What Jess, Bob, and I Did in Africa

July 10, 2009

Print This Article

July 5th, 12pm – I’m looking out the Virgin Atlantic airplane window at Mt. Kenya as we end our twelve day trip to Kenya and Uganda. We’ve begun the twenty-eight hour journey home. East Africa is a beautiful region with substantial economic opportunity, and very worthy of a visit. This was my second trip to Uganda, but first to Kenya.

What Drew Us In

We went to learn. We went to visit some of the non-profits The Humanity Campaign has worked with in the past and those we are considering supporting in the future. We came back changed permanently having seen the juxtaposition of the beautiful rising Africa against the constant suffering of unlistened to and forgotten millions of people just like you and I. In the developing world, 2.6 billion people live under $2 per day (PPP adjusted) according to the World Bank and 49,300 people die each and every day needlessly from preventable disease and starvation according to the WHO.

Some of The Stories That Sear Themselves Into Your Memory

For just a second, imagine 139 girls from your local elementary school have been kidnapped by an armed rebel group and taken to a jungle 400 miles away. One hundred and nine of them are negotiated to be returned but 30 of them stay and are raped, abused, and are forced to be sex slaves for as long as thirteen years. Six of these thirty girls are killed attempting to escape. Imagine hiding in a snake-infested ceiling drop at your high school to avoid being kidnapped by the LRA. Imagine being 17 and living in a slum in Africa with over 1 million residents. Both your parents died of AIDS, then your grandfather was killed, then your pastor who took you in abused you. Now you’re on your own, struggling everyday to survive. These are just some of the life altering stories I’ve heard over the last twelve days.

Day By Day, What We Did

Bob Phoenix, Jess Shorland, and I left the iContact parking lot at 4:30pm on Wednesday June 24. We drove over to Raleigh-Durham International Airport for our flight to London. We arrived in Heathrow Airport on Thursday morning, took the Heathrow Express to Paddington, took the Underground to Waterloo, and were on the London Eye by 10:30am in good tourist form. In our twelve hour layover in London we rode the Eye, took photos on the lions at Trafalgar Square, ate Bangers and Mash at The Clarence, saw the changing of the guard at Buckingham, and visited the London office of Credit Suisse in Canary Wharf to visit some of Bob’s co-workers.

We departed from Heathrow that Thursday night and arrived the next morning in Nairobi. After filling out our Kenya arrival cards and swine flu papers, we made it through immigration in about an hour. Three $25 Kenyan Visas later, we picked up our luggage at baggage claim and excitedly met Mary Muhara from Africa Rising at international arrivals. We had checked into the Bush House and Camp in the South C district, which had a reasonable rate of 4600 Kenyan Shillings for a double room with an en suite bathroom (and hot showers). We left our bags and proceeded with Mary to begin what we we really there for–to visit the non-profits we were working with and learn as much as we could about extreme poverty, hunger, basic healthcare, and conflict resolution.

We visited Nairobi, Kampala, Lira, Gulu, and Mityana over the twelve days. We were there to visit the organizations that The Humanity Campaign has contributed to in the past and to scope out new organizations to invest in the the future. We were also there to learn–to venture another foot into the water of exploring what it will actually take to end extreme poverty and hunger in our lifetime. Jess’ focus was to learn about conflict resolution.

During the trip we visited nineteen social entrepreneurial organizations all told (some non-profit, some for-profit) in Kenya and Uganda. We visited seven schools, four community non-profits, three local businesses who had received microloans, two microlending institutions, one hospital, one clinic, and one technology incubator.

Our itinerary was as follows:

Day One – Fly from Raleigh to London
Day Two – In London, Fly from London to Nairobi
Day Three, Nairobi – Africa Rising, TULIP
Day Four, Nairobi – Carolina for Kibera, Trash Clean Up, Soccer Tournament Fun Day
Day Five, Nairobi – Fly to Entebbe Uganda, Car ride to Kampala to home of Louis Ntale
Day Six, Kampala, Lira, Gulu- Concerned Parents Association, Community Microlending to Young Mothers Program
Day Seven, Gulu – Invisible Children Uganda / St. Joseph’s High School, Gulu High School, MEND
Day Eight, Kampala – Bus from Gulu to Kampala, Appfrica meeting in Kampala
Day Nine, Mityana – Mityana Hospital, Mityana Secondary School, Affinet, Naama Millennium Primary School, Santa Maria Medical Clinic
Day Ten, Kampala – Faula Uganda / Opportunity International
Day Eleven, Entebbe – Bob and Ryan Flight from Entebbe to Nairobi, Jess gets picked up by Juma to go to WOMEDA in Karagwe, Tanzania
Day Twelve – Fly from Nairobi to London to New York to Raleigh

Where We Spent Our Time

Here is a report on each of the organizations we visited with while in Uganda and Kenya the past twelve days.


