NGO Spotlight: Global Partners for Development

Global Partners: Community-Driven Development for Education

Global Partners for Development has relentlessly pursued long-term solutions to the needs facing East African communities for over 35 years. Although they have always practiced community-driven development, Global Partners has recently incorporated a more school-centric model. When they decided to try something new by adjusting their model of work, they knew they had to be committed to getting it right. Global Partners identifies schools with exceptionally low education indicators and partners with local communities to increase civic engagement, bolster local capacity for project management, and invest in community-driven projects at their schools.


Why the change? In short, while Global Partners was proud of their long history and the work they’ve done throughout the years, they face the challenge of impacting even more disenfranchised communities in the future. More than 4.5 million children in East Africa remain out of school. Children from poor households are less likely to have access to education than those from rich households, and females from rural areas are often the worst off of all. Waterborne diseases remain rampant in East Africa and cause chronic illness and death, especially among young children. Global Partners believes their new school-centric model will better enable them to implement scalable projects and achieve sustainable results in a larger number of communities.


Why schools? Quality education impacts every development outcome for generations. Research has proven that an educated child, and especially an educated girl, will have a smaller, healthier family with an improved livelihood. The hope is that by partnering directly with schools and communities and engaging and training them to work together, Global Partners will improve the greater communities’ perception of the importance of education and further associate education with village and family development.

Why engage the community? Engaged citizens are more confident in their ability to participate in community development, and community engagement fosters local ownership. Local ownership helps ensure the long-term sustainability of development projects.


What’s next? Based on indicators relatedto poverty and education, Global Partners has concluded that the Singida Region of Tanzania is in critical need of support for its public schools. Learn more about the specific plans Global Partners for Development has for Singida as well as other opportunities, such as donating to secondary school scholarships for girls in Uganda, on the UniversalGiving website. 

Youth Speaks: The Power of Language

By Pamela Hawley, CEO of UniversalGiving®

What a joy to visit Ashley Smiley and Gabriel Cortez at Youth Speaks. Youth Speaks has such a variety of programs and what I enjoyed the most is that it is not just about creativity; the program creates a long term community, life network and actually follows the kids through their life chapters. While it starts off with training in writing, the children are also exposed to numerous events regarding how to live life in a positive way, job connections, and as Ashley said, “we create a true family”.

Here are some of the programs with which I was very impressed. First, they have After School Programs all over. They are pretty much in every state and in multiple places across the Bay Area including San Francisco, The Mission, Berkeley, Oakland, etc., and in these after school programs they focus on writing.

Next, there is Open Mic. Open Mic allows you to practice and get your poetry up and on the stage. There isn’t a grading system and there’s no pressure. It is an opportunity for you to put forth your voice.

When you feel you are ready, then you can go on to formal competitions. Each stage you advance to, you must have new original content, and you are graded.

Finally, if you continue to progress, you may be chosen to be a part of a team referred to as Brave New Voices. Brave New Voices usually consists of at least five poetry creators who create three minute and thirty-second long poems. You have a coach and you go to a national competition.

With this support, there is a clear way to express yourself in a non-pressured way and in a supportive community. There is also a way to continue to ascend and become more advanced if you so choose. I like this as it doesn’t put pressure on the kids, but also shows them that there is a pathway to greater success if they like.

What is notable about Youth Speaks is that they also provide many different types of experiences. They have an annual event called Life is Living; they feature dance classes, sustainable foods, a petting zoo and speakers. Their point is to expose you to all the positive things that go on in life, and how you can live a life that is connected to the earth and doing good. It is a good example of how to make choices in your day-to-day, such as choosing organic foods or composting.

Most impressive is their work with accomplished authors. This summer, Ashley worked with Anna Deavere Smith at some of the poetry competitions. They also work closely with the San Francisco Jazz Festival and every year they have their annual competition/event. This year it will be held at the War Memorial Opera House. It is quite the impressive array of events that can meet every person’s need.

