On the front lines of the Ivorian crisis

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Tubman Hospital Refugee Patient

By Andrew  Zolli
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the interviewer and interviewees.

The post-election crisis in Ivory Coast has been transformed from a political standoff to a humanitarian catastrophe. Ethnic groups loyal to strongman Laurent Gbagbo and those loyal to president-elect Alassane Ouattara have clashed with horrifying results: so far the Red Cross has discovered 800 bodies in one village alone; the U.N. discovered another 118, many burned alive.

While Gbagbo’s arrest on April 11 represents a turning point in the crisis, this shockwave of violence has created a refugee crisis in neighboring Liberia, as an estimated 100,000 Ivorians have poured over the border into the country in recent weeks. Their arrival has overwhelmed the already fragile and under-resourced rural public health system in southeastern Liberia.

2010 Social Innovation Fellow Dr. Raj Panjabi and his colleagues are on the front lines of this unfolding crisis. Their community-based health organization, Tiyatien Health, is working with the Liberian Ministry of Health and other partners at one Liberian district hospital and sixteen clinics in some of the areas most seriously affected. We spoke to Panjabi and Dr. Yesero Kalisa, Tiyatien Health’s Clinical Director, who are heroically trying to provide care at the only hospital in the county, Tubman Hospital.

Edit your life and win a green contest

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Graham Hill’s latest design initiative, Life Edited, is a contest to renovate a 420 square-foot apartment in New York City in a way that will radically reduce your carbon footprint. With $70,000 in cash, prizes and a design contract, why not enter it?

Hill, who is the founder of TreeHugger.com, which is now a part of the Discovery network, is on a mission to help everybody get rid of all the unnecessary clutter in their lives. In New York City, this is particularly essential if you want to remain sane. A good way to start is by “ruthlessly editing,” as Hill says, your minimal personal space in a green way. Speaking from personal experience, it also clears some (much needed) space in your mind.

The education of John Legend

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For someone who was home-schooled for a number of years, it’s interesting that singer and six-time Grammy award winner John Legend spends what spare time he has reforming America’s public schools. He is especially devoted to Deborah Kenny’s Harlem Village Academies, a group of three charter schools in Harlem, New York.

Like many celebrities these days, Legend wants to — and does — leverage his success for a worthwhile cause. His introduction to education reform came from retired Giants running back Tiki Barber, who is a Harlem Village Academy board member. Ever since Legend met Kenny and visited one her schools, he was hooked.

Empowering the poor to be breadwinners

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Samasource, a non-profit that connects people living in poverty to work via the Internet provides a different kind of economic aid. The founder of the organization, Leila Janah, who is also 2010 PopTech social innovation fellow, says that instead of just giving money and help to the poor, Samasource empowers them to be producers so that they are not forced to simply be receivers and consumers.

“There’s a new paradigm that’s an alternative to aid,” Janah says. “Aid is not necessarily the best solution for poor people. We spend a hundred billion a year on stuff that we know very little about — there’s very little transparency in the foreign aid world — and it has a perverse effect on small economies.”

Leila Janah on Samasource

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By Leila Janah, the founder of Samasource.

Over one billion people live in extreme poverty, subsisting on $1.25 a day or less. Among the Millennium Development Goals determined by world leaders in 2000 is a target to achieve “full and productive employment and decent work for all, including women and young people.” Despite up to 90% literacy rates and increasing levels of per capita income being spent on higher education in developing countries, employment opportunities remain scarce, even in urban areas.

Samasource connects 900 marginalized people, from Kenyan youth to women in rural Pakistan, with dignified work opportunities via the Internet. Using the business process outsourcing model, we secure contracts from global organizations to provide digital services such as data entry, book digitization, Internet-based research, business listings verification, audio transcription, and video captioning.

Making it right in New Orleans

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PopTech speaker Tom Darden is the executive director of the Make It Right Foundation, the organization started by Brad Pitt to rebuild affordable, green homes in New Orleans’ lower ninth ward. Make It Right has already built 50 homes and are in the midst of construction for another 30. Their initial goal is to build a total of 150.

So far, Darden has helped raise $36 million for the foundation. In 2009, Darden was named Louisiana’s Young Entrepreneur of the Year by the Small Business Administration. After being in New Orleans for four years now and having worked with the foundation since 2007, Darden explains why his work is so essential and how these types of homes can transform a family’s quality of life:

The invisible gorilla in the room

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How well do we pay attention, asks psychology professor at Union College and co-author of “The Invisible Gorilla” Christopher Chabris.

In answering that query, Chabris, who investigates the illusions of our mind, also finds out how well we think we pay attention, which, in an era of short attention spans, is critical to know and understand.

David de Rothschild rethinks plastic

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Plastic is everywhere. It is a pervasive part of our everyday lives. It’s a huge source of waste and most of it is not even biodegradable. Worst of all, much of the plastic we throw out is designed to be used only once. So what can we do about a product that we use just one time and then never goes away?

Eco-explorer David de Rothschild, the founder of Adventure Ecology, believes we need to change the way we think about plastic. In addition to using and creating less of it, de Rothschild thinks we need to start recognizing used plastic as a resource.

A ‘frozen mouth’ finds a voice in the jungle

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As a child, Alan Rabinowitz had a severe stutter. So severe that he doesn’t remember speaking his first sentence until he was 19 years old. He tried everything to get rid of what he called his “frozen mouth,” including shock therapy at one point. Although he struggled to communicate with humans, Alan felt a poignant connection with big, wild cats.

His stutter, he says, turned out to be his greatest blessing: “Stutters can do a couple things right. One of them is to speak to animals.” And so Alan has spent his life dedicated to preserving and protecting these big cats who provided him comfort and a sense of belonging as child.

A new technology to monitor water

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A new technology is being unveiled today that monitors water quality. FLOW, as it is known, is the brainchild of Ned Breslin, the CEO of Water For People, a non-profit dedicated to improving the quality of water and sanitation in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

The first technology of its kind, FLOW (Field Level Operations Watch) is an Android mobile phone app that captures data on water points and sanitation projects in 11 different countries. The data is automatically uploaded to Google Earth so it is free and available for anyone to see and use.