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The Body Counter

Originally published here, March/April, 2012
Tina Rosenberg

The choreography of a typical human rights investigation goes like this: Researchers interview victims and witnesses and write their report. The local media cover it — if they can. Then those accused dismiss it; you have nothing more than stories, it’s one word against another, the sources are biased, the evidence faked. And it goes away.

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Best Cases

Since Join the Club was published, readers have written in about more successful strategies to solve problems that depend on positive peer pressure.    They are all over the map: from Biggest Loser-style team weight loss competitions to a program of Brazil’s Catholic Church that has saved countless children’s lives.    We’re checking them out and here’s some of the best ones so far, along with where to go for more information.   Keep those suggestions coming!   Email info@jointheclub.org or post them on Join the Club’s Facebook page.
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Saving Lives in a Time of Cholera

By Tina Rosenberg

Cholera is on the rise around the world. Last year, according to Unicef, West and Central Africa had “one of the worst ever” cholera outbreaks. An outbreak in Haiti sickened 1 in 20 Haitians and killed more than 7,000 people. The World Health Organization estimates that there are between three million and five million cases of cholera each year, and between 100,000 and 120,000 deaths. New and more virulent strains are emerging in Asia and Africa, and the W.H.O. says that global warming creates even more hospitable conditions for the disease.
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In India, a Small Pill, With Positive Side Effects

By Amy Yee

On a cool February morning in north Delhi, India, 35 third graders sat at small desks in a spartan but tidy classroom. They wore blue school uniforms and listened as their teacher asked in Hindi if they had had intestinal worms.

A third of the children raised their hands, including 9-year-old Arjun Prasad. He sometimes felt stomach pain and weakness — symptoms of severe infection — he said. A few minutes later, Arjun and his classmates were given deworming pills, and took them during the class. They were among the 3.7 million children in Delhi who have taken the pills as part of a recent campaign in India’s capital to stamp out the widespread but neglected ailment.
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Fan Power: Hunger Is Not a Game, Revisited

By Courtney E. Martin

“The Hunger Games” film, which debuted just over a week ago, has exceeded all box office expectations, taking in nearly $200 million to date and making Lionsgate, its distributor, very happy. But it isn’t just the on screen battle that has caught the attention of fans.
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Out of Jail, and Into a Job

By Tina Rosenberg

About two months ago, Angel Padilla was walking near Madison Square Garden when the driver of a linen service truck started shouting and waving at him. “Hey Angel! C.E.O.!” the driver said. “Look at me — I’m driving now!”

Padilla was surprised. He knew the driver — he was a guy named Jose whom he’d supervised six months before. Padilla works at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, but his real employer is the Center for Employment Opportunities, (C.E.O.) a New York organization that specializes in helping ex-offenders find and keep jobs. Padilla supervises a crew of from five to seven parolees as they do temporary, minimum-wage janitorial jobs at John Jay.
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From Young Adult Book Fans to Wizards of Change

By Courtney E. Martin

This week, Suzanne Collins’s “The Hunger Games” hits the big screen. As the latest wildly popular young adult (Y.A.) novel becomes a film franchise, it’s not just box office dollars that will be captured, but potentially nascent citizens. At least that’s the goal of the social campaign called “Hunger Is Not a Game” which aims to connect fans to the global food justice movement.
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In Africa’s Vanishing Forests, the Benefits of Bamboo

By Tina Rosenberg

In the district of Asosa, the land is thick with bamboo. People plant it and manage the forests. They rely on its soil-grabbing roots to stabilize steep slopes and riverbanks, cutting erosion. They harvest it to burn for fuel, to make into charcoal sticks to sell to city dwellers and to build furniture.

Asosa is not in China, not even in Asia. It is a district in the west of Ethiopia, on the Sudanese border. To many people, bamboo means China. But it’s not just panda food — mountain gorillas in Rwanda also live on bamboo. About 4 percent of Africa’s forest cover is bamboo.
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Africa’s Girl Power

By David Bornstein

Update: David Bornstein responded to readers in the comments below.

On Thursday, thousands of organizations around the world will celebrate International Women’s Day, acknowledging women’s achievements and drawing attention to their continuing struggles. (See some events here.)

Thinking about the day, I was reminded of a woman named Fiona Mavhinga, whom I met at a conference a few years ago and who works for a remarkable organization called Camfed, which supports girls’ education in Africa.
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Prizes With an Eye Toward the Future

By Tina Rosenberg

Last week, David Bornstein wrote about how the Obama administration is using prize competitions to solve some of the problems government faces.   Agencies as different as the Department of Labor and NASA are recruiting ideas from the public by offering prizes for solving challenges.

