Monday, June 10, 2013

New Voices! We launch the Class of 2013

It's been a long time, but I thought I'd update the blog now that the New Voices Fellowship is announcing its inaugural 2013 class.

We put out this release today, along with an accompanying introductory video featuring four of the new Fellows. They are an inspirational bunch, with cool ideas about everything from children's literature to rice farming. You can follow our progress on Twitter at @AspenNewVoices, and through our website



Washington DC, (10 June 2013)—The Aspen Institute announced today the first 12-member class of the New Voices Fellowship, a groundbreaking new program designed to amplify expert voices from the developing world in the global development discussion. The 2013-2014 fellows come from 10 countries in Africa: Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Nigeria, Somalia and Tanzania.

They include the founder of an organization which promotes African-focused children’s literature; a Somali civil war refugee turned youth leader; a primary care expert from Ethiopia; a Cameroonian activist campaigning for women’s rights; a Malawian health systems expert helping to implement Swaziland’s universal HIV treatment program; the Ghanaian CEO of a technology company addressing social issues in West Africa; a physician working on preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV in Tanzania; a nonprofit leader from Mali spearheading efforts to boost small-scale farmer income; two activists from Nairobi’s Kibera and Korogocho slums; a doctor and helicopter pilot from Nigeria; and an expert from the Democratic Republic of Congo on health care in Africa’s most remote regions.

These Fellows will undertake a program of intensive media training and mentorship to help them reach a broader global audience through both traditional and new media and speaking engagements.

“All too frequently, the most powerful leaders and practitioners in the developing world do not have access to global communications platforms to tell their stories in their own words,” said Peggy Clark, executive director of Aspen Global Health and Development, and also vice president of policy programs at the Aspen Institute.

“The New Voices Fellows will give us insights into the most critical programs, solutions and innovations based on their own experiences and research.”

Supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the New Voices Fellowship was established in 2013 to bring the essential perspectives of committed development champions from Africa and other parts of the developing world into the global development debate.

The 2013-2014 New Voices Fellows are:

- Regina Agyare

CEO, Soronko Solutions, GHANA

Agyare’s work focuses on developing and promoting unique technology solutions to address social issues in Ghana and other parts of West Africa.

- Deborah Ahenkorah

Co-Founder and Executive Director, Golden Baobab, GHANA A commitment to education and a passion for reading led Ahenkorah to establish the Golden Baobab Prize, which is aimed at encouraging the production of quality African children’s literature and promoting literacy.

- Mohamed Ali, J.D.

Founder, Iftiin Foundation, SOMALIA

A one-time refugee from Somalia’s long civil war, Ali now works through the Iftiin Foundation to encourage entrepreneurship among Somali youth and tighten ties with the Somali diaspora.

- Kassahun Desalegn, M.D.

Clinical Director, Gondar University Hospital, ETHIOPIA

Desalegn, the only dermatologist in an area of northern Ethiopia that is home to six million people, is focused on strengthening primary health care in developing countries.

- Yvonne Leina Fomuso

Founder and Coordinator, Gender Danger, CAMEROON

One of the world’s best known activists campaigning against the controversial traditional practice of breast ironing, Fomuso hopes to create a media training center for women.

- Jeffrey Misomali

Program Manager, Clinton Health Access Initiative, MALAWI

Misomali, a citizen of Malawi, has helped Swaziland lay the groundwork to become one of the first African countries with universal HIV treatment – a massive logistical challenge that represents the next phase of Africa’s AIDS response.

- Mary Mwanyika-Sando, M.D.

Maternal and Child Health Coordinator, Management and Development for Health, TANZANIA

Mwanyika-Sando, a medical doctor, has worked on efforts to scale up prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV in Tanzania and to start eligible HIV-positive pregnant women on antiretroviral drugs earlier.

- Salif Romano Niang

Co-founder and Chief Impact Officer, Malo Traders LLC, MALI

Niang put a U.S. academic career on hold to return to his native Mali and launch Malo Traders, an organization designed to combat extreme poverty and malnutrition by increasing the incomes of smallholder farmers and providing affordable fortified rice to consumers.

