Corey Engelen | Foreign Humanitarian Causes

Corey Engelen's Foreign Humanitarian Causes Blog

CFA Franc

On the Origins of ECOWAS

People often wonder what the history of the Economic Community of West African States  (ECOWAS) is? Who was the first to start it? I is it a legacy of colonialism? The truth is that it’s hard to pinpoint one country in particular that “pioneered” ECOWAS.

The Short Answer is that leaders from Nigeria and Togo (General Yakubu Gowon and Gnassingbe Eyadema, respectively) started pushing for the idea in the early 1970s. Subsequently, ECOWAS was born out of the 1975 Treaty of Lagos.

General Yakubu Gowon

General Yakubu Gowon


Gnassingbe Eyadema

Gnassingbe Eyadema

The Long Answer is that the people of Africa share a long history of commonality. Although there are thousands of languages and peoples throughout the region, some sense of unity was brought about in the past by African kingdoms (Ghana, Mali Songhai, Benin, etc.) and in the present day by European Colonialists. Obviously the latter caused a lot of problems, but at the same time it united the people of the region through somewhat standardized policies and language. Today most West African nations boast English, French, or Portuguese as official languages (in addition to their own unique regional ones).

Before General Yakubu Gowon and Gnassingbe Eyadema began their push for a economic collaboration, the French made a push of their own with the CFA (“french community of Africa) Franc.

The CFA Franc functioned much like the Euro does in the EU, serving as a single currency for all of the francophone countries in the region. In 1964, a grassroots push came from William Tubman, the President of Liberia. In 1965, Tubman succeed in forming a free trade zone between Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. Although a step towards economic union, this agreement is generally viewed as not being that fruitful.

So you see, Nigerian and Togo can be cited for the most recent move toward economic union, but the truth goes back many more years.

You can find further documentation on the ECOWAS site.

Corey Engelen

Corey Engelen - 6 of the Best Humanitarian and Developmental Aid Charities in the World

Six of the Best Humanitarian and Developmental Aid Charities in the World

The world is one large community, and we are all its citizens. If you wanted to help your neighbor, you could easily just go next door. But how exactly can you help someone who’s half-way across the world? Proximity is one obstacle. But then there’s also the question of gathering enough funds to make a difference, figuring out what to do with those funds, and determining who to give those funds to. Fortunately, there are a number of foreign aid charities that do all of the work for you.

Here’s a look at some of the top-rated charities in International Relief and Development according to Charity Watch. All of these organizations have received an A+ Grade, the highest grade that an organization can receive.

International Rescue Committee (IRC)


Stated Mission: Serves refugees and communities victimized by oppression and violent conflict worldwide. Provides emergency relief, protection of human rights, post-conflict development, resettlement assistance, and advocacy.

The history of IRC goes all the way back to 1933. The committee was founded at the request of Albert Einstein who had seen firsthand the tragedies of war and persecution throughout World War I and the rise of fascism that followed. Over the years the organization provided aid to Germans post-World War II,  Cuban refugees who arrived in US to flee Castro’s dictatorship, Vietnamese refugees displaced by the Vietnam War, those displaced by the most recent genocide in Darfur, and communities across Sierra Leone and Liberia that suffered the brunt of the Ebola Virus.

Partners in Health (PIH)


Stated Mission: Dedicated to delivering quality health care to people and communities devastated by the joint burdens of poverty and disease. Work has three goals: to care for patients, to alleviate the root causes of disease, and to share lessons learned around the world.

Like IRC, the pedigree of PIH includes some renowned luminaries. Ophelia Dahl (the daughter of Roald Dahl), Paul Farmer (an internationally renowned doctor based out of Harvard Medical School), Jim Yong Kim (president of the World Bank Group and former director of the WHO’s HIV/Aids Department), Todd McCormack (senior Corporate vice president at IMG Media), and Tom White (who provided the organization with its first large round of money).

When it comes to healthcare, the founders of PIH know their stuff. When PIH was first founded in 1987, it focused on delivering health care to those around Haiti’s Central Plateau Region. Today, PIH has a number of health care projects across the world. These projects include bringing community-based HIV treatment and primary care to regions of Rwanda, assuming responsibility for clinical care at Siberia’s TB project, and launching numerous TB and HIV related projects across South America.

Rotary Foundation of Rotary International


Stated Mission: To advance world understanding, goodwill, and peace through the improvement of health, the support of education, and the alleviation of poverty.

