Summer in the Triangle

I can’t believe that I am already entering my fourth week at the North Carolina Chapter of the Sierra Club in Raleigh. My time at the Sierra Club so far has been a flurry of activity. On my first day, I was assigned about 5 projects to work on and it seems like whenever I finish one, there are always a couple more to take its place. My projects range on topics from Solar Energy and net metering to Offshore/ Onshore Wind Energy. These are my long-standing projects and I do research on them here and there when I have down time. Even though 5 projects seems like a lot, whenever I feel like I need a break from one, I just move on to a different one.

I have come to realize that my first week at the Sierra Club was the quiet before the storm. During that time, we were gearing up for the North Carolina General Assembly to start its short session. (They convened for short session on May 14.) The main purpose of this short session is to pass a budget, but legislators have snuck other bills in the mix to be considered. Of most concern for the Sierra Club are the Energy Modernization Act, which would lift the moratorium on fracking in NC, a Coal Ash Bill and a Regulatory Reform Bill. There are other concerning bills that have been filed including a Local Ordinances Bill and a Farm GPS bill.

Legislative Building in Raleigh

Legislative Building in Raleigh

One of the things I like about my internship at the Sierra Club is that my day is never predictable. Some days I work in the office, tracking bills, doing research and preparing factsheets on bills, but other days, I am right in the thick of the action- attending Senate and House sessions or committee meetings and lobbying legislators. It was intimidating at first to lobby legislators, but it has gotten much easier. (Especially once you realize just stopping to chat with someone goes a long way.) It’s been really exciting to see the factsheets that I have worked on going to legislators.

 

House of Representatives Session

House of Representatives Session

I have been amazed at how fast everything moves in the General Assembly. Bills are filed, sent to committee and then before you know it, on the floor of the House and Senate undergoing first, second and third readings. Once the Senate and House pass the bill on the third reading, it goes to the governor for approval and then becomes law. The short session is expected to end July 1st and it seems hard to believe that they will accomplish everything they want in such a short period of time. I am looking forward to the next month as bills continue to move through the General Assembly.

Capitol Building in Raleigh

Capitol Building in Raleigh

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Curbing Federal Government Improper Payments

The Obama Administration, dating back to its early days, has placed an emphasis in its management agenda on eliminating waste, fraud and abuse, including issuing multiple Executive Orders as well as signing two laws, the Improper Payments Elimination and Recovery Act of 2010 (IPERA) and the Improper Payments Elimination and Recovery Improvement Act of 2012 (IPERIA). The Management wing of the Office of Management and Budget, including the Office of Federal Financial Management (where I spent my summer), is tasked with administering these ambitious initiatives.

One of the objectives in IPERA is to scale up the internal controls and audit procedures that agencies use to eliminate, identify and recover improper payments. In fiscal years 2011 and 2012, Medicare recovered over $2 billion in improper payments using private payment recapture audit contractors. These auditors scan payments, searching for instances of fraud, ineligibility or lack of proper documentation. IPERA requires all agencies to conduct audits for their programs that expend $1 million or more annually, with one major caveat. The audits must be cost-effective (moneys recovered > costs of audit).

IPERA requires a study to be conducted on the implementation and cost-effectiveness of this new audit requirement. During this summer, I conducted the study and wrote a report on the study’s findings for the relevant Congressional committees and the GAO. The study is still working its way through the clearance process at OMB, so I can’t discuss the findings. However, I can share the basic study design. The study focused on the 24 largest agencies housed in the Executive Branch. From the Department of Defense to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, I looked at agencies of all sizes and missions. The study included a survey, which a 100% participation rate, a focus group of seven agencies, discussions with individual agencies, and analysis of relevant literature.

This project was a rewarding experience for many reasons. First, it gave me a glimpse of and contact with many different federal agencies, which allowed me to learn more about their programs and their unique challenges. Next, it allowed me to apply some of the research, writing, and presentation skills that I learned in my first year at Sanford. Finally, while the report , at minimum, satisfies a statutory requirement, I believe the study and report can be a useful tool in finding solutions that work for all agencies for curbing, identifying and recovering improper payments.

