Are volunteer programs empowering — or exploitative?

Giving time to a cause you believe in can be extremely rewarding. As Demba Kandeh, a volunteer worker in the Gambia, explained, “Volunteering is a beautiful thing.”

But when do volunteer programs empower and when do they exploit? Does building this kind of workforce benefit communities? Would essential services simply not be provided if it weren’t for volunteers, as several people told Amy Costello in her investigation of volunteer health workers in Senegal. With help in part from the Global Voices community of bloggers, we found perspectives from around the globe.

Laura Morris, 28, an editor in Paris, spent five months as a volunteer for a small NGO in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, and seven months as a volunteer for an organization that provides care for the elderly in London. Morris says she understood why the Cambodian organization did not pay her — she was the only foreigner there, and they could not have afforded the salary — but she thinks that the London nonprofit simply took advantage of a tough job market and gave her work that should have been performed by a paid employee.

“I volunteered for it, so it was my decision to work with them, but I was also asked to do work that I absolutely should have been paid for, that was much higher than entry-level,” Morris says.

Read and hear more of the discussion, including seven more perspectives, at

What to Consider When You Are Considering Donating

As part of PRI’s The World’s investigative project Tracking Charity, we recently held an online chat with experts in the realm of giving. Our question: How do you know a good charity when you see it?

It’s not an easy question to answer, particularly when you are focusing on organizations that work in developing countries while securing donations from people in the United States. Here are some takeaways from the chat and a few additional perspectives that might help donors think through where they put their dollars.

Read the Q&A at The World.

24 companies sign on to major safety agreement for Bangladesh clothing factories

Twnety-four major clothing retailers have now committed to a safety accord for garment factories in Bangladesh.

More than 1,100 garment workers were killed when the Rana Plaza factory collapsed outside of Dhaka last month and hundreds of factories were closed Monday across Bangladesh amid workers’ unrest over safety concerns.

H&M, Inditex, C&A, Primark, and Tesco agreed to the accord on Monday. Seven other companies, including Benetton and Mango, joined on Tuesday, while more followed suit by Wednesday. The agreement includes measures such as independent safety inspections and public reports, an increased role for workers and unions, and funding for repairs and renovations, according to the IndustriALL and UNI Global Unions that initiated the accord.

US company PVH (which owns Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein) and German retailer Tchibo agreed to sign the accord last year. Other US retailers such as Walmart and Gap, have not signed the agreement. Walmart is making a “solo effort” while Gap has maintained that it cannot be part of a legally-binding accord.

The deadline for companies to join the accord is the end of the day on May 15.

News of the agreement broke during a day-long chat about the garment industry hosted by The World on Facebook yesterday. The developments prompted questions during the chat about what moves large, international clothing companies to take action and how consumers can affect change in the industry.

Read more about the chat and the post I wrote yesterday.

My $10 T-Shirt: A Conversation about Ethical Fashion

The death toll of the April 24 collapse of a garment factory outside Dhaka, Bangladesh, has passed 1,000 people, making it the worst industrial accident since the 1984 gas leak at a Union Carbide India Limited pesticide plant in Bhopal. The Rana Plaza complex collapsed just one day after an engineer declared it unsafe.

Britain’s Primark and Canadian company Loblaw, have admitted that their clothing was manufactured at Rana Plaza and offered to compensate victims of the disaster.

One question on my mind this week has been: Is it possible that the T-shirt I bought yesterday was made by one of the workers killed in that factory?

It is a disconcerting thought for a shopper’s conscience. But figuring out what we as consumers can do to help workers in the garment industry is not an easy task.

Join us Monday on Facebook for a day-long chat about how we might be able to shop more responsibly for our clothes. Click here to RSVP and post your comments and questions to the wall.

Read mor at PRI’s The World.

#WorldGender Conversation: What is the Role of Men in the Fight for Women’s Safety?

Women’s outcries for safety became more audible in the aftermath of the gang rape and subsequent death of a young woman in Delhi last December. Increasingly, male voices are entering the discussion as well.

