Saturday, September 30, 2006

Clean Water is Child's Play

In my previous post, I talked about the launch of the Clinton Global Initiative, and how Bill Clinton brought together all of these heavy hitting businesspeople, celebrities, and activists to address global poverty and environment issues.

At this year's event, held last week, even more impressive commitments were made. Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Airlines, pledged to invest a huge sum in fighting Global Warming. Vinod Khosla and others pledged a massive campaign to develop biofuels to reduce oil dependency. And those were only two of the notable commitments made.

But one announcement was really dear to my heart.

Tens of millions of dollars were pledged for "Playpump" projects throughout Africa. I love this idea. Millions of women in Africa walk hours each day to get fresh water, and in many places they are often attacked or otherwise abused along the way. A South African guy named Trevor Field came up with the idea to connect water pumps to old-fashioned merry-go-rounds. Kids play on the merry-go-rounds, and by doing so they pump fresh water to the service. Everyone wins - the kids have a toy to play with and the mothers can come together, share news, socialize, and get clean water without walking for hours.

I especially like this project because the concept got seed funding at the first-ever Development Marketplace that we did at the World Bank before leaving to create GlobalGiving. That was in 2000, and some people wondered whether "cute" little ideas like this could ever get to scale. Well, the announcement at the Clinton Initiative was the first step in a commitment by the Case Foundation to gets tens of millions of dollars channeled to this initiative so that throusands of the Playpumps could be installed all over Africa.

But you don't have to be Clinton, Case, or the US Agency for International Development to help fund a Playpump. $6 will provide clean water for one person for a whole year, and $6o will do the same for ten people. If you want to get ambitious, get some friends together and raise $14,000 to fund an entire pump and provide water for thousands!

PlayPumps: Bringing Water to the Poor in Africa

We will bring clean drinking water to the poor in Mozambique via a next-generation water pump, the Playpump™ water system: a merry-go-round water pump powered by play with a decade of maintenance.

Theme: Health |
Location: Mozambique | Need: $140,000

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Friday, September 29, 2006

Bill Clinton and Brad Pitt run for...?

Even when he is not running for office, Bill Clinton sure does know how to campaign. And over the last couple of years, he has been campaigning hard to mobilize people behind the cause of improving the social, economic, and environmental wellbeing of people in developing countries.

Last year, Clinton invited several hundred people - businessmen, movie stars, government leaders, economists, non-profit leaders to a hotel in New York City to take action. He demanded that people make commitments to take real action, and not just talk. The inaugural "Clinton Global Initiative" in 2005 was quite the jamboree of celebrities from all walks of life, and what was striking is that people were actually talking about the issues and not just posing for the cameras.

During one "break-out session," I sat at a table with Brad Pitt, who asked his table mates to explain this thing he had been hearing about called "capacity building." And he was seriously interested.

At the next table, Oprah was deep in conversation about similar topics with another group.

People really had their sleeves rolled up.

In my next post, I will describe some of the things that happened at this year's Clinton initiative.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Planners vs Searchers

Recently Mari blogged about a review by Nicholas Kristof of several books on international development, including two by Jeff Sachs and Bill Easterly. If you are interested in the latest thinking on this topic, I highly recommend this review - and the books, if you want to go deeper.

Very briefly, Jeff Sachs points out that we already have the ideas and technologies to dramatically improve - at relatively low cost - the health and economic well being of hundreds of millions of people in developing countries. He is right about this. There is much reason for hope, and a few dollars can have an absolutely enormous impact on communities in developing countries.

But Bill Easterly argues that the way in which these ideas and technologies are surfaced and disseminated makes a huge difference in whether they have the intended impact. Over the past 50 years, official aid agencies have spent about $2 trillion (in today's dollars), and few would argue the results have been commensurate with the money spent. The problem is that current aid agencies operate in a manner very similar to central planners. This approach does not work in the aid business any better than it worked in the old Soviet Union. We need more market-based mechanisms for aid, where "searchers" can find solutions appropriate in specific places and times.

