Tuesday, April 8, 2014

FEEEDS & Operation HOPE Co-Host CSO Panel @ 2014 World Bank Spring Meetings

Press Release

FEEEDS Advocacy Initiative & Operation HOPE

Co-Hosting Key 2014 World Bank Civil Society Forum

 Focus: New Technologies & Financial Literacy Tools for Global At-Risk Communities
Dr. Sanders, Former Surgeon-Gen Benjamin,
OperationHOPE Govt Affairs VP Roscoe, CSO panelists
Washington, DC, April 8, 2014  -  The FEEEDS Advocacy Initiative and Operation HOPE will co-host a Civil Society Workshop  on Saturday, April 12, 2014, from 12:30 pm to 2:00 pm under the auspices of the World Bank's 2014 Spring Meetings in Washington, D.C. The joint session, entitled “Agile Innovation and Technology: Lessons From the Developing World,” is FEEEDS first co-hosting opportunity alongside the world renown NGO Operation HOPE, which leads the way on implementing financial literacy programs and tools for at-risk communities world-wide.

The FEEEDS-Operation HOPE session will bring together leading subject matter experts to highlight new technologies, which FEEEDS CEO Ambassador Robin Renee Sanders calls "agile," and unique programs being used to address education and poverty, while Operation HOPE will highlight  its ground-breaking financial literacy projects and tools from business in a box, to banking on our future.  Co-Host, FEEEDS CEO Ambassador Robin Sanders, and Operation HOPE Senior Vice President for Government Affairs Jena Roscoe, will also provide key presentations on the role that young people can play in changing the world's wealth inequalities.  Ambassador Sanders will kick off the session with a presentation examining Africa’s Youth Bulge as an asset to economic development for the region, while Ms. Roscoe will present the latest financial literacy tools that Operation HOPE has launched to encourage financial well-being for young people, encourage entrepreneurship, particularly its 5117 project with the goal of changing the financial lives of 5 million at-risk youth.

Other speakers will highlight ways to better address development, best practices to overcome conflict, and the elements of leadership that are vital for progress in the 21st Century. This workshop, conducted under the auspices of the World Bank 2014 Spring meetings, is inspired by the work that all of the committed activists who focus on development and making the world a more inclusive place for everyone, particularly the next generation.
Other panelists include Bill Knapp, Manager African Technologies in Education – a FEEEDS Strategic Partner, Patricia McCants, Founder, African Diaspora Chamber of Commerce, Mr. Ditu Kasuyi, UFSC International, Advisory Board Chair & International President Emeritus, and  James H. Parks, Founder, The Parksonian Institute & Advisor SHADOKA.
The FEEEDS Advocacy Initiative focus on food security, education, environment, economic, development, and self-help projects (The FEEEDS pillars), particularly in Africa, and also provides business solutions in this areas. It supports a range of agricultural, educational, and affordable housing projects, and  also provides business solutions in these areas. For more on FEEEDS go to http://www.ambassadorrobinreneesanders.com, or www.blogitrrs.blogspot.com

Operation HOPE hosts an annual Global Financial Dignity Summit, http://summit.operationhope.org 
in November and welcomes global citizens focused on financial inclusion, dignity, and capability initiatives to attend.  To learn more about Operation HOPE Initiatives, please review our website:  https://www.operationhope.org/Global-Initiatives


Tuesday, March 25, 2014

African Legislatures in African Democracies: The Need to Be Both Transformative & Transactional

A FEEEDS series BlogSpot

The discussions about African democracies have generally focus on good governance, leadership, and transparency of the executive branches of governments, but hardly regularly zero key roles that legislatures (national and sub national) have to play to further advance the democratic process on the Continent today. So how can African legislative responsibilities be enhanced and improved to support good governance, improve social sectors, fight corruption, and address quality of life issues for many of the Continent’s evolving democracies?
Today’s Africa and its Legislatures
Africa has an upward spiraling population of 1.2 billion people, which reportedly will reach 2.4 billion by 2050. Of the 54 countries on the Continent, 26 have bicameral systems, and 30 have unicameral, with South Sudan being one of the newest legislatures, and Kenya transition from a unicameral to bicameral legislature as part of the changes in its 2010 Constitution. For Africa to continual move forward, African legislatures must truly be transparent, and play a more significant role in how the future of their nation will be shaped, in some ways, even more so than in established democracies, or their executive branches.

