Raj Kumar, Founder and Editor of Devex, Joins Denver Frederick

The following is a conversation between Raj Kumar, Founder and Editor of Devex, and Denver Frederick, Host of The Business of Giving on AM 970 The Answer in New York City.

Denver: We frequently talk to practitioners from the international development community on The Business of Giving about their work around an issue or in a particular country. But it is useful to take a step back now and again to look at this $200 billion industry from a broader perspective so we can put this work into a larger context. And there is no one better suited to do that for us than my next guest. He is Raj Kumar, the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Devex. Good evening, Raj, and welcome to The Business of Giving!

Raj: Well, thank you for having me, Denver!

Denver: Tell us about Devex, and the purpose and goals of your organization.

Raj_Kumar

Raj Kumar

Raj: So since we’re here in New York, I think everybody knows Bloomberg. We’re a lot like the Bloomberg of the global development field… meaning we’re this media platform; we’ve got all different ways that journalists and analysts around the world could get information about what’s going on in global development to the people who are actually doing that work. So our audience are people who work at the World Bank or the Gates Foundation or the UN System or lots of NGOs, charities– small and big– all over the world.

Denver: Fantastic! Well, give us a sense of how this international system works and how the different pieces connect. We have the Peace and Security Architecture that is having an incredibly difficult time at the moment. You have a humanitarian system, which is certainly being overwhelmed with 125 million displaced people, and of course, the international development community. How does this system work? And how do these parts relate to one another?

Raj: I look at it as kind of a big bowl of spaghetti. It’s not a simple, clear map that you can draw and say, “There’s this group over here doing this work, and this group over there doing that work.” The lines are fuzzy. They’re blurry and they connect in complex ways.

So, you said in the beginning, it’s a $200 billion industry. And I think the easiest way to think about it is to think of it as an industry. Not that we’re not out there to do good in the world. These are charities and mission-driven organizations, but it is, in a sense, a business. It’s, in a sense, an industry. And so, if you think about it at that really high level, you’ve got official money– which means basically taxpayer money going through agencies like US governments, USAID, or through UN agencies like UNICEF. Then you’ve got private organizations. Some of them are funded by average people giving donations to church. Some are funded by wealthy billionaires like the Gates family.  And you’ve got lots of nonprofit organizations of all stripes around the world.

You put all that together, it’s this complex spaghetti bowl that all somehow works. It’s kind of magic, at the end, if this works. Sometimes it doesn’t as well as it should. But I think that’s sort of the way to look at it. And yes, you’ve got some divisions. You’ve got this idea that there’s a humanitarian sector, which is different from development. Although, increasingly, those two things are kind of pushed together.

The idea of humanitarian is: there’s an emergency. There’s a crisis. There’s suddenly an earthquake, a flood, a political crisis, and you need to get in there and help people. Give them the medicine, the food they need right away – that kind of emergency work. There’s still absolutely a different kind of work-around, a different kind of practice and discipline. The people who do that are different from the folks who do long-term economic development. But your average person who’s a refugee today has been a refugee for 17 years. So, sometimes these crises aren’t really what we think of as a short-term emergency. It’s not something that just came up like: your house got flooded. These are longer-term issues. So the line between what is humanitarian and what is development has sort of blurred and gone away to a degree.

So, lots and lots more people realize there’s this idea of global development, this idea that much of the world is still living in poverty while much of the world is doing well and pretty wealthy, and we need to find a way to lift people up and change that trajectory.

Denver: Like every other part of our society, everything is beginning to blur. We had Ken Roth of the Human Rights Watch on the show recently, and he traced a remarkable growth in the human rights field over the past couple of decades. And it has been no less remarkable in the field of international development, which as you said and I said, a $200 billion industry. Tell us how this has evolved from when you started, Raj, back in 2000.

Raj: I remember when we started this in 2000, if I said, “I’m interested in development,” people thought I meant real estate development or IT development. There wasn’t even an idea of: what is development. That was a pretty narrow niche group. Then you got Bono, and you got Angelina Jolie, and you’ve got presidents and prime ministers and leaders of all stripes coming out and talking about this now. And it’s become a global level issue. So, lots and lots more people realize there’s this idea of global development, this idea that much of the world is still living in poverty while much of the world is doing well and pretty wealthy, and we need to find a way to lift people up and change that trajectory.