One of the most appealing aspects of Youth Speaks is its informality as well as access to elegance. You can simply take a class, which feels like a natural extension of school, or you can progress up to the heights and actually go to the Opera House for an amazing celebration with high-level authors and speakers. It is essential that our youth experience both of the following: 1) comfortable and ease of involvement and 2) access to experiences that they would never have. If you have the former, then introducing the latter is much easier. We want to open up the children’s minds as to how special they are and what they can do. They should be going to the Opera House just like everyone else.

Recently, I have been looking in to volunteer opportunities as well as helping coach some improv that could help students at YouthSpeaks when they get distracted or frozen on stage. Since I work at a nonprofit, I also felt it was critical to provide a donation. When people ask for a site visit it takes up valuable program time and we need to make sure that the people working so hard on the ground are supported.


Youth Speaks is a San Francisco based organization that seeks to empower youth by giving them the power to harness their own voices through written and spoken language. Youth Speaks is a leading nonprofit in the Spoken Word community, and currently provides programming and educational opportunities throughout the Bay Area and on a national scale.

Make a Wish Come True

By Cheryl Mahoney

“People want to help people.”

This was a thought expressed by Dave Girgenti in a recent USA Today article: “Website Connects Needy to the Charitable.”  Girgenti is the founder of Wish Upon a Hero, which does just what the USA Today headline suggests: connecting people in need with people who want to help.
Wish Upon a Hero is a website where anyone can post their wish–and anyone can help fulfill it.  I glanced over the wishes on the front page, and found requests for gifts for family members, pleas for help to make a rent payment, hope that someone will assist with schooling, a need for special equipment for a handicapped sibling…some wishes are big, but many are just people who need a little bit of help.  Check it out and see what you find, but be warned–some stories are heartbreaking.

It reminds me that what most of us probably take for granted–money for rent, the ability to buy a gift–can be someone else’s dearest wish.

So often people say, “I wish I could help someone, but I don’t know how.”  And so many people are saying, “I wish someone could help me.”  Wish Upon a Hero brings these two groups together –and it’s working.  According to the counter on the site, almost 31,000 wishes have been granted so far.  With those results, one could almost imagine they’re using pixie dust!

Taking the Leap: A Teenager’s Experience Volunteering and Traveling Solo in Asia

By: Gaby Alemán


For many reasons, the world seems much larger and more intimidating than it really is. We look at the globe and we’re hesitant to take a step out of our neighborhood for fear of the unknown— but you know what? That fear of the unknown is exactly what pushed me to leave. Maybe fear isn’t the correct word… Curiosity seems more appropriate. It was with a surging curiosity that I set out last September on my gap year, fresh outta high school, to travel to Asia for eight months.


I was, and am, part of a fellowship at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill called the Global Gap Year Fellowship, which gives incoming freshmen the ability to defer their enrollment and gives them scholarship money in order to pursue a volunteer based gap year. With the encouragement of my university and an oversized backpack clumsily strapped to my back, I headed off to Sri Lanka, Singapore, and Indonesia.

Now, you can guess that traveling alone internationally at 18 is nerve wracking; heck, it still is for people twice my age. But what I realized when I found myself crossing from the domestic flights section at the JFK airport to the Etihad airlines gate, where I was so clearly the only young backpacker in a line of colorfully ethnic women in saris and men in traditional robes and turbans, was that I wasn’t actually alone. Everyone I asked, for the most part, helped me in whatever I needed; they answered my questions and calmed my nerves. When you open yourself to the chance of being approached, when you’re cautious, but still willing to smile at people, you’d be amazed at the help you can receive and the people you cross paths with.

Traveling from country to country was a breeze after the first initial dive into the chaos of airports and immigration. My time in Sri Lanka served as a time of reflection; I was thrown into a mix of the Sinhalese and Tamil cultures, along with exposure to Buddhism, Islam, Christianity, and Hinduism, in an unfamiliar place with a language I couldn’t decipher. I worked alongside volunteers at an orphanage where I learned that true love and dedication are fickle things; things that needed to be extended fairly to all of the orphans, even the ones that pull your hair and splash around in puddles of pee. My time there challenged me and showed me what I was made of, but also liberated me from myself. I’ve lived my life walking a tightrope, self-conscious of my decisions and actions and cowering in fear at the thought of messing up. Sri Lanka made me look down and realize I was scared of a tightrope a foot above the ground. I saw that if I fell, I could get right back up and keep moving forward with more experience and a lesson learned.

