Global vs Personal Priorities – DON’T keep mixing them up people!

Major breakthrough today in my confusion about why everybody gets so angry at me for suggesting the obvious – that we are pretty selfish, and than many of the concerns that today masquerade as “selfless” are in fact … selfish concerns.

My frustration and confusion stems from the fact that I know a lot of good folks really want the world to be a better place, are willing to devote time and treasure to that end, and are bright, generally rational people.    Yet I also see so many of these folks working – often as “activists” for the right or left – in ways that don’t really seem to me to be productive.    More like obsessive compulsive, and in many cases actually counterproductive, where the activism simply polarizes the debate and makes it harder to reach the compromises needed to move ahead.   (Health care reform comes to mind in this respect).

The breakthrough?    Good people are too busy trying to convince themselves that their personal priorities line up with global priorities when in reality …. they usually do NOT line up at all.     It’s this conflict that leads people to  get angry at me when I say  “hey, why not devote the time and treasure to health care in 3rd world rather than a new hospital wing or university wing in USA?”.       The reason is that folks can’t bring themselves to admit that the hospital / university donation is a more accessible kind of charity (for those of us in the wealthy world) and will have a lot more visibility and personal satisfaction for them than giving that money for a bunch of PlumpyNut or Oral Rehydration Therapy in the third world.

This, I maintain, is a moral travesty and an unconscionable state of affairs.     The return on investment by any rational measure is spectacular  with one form of giving and trivial with the other.

Opposing comments are, as always, very welcome…

What Would Jesus Do?

For a more inspired Christmas I’d urge folks to consider giving tiny thoughtful gifts and then giving larger money gifts to any of the great charity groups supporting causes all over the globe. Obviously you’ll want to confirm a high ROI for your gift, where the money goes mostly to alleviating poverty rather than, say, for expensive research into an obscure disease or into marketing to convince you to give more.

A very high ROI, safe charity is Grameen Foundation, which funds small business projects by women of the developing world. Most of my giving this year will go to Grameen and instead of gifts for my family (kids excepted this year) I’m sending money in their names…to Grameen Foundation and some other charities that closely match their personal priorities.

Have a Merry Microloan Christmas

This year I won’t be giving out more than a few tiny token presents to my friends and family, but I will be giving some of the best gifts I have ever given.   The Nobel prize winning efforts of the Grameen Bank have sponsored the poor with small loans to start businesses, and this tactic has proven to be one of the most effective poverty-fighting measures ever developed.

I hope you’ll consider gifts to Grameen or other charities as part of your happy holidays as well.     Grameen’s founder started the project with $27 business loans to poor businesses in India.      These were interest loans but historically have had a nearly 100% repayment rate.    The spectacular success of Grameen has also inspired other charities to approach development with more of an eye to entrepreneurship and small business and less of the “top down” mega project bureaucracies that have run into many problems as locals resisted them.     Small Business, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship is near and dear to the heart of many in the USA and I hope you’ll join me  in supporting Grameen with some green this Christmas.

Think about it –  $27 loans that often will positively reshape the lives of  entire families from this point forward.

More about Grameen.   If you are feeling *sassy*, you also might want to click to the right on the Grameen logo and donate via the Grameen page I just set up for a Christmas Campaign.     Frankly, if I was presented to this by anybody but a  friend I’d be a little concerned that the money would wind up at Grameen – they use a URL that is not easily recognizable as secure and connected to them.    But don’t let that deter you – just give at the Grameen Website in that case.

Microsoft wins on matching employee donations – way to go MS!

 This in from Mercury news.   Kudos to Microsoft for this level of generosity, and Google and Yahoo should do *at least* this much!    C’mon Google, you of all companies owe it to the world to help your peeps give back from those fat paychecks and options!

Mercury News Item:

Company giving Microsoft boasts that it provides up to $12,000 in matching funds for employee donations to charity – far surpassing Google, Adobe, Cisco Systems, Hewlett-Packard, Yahoo and eBay. It was the largest corporate giver to United Way Silicon Valley’s last campaign, with $1.2 million in employee and company matching gifts. About 60 percent of its employees donate, far surpassing the usual 20 percent of most valley companies, according to Mark Walker, president of United Way Silicon Valley.