There are two things they have to be: “transformational,” and “transactional,” innovators to address good governance (political/economic areas), social sector needs, and fight corruption, and then avid, committed gatekeepers of those reforms. Meaning African legislatures must have transformational, vision ideas to and expand good governance, fight corruption, and encourage good leadership and transparency, while simultaneously transforming the social and economic agendas of their nations and execute or transact this into legislation or constitutional changes. Recognizing that these two words – transformational & transactional - are not always used to explain the role of African legislatures, here are ways to think about the role of African national assemblies or parliament in a new more progressive manner, and what they mean in this context:

The Transformational Ledger:
African Legislatures (as do others) need to keep in mind  they are the voice of the people by which they need to interact regularly with their constituents; focus on visions that change the political, social and economic paradigm of not only their constituents but their nation. Hence, visions for the future which they work toward to fight corruption, including holding members of their members and members of their executive branches accountable, and begin to fundamentally address the wealth disparities of their nations. The greatest wealth inequalities in the world are in Africa, and Asia, with South Africa and Namibia leading the way in the Africa region for this worrisome and sad statistic. 
In addition, internally Africa legislatures need to be more reflective of a democracy themselves as far too many are arms of the executive branch leader, and whose members have no responsibility to local constituents as they are not elected in their individual capacity for job performance.

The Transactional Ledger:
Legislation is a transaction, a social contract, and the manifestation of the commitment to protect and serve the people. African Legislators collectively need to work together to draft legislation (the transactional element), to include rights-based, inclusive constitutions; economic, labor and political party reform; anti-corruption laws as part of their social contract with the people of their nation. Admittedly, here in the U.S. elements of our Congress have gotten away from this fundamental duty as part of the American dream.
Without these two synergistic roles of transformation and transaction (legislation), good governance, sustainable development, and forward movement toward long term democracy will continue to be elusive as many African nations will continue to struggle to ensure that quality of life and equitable wealth distribution become the order of the day for their people.
In far too many cases, African legislatures, and this applies to the U.S. Congress, struggle to not only draft but advance key pieces of legislation which truly change the social and economic paradigms of their nation-state. That being said, in less developed democracies this is far more problematic because the life safety values are insufficient and sustainable institutions are rare. In Sub-Saharan Africa this is more the case and this article is highlighting what it is calling the 7-Point Plan to African Legislative Wellness and Sustainability that need more attention:

1.) Legislatures must become sustainable; sustainable legislative institutions are not common;
2.) Rarely is there fixed professional legislative or committee staffs who remain to provide institutional continuity for the legislative institution;

3.) Most do not have independent research or budget offices (i.e. that perform roles similar to the U.S. congressional research or budget offices) to provide them with the support needed to draft good legislation to address key social and economic issues.

4.) Most do not keep (or do not have accurate) record keeping or a library of past legislation or a repository similar to a Library of Congress.
5.) Rarely do African legislators have constituent offices in their districts; if they do they lack sufficient resources to be effective;

6.) Constituent outreach during non-elections years is rare, and in places where it is good doesn’t translate often into legislative action or long term social change for the region;

7.) Lack of donor assistance focused on educational training to address changing the culture to demonstrate the import of institutional sustainability over personal political gain.
Institutional Challenges:
It is more common that when legislative changes do take place in African nations a large part of the legislative structure becomes dysfunctional for a time since most staff is linked to the life of a single politician and because there is no professional committee or subcommittee staff that provides continuity. Thus, no institutional sustainability that provides not only best practices, but has some institutional memory as to what has gone on before. In many cases each time there is an electoral change, new African legislators are in reality reinventing the wheel because of this deficit in instructional sustainability. This makes their ability to meet their transformational and transactional responsibilities difficult, even if the desire is there.  Even for repeat members this lack of institutional sustainability is a problem. There are a few exceptions on the Continent; but, for most of Africa this is quite rare.

A Closer Look:
Transformational vision through transactional legislation is the only means by which African democracies can thrive and move forward. African and donor nations must refocus on these two roles for sustainable democracy as an additional development area. Countries such as Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa, Ethiopia, to name a few, would not be as far behind on implementing the 2015 Millennium Development Goals if their legislatures were more transactional with the goal of transforming their nation. The last five Nigerian legislative sessions have passed very few laws (representing more than a decade); Kenya’s President may not have had his case referred to the International Criminal Court if the international community believed that the national justice system with laws legislated by the parliament were sufficient enough to independently review case.  In Ethiopia, the legislature is a rubber stamp being neither transformative nor independently transactional on behalf of the people. South Africa is ahead of most, with better transparency, institutionalization, but there also more transactional legislation is need in social sector reform, particularly since the country has the greatest wealth disparity in the world.

