Struggling to Erase the Stigma of Trauma

By Amy Ta

I’m in the business of questions and answers — writing questions, procuring answers for our podcast. But when I take off my producer/editor cap and go about my personal life, these are the questions I get ad nauseam from strangers:

“What happened to your face? How’d you get those scars? Were you in a car accident?”

For those who don’t know, road bike racing was the tragic accident that happened to me — three increasingly severe crashes within two years. They damaged my skin, bones, brain, bank account, and worse of all – the way I felt about myself. Read more…

Charline Burton (Courtesy of Burton)

Mom Survives Terrorist Attack With Baby, Vows to Keep Fighting Violent Extremism

Al Qaeda affiliates opened fire along a West African beach on March 13, killing almost two dozen people and wounding some 33. As the terrorists moved through the resorts in Grand Bassam, Ivory Coast, Charline Burton hid in a bathroom with her 1-year-old daughter and two others. She could hear the gunmen outside the door, talking and shooting. If her baby cried, she knew their hiding place would be revealed.

“She couldn’t actually make a sound because that would have alerted the people attacking us,” Burton recalls. “We could have been killed. People hiding in other bathrooms that day had been killed.” Remarkably, her baby never cried during the two hours they were hiding. Read more…

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Is Philanthropy Fueling Wealth Inequality?

Pablo Eisenberg is a long-time observer and outspoken critic of American philanthropy. “The same people get the benefits, the same people serve on boards, and the foundations have the same priorities they had a hundred years ago,” he tells us.

Eisenberg says those priorities don’t often help the neediest people — namely the poor, people of color, women and children at risk, and the disabled. “[They] are not getting more than a little piece of the philanthropic pie after all these years,” he says. Read more…

Beenish Ahmed. Credit: Victoria Fleischer.

Doing Good as Muslim American and Being Shut Down

In the wake of this week’s terrorist bombings in Brussels and heated anti-Muslim rhetoric in the U.S. presidential race, we read with interest Beenish Ahmed’s NPR essay, Learning — And Unlearning — To Be An ‘Ambassador’ For Islam. In it, she describes being in an untenable position:

“Those of ‘us’ who are Americans and also Muslim feel trapped. Even so, we can’t help but wonder what we can say or do to make the madness stop.”

We invited Ahmed to speak more about her experience as a Muslim in America, trying to appear nonthreatening to an increasingly anxious American public. Read more…

Rebecca Hamilton interviews Vice President Riek Machar when covering the South Sudan referendum for Te Washington Post. Credit: Cédric Gerbehaye.

In Solving Global Crises, How Useful Are Hashtags and Likes?

When it comes to promises made by social movements, human rights scholar Rebecca Hamilton has heard it all. “Share this Facebook link and you can save the life of a child in Uganda. Wear this bracelet and you can bring peace to Darfur,” she recalls. “The problem is most of the time, it’s simply not true that doing a low-cost action can be very high value to somebody somewhere else.” Read more…

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From War Photographer to War Crimes Investigator

MacArthur “genius” award winner Corinne Dufka spent a decade as a psychiatric social worker before becoming a Reuters photojournalist. She covered armed conflicts in 17 nations, including El Salvador, Sierra Leone and Bosnia. But it was inside a hotel room in Rwanda where she had an “epiphany” that compelled her to leave photojournalism at the height of her career. Read more…

There’s More Aid Than Ever, So Why Are Poorest Nations Getting Less?

Owen Barder was just a teenager when he saw people who had walked for days – and even weeks – to find food. It was the 1984-85 famine in Ethiopia, which killed some one million people. Barder, the son of a British diplomat, was visiting a camp in the eastern part of the country, and at that moment he decided what his life’s mission would be. “I began to realize that solving the problem of global poverty was the most important thing in the world.” Read more…

Ardent Aid Critic Says He’s Misunderstood

Bill Easterly elicits strong feelings in aid and development circles. Some have described him as one of the sector’s leading authorities and a heavyweight economist. But not everyone is a fan. Humanosphere labels him “Bill Gates’ least favorite aid expert.” That’s because Easterly has built a career excoriating foreign aid and expert interventions.

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World’s Largest Charity Evaluator Revamps its Rating Formula

If you want to vet a nonprofit, you can go to Charity Navigator, where you’ll find ratings on more than 8,000 of the world’s largest charities. Organizations receive zero to four stars based on their financial health and transparency. But if you want to know whether they are actually making a difference, Charity Navigator can’t tell you that. And that’s a problem, according to its past and current CEOs.

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Occupy Charity: Big Money in Few Hands

The nonprofit sector is worth about $2 trillion a year. But more than 85 percent of that money goes to just 1 percent of the nation’s charities. That’s according to Ken Berger, former head of Charity Navigator, the world’s largest nonprofit evaluator.

“I coined this phrase ‘The Occupy Charity Problem,'” he says, referring to the 2011 Occupy Wall Street protests against wealth inequality. Berger says income inequality in the nonprofit sector is twice as bad. “When you have that much concentration of resources in the hands of a very small number of nonprofits, it has all kinds of ripple effects and challenges.”