And so, I think the main difference I see is that there’s a broader understanding of what this kind of work is all about. Second thing is, as an understanding has grown, people of all stripes have said, “We believe in this. We support it.” And so you saw in the United States a huge coalition, mainly during George W. Bush’s administration, that got together– people of faith, people from the business community, people from the national security and military background saying: It matters that we have people in the world who are without and that need to be supported.

So, suddenly American aid went up dramatically. It basically tripled since we started doing our work. Then you saw lots of wealthy billionaires come out– people like the Gates, but many others who said, “You know what? We’ve got more than we need. We’re going to donate everything or nearly everything we’ve got to these kinds of causes.” And that has dramatically changed the trajectory on big issues like certain diseases. So the big shift I see is that this went from being a narrow niche thing… you always have people who–this was their professional life. This was their work and what they believed in. It’s mainstream now. Global development is something that should touch, and does touch, everyone.

 

We’re getting into an era now where people realize solutions to tough challenges aren’t going to be just done by someone writing a check. You’ve got to find a way to partner.

Denver: You know, talking about those coalitions, I think looking at this work from another perspective, we have cross-sector partnerships. In fact, the final goal of the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals– that were unveiled back in 2015– is to revitalize global partnerships for sustainable development.  And they probably realize the other 16 goals are going to be unattainable unless they realize that one. What are some of the challenges that exist in these partnerships?  And what do you see that’s working?

Raj: I think the biggest underlying idea when we talk about partnerships is just thinking: what does that mean. Because recently, the German government announced a new “Marshall Plan for Africa.” And they wanted to model that on what the Americans did with Germany after the World War II– where the Marshall Plan is probably the first major successful global development initiative. But they made a little mistake there. They called it the “Marshall Plan for Africa.” We’re in an era now of partnership. They had to change it to the “Marshall Plan with Africa.”

We’re going away from this top down idea. You can’t sit in Washington or London or Berlin and say, “We’re going to send you a check, and everything is going to be fine.” You need to work together. And that is at the really big macro, global leader level, but it’s also at the local  charity level, the individual level. We’re getting into an era now where people realize solutions to tough challenges aren’t going to be just done by someone writing a check. You’ve got to find a way to partner. And that includes the private sector finding business solutions, market-oriented solutions. Sometimes you want to sell products to people. You don’t want to just give them away. You can distort whole economies when you do that.

So, there is a new era now, and that’s what I think that partnership goal fundamentally means. What it has caused us to see are big companies, companies like Starbucks: I would say that’s a global development company. It sounds a little crazy. Obviously, it’s a coffee company. But they’re in places like Rwanda and Ethiopia helping farmers to increase their coffee yields, to make sure their farms are doing well. They want to make sure their kids are in school. They don’t want their coffee coming from sources not sustainable, or that’s unstable, or where they’re going to get accused one day that they’re supporting kids not going to school or working the field.

So, basically, you now have these kinds of partnerships formed with every major company you can think of practically– with investors, with governments, with philanthropies. It’s a whole new era, and it’s complicated, but it’s actually what’s needed on these really tough global challenges.

Denver: And no greenwashing!  These are authentic partnerships.

Raj: Yes. I think we’re getting out of that era. There still is some greenwashing out there in the world, no question, when companies say, “Oh, can I just put my name on something when it sounds good?” But what you’re seeing increasingly is businesses that say, “I’ve got to tie this back to the way I make money. I want to make money, and I realize in the long run, the best way to do that is to have the trust and credibility of my consumers, of the people who supply my products. If I’m out there for the short-term buck, that’s going to come back and bite me.” And so, the biggest and best companies in the world see this as part of their long-term mission.

Denver: You know, if we can generalize for a minute, Raj, and I know that’s always difficult to do, but is there a difference between the older, well-established NGOs in the field, and the younger ones that may have come into being in the last 10 or 15 years in the way they approach this work?

