Sunday, November 22, 2009

Week 4, November 21, 2009: Local Consciousness

I thought that with the holidays right around the corner a relevant topic of discussion for this week is the concept of local consciousness. Although this forum began as a place to bring awareness to issues around the world that may not have garnered your attention otherwise, I feel as though in order to be socially conscious and to help with global issues, the best place to start is right in your own backyard. I personally believe that by helping on a local level you are able to give a comparatively minimal amount of effort to a cause, yet potentially yield the greatest impact and sense of accomplishment. Think about it. How easy is it to volunteer at a soup kitchen for the homeless or tutor an underprivileged child for an afternoon? A few hours of work and you will usually be able to see the fruits of your labors. This is great, especially if you’re a firm believer in instant gratification, as myself.

There are many ways you can reach out and support your local community. However, like I mentioned, the holidays are encroaching on us so I personally wanted to focus on the volunteering and giving aspects of local consciousness. There are so many EASY ways to reach out and spread cheer this time of year. It’s as simple as wrapping a gift for a child and giving it to a charity or preparing a food basket so a family can have a meal on Thanksgiving Day. Minimal efforts, minimal costs, and maximum benefits. I think that all too often we get caught up in the negative aspects of the holidays (What am I going to feed 20 people? Ham or Turkey? I have so many people I have to Christmas shop for. What am I going to get everyone?). We forget that there are people out there who have to ask themselves, HOW am I going to feed my family? Or, Can I AFFORD a Barbie for my daughter on Christmas? I think that if we can keep those thoughts in the back of our minds this holiday season not only will we inspire to help others; we will realize how lucky we ourselves are.

So. That being said, if anyone in the Boston area is interested, I found this great local charity called Community Servings ( I am planning on spending some time there in the upcoming weeks depending on their needs and if anyone is interested in joining please let me know and I would be more than happy to make arrangements for you as well. For those of you not in Boston, I encourage you to use Google to find a comparable organization in your locality.

Of course, the holidays aren’t the only time of year we should exercise local consciousness. Improving our communities should be a year-round effort. As expected, during the holiday season the volunteering and donating opportunities are near endless. However, for those of you interested there are so many things you can do throughout the year to support your community and I wanted to mention a few of those things here as well. Included on this list is buying local, non-holiday related donation and volunteering, direct community involvement, and a few other random suggestions. I have posted details on all of these aspects below. I hope that you are able to use these suggestions to help to support your community and neighbors.

As always, thanks for the support!



One of the best ways to support your local community is to buy locally grown or made products and support local businesses. The prices may be a tad higher than what you would expect to pay at a national chain store, but the economic benefits of buying local are fairly simple: It cuts out the middleman, puts more money into the local economy, and reduces transportation costs and environment-destroying, energy-wasting long hauls. A few examples of buying local include:
-Go to your local farmer's market to buy produce and other handmade goods.
-Ride your local transportation such as buses, trains, subways, rails, etc.
-Support your local businesses. Shop at local supermarkets, coffee shops, and boutiques.


Giving is a great way to help others. Give old clothes that are still in good condition to less fortunate people or give them to a charity or a church that will distribute them for you. The Salvation Army is a good place to send your old clothes to. You do not need to only give clothes; you can give anything that still works fine (appliances, furniture, etc.). In addition to giving away your old things, you can also give money to various charities. Any donation counts!
Giving blood is a great way to save lives. Many cities have centers dedicated to year-round blood donations. If you cannot find one of these, go to your nearest hospital and ask about giving blood.


Volunteer-ism has always been considered the best way to give to the community. Over 1/4 of Americans participate in some form of volunteer civil service. In 2006, over 60 million Americans gave over eight billion hours of their time to volunteer-ism. Here are a few ways that you can help give back to your community:

Many charities are too small to be able to afford certain types of manpower, like engineers, doctors, and accountants. If you have expertise in a field that most charities would have to pay for, volunteer your abilities.

Adopt a little brother or sister. By doing this, you can give an underprivileged kid some very rewarding experiences that he/she may not have had.

Help a charity get donations. Many places like grocery stores have locations where people can give to certain charities. Many companies have fund-raiser kits that you can use to raise money for your charity. There are also old fund-raiser favorites like the bake sale.

Become part of the local EMT (paramedics) or the fire department.

Volunteer in any way you can. You can volunteer to work in a soup kitchen, to help clean up the highways, to help deliver food to people who need it, to take someone who has no transportation to work, etc. The possibilities are endless. You can volunteer any amount of time that you want-from a day to a year or more.


Become directly involved by checking out local community-service opportunities. Wherever you are, there will be groups of people doing their very best to make that place better. Join them. Head over to your town hall and sign up for whatever community-service activities strike your fancy.

