Friday, July 07, 2006

People power vs. Gates Foundation

There's been a lot of news about Warren Buffet's recent mega-billion dollar contribution to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

While certainly a significant and honorable act, the foundation is already having trouble spending the 5 percent of its assets required to qualify for tax priveleges.

Even with the new money that would translate into about US$3.4 billion a year.

That sounds like a lot until you realize that a dirt poor nation like Pakistan has a budget of about $20 billion a year. The Philippines borrows about as much as the foundation spends to service its yearly debt.

In other words, in the big picture $3.4 billion a year is a drop in the bucket.

Now let's take 100 million people in the world that make $45,000 a year. If each gave 2 percent of their annual salary to some "good work" that would add up to $90 billion a year. That would require that a person making $45,000 a year would have to contribute about $75 a month.

And unlike the Gates Foundation money, which runs out in less than 25 years, this is potentially sustainable for as long as needed.

Another example: if everyone of the 1.2 billion people in developed countries contributed $3 a year to charitable causes, they have more than matched the Gates Foundation expenditure.

And there are probably easily a billion or two more people in non-developed countries who could afford $3 a year.

Even more important than monetary contributions is the power the people have in contributing their work and time. Not only hands-on work like building homes for Habitat for Humanity, but in organizing, recruiting, advocating, promoting, etc.

Even poor people can and should contribute in this way, because they will be the immediate beneficiaries.

When people lend their time and effort, self-supporting networks are developed which no amount of money can buy.


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