Raj: I think there is. And broadly generalizing, in the old days, you might have said, “Well, how do I measure the success of my organization while it gets bigger and bigger? I’ve got more staff. I’ve got a bigger budget. I’m working in more countries.” And that’s  a sign of respect, like “Look, I’m working in 55 countries. Isn’t that great?” Whereas a lot of the younger, smaller organizations that are cropping up now, what I hear them saying is, “I’m looking for a really smart idea.  And then, I don’t need to own it. I’ll make it open source. Let other organizations pick up this idea. I don’t need to have a thousand people working in my nonprofit. Let local organizations in developing countries take my idea and run with it themselves.” So it’s a different mentality. And basically, what it means is: you have lower overhead. You have less cost going to these American or European organizations, and more actually getting on the ground.

I think the big NGOs, the big organizations we all know, the big brand names, they actually still play a pretty critical role because they have the infrastructure to deliver massive amounts of aid, to work in many parts of the world when they’re needed in an emergency basis. They’ve got institutional memory about what works and what doesn’t, government relationships. They’re really critical. But they, too, when I talk to the executives of big, traditional NGOs– non-governmental organizations– they’re telling me that they’re learning a lot from the new startups, from the sort of Silicon Valley social enterprises. They want to be nimble, too. They want to be innovative, too. And they’re finding ways to do that.

In the end, people are going to create their own success in life. This is not about us going in and helping them, and that’s it. People have to take care of themselves. But this is about supporting people, giving them a leg up, giving them an opportunity, and doing it in the most effective way possible.

Denver: That’s a great distinction you make. I always look at it that Baby Boomers, maybe because they came of an age at this time, but they care more about the organization, and Millennials and Gen Z-ers care about the issue. And that’s a big, big distinction.

Raj: That’s a great point. I absolutely agree. And I think they both can learn from each other. But in the end, what I like to say often is: the era of the do-gooder is over. It’s just not good enough to say, “Well, my intentions are really good. I want to help.” You’ve got to show that you can actually get things done. And so what we have now, I think, is a competition to show who can make the most impact for the least spend; how do I save the most lives; how do I help the most people and do it in partnership with them. In the end, people are going to create their own success in life. This is not about us going in and helping them, and that’s it. People have to take care of themselves. But this is about supporting people, giving them a leg up, giving them an opportunity and doing it in the most effective way possible.

The return on investment on making sure a kid grows up healthy and educated is massive.

Denver: Well, one of the most effective ways possible is through innovative finance, and in many cases, what we’re doing is taking the tools and the instruments that had been used in different contexts, and now bringing them over to the arena of social good. Tell us how countries and enterprises are taking this scarce aid and then leveraging it into something significantly more.

Raj: Yes. This idea of financial engineering has gotten a really bad rap for good reasons. But I think there’s something called financial engineering for good, which is saying, “OK. We’ve got limited money, but we got huge global problems. Is there a way to use financial engineering that actually gets you some more money and makes these problems easier to tackle?” And you’re seeing some of that in really interesting, innovative ways.

So, for example, if you give away a dollar as a grant, well, that dollar is gone. But if you find a way to build a business model, if you find a way to make it sustainable, maybe actually that $1 can turn into $10 or $100 over time. You’ve got countries, for example, that might have in the past gotten a large scale grant– millions. Maybe now you turn that into some kind of a bond or credit instrument:you borrow money, but the country can pay it back at a really low rate over a really long period of time. So 20, 30 years from now, that country has grown a lot; their economy has grown a lot; they can afford to pay it back. And what you got was a much larger sum in the beginning to really tackle their education problem; get more of the girls in school. Or tackle that health problem; get more kids surviving past their fifth birthday. So you’re seeing a lot of innovative instruments now that help countries to take the limited aid dollars and turn it into much larger sums.

Denver: Right. And as you said, when you can frontload that money, you can do a lot more preventative things, like vaccines and things of that sort, by borrowing against the future.  And it makes a tremendous difference.

Raj: Yes. The return on investment on making sure a kid grows up healthy and educated is massive.

Denver: $18, I think for every buck you spend on vaccines. I mean, it’s tremendous.

