Monday, January 29, 2007

It's something more primitive

Why do people do good? A new scientific study suggests that it's not just for an emotional reward: people may actually act selflessly because they're acutely tuned into the needs and actions of others. For decades, psychologists and neuroscientists have puzzled over the tendency of humans to engage in altruistic acts -- defined as acts "that intentionally benefit another organism, incur no direct personal benefit, and sometimes bear a personal cost." The bottom line, says Duke University professor Scott Huettel, is that altruism may rely on a basic understanding that others have motivations and actions that may be similar to our own. "It's not exactly empathy," he says, but something more primitive.
This blog you are reading is titled "Why I do GlobalGiving." It is a series of ruminations on this question - some direct, and some more tangential. In case you haven't noticed, I don't fully understand all my motivations. There are a thousand other things I could be doing in life -- many more remunerative, and many less stressful.

Thanks to my friends at Charity Focus for pointing me to this study. I find it illuminating and helpful as I ruminate some more....

Monday, January 22, 2007

Jacob Harold on Social Capital Markets

Some of the most innovative foundations in the US have been key to the success of GlobalGiving. And while many people think foundations provide only financial support, our conversations, interactions, and collaborations with most of our funders have been equally important. The Hewlett Foundation is no exception.

Last year, Jacob Harold joined the Hewlett Foundation, and with the support of its leadership has begun encouraging the emergence of the broader "social capital market" - something I talked about in an earlier post.

In a recent newsletter, the Hewlett Foundation has an interview with Jacob. I am quoting liberally from it here, since I think he captures some of the key ideas - and talks about how the Foundation is putting its money where its mouth is by funding collaboration between key actors in the market. I predict you will see much more of this in the coming 2-3 years:

We’re interested in what we call the social capital market. Just as there are capital markets to finance new businesses there’s a capital market in the nonprofit world, too. A market is just a place to share information and exchange things for mutual benefit. Most of what we’re trying to do is to build institutions or support existing ones to support that market and make it easier to make good choices about philanthropy.

One way they do this is by helping donors find nonprofits that are effective and doing things they’re interested in. Keep in mind there are more than 1 million nonprofits in the U.S. alone, so identifying the best of them can be a challenge.

Several organizations we support are working on that: for example, Guidestar, with a huge database of financial information about nonprofits nationally, and DonorEdge, which started at the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation and provides programmatic information on nonprofits around the country.

...I want to put all the pieces together, to help the social capital marketplace become better integrated. I envision a situation where donors have everything they need to make the best decisions about how and where to give. So we always try to facilitate partnerships to move that forward.

It’s starting to happen. We recently funded two organizations in an interesting collaboration. Network for Good, an online marketplace for nonprofits, provided the financial functions so that someone looking at a nonprofit on GuideStar could make an online donation directly to that organization. Here’s an example of two organizations offering different services coming together to make each other more effective.

This is exciting work. The stakes involved are huge. The success of the nonprofit sector is so closely tied to the success of the society as a whole.

Read the entire interview here.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Ordinary Oprahs

We don't have to be rich and famous to be great. We all have parts to do and can do something to make a change in someone else's life. I hope others will be encouraged and inspired to find their task in life to help another.

That was one of the reactions to an interview I did with NPR yesterday on a segment called Ordinary Oprahs. This was part of a new series that Michel Martin is piloting called Rough Cuts, which is designed to showcase "new voices" with leading edge ideas.

Michel highlighted two social entrepreneurs based here in Washington DC, Lidia Schaeffer and Wendy Johnson. Both are helping educate children in Africa. Lidia is building a school in her home province in Ethiopia. Wendy takes groups of her friends to countries throughout Africa to support a number of projects.

Michel then interviewed me to show that there is now a marketplace - GlobalGiving - that can connect "ordinary Oprahs" like Lidia and Wendy to people around the world who would like to join them and support their efforts financially.

Finally, Michel interviewed Gene Sperling, who discussed the research showing the incredible returns to girls' education.

The figure that stuck in my mind as I prepared for this interview was: $50. This is the approximate amount that it takes to educate a child for a year through projects on GlobalGiving.

$50??? At that rate, there are literally tens and probably hundreds of millions of potential "ordinary Oprahs" in the world.

It was a pleasure to be part of Michel's new show. You can listen to the interview here.

Note: Photo courtesy of Lidia Schaeffer.