is not being met but that is not something that can immediately be addressed.)

People complain all the time that there are not enough jobs but if you really look at what’s available, that’s just not true. There are jobs but most people don’t want to either do the work because they don’t like it or aren’t willing to increase their skills to take the new jobs on.

Fortunately, with necessity being the mother of invention, attitudes are shifting and there are some interesting prospects opening.

For one thing, “green” jobs are increasing, the need for skilled and semi-skilled workers is also increasing, and those jobs all the politicians promised are actually starting to show up.

What is interesting is that they’re not just here in the U.S. Green jobs of all sorts and at all levels are showing up worldwide.

An interesting example of this is one of the countries with the worst poverty in the world, India. People in the city of Chennai are being encouraged to recycle by having their children take paper trash to school. This is then collected by “rag-pickers” the poorest of the poor, who will sell it on to dealers. The system is a win-win. Recycling is becoming a part of Chennai society, the environment benefits, poor people get some added income, and huge amounts of paper trash that would have gone into landfills costing the city money, is saved.

On the other side of the world, in California, as we shift to a more and more green economy, it turns out those jobs linked to that economy are proving to be more recession resistant than some others.

A lot of this may be simply due to the fact that people can actually save money by “going green.” Being environmentally conscious and responsible seems to go along well with being fiscally conscious and responsible. People are weighing the big tax breaks that oil and gas companies are getting against the tax breaks that alternative energy companies are getting, and the costs – both environmentally and in cash  — and finding the oil companies coming up somewhat short.

Maybe this green economy idea might work after all? Stay tuned.

Thanks for stopping by,

Heather McC

Another Somewhat Quieter Internet Sensation in Africa

A  story about an ex-Ugandan warlord and an American NGO’s quest to have him brought to justice has been making a lot of headlines lately. Impressive as the social media effort is, interestingly enough it doesn’t seem to be engaging a lot of Africans. That might be because they’re too busy doing something else….

Countries in Africa have long been on the outskirts of the internet revolutions. No longer. Deep-sea fiber optic cables are making their way to the farthest shores of the continent. And cell phone towers are springing up all over the place which has prompted a exponential growth in cell phone sales and connectivity.

This is also bringing unprecedented opportunities to small businesses, and particularly in rural areas. A terrific example of this is taking place in Ivory Coast where these pictures (from the BBC) tell the story best of what can happen when people get hold of technology and more importantly, gain the opportunity to get fair prices on their goods.

And this is just one story of thousands that are quietly taking place across the continent (and yes, worldwide too) as poor farmers are able, with the help of 21st century tech, to monitor and negotiate fair prices for the goods they so painstakingly produce.

The international organization behind this idea, RONGEAD, works with a local organization to promote development rather than just aid. So, while many Westerners have suddenly learned about the evils of an ex-Ugandan warlord through social media and are busy being appalled, at the same time Africans are taking their own future into their hands with the same technology and moving forward into a more prosperous, peaceful and safe future.

Thanks for stopping by,

Heather McC

What Price Education?

The answer to the above question usually comes up as somewhere between “too much” and “way too much.” It’s kind of strange that, today, when we are both in possession of more knowledge than ever in the history of the planet and it is becoming more and more accessible each hour of the day, that, at the same time, the cost seems to keep going up along with our unwillingness to pay, both seem to be trending upward every day.

And yet, maybe education costs nothing at all except for time? Trends in recent technology have given us the Khan Academy, which has burgeoned into an international sensation. And now YouTube is on-board with EDU – YouTube, making college-level lectures accessible from the top academicians in the world and also free. In addition, MIT has announced that it will be trialling a purely “automated” course online, accessible from anywhere in the world, and will actually give credit for this. In an age of ever-increasing student population, demand for the best education, and limited physical classroom place, this opens up even more possibilities.

But how do you value all this? More importantly, how do those people involved in educating the future leaders, scientists, poets, engineers, etc… of the world, get paid for what they do, when lots of what they do can now be found for free?

Maybe the kids can all just educate themselves? (As these street kids in India, somehow managed to do.)

I don’t think so. I believe the true purpose of good teaching is now clearer than ever before. We can’t just stuff kids heads full of facts anymore, push them through tests and grade levels, and then toss them out into the “real” world where they have a piece of paper that will assure them, at the very least, a job at a factory, fast-food outlet, retail company, or in an office somewhere.

Why not? Because those jobs are disappearing. Fast. Really fast. The robots are coming. (They’re flying, zooming, clicking and clacking into our lives, and even folding shirts.) Those basic jobs are going away forever.

There is really only one choice for us, not just as Americans, but as humans, to survive and thrive. And that’s to teach our kids to innovate, create, engineer, design, explore, shape, tool, express, write, sing, dance, act, even play, their way into the future. The future holds a multitude of jobs for scientists, engineers, craftspeople, writers, designers, architects, chefs, gardeners, and teachers, but not a whole lot of positions will be open for line jobs on the factory floor folding shirts.

How we teach our children to survive and thrive in the world to come will be largely dependent on our teachers. That skill is certainly worth paying however much it is worth. Because it’s priceless.

Thanks for stopping by,

Heather McC