Africa Rising is a non-profit organization based in Durham, North Carolina that currently supports organizations in Tanzania, Kenya, and Uganda. The organization retains a representative in East Africa named Mary Muhara, a Kenyan residing in Nairobi. Mary’s job is to vet potential non-profit organizations for the group to contribute to and to follow-up with those currently in the Africa Rising network. Mary was very kind to take us around Nairobi on our first day to show us TULIP and a Beacon of Hope store.


The first organization we visited with Mary was TULIP Girls Centre. TULIP is an organization that Africa Rising supports today. TULIP was founded by Mary Munyi. Mary started by taking in five disadvantaged girls from the community around here. Today, TULIP is a private school for sixty disadvantaged girls aged 13 to 16 (form 2, 3, and 4) located just outside of the Korogocho slum, the second largest slum in Nairobi after Kibera and the most dangerous.

We met with Nicera Muriithi the Program Manager. Nicera explained that their operating budget was $30,000 per year. We learned that their teachers were paid approximately $125 per month.

When we asked why we should support a private school in the area Nicera explained that the government had not built a primary school in the area because it was a poor area and that there was no public school nearby. Nicera explained that her biggest need was to get more land so she could expand the school. She indicated it would cost $25,000 to purchase the one acre of land. She also requested textbooks and a computer so she can train the students in typing.

We had a chance to speak with the students. When we asked what they wanted to be in the future, they named lawyer, doctor, preacher, and politician. The reality was however that all these professions required a college degree and that these girls would not be able to afford to attend university.


On Sunday June 28 at 8am we showed up at the office of Carolina for Kibera (CFK). CFK has a girls center, clinic, waster management program, and youth soccer program.CFK was founded in 2001 by Rye Barcott, a friend of mine and fellow Tar Heel. Rye was a U.S. Marine Officer for five years who fought in Afghanistan and Iraq. Rye just finished a MBA at Harvard Business School and a MPA at the Kennedy School of Government.

Kibera is in Nairobi and with 1 million residents, it is the largest slum in Africa. That day in Kibera, Jess, Bob and I walked about 30 minutes to the soccer field with a couple interns from Duke and UNC and some visiting Muzungus (white people) from Vancouver. We grabbed rakes and helped remove trash from the street and sewers in Kibera as part of CFK’s ‘fun day’ in which kids did a couple hours of community service cleaning up the area and then participated in a soccer tournament.

It was an eye opening and life altering experience walking through the dirt paths of Kibera and raking clothes, water bottles, shoes, fruit, corn, and litter out of open drainage ditches filled with brown water and human excrement as part of a team of perhaps 200 that went out in the community to clean up. I had seen rural poverty in Africa before, but this urban poverty was different. The community seemed vibrant, entrepreneurial, alive, musical. Dozens of stray dogs and chickens roamed. The small one-room houses in which 6-8 slept were made of mud with a tin roof. Yet we knew we wouldn’t be safe by ourselves, especially after dark. The lack of sanitation was very visible.

Here’s an excerpt from Wikipedia on Kibera, “Kibera is heavily polluted by soot, dust, and other wastes. Open sewage routes, in addition to the common use of Flying toilets, also contribute to contamination of the slum with human and animal feces. The combination of poor nutrition and lack of sanitation accounts for many illnesses. Not only are death by disease and conflict common inside this slum, but it is estimated that 1/5 of the 2.2 million Kenyans living with HIV live in Kibera.”

Kibera was the center of many of the riots and killing that occurred following the contested Kenyan election in December 2007.

At 11:30 that morning we had to leave the soccer field and walk the 30 minutes back to the CFK office. We couldn’t find anyone who was willing to walk with us and were told we should not walk alone due to safety (and we didn’t remember the route). We finally found a wonderful 17 year old young lady to show us the way back. She was the 17 I spoke of earlier in this post whose parents had died of AIDS. She moved in with her grandfather but he shortly passed. She then moved in with her pastor, but he abused her. She was effectively alone struggling to survive and all she wanted was a small place of her own. Stories like this were all too commonly heard.

It was a life changing experience to spend four hours in Kibera, and I know I’ll return. I have a very high level of respect for everyone at Carolina for Kibera. I’d love to work to start a similar program in Korogocho, a slightly smaller but more dangerous slum in Nairobi.

