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Instead of Student Loans, Investing in Futures

By David Bornstein

Courtesy of Lumni

Krystal Shipley, a sophomore at the University of Redlands, received financing from Lumni this year

As the global economy has become more knowledge-based, the importance of a university education has risen dramatically. However, only 7 percent of the world’s population currently has a college degree. There are many reasons why people fail to reach college, including, of course, lack of access to quality primary and secondary schooling. But for millions of students who could succeed in college, the limiting factor is money.
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The Path From Charity to Profit

By Tina Rosenberg

Thatcher Cook for Mercy Corps

Indriyati, 31, fed her daughter Aurelia, 20 months, porridge-style chicken and vegetables from the KeBal food cart.

On Tuesday I wrote about Kedai Balitaku, a for-profit company started last year by the development group Mercy Corps in Indonesia. Mercy Corps took this unusual step because it realized that its programs to educate mothers about nutrition were not changing what mothers fed their children. Healthy food is expensive, and the crowded conditions in the Jakarta slums mean that many families have no place to cook or eat. So they buy their children the cheapest street food, which is usually either sweet or deep fried. Kedai Balitaku, which usually goes by the name KeBal, aims to become a chain of street carts selling low-priced healthy food to children.
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In ‘Food Deserts,’ Oases of Nutrition

By Tina Rosenberg

Thatcher Cook for Mercy Corps

School girls lined up to purchase after-school snacks at one of the Kedai Balitaku food carts in Jakarta, which serve healthy food to children.

Poor urban neighborhoods in America are often food deserts — places where it is difficult to find fresh food. There are few grocery stores; people may do all their shopping at bodegas, where the only available produce and meat are canned peaches and Spam. If they want fruits and vegetables and chicken and fish, they have to take a bus to a grocery store. The lack of fresh food creates a vicious cycle; children grow up never seeing it or acquiring a taste for it. It is one reason that the poor are likelier to be obese than the rich.
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Publishers As Partners In Literacy

By David Bornstein

This week, I reported on the First Book Marketplace, which sells new books at steep discounts to schools and reading programs serving low-income children. Based on sales growth, First Book, which is a nonprofit, anticipates that the marketplace will be financially self-sustaining within a few years. It’s hard to find fault with a social-purpose business that makes quality books more affordable for underprivileged children. But, surprisingly, many readers responded to the idea by suggesting that the problem of book access can be adequately addressed through rummage sales, thrift shops, used book outlets and libraries. This reflects a misunderstanding of the problem, which I’d like to clarify.

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A Book In Every Home, And Then Some

By David Bornstein

When we imagine people without books, we think of villagers in places like Afghanistan. But many families in the United States have no children’s books at home. In some of the poorest areas of the country, it’s hard to find books for sale. A study (pdf) of low-income neighborhoods in Philadelphia, for example, found a ratio of one book for sale for every 300 children. Tens of millions of poor Americans can’t afford to buy books at all.

At Fixes, we like to highlight creative ways that markets can be harnessed to extend access to vital services like electricity, credit, or water. Today, I’m focusing on a nonprofit organization called First Book, which is spearheading a new market mechanism that is delivering millions of new, high quality books to low-income children through thousands of nonprofit organizations and Title I schools.

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To Survive Famine, Will Work For Insurance

By Tina Rosenberg

How much would it cost to prevent a famine? We don’t know exactly, but one answer is surely this: Much less than it would cost to save lives after famine hits. The relief group Oxfam estimates that emergency relief in famines costs seven times as much as preventing the disaster to begin with.

In Ethiopia — long a country of recurring famines — cycles of drought and flash flooding are worsening and grain harvests are falling. More than 13 million people in Ethiopia are kept alive by sacks of grain and cans of cooking oil from the United Nations World Food Program. And as the W.F.P. and others have warned, climate change is likely to make things even worse.

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Doing More Than Praying For Rain

By Tina Rosenberg

In the United States, insurance against extreme weather is seen as so important that Washington subsidizes it highly and requires it for farmers who want other government benefits. If American farmers need weather insurance, African peasant farmers need it even more. But the vast majority of African peasant farmers have no opportunity to insure their crops.

Virtually all small farmers in Africa depend on rain for irrigation. Most have no safety net — a farmer planting an acre of corn twice a year can find her family nearly destitute if the crop fails because of drought early in the planting season, or too much rain later on. She will have invested everything she has in seeds and fertilizer. There will be nothing left for the next planting season.

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Fostering A Team Approach To Drug Cures

By David Bornstein

Earlier this week, I reported on the Myelin Repair Foundation (M.R.F.), an organization that is working to develop a novel treatment for multiple sclerosis, a degenerative disease that currently has no cure. Over the past four decades, despite extraordinary advances in bioscience, cures for many chronic diseases have remained elusive. As Norman from New York City (17) noted, the survival rates for many cancers have not changed much since the launch of the nation’s war on cancer during the Nixon administration: “The death rate has only declined by 3.3 percent or less in colon cancer, breast cancer, prostate cancer, and leukemia.” In response, groups like the M.R.F. have begun exploring new models to accelerate research and hasten the development of new treatments for disease.

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Helping New Drugs Out Of Research’s “Valley of Death”

By David Bornstein

Consider two numbers: 800,000 and 21.

The first is the number of medical research papers that were published in 2008. The second is the number of new drugs that were approved by the Food and Drug Administration last year.

That’s an ocean of research producing treatments by the drop. Indeed, in recent decades, one of the most sobering realities in the field of biomedical research has been the fact that, despite significant increases in funding — as well as extraordinary advances in things like genomics, computerized molecular modeling, and drug screening and synthesization — the number of new treatments for illnesses that make it to market each year has flatlined (pdf) at historically low levels.

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