The Rotary Club is perhaps the oldest organization on this list and also one of the largest in scope. In 1905, Paul P. Harris founded the Rotary Club in Chicago as means of getting professionals from diverse background into a room to exchange ideas and form meaningful friendships. The name comes from meetings originally rotating between the offices of its members. By 1921, the Rotary Club had clubs in six continents. It’s members include the likes of President Warren G. Harding, UN General Assembly President Carlos Romulo, and Lebanese President H.E. Soleiman Fragieh. The Rotary undertakes a variety of projects from promoting peace in conflict-affected areas, fighting disease by educating and mobilizing communities, providing clean water by giving communities the ability to cultivate their own clean water resources, helping mothers and children with health education and provisions, and supporting education through building schools.

United Methodist Committee of Relief (UMCOR)


Stated Mission: Alleviating human suffering around the globe by providing humanitarian aid through programs of relief, rehabilitation, service to refugees, and renewal of life.

When it comes to faith-based organizations have providing outstanding relief to those abroad and at home, UMCOR stands at the top. In 1940, the Methodist General Conference created the committee to provide relief to war-torn China . The efforts soon spread to other parts of southeast Asia, and eventually the world. Over the years, UMCOR has leant aid to Ethiopia, Ethiopia, Haiti, Korea and more. Like other organizations on this list, UMCOR makes an effort to offer immediate and long-term aid.

Africare (Africare House)


Stated Mission: Works to improve the quality of life of the people in Africa by building partnerships with African people to build sustainable, healthy and productive lives and communities, and is a leading voice in addressing African development and policy issues.

In 1970, an American doctor and his wife, a nurse, found themselves working in a hospital in Niger while drought was ravaging the country. Seeing the real and immediate need for assistance, William and Barbara Kirker founded Africare. The first iteration of the organization focused on healthcare. Then, in 1971, the organization’s work expanded. Hamani Diori (the first president of Niger), C. Payne Lucas (former director of the Peace Corps Office of Returned Volunteers), Oumarou Youssoufou (a Nigerian diplomat), and Joseph C. Kennedy (former Peace Corps director in Sierra Leone) all joined the newest iteration of Africare. With its strong humanitarian backbone, Africare set forth to tackles a variety of humanitarian issues throughout the whole continent of Africa.

Africare is one of the largest and most accomplished African-American led non-profit foreign aid organizations out there. Setting apart Africare even more is that its staff is near entirely composed of Africans who have valuable connections to various communities throughout the continent.

American Refugee Committee (ARC)


Stated Mission: Works with refugees, displaced people, and those at risk to help them survive crises and rebuild lives of dignity, health, security, and self-sufficiency.

Like IRC, ARC focuses on assisting displaced and oppressed people throughout the world. In addition to more noticeable projects such as building schools and hospitals, ARC also implements education based projects spreading awareness about health, domestic violence, and gender-based violence. The organization has chapters throughout Sudan, Jordan, Liberia, Myanmar, Pakistan, Rwanda, Somalia, South Sudan, Syria, Thailand, and Uganada.

The primary goal of the U.N. Diplomatic Services Corp. is to help individuals is to provide not only immediate, but also long-term relief to countries. We provide not only humanitarian aid, but also developmental aid. We believe that the answers to many of today’s humanitarian problems are stem from giving people the tools that they need to live healthy, safe, and productive lives. In the end, by helping others we help the world.

Corey Engelen is President of the U.N. Diplomatic Corp. Although he is based out of Colorado, he spends over half of the year traveling between Europe, for fundraising efforts, and Africa, for implementing humanitarian and developmental aid projects.

Learn more about Corey Engelen.

Nelson Mandela Day - How Honoring Nelson Mandela's Legacy Goes Beyond #MandelaDay - Corey Engelen

How Honoring Nelson Mandela’s Legacy Goes Beyond #MandelaDay

Over the course of history, human rights movement has seen the leadership of several extraordinary figures. On July 18, the world celebrates the achievement of the extraordinary Nelson Mandela. But the aims of the holiday reach further than just the actions of one man.

As the official Mandela Day website proclaims:

“It’s more than a celebration of Madiba’s life and legacy. It is a global movement to honour his life’s work and act to change the world for the better”

There’s no one way to celebrate the day, as long as one thinks about helping others. The Nelson Mandela Foundation strives to make every day a Mandela day, by promoting people to carry out good works on their own. Along those lines, the Foundation has created an online platform to allow individuals from across the world to pledge, promote, encourage, and organize good works.