Here’s a video of me dancing with the children in Kibera before a Carolina for Kibera soccer match:


After taking the Post Uganda bus to the Kamdini depot, we were picked up by Richard from Concerned Parents Association, another organization that Africa Rising currently contributes to. We met with Anthony, the Interim Executive Director of CPA. CPA started in 1996 after 139 girls aged six and seven were abducted from a local school by the LRA. Of the 139 that were taken, 109 were returned quickly in negotiations, but 30 remained. Since 1996, 24 of the 30 remaining abductee girls have returns. The other six were killed while attempting to escape. The girls today are all 19 or 20 years old. In March 2009, the last surviving girl returned. To give some perspective, in order to escape successfully each girl had to walk for one month, often alone, in the jungle of Northwest Uganda or the Garamba Forest.CPA helps these returnee abductees with counseling. Almost all of the 24 returnees girls brought with them babies. They had been made wives or sex slaves of the LRA while the bush (forest). These babies were called ‘Bush Babies’ by the local community, and often discriminated against. Today, the LRA still has over 3,000 women and child that they have abducted. July 2006 was the last abduction in Uganda. However, today the LRA is abducting children in the Congo and most recently massacred 600 over the Christmas 2008 holiday in the DRC. The people in Lira still fear the LRA returning to Acholiland (Northern Uganda) according to Anthony.

Today the Concerned Parents Association is focused on improving children’s rights and fighting/reporting rape and domestic violence in their tribe of Lango around Lira, a city of 62,000 people. They have sixty employees and work with over sixty parent groups at schools in the area. They amazingly operate on an annual budget of $350,000 per year. They currently receive funding from Save The Children Uganda, The Mennonite Central Church, the Christian Aid, UNICEF, and the European Union, –although the EU funding is likely to run out in October. They do and can give out condoms in their area as part of their reproductive health and family planning efforts even though they are funded by some Christian organizations. They have four offices including the main headquarters in Lira and branches in Gulu, Kitgum, and Oyam.

Anthony noted that while most of the Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps have dissipated in Lira and Gulu, there are still people in IDP camps in Kitgum, due to concern about the return of the LRA and an especially ruthless Ugandan tribe of cattle-raiders, the Karamajong.

We asked why Anthony chose to be involved in CPA. Anthony himself was almost abducted by the LRA. He told us that the LRA once attacked his school in 1995 when he was 17. In order to avoid being abducted, he hid in a snake infested ceiling drop.

Anthony indicated that CPA’s needed include additional assistance with report writing and documenting in English and funding.


After visiting with Anthony at the Concerned Parents Association, we were taken to visit one of the programs that CPA supports, the Lira Girl Mothers Microfinance Program (LGMMP). We met with two advisers and eleven young single mothers, who seemed to range in age from about 15 to about 24. We met with them sitting in blue plastic chairs under a tree outside of a primary school about 2km away from the center of Lira.One of the things that struck me immediately was how softly these women spoke. One could literally not hear them from eight feet away. Even their advisers and our female guide from CPA spoke extremely softly. I found it challenging to decide whether to ask them to speak louder and risk offending them. Eventually I did. The women mostly spoke Luo and not English, so our guide translated for us.

The LGMMP had twenty-eight girl mothers involved in its programming and eight advisors. They sang a song for us at the beginning with the lyrics, ‘we will never forget you, please don’t forget us.’ They were involved in five different types of microbusinesses that they had been trained to start. Initially they were given $75 each to start their businesses (as a grant not a loan). They used $17 of this to purchase ‘trading licenses’ so they could start their business legally, so they were left with $58 to begin.

They had started a grinding business, a distillery, a sewing company, a charcoal company, and a bakery. They indicated their biggest challenges were:

  1. Transporting of their goods to the market
  2. The expense of trading licenses ($17)
  3. The fluctuating price of food
  4. Finding space for their businesses and paying rent
  5. Inability to sell their whole product before it goes stale

As an example of their issue with transport costs, the mother running the charcoal business would pay 10,000 UGX ( ~$5) for her charcoal bushels at wholesale, then pay 4500 UGX (~$2.25) and then be able to sell her charcoal 15,000 to 20,000 UGX ($$7.50 to $10). On a bad day she would work all day to make $0.25. On a good day she might make $2.50, depending on the retail price she could negotiate.