- Kennedy Odede

President and CEO, Shining Hope for Communities, KENYA

Odede, who grew up in Nairobi’s Kibera slum and went on to study at Wesleyan University, has become one of Africa’s best-known community organizers and has used his NGO to launch projects that range from a tuition-free school to eco-friendly toilets.

- Ola Orekunrin, M.D.

Managing Director, Flying Doctors Nigeria LTD, NIGERIA

Orekunrin is both a medical doctor and a helicopter pilot who set up Nigeria’s first air ambulance service. She now hopes to help improve paramedic training across West Africa.

- Jane Otai

Senior Program Advisor, Jhpiego, KENYA

Otai has worked to spread the news about family planning, prenatal care and HIV counseling in Nairobi’s Korogocho slum, using her own story as an example of what women can achieve when provided with family planning options.

- Jacques Sebisaho


Sebisaho grew up on Idjwi island in Lake Kivu between the DRC and Rwanda, and since earning his medical degree has worked to improve healthcare there – and demonstrate that innovative healthcare results can be achieved in Africa’s remotest regions.

“I’m thrilled that we have such a strong and exciting group for the first New Voices class,” said Andrew Quinn, director of the Fellowship at Aspen. “These are people who have their sleeves rolled up and are working to make things better on the ground. They have a lot to tell the rest of us about what should come next in development.”

In addition to personal coaching on creating a dynamic platform to get their messages across, Fellows will receive introductions to select media outlets, serve as sources for journalists, and speak at high-profile conferences throughout the Fellowship period. The group will hold its first workshop in Johannesburg in June, with another group meeting later in the year.

Application to the Fellowship is by nomination only, and nominations will open in October 2013 for the next class. The 2014-15 New Voices Fellows will be announced in early 2014.

For more about the New Voices Fellowship and further information about this year’s Fellows, please visit or email us at Follow all the Fellows on Twitter at @aspennewvoices.

I'm headed back to Joburg later this week to prepare for our first Fellows workshop next week. It will be great to final meet all of these people in person, although the event looks like it is going to be overshadowed by the latest concerns over Mandela's health. I'll update when I get back....

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

New Beginnings, New Voices

All roads come to an end, and so have my travels with Hillary Clinton.

A lot has happened since I last updated this blog. Clinton got sick, then got a concussion, and wound up her term in office defending the State Department's response to the Benghazi crisis. On a more personal scale, I was offered an exciting new job and -- after much mulling -- decided to take it, drawing a line under a 25-year career with Reuters.

It has been hard to leave a job I enjoyed so much. The excitement of life on the road with Clinton and the State Department team made it one of the best assignments of my career, and one during which I struck up close friendships with many of my colleagues in the traveling press corps. The news on the beat was frequently deadly serious, but the reporters on the plane were among the funniest and most collegial I have ever worked with. If you have to go on frequent round-the-world road trips lots of pressure and little sleep, there are no better traveling companions.

But it was, at least for me, not the kind of life I could live indefinitely -- and the coincidence of Clinton's departure from the State Department and the new job offer made me take a new look at what might come next. I am grateful for my wonderful run at Reuters, which allowed me to do everything from cover Saddam Hussein's trial in Baghdad to interview a ship captain while motoring down an iceberg-strewn fjord above the Arctic Circle in Greenland. But I've also always thought that at some point I would do something different -- chasing "news" can be like chasing butterflies, and while each individual story can be unique and beautiful, often they are as ephemeral as a butterfly's wing.

So, on to the new challenge. I have started at the Aspen Institute, where we are launching an initiative with the support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the New Voices Fellowship.

This is going to be challenging, but I think it could also be a blast. We are recruiting 12 experts from Africa and other parts of the developing world, and then giving them a year's worth of training, coaching and introductions in hopes that they become frequent sources for journalists and others who think about global development. The term "thought leader" is often bandied around, and this is really an experiment to see if, with some help, thought leaders can be successfully promoted on the international stage.