Raj: That’s exactly right. Yes, it is an incredible opportunity. It’s almost crazy when you think that we don’t spend that money. There are good reasons not to; it’s challenging and all the rest of it. But boy, this is such an opportunity. It’s the right thing to do, and it’s the best thing for our country and for the world.

Denver: Let me ask you about this: digital technology and how that has changed the development field. And the corollary question that always accompanies this line of inquiry – have these changes reached the policy makers?

Raj: They’re getting there. They’re not all the way there. But digital technology, I think, is fundamentally disrupting so many industries. But people in the charity sector, the philanthropy sector, the development sector didn’t really see it coming to them. I think it’s coming. I think it’s here in many ways. And the way I look at it is: we used to be a wholesale industry. You think in terms of millions and millions of dollars and serving millions and millions of people. Decisions are made in this top-down way from global capitals. Now, it’s retail.

This is like going to McDonalds. When you go to McDonalds in any part of the world, they got a slightly different menu. They’re changing their pricing. They’re tailoring to the customer. And in development, we’ve got to be more customer-centric now, and the technology is allowing us to do that. So instead of this idea that we’re serving some big global population and nameless, faceless people, we can actually say, “OK, this is the mother in Syria who needs support. We actually know her name. We know where she lives. We know how many kids she’s got. We know what her personal challenges are. And we can figure out how to directly talk to her, serve her, make sure she’s getting what she needs, that her kids are in school.” That’s the direction I think we’re heading in.

And that will fundamentally upend the way development work is done because right now, there’s not a lot of voice to the consumer. There’s a lot of good intentions, but we don’t always know “Are we doing the most effective thing?” And once you can get that consumer, that end beneficiary to say, “You know what? You said you have this big education program. My kids are not in school. Didn’t reach me.” Once you get that voice back, it will really change things. So you’re seeing I think some big revolutions. A big one is the ability to identify people. So in India, they’re doing a campaign to ID 1.3 billion people with biometrics. That used to be almost an impossible challenge in much of the world. It’s now doable. It’s relatively cheap. So it’s happening. You’re seeing it all over.

Denver: Remarkable. Modi is doing a lot of things in India these days.

Raj: Yes. This even predates him, but yes, he is. I think you’re also seeing a massive revolution in banking. Banking used to be for basically rich and middle-class people. Now, you can be a relatively poor person, all you need is a cellphone, which is becoming pretty common and ubiquitous everywhere you go in the world now, and you can get access to financial services. So that really changes things. When you can start saving money, when you can start getting credit when you need it–you know your kid needs an operation; you need to buy a uniform to go to school, you can get that $10 loan instantly. Things are really going to shift in those two areas– in terms of financial inclusion and being able to identify somebody– in a way that’s going to fundamentally change our sector.

IMG_1702Denver: Well, let me pick up on that. Cash transfers that can be sent directly to your mobile phone. People don’t squander this money as was suspected. It’s not going to alcohol. It’s not going to tobacco. And it has really made significant improvement in the lives of people and their families. But it still operates on the margins from what I can see. A lot of pilots going around, and I sometimes get a sense that cash transfers is not the way we like to go about helping people. What’s your take on all of that?

Raj: I think one of the most powerful things about cash transfers is that it sets a benchmark. So now, I can say, “All right. If I just hand out money …“ Literally, it sounds almost as crazy as dropping money out of a plane although it’s a lot more sophisticated than that, but just handing out money…” I know what result I get.”  So now every other program you’ve got, whether it’s to try to educate people and increase literacy, or to build a primary health care system, now you’ve got something you can benchmark it against and say, “Well, a dollar just handed out gets me this. So if I start investing in a health system or an education system, what does that get me?” And so I think it’s a powerful competitive force in our industry, and that’s a really healthy and good thing.

I also think there’s lots of cases where we should be doing cash transfers because it is more effective. And a good example there is in a humanitarian crisis. So right now, if you think about a humanitarian crisis hits, a picture in all of our minds is that UN truck and someone throwing bags of rice or grain off of the back of it. That’s a pretty antiquated way to try to serve people, right? Flying food from the other side of the world, it’s really expensive. So today 95, 96 cents of every dollar for humanitarian aid goes to that kind of delivery system to drop a bag of grain to someone, to provide a tent. You need some of that, and especially in a really immediate aftermath of a big crisis like a hurricane. But for months and months and years and years after, do you really need that? If you can instead get money in the hands of the local people who’ve been affected and who has already lost their house, they can use that money to buy things in the local market, get the local businesses going again, and they bounce back so much faster that they don’t need the aid anymore, sooner.