When they had the opportunity to ask us questions, their first question was whether we would be able to help financially support them so they could expand the program to other young mothers in the area. They indicated their morale was low as they had held meetings with potential donors before but hadn’t yet received any outside support. They also requested assistance in finishing their formal education.

Their biggest business needs was capital–particularly a grinding machine ($35) and a sewing machine ($75). In the four months the program had been operational, the twenty-eight women had successfully been able to save 800,000 UGX ($200).

I found myself struggling whether to attempt to give the ladies helpful business advice based on my experience (group supplies together in one shipment to reduce transport costs, use savings to reinvest in capital now rather than later, etc.). With Bob as an investment banker from Credit Suisse and me an entrepreneur we naturally wanted to. Yet at the same time we recognized we knew so little about their businesses and environment.

We ended up choosing to use questions to inquire why they were or weren’t doing certain things. They had good answers. We asked why they didn’t use these savings to invest in the capital necessary to reduce their renting costs and earn a higher profit. They responded that they had committed to saving for one year or until they got to 5,000,000 UGX ($2,500), whichever was first. Once they reached this mark they would consider whether to use their savings to allow other mothers into the program and/or invest in necessary machinery.

Overall the ninety minute meeting gave us a fairly good understanding of the business and personal challenges these women faced and left with an appreciation of the work that CPA was doing and an even greater respect for organizations like Opportunity International and FAULA who follow a slightly different model of providing small loans instead of small grants. It is truly amazing what $75 can do, whether as a loan or grant. It can give a woman her freedom.


I first heard about Invisible Children in the summer of 2008 while visiting Uganda. I learned much more about IC while meeting their co-founder Bobby Bailey and CEO Ben Keesey at The Summit Series event in Aspen in April. Invisible Children began in 2003 as a documentary after three young filmmakers from Southern California visited Gulu. They rather courageously filmed and released a documentary about what was happening in Gulu in 2003 (children being abducted, attacks by the LRA, children being forced to walk miles every night to find a safe place to sleep).Today, the Gulu region and the Acholiland region of Northern Uganda is peaceful and relatively safe (and very worth visiting!). However, Joseph Kony and the LRA have moved on to the Garamba Forest in Northeast Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and continue their abductions and raids into Sudan, East Congo, and the Central African Republic. Since 2003, Invisible Children has produced six additional short videos telling the challenging stories of individuals there around Gulu. In 2005 IC registered as a U.S. non-profit organization and in 2007 they registered as an NGO in Uganda. They work primarily in Gulu, Pader, Amulu, and a bit in Kitgum.

In the United States, Invisible Children raises money, mostly through high school and college students, to fund both their on the ground efforts in Uganda and to fund legislative lobbying events and rallies (to encourage the U.S. Congress and State Department to work with Uganda, the DRC, and the ICC to pursue and capture Kony and stop his abductions and mass killings.

In 2008, Invisible Children had an overall annual budget of $7M, of which approximately $2M went to fund projects on the ground in Northern Uganda around Gulu.

Jess, Bob, and I arrived at the Gulu office of Invisible Children Uganda at 9am on June 30th. We met first with Erika who worked in communications. Erika was extremely nice and helpful and share a lot with us about IC Uganda.

In Uganda, Invisible Children has three on the ground programs. These are

1. Economic Development Iniatives (EDIs) including:

  1. Bracelet Making – IC started out their EDI programs by hiring 182 bracelet makers to produce bracelets that would be included in the Invisible Children DVD packs. They now have a surplus of bracelets, so have transitioned this individuals to a training program on income generation.
  2. Savings & Investment Program – These 182 individuals are now part of a savings and investment program which provides a six to eight month curriculum on income generation
  3. MEND – A new for-profit arm of Invisible Children that produces messenger bags and purses with the brand MEND from a nice factory near Gulu that we visited under the director of a talented and energetic designer named Marie. MEND started with 10 women and now has 13. Almost all of them are former abductees.
  4. Cotton – A program to provide organic cotton to Bono’s wife’s organization Eden, to help assist people in moving out of the IDP camps and back to their ancestral homelands.

2. Visible Child Scholarship Program (VCSP)

  1. Secondary Scholarship Program – Provides scholarships to 650 secondary school students in and around Gulu and Pader
  2. University Scholarship Program – Provides scholarships to 59 university students in Uganda and 1 who earned a full-ride to Boise State University in Idaho
  3. Mentorship Program – Providing 24 mentors to local students

3. Schools for Schools (S4S) –

  • A program through which schools in the United States support a school in Northern Uganda. IC provides assistance to ten schools in the area.
  • They work to rehabilitate structures and classrooms, install running water and water tanks, add toilets, and put in computer labs.
  • We visited St. Jospeh’s College (A High School), Gulu High Schools, and another primary school which I cannot recall the name of to see the work that Schools for Schools had accomplished.