Singapore, in contrast, was a wakeup call: I had been traveling around a third world country, taking cold showers and dreaming under mosquito nets, catching rides on roaring, packed buses and haggling tooth and nail in the markets; now I was thrown into the hustle and bustle I had known so well what seemed like a lifetime ago, aka three months. Chic malls towered over me and mocked my flowing hippie skirt and battered sandals during my exploration of the small city-country for a week while I awaited my Indonesian visa. Sure, I’ll admit I missed hot water and toasted bread, but all of this luxury? It was disorienting; even when I was toured around by some passionate Singaporean friends did I lack the enthusiasm for this clean and orderly society. Don’t get me wrong— Singapore is a proud sight to behold… But it wasn’t for me.

This strange disdain bled into my first month in Bali, Indonesia, which I spent in Ubud. For the month of December I rolled my eyes at tourists paying for overly priced meals and thinking they were spiritual because they attended a yoga course given by a westerner. January could not come quickly enough when I found myself transported to my definition of paradise: a small rural village in the northern region of Karangasem. I lived with a fluctuating number of volunteers in a small school where we taught English, next to the family that founded it, for four months. And I flourished. I found a home where previously I had considered myself nomadic; I learned to love the hard working, wonderful kids who brightened my day, every day, with a simple laugh or hug; I found spirituality surrounded by a people so dedicated to their beautiful religion, bowing my head and praying in my sarong for the first time in months. I marveled at the transparency of a smile, the way it communicates in any and every language and helped me connect with those I couldn’t understand verbally. I shared stories and emotions and laughter with people from all over the world; I cared about the locals and they graciously welcomed me into their community.


Here’s the thing I learned about traveling and volunteering— it’s a selfish thing. It’s the best and healthiest selfishness in the world. Sure, I was there to teach English. And considering the school’s students depended on the tourism industry to live successful futures, I’d say I was contributing. But that wasn’t the point, not completely. Traveling and experiencing another country and culture first hand— it made me aware. It exposed me to human mindfulness and the wonderful feats that humanity is capable of. I was surrounded with so much love and joy that every morning my eyes flew open with a gratitude for being alive; for having been able to experience what I did.

I am no savior and I am not special for what I did. It is not a difficult thing to do, really. At 18 years old, I had no special skill to offer; all I had was my positivity and perspective and enthusiasm. Now, I’m back in the US with a completely new way of looking at and appreciating life, one that I hope will carry me through my ambitions and goals in life. And I’m more than sure it will.


Gaby Alemán is a UniversalGiving Ambassador.

Pamela’s Weekly Words of Wisdom: Celebrate the Beauty of Balance

I hope I believe in balance. And part of that is identifying and knowing your team members’ goals outside of work.

It’s important to have outside lives and interests.  You have to begin by recognizing those first for yourself.  Your team will see you modeling this balance and how it makes you a whole, fully giving person.

We try to encourage our team to have outside interests, and to share their goals. We know UniversalGiving can’t be everything for everyone (even me ). And so I love to hear about the other interests—how can we help further them? One person wants to be a writer. Another is interested in aerospace. If I know this, perhaps someday I can help them. I can watch out for a person or introduction that might be helpful. Or even in a small way, I can find a helpful article in my daily journey of reading.

We’re all here to help each other.  It can happen in so many ways.  Focus on encouraging a balanced life and sharing of one another’s goals.  Let’s see how much we can help each other.  It will amaze you how much it energizes your organization, and propels your vision forward.  But most importantly, it honors the other person holistically, just as you would want to be honored.