My time at OMB wasn’t all work, however. Here are some pictures of me at the White House Independence Day Party!

photo (1)Honest Abe and I on the South Lawn

photoFun. plays with the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in the background

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New York, New York: Go Big or Go Homeless

By Jennifer Rimbach

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Rising Inequality

Any humid, mid-summer evening stroll through Manhattan reminds me of the agglomeration economy’s complex problem of poverty. The divide between the rich and the poor is wide. In the shadows of skyscrapers with rooftop bars and penthouses lurk some of the city’s most destitute and homeless population.

Members Only: The Power of Banking and Financial Inclusion

The name of the game is development. The World Bank estimates that 2 billion people live on less than US$2 a day and 1 billion people under $1 a day. Another statistic approximates two-thirds of the world’s poor as being unbanked.

Despite having traveled throughout six continents and in some of the most remote and rural areas, these numbers will always shock me.

Solving World Poverty

How can you make money if you never had money? In many parts of the world, economic and social mobility is a dream most people do not have the luxury of imagining. The United Nations Capital Development Fund recognizes this challenge and is working to develop public-private partnerships to promote economic development in the world’s 49 least developed countries. During my time here, I have been convinced that financial inclusion for the poor, and especially poor women, is a key development tool in alleviating extreme poverty. Combined with education and financial literacy, providing people in poverty access to a range of financial services that includes not only micro-credit but also client-targeted products for micro-savings and micro-insurance can encourage economic stability at the household and community level. A World Bank study reports that financial deepening- increasing the provision of financial services- lessens income inequality and disproportionately impacts the poor. As conversations on the Post-2015 Development Agenda continue, it is important to acknowledge the increasing role of financial inclusion in development.

Get Rich or Die Trying

Despite controversial evidence from once highly acclaimed randomized control trials and other impact studies pointing to positive results of microfinance on the poor, there are a vast number of factors at play in the equation. Cultural, religious, political and legal barriers can dictate the successful uptake of any development assistance program. As a result, financial products must be targeted towards specific segments of the population if they are going to work and a regulatory framework must be in place along with a system of monitoring microfinance institutions.

While providing access to financial services to the poor may not lead to the eradication of poverty, it has the power to smooth economic consumption and reduce vulnerabilities. Microfinance has the ability to lessen the crippling effects of poverty. It provides a safety net for unexpected circumstances like sudden illness or death and can promote behavioral change within families by encouraging saving.

A final disclaimer is that poverty takes on many forms. While economists and development workers tend to focus on monetary poverty, those with little to no income are not necessarily shirked from other aspects of wealth. In fact, it is important to remember that the most economically impoverished can still lead an enriched life, especially in aspects such as spirituality and relationships.

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Quinoa: A future sown thousands of years ago.

The International Year of Quinoa was originally proposed by the Plurinational State of Bolivia at the 37th Session of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in June/July of 2011 for the year 2013. The purpose of the proposal was to promote awareness of the benefits, qualities and potential of quinoa as an element to combat hunger worldwide given the exceptional nutritional qualities it presents. Bolivia’s proposal was supported by 19 other countries from around the world, and in December of 2011 the United Nations General Assembly declared 2013 as the International Year of Quinoa.

The UN General Assembly declared 2013 the International Year of Quinoa to recognize the Andean indigenous peoples who have controlled, protected and preserved quinoa. It also affirmed the need to focus world attention on the role that quinoa biodiversity can play, owing to the nutritional value of quinoa, in the areas of food security, nutrition and the eradication of poverty in support of the Millennium Development Goals.

Thus, quinoa was given an international year partly based on its potential to contribute to food security, nutrition and poverty eradication, as quinoa is currently only a minor crop on the world stage being primarily grown in only two countries, Bolivia and Peru. Even in Bolivia, it pales in comparison to soybeans, where in 2011 according to FAOSTAT, Bolivia produced 2.2 million tonnes of soybeans compared to quinoa at 38,000 tonnes.