Meeting with Jolly, Country Director for Invisible Children Uganda

After meeting with Erika outside under a thatched reception area, we went inside to speak with Jolly Okot, the Country Director for Invisible Children Uganda. Jolly indicated that the LRA was abducting children as a human shield. She indicated many in the LRA had been brainwashed to believe that Kony had spiritual powers. Today, she said, the LRA was abducting many more children in the DRC, Central African Republic, and Sudan. Jolly spoke of the political discussions between the DRC and Uganda about allowing Ugandan forces into the Congo to go after Kony. She indicated that Kony was being supported by President Bashir of Sudan, who also has an ICC warrant out for his arrest.

The other major NGOs I saw represented in Gulu were World Vision, Samaritan’s Purse, African Revival, UN, UNICEF, and UNHCR.


Appfrica (on Twitter at @appfrica) is an technology entrepreneurship incubator and custom software development firm run by Jonathan Gosier, an American living permanently in Kampala with clients including Google and the Grammeen Bank. Jonathan currently has 8 programmers. He pays $900 per month for an internet connection of 192 kpbs, equivalent to DSL and about 1/10th the speed of cable broadband we get in the U.S. for $40/month. He spoke to us about the EACOSS, EASSY, SEACOM, and O3B (by Google) initiatives to bring faster broadband access to Africa. Jonathan was a big believer in making change through business. He felt there was a wealth of programming talent (especially with Python, Ruby, Symbian, Java, and C+) but a lack of opportunity in Kampala.

On Thursday July 2 we had the chance to visit Mityana, a town about an hour to the West of Kampala. We visited five organizations that day, the first being the Mityana Hospital.The hospital was built in 1947 and serves the 288,000 people who live in the district and many from surrounding areas. It has 6 doctors, 100 beds and 4 wards: maternity, male, female, and children. It has an HIV/AIDS clinic that serves 4,000 regular patients with the help of Population Services Internatational. It also has an x-ray lab and a dental office.

Funding from the hospital comes from the government, with some additional funds coming from NGOs. According to their Director, their biggest needs are surgical and diagnostic equipment and an ambulance. They have an operating budget of 23,000,000 UGX per month ($11,500).


Mityana Secondary School is one of two high schools that iContact and The Humanity Campaign have started a scholarship program for. I visited the school for the second time on this trip and had a chance to speak to their entrepreneurship class. Their principal indicated their biggest challenges are parents paying school fees, orphan students, and transportation.They indicated building additional dorms for some of the students would be very helpful to the children without parents and those for whom the school is a many miles away. One of their biggest needs is getting internet access to their computer lab, which is currently outside of their budget.

The school has 1,350 students and 70 staff members. The government pays the teacher’s salaries and parents pay school fees, which are 468,000 UGX ($234) per year normally and 900,000 UGX ($450) per year for students who live at the school.


AFFINET stands for the African Friends in Need Network. It is the second school that the iContact/Humanity Campaign scholarship program will be benefiting. It is a vocational school in Mityana, Uganda. It was started in 2000. It has a strong social justice mission. It provides classes on sewing, fashion design, carpentry, and home economics. It has 111 students and focuses its efforts on girls who have been left behind. It has had 195 graduates so far since the first class graduated in 2004.Over lunch with the Bishop, we learned that AFFINET would like to start classes in bricklaying, IT, and livestock. They need computers, sewing machines, and funds to complete their bathroom and ceiling in the girls dorms.

Namma Millennium Primary School was founded in 2000 by Dr. Christopher Kigongo, a Ugandan who now works at Duke University. I’ve worked with Christopher over the past year to set up a scholarship program for students at the school that is providing funds for students who attend Naama Millennium Primary School in Mityana, Uganda to continue on to secondary school at either AFFINET or Mityana Secondary School.I first visited Naama in 2008 and fell in love with the children. Last year, they danced and drummed. This year, students from Duke had developed a play on nutrition and hygiene that the students performed for us, followed by the amazing popping and locking hip hop dancing of a five year old boy (followed by Bob, Jess, and I doing a dance for them).

In 2008, a number of students from Nourish International worked at the school to put in cement floors, windows, doors, and a rainwater harvesting system. The improvements were very visible this year.