We've only just started the project, and have a long way to go. But once we have our first class assembled, I will probably reconstitute this blog as a diary of what worked, and what didn't, as we seek to get our Fellows -- and their viewpoints -- out there to a broader global audience.

Until then, thanks for bearing with me and for checking in on this blog every now and then!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Kosovo-Zagreb-Tirana Oct 31-Nov 1

I am writing this a little late -- two days after our return to the U.S., so the details are already a little foggy.

From Belgrade we went back to Kosovo. No stops at the Bill Clinton statute this time: it was a quick overnight, with some morning meetings and then on to Croatia.

Pristina is a gritty little place, one of those cities where the air is grey and you are not sure if it is mist or pollution. But the Kosovars are obviously immensely proud of their achievement, and Clinton is still a sort of national heroine. In the morning, she met with the Kosovo PM -- a giant man, former freedom fighter -- who has taken the risk of agreeing to EU-mediated dialogue with his Serbian counterpart. She and Ashton both praised him for his courage (obviously there is a political risk for both sides to this dialogue) and promised that the U.S. and the EU would stand with the young country as it seeks to prise open the door to EU membership.

From there we went to a Serbian church, where Clinton was to meet with representatives of the Kosovo Serb community, much of which was displaced during the independence war and is only now starting to trickle back. The church itself had been burned almost to the ground in ethnic rioting in 2004, and her visit was meant as a clear signal both to Kosovo and to the Serbs that the United States would be watching closely to see how the Serbs are treated in the new political dispensation. The meeting was behind closed doors so we didn't get much color out of it, but it was interesting to look at the church where security was heavy -- there were even guards standing in the small graveyard out back.

Then on to Croatia. Compared to the other countries we visited, Croatia definitely seemed to be a part of the "West". Zagreb is a pretty city, with an old downtown and lots of street life. They are already in NATO and getting into the EU next year, so Clinton's visit was meant to highlight the country as a Balkan Success Story and a model for the other countries in the region.

We waited while she had meetings with the foreign minister and wandered around one of the old town's main squares. There was a tiny three-man protest at the church opposite -- "Hillary Go Home" and "Down with U.S. Oligarchy". The protesters, a trio of elderly gents smoking cigarettes -- were being watched by about five or six heavily armed Croatian policemen, and the whole thing had a slightly Kafka-esque absurdity to it. When Clinton finally emerged and the motorcade left, the protesters lumbered to their feet and waved their signs with whatever energy they could muster. Seems as though that particular revolution has already passed them by.

From there we went to a presidential guesthouse up in the hills -- a beautiful modern building set in the forest. Here Clinton did her only real press conference of the trip, where she laid out a new U.S. policy on the Syrian opposition, ditching the ineffective Syrian National Council and calling for more inclusion of groups doing the actual fighting on the ground. It was a significant shift, and a little difficult to handle sitting on folding chairs in Zagreb, but we managed to get the initial news out and when we returned to the hotel I was able to write the story through with more context. It felt satisfying to (finally) have some real news to deal with!

That night we set out for a good dinner, which involved a walk through the center of town and then a trek down some very dark roads. It was a lot longer than we had anticipated, and at times it felt as though we were walking deep into the countryside. But we finally found the restaurant which was as advertised: extremely good, and not too expensive. Mission success.

The next morning it was up early and on to Albania for a few hours. I can't really say I saw much of Tirana, as we shot through pretty fast. Clinton did give a speech at the Albanian parliament, where she called on them to get serious about fighting corruption which apparently is a huge problem. Not much news there, though, at least for international consumption. Then back on the plane, short stop in Shannon, and home.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Sarajevo-Belgrade Oct 30

We woke up in Sarajevo yesterday and, thankfully, had a bit of time in the morning before Clinton began her official schedule. There was still snow on the ground, and you could look out between the buildings and see the snow-covered mountains ringing the city -- where the snipers used to be. Really amazing to think of what that place and those people have been through. There is some new building in town, so a few big glass boxes, but also a lot of old housing, much of pock-marked with bullet holes. No wonder it is still hard, less than 20 years after the war, for them to be pulling it together.

