Vikas Shah, Thought Economics, May 2013
“Traditional societies…” wrote Jared Diamond, describing the iterations of humanity considered a prelude to our own, “…in effect represent thousands of natural experiments in how to construct a human society.” Some of these experiments were more successful than others, and what we have been left with (at this current stage of progress) is a seemingly diverse and flourising civilisation underscored by the unrelenting growth of economic monoculture.
In his book 'What Money Can’t Buy' Michael Sandel notes how, “…in a society where everything is for sale, life is harder for those of modest means. The more money can buy, the more affluence (or the lack of it) matters.” He continues to assert that, “…putting a price on the good things in life can corrupt them. That’s because markets don’t only allocate goods; they also express and promote certain attitudes toward the goods being exchanged…” This is a view supported by many observers. Levitt and Dubner in their seminal piece 'Freakonomics' also describe how “…morality represents the way we would like the world to work, and economics represents how it actually does work.” This is not a new phenomenon. Since the very first economic or social barters were made by man, a disconnect has existed between the creation of individual and social wealth. This gap has been filled by ‘giving.’
At every stage of our species’ development, ‘giving’ has been with us. Whether one sees this phenomena as evolutionary (manifest from pro-social behaviour) or spiritual (an urge from deep within our souls), the fact remains that giving- in all its forms- has been one of the greatest factors in the success of humanity and spans all the domains of ‘human’ assets; the intellectual (knowledge, experience, emotion and insight), economic (wealth in all its forms), cultural (arts and language), social (time, group structures) and even biological (from simply strength to the very body in entirety).
In reality, there are few (if any) beings on our planet who have not been touched in some way by giving (regardless of whether that is a small act of generosity from a stranger, or being lifted out of poverty with a microloan), and few (if any) who could argue-away the profound legacies left by the outcomes of man’s urge to improve the present and future position of his society. Without some form of giving, many of mankind’s greatest achievements simply would not have occurred. Giving is also one of the few activities mankind often undertakes without the geographic, cultural, social and political prejudices applied to other aspects of life.
“Giving, like love, is an element of both charity and philanthropy; love sometimes is left out, but giving is essential….” writes Robert Bremmer. “Getting is important, too, but giving comes first. We can scarcely open our mail, answer the telephone, or walk down a city street without encountering opportunities to give. In addition to tangible things, we give- or withhold- love, trust, friendship, encouragement, sympathy, help, and advice. What we give to alleviate the need, suffering and sorrow of others, whether we know them or not, is charity. What we give to prevent and correct social and environmental problems and improve life and living conditions of people and creatures we don't know and who have no claim on us is philanthropy…” (Giving – Charity & Philanthropy in History, 1996)
So what is the role of charity and philanthropy in society?
In these exclusive interviews, we speak to Jeff Raikes (CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation), Eli Broad (Founder of the Broad Foundations) and Anousheh Ansari (Trustee of the X Prize Foundation, and title sponsor of the Ansari X Prize) . We discuss the fundamental nature of charity and philanthropy- looking at why these phenomena exist together with their role and impact on society. We also talk about their individual journeys in philanthropy, and how their organisations are aiming to tackle some of society’s greatest problems.
Jeff Raikes is the CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (the world’s largest charitable foundation, with an endowment of over US$36 billion). He and his wife Tricia are also co-founders of the Raikes Foundation.
The primary aims of the foundation are, globally, to enhance healthcare and reduce extreme poverty, and in America, to expand educational opportunities and access to information technology. Talking about the foundation, it’s founder Bill Gates writes, “Our foundation is teaming up with partners around the world to take on some tough challenges: extreme poverty and poor health in developing countries, and the failures of America’s education system. We focus on only a few issues because we think that’s the best way to have great impact, and we focus on these issues in particular because we think they are the biggest barriers that prevent people from making the most of their lives. For each issue we work on, we fund innovative ideas that could help remove these barriers: new techniques to help farmers in developing countries grow more food and earn more money; new tools to prevent and treat deadly diseases; new methods to help students and teachers in the classroom. Some of the projects we fund will fail. We not only accept that, we expect it—because we think an essential role of philanthropy is to make bets on promising solutions that governments and businesses can’t afford to make. As we learn which bets pay off, we have to adjust our strategies and share the results so everyone can benefit.”