On you can find listed a number of areas (Shelter and Infrastructure, Environment, Food Security, Education and Literacy) to support by creating an action and or joining one. The majority of these actions are focused on initiatives in South Africa. One individual has reached out her friends to provide care packs for mothers and newborns. The Zoe Bakery Project aims to supply 67 loaves of bead to 67 families for 67 days, in a larger effort to serve those who are economically disadvantaged. The Shoebox is another ongoing initiative that is raising funds to purchase new school shoes for those who cannot normally afford them. Although the majority of the actions found on the site are based in South Africa, a number of them seek to spread the Nelson Mandela Legacy across the earth.

67 Loaves - How Honoring Nelson Mandela's Legacy Goes Beyond #MandelaDay

The Zoe Bakery Project feeding families in South Africa.

For instance, volunteers from the Municipality of San Polo D’Enza, Italy will gather in front of supermarkets throughout the area to gather food for families in need. All the way back in Rockville, Maryland the organization The Velocity of Books will be giving away 10,000 free books in the town square. And in Costa Rica there is an initiative to plant a tree for every family in the Guanacaste province.

I can’t help but applaud the open-ended and widespread message of the Mandela Foundation. Making the world a better place isn’t about doing one good thing one day, and then kicking our feet up and relaxing during the rest. At the same time, it’s not about constantly worrying about the troubles of the world and feeling helpless to stave them off. No. Only through a gradual shift in perception, in how we perceive the many ways that are own lives are connected to others can we hope to truly achieve the world that Nelson Mandela envisioned.

It’s not about making one big act. It’s about making small acts everyday throughout our lifetime. It’s about approaching the world with an attitude of wanting to better it.

Corey Engelen

Title Image for the blog depicting the u.n. General assembly room - Corey Engelen

The UN’s “Grand Bargain” to Save Humanitarian Efforts

The Humanitarian Relief System is broken. Showcased best by the recent refugee crises in Syria and the Middle East, the UN’s humanitarian relief system simply cannot keep up with extreme crises. Earlier this year, the World Humanitarian Summit met to address and reshape aid efforts. Addressing funding and delivery of aid was a priority agenda item, as officials proposed new ideas to restructure the aid system. Officials concluded that changes must be made in the manner in which traditional donors fund projects, and how field agents operate on the field. According to UN Dispatch, this new approach will be called the “Grand Bargain”, and should be implemented soon enough.

In the UN report by the High Level Panel on Humanitarian Financing, the panel detailed a few staggering statistics. This includes the fact that a mere five countries make up two-thirds of all governmental humanitarian aid funding. Another startling statistic details that over half of that total funding is managed by only a handful of UN Agencies, including UNICEF, UNHCR, WFP, and the WHO. This means that a great portion of humanitarian aid lies in the hands of a few organizations. Inefficiencies erupt from the various bureaucratic requirements larger donors usually put forth, requirements that only larger UN organizations can fulfill. Unfortunately UN organizations then tend to focus on their own projects, instead of working in full cooperation with smaller organizations.

image of a tank amidst rubble - edited by corey engelen

The conflict in Syria has illustrated the need for a new international aid system.

“One only has to look at Syria to see why this set up can create more problems than it solves.” In Syria, the Assad regime as well as other belligerents have impeded access to affected communities and refugee camps. Larger UN organizations are not trusted by militants controlling certain areas, and are therefore left with loads of money and little relief to provide. Instead local organizations are responsible for the majority of humanitarian efforts undertaken in Syria.

Lack of consent by Syrian government officials and militants have prevented millions of dollars in aid from entering Syrian hot spots. The numbers are even more depressing, as global donors are only able to channel 0.4 per cent of direct funding into local groups and their efforts. In Syria, local NGO’s, who are maintaining the majority of humanitarian efforts are treated almost as subcontractors, but with minimal resources to address such major concerns.

The “Grand Bargain” aims at reducing some of these inefficiencies. Mitigating tasks between major and local NGO’s is vital, as well as better money management, and increased funding from more global players. Cutting down on the bureaucratic process standing in between aid efforts and struggling communities is essential to bettering the humanitarian system. The Near Network was created recently to address these problems, and has already connected various local NGO’s to major funding sources.

If you thought this post was interesting and would like to read more on humanitarian efforts and aid, follow me @CoreyEngelen

image of medical supplies with title text "the not so fine line" by Corey Engelen

The Not So Fine Line: Differences Between Humanitarian and Developmental Aid

Aid – in terms of sending money, supplies, food, and manpower to foreign countries – is often used broadly by the general public. Many would say that humanitarian and developmental aid have the same goals in mind; and to an extent, they are right. There is though, a difference between humanitarian and developmental aid that is overlooked and ignored. Discussed below are some of these differences.

