Up Next: Public School Teachers Get Cozy with Donors

In our next podcast, anthropologist Amy Brown goes inside a New York City public school where students are mainly black and Latino, and the teachers mostly white. When it comes time to schmooze with donors at the spring fundraiser, teachers are hand-picked.

“It was all about maintaining this look as young, energetic, articulate teachers who are going to be attractive to potential funders of the school. As people who are going to work their hardest and look good doing it,” Brown says. Read more…

Top 10 of the Good Country Index  (Courtesy of Simon Anholt.)

How Much Good Does Your Country Do?

You’ve probably seen countries ranked by wealth, corruption and even happiness. But independent policy advisor Simon Anholt proposes a different yardstick: how much good a country does for humanity and the planet. Read more…

CHS students at Haitian Studies Conference in Haiti, 2014. (Credit: Matt Cone)

Inspiring Young Leaders on World Humanitarian Day

World Humanitarian Day honors those who’ve been affected by humanitarian crises or died in humanitarian service. August 19 is meant to inspire activism and solidarity against conflict, disease and suffering. Read more…

No Tech Solutions for Poverty, says Former Microsoft Researcher

Choose one thing that can lift people out of poverty and level the playing fields everywhere. It’s gotta be tech, right? From Lagos to Lima, computers and smartphones let people access the same information and design their own futures. But Yale and Harvard-trained computer scientist Kentaro Toyama argues that tech will never solve the world’s problems. Read more…

Curing Violence Like an Infectious Disease

American communities are still reeling and healing from recent gun violence, including the June mass shooting at a church in Charleston, S.C., and the gang violence that killed 10 people over July 4th weekend in Chicago. But our guests say there is something we can do about gun violence. To get there, we have to stop looking at the problem through a victim/perpetrator lens and begin tackling it at its root, like an infectious disease. Read more…

Building a Self-Reliant Africa from the Bottom-Up

Teddy Ruge, aka TMS Ruge, has made a name for himself by pushing back against international do-gooders in Africa. The Ugandan-born writer and entrepreneur has spent most of his career questioning the very definition of international development.
Read more…

‘Slingshot’ Takes Aim at Water Crisis, Gains Ground in Cinemas

JULY 7, 2015 UPDATE – The Slingshot documentary is screening in New York and Los Angeles this month. The Huffington Post just came out with a glowing review of the film: “If you want to make an indelible gift impact on your family, your friends, your children and yourself, Slingshot is a certain success.”  Tiny Spark spoke to director Paul Lazarus last year. Read more…

How Much is a Celebrity Worth? Nonprofits Pay For Star Power

Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton have collected as much as $11.7 million for their foundation by speaking at nonprofit events. The money came from 50 nonprofit groups, including universities, health research institutions and small charities. Read more…

Dhatur Sirin Tamang live with their children and relatives in a compound of 12 houses. Only one is livable now. Photo Credit: Emily Troutman

Sparking Our Interest: Nepal Relief, Big Money and Beating Hunger

06/22/2015

We’re planning to regularly share stories with you that pique our interest. Here are a few that stood out to us this week:

Who’s Getting the Aid Money in Nepal?

Journalist Emily Troutman is continuing her work in aid transparency. She recently found that less than one percent of the UN’s Flash Appeal for the Nepal Earthquake went to organizations based in the South Asian country. Read more…

Does $400M Gift to Harvard Support a Worthy Cause?

Harvard University recently made an historic announcement: billionaire hedge fund manager John Paulson gave $400 million to his alma mater’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. It marks the biggest gift to the world’s richest university, and some critics are pouncing on Paulson’s choice of a worthy cause. Read more…

Effort to Chart Global Deaths Draws Backlash

It would be an enormous challenge to figure out what people suffer and die from in every part of the world. But Christopher Murray decided he would try. Read more…

Tracking the Aid Money: Mission Impossible

After the 2010 earthquake in Haiti and the more recent Ebola crisis in Sierra Leone, billions of foreign aid dollars flowed into those countries. But figuring out how that money was spent has been enormously frustrating our two guests.

Read more…

Tiny Spark Assistant Producer and Reporter Stephanie Kuo.

Stephanie Kuo Joins Tiny Spark

We are thrilled to announce that public radio journalist Stephanie Kuo has joined Tiny Spark!