In contrast, 2008 was declared the International Year of the Potato, whose website declares that the “potato is already an integral part of the global food system. It is the world’s number one non-grain food commodity”. While the FAO team coordinating the International Year of the Potato had the history of potato cultivation and consumption in the majority of the countries of the world to draw on, the International Year of Quinoa (IYQ) team had to build a program that both recognized quinoa’s past, primarily coming from the Andes region of South America, while also promoting a future for quinoa cultivation and consumption on the world market.

Quinoa cultivation has taken an interesting path. The IYQ website states that quinoa cultivation has doubled and tripled in the traditional producing countries of Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador between 1992 and 2010. Conversely, quinoa cultivation took a huge fall from the 1950s to the 1970s, as availability of foods like wheat flour and rice increased in Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador (Cusack, 1984). Peru, which produced about 41,000 tonnes of quinoa in 2011 according to FAOSTAT, was producing roughly the same amount in 1951 – 42,500 tonnes – before dropping to about 8 tonnes in 1975 (Narrea, 1976). So does the recent quinoa boom of the 1990s and 2000s indicate a regional crop ready to take the world stage, or a trend that will soon fade? In a July 11th Washington Post Wonkblog article titled, “Quinoa should be taking over the world. This is why it isn’t,” by Lydia DePillis, it states that some of the world’s largest grain processors have no plans to start sourcing quinoa. States Duke University professor and agricultural economist Marc Bellemare in the article, “We still haven’t fully unbundled what the decision bundle is [for quinoa]. It’s like shining a flashlight in a big dark room.”

Considering then the unknown future of quinoa as a world crop to fight against hunger, malnutrition and poverty, how should an organization such as the FAO then promote quinoa during its international year? The FAO’s mandate from the United Nations according to its website is to improve nutrition, increase agricultural productivity, raise the standard of living in rural populations and contribute to global economic growth. Along with that challenging list of responsibilities, the FAO is also responsible to 192 member nations who come with a wide array of governmental institutions, cultures and ecological climates.

This is where my work this summer came in. My role as a dietitian and Master of Public Policy student, along with another student intern from the U.S., was to create accurate documents on the nutrition of quinoa that could be used in the IYQ’s upcoming recipe and technical books. For an organization like FAO, accuracy is important, and with the rapidly expanding market for quinoa, often called a “super food”, it was important for us to portray quinoa in a way that was both positive yet truthful in the nutrition that quinoa can provide.

Although quinoa has often been portrayed as food high in protein, a recent study of quinoa in three regions of Chile by Miranda et al (2012) demonstrated quinoa to have a protein range of about 11 to 16 percent of its dry weight, a similar range to most quinoa nutrition studies. This protein range places quinoa slightly above most grains such as corn and rice, but far below that of legumes such as beans and lentils. What does set quinoa apart from most plant foods that is important to highlight is the balance of its essential amino acids.

The World Health Organization and FAO set a recommended scoring pattern for the essential amino acids per 100 grams of protein. This scoring pattern then signifies the ideal essential amino acid (EAA) pattern one would need to maintain proper health. While grains are often lacking in the EAA lysine and legumes in the sulphur containing EAAs, quinoa has a good balance between all eight EAAs needed for both children and adults within its protein. So while it doesn’t necessarily stand out for its protein quantity, it does stand out for its protein quality.

In addition to its protein quality, quinoa is good source of fiber, unsaturated fat and minerals such as iron and magnesium. While quinoa does have many nutritional benefits, like we often say in nutrition, it is important to eat quinoa as a part of a well-balanced meal to achieve good overall nutrition.

The photo included in this blog post is of Maria Jose, the FAO nutritionist for the Latin American and Caribbean region, and myself after we cooked green peppers stuffed with quinoa and garbanzo bean. It was a dish that we came up with along with Shelly Johnston, a Mississippi State nutrition student, to potentially put in the International Year of Quinoa recipe book. Quinoa isn’t cheap. Four hundred grams of quinoa seeds cost 3,500 Chilean pesos, or about $7. While it does have its nutritional benefits, for the cost I would prefer to just use rice, and save that extra $6 for something else – maybe some vegetables and garbanzo beans perhaps?