Our final stop in Mityana was the Santa Maria Medical Clinic. The Clinic is a for-profit private business, started and run by Dr. Paul Mugambe. The clinic today sees 60 patients per day. They provide more available and better care than Mityana Hospital according to Dr. Mugambe. They most commonly treat malaria, respiratory issues, diarrheah, and HIV/AIDS. They have 30 beds today.The clinic’s biggest challenges are people who need care but cannot afford it and thus do not pay their bills, high taxes, and a lack of surgical room. The clinic charges 60,000 UGX ($30) for a normal baby delivery and 300,000 UGX ($150) for a c-section delivery. Dr. Mugambe would like to expand the clinic but is currently renting so cannot make additions to the property. He is looking to get a loan of 75,000,000 UGX ($37,500) to purchase the property, but loan interest rates are currently too high at 20%.


On our final day in Kampala on July 3 we visited with FAULA and Opportunity International in Kampala. Both are microfinance organizations that are working together in Uganda. Jess, Bob, and I had the chance to meet with the CEO of Opportunity International Uganda.They have 200 staff members in the country, nine branches, and a $6 million microloan portfolio. Their average client takes out a loan of $150 and makes repayments weekly. They have a 2.4% default rate. They work through a group system in which a group of at least ten takes out a loan together (the peer pressure and accountability provides higher repayment rates). Once an individual pays back their group loan they can obtain a larger individual loan.

Opportunity prices their loans at 3% per month interest (compounding to be equivalent to 43.5% per year). While this is high, they indicated that the return from the use of their capital that is otherwise unavailable is much higher. They’ve developed an impressive, sustainable model.

We visited three of Opportunity International’s clients in Kampala, the owners of a banana stand, a metalworking shop, and a small conveyance store.

Opportunity International also has a partnership with Compassion International in Uganda.

After Bob and I left to go back home, Jess was picked up by Juma Masisi who runs WOMEDA in Karagwe, Tanzania. Jess has been at WOMEDA for a few days now. She is studying conflict resolution and women’s rights there.WOMEDA stands for WOMen Emancipation and Development Agency. According to their web site, WOMEDA “promotes the status of marginalized groups by creating and strengthening equal opportunities for women, men, and children through the provision of socioeconomic, legal, and human rights activities in order to attain sustainable development.”

We are hoping that Mary Muhara from Africa Rising will have a chance to visit WOMEDA in the coming days and consider supporting the organization.

Overall we very much enjoyed our time in Kenya and Uganda. I wanted to especially thank Louis Ntale and Rebbecca Ntale who allowed us to stay at their house for three nights and their son Kenneth Ntale for driving us in Uganda. Thanks to all for reading. Comments are very welcome!

The Revolution Will Be Tweeted – Saturday May Bring Change to Iran

June 19, 2009

Print This Article

As we sleep tonight in America, there is history afoot. Never before has the social web been used to such an extent within a country to attempt to remove a leader and coordinate a political revolution. Tomorrow, Saturday, will be an important day in the history of Iran.

For the sake of this post and citizen journalistic integrity, I’ll try to be as objective as I can here as few of us outside of Iran can know enough to truly know what is accurate. This noted, the consensus of the digerati has been made known and it is clear. In the world of Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, and YouTube–the crowdsourced view is behind the ‘Green Uprising.’

A tipping point may be reached after today’s day of prayer and Ayatollah Khameni’s speech which may only inflame protesters. The momentum behind a movement has begun and it won’t easily taper.

As I browse Twitter tonight, I see tweets like the following:

I am seeing Facebook Statuses tonight like this one:

  • Shervin Pishevar – please pray for Iran and the brave Iranian people. In 5 hours we meet our destiny. I will not be able to sleep.

The informative Green Brief is coming out nightly from an Afghan man named NiteOwl, sourced entirely from Tweets from inside Iran. There are instructions on “Anonymous Iran” on how to surf in Iran using proxies so one can access the social web. There is a tremendous set of Flickr photos of the protests on the Fhashemi Flickr account. There are 180 posters from protesters shown at Design for Iran.

In two days, hundreds of thousands of Twitter members have turned their avatar green in support of the Iranian protesters using a tool at HelpIranElection.com.

Here are some videos seemingly showing violent oppression of the protests:

There are so many ethical issues here that we must tread carefully on. We must be careful in the West to so naturally and quickly support this uprising simply because we tend to lean toward the beliefs and views of the more moderate candidate Mousavi. Here is a good article supporting Ahmadinejad’s win. There are folks on the Ahmadinejad/Khameni side who are claiming that the support for the “American led coup in Iran” is causing unneccessary blodshed. Here is an example:

  • @JimJones45 – 99% of tweets are from US backing a BLOODY revolution. People are dying. STOP destabilizing the Iranian state! #IranElection

This noted, others on Twitter seem to suggest these twitter accounts, most of which have no history before yesterday, are agents of the Iranian government.