According to the Humanitarian Coalition, humanitarian aid is designed to save lives and alleviate suffering during the immediate aftermath of a tragedy or natural disaster. In the case of armed conflict breaking out, or a devastating earthquake, humanitarian aid is there to provide assistance to the affected populations. Development aid on the other hand attempts to navigate and address ongoing structural issues. It is designed to improve the institutional and economic irregularities that are hindering social development. In short, it seeks to provide long term solutions to affected populations. Although goals of both are seemingly identical, they are in fact, not.

In Marc DuBois’ recent piece in the Guardian, Dubois argues that the differences should not be taken lightly. For Dubois, disregarding the differences between both adds confusion to the already complex efforts of aid-providing officials. This month, the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon addressed breaking down the differences between humanitarian and development work. By shifting the objective from delivering aid to ending need altogether, humanitarian goals would shift in unison with sustainable development goals.

Dubois recognizes that the divisions can sometimes have disorganized or divisive consequences between both forms of aid. Humanitarians would stubbornly promote their effectiveness in relief situations, while development advocates would feel their efforts are superior overall. Breaking down barriers between both as Ban Ki-Moon suggests would signal the end to such unnecessary squabbles. However convergence is not the best option either.

For Dubois, humanitarian efforts must remain neutral and uninvolved in institutional partnerships – something that development workers require to carry out tasks. Humanitarians, eighty percent of the time, reach out to individuals in conflict-centered zones. In order to reach thousands of people, they must sometimes bypass dangerous groups and institutions. This can only be achieved by staying away from development efforts, which are often intrusive in nature.

However development provides solutions that humanitarians must relegate to a secondary priority. “A camp for displaced persons is a good place to find shelter, nutrition and (hopefully) safety; it is a terrible place to call home and raise your children,” explains Dubois. En fin, both movements need to have their own flexibility in order to operate successfully. Converging the two may have unintended outcomes.

If you liked this post and would like to read more of development news and information, check out my twitter @coreyengelen for more information. Thanks for reading!

The Floating School of Makoko

I recently came across the inspiring story of the floating school of Makoko in Lagos. Architect Kunlé Adeyemi found himself drawn to Makoko, a slum located in the coastal African city of Lagos where many of the buildings are erected on piers that reach to the bottom of the shallow littoral waters.  But unlike many of the other structures in Makoko, the school does not rest on the ocean floor. It rests on water.

“I visited Makoko and was very inspired by the environment…they created a lot almost out of nothing,” Adeyemi says.  After spending some time with community members, he then asked them what they wanted built. They said a school. “I decided to learn from the environment and also help improve the environment.” Adeyemi spent time speaking to carpenters in the community in order to figure out how to best approach a solution.

The school is more than a place for education, it’s a place for “convergence.” The top two floors of the school is where the actual schooling takes place, but the base floor is open (literally and figuratively) so that the public can meet for gaming, trade, and other events.

Kunlé Adeyemi states that although the floating school Started off as a personal/corporate responsibility project it soon became so much more. “It’s not just about building a school, it’s really about addressing a significant issue that we are beginning to see in coastal African cities,” namely urbanization and climate change.

Adeyemi’s efforts speak to the possibilities of working with a community vs. bringing a top down approach where the community does not have any agency whatsoever. It’s a common approach to development and investment: an organization comes in with good intentions, but does not put in the time to listen to what the community needs and how they envision carrying it out, and ends up implementing an uninformed outsider plan that does not actually help the local community.

I’m proud to say that at the U.N. Diplomatic Services Corp. we constantly strive to work with communities, instead of over them. We partner with local NGOs, volunteers, and missionaries to bring clean water, food, and much needed infrastructure to the people in the way that they need it. Seeing those like Kunlé Adeyemi carry out the same work inspires me to keep doing the work that I am doing and to do it better.

Engelen in Guinea

Below is a video I recently made about my time spent in Guinea. It provides some more information on what I do with the U.N. Diplomatic Services Corp.


