Monday, May 02, 2011

Will the reported death of Osama bin Laden affect overseas travel for Americans?

I was living in Lesotho when the Twin Towers were destroyed in New York. After contacting my family (my brother worked in New York) I settled back to consider what life would be like living abroad in an "unfriendly" world.

In the midst of the reported death of Osama bin Laden, people seeking to work overseas may feel concerned about potential threats, but it is important to maintain perspective. There are approximately 1 million Americans working abroad, yet the threats to non-military personnel are negligible, particularly regarding terror threats. More often than not, Americans abroad will be targeted by common criminals, looking to take advantage of their naivete, and their perceived wealth. Other crimes involve violent sexual crimes, particularly against young women who may be perceived as "loose" by local standards, or as a target because they live outside of local social networks.

An even greater risk to travelers abroad involves traffic accidents. Over 90% of traffic fatalities occur in low to middle income countries (countries that would seem most "prone" to terrorist activity).

With the recent reported death of Osama bin Laden, travelers should take precautions, but it is important to realize that many more dangers exist. People around the world tend not to radicalize so easily, at least in my experience, and seem to have more compassion than ire toward Americans abroad.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Working for CARE USA or CARE International Part 2

CARE liked to focus on the needs of women and girls. It is linked to their world wide strategy, and is their main "selling point" in their fundraising efforts. CARE is a large international organization that consists of CARE "donor" countries, and CARE "beneficiary" countries. Donor countries have their own separate offices that usually staff an assortment of fund raisers, accountants, technical personal and the like. The donor offices tend to target big funders within their specific country. For example, CARE USA works to secure funding from USAID, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and other U.S. based funders. The CARE USA staff would then employ staff to "work" on the project (so as to imply value-add). The actual facilitation of implementation would fall into the hands of the CARE beneficiary country offices, such as CARE Lesotho, CARE South Africa, CARE Indonesia and others. These offices would "implement" the project, either through direct development efforts or through partnerships with local government, non-government organizations and other local entities. Neither layer in CARE seemed particularly interested in implementing projects directly, but more interested in partnering (generally a form of 'outsourcing') with local entities. The drawback to this was that money, once funneled through CARE "donor", the CARE "beneficiary", then local partner, left relatively little for actual on-the-ground implementation.

CARE is a business. It is a non-profit business, but a business nevertheless. And it is not unlike other charitable organizations, -World Vision, Catholic Relief Services or Save the Children. They pay their leaders considerable sums of money, and they have a considerable number of relatively well paid staff in the U.S. and abroad. To their defense, USAID requires significant amounts of accountability (almost crippling amounts, and in many cases, absurd types of accountability), and also requires significant amounts of proposal writing, paper work and oversight. This causes large international development organizations to seek top dollar people to help win these contracts (because these contracts are multi-millions of dollars), but then they get caught trying to appease the donors, leading to less-than-ideal development.

CARE and other organizations also employ incredibly large marketing departments. They are selling good-will after all. When you give them your money, you only get a sense of doing something good or helping out or whatever. That's great, but intangible. You buy an MP3 player, you have an MP3 player. You buy a good feeling based on trust, you don't know what is actually happening 10,000 miles away in Guinea-Bissau. So they need to spend lots of money to get your trust. (See the CARE "I am powerful" campaign")

All in all, working for CARE had some pros and cons, and here they are:

- Pays extremely well, especially if you secure a job in the U.S. and go overseas
- You don't pay income taxes if you are abroad more than 330 days per year and make less than some amount around $70,000 or so
- You can work on a variety of projects in different fields, from girl empowerment to climate change to HIV/AIDS prevention
- It may make you feel like you are doing some good

Cons: (in my opinion)
- Much of the money seems to be spent "at the top" and rarely seems to hit ground in sufficient quantities
- CARE seems to follow the tides, so you may find yourself having to shift gears often (from HIV to climate change to women's rights and back)
- You may spend more time at embassy cocktail parties than in the field working with people directly
- You may be frustrated with relationships between local organizations and your large international organization

All in all, if you are in it to do what is right, large organizations may not be for you. I tried it, and worked with many wonderful people, but the bureaucracy and politics made it difficult to feel that you were doing any good. I would recommend sticking with smaller, more on-the-ground organizations.

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