In some countries, African legislators receive enormous salaries.  Nigeria is a case in point, where anecdotal information suggests that members received $104-106,000 per quarter in salary and allowances.  Yes, the argument that these salaries cover running of their offices, staff salaries, and supporting (undefined) constituents. But really, if so more transparency and oversight are needed to demonstrate this? African legislators have to be just as transparent as they should want their executive branches to be.  The examples on the continent of nations that fail to have truly independent legislatures with the goal of being transformative through transactional legislation are far too many to name, and rarely do Africa’s friends place enough attention and funding on assisting African legislatures at the national, and particularly at the subnational level. Yes, there is some assistance, but small, compared to need, and cannot always targeted in the key areas mentioned above in the 7-Point Plan to African Legislative Wellness and Sustainability. In addition elements of the U.S. Congress need to be reminded of these as well.

African legislators (national and subnational) could use a checklist that looks 7-Point Plan in order to better fulfill both their transformative and transaction roles. Donor nations, as they continue to stress good governance and leadership, should expand and be more creative in their training of African legislatures, particularly looking at areas seven areas noted above.    

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Ambassador Sanders, CEO FEEEDS Receives Advocacy Impact Award from African Leadership Magazine


Press Release

Washington, D.C. March 2, 2014 – The London-based African Leadership Magazine which focus on identifying and recognizing key leaders in the Diaspora and in Africa who work to advance the positive development, economic, and political goals of the African Continent, honored several leaders at its hallmark Washington, D.C. event. Among those honored was FEEEDS CEO, Ambassador (Dr.) Robin Renee Sanders for her commitment, advocacy, and work with small and medium size entrepreneurs (SMEs) in Africa, Sanders, who previously was the United States Ambassador to Nigeria, and the Republic of Congo has long worked throughout her U.S. diplomatic career and now in the private sector on addressing key economic issues in Africa.

Sanders, who received the Africa Advocacy Impact Award was honored along with several others that included, Nigeria’ Rivers State Commissioner for the Private Sector, William Essien of First Capital Plus Ghana, and A. V. Felix Managing Director and CEO of Energia Limited. Sierra Leone’s President Dr. Ernest Koroma was honored with the Africa Leadership Award.

In her remarks in accepting the award, Ambassador Sanders highlighted that she had committed her life to believing in Africa’s development and forward progress despite the challenges, and was always an “Africa-optimist,” way before it became en vogue to do so over the last few years.  She noted her current work with SMEs, affordable housing and in food security and the environment – key elements of her FEEEDS Advocacy Initiative – and stressed that leadership was about vision, transparency, flexibility, implementation, and most of all humility. Dr. Sanders also received congratulations for receiving the award noting Nigeria's appreciation for her past work and diplomatic service during her tenure in Nigeria from Nigeria's Ambassador to the United States, Professor Ade Adefuye.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

My Burma (Myanmar) & Cambodia Trip - February 2014

My trip to Burma (Myanmar) and Cambodia were really inspiring connecting with both my global human rights work, and my personal passion to find ways to address poverty issues under my FEEEDS Advocacy Initiative. One thing of note, poverty is poverty no matter where one finds it. There were so many similarities with my work in Africa under my FEEEDS Advocacy Initiative with what I saw and experienced in Myanmar and Cambodia. Below follows just a short sense of what I view both professionally and personal and impactful trip.
In Burma (official name is Myanmar), I  traveled on my own 4 hours south to see one of the Buddhist pilgrimage sites called Golden Rock (left), 654 ton rock overlaid with 24ct gold which for millennia has rested on about a one foot square patch of mountain. A lock of Buddha’s hair is reportedly inside the rock. Challenge for me was walking barefoot 1/2 mile on hot stone as no shoes or sock are allowed on the trek up the path to the site. The following 7 days were Human Right Watch (HRW) Board member days. We had a series of meetings with: parliamentarians, human rights activists, journalists, and political prisoners who were blacklisted during the years Burma was closed until 2011 when it begin its transition from military rule. We also visited the old historical sites in downtown Rangoon (official name is Yangon), where the protest marches took place led by the Buddhists, which begin the political transition which we see today in Yangon 3 years after their protest.  Many of our meetings were held in the capital Nyapyidaw (as the capital is not Rangoon/Yangon). We met with the country's President and Ministers of Defense, Information, Homeland, Religious Affairs, and Social Welfare as several foreign ambassador based in Myanmar to hear their views on the transition, and next steps. Our focus was on efforts to make the transition from military rule to democracy successful. We had discussions about the ethnic discrimination against the Rahinga. As HRW Board members we also went to the ancient city of Bagan and Inle Lake to ensure a better understanding of the history and culture of the country, as Bagan was the ancient capital, and at Inle Lake we experienced many of the traditional and artisan work of silk and lotus weavers, and the wonderful and unique lake-based farming methods and the delicate ecosystem managed by the lake villages where all the homes are on stilts.The unique lake farming done in Inle (floating plots of land growing veggies) is incredible and I plan to share with the African agriculture projects am working on as well.