Join a synagogue/church/place of worship. Places of worship are great places to meet people with all sorts of interests. Furthermore, you can count on these places to host many activities and town happenings.


A few ways to help your local community not to be forgotten include:
-Support local issues in your community. Vote!
-Recycle! Recycling is a way to give back to your community and help the world at the same time.
-Random Acts of Kindness and Pay it Forward. I remember hearing about the following story and I think it is a good example of a little something that people can do on a daily basis to make others happy:

“BIRMINGHAM – Sharon Dierking was at a Starbucks on U.S. 280, placing an order for a mocha frappucino. When she pulled up to the window, the barista told her the driver in the car ahead of her had paid for her order.
“I was completely dumbfounded,” Dierking said, “but I was thrilled.”
Dierking wanted to return the kindness to another, but her car was last in line. A few days later, she was able to pay it forward at a Starbucks in Inverness.
“It makes you feel good and it brightens your day,” she said.
Random acts of kindness are popping up at Birmingham area coffee shops, as customers are anonymously picking up others’ tabs.
Stacie Elm, a barista at an Alabaster Starbucks, said a line of five cars recently paid it forward. Customers are in a bit of disbelief when they discover their order has been paid for, she said. “Most are like, `You’re kidding.’”
But the shock gives way to generosity as people are compelled to pass along the kind gesture.
Baristas at Starbucks shops in eastern Birmingham, Hoover and Vestavia Hills also reported episodes of paying it forward – actually, backward, since the person in the front car paid for the person’s order in line behind him.
A Starbucks spokeswoman said the Seattle-based company promoted a Cheer Pass program in 2007, designed to remind customers to spread kindness. However, the pay-it-forward phenomenon is “consumer-driven,” she wrote. 
And kindness comes in more forms than a cup of coffee. Dierking said she saw the practice once at a grocery store when a stranger paid for groceries that a woman could not afford.”

Sometimes, as this story demonstrates, it doesn’t take much to randomly be kind. There are tons of local meet ups with people doing great things, from not-for-profits to interesting ideas that can change the world. Its always good to seek these out. You might meet cool people, you might learn something, and you’ll help build a community - which is a great vessel for spreading kindness.


Check out the following websites (or Google something relevant to your own interests!!):

Friday, November 13, 2009

Week 3, November 14, 2009: Comrades for Connect Africa

On May 30, 2010, I am going to try to run the Comrades Marathon in South Africa. I say "try" because I've never run 56 miles at once and right now that seems like a really dumb distance to run. The race will start in Pietermaritzburg and ends in the coastal city of Durban. Besides being the world's oldest and largest Ultra Marathon, the race has some pretty cool history and quirks so if anyone wants to read more about it, please check out the really interesting article published a couple of years ago in Runner's World or visit the race's website.

After I finish the race, my plan is to go to Kampala, Uganda to visit the "Connect Africa Foundation" which is a non-profit that a family friend started in 2005 which provides assistance to caregivers and orphans in Uganda. The work they are doing is amazing and can be viewed at their website.

What Can I Do?

My hope is to raise funds for this foundation through my running the Comrades. If you would like to support this effort please feel free to donate directly on their site or by clicking on the "Donate" button below and I will make sure the donations get there. Much love for the support.


PS After Uganda, I'll be back in South Africa for the World Cup if any of you want to join us out there.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Week 2, November 4, 2009: Raise Hope for Congo

We learned about this issue a couple weeks ago when we attended a lecture by John Prendergast at Boston University. We really recommend you visit the website as it contains specific action steps on the right-hand side of the page that detail what you can do to get involved if you feel moved to do so.

Crisis in Congo:

The Casualties of Conflict Minerals— Key Facts

For over a century, the Democratic Republic of the Congo has been plagued by regional conflict and a deadly scramble for its vast natural resources. The greed for Congo’s wealth has been a principal driver of atrocities and conflict throughout Congo’s tortured history. In eastern Congo today, resources are financing multiple armed groups, many of whom use mass rape as a deliberate strategy to intimidate and drive the local population away from mines and other areas that they wish to control.

Specifically, the conflict in eastern Congo—the deadliest since World War II—is fueled in significant part by a multi-million dollar trade in minerals. Armed groups generate an estimated $144 million each year by trading four main minerals: the ores that produce the metals tin, tantalum, tungsten, and gold. This money enables the armed groups to purchase large numbers of weapons and continue their campaign of brutal violence against civilians, with some of the worst abuses occurring in mining areas. These materials eventually wind up in electronic devices, such as cell phones, portable music players, and computers, including those sold here in the United States. Given the lack of a transparent minerals supply chain, American consumers continue to indirectly finance armed groups that regularly commit atrocities and mass rape.

