Thursday, October 04, 2007

Unintentional Consequences of International Philanthropy

Featured Speakers: Perry Gottesfeld, Executive Director of Occupational Knowledge International, San Francisco

International development projects funded by foundations and the public sector have in recent years been increasingly subject to empirical measurement and assessment tools. New rigor has entered the field and both large and small funders have taken note. Noticeably lacking, however, has been the systematic effort to evaluate the likely indirect and unintended impacts on human health and the environment, either before projects begin or after they are completed. For example, in the 1970s, UNICEF set out a goal to bring in clean water to impoverished regions in Bangladesh. Twenty years later, cancer-causing skin lesions from high levels of arson in the water developed. In this discussion, Perry Gottesfeld explained that a formal assessment during the planning stages of development projects may identify and help prevent undesirable outcomes of this nature.

Gottesfeld presented a case study to the audience in which international development organizations set out a goal to create 1 billion new computer-users by 2015 in rural areas in developing countries. Considering the impacts to human health, natural environment and social aspects, audience members arrived at numerous unintended negative impacts of the “the next billion” plan including, the effects of disposing of hardware, the disconnect that will arise between people as a result of increases in internet communication, and the increase of the ease of human trafficking.

According to Gottesfeld, introducing 1 billion computers will need 8 million metric tons of lead. Thirty percent of this lead will be released into the environment. This can, however, be lessened, perhaps even eliminated, with working towards battery certification. This certification can ensure better environmental sustainability.

“Nobody in international development intentionally distributes hazardous products,” said Gottesfeld. “But most impacts can be anticipated and mitigated.”

Sponsor: Society for International Democracy Washington’s Environment Workgroup and International Health and Nutrition Workgroup

Location: Society for International Development, 1875 Connecticut Ave., NW

Date: September 25, 2007

Time: 12:30-2:00p.m.

Approximate Number of Attendees: 35

Intern Attending: Noon Salih

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