We cooked bell peppers stuffed with quinoa, garbanzo, vegetables, and merquen (smoked ground pepper).

We cooked bell peppers stuffed with quinoa, garbanzo, vegetables, and merquen (smoked ground red pepper).

Bibliography:

Cusack, D.F. (1984) Quinua: grain of the Incas. Ecologist, 14: 21-31.

Narrea, R.A. (1976) La producción de quinua en el Perú. In II Convención Internacional de Quenopodiáceas: Quinua-Cañihua, 26-29 Abril 1976, pp. 31-34. Informes de Conferencias, Cursos y Reuniones N 96. Universidad Tomás Frías, Potosí, Bolivia.

Miranda, M., Vega-Gálvez, A., Quispe-Fuentes, I., Rodríguez, M.J., Maureira, H., Martínez, E.A. (2012) Nutritional aspects of six quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa Willd.) ecotypes from three geographical areas of Chile. Chilean Journal of Agricultural Research. 72(2): 175-181.

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You Are Welcome Again in Rwanda

It’s been an honor to spend the summer in the Singapore of Africa.  I used to be a Peace Corps volunteer in Rwanda from 2009-2011.  Two years later, I am back as an intern at USAID.  Besides some slight improvements in infrastructure, the country has not changed much.

My main task is to help the Economic Growth office develop a “performance management plan” (PMP).  A PMP is a five-year performance monitoring strategy.  I started by working with the team to refine our results framework, then I had to pore through all sorts of documents and meet with our partner NGOs and M&E contractor to see how each of our projects contributes to our office goals.  Since then, I’ve been identifying which performance indicators will best measure our progress, deliberating over the definitions of said indicators, and developing a plan for data collection, data analysis, and impact evaluations.  The next steps are setting baseline values and targets for the indicators, and writing out a long report.  Most people find this process excruciatingly boring.  I’ve really enjoyed it.  It fits my personality.

Life in Rwanda is good.  Coming to USAID has been a little anticlimactic, though.  I remember living in my Peace Corps village and thinking the embassy must be an amazing place.  It’s cool, but it’s not that cool—just a bunch of cubicles and people answering phones.

The contrast with village life is huge.  It is very easy to get sucked into the “embassy bubble.”  You really have to make an effort to get out and see with your eyes what is happening in the country.  I’ve met embassy staff who make the effort.  I’ve also met staff who live very sheltered lives.  The Rwandans that the embassy staff interact with on a daily basis tend to be highly educated, affluent, and well-travelled.  Staff are also treated differently, as they work for a major world power–I get saluted every morning as I pass through the security checkpoints.  Getting the “authentic” Rwandan experience is not easy.  You have to go out of your way to see the “real” Rwanda.  Those staff members who don’t make the effort run the risk of being out of touch with the Rwandan people and the realities on the ground.  It’s different from life as a Peace Corps volunteer, but a lot less stressful.

Seeing the country from a major donor’s perspective has been a real learning experience.  You spend your day in front of a computer writing reports, reading reports, and interpreting statistics.  Being a donor, USAID mainly funds NGOs to implement projects.  In other words, they outsource all of the fun stuff.  Interning here has been a great experience and a great career move, for sure, but I think working for an NGO would be more fun.  That being said, if I were offered a job here I couldn’t turn it down.

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The Fastest Improving State by 2015

Only 27% of Tennessee students scored at or above proficient on the 2011 National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP). The annual “Quality Counts” rankings placed Tennessee 42nd nationally for K-12 achievement. Tennessee hosts some of the worst schools in the nation and, still, my fellowship at the Tennessee Department of Education this summer is called “First to the Top.”

While it isn’t India or Israel (so jealous of some of my Duke friends after reading this blog!) I feel so lucky to be in Nashville, TN. In addition to having a great music scene and lots to do, Tennessee is currently leading the charge on some of the biggest reforms in education as they seek to be the fastest improving state (in terms of student achievement) by 2015 – a goal which drives every decision throughout the department.

