Tiny Spark is an independent news program and podcast that reports deeply and constructively on philanthropy, nonprofits, international aid and for-profit social good initiatives.

Founded in 2011 by former Africa correspondent Amy Costello, Tiny Spark stories have included an investigation into TOMS Shoes and exposed the harm caused by medical volunteers in post-quake Haiti. The program also features in-depth interviews with leading voices from the world of international aid and development.

Tiny Spark investigations have been cited in a number of leading news outlets, including Slate, The Atlantic and Mother Jones. It has also co-produced a global investigative series with PRI’s The World called Tracking Charity. Tiny Spark is supported by a grant from The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

Founder & Managing Editor

Amy hosting UN radio show

Amy Costello

Amy has spent the past decade reporting on some of the most pressing human rights issues of the day. For four years, she was the Africa Correspondent for The World, a co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI and WGBH Boston. Her stories were heard by millions of listeners across the United States and around the globe.  She has reported for NPR, PBS television, and the BBC World Service.

During her time in Africa, Amy traveled extensively across the continent, producing in-depth, documentary-style radio reports on topics ranging from American anti-terrorism efforts in the Horn of Africa to sexual abuse by United Nations peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sierra Leone. She has reported many stories on children in Africa, including child laborers in Ivory Coast, AIDS orphans in South Africa, and Ethiopian children bound for adoptive homes in the United States.

Amy visited Darfur, Sudan to investigate allegations of genocide for the PBS television program, FRONTLINE/World. During her three-week tour, Amy traveled with rebel soldiers, African Union troops, and civilians who had been displaced by the violence. She confronted militias and government officials accused of carrying out the genocide. Her story, Sudan: The Quick and the Terrible was nominated for an Emmy Award.

Amy was a producer at NPR for three years before she moved to Africa.  She has worked as an adjunct professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, her alma mater. Since returning to the United States, Amy has continued to report on human rights issues, moderating podcasts for UNICEF, Human Rights Watch and the PBS television miniseries, Women, War & Peace. She also reported a follow-up story for FRONTLINE/World on the PlayPump, a celebrated idea designed to “do good”.  Along the way she uncovered myriad problems with the technology, an experience which would become the impetus for Tiny Spark. She lives in Austin, Texas.

Associate Producer


Amy Ta

Before joining Tiny Spark, Amy Ta worked on NPR’s Tell Me More, Weekend Edition and NPR Music. During her time at NPR, she produced intimate conversations about diverse issues, such as coping with mental illness, life and death in prison, breaking racial barriers in Hollywood, and more. Amy earned two Bachelor’s degrees in International Development and Communication Studies from the University of California, Los Angeles. She has been to Thailand, Peru, Jamaica, Czech Republic and New Zealand. She is an avid documentary and sports photographer.

From her base in southern California, Amy juggles a number of responsibilities for Tiny Spark, whether assisting in our investigative work to using her fine technical skills to produce in-depth interviews. Amy generates and vets story ideas, researches, interviews, writes/edits, and other things too numerous to list here.

Advisory Board

Chris Blattman

Chris is an Assistant Professor at Columbia University, in the department of Political Science and the School of International and Public Affairs. He holds a PhD in Economics from the University of California at Berkeley, and a Master’s in Public Administration and International Development from the Harvard Kennedy School. Chris’ research examines the causes and consequences of civil war, the reintegration of ex-combatants, post-conflict economic and social programs, and the development of new forms of governance and peace building after war. He is currently evaluating peacebuilding and governance programs in Liberia and Uganda.  Chris teaches courses on the political economy of civil war and terror, African development, and applied econometrics.


Andrew DeVigal

Andrew is an Emmy-award winning visionary storyteller with a comprehensive background in interactive and multimedia journalism. He’s currently “elevating the art of storytelling” at Second Story in Portland, Oregon. As the former multimedia editor at The New York Times, he pioneered new approaches to interactive storytelling maintaining his commitment to journalistic integrity. Andrew is also a recognized industry leader in interface and usability design of news. In addition to winning two Emmys and several nominations, Andrew’s work and the work of his desk have been recognized by the Alfred I. duPont Awards, World Press Photo, Pictures of the Year International, American Society of News Editors, National Press Photographers Association, among many others.

Phyllis Kaufman

Phyllis Kaufman is the Co-Founder and Producing Director of Outside the Wire, a social impact company that uses theater and other media to address public health and social justice issues, such as combat-related psychological injury, end of life care, substance abuse/addiction, and political violence. Outside the Wire’s signature project, “Theater of War”, presents readings of ancient Greek plays to destigmatize issues of combat-related psychological injury.  Prior to co-founding Outside the Wire, Phyllis was a Partner at a New York-based law firm in the media/entertainment practice group with a specialization in social impact and digital media, and production finance/production legal transactions.

Mathan Ratinam

Mathan is an Assistant Professor in the School of Design Strategies and core faculty in Transdisciplinary Design at Parsons The New School for Design. He coordinates the Humanitarian Design Platform and directs the Humanitarian Design Lab conducting design research with and advising various external partners from the humanitarian, NGO and development community including the Red Cross, Oxfam America, World Bank and the United Nations. Previously at Columbia University he directed the Moving Image Lab and taught courses in the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation.  Mathan is now a practicing filmmaker and academic exploring how to assist vulnerable communities through design with collaborative projects that bring together people from the humanitarian and development fields with design researchers and practitioners.

Ellen Weiss

Ellen is Vice President and Bureau Chief at Scripps Howard News Service. She previously served as the Executive Director of The Center for Public Integrity where she oversaw the Center’s domestic investigations and editorial staff. Ellen was formerly senior vice president of news at NPR. There she managed 36 bureaus, more than 400 U.S. and international staffers and a $75 million budget. Under Ellen’s leadership, the audience for NPR.org grew from four million unique monthly visitors in 2006 to 12 million in 2010. During that timeframe she also oversaw a 10 percent growth in audience for NPR’s news programs to more than 27 million weekly listeners. During her time leading NPR news, it won a multitude of prestigious awards, including Peabody Awards, Alfred I. DuPont-Columbia University Awards, Robert F. Kennedy Awards, George Polk Awards, among others.