Buddy, Can You Spare A Billion?

15 April 2011

Pitched up at the Global Philanthropy Forum in Redwood, California, where the organization is celebrating its 10th anniversary. The GPF is the brain child of Jane Wales, who had the brilliant idea of putting aspiring philanthropists together with people (like me) who work in developing countries. Technically, its a “fundraising free zone”, and you get excommunicated if you put a hard sell on anyone, but you are free to talk about your work to anyone who will listen.

Yesterday, we heard from Ben Affleck (he’s on both sides of the philanthropic algorithm, both giving and receiving), who is doing some great work in the Eastern Congo through his organization the Eastern Congo Initiative. He works with local NGOs in health and education, helping former child soldiers and rape victims recover from the horrendous atrocities still going on there in the wake of a 5 year (’98 to ’03) civil war that claimed 5.4 million lives. 5.4 million! I don’t recall reading a single article about it.

Affleck’s involvement is more than “photo op deep” in the cause, and he speaks knowledgeably about all the issues, but most of all how inspiring the children are, despite what they have suffered, and how fortunate they feel to be able to go to school and receive healthcare.

We also heard from two members of “The Giving Pledge”, which is the group set up by Gates and Buffet to persuade billionaires to give away half of their wealth. Not surprisingly, they aren’t getting much traction. The Third World Billionaies, of which there are many, claim that most of their wealth is “not liquid” and to divest they would have to sell off many of their companies. Everyone has his problems. In the U.S., much of the hang ups involve the children — how is a kid to get by on a mere half a billion in these troubled times? Lorry I. Lokey’s, who gave away 4.5 billion is a left with a mere $50 million, has a refreshing attitude: “Let the kids make their own money.”

It reminds me of my partner, John Hatch, when we were starting up our consulting firm, and we each wrote a brief manifesto: 1) What I want from this partnership, 2) what I bring to it. In it, we addressed how important helping the poor was, and how important earning a living was. John’s view was “I don’t want to leave a large, undeserved inheritance to my children.”

More to come today, including a mysterious agenda point at 9 a.m. called “Special Address”. Could it be O is going to put in an appearance?

Rupert Scofield


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