Take Ali Shahidy, for example. He initially wrote an essay about becoming a feminist in Afghanistan under a pseudonym. As “Salim Hussaini,” he wrote candidly for the Women Under Siege website:

Growing up in Afghanistan, I had already watched my father beat my mother—but that was seen as just another part of daily life. Then the cycle of violence continued when I myself became an abuser. I began to beat my sisters and harass girls in the street. I restricted my sisters’ movements, how they looked, and who they spoke to. Afghan customs taught me that the honor of my family was more important than the physical and psychological well being of my own siblings. I was following accepted cultural norms without shame.

Confronted with his sister’s abusive marriage, however, Shahidy changed his mind:

To help my sister, I had to fight with mullahs and our elders; I had to struggle with practices, beliefs, and values that filled my life since birth… After helping Soraya, I knew I had a responsibility to fight for women’s rights in a larger way.

PRI’s The World is hosting a discussion with Shahidy and a panel of people in the thick of the movement about the roles of men when it comes to movements for women’s safety.

Join this conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #worldgender. Then join me and producer Jeb Sharp in a live-stream conversation on Thursday, April 11 at 10AM EST for a live video stream of the event.

Read more at PRI’s The World.

#worldgender: Women’s Right to Safety

At Public Radio International and PRI’s The World, we’ve been covering women’s rights and protests since the rape and murder of a young woman in Delhi in December sparked large and prolonged protest. We don’t have the resources of a wire service or massive media organization, but we still wanted to give prominence to what people around the world are doing and saying about women’s roles and rights in societies. So I’ve been working with our team on a project to look at movements for women’s rights — could this be a Feminist Spring? as Viji Sundaram wrote — and keep a light shined on the subject over time. We’ve used RebelMouse as our platform, incorporating our own reporting, others’ stories, but most importantly the comments and stories of individuals. RebelMouse gives us the ability to be network-neutral; I’ve pulled in tweets and links, videos and images, but also text from emails and quotes that I can customize to tell the story as best I can. We’ve also been able to categorize the story into navigation that makes sense turning a huge list of information into manageable chunks. I would say, the only thing missing is the ability to search all the posts for keywords. Here’s a taste, but to see it completely with navigation etc., you’ll need to go to RebelMouse.

Reddit Users Debate the Pricing Game Of The Cancer Drug Industry

When the Indian pharmaceutical company Cipla announced last month that it would cut the cost of three drugs used to treat cancers – one used for lung cancer and two for breast cancer – people around the world responded. Some of the most lengthy conversations took place on the news commenting site Reddit, including a thread 420 comments long in response to a news report in The Economic Times (India).

The conversations and debates centered on why these specialized drugs are so expensive, as well as what pharmaceutical companies’ rights and responsibilities are to make sure life-saving drugs are available in the developing world.

Read on in Global Voices.

Global and Underground

Here’s how classes work: Holakou Rahmanian turns on his computer early in the morning or late at night. He goes to a website whose address is known only to students, faculty and administrators of his university. Sometimes he’s in his pajamas when he logs in. Sometimes, he guesses, his professors are also in their pajamas. In his four years of classes, he has only seen his online teachers’ faces once or twice. The bandwidth is saved for their voices and online whiteboards.

Rahmanian, 23, completed a degree in computer science last fall and is close to finishing his second major in mathematics. He is one of about 50,000 students who have studied in unconventional ways at the Bahá’í Institute of Higher Education since it was founded in 1987 to subvert official discrimination by the Iranian government.

Continue reading at Pacific Standard


I have made many appearances at events, on podcasts and radio shows. Here are some highlights from past events:

Mentor: Missing Voices Hackathon at West Virginia University
Oct. 2018

Presented on revenue and stakeholders in the media and led student group to creating a beta calendar for inclusivity in newsrooms

Editor/Mentor: NextGenRadio
2016, 2017, 2018

Editor for digital, trainer at weeklong programs for students and early career journalists at Georgia Public Broadcasting, WUNC in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, KUOW in Seattle and Minnesota Public Radio.

Workshops and Training Material: Investigative Reporters and Editors
2017 – 2018

Standing-room only immigration data workshops at IRE and IRE’s Computer-Assisted Reporting conferences, as well as localized workshop at the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting. Journalist’s Resource featured the training and the highly cited materials made public online.

