Global Development from the "other Washington"

Posted by Akhtar Badshah 
Senior Director, Global Community Affairs

(Cross-posted from The Huffington Post)

Earlier this week the first annual Global Washington conference (a "Blueprint for Action") brought together 300 individuals representing organizations from across Washington State that are focused on global development issues. The event, which was hosted on our campus in Redmond, WA, was keynoted by Nick Kristof of the New York Times (and two time Pulitzer winner) and Ambassador Elizabeth Bagley of the Global Partnerships Initiative at the U.S. Department of State. The conference highlighted some unique perspectives on how this region supports global development efforts.

One of the most interesting aspects of the conference was how this work crosses the academic, private and nongovernmental sectors. For example the University of Washington has the highest number of students that serve in the Peace Corps, and many of the volunteers return to live in this area, bringing their experiences with them and continuing to contribute to global development issues. From the private sector, Kirkland, WA based Costco provided incredible insight into their commitment and approach to creating a responsible supply chain. The company procures the majority of cashews that are grown in the world. They believe that sustainable farming practices are essential to make sure that they get the best crop, so they invest significant time and resources in working with producers in Africa and elsewhere to ensure that there is a direct distribution channel, helping farmers get the best price.

On the nongovernmental front, Global PartnershipsUnitus and Village Reach shared their approach to developing new business models that can help them scale efforts to deliver skills in development markets. Global Partnerships is focused on new financing models which includes a combination of philanthropic and investment funds to help develop the reach of microfinance institutions in Central America. Unitus, another organization based in Seattle, is working on a similar approach focused on India and Africa. Village Reach is taking an innovative approach to the challenge of delivering medicine to isolated communities in developing markets. They are developing local entrepreneurs who can supply propane gas so that Village Reach can safely distribute much needed medicine and drugs to remote locations in countries such as Mozambique. The propane is needed to refrigerate medicines in a country where 80% of the population lives off the grid.

During his keynote, Kristof focused on women and girls and why empowering them is key to sustainable development, a big focus of his latest book, co-authored with his wife, Sheryl WuDunn, called Half the Sky. He contends that "the greatest unexploited resource most countries have is their female population." Kristof also made the observation that we should encourage consolidation (actually using the term "M&A") among NGOs. He believes that mergers could bring real benefits including greater impact and efficiency.

On a personal note, it was very interesting to see the number of Microsoft alumni and current employees that are actively engaged in global development work. The Global Washington event showcased the vibrancy, energy and innovation taking place across the State on addressing global development. What I saw was a truly dynamic mix of businesses, NGOs, and individuals who are making a difference, willing to take risks and eager to work with each other on common objectives.

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