Some research I commissioned last year estimates that market-based economies allocate resources 2-3 times more efficiently than centrally planned economies. I believe the same will hold true in the aid business. It certainly is proving to be the case on GlobalGiving - projects posted on GlobalGiving can have an impact at 1/5th the price of an official top-down aid project.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Pandora Giving

I am thrilled to announce the launch of Pandora & GlobalGiving's partnership to promote Philanthropy for Music Education. Their investors have even agreed to match the first $7,500 donated to any of the three projects featured.

If you don't know Pandora you should check it out right now. It is a web-based radio-type service where you act as your own DJ. You give it examples of music you like (artists, songs) and it constructs a customized station for you. It has spread like wildfire, and even within our office we compete over who gets to play "their" stations during the day.

But Pandora also distinguishes itself by its values. While they are a hard core company, their DNA is to help good music and musicians get discovered and heard around the world. They have a special fondness for the undiscovered gems out there. What I call the underdogs.

I am going to quote from Pandora's founder, Tim Westergren, who says it best:

"One of the most important founding principles of Pandora is a respect for music and for those who create it. It has long been our desire to support the music community and to be actively involved in music-related causes. Music has a long history as both an effective agent of social change, as well as a powerfully transformative art for individuals.

We're very pleased to begin this mission through our partnership with GlobalGiving. We hope you will join us in supporting these worthy causes. We have carefully chosen organizations with a broad reach, and a proven history of effective action."

Thank you, Tim, and thank you, Pandora. We are honored to be partners.

What Business Execs Don’t Know -- but Should -- About Nonprofits

A lot of social entrepreneurs out there are getting tired of being constantly lectured on how they need to operate more like businesses. Their spirits were buoyed by a recent Jim Collins piece saying in effect "Please don't operate your social ventures more like businesses, because the vast majority of businesses are mediocre."

Thanks to my friend Greg Kats at CapitalE, for sending me this excellent related article from the Stanford SocialInnovation Review.

In it, Les Silverman and Lyn Taliento argue that being a non-profit leader is much harder and more complex than running a business. An excerpt follows:

Business leaders play vital roles in the nonprofit sector -- as board members, donors, partners, and even executives. Yet all too often they underestimate the unique challenges of managing nonprofit organizations. In this article, 11 executives who have played leadership roles in both for-profits and nonprofits reveal the critical differences between the two, and suggest ways that business and nonprofit leaders can use this information to create a more effective social sector.

By Les Silverman & Lynn Taliento Summer 2006

Ask William Novelli, the CEO of AARP, if business executives underestimate the complexities of running a nonprofit organization, and his head starts nodding. The former Unilever marketer built Porter Novelli into a public relations powerhouse before embarking on his current career. Twelve years deep into the nonprofit sector, Novelli can attest that navigating Washington, D.C.’s land mines while running his sprawling $800 million operation is hardly the laid-back retirement farm that many businesspeople imagine.

Too many business CEOs just don’t get it, says Novelli. “It goes beyond underappreciated. CEOs are often disdainful of not-for-profit management. They think it’s undisciplined, nonquantified." But in fact, “it’s harder to succeed in the nonprofit world. For starters, nonprofits’ goals are both more complex and more intangible. “It may be hard to compete in the field of consumer packaged goods or electronics or high finance," he says, “but it’s harder to achieve goals in the nonprofit world because these goals tend to be behavioral. If you set out to do something about breast cancer in this country, or about Social Security solvency, it’s a hell of a lot harder to pull that off." And “it’s also harder to measure," he adds.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Little Kids Rock Rocks!

Check out the GlobalGiving homepage, which features a video of Little Kids Rock, a great group that helps grade school kids learn to play music. The effect on educational attainment is significant as these kids gain confidence and skill. So it is a serious development approach. But most of all, it is a delight. Check it out.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006


Earlier I posted about the desirability of Apple creating a media center that would get rid of all the wires and remote controls on my coffee table.