To me, this doesn’t seem to be a Western-led coup. The pictures and videos of the hundreds of thousands of people in the street lay doubt to this claim.

Here is an excerpt of an email posted on Iran Fax Blog the that seemingly comes from an Iranian citizen:

Tomorrow, people will gather again in Valiasr Square for another peaceful march toward the IRIB building which controls all the media and which spreads filthy lies. The day before Yesterday, Ahmadinejad had hold his victory ceremony. Government buses had transported all his supporters from nearby cities. There was full coverage of that ceremony where fruit juice and cake was plenty. A maximum of 100,000 had gathered to hear his speech. These included all the militia and the soldiers and all supporters he could gather by the use of free TV publicity. Today, at least 2 million came only relying on word of mouth while reformists have no newspaper, no radio, no TV. All their internet sites are filtered as well as social networks such as facebook. Text messaging and mobile communication was also cut off during the demonstration. Since yesterday, the Iranian TV was announcing that there is no license for any gathering and riot police will severely punish anybody who may demonstrates. Ahmadinejad called the opposition as a bunch of insignificant dirt who try to make the taste of victory bitter to the nation. He also called the western leaders as a bunch of “filthy homosexuals”. All these disgusting remarks was today answered by that largest demonstration ever. Older people compared the demonstration of today with the Ashura Demonstration of 1979 which marks the downfall of the Shah regime and even said that it outnumbered that event. The militia burnt a house themselves to find the excuse to commit violence. People neutralized their tactic to a large degree by their solidarity, their wisdom and their denial to enage in any violent act. I feel sad for the loss of those young girls and boys. It is said that they also killed 3 students last night in their attack at Tehran University residence halls. I heard that a number of professors of Sharif University and AmirKabir University (Tehran Polytechnic) have resigned. Democracy is a long way ahead. I may not be alive to see that day. With eyes full of tear in these early hours of Tuesday 16th June 2009, I glorify the courage and bravery of those martyrs and I hope that their blood will make every one of us more committed to freedom, to democracy and to human rights. Viva Freedom, Viva Democracy, Viva Iran

On balance, to me the evidence seems to show that a reasonable person could come to the conclusion that this election may have been rigged. To avoid a revolution and further bloodshed, a new fair election must be held.

In an age of instant communication you cannot deceive your population for long. If you throw an election, it will get out. In an age of transparency, the days of leaders who don’t serve their people are numbered.

If you’re on Twitter, you can connect with me via @ryanallis.

The revolution will be Tweeted.

P.S. – Here is an interesting article on how protests were organized before the days of social media.

OptInNow.org – Opportunity International’s New Kiva-Like Site

April 23, 2009

Print This Article

This is something really cool.

I had coffee this evening at the HW55 Starbucks in Durham with Sam Serio from Opportunity International. Opportunity International is a Christian microfinance organization that’s been around since 1971.

Opportunity International has launched a site called OptInNow.org. OptinNow allows you to make small loans directly to entrepreneurs in developing countries.

Comparison to Kiva

OptInNow is similar to Kiva, with the exception that the loans made are contributions to Opportunity International and are re-loaned over and over again to entrepreneurs with microenterprises in developing countries instead of paid back directly to the lender. Another difference is that Opportunity International has a Christian affiliation whereas Kiva does not.

OptInNow.org is in the early stages, so the site does not yet have as extensive inventory of loans and projects as Kiva, but does allow loans to be made to entrepreneurs in Kenya, Ghana, the Philippines, and Mexico with many more to come soon.

Props to the folks at Opportunity International for creating a well-designed usable interactive site that will get a lot more visibility and unique donors for their organization.

Aid 2.0

As opposed to the old-school ‘top-down’ Easterly-criticized bi-lateral government-to-government aid model where funds were given to oft-unelected semi-corrupt dictators for cold-war geopolitical reasons that indebted the populace without providing much benefit to them while sometimes forcing the funds to be used to pay Western contractors (okay I’m being a bit harsh here but do read Perkins’ Confessions of an Economic Hit Man and Stiglitz’ Globalization and Its Discontents), OptInNow’s model is from the grassroots–from the bottom-up. It gives small amounts of funds that can make a world of good directly to the local entrepreneurs who know how to best use them. It’s market-based aid versus the top-down centrally controlled aid of the past.