After my HRW meetings, went ahead to Cambodia as I wanted to better understand the history and the economic and political changes that had taken place there as well. I first landed in Seim Reap – which is an “all the way live little ancient city” ­- with midnight markets, and a Pub Street, in addition to be home to one of the seven wonders of the modern world -- the famous Angor Wat temple. Being in downtown Seim Reap was one of my surreal moments -- sitting on Pub Street in this old ancient city listening to Al Jarreau as I ate Cambodian curry. My other east-meets-west moment was taking a picture of a Buddhist monk with an iphone & camera- so much for piousness and austerity. Showing that despite the austere and piousness of this humble and respectful religious, technology can intrude. Is it a good thing or bad? Not sure. Also visited Ta Prohm temple (Tomb Raider was filmed there).
All temples have Hindu & Buddhists influences. Loved watching the elephants coming through the ancient gates. At Lake “Tonle Sap,” it was sad to see 1270 poor boat villages in the middle of a lake. The average life expectancy for both men and women is only 54 years of age. The communities constantly have to move as the lake ebbs and flows as they seek to move where the lakes fauna move. I had the wonderful opportunity after leaving Tonle Sap to visit a quiet Buddhist monastery and watch a purification ceremony; a truly rare opportunity.
I finished up my trip to Cambodia in the capital Phnom Penh – (Penh is name of a Lady who as legend has it pulled sand for the rivers that surround the city and created a hill, which now rests in the center of the city).  Phnom is really a bustling city today despite the brutal Khmer Rouge years. Stayed in the historic Raffles where Jackie Kennedy stayed in 1967. en route to her Seim Reap visit to Angor Wat -- where I had just come from. In addition, I paid my respect at 2 genocide sites – one where nearly 40,000 people were killed, and 86 mass graves and more were found; one with 450 women and children. This particular "killing field" memorial includes a temple with glass walls, and 15 floors of skulls, bones, and clothes of the victims. The memorial design I thought was so powerful and unique as one doesn't enter the building but one looks up from the outside at each of the 4 sides of the glass-walled temple at 15 floors of human tragedy. One side had skulls lined up chin-to-nape about 2 ft deep; this was replicated on each side of the glass-walled temple, but with either other human bones, or victims clothing. I followed my visit by going to the prison where people were tortured before being sent to the “killing fields.” This is my second time to a genocide site as I have been to Rwanda when I was on former President Clinton’s NSC staff. Always saddens me the extent of man’s inhumanity to man. 
I also visited the Palace in Phnom Penh, and went to convergence of the Upper and Lower Mekong rivers just a few  miles off the river shore line that highlights the city to watch the sun set over the palace to top off my stay.  In both Phnom and Seim Reap I went to the Artisan Angor workshop and store because it is a training cooperative for at-risk communities and the disabled. I am such a believer in these types of income generating programs to help at-risk communities. I have worked on many programs like this throughout my previous career, and try to support them under FEEEDS. In this case, these at-risk groups learned traditional skills such as silver-lattice work, teak, rosewood, and rubber tree carving, and the famous lacquer techniques which all were the traditional skill sets of the ancient Siam Kingdoms from which today's Cambodia hails. There was one moment in Seim Reap at the Artisan workshop where the guide interpreter for my tour, translated something a hear-impaired young women who was during intricate word work of ancient signs and symbols, was trying to convey to me as she had not seen an African-American women before or certainly one with dreads. She signed that she liked both my hair and skin color.
On the way back to the U.S., I stopped in Seoul Korea.  I happen to be in Seoul when South and North Korea holding a family reunification ceremony, which had been done in over three years as North Korea had refused. I saw the Palace, and the old South Gate of the city, visited the famous market food street, where Secretary Kerry had been days before, and went to the top of the city's largest building, called the N-Tower (whenever there is a unique tallest building opportunity -- I am there!) where one gets to overlook the entire city. The N-Tower site is also where the  old city wall can be seen. There are two traditions to do at the N-Tower - if you are there with a boyfriend or spouse, there is a practice of buying a padlock and place it closed on a branch outside of the tower; the second tradition is done at the top of the tower where one buys a small tile and writes a message of love to whomever. My little blue tile now rest on the wall with others in tribute to family and friends.
All in all, both Myanmar and Cambodia have left indelible impression on me professionally and personally, but it was mostly the interaction with the people of these two nations that will rest with me a lifetime