Yesterday Apple announced iTV, a device that will do just that.

What does this have to do with giving? Well, the question is when we will have an iPod for giving.

As BBC notes:

New Apple iTV device
The new iTV device is due out early next year

Computer firm Apple has announced plans it hopes will put it at the heart of consumers' home entertainment systems.

The company has unveiled a device which will stream music and video wirelessly between televisions and computers.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006


Soon after we started GlobalGiving, I met Charles Best, who had just started a site called DonorsChoose. While GlobalGiving enables donors to give directly to causes overseas, DonorsChooses enables donors to give directly to projects designed by school teachers in the US.

GlobalGiving and DonorsChoose share a similar philosophy, approach, and values. This has made it possible for us to collaborate more and more. Sometimes we swap ideas about technology, marketing, or back-office processing. Other times we work together on stories that appear in print, radio, or TV.

I like Charles and I like DonorsChoose.

As DonorsChoose says, the first few weeks of school can make all the difference for at-risk kids. And so they have launched something called The Back to School Challenge. They are trying to raise $1.2 million before the end of September. I funded a project to promote reading in the science classrooms in North Carolina. What are you going to fund?

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Doing good, well

Slate has a nice story about Zipcar, a car-sharing company that has taken off like a rocket here in Washington. Within easy walking distance from our office, I can find 20 or 25 Zipcars ranging from a Mini to a Honda Element to a Toyota pickup. Cost is less than $10/hour, gas and insurance included, and you can reserve on on the web in less than 5 minutes. I love it.

This is potentially a game changing company. Given how well it works and the modest cost, it is hard to rationalize buying a new car in the city. If this leads fewer people to buy cars, it not only saves money but also reduces congestion and pollution.

The article contrasts Zipcar, a socially oriented for-profit company, with an organization in San Francisco called City CarShare. CarShare claims that it is better than Zipcar because "it is a non-profit." This is a non-sequitur. What matters is how many people the service reaches.

At last count, CarShare was only in San Francisco. ZipCar is in about ten cities and expanding fast. Spurred on by competition with FlexCar, another socially oriented for-profit company, Zipcar has been focusing like crazy on cost, scaleability, convenience, and style.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Outfoxing the experts

Thanks to Tyler Cowen for pointing me to a great book by Philip Tetlock called "Expert Political Judgement: How Good Is It? How Can We Know?"

The answer is that experts' predictions are no better than those made by regular people. In fact, many experts have a worse track record than would be achieved by a toss of the dice. (The worst performing experts are "hedgehogs: thinkers who 'know one big thing.'" By contrast, "foxes: thinkers who 'know many small things'" tend to do somewhat better.)

Louis Menand's review in the New Yorker notes that this phenomemon holds across a variety of disciplines and over one hundred studies. College counsellors who were provided detailed information about students and even allowed to interview them did worse in predicting their freshman grades than a simple mathematical algorithm. Psychologists were unable to outperform their secretaries in a test to diagnose brain damage.

As a former "expert" at the World Bank for fourteen years, I can say that this resonates with me. I cannot speak highly enough of the technical expertise of my colleagues, and I have many friends still there. Yet, it was a highly sealed and self-referential environment that admitted little input from other experts, much less from the average guy on the street in Jakarta or Nairobi.

Although I became a reasonably senior executive and was successful by most measures, the truth was that I found the place intimidating. So many decisions and predictions had to be made about so many complex things, and I often found myself wondering how people could walk around the halls looking so self-assured.

This all changed when Mari and I did the Development Marketplace, which opened the front doors of the Bank to anyone in the world with a good idea. Over one thousand groups --many of them grassroots -- applied to the first marketplace. The result was extraordinary - the quality of the ideas, the energy, the commitment, and the resources that "regular" people brought to the Marketplace were in aggregate far superior to what most Bank experts like me could think up.

The amazing potential unleashed at that Marketplace was enough to give me the courage (some say temerity) to leave the World Bank and help launch GlobalGiving. I have never looked back.