We are finally starting to see some positive news around the East Asia and Pacific region, but it is too soon to begin to speak of "green shoots" of economic activity or reaching the bottom of the economic downturn in Asia. Although the Swine flu (one disease originating from animals that did not come from Asia!) and the nervousness about the condition of U.S. banks had a slightly negative impact on financial markets in Asia this past week, the stock markets are still up by about 12% for the year – led by Indonesia (21.6%), Korea (11.8%), and China (9.4%).
I came across a small, but interesting online effort to raise donations for an organization that works to improve child literacy in Laos. Called Library for Laos, the effort aims to raise $5,000 by May 1– just five days after it started. The money raised is intended to go to Big Brother Mouse, a neat, Laos-based project that publishes, teaches and distributes books to children in a country they say desperately needs it.
It's a nice concept for a good cause, but what sticks out to me are the coordinators' clear attempts to use social media to spread the word about their effort. On their website, they bank on the ease of PayPal for donating money and the viral nature of social media: "How many people follow you on Twitter? How many friends do you have on Facebook? Let's see how valuable they are!" It's early to tell if they're succeeding. After the first day, they had apparently raised $500 dollars.
Either way, the endeavor highlights how social sites like Facebook, which permeates everyday life for many of us, can serve the world's poor. For example, you have the option to join various "causes" on Facebook. And on Twitter, information can spread like wildfire through retweets (rebroadcasting content to your own set of followers). What do you think? Would you ask your online friends and/or followers to donate money to a good cause?
(Found via: Escape the Cube). Image credit: rustystewart at Flickr under a Creative Commons license.
Jobs aren't easy to come by these days, no matter where you live. The ongoing global downturn is making finding employment even more of a challenge, and in the middle of a job hunt, any advice is usually welcome. Which makes this recent post by political science professor Chris Blattman timely. He highlights development blogger Alanna Shaikh's five tips for finding an international development job – and adds a few of his own (see the tips after the jump).
I was never too great with numbers or math. I guess you could call me a visual learner. Which is why I was intrigued after exploring Gapminder.org. The non-profit organization behind the website says it's dedicated to "unveiling the beauty of statistics." They attempt to do this with impressively interactive and animated graphs.
We've already written about sites that let you help others while going about the mundane tasks you already do. And there's the FreeRice.com game, which lets you donate food by playing an Internet word game. Combining both concepts, there's now Hoongle.org: a modified Google search engine that donates 20 grains of rice for every web search done through the site.
Since searches are routed through Google, it's the same search results most people are already getting. The difference is this site takes revenue from referrals to Google and donates the income to the United Nations World Food Program's "Fill the Cup" campaign. The New York Times' Bits blog interviewed the site's creators, university students in Virginia who say they have already raised enough money to donate 4,000 meals, or 8.5 million grains of rice. The Hoongle FAQ page suggests you add them as your homepage or use their web browser plug-in. All in all, an easy way to make a small, yet perhaps meaningful difference.
It's also worth noting that the site seems to be currently down with "technical difficulties". Searches still work, since they are run through Google, but the rice donations have stopped for now.
(Hat tip: Poverty News Blog)
UPDATE: It seems the Hoongle project was short-lived. Shortly after we posted this, the people behind Hoongle.org put up the following message on their homepage: "Unfortunately, we have run into unexpected issues that will prevent the site from functioning as intended. Because of this, the site has grown beyond our means as college students. As a result, we have decided to go offline." No word on what happened or whether they will ever try to start up the site again, but you can enter your email address into a field on their homepage for future updates.
Certain online circles have been buzzing about last week's quiet release of the World Bank's new open API, or application programming interface, which gives open access to vast amounts of the Bank's economic data that date back more than 50 years. The news was first announced by the third-party creator of the API, and has been widely discussed on other blogs and Twitter.
The goal of the API is to make it simpler for third-party programmers to create applications that make the World Bank's economic data globally accessible and easy to understand.
I'll leave the specifics of what an API is and how they work to the others, but a quick example is the thousands of games and other iPhone applications (advertised by Apple as "apps") that have been created from its API. Apple couldn't have developed so many apps on its own and instead made it easier for others to create them.
Other than the fact that the API was re-launched, this news won't mean much to non-computer programmers like me ... at least at first. That is, most of us won't be able to see the direct results of the API until programmers and developers start to create mashups, widgets and other applications that make it easy for the rest of us to access, understand and visualize the data.
New and innovative uses of the World Bank's valuable data will hopefully be an eventual result of the API. Irakli Nadareishvili, who was on the team that created the API for the Bank, writes on Phase2's blog, "What you can do with actual code and integration with other tools is probably only limited by imagination."
In terms of big newsworthy events in Asia, one of the biggest has to be the anti-government protests in Thailand. A relatively small number of protesters dramatically caused the cancellation of an ASEAN+3 meeting held in Pattaya this past weekend where 10 regional heads of state were evacuated. The World Bank President, as well as the head of the IMF and UN, were turned around at the airport in Bangkok. Although the protests around the country have effectively ended after martial law was declared and two protesters died, the damage of this may be longer-lasting. Although a discussion of the politics would be interesting, let's concentrate on the finance-related issues.
Despite a surge in joblessness and a regional drop of the forecasted GDP growth to 5.3 percent expected in 2009, developing East Asian and Pacific countries may be able to look to China for hope during the current global economic slowdown. That's according to the World Bank's April 2009 edition of the East Asia & Pacific Update, which was released today.
The latest half-yearly assessment of the region's economic health, aptly titled "Battling the Forces of Global Recession", says there have already been signs of China's economy bottoming out by mid-2009. China's possible subsequent recovery in 2010, concludes the report, could contribute to the entire region's stabilization, and perhaps recovery.
There are a number of ways to review the findings of the report on the World Bank's website. Head over to worldbank.org/eapupdate to view specific chapters or download the full report. For an intimate view of people who are being affected by the ongoing financial crisis in East Asian and Pacific countries – including Cambodia, Thailand, Mongolia and the Philippines – check out "Faces of the Crisis". You can also view hi-res graphs from the report here.
Also, check back here in the next day or so for blog posts written by World Bank economists based in Cambodia and Lao PDR.
UPDATE: For country-specific expert perspectives on the new World Bank repot, check out blog posts from World Bank economists based in Cambodia and Laos. Stéphane Guimbert considers what contraction might look like in Cambodia. And Katia Vostroknutova takes a look at Laos' economy, which is less affected by crisis, but faces the increasing challenge of sustaining growth during the crisis.
As jobs become fewer and income harder to come by for immigrants in developed countries, the amount of money they send back home, known as remittances, is expected to fall this year more than previously expected. The Bank's Migration and Remittances team announced the latest outlook last week on its People Move blog: "We now expect a sharper decline of 5-8 percent in 2009 ... compared to our earlier projections," wrote economist Dilip Ratha, who leads the team.
While the steepest drops in remittances are expected for Europe and Central Asia – down 10-12 percent – countries in the East Asia and Pacific region are also forecasted to fall by 4-7.5 percent in 2009. Two of the world's biggest recipients of remittances are China, which received $34 billion in 2008, and the Philippines, which saw $18 billion last year. Other big receipients in East Asia include Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand, according to the Bank's Migration & Remittances Factbook 2008.