How do armed groups profit from the minerals?

The majority of the violence in eastern Congo has been carried out in mineral-rich areas. The three main armed groups who perpetrate the violence also allegedly control much of the mineral trade: the National Congress for the Defense of the People, or CNDP, the Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda, or FDLR, and renegade units of the Congolese army, or FARDC.

These armed groups profit from the trade in two primary ways:

• Controlling the mines, forcing miners to work in deadly conditions and paying them a pittance, an average of $1 to $5 per day.

• Exacting bribes from transporters, local and international buyers, and border controls.

The armed groups trade in the 3T minerals–tin, tantalum, and tungsten, as well as gold:

• Tin is used inside your cell phone and all electronic products as a solder on circuit boards. Fifty-three percent of tin worldwide is used as a solder, the vast majority of which goes into electronics. Armed groups earn approximately $85 million per year from trading in tin.

• Tantalum (often called “coltan”) is used to store electricity in capacitors in iPods, digital cameras, and cell phones. A majority of the world’s tantalum—65 to 80 percent—is used in electronic products. Armed groups earn an estimated $8 million per year from trading in tantalum.

• Tungsten is used to make your cell phone or Blackberry vibrate. Tungsten is a growing source of income for armed groups in Congo, with armed groups currently earning approximately $2 million annually.

• Gold is used mainly in jewelry but is also a component in electronics. Extremely valuable and easy to smuggle, armed groups are earning between $44 million and $88 million per year from gold.

How do these minerals then end up in my phone, music player, or other electronic devices?

From eastern Congo the minerals are:

• Transported through neighboring countries including Rwanda, Uganda, and Burundi.

• Mainly shipped to East Asia, particularly to multinational smelting companies in Malaysia, Thailand, China, and India.

• Once processed, bought by electronics manufacturing companies, turned into usable
components such as capacitors, and added into the electronic devices.

The highest-selling devices with the 3T minerals are:

• Cell phones and Blackberries
• MP3 players
• Digital cameras (also, TVs, computers, monitors)

The Numbers:

1,050,000: Number of Congolese forced to flee their homes in eastern Congo due to violence.

46: The average life expectancy for a woman living in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

15,000: The number of pregnant women displaced in eastern Congo due to the escalation in violence over the last 6 months.

1,100: Number of rape cases reported every month.

2: Number of hospitals in eastern Congo that are able to perform surgeries to repair fistula.

1300: Number of Congolese that continue to die each day as a consequence of war.

22: Number of armed groups at the table when ceasefire agreement was brokered in 2008.

1: Number of times women are mentioned in the ceasefire agreement.

0: Number of times the epidemic of sexual violence and rape is mentioned in the ceasefire agreement.

144,000,000: The estimated profits made each year by armed groups from the trade in eastern Congo’s minerals.

What Can I Do?

Visit to learn more about what you can do to help end the trade in conflict minerals that is fueling the war in Congo, and to protect and empower Congo’s women.

Week 1, October 21, 2009: Affordable Biologics

Biologics are medications engineered from living human or animal cells using biotechnology. Drugs included in this category are new treatments for cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, and multiple sclerosis. While competition from generics have significantly lowered prices of conventional drugs (the HIV/AIDS meds are the classic example of this) there is not yet legislation surrounding production of generic biologics. Currently these name-brand biologics can cost patients tens of thousands a year. About 43% of Medicare Part B is spent on the top 6 biologics.

Currently conventional drugs (stuff like aspirin, Prilosec, etc.) pharmaceutical companies get 5 years of data exclusivity. This means for 5 years after FDA approval of a new drug, competitors cannot use the companies' clinical trials safety and efficacy data, to apply for approval of generic versions. Essentially, this amounts to a monopoy for that period of time and can delay competing generics from entering the market. This can lead to higher prices for a longer time period.

The health reform bills propose by the Senate HELP and House Energy and Commerce contain proposals that would lengthen this data exclusivity period for biolgics to 12 years as opposed to the 5 for conventional drugs. Pharma's argument is that biologics cost more in research and development and therefore need a longer period data exclusivity. According to research this isn't really true. Studies that show the R&D costs for biologics ($1.2 billion in 2006) and conventional drugs ($1.38 billion in 2006) are not different, and the development time differs little as well (97.7 months vs. 90.3 months on average, respectively).

What Can I Do?

Go to and send an email or even better call your congresspeople and let them know that you care about this and that you support the proposal by Representatives Henry Waxman and Charles Schumer (H1427/S726) that would maintain the 5 years data exclusivity for biologics.