LitLiberation is a new idea about raising money for charity.   Because of the “prizes” for top fundraisers I was thrown off a bit but when I saw the list of donation folks, which includes Matt Mullenweg and Marc Andressen, and saw the neat way they are having people help build schools in developing countries I thought I’d help point people to this great cause. 

A bit later…. I’m really warming up to this great idea because it is connecting donors to the recipients and I think that is a key thing that has been somewhat lacking in aid, and is one of the reasons it’s hard for people to support US aid projects and other charities where you don’t generally see the results of your contributions.   There is a practical reason for this – my understanding is that NGOs have to spend valuable resources arranging for visits and such.   However I think connecting donors to recipients is a key part of expanding the global reach of charities.

 I have not set up my own donation page but I just gave to this Vietnam “build a school” project  by the founder of the LitLiberation idea, Tim Ferriss

 From LitLiberation: 
…. 30-percent of rural children in developing countries aren’t enrolled in school. As one project, a group of people can choose to build a school for $17,000. When split among 10 friends, it breaks down to $1,700 each or $850 if 20 people contribute.  Those involved will provide education to tens of thousands of children, have their names forever associated with the school, and also enjoy the opportunity to visit it in the future.  

In conjunction with and RoomToRead, Tim Ferriss formed LitLiberation to raise $1 million in 30 days, and in the process, help educate children around the world.

Described as a scalable education revolution, LitLiberation makes it incredibly simple for anyone to fund a specific project in developing countries or support U.S. public schools. It is the first time that anyone can, in five minutes, sign-up as a fundraiser and compete to raise money, winning world-class prizes in the process

Charity return on investment is important. Thanks World Vision!

There are a great number of groups doing a lot of good in the world, and I’m concerned that *something* in the way we process information about poverty and health needs in the developing world has made us far too skeptical of how easy it can be to save lives, and far too skeptical of the groups that are doing a good job.

This in part leads to what I’d argue is an immoral state of affairs in the charity world. Most people in the USA give far more to University, Hospital, and Museum endowments than they give to organizations serving the third world that are saving lives for a few bucks rather than simply making our already very comfortable middle class lives a *bit* better. I guess that’s OK but I’ll take the big ROI on my charity investments, thank you.

It feels very good knowing your money is actually saving lives, living because I chose to give to high ROI charities.

The simple story is that it costs very little to save lives in the developing world. Although it’s a little counterintuitive it’s also clear that reduced death rates lead to reduced birth rates and lower population. I’m floored by how poorly this is understood by otherwise intelligent people, and it seems to be the top reason people say they don’t want to give money to extremely poor people. Graft and corruption are major problems in the third world which is why you want to give to “NGOs” or “non-governmental organizations” which tend to be far more effective at making sure the money finds its way to the right people.

So, let’s apply this ROI in real life and give some money in honor of my Mother’s birthday today. I think charities like World Vision do a lot of good but also suffer from the kind of fatigue people show when presented with a lot of “dying children” information. This is unfortunate because World Vision leverages cheap and free expertise to deliver a lot per donated dollar. Here is the campaign mom likes:

Major pharmaceutical companies have recently donated over $174 million in medicines and supplies to World Vision.
But we need your help to distribute them where they’re needed most.

The medicine is Mebendazole and some others that fight worms and intestinal viruses – one of the leading killers in the developing world. World Vision has the meds but needs money to ship them. The “multiplier” in this case is 13x – ie a donation of a mere 7.7 cents delivers – literally – a dollar of medicines.

So, time to stop writing and do some good and give $770 dollars to this campaign for a health impact of just over $10,000!

Donor Name: Joseph Hunkins
Donation Total: $770.00
Donation Date: 27-Sep-2007
Completed Date: 27-Sep-2007
Payment Type: 
Credit Card Type:

Happy Birthday Mom!

World Vision