Human Rights Day 2015

Dec. 10 marked the 65th anniversary of Human Rights Day. In 1948 the United Nations General Assembly adopted a the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, a declaration that enumerated a universal standard for the way that human beings should be treated. The declaration consists of a preamble and 30 articles. Additional Human Rights Covenants have been adopted in subsequent years. Although the Declaration itself is not a binding document, it has inspired more than 60 human rights instruments, which in sum have been a major part of forming an international standard on human rights

FDR - corey engelen

Franklin Delano Roosevelt (Courtesy of

Human Rights Day was first established by the UN General Assembly in 1950. Each year, Human Rights day takes on a new focus. Focus in the past has been Human Rights 365 (the idea that Human Rights day should be every day) and My Voice Counts (which encouraged individuals to value and express their opinions) This years focus were the two Human Rights Covenants and Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms. The two covenants honored are the “International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights” and the “International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,” both of which were adopted in 1966. Both of these covenants, in addition to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, comprise the International Bill of Human Rights

Originally stated in Roosevelt’s 1941 Four Freedoms speech to US Congress, these freedoms helped guide the nation through the darkness of World War Two by envisioning a better future where every human being had access to the freedom of speech, the freedom of religion, the freedom from want and the freedom from fear. Eleanor Roosevelt, his wife, was a major player in helping FDR include his vision into the UN human rights documents.

eleanor roosevelt human rights - corey engelen

Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Courtesy of Huffington Post)

FDR’s four freedoms were later expanded upon by the U.N. Division on Human Rights around 1946. Canadian John Peters Humphrey was appointed as the first director of this division, which in turn formed a Commission on Human Rights. Designed to be representative of the international community, the Commission consisted of representatives from 18 countries from all continents (minus Antarctica). Eleanor Roosevelt chaired this organization, who at this time had outlived her husband.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon himself has stated that “today’s extraordinary challenges can be seen – and addressed – through the lens of the four freedoms.“

Secretary of State John Kerry has said that these freedoms, “are as relevant and compellilng today as they were when Roosevelt spoke almost three quarters of a century ago.”

In honor of Human Rights Day, the U.N. held a flower laying ceremony at Four Freedoms Park in Roosevelt Island New York.

Students of Iowa State Bring Relief to Uganda Year After Year

iowa stateStudents of Iowa State have found ways to help those in need outside of the United States, specifically in Uganda. Elly Sukup, a junior at the University back in 2006 when the school made its first trip to Uganda. It was at this moment that for the first time she saw people truly hungry. The school since then has made it a point to go back every year to help those who need it most. Now in the programs 10th year, it looks as though the students of Iowa State University are making a difference. The program launched in 2004 thanks to the help of a $10 million endowment from alumni Gerald and Karen Kolschowsky.

The goal of each trip is simple: Create an alternative to drop-and-ditch philanthropy by forging sustainable programs with local residents. The program to date has helped over 10,000 citizens of Uganda. The program has helped build businesses, food security, keep kids in school and improve farming.

Some aid by the numbers thanks to the students of Iowa State include the following:

There are 5,200 school lunches served per week.

The calories provided in each lunch is now 850 after previously being 50.

There are 18 new well-watered systems now.

149 Ugandans are now enrolled in a youth entrepreneurship program.

For more on the progress of the Iowa State students, check out this article here.

Changing the World, One Charity at a Time

There are thousands of fantastic charities that successfully make an impact everyday. Here are a few impressive organizations that effectively address local and global issues. Getting involved on a local scale creates a ripple effect of change. As a global diplomat, I have seen the influence of many of the these non-profits, and I encourage you to get involved in any way you can.


1. Doctors Without Borders
This world-renowned organization began in France in the 1970s and is often abbreviated as MSF for the French, Médecins Sans Frontières. In 2015 over 30,000, mostly local, doctors, nurses and other medical professionals, logistical experts, water and sanitation engineers and administrators provided medical aid in over 70 countries. Doctors Without Borders acts as a global institute independent from the countries its doctors work in, while managing an impressive track record of political responsibility. A team surveys the field in each country, with medical aid and urgent care as the main objective of most missions, sometimes assisting in water purification and nutrition.

2. World Vision
World Vision is dedicated to working with children, families, and their communities by tackling the causes of poverty and injustice. Originally founded in 1950 as a Evangelical organization to relieve missionaries in emergency situations, the mission maintains a religious doctrine (it does, however, have a policy against proselytizing). World Vision hosts events such as a “Girls Night Out” marathon, nights dedicated to women in conflict or desperate situations and provide keynote speakers, light entertainment and of course, girl talk. There are also opportunities to fundraise in homage to World Vision.

3. International Women’s Development Agency
This organization represents women and girls by tackling issues of power, money and security. IWDA is committed to advocating for women the by working work towards ensuring their safety and sustainable solutions for their rights and well-being. IWDA works with partners in the Asia Pacific region but it encourages a global effort, especially through sponsorship of annual large events such as International Women’s Day and Half the Sky. These events impact women of communities everywhere and thus influence change on a global scale.

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