Wednesday, November 15, 2006

What would James do?

In the past month both Time and the Wall Street Journal have written about GlobalGiving. But one of the most meaningful mentions came last Friday from James Fallows, national correspondent of the Atlantic Monthly. Slate asked him what he would do if he had a million dollars to give away and he said:

A million dollars is really an awkward number. If you said, "What would you do with a billion dollars?" we could talk about setting up new research institutes or huge change-the-world undertakings. If you said, "What would you do with a thousand dollars?" I could name a specific charity worth getting a little more help. But a million dollars is in the gray zone - too much to feel good about blowing on just any old charity, too little to allow you really to change the world.

I'm tempted to say that I'd use the money to buy as many acres of forest land as possible in Malaysia, Indonesia, Brazil, the Congo, or elsewhere, because in the short run I fear that such ownership is the main way to keep the forests from being cut down. But I realize that on its own, that would probably yield parcels too small to make a difference. So, on reflection, I would probably divide the money between two organizations that have pioneered brilliant ways of matching entrepreneurship with good works of the environmental, medical, poverty-reducing, and democratizing variety, and that have delivered a lot of value per dollar spent. They are Ashoka and GlobalGiving. Each represents an inventive new model of deciding which projects to support, and each appears to work. I'd probably hold back
$100,000 or so and give it to Medecins sans Frontieres.