After being elected in 2009, Governor Haslam made education his top priority and brought in Education Commissioner Huffman to carry out that work. Using the funds won through Race to the Top, Commissioner Huffman, the Governor and the Legislature passed a teacher evaluation system tied to student achievement (a super contentious topic in education right now). If that isn’t enough to convince you how bold these education leaders are, this summer the state board voted to tie teacher compensation to those evaluations AND effectively ended tenure for those teachers who score level 1 or level 2 on their evaluations. They’ve done all of this while transitioning the entire state to the more challenging Common Core Standards and re-thinking the way we turn around failing schools. The state is making big changes from every angle – so, for an education policy junkie like myself, this is a perfect opportunity to be in thick of ed reform.

This summer I have worked on projects designed to further growth so that Tennessee can advance to be the fastest growing state in the nation. When hiring us, the Commissioner of Education identified major gaps he viewed as priorities and tasked us with finding possible solutions to them.

One of the most interesting projects I worked on regarded special education funding. The way Tennessee funds special education incents schools to place kids in special education in the separated special education classroom. So, I and my colleagues set out to research how other states fund special education and identified the strengths and unintended consequences of each. We evaluated each formula according to the priorities of TN’s Department of Education, selected three which fit the bill and then created a model, predicting which districts would receive more money and which would receive less (putting to good use those skills we’ve gained in econ!).

Whether or not anything will happen with our proposed funding structure is way beyond my pay grade – but I have to say this research has been SO COOL and, if they choose to implement the funding formula, students across the state will receive a fundamentally different education; one I hope will be of better quality and will drive the growth these leaders strive for daily.

While I sometimes feel far away from the classroom – the work here touches so many kids and it feels great to see how the skills I’ve gained at Sanford are applicable in the “real world.”

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Cooking Up Behavior Change

That’s exactly what I am trying to do this summer as a Research Associate for Duke’s TRAction Project – a USAID funded project led by Sanford Profs Subhrendu Pattanayak and Marc Jeuland.

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About half of the global population depends on solid fuel, such as wood, for their cooking needs, but this dependence has drastic consequences for global health and the environment. Traditional cookstoves are responsible for widespread respiratory illness (due to smoke and cooking inside), unsustainable wood/forest product harvesting, and both black carbon and CO2 emissions (wow that’s really bad right?) and improved cookstoves (ICS) have the POTENTIAL (key word here) to reverse all these problems (great, right?). So I’ve come to Uttarakhand, a state in Northern India, to help out with a randomized controlled trial (RCT) that is trying to uncover the barriers to adoption, so we can increase adoption of ICS aka cook up some behavior change.

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Despite reading tons about RCTs and behavioral economics this past year, nothing really prepared me for the field realities here in rural India. I’ve been particularly struck by how the randomness of an RCT, which is obviously the desirable and necessary part, can be so inimical to the way local NGOs work – I’ve been having flashbacks from Manoj’s class about how difficult the politics of RCTs are – and the thought of withholding a beneficial product from certain populations is just completely contrary to their operating missions! The issues of time inconsistency and self-control problems have become real to me now that I’ve seen them in action in the field – many of the villagers we are trying to reach are so liquidity constrained they cannot afford a new stove at the full cost, but we’ve also found some are unable to commit to pay in small installments because they know the longer they wait to pay – the faster the money will go. A perplexing catch-22 situation.

Uttarakhand View

I couldn’t have asked for a better location for field work. The village I am living in this summer is situated in the beautiful Kumaon mountains of Uttarakhand and, despite monsoon season coming a whole month earlier than ever before, I wake up to the most spectacular view every single day. On the days when I go out to the field, I am helping to finish up the cookstove pilots we’re doing to test various stove types, financing plans, and information campaigns before we launch the full-scale RCT. Everywhere I’ve been villagers welcome us into their homes, offering chai and usually lots of fruit, which has been a spectacular experience.

