Something Baad is Happening in Afghanistan

Ghulam, 11, sits next to her husband-to-be Mohammed, 40. Source: AP Photo/UNICEF, Stephanie Sinclair, HO

Afghanistan is not known for its stellar women’s rights record. Over the past century, the status of women has been on a metaphorical see-saw; small improvements have brought hope, only to be followed by drastic steps backward, bringing the status of women to an even lower position than before. The war in Afghanistan brought promise of steep reform and the reemergence of female empowerment in the country. It’s been just over a decade since the war began, however, and there’s been little improvement for women in that time. Continue reading

Making Space for Disability in Development


When thinking of development, many tend to consider those who are most in need: the ultra-poor, the malnourished, and the victimized. It’s natural to first consider things such as poverty, education, and health; these are all important aspects of the development process. In the same respect, those with disabilities should also be on the list. However, disabled people are frequently neglected and seem to be considered a niche market within a wide array of development initiatives and programs.  Probably the most outspoken commenter on this issue, Duncan Green of Oxfam, admits to hearing many in development reason “we do poverty, not disability.Continue reading

Turning Development into Child’s Play


A large part of development is marketing. It’s all about making the public empathetic and hence willing to support a cause. Charities and development organizations enlist a variety of methods, from concerned celebrities to depressing Sponsor a Child campaigns on television. However, a combination of poverty porn (exploitative photos or news coverage or poor people designed to encourage donations) and compassion fatigue has made it increasingly difficult for people to empathize with humanitarian issues. In response to this, several aid organizations have turned to the internet in order to engage donors through interactive media. Continue reading

Let’s Make a Citizen Out of You: The Rise of Biometric Identification in India

Source: Ruth Fremson, New York Times

In many developing countries, lack of documentation can be a major obstacle for people who want to claim their rights to citizenship. India, in particular, has as many as 400 million people unaccounted for.

In the book Paper Citizens, Kamal Sadiq explores India’s over-dependence on documentary citizenship and the difficulties created for the government to distinguish between who is a legal citizen and who is not. The current national identification card (NID) leads to problems such as “blurred citizenship” where many natural-born citizens (unable to receive government benefits without NIDs) resort to fake documentation in order to receive benefits such as access to government welfare programs, the ability to open a bank account or enroll in school, and protection from wrongful deportation from their homes. Continue reading

When Girls Become Liabilities: The Trend of Gendercide in India

Source: The Economist

As illustrated in previous blog posts, women could play a major role in development if societal barriers to education and employment were eliminated. However, these barriers are especially difficult to overcome, as they are molded by centuries of discrimination and unequal treatment.  The act of ‘gendercide’ has been particularly difficult to overlook.

As the name implies, gendercide is “gender-selective mass killing.” The act can refer to the targeting of both males and females; however, the targeting of female infants, or female infanticide, has become deeply embedded in numerous cultures throughout the world. In East Asia specifically, this custom has come as a result of a cultural favoritism for boys over girls. Reasoning varies by region; however, does tend to be primarily economic. Girls are regarded as “liabilities” to the family and the prospects of having a male child are welcomed as a result. Continue reading

The New Buzz in Development

Sweet Beginnings team

It seems that insects can be quite handy at times. In addition to malaria-fighting spiders, bees have also been doing their part in development abroad and here in the U.S. At the recent Inaugural Bipartisan Congressional Conference on Innovation in Giving and Philanthropy, Brenda Palms Barber discussed a business called Sweet Beginnings, developed through the North Lawndale Employment Network, which exclusively employs formerly incarcerated individuals. Originally, Lawndale provided job training to released offenders, however, Barber explains, “When people were ready for placement, we couldn’t find them jobs.” And that’s where the bees come in.

Based in Chicago, Sweet Beginnings produces its own honey, which is then used to create its line of all-natural beeline® products. It employs recently released felons in order to help them “establish work history, learn productive work habits, and gain marketable skills.” Employees assist in all forms of the business, from harvesting honey, creating the beeline® products, and selling the product at retail stores and events. This opens new and more lucrative employment opportunities, rather than falling back into a cycle of crime. Compared to the national average of 65 percent, the rate of former Sweet Beginnings employees returning to jail is below 4 percent. Along with this, the business, much to the surprise most, has been doing remarkably well. Annually, the company brings in $100,000 in sales and has made $2 million in project sales from the last five years.

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The itsy bitsy spider climbed up the tree, ate the mosquitoes, and now we’re malaria free

"Spider trees." Source: Russell Watkins, UK Department for International Development

There’s something odd happening in Pakistan. After major flooding in 2010, one fifth of the region was covered in water. While relief organizations began pouring into the region, there is a tinier, more nimble population that is also doing its part. Millions of spiders, in an effort to escape the ever-rising waters, scrambled up the trunks of trees to create impressive tree cities, or ‘spider trees’ as they’ve been named. This unique phenomenon first gained international attention in 2011 when Russell Watkins, a multimedia editor for the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), stumbled across these trees and snapped a picture, later featured in National Geographic.

While the spider presence can have negative consequences on the trees (killing them from lack of sunlight), they have also helped lower the risk of Malaria in Pakistan. Typically, when regions suffer major flooding, there is an increased risk of malaria because the excess water provides an ideal breeding ground for mosquitoes. However, with spider webs encompassing many of the trees in the region, more and more mosquitoes are being trapped before they are able to spread disease. As a result, DFID has attributed the lower number of malaria cases to these spider trees. Continue reading