While solutions these prizes generate are often innovative, the practice of offering them is anything but new. In 1714, the British government offered a prize of £20,000 to the person who found a way to accurately determine a ship’s longitude.   As described in the book “Longitude,” the Yorkshire carpenter and clockmaker John Harrison won the prize after decades of work by inventing a clock that worked at sea.    Harrison’s solution revolutionized the maritime world.
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Innovation for the People, by the People

By David Bornstein

Today’s and next week’s Fixes columns will focus on prizes and challenges as catalysts for innovation. This week, David Bornstein is taking a look at examples from the federal government’s open innovation strategies. Next week, Tina Rosenberg will explore how prizes have been used throughout history to accelerate innovation and will highlight examples of how they are being rediscovered today.

“A good government implies two things,” wrote James Madison in 1788. The first is “fidelity to the object of government, which is the happiness of the people.” The second is “a knowledge of the means by which that object can be best attained.”
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Beyond SATs, Finding Success in Numbers

By Tina Rosenberg

In 1988, Deborah Bial was working in a New York City after-school program when she ran into a former student, Lamont. He was a smart kid, a successful student who had won a scholarship to an elite college. But it hadn’t worked out, and now he was back home in the Bronx. “I never would have dropped out of college if I had my posse with me,” he told her.
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Harnessing Local Pride for Global Conservation

By David Bornstein

The toughest problems to solve are the ones that are hard to detect and require humans to change their behavior. That puts conservation at the top of the list. According to the World Conservation Union, some 40 percent of the more than 40,000 species it tracks on its Red List of Threatened Species are in danger of becoming extinct. The renowned biologist E.O. Wilson has written that the “loss of genetic and species diversity by the destruction of natural habitats” is a more serious risk than energy depletion, economic collapse or even limited nuclear war. “As terrible as these catastrophes would be for us, they can be repaired within a few generations,” he observed more than 30 years ago. The loss of biodiversity “will take millions of years to correct,” he added. “This is the folly our descendants are least likely to forgive us.”
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Innovations in Light

By Tina Rosenberg

People often write to Fixes telling us of cool new devices made for the poor:  the sOccket soccer ball that stores energy as children kick it; the neoprene LifeWrap that hospitals can use to save women hemorrhaging in childbirth; adjustable eyeglasses.

We love devices — but we don’t like to write about them.   It’s cheating.  The technology is the easy part of solving problems.  There are zillions of cool ideas.   Plenty of college students have come up with a great new technology for the poor.
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Soap Operas With a Social Message

By Sarika Bansal

Every Sunday evening, seven million Kenyans sit in front of their television sets to watch “Makutano Junction,” a soap opera set in a fictional village. In one episode, audiences watch as a woman, Mama Mboga, holds her crying infant. “I need some money to take Joni to hospital,” she tells her husband, Erasmus, after he wakes up and takes a swig from a bottle. “I think he has malaria.” Erasmus insists that his son is healthy, that she is overreacting and that he has no money to give her.
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A Boost for the World’s Poorest Schools

By Tina Rosenberg

Since the turn of the millennium, the world has made stunning progress toward the goal of universal primary education. In sub-Saharan Africa, enrollment in primary school has risen by 18 percentage points; in Asia and Latin America there has been more limited progress. While globally, 69 million school-age children do not attend school now, in 1999 that figure was 106 million. This is a huge achievement.
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In the Fight Against Poverty, It’s Time for a Revolution

By David Bornstein

Is it time to rethink our basic assumptions about the way we fight poverty?

When Michael Harrington’s landmark book on poverty, “The Other America,” was published in 1962, Harrington startled the nation’s leaders, including President John F. Kennedy, by shining a spotlight on the deep poverty that remained hidden in America. Harrington’s book became an underpinning for the War on Poverty. Half a century later, the United States Census bureau has produced what may become another landmark reference. Based on an updated method for assessing poverty, the bureau has found that far more Americans are scraping by than was previously known: 100 million Americans — one in three — are “deep poor,” “poor,” or “near poor.”
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Helping Where Help Is Wanted

By Tina Rosenberg

On Friday I wrote about ReServe, a program that connects retired professionals to part-time jobs in nonprofit organizations or city agencies.  Many ReServists, who earn $10 an hour, are working in city schools, including as college counselors in high schools in low-income neighborhoods.
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In a Second Career, Working to Make a Difference

By Tina Rosenberg

At the Thurgood Marshall Academy for Learning and Social Change, a public school on West 135th Street in Harlem, every one of the 82 members of the senior class is expected to apply to college. At a suburban or private school, or at a wealthier city school, these seniors would have all the help they need. They would have been raised in families where going to college is a given. They would have advisers who know about a wide range of colleges and have contacts in admissions offices. They would take test-prep courses and rewrite their personal essays numerous times with the help of a savvy editor. They would have a list of deadlines to meet and be constantly pushed to meet them by parents and school advisers.
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