Clinton met up with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and they held a series of meetings with various UN officials, before sitting down with the three members of Bosnia's tripartite revolving presidency. Another legacy of the war, and one which must make executive action very hard to agree on. The message here, as it was the last time we came with Clinton two years ago, was that it was time for Bosnia's continual political crisis is putting it at risk of being left behind by its Balkan neighbors as they charge ahead toward EU and NATO membership. There just seems to be too much left undone, too many remaining arguments for the Bosnian leadership to really accomplish the economic and structural reforms that will be necessary, and Clinton and Ashton were clear that this is a danger. We spent the morning at the presidential office, and were finally herded in with hundreds of local journalists (how many TV stations can a country the size of Bosnia have?) for the final press conference, where they made their point. Given how central the whole Balkan story and Sarajevo was to the Clinton presidency, I think that Hillary feels a very personal connection with Bosnia and is worried and frustrated that the new country has not found its feet.

Then it was back to the office and on to Belgrade for three hours. Last time we spent the night, but this time it was just a brief stop on the ground -- or more specifically, a brief stop at the Palace of Serbia, an untouched 1960s Yugoslav era gem. The pictures I could take with the blackberry don't do it justice: the furniture, the sculpture, the brutalist carpets -- all straight out of Mad Men and completely unmolested. In one glass case there was an atomic clock, vintage early 1980s, which showed the ever ticking world populuation and the also increasing but now completely fictional population of Yugoslavia.

More waiting, this time in a sort of Security Council set up with a great circular desk where they must have held meetings. After the photo spray at the entry, all the local and foreign journalists piled back to this room to unload their gear. Then lots of local journalists appeared to disappear...? Where to? I had to find a bathroom so asked somebody and was pointed through another series of doors toward the back. The minute I walked through the men's room entrance it was clear: Here were all the local journalists, packed shoulder to shoulder, and smoking like lab rats. It was a hilarious scene: men, women, just chatting as if in a crowded nightclub under a huge and disgusting cloud of cigarette smoke. More and more piled in ... Serbia clearly either hasn't received or just doesn't care about the health warnings.

After waiting for a while back in the circular room, we were taken to the press conference -- just statements this time, no questions. The message was largely the same: Serbia has to work out its kinks with Kosovo if either country is going to make it into the EU. Then back to the vans, a brief stop at a hotel for Clinton to say hello to embassy workers, and back to the airport for the one hour flight to Pristina.

A final view of the palace interior -- doesn't do it justice, but it was room after room of this stuff. A real collection. I hope they don't "modernize" it at some point!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Algiers Oct 29

We flew out on Sunday just before Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast. We had been due to leave on Monday, but as the weather reports grew increasingly ominous were told to be ready to move earlier -- and I'm glad we did. By the time we made it to Andrews on Sunday afternoon it was already blowing pretty hard, and it was a pretty bumpy departure as we skitted out just before the first waves of the storm hit.

That put us into Algiers at dawn. Its a strange place -- it looks both rich (lots of new highway construction) and poor (lots of hardscrabble apartment blocks), which I guess it is. It's got a lot of gas income, but the proceeds are very unevenly distributed. It is one of the North African countries where the "Arab Spring" never quite made it, and the security presence is high.

We went first to the hotel, where we checked in for the night at 7 a.m. That was enough time for a couple of hours of sleep, which was much needed. I kept on waking up thinking I was hearing children screaming ... it was both weird and unsettling, and I couldn't figure out of I was dreaming or what. When I finally did wake up I looked out the window and there was an amusement park next door, with all the rides going full of (presumably) happily screaming children. That was a relief.

We checked out again around 11 a.m. and the motorcade departed for Clinton's meetings with longtime President Abdelaziz Bouteflika. Algiers is set on a series of hills overlooking a lovely Mediterranean bay. The way up to the presidential guesthouse takes you through some pretty plush neighborhoods, with grand old palazzos built to overlook the sea. Unfortunately there are also a lot of very ugly concrete buildings built up in front of the palazzos, so the effect is sort of ruined. But the guesthouse itself was lovely and really gave you the feeling of being in a sort of movie version of North Africa.