International Trainings: China program at the Missouri School of Journalism
2013 – 2016

Trainings for Chinese journalists in Beijing, Yunnan and in an exchange program in New York City on social media, technology and building sources.

Moderator: Lives on the Line (Doctors Without Borders event)
Sept. 2018

Panel discussion about health and refugees at the University of Minnesota for several hundred person audience, about 9,500 people online

2017 UCI Illuminations: Working in Journalism Panel, on the past, present and future of my chosen profession.

2016 People Powered News, hosted by Illinois Humanities. I spoke as a fellow of the organization with Luis Marentes about engagement and who has power in news.

In the week after the 2016 presidential election, I spoke on a University of Minnesota panel about covering immigration. I gave a national perspective on how wide the beat is — and what’s realistic for the incoming Trump administration.

I joined the 2016 Journalism and Women Symposium CAMP as an entrepreneurial fellow. I gave a lesson on meaningful engagement using social media — and how important it is to decide what really matters to you, rather than what matters to Facebook or Twitter.

2015 China Town Hall, hosted by the National Committee on US-China Relations. Spoke in La Crosse, Wisconsin about the evolution of women’s rights in China.

Online News Association 2015, Lightning Talks. 5 minutes on why you should talk to trolls.

Journalism Interactive, 2015: Panelist, “Audience metrics and what really matters.” Short synopsis here.

Public Humanities talk in American Studies at Yale University, November, 2014: On battling trolls and talking about immigration.

Newsroom By the Bay keynote speaker, June, 2014: Gave the keynote address to high school journalism students in training.

Los Angeles Time Festival of BooksSpeaker at the Los Angeles Festival of Books, 2013

photoJune 2013: China program at the Missouri School of Journalism sent me to Beijing to give series of lectures at China Radio International about digital development in radio news

January 2014: Presented in a plenary about the space between journalism and scholarship in the Media and Religion Conference hosted by the Center for Media, Religion, and Culture at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

2013: Member of a scholarly working group for the UC Humanities Research Initiativesspeak at proceedings and offer training in digital projects to scholars in the UC system working on religion in the global diaspora.

2012, 2013: Find out about appearances related to Chinese Characters, the collection of essays on everyday lives in China that I co-edited with Jeffrey Wasserstrom, on the book’s site.

Spring 2011, 2012, 2013, 2015: Invited guest and panelist at the Association for Asian Studies Annual Conference for Late Breaking News Panels, including “New Media and Old Dilemmas: Online Protest and Cyber Repression in Asia” (2011), two more panels about authoritarianism in Asia and reporting on the region in 2012, and in 2013, I sat on a panel about the web’s influence on coverage of Asia. In 2015 I spoke on a panel about the “strongmen of Asia,” especially about Singapore minister mentor Lee Kuan Yew’s death.

April 2012: In conversation with American Public Media’s Marketplace China reporter Rob Schmitz in an event hosted by the UCLA Center for Chinese Studies and the UCLA Anderson Center for Global Management.

Summer 2010: In conversation with Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Ian Johnson about reporting across borders in the China Lecture Series at the University of California, Irvine.

August 2012: Interviewed for the “Eye on China” show on Radio Taiwan International. Angilee Shah on Radio Taiwan International (11:58)

May 2010: Speaker at the UCLA Writers’ Program.

Several appearances: At the USC Annenberg California Endowment Health Journalism Fellowships about how journalists can better integrate meaningful use of social media into their reporting and manage information overload.

Summer 2009, 2011: Panelist at the South Asian Journalists Association annual convention in New York City; moderated “Reporting from Hotspots” discussion and answered questions about my work in Sri Lanka. I’ve also spoke about reporting with a fellowship.

May 2009: Asia Society’s “Weekly Fix” podcast
In Sri Lanka, the Net Draws Tighter (9:00)
Presented with the Far Eastern Economic Review Mar. 17, 2009 As the Tamil Tigers struggle to avoid defeat in northern Sri Lanka, concerns are growing about the fate of civilians trapped in the shrinking war zone. We talk to FEER contributor Angilee Shah about the deteriorating security situation—and the international reaction.