So that’s I think a really interesting way for us to use cash transfers in specific kinds of instances. It’s not going to be a cure-all for everything but it’s a really powerful idea and a force, I think, today of disruption in our community.

Denver: Yes. And as you suggested, it’s almost like a stock index fund. You see how they do, and then everybody goes against it. And I remember when the index funds came online here about the early 1970s, everybody laughed. But guess what? They’re the place to have invested your money for the last 30 or 40 years.

Raj: Absolutely!

We’ve got to start getting more money into the hands of local organizations, building their capacity, taking some risk when needed to get their capacity up, so that eventually we don’t have to be doing this.

Denver: You know, along those same lines, let’s talk about localization and having this international aid go to local NGOs so people can solve their own problems. A lot like cash transfers. I think I learned this from you that two-tenths of 1% of all this international aid actually goes to these local organizations. That is an incredibly small amount, isn’t it?

Raj: Yes. And there are different data points on this, and it varies a lot by country. But the basic underlying point is very little of the international aid actually gets to the hands of these local organizations. There are reasons for that, but they’re kind of self-perpetuating reasons. So one of the reasons is, “Well, we can’t trust…how do we know this local organization is not going to just squander the money or put it in their pocket? We need to have better compliance. We need to be able to track every penny.” And that fear of risk, you know, you don’t want to tell your donor or the person who wrote you a check, “I’m sorry the money got wasted.”

Denver: Yes, you don’t want a headline or a scandal.

Raj: Right. So that fear sometimes causes us to go kind of the opposite direction. And then years and years go by, countries are getting more and more developed. A lot of these countries we’re talking about are not necessarily poor countries. They’re middle-income countries that just have lots of pockets of poverty, and yet, they don’t have the local capacity. They don’t have the local organizations to do the work because we’ve kind of starved them of funds. It’s a long-term issue here.

We’ve got to start getting more money into the hands of local organizations, building their capacity, taking some risk when needed to get their capacity up, so that eventually we don’t have to be doing this. Countries in the end are going to develop themselves. People are responsible for their own destiny. We just need to give them the tools to do it. And that’s what  this localization issue I think comes down to– very much like the cash transfers issue.  It’s about giving people the power to make the world better for themselves and their families. And we need to have a mindset shift. We need to be willing to take a little more risk than we have before. We need to make it a priority.

What we really need is that ability to think long term as an industry, as a community, about : what do we want the world to look like a decade from now?  And how do we start putting some of the building blocks in place today to get there?

Denver:  It’s sort of like a portfolio view. If you make a mistake, you make a mistake. But if 9 out of 10 of those work, well, 9 out of 10 of those work. You’re never going to be perfect, and you just can’t afford not to take that risk.

Raj: I think one of the challenges these days is just that the humanitarian sector, the development sector, feels so stretched thin. It feels under attack from natural disasters, from crisis and conflicts, and even from politics. And so when you feel under this sense that everybody is out against you… and you’re fighting, and you don’t have time, it’s hard to be innovative. It’s hard to take some of those risks. It’s hard to think about the future. And so– lots of good example of people doing this, organizations doing it– but what we really need is that ability to think long term as an industry, as a community, about: what do we want the world to look like a decade from now?  And how do we start putting some of the building blocks in place today to get there?

Denver: Speaking of politics, what do you make of the world’s political situation today and how it’s going to impact the work that you cover? Two of the largest funders, the US and the UK, both have inward-looking, conservative governments, and there is such upheaval all around the world. What’s the impact of this going to be on the international development community?

Raj: I think it’s a pretty huge impact because I think it’s a totally different worldview than the way the international development community looks and thinks. So in the past, you used to have kind of a right-left, liberal-conservative sort of view about these issues.  And sometimes you had the liberal saying, “Let’s give more money overseas.” You can say that money could get wasted.  O,r let’s put it in the right kinds of conservative-oriented programs like anti-corruption or land rights or property rights, things like that.