Clinton went in for her meetings, which were aimed at getting the Algerians to sign off on a potential plan for foreign intervention in next-door Mali. Since a lot of the Islamist insurgents now operating from Mali were originally kicked out of Algeria, they are not too eager to see the process reversed. But Clinton pressed hard and, from what officials told us afterwards, its seems as though there might have been some movement. We can expect to see more U.S.-Algeria cooperation in the future ... all filtered through what officials call "the security prism" which at times seems to yield a pretty distorted view of things.

After waiting around in a meeting room we were hustled outside. Clinton had not wanted to make any comments in Algeria, but the Algerians were determined, and when she emerged from the guesthouse there was a microphone and a horde of local TV crews hemming her in. There was no way to escape it, so she smiled gamely and made some fairly innocuous comments. Its one of the first times I've seen a foreign country effectively force her to speak in public, but it goes with Algeria's reputation of being a tough operator!

From there we went to another beautiful Moorish building, where Clinton had lunch with the president. We were also fed -- ushered into a huge holding room where there was what looked like a banquet set up. Tables lined with dozens and dozens of chairs, each with two little boxes (one salad, one chicken) topped by a full-sized baguette. It looked both odd and a little obscene, but it was nice of them to do it. Apparently this is exactly what the press was given the last time in Algeria, so they've got it down. I ate some of the baguette and struggled with my computer .... the aircard connections were frustratingly slow.

After about an hour, it was off again back to the airport. And two hours later we landed in Sarajevo, where it was snowing and cold. Once we got to the hotel (sort of suprisingly, no alcohol at all is served here which makes us think it must be a Saudi chain) we all rushed to our rooms to check on what Sandy was doing back home. Sounds as though DC escaped the worst of it, but pretty hairy all the same. Glad to be here although I hope our house made it through unscathed. Today we are looking at a long one: three countries (Bosnia, Serbia, Kosovo) and a lot of scrambling in and out of vans.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Caracol, Haiti Oct 22

Back from another lightning trip -- this one to Caracol, Haiti, where Clinton was due to preside over the opening of a new industrial park as part of the broader post-earthquake reconstruction.

It was a long day. Up at 5 a.m., have coffee, drive down to the State Department, meet the crew at 6 a.m. or so, then out to Andrews and on to the plane. It was a small crew of journalists, but we still didn't get any good seats. Along with Clinton, the Labor Secretary Hilda Solis was with us, as was Senator Patrick Leahy and the head of the IDB. We knew Bill Clinton was going to participate in the event, but as it turned out he went down separately ...

We arrived at the newly-expanded airport at Cap Haitien. They lengthened the runway to accomodate bigger planes (both for trade and tourism) but they obviously didn't lengthen it any longer than necessary -- we came to a screeching stop.

From there it was off to the new development area. It is about 20 miles from Cap Haitien, and people were out along the route waving at the motorcade. From the van windows it certainly looked like a West African scene -- same ads for barbers, lots of places to collect overseas remittances, little corner stores.

The first stop was a new housing development that they are constructing to accomodate workers at the new plant. There were row after row of neat little concrete houses, set out in the middle of nowhere. The had painted them up in pastel colors, and the houses looked functional if tiny. But there was no escaping the "public housing" vibe -- it looked alot like the RDP houses in South Africa -- no trees, houses extremely close together, and nothing else round except construction and empty fields. We were told that a lot of the people who would take over the houses had been displaced by the earthquake and had been essentially camping out with friends and family, so maybe it will look inviting to them. But it looked sort of bleak to me.

After that it was onward to the Caracol industrial plant. Its anchor tenant is Sae-A, a Korean garment manufacturer, and you could see some of the (mostly female) workers strolling around in bright colored smocks. There are several large hangar-style buildings, one housing the Sae-A workshop and others ready for other businesses. The hope is eventually it will provide 20,000 jobs, which would be a major boon for the region where joblessness is a major problem.

