Friday, December 11, 2009

President Obama: How to Spend that Nobel Prize

Dear President Obama,  

We would like to congratulate you on your distinguished honor as the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate. We respect and admire your efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples around the world, particularly when it comes to your advocacy for achieving change from the bottom up.  

It is in this spirit that we write you to offer a recommendation for how to use your prize - one that will spark further grassroots investment in bringing peace, economic development and opportunity to individuals across the U.S. and around the world. We believe an impactful use of the $1.4 million reward would be to offer the funds as a financial incentive for others, a matching donation that would engage Americans and individuals around the world in the spirit of generosity.  

By significantly multiplying the impact of your gift, you would have the opportunity to share with the world your true commitment to bringing about transformational change from the bottom up. And what better way to use this prize than to leverage it to raise multiple millions more towards the pursuit of peace?  

Just as your Presidential campaign inspired millions of Americans to donate small amounts to bring about the change they believed in, your Nobel Peace Prize matching campaign could inspire a groundswell of global generosity to support the amazing work being done by non-profit and non-governmental organizations all over the world. 

Especially in times of economic uncertainty, when organizations working to build stronger communities are struggling, this signal of support would be a powerful call-to-action for not only the American people, but for the entire international community.  

We founded nearly eight years ago to connect individuals to the causes they care about most here in the U.S. and around the world. As former World Bank executives we saw the impact individuals empowered with the proper resources and a commitment to bringing about change can have in their communities and beyond.  

In the years since our founding, we have been consistently inspired and awed by the altruism, spirit and dedication our donors, project leaders and supporters have in their pursuit of making the world a better place. Once armed with the knowledge that for as little as $10 you can help educate a girl in Afghanistan, offer clean drinking water to a school in Kenya, provide solar energy to low-income families right here in the U.S., or support one of the thousands of other earth changing ideas just waiting to be funded - there is no end to the energy an individual can muster in pursuit of change.  

We urge you to consider taking the honor you have received and using it as a launching pad to further your advocacy for service, generosity and commitment to others by creating a matching campaign through This platform will allow individuals to support the causes they care about most, whether it's microloans to help a woman start a business in Ghana, a school uniform to help educate an orphan in India, or training for a child with Autism right here in Washington, D.C.  

Your offer of a matching gift will challenge the world to give back in this time of great need. We would welcome the opportunity to work with you and your Administration in the future to build peace and opportunity from the ground up.  


Dennis Whittle co-founder and CEO of and Mari Kuraishi, co-founder and President of

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

There is way more luck involved...

But something else is going on here, says Princeton University psychologist Daniel Kahneman, who won the Nobel prize in economics in 2002. "We believe that people with certain characteristics will produce certain consequences," he says. "But we're wrong, because there is way, way more luck involved in determining success than we're prone to think."

That is from a nice article in the WSJ by Jason Zweig, who describes how we tend to attribute success and failure to leaders rather than other factors.  Boards and stockholders often treat newly recruited CEOs as saviors:
"...a company will be much more inclined to replace the CEO after a run of bad losses—and to bring him in from a firm that has been on a hot streak. That leads to an illusion: "You change the CEO," Dr. Kahneman says, "then performance reverts to the mean, and you attribute the improvement to the new guy."The problem, as this article notes, is that the effect of bringing in an excellent new CEO on the performance of a business is not much better than the "flip of a coin."
The same illusion of causality holds true for many things we observe in life.  The role of luck and external factors on our lives and on the effect of programs and policies create a paradox for us that is similar to others I have discussed in this blog.  Namely, in order to stay motivated to do good (or to achieve any goal), we must tell ourselves that our efforts are connected to the outcome.  Realizing  the effect of luck on the outcome is a hard thing psychologically: why should we keep trying so hard every day?  Yet we do.