Perspective and Point of View Matter

By Pamela Hawley

One of the Top Things I Love About Our Interns: “I believe that perspective and point of view matter.”

Every intern at UniversalGiving as part of the hiring process, submits a writing sample.

That sounds simple, and yet it is so profound. Some interns post papers from school; I learn about a new international issue. Some submit creative writing.  Others provide a link to a blog.  Each writing sample I read thoroughly, and I learn from them and about them.

Below is one of my favorites from an intern this summer. This was a kind, good-hearted person who is already making a difference in her college. It’s heartfelt, true, real; encouraging. She believes everyone’s story is important. So let’s read her profound words below, and cherish what she has to offer. I think she’s courageous.    

I am an average women, Caucasian, blue eyes, blond hair, and of average height and weight. This is not the story simply where the story is contained. From the beginning my pen has been scratching at these never ending pages. Pages that have been stained with love, divorce, abuse, laughter, depression, anger, and kindness. 

My chapters have written of a fearless single mother who would do anything for her children, an estranged brother who over the years became a best friend, and a father who never knew how to be around. Some characters will stay through the end where others have made only guest appearances. The perfection of life is that our stories are not the same. 

Our skin, hair, or eyes may be similar. Some of my own words may have been written in your pages but it will never be the same entire novel, never the same chapters. I believe that this is what makes life, I believe that perspective and point of view matter. In life we must be comfortable in our own story so that we may accept others’ stories as real and true to them. 

My beliefs are my beliefs they may be similar to yours but they may not be. We were made for our own story not someone else’s. We were made to tell of our own heart, put into our lives and the lives of others for reasons we may never realize until we skim those words again. 

My book has been bruised and beaten sometimes put on pedestal, moved from place to place… Some have applauded it while others walked away from it.   My story would be nothing without the others who have taken the pen for a while, some of the words have been hateful and degrading while others spoke encouragement and love. 

In both moments I learned who I wanted to be and how I wanted to be with others. I learned who and what I wanted to fight for, I learned it was your story that was what I wanted most of all. I wanted your story to stand up and teach people about their own lives so even when it has faded with time it will never be gone for you inspired people to write their own. You made mistakes and you claimed them, you fell down but you always stood back up. Maybe yours has been a song, a poem, a short novel but realize that you have never stopped writing. 

Every moment inked into life, it is your story I believe in, it is your story that matters. 

Sustainability Spotlight: Kickstart International

Have you traveled to Africa? When we hear this word, most of us think of the elephants and the giraffes of the savannah, the peaks of Kilimanjaro, or the beaches of Cote d’Ivoire. These amazing sights make it easy to lose track of the small-scale farmers that make up 80% of those living in poverty. These families often find that hard work is not enough to combat low rainfall and water shortages. How do you make use of the water you have? And how do you create sustainability? Kickstart International brings irrigation tools and techniques to Sub-Saharan Africa to rejuvenate these farmlands.

Kickstart International (Kickstart) began when founders Dr. Martin Fisher and Nick Moon started to question traditional techniques in addressing poverty. They wanted to combine new technology that would address the problem with marketplace sustainability. Their collaboration resulted in the creation of products that were made exclusively for poor, rural African farmers. These tools would increase the crop output, resulting in a more sustainable income for the farmers. However, these tools were not handouts – Fisher and Martin were determined to sell low-cost, high-quality irrigation pumps at an affordable price so that families and communities could raise themselves out of poverty.

For over 15 years, Kickstart has provided over 1 million people the opportunity to feed, clothe, and educate themselves while still having some money left over to save for the future. In total, they have sold over 287, 435 pumps. Kickstart is currently working in 16 countries in Africa, including Tanzania, Kenya, and South Sudan. The organization focuses on these four areas: increasing incomes, enabling food security, empowering women, and increasing resilience to climate change.

The Time Is Now. Click Here to Watch Kickstart’s Video about Innovation and Action.

Kickstart International.jpgIf you would like to learn more about Kickstart International’s innovation, you can check out their page on the UniversalGiving website!