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On the days when the monsoons are too heavy for fieldwork, I hole myself up in the CHIRAG (Central Himalayan Rural Action Group – NGO partner for the on-the-ground implementation of this project) office and work on all sorts of data projects, from continuing analysis of the baseline survey completed last summer to running power calculations and tests of balance for the intervention sample. Needless to say, those stats classes are really coming in handy! After staring at Stata files all last semester, its nice to finally put a face to the data (so to speak)!

photoA day in the life of cookstoves

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Reflections Near the End

I’m being told to dance on the subway.

My colleague points her iphone at me, smiles and then repeats the request. My mind flickers back to when she first announced to us that we were going to enter in the Stanback program “What do you like the most about your internship” video contest. The video will include a rap song and some fun dancing sequences. Then I’m brought back to the present with my colleague still pointing her iphone at me and waiting. I do a mini-dance and my colleague nods her approval, then turns to another coworker, trying to persuade him to dance.

In preparing for my second blog entry, I think back to the video and to that very same phrase “What do I like the most about my internship?” My initial blog entry was at the very start of my internship with the Sustainable World Initiative (SWI). And now, with only two more weeks until my internship ends, I find myself caught between feeling both a sense of sadness and excitement.

Why sad? Well, the best thing about my internship with the Sustainable World Initiative (SWI) has been all the experiences I’ve had. I was working on projects that were very different from anything I’ve ever done before. My background is in research, analysis and programming work, but at SWI, I was working on advocacy, communications, and lobbying. This was a completely new world for me. Whereas previously I was dealing with numbers, facts and information, now I am immersed in relationships, politics and strategy. I met delegates at UN conferences, coordinated activities with other local activists, strategized a communications plan with my teammates, and more.  Yet, despite my initial unfamiliarity with this world, I feel more comfortable now participating in the political process and engaging with decision makers. This internship helped me paint a more holistic picture of what the policy process is, and understand better what role and capacity I can and would like to play.

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Striking the Japanese Peace Bell at the UN Conferences I attended

I’m also going to miss my colleagues. Being with people who are clearly smart but also fun definitely makes a summer. I’ll emphasize this point that I’ve learned in my own previous work experiences and strengthened here: colleagues can make or break work. At SWI, it was easy to solicit help and constructive comments, making the work not only manageable but higher quality. Moreover, my SWI supervisors were nice enough to let all the interns attend special hearings, events and conferences. I heard about carbon tax from a research think tank, attended a demonstration supporting climate change action, and stuffed myself with cupcakes from an in-house event hosted by our parent organization the Population Institute about youth reproductive and sexual rights. All this made the summer feel exploratory, open, and fun.

Despite my sadness, I’m excited to be finally returning home. It’ll be wonderful to see family and friend again along with classmates and professors when I return back to Sanford. The SWI internship is coming to a close and it’s time to leave.

But, I still plan to share the rap and dance video.

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Just do it!

I’m a public policy student working at one of the most successful and prestigious companies in the world for the summer – Nike.  Is this strange?  Nope.  After spending several years working in international development with donors and NGOs, I’ve come to appreciate the increasingly important role that the private sector plays in improving the wellbeing of the world’s most marginalized and impoverished citizens.  Nike is an industry leader in “corporate responsibility” (i.e. corporate citizenship, social impact etc.) and this summer I am learning first-hand how the company is leveraging its unparalleled business acumen and innovation to address social challenges in the developing world.

Like everything that Nike does, it is out in front of the field in corporate responsibility.  Social impact is in the DNA of the company as it strives to unleash the human potential of every athlete.  And don’t let the word “athlete” fool you– Nike believes that if you have a body, you’re an athlete.  Initiatives like N7, which provides donations and grants to Native American and Aboriginal communities in the U.S. and Canada, and Let’s Move, which aims to increase the physical activity of kids in schools and communities in the U.S., are just the tip of the iceberg of Nike’s corporate responsibility efforts.

This summer I am working at the Nike Foundation, which is committed to eradicating global poverty by unleashing the Girl Effect – a series of investments and initiatives targeted at the 250 million adolescent girls around the world aged10-19 years old and living on less than $2 a day.  Nike believes that when we invest in a girl, she can break the cycle of poverty for herself, her family, her community and the world.  It’s hard to argue with this theory of change when the data backs it up.  For example, studies indicate that when10% more girls go to secondary school, a country’s GDP increases by 3%.  Similarly, when an educated girl earns income, she reinvests 90% of it in her family – compared to 35% by boys.  Simply put, adolescent girls matter – a lot.