In the 2000s, with the George W. Bush administration, and into the Obama administration, that debate sort of went away to a degree. You had liberals and conservatives coming together and saying, “You know what? We get why this matters, why this is important, and we have different views about how to do it, but we think we ought to do it.”

What’s new today is it’s gone from the left-right; it’s gone from liberal-conservative to more like an international versus national sort of debate. Should we just sort of shut our eyes to the rest of the world and just pay attention to our own problems?  Or do we still believe that we’re a nation that needs to care about what’s going on overseas, and that it matters if little kids are dying in other countries? We need to do something about it. And I think that’s a really different debate.

Denver: Yes. It’s a great distinction you make.

Raj: And I think what’s important today for people who like me believe in this is that we’ve got to go out there and make that case again. We might think, “Oh, it’s over. We made that case 20, 30 years ago.” We’ve got to continue to make the case that it does matter what goes on in other parts of the world, that this is one globe. We are all interconnected. Yet, we’ve got moral and humanitarian reasons to do it. We’ve got national security reasons to do it. Economic reasons to do it. It really matters whether the world is a stable place, whether the world is a growing place.

And the good news is the trends are pretty positive. We’ve had so much success over the years on things like cutting malaria deaths in half, and child deaths in half, and poverty. And it’s incredible the success that’s been made. So this is the wrong time to say, “Let’s put our head in the sand and just focus on what we’ve got here.” We’re the richest, most powerful country in the world. We can do both things at the same time. We can chew gum and walk.

It is a fascinating, complex space, but it is as gratifying as it gets to have a career that is connected to doing something that advances other people’s lives and the world that we want.

Denver: The great multi-task. When you were at the Kennedy School at Harvard and you decided you wanted to perhaps pursue a job or a career in this field, the advice you received was to go down to Washington, D.C.  and attend some cocktail parties, which I actually find kind of quaint and kind of sweet. But today, a young person can, of course, they can go visit the Devex website. Tell us about the kind of jobs that exist in the field – I’m sure they’re changing all the time – and some advice for people who want to pursue this as a career.

Raj: I think it’s a fantastic career choice if somebody wants to pursue it. It is hard to get into. And the advice I got back then was, “This is sort of a closed club. You’ve got to know the right people,” which shocked me. I thought this is an industry that’s supposed to be about doing good in the world.  And really?  This is how it works? So, fortunately, we at Devex and others have tried to open this up, make it more of a meritocratic kind of field where the right people with the right skills and expertise– whether or not they have the right connections– can get in.

It’s still hard, though. And one of the reasons it’s tough is that the industry has shifted. It’s not just about sending planeloads of Americans and Europeans overseas anymore. A lot of the right capabilities and skills exist in the countries where these projects happen… or where these initiatives need to be launched. So it’s not just a question of sending an expensive person from here on a plane trip. You’ve got to compete globally, like in so many other industries.

So the key I think is having really tangible skills. Not just saying, “Well, I want to do good in the world” but sort of saying, “I have expertise in… maybe finance. So we were talking about financial engineering. I’m someone who really understands how to work in public debt markets and how to devise new instruments. And I know how governments are going to think about these things, and I know what nonprofits and philanthropies need, and I can build a career in that.” Yes, it will be under the umbrella of doing good, important things in the world and being part of global development, but it’ll also be about being a technical expert in your area.

So this is not a refuge for those who just want to do something good. This is a place for skilled professionals. And if you want to be a skilled professional in this field, there are a lot of opportunities. There are people who work on things like mosquito control. There are scientists and epidemiologists. There’s room for public policy experts, people who know about climate and environment. Engineers, civil engineers of all kinds… there’s lots of scope for them in this field.

It is a really wide-ranging $200 billion industry. That’s like the revenues of Apple every year. It’s a big, big industry. So there’s a wide variety of kinds of roles. And if you look at the Devex website, you’ll get a sense for how complex they are. Sometimes the language skills required are languages that I haven’t even heard of are required to do this kind of work. So it is a fascinating, complex space, but it is as gratifying as it gets to have a career that is connected to doing something that advances other people’s lives and the world that we want.

