Saturday, January 30, 2010


OK, I'll admit to being totally overwhelmed. Ever since I decided that I want to go back to school there have been so many daunting hurdles, and questions to find answers to. An obvious one is 'how to afford it?' I'm a poor musician in a lot of debt, no credit, and ineligible for federal aid due to my status as a draft registration evader. Jen urged me to look into scholarships and did a perfunctory glance through a web index of opportunities to get me started and quickly discovered what looked to both of us like a great start. It was an essay contest sponsored by an organization I had never heard of called the SEVEN Fund, which appeared to be geared toward solving issues of world hunger and poverty. The theme of the essay was to be "The Morality of Profit." First prize is $20,000 and there are virtually no eligibility requirements. Perfect, I thought.
Then I read their guidelines. They wisely suggested reading some sample essays from previous contests to get a sense of what they were looking for. Quickly, things began to look fishy. As an example of "moral authority," they suggested applicants should read the essay "The Backbone of A New Rwanda," by Paul Kagame, current president of the long-suffering African country. I found a copy online and settled in to read a not-terribly well-written pro-entrepenourship piece suggesting that Africa needed aid less than it needed development and trade. Really? This organization thinks that business is a moral remedy to the brutal hisory of manipulation and victimization in Africa? Is SEVEN Fund suggesting that capitalism and pro-business policy is the rescue that a starving continent needs? I did a quick search on president Kagame online (being, as I must confess, pretty ignorant when it comes to African leaders of today) and saw that his human rights record is pretty bad. The Economist said, Kagame "allows less political space and press freedom at home than Robert Mugabe does in Zimbabwe", and "anyone who poses the slightest political threat to the regime is dealt with ruthlessly." Reporters Without Borders listed Rwanda in 147th place out of 169 for freedom of the press in 2007, and Human Rights Watch has accused his military of "serious violations of international humanitarian law." Moral authority, my ass.
The other examples of the type of essays they are looking for are written by a former employee of the World Bank, their own co-founder who is a self-described "angel investor" (also a founding shareholder of a major pharmaceutical company), a former head of marketing at Microsoft, and another co-founder of SEVEN who is a Swiss venture capitalist. Disappointment set in as I accepted the fact that the essay I'd envisioned about the violent nature of profit-seeking, and the numerous ways that free trade deprives people of their freedom to choose self-sufficient ways of life for their local communities was not going to have a chance in hell at winning me any damn $20,000 bucks. Even more disappointing was the thought that now I don't have a reason to write the damn thing! And I was looking forward to it! So, screw it, I am writing it anyway. I'll post it here when it's done. Maybe I'll even submit it to the SEVEN Fund and see what they say.

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