Although the data clearly shows the importance of investing in adolescent girls, only .6% of international aid money is directed at this critical group.  To address this challenge, the Nike Foundation is partnering with governments, donor agencies, and NGOs to raise awareness of this issue.  The Nike Foundation’s engagement with public entities such as national governments and donor agencies is key not only to awareness raising campaigns, but the entire Girl Effect.

This summer, I am supporting the Nike Foundation’s efforts to think strategically about future engagement with the public sector.  I am looking at successful (and not so successful) public-private partnerships in the world of international development and trying to extract best practices for the Nike Foundation as they develop and implement sustainable solutions for adolescent girls.  Only a month into my internship, I have learned a great deal by working with a team of very talented and dedicated professionals.

As an avid sports fan and weekend warrior, it is hard not to be amazed walking around Nike’s world headquarters, passing by pristine soccer fields and tennis courts, banners of LeBron James and Rafael Nadal, and of course the iconic swoosh.  As a global citizen that is passionate about improving the wellbeing of impoverished citizens around the globe, it is equally difficult to avoid being taken in by Nike’s cutting edge corporate responsibility initiatives.  I’m in.  Just do it!

Nike #1 Nike #2

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Summer of Brotherly Love

It may sound strange, but I moved to North Carolina so I could move back to Philadelphia. I settled in South Philly in 2008 and immediately fell in love with the city. I came to Duke so that I could continue living in Philly while doing meaningful policy work to help the city I now call home.

For that reason, I doubt that I could have found a more perfect internship. Working at the Mayor’s Office of Grants, I’ve met high-ranking officials across the city – heads of departments, deputy mayors, chiefs of staff, seemingly more and more every day. My work spans education, housing, public safety, health, economic opportunity – our office touches literally every aspect of local government in one form or another.

My main project is facilitating the city’s application for Housing and Urban Development’s Choice Neighborhoods grant. The Choice program aims to help local governments transform struggling neighborhoods, centered around public housing developments, into neighborhoods of choice – that is, places where people move to instead of from. The main policy levers are heavy investments in public housing, schools, safety, early education, and so forth. (If you’re interested in learning more, New Orleans and San Francisco, two of the 2010 Choice winners, have fantastic websites dedicated to their projects.)

Our particular neighborhood is centered around the Norris Homes public housing project in North Philadelphia, just off the campus of Temple University. Despite being home to a well-respected educational institution, the neighborhood has significant problems, not the least of which are its high shooting and homicide rates. The 22nd Police District, of which Temple is a part, has the highest murder rate in the city.

If our application is successful, and the project goes as planned, the hope is that public safety will increase, educational outcomes will improve, and middle-class residents will move in to the neighborhood without displacing current public housing residents. (A major part of the grant is ensuring this does not happen.)

And if it’s not successful? Well, we’ll pick up the pieces, examine what went wrong, and rest assured that we have a plan in place for the next time there’s a funding opportunity. Disappointing, to be sure, but there’s always another shot. This year’s plan is partially based on our failed application last year, when the city came in fifth out of four winners.

Local government is where the rubber hits the proverbial road. National and state policies combine to produce a funny amalgamation of priority outcomes, preferred mechanisms, regulations, revenue streams… It’s a mess, as you can imagine, and local governments are tasked with making sense of it all. I won’t pretend it’s not frustrating jumping through hoops created by Washington and Harrisburg in pursuit of the grant funding that keeps the city moving. (“The term ‘families’ has the meaning provided in section 3(B)(3) of the United States Housing Act of 1937 (42 U.S.C. 1437a).”) Still, the accomplishments of the dedicated public servants I work with every day are a constant inspiration to keep working for a better Philadelphia.

It’s no secret these are tough times for this city. But I choose to live here because I believe it is a great city, and can be an even greater one. Hopefully I can continue to help make that happen when I return next year.

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