Teaching the Next Generation of Global Innovators

Carrboro High School in Carrboro, North Carolina is an unlikely meeting place for leaders of international aid and development. But over the years, global studies teacher Matt Cone has given his students face time with an impressive list of guests: former USAID administrator Rajiv Shah, Nobel Peace Prize-winning economist Mohammed Yunus, first lady Laura Bush and more.  Read more…

The Bright Continent: Rethinking Modern Africa

Nigerian-American journalist Dayo Olopade spent two years traveling to seventeen nations across sub-Saharan Africa. In her new book The Bright Continent: Breaking Rules and Making Change in Modern Africa, she comes away with a decidedly promising view of the continent. Read more…

Essmart: Helping the Poor And Charging a Fee

Jackie Stenson was a Harvard trained engineer who wanted to design technologies to improve the lives of the world’s poor. Read more…

Ebola: One Doctor in a Firefight

TIME Magazine named those treating Ebola patients as its 2014 Person of the Year. Joel Selanikio is one of them.

“I knew I was going to go,” Selanikio tells us from his base in Lunsar, Sierra Leone, where he is currently treating Ebola patients. Read more…

Photo Credit: Amy Ta on the National Mall, collecting interviews for the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington. Photo by Kemi Aladesuyi.

Meet Our New Producer!

Tiny Spark has doubled in size and now has a West Coast presence!

I am over the moon to welcome Amy Ta to Tiny Spark. Amy comes to us from NPR in Washington DC, where she spent more than four years working on NPR’s Tell Me More, Weekend Edition and NPR Music. Read more…


Tiny Spark receives $400,000 Grant from The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation


AUSTIN, Texas, September 12, 2014 – Tiny Spark announced today that it has received a two-year grant totaling $400,000 to expand its coverage of philanthropy, nonprofits, international aid and for-profit social good initiatives. Read more…


Questioning our Relationship with Africa

A few years ago, I had the good fortune of working with veteran television producer Cassandra Herrman, pictured above. She produced and directed our story on the PlayPump, a profound reporting experience that would later compel me to launch Tiny Spark. Read more…

TOMS Shoes Listens to its Critics

An announcement came out of the Clinton Global Initiative last week. It didn’t involve lofty issues of world peace or universal access to education. But the announcement was important and it’s worth noting here. Read more…


An Idea Sparked in Africa

I wanted to take this opportunity to let you know about the impetus behind Tiny Spark.

For several years, I worked as a public radio and television correspondent in Africa. During that time, I traveled around the continent, seeing a range of social enterprise initiatives and aid programs on the ground, each meeting with varying degrees of success. I also discovered that well-intentioned ideas, poorly executed, can actually do harm. Read more…

The above photo shows a Haitian woman undergoing surgery in a parking lot without anesthesia. Photo Courtesy: Atlanta Journal Constitution.

Haiti’s Medical Volunteers – Helping or Harming?

EDITOR’S NOTE: To commemorate the fifth anniversary of the Haiti earthquake, we are reposting this podcast in cased you missed it the first time around. The concerns raised in this investigation remain to this day.

Doctors and nurses responded when Haiti was shaken by a deadly earthquake in 2010.

From across the United States and around the globe, an untold number of men and women took leave from their jobs and flew to Haiti to provide assistance to the injured.

In our latest episode, Tiny Spark takes a look at the quality of care those volunteers provided.  While they may have been well-intentioned, medical volunteers’ lack of specialized training would sometimes have severe repercussions for patients. Read more…


Lessons from an Expat Aid Worker

Here is an excerpt from Letters Left Unsent:

Aid and development workers are notorious for being self-righteous and smug. While I do not care for those labels, I also know that there’s some basis to them. We, and I include myself, sometimes wear our genteel poverty as a badge of honor. We are not like our materialist peers in the for-profit sector. We are on the right sides of all the issues. Read more…

Dean Kamen

New Documentary Profiles Inventor Doing Good

I recently watched a new documentary about inventor Dean Kamen. He’s the guy who invented the Segway, that impressive but only moderately successful people mover. Read more…


Demanding More Than Good Intentions

A lot of people ask me what factors they should consider when deciding which charities to support. It’s a tough question. And an important one. So I turned to one of the experts. Read more…

Photo Credit: Jennifer Collins

Ball Generates Electricity for Poor Kids…Until It Breaks

I’m so happy to bring you our first story produced by an outside contributor. Reporter Jennifer Collins’ investigation was made possible by the generosity of Tiny Spark’s Kickstarter backers. Read more…

Cash for the Poor, Strings Attached

Svetha Janumpalli has a simple idea for alleviating extreme poverty. Give people cash.

For her work in the field, the 26-year-old was named one of Forbes Magazine’s 30 under 30 Social Entrepreneurs. Janumpalli heads up a small non-profit out of San Francisco called New Incentives, which has piloted cash-based programs in Kenya, Nigeria, India and Cambodia.

Svetha Janumpalli advocates giving cash to the poorest

Svetha Janumpalli advocates cash for the poor with strings attached.

















When we spoke to Janupalli, she was packing her bags for Nigeria, where she plans to live for a year. She’ll be overseeing a program that aims to reduce mother-to-child transmission of HIV by giving pregnant women cash every time they go to the clinic. Svetha’s program will include a randomized control trial, so that the impact of her project can be measured. Janumpalli is an evangelist when it comes to the need for data in assessing foreign aid projects.

“We need to design our programs first based on evidence,” she says. Otherwise, “You’re just leading to over-funding of bad interventions.”

Svetha says donors should decide which programs to back based on data and track records. She cites a lot of studies to support the notion that cash for the poor really works. Svetha’s not alone. A nonprofit called Give Directly gave six million dollars away in the past year to poor families in Kenya and Uganda.  There is some skepticism about giving cash directly to the poor but an independent analysis of Give Directly’s program in Kenya found that it led to “significant increases in income, assets, psychological well-being and female empowerment.”

Svetha says she likes what Give Directly is doing but she believes people should be required to do certain things before they get cash. That’s why the HIV positive women Svetha will be working with have to go to the clinic before they receive their stipends.  Her pilot project in India required families to send their kids to school every day before they could receive cash. Paternalistic? Svetha doesn’t think so.  “If you think about aid, it’s extremely paternalistic,” she responds. “When you give money to build a well, who told you that was the most pressing need that family had? If you give them cash, they can consume anything they want.”

What do you think of cash handouts for the world’s poor? Should recipients be required to do certain things before they receive money?


Should Volunteers Who Live in Poverty Be Paid?

Across the developing world, many international charities rely on local, volunteer staff to perform all kinds of work. Many volunteers provide low-level assistance to organizations. However, thousands of volunteer healthcare workers are bringing vital skills and expertise to rural areas, which suffer from a severe shortage of doctors and nurses.

Many praise the “volunteer spirit” that makes rural healthcare possible, but what about the well-being of the volunteers themselves, many of whom are poor? Read more…

Jeffrey Sachs speaks at anti-poverty rally at UNC Chapel Hill. Photo Credit: Kevin Tsui

Tracking One Man’s Quest to End Extreme Poverty

Jeffrey Sachs has twice been named among TIME Magazine’s “100 Most Influential People in the World”. The New York Times Magazine once described him as “probably the most important economist in the world”.

Sachs has devoted much of his career to figuring out how to end extreme poverty across the globe. He says if you give even the poorest communities enough money and resources, extreme poverty can actually be eradicated. Read more…