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Our Most Memorable Author Interviews of 2015

As the year wraps up, the Chronicle of Philanthropy is out with a list of notable books from 2015. We interviewed a number of the authors. They wrote about altruism, technology, poverty and education. Read more…

Why Do Billions of Charitable Dollars Sit in Banks?

Billions of dollars worth of charitable assets are being held in private foundations and bank accounts. That money is supposed to help nonprofits and those in need, but law professor Ray Madoff says our current laws benefit donors and money managers, not the charitable sector. Read more…

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Part Three: Is This Charity Any Good?

Want to know if a nonprofit deserves your money? Here’s what you should ask them: What would happen in your community if you went out of business tomorrow?

“I believe that an organization doesn’t deserve to ask for money if that question can’t be answered and with passion,”  says nonprofit advisor and Columbia University professor Doug White. After all, charities have a special place in society, he adds. Read more…

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Part Two: Tools for Smart Giving

On this Giving Tuesday, The Chronicle of Philanthropy’s Stacy Palmer joins our holiday miniseries about effective giving. When evaluating a charity, she says you should first ask them, “How do you know you’re doing great work?”

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Join Our Conversation on Effective Giving

Next Tuesday, December 1, I will be on PRI’s the World to talk about Tiny Spark’s Guide to Good Giving. We recently launched that miniseries to help you make more informed decisions about charitable giving this holiday season.

And now, together with with The World, we’d like to invite you into a discussion we’re having on Facebook. Do you have questions about how and where to spend your time and charitable dollars? Do you have concerns about particular forms of giving? With all the causes out there to support, it can feel overwhelming, so please share your questions with me here, and I’ll answer them over the next few days. Read more…

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Part One: Is it Better to Give Locally or Globally?

This holiday season, many of you will face choices and dilemmas about where to spend your time and money on charitable causes. So we’ve created Tiny Spark’s Guide to Good Giving to help you feel more informed. In our three-part miniseries, we talk with smart people who have spent their careers thinking about what it means to give well and responsibly. We hope these conversations will inspire you to think in new ways about how to have the most impact with your donor dollars. Read more…

The Great Surge in Developing Nations No One is Talking About

When we think about the world’s poor, we may assume that most are stuck in poverty, with few roads out. But that’s a misconception, according to Steven Radelet, former chief economist for the U.S. Agency for International Development. Radelet says economic prospects for the world’s poor have improved dramatically over the past 25 years. The Georgetown University professor details the progress in his new book, The Great Surge: the Ascent of the Developing World.
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Helping Others Be Heard, from World Bank to Feedback Labs

Dennis Whittle has spent some 30 years working in international aid and development. He was initially struck by all the good intentions, but over the course of time, discovered that it’s often difficult for aid agencies and foundations to listen to the people they aim to serve.

Whittle spoke with Tiny Spark about his journey from the World Bank to his latest initiative called Feedback Labs. Read more…

A Syrian refugee camp in Aleppo. Credit: IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation/Flickr.

When Aid is Crowdsourced, Who Gets the Money?

By: Amy Ta

Kickstarter is known for funding film, music, photography and other creative projects. But it recently wrapped up a week-long campaign for humanitarian relief. More than 27,000 backers contributed $1,777,007 to USA for UNHCR, a nonprofit supporting the United Nations refugee agency. The campaign focused on UNHCR’s mission to aid Syrians fleeing their homes. It said that $15 afforded a sleeping bag, $70 an emergency rescue kit and $160 a group tent with sleeping bag and mat. Read more…

Good Deeds in Cold Blood: Extreme Altruists

So much bad news in the world today: mass shootings, refugee crises, poverty. But many ordinary people are responding in extraordinary ways to some of the big problems around them. They choose to help complete strangers, even at great cost to themselves. Their stories are part of Larissa MacFarquhar’s new book, Strangers Drowning: Grappling with Impossible Idealism, Drastic Choices, and the Overpowering Urge to Help. Read more…

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Following Newark’s $200 Million Charitable Windfall

Journalist Dale Russakoff’s new book, The Prize, delves into Mark Zuckerberg’s mission to turn around Newark, New Jersey’s ailing school system. In 2010, the Facebook founder contributed $100 million to the effort, which was announced on The Oprah Winfrey Show. We spoke to Russakoff about her new book. Read more…

When a School Markets Students as Charity Cases

Fundraising in public schools is a growing, competitive industry, and it can be a precarious one for students and teachers.

Philanthropic giving for K-12 education rose more than 70 percent from 2000 to 2010, according to a Michigan State University study. By some estimates, it’s a few billion dollars each year.

Amy Brown’s forthcoming book examines how a NYC public high school managed its image to donors and critiques big philanthropy’s role in public education. A Good Investment? Philanthropy and the Marketing of Race in an Urban Public School is based on her two years at the pseudonymous “College Prep Academy.” 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.
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‘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.

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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.

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

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Tiny Spark’s Guide to Good Giving

In this miniseries, we unpack the many choices and dilemmas donors face at the end of the year and hear advice about how to give wisely during the holiday season.  Read more…