So Clinton arrived, met the president, and then went in to talk to a special "investors" group that had also arrived for the ceremony. It was funny to walk into their luncheon -- a small room, a few tables, and there's Sean Penn, Richard Branson, Donna Karen, Ben Stiller, Bill Clinton ... a lot of star power.

Clinton spoke, President Martelly spoke, then it was out to have pictures taken with the Sae-A workers. She and Bill toured the plant, and then went to another building where they were doing the formal inaugration ceremony. It was HOT...I had sweated completely through my shirt, and didn't think I could expose that by taking off my jacket so I just quietly melted for an hour.

Then it was back to the vans, a quick swing by the new power plant they have built to run the park, and back to the plane and a (very bumpy) three hour ride home. I'm glad we made it back in time for the foreign policy debate at 9 p.m. but these one day trips really take it out of you!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Lima Oct 15-16

Just back from -- what, 24 hours? -- in Lima, Peru. The 2nd Obama-Romney debate is on, so I'm a little distracted.

This Peru trip was a lot different from the last one -- no pisco sours this time around! Clinton was due to attend a conference on women entrepreneurs in Latin America ...not exactly top of the news, but typical of her schedule these days.

Of course, the news kept rolling, and the main thing in the headlines this week remains the deadly attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi. This has become a political football, with Romney and other Republicans blasting the Obama administration for what they say were security lapses and what they hint is an official cover up.

We rode for 8 hours in the plane and then down to Lima..a huge, sprawling and dusty (or at least grey-seeming) city surrounded by mountains. We went directly to the U.S. embassy, where Clinton gave her usual stump speech to the employees. After that, she was sequestered in another room for five separate network tv interviews. We had a sense there was something of last week, the only people going on the trip were the wire reporters. But over the weekend the word went out that the networks wanted in, so all of a sudden the press group grew from 3 to 12 as we had ABC/NBC/CBS/Fox plus CNN plus camera crew.

I'm not sure why they all suddenly signed up. The word was that Clinton had looked at the manifest on Friday and wasn't happy that there were no TV folks along. So they all got promised interviews, as long as they would come along to Peru. So they did. These interviews are usually very repetitive and break little new ground. But this time Clinton did, when pressed by the CNN reporter Elise Labott, say that she "took responsbility" for the security around the Benghazi facility -- which, coming one day before the presidential debate, looked like an attempt to shield Obama from charges that he himself was responsible for what ultimately happened there.

So those of us (the wires) who were not in the interview were left scrambling. Elise gave us the quotes, but they were incomplete because the tape was still being fed and transcribed. We cobbled together something along lines of "Clinton takes responsibility" and then were waiting for the full quotes which were a long time coming. For us it was sort of an uncomfortable position to be in -- here we were in Peru, at significant expense to our news organizations, and we were still picking up a CNN interview.

We went to the presidential palace -- a wonderful palazzo in the central part of old Lima-- where Clinton was due to have dinner with the president. They met, and then came out for "remarks" questions. We decided that it was worth shouting a question to Clinton to see if she would give us something similar to what she did CNN. It fell to me to do the shouting, and it didn't work -- she smiled, said "later", and walked out. So we had nothing.

Back at the hotel there was lots of telephoning with Washington and working up a story with fuller quotes from CNN and later from Fox. The stories were all ok -- they reflected what she said -- but it was still frustrating because we had not got the quotes ourselves. But sometimes that is the way things work when you are on the road (not that that mollifies editors).

This morning Clinton took part in the conference on women...obviously very dear to her heart, but not newsworthy. And then we went to Peru's garment district, where she toured a new market and met the local contestants for a Project Runway-style show. It was a brief moment in , the real Lima, and I wish I had been able to take pictures of the buildings across the road from where she did her tour -- floor after floor of glass windows with female dummies in very elaborate dresses. In amongst the dummies were some of the workers in these shops, waving. It was a great image and a little surreal, but I didn't get the shot. Instead here's a picture of Clinton talking to some of the folks there.

After that Clinton's folks put out some canned quotes which essentially repeated what she said last night. I sent those on to Washington to get wrapped into the debate story, and then we got back on the plane. 9 hours later, I'm home and the debate is on.