Who Is It Run By?

Opportunity International is currently run by CEO Christopher Crane, an entrepreneur, YPO member, and Harvard MBA who took commercial real estate information provider COMPS InfoSystems to 450 employees and took it public in May 1999 before being acquired by CoStar (NASDAQ:CSGP) in February 2000. I haven’t met Christopher yet but look forward to meeting him soon.

Here’s a video about OptInNow. Spread the word!


About Opportunity International

Opportunity International, the largest not-for-profit microfinance organization in the world. OI began in 1971 and specializes in working with the poorest of the working poor, those who make less than $2 a day. OI has 1.2 million active loan clients in 28 countries and 85% of their clients are women. Here are some key facts.

Opportunity International 2007 Highlights
Current loan clients worldwide:
Value of current loan portfolio worldwide:
Number of loans made in 2007:
Value of loans made in 2007:
Average loan size:
$227 (excluding Eastern Europe)
Average first Trust Group loan:
$162 (excluding Eastern Europe)
Loans to women:
Loan repayment rate:
Source: http://videos.opportunity.org/website/media-center/Opportunity_International_Fact_Sheet.pdf


About OptInNow
Our mission is simple. We’re working to end global poverty. Faster. How? By providing those who live in chronic poverty with one vital thing they need to transform their lives: Opportunity. Along the way we hope to transform additional lives, like yours. That’s why we’ve made it so simple for good people everywhere to come together, to fund small loans, to witness big and lasting impact, and to truly change the world. That’s what we’re really about. We’re about every land becoming a land of opportunity. And with your help we’ll get there.

This Page May Contain Content That is Not Consisent With the Moral Cultural, or Social Values of the UAE

June 23, 2008

Print This Article


I was in Dubai for a night two weeks ago on my way to Uganda and tried from my Holiday Inn Express in Dubai Internet City home of the Middle East campuses of Sun Microsystems, Cisco, and EMC and to access a blog called Secret Dubai Diary. The site came up in a Google search for Dubai nightlife. When I tried to access the site, I got the lovely “Surf Safely” message above, indicating that this site was “inconsistent with the moral, cultural, or social values of the UAE.” Unfortunately for the government censors in the United Arab Emirates, they didn’t think to block the Google Cache version of the page.

It was very reassuring that UAE recognizes the Internet as a “powerful medium of communication, sharing and serving our daily learning requirements.”

If you wish, you can send an email to “safesurf[at]du.ae” to share your view of Internet censorship.

$1M Prize for Best Developing Country Technology Innovation

March 23, 2008

Print This Article

width=125Legatum Group, founded by Chris Chandler and based in Dubai, has announced today at Fortune Brainstorm Tech in Half Moon Bay, California a $1 million prize for the best technology innovation from a for-profit company in the developing world. I will update this blog when they post details on how to enter.

I wanted to write this post as from all appearances, Legatum seems to be making a concerted effort to invest in long-term sustainable development in developing countries and putting their money where their mouth is. They are a sponsor to the Fortune conference here, and are mostly unheard of. Even their original company Sovereign Global, is nearly unheard of. Yet they manage over $4B in capital invested in India alone.

Legatum is the donor to the Legatum Center for Development and Entrepreneurship at MIT. They invested $50M in the Center to obtain naming rights. Here is a short video I took this afternoon of Iqbal Quadir who is the founder and Director of the Legatum Center for Development and Entrepreneurship at MIT.

Although Dubai-based, the group is made up strictly of Westerners, mainy of whom previously worked at Chris Chandler’s Sovereign Global. They claim a 40% CAGR over the lifetime of thier original fund started in 1986. The President of Legatum, Mark Stoleson, attended Occidental College and Duke. The other chief team members attended Wharton, London Business School, Babdon, Oxford, and University of Brisbane and has worked at law firms, JP Morgan, Goldman Sachs, and PWC.

I do wonder if most of these individuals are based at the head office in Dubai, which is slowly on its way toward challenging London and New York for the global capital headquarters. If you can find any statistics on capital under management for equity investment firms based in New York, London, Hong Kong, and Dubai please let me know.

Legatum Group is also the creators of the Africa Prize, which gave away $450,000 in 2007 to the most innovative businesses in Africa. Their philosophy is simply that for-profit businesses are more efficient at creating positive social improvement than bi-lateral foreign aid which in their Easterlyan-like view too often has created dependency.

« Previous Page