Denver: I bet it is. One of the observations that I’ve made, it’s great to have two sets of skills– to have a combination, because that is really the thing that completely sets you apart from everybody else. So if you can have that civil engineering with a lawyer or a language, or whatever the case may be, that is really how you, I think, can move along in this line.

Let me close with this, and you touched on it a bit already. But one of the things that President Clinton was so famous for saying… and I think I must’ve heard it two or three times and every time I would go over to the Clinton Global Initiative… is to pay attention to the trend lines and not the headlines. You have a better perch than just about anybody from which to do this. What are the trend lines out there, Raj?

Raj: Trend lines are generally positive, notwithstanding some really big political winds that we got into a little bit earlier. But if you look at what these big investments in global development have achieved, it’s hard not to be an optimist. More kids are living. More families are being able to sustain themselves. I remember going to Ethiopia and visiting with a family, a farmer family that is living in about as modest of means as you can imagine… a really rural area. And they explained that last year, their crop wasn’t big enough so the kids, they can’t afford to send them to school where they have to pay for a uniform and food. Now, they could because of some initiative that got their yields up. So these things really, really matter, and they’re working! So to me, it’s hard not to be optimistic when you look country by country around the world, initiative by initiative, disease by disease. Things are getting better.

Denver: The gender gap in education, for instance.

Raj: Much better. So that being said, we can’t sit back on our laurels and say, “Oh, well things are good. Everything’s going to be fine.” If big countries like the United States, if big countries like the Netherlands or France say, “We don’t want to care as much about other countries. We want to just focus on our own problems,”– which are legitimate domestic problems that need to be addressed. But if too many countries do that, we can backslide on some of these things, and we might be paying for them twice and three times.  More people will be suffering; more problems will be created in the world.

So, and this is not to say: get complacent. But if you look at the big picture trend lines, they’re very positive. If you look at the day-to-day news, it feels like the world is falling apart, and it’s easy to feel scared. And I think a lot of what’s driving some of these political winds is that fear, is the sense that, “Boy, things are just so—everything is bad, nothing is working, the world is burning. So let me just focus on my own family and my own…” That’s actually not true. Things are better in most of the world. And if we could focus on where things are working and double down there, and look at where things are not and be really engaged there, we can make the world the better place that we want it to be.

Denver:  That is a great message to get out. Tell us about the Devex platform, the Devex website, and the kind of information our listeners will find there.

Raj: So, we’re the media platform for this work. You can find all kinds of journalism and articles about what’s going on in global development. Everything from career related – how to get a job, how to advance in your career – to just basic information about what some new policies or programs are like, things that are working. We got a reporter around Silicon Valley that writes about some of the latest innovations; pretty amazing things. Everybody knows Uber. We had a whole story about ride sharing apps but not just those in the US or in Europe, but in place like Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America, and how they’re totally transforming transportation in those places. So, you can find some really interesting journalism.

We also track all the grants, all the tenders, all the funding opportunities that come from all the big development agencies, so hundreds of billions of dollars. And we track all that so that nonprofit organizations and companies– engineering companies and IT companies– can go in there and see what’s going on and get engaged in this market. So it’s really good for businesses that want to be a part of this. And we have events. We have publications and newsletters of all kinds.

Denver: You have about a million members now, right?

Raj: We do! Over a million – 1.6 million subscribers to our newsletters. So our focus is really professionals who do this work. If you’re a professional doing this work, absolutely, we welcome you to join us if you haven’t already. If you’re not a professional doing this work but you want to get into it, you want to learn more about it, you’re most welcome. We’d love to have you on Devex.com.

Denver: Fantastic! Well, Raj Kumar, the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Devex, I want to thank you for being on the show this evening. It was a real pleasure to have you.

Raj: It was mine. Thank you!

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Raj Kumar and Denver Frederick


The Business of Giving can be heard every Sunday evening between 6:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Eastern on AM 970 The Answer in New York and on iHeartRadio. You can follow us @bizofgive on Twitter and at facebook.com/business of giving.

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