Jeff leads the foundation's efforts to promote equity for all people around the world. He sets strategic priorities, monitors results, and facilitates relationships with key partners for all four of our program groups.
Before joining the foundation, Raikes was a member of Microsoft's senior leadership team, which sets overall strategy and direction for the company. He joined Microsoft in 1981 as a product manager and was instrumental in driving Microsoft's applications marketing strategy. Promoted to director of applications marketing in 1984, Raikes was the chief strategist behind the company's success in graphical applications for the Apple Macintosh and the Microsoft Windows operating system and the creation of the Microsoft Office suite of productivity applications. Before joining Microsoft, he was a software development manager at Apple Computer Inc.
Raikes, a Nebraska native, holds a Bachelor of Science degree in engineering-economic systems from Stanford University. He and his wife, Tricia, have three children. They are founders of the Raikes Foundation and are active members of the United Way of King County, where they served as co-chairs of the 2006-2007 fundraising campaign. Raikes also serves on the board of directors for Costco Wholesale Corp. and the Microsoft Alumni Foundation, where he is chair of the board.
In June 2008, the Board of Regents at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln renamed the J.D. Edwards Honors Program in Computer Science and Management to the Jeffrey S. Raikes School of Computer Science and Management. Raikes, a longtime supporter of the highly selective and renowned school, was a part of the initial conceptualisation and has served on the board since its inception in 2001.
Eli Broad and his wife, Edythe are founders of The Broad Foundations, which they established to advance entrepreneurship for the public good in education, science and the arts. The Broad Foundations, which include The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation and The Broad Art Foundation, have assets of $2.4 billion. Eli Broad is a renowned business leader who built two Fortune 500 companies from the ground up over a five-decade career in business. He is the founder of both SunAmerica Inc. and KB Home (formerly Kaufman and Broad Home Corporation).
The Broad Foundation’s major education initiatives include the $1 million Broad Prize for Urban Education, The Broad Superintendents Academy and The Broad Residency in Urban Education. The Broad Foundation also invests in advancing innovative scientific and medical research in the areas of human genomics, stem cell research and inflammatory bowel disease. In an unprecedented partnership with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University and the Whitehead Institute, the Broads in 2003 announced a $100 million founding gift to create The Eli and Edythe Broad Institute for biomedical research. The Institute’s aim is to realise the promise of the human genome to revolutionise clinical medicine and to make knowledge freely available to scientists around the world. They gave a second $100 million gift to The Broad Institute in 2005, and in 2008, they gave an additional $400 million to make the world’s leading genomics institute permanent.
Over the past four decades, the Broads have also built two of the most prominent collections of postwar and contemporary art worldwide: The Eli and Edythe L. Broad Collection and The Broad Art Foundation. The two collections together include more than 2,000 works by nearly 200 artists. Since 1984, The Broad Art Foundation has operated an active 'lending library' of its extensive collection. Dedicated to increasing access to contemporary art for audiences worldwide, The Broad Art Foundation has made more than 8,000 loans of artwork to nearly 500 museums and university galleries worldwide.
Mr. Broad was the founding chairman and is a life trustee of The Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, to which The Broad Foundation gave a $30 million challenge grant in December 2008 to rebuild the museum’s endowment and to provide exhibition support. He is a life trustee of The Museum of Modern Art in New York and of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, where the Broads gave a $60 million gift to build the Renzo Piano-designed Broad Contemporary Art Museum, which opened in February 2008, and to fund an art acquisition budget. In August 2010, the Broads announced plans to build a contemporary art museum and headquarters for The Broad Art Foundation on Grand Avenue in downtown Los Angeles. The new museum, to be called The Broad, will be designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro and is scheduled to open in early 2014. Broad also spearheaded the fundraising campaign to build the Frank Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall, which opened to worldwide acclaim in October 2003.
From 2004 to 2009, Mr. Broad served as a Regent of the Smithsonian Institution by appointment of the U.S. Congress and the President. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and in 1994 was named Chevalier in the National Order of the Legion of Honor by the Republic of France. Mr. Broad serves on the board of the Future Generation Art Prize. He received the Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy in 2007 and the David Rockefeller Award from the Museum of Modern Art in March 2009.