Stephanie’s work has been featured across several NPR stations in her home state of Texas, on subjects ranging from poverty and transportation to urban development. She will be based in Dallas. Read more…

A Global Detour Before College

Graduation season is here, but not all high school seniors are taking the direct route to college. In recent years, some 350 seniors have chosen to put higher education on hold for Global Citizen Year, which offers them year-long apprenticeships in Africa and Latin America. Read more…

Not If, But When: Planning for the Next Nepal

The 7.8-magnitude earthquake that struck Nepal was the nation’s worst in some 80 years. International aid groups are rushing to help more than a million people get food and other forms of relief.

But our guest Brian Tucker says responding to crises in this way is shortsighted, costly and just poor policy. Read more…

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On World Malaria Day, A Look Back On Bed Nets

April 25, 2015 marks World Malaria Day. The latest figures from the World Health Organization show 198 million cases of malaria in 2013 — which led to 584,000 deaths, mostly among children under age five. Read more…

Why Philanthropy Should Push Back Against the Business Mindset

Giving more money to altruistic initiatives should make those programs stronger, right? Not necessarily. Even some of the most well-known, well-intentioned programs have fallen short of their promises, especially ones funded on hunches instead of data. Read more…

n the yellow helmet and socks, I take on my first men's race in Ontario, California, on March 22, 2015. Photo by Billy Cordero.

Finding the Good in a Bad Crash

By Amy Ta

This podcast is about doing good. But bad thoughts have been hampering me since March 22, 2015. That was the day I smashed face-first onto pavement during a criterium bike race in Ontario, California. Read more…

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Tiny Spark Listed Among Top Podcasts

Tiny Spark was listed twice on Medium’s 21 Top Podcast Episodes for Global Thinkers:

Medium recommends:

Our interview with author Nina Munk critiquing Jeffrey Sachs’ Millennium Villages Project. Author Jaclyn Schiff writes: “Why listen? Just because one has a good plan to end extreme poverty and $100 million+ to execute it doesn’t mean it will work.” Read more…

Spring Cleaning? Before You Donate It…


It’s spring here in the US, so for many that means it’s time for the “big clean”. We dig into our closets, find a pile of tired clothes, and dump them at the Salvation Army or Goodwill. Maybe Oxfam if you’re in London.

Read more…

Journalist Questions Her Paycheck After Aid Scandal

Update 8/5/2015: U.S. district court judge Royce C. Lamberth recently ruled that USAID acted unlawfully when it suspended IRD for financial misconduct. Judge Lamberth is requiring USAID to hastily revert the suspension and to remove potentially damaging mentions of the suspension from its admin records. See more from Devex’s report.
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Charities: Flattering Reports, Poor Data

Nonprofit advisor Caroline Fiennes has a lot to say about how we assess charities. She used to run one herself. Back then, Fiennes would try to figure out whether her organization was achieving its goals but admits she wasn’t always forthcoming about the findings. “When the results were good, we would share them,” she tells us. “And when they weren’t, we didn’t.” Read more…

HIV Disclosure: Privacy, Pressure & Public Health

Medical anthropologist Adia Benton spent two years looking at HIV programs in Sierra Leone. What she saw unsettled her. “It calls into question what international programs like this do to people,” she tells us. Benton is an assistant professor of medical anthropology at Brown University and author of the forthcoming book, HIV Exceptionalism: Development through Disease in Sierra Leone. Read more…

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…

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…

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…

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

PRESS RELEASE

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…

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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

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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…

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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…

Mia Yonker, 8, hands out summer survival kits to homeless clients at The Stewpot in Dallas, Texas. (Photo courtesy of Amy Desler)

Helping the Homeless Beat the Heat

Tiny Spark reporter Stephanie Kuo recently visited the Stewpot, a Dallas-based social service organization that’s offering summer survival kits to the homeless. Children volunteers raise money and then assemble and distribute the kits themselves. It’s part of a program teaching them about homelessness, privilege and the importance of giving back. Kuo’s story aired on public radio’s Texas Standard.

Your Letters: ‘Cultural Imperialism,’ Aid Work Advice

We recently hosted a debate about billionaire hedge fund manager John Paulson’s decision to donate $400 million to his alma mater, Harvard University. We explored whether the Ivy League is a worthy cause, or if Paulson’s money could have done more good elsewhere … say, by giving it directly to the poor. After our podcast was posted on The Chronicle of Philanthropy’s website, one guest wrote in there.

Read more…