Mr. Broad is also a bestselling author with the publication of his first book, 'The Art of Being Unreasonable: Lessons in Unconventional Thinking,' released by Wiley & Sons in May 2012.
On September 18, 2006, Anousheh Ansari captured headlines around the world as the first female private space explorer.
Anousheh is a serial entrepreneur and co-founder and chairman of Prodea Systems, a company that will unleash the power of the Internet to all consumers and dramatically alter and simplify consumer’s digital living experience. Prior to founding Prodea Systems, Anousheh served as co-founder, CEO and chairman of Telecom Technologies, Inc. The company successfully merged with Sonus Networks, Inc., in 2000.
To help drive commercialization of the space industry, Anousheh and her family provided title sponsorship for the Ansari X Prize, a $10 million cash award for the first non-governmental organization to launch a reusable manned spacecraft into space twice within two weeks.
Anousheh immigrated to the United States as a teenager who did not speak English. She earned a bachelor’s degree in electronics and computer engineering from George Mason University, followed by a master’s degree in electrical engineering from George Washington University. She has an honorary doctorate from the International Space University. She is currently working toward a master’s degree in astronomy from Swinburne University.
Anousheh is a member of the X Prize Foundation’s Vision Circle, as well as its Board of Trustees. She is a life member in the Association of Space Explorers and on the advisory board of the Teacher’s in Space project. She has received multiple honours, including the World Economic Forum Young Global Leader, the Working Woman’s National Entrepreneurial Excellence Award, George Mason University’s Entrepreneurial Excellence Award, George Washington University’s Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award, and the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award for Southwest Region. While under her leadership, Telecom Technologies earned recognition as one of Inc. magazine’s 500 fastest-growing companies and Deloitte & Touche’s Fast 500 technology companies.
Q: Why does philanthropy exist?
[Jeff Raikes] Philanthropy plays at least four key roles in society.
First, it can help fill the gaps created by market failures. The private sector is an effective mechanism to allocate resources in society and to produce better products, goods, and services. But capitalism has its weaknesses. Sometimes markets fail. It’s at those times and in those areas where philanthropy is best suited to step in. In the same way that capitalism is an effective way to produce goods and services for society, I think private philanthropy is a good way to produce social benefit.
Second, philanthropists can take risks that others won’t. The public sector produces goods and services to help improve society, but they do that with tax monies. Taxpayers don’t love it when their governments take significant risk with their tax payments. They want wise stewards of public money and resources. The private sector, on the other hand, is unwilling to take risk without the potential of profit. Philanthropy is not risk constrained in the same way.
Third, philanthropy can help scale good ideas: With our partners, we can identify innovative solutions to challenging problems, test them out, develop the evidence of their efficacy, and then share what we learn and help demonstrate opportunities that can be scaled up and sustained by the private sector, the public sector, or both. Let me give an example: If we provide the “risk capital” to figure out how to reduce rotavirus vaccine prices dramatically, possibly through new scientific formulations, and then share widely how to achieve the price reductions, organisations such as GAVI, which are largely government-funded, can take these innovations and save hundreds of thousands of additional lives.
Finally, philanthropy allows us to connect and share values. I believe that it’s ultimately our hearts and values that draw people to philanthropy, whether that’s working at a foundation or as an individual giver of money or volunteer time. People are moved to help others.
Q: What is the motivation for philanthropists to give?
[Jeff Raikes] Warren Buffett often says that he was the winner of the “ovarian lottery.” He was born in a place and at a time that allowed him to achieve all that he has. My wife and I believe that we won a “career lottery” of sorts – we were at Microsoft during the early high-tech boom. We wanted to invest the wealth we acquired back into society.
We believe firmly that great philanthropy is not about writing a check. It’s about giving your time, your energy, and your talents to create the kind of world you want to live in.
At Microsoft, I learned that if you really want to make an impact on the world you need big aspirations. We had the dream of a computer on every desk and in every home, and that was a very motivating vision for us. I pursued that dream for 27 years. As my Microsoft career developed, so did my interest in philanthropy. Together with Tricia, who was also a Microsoft employee, we participated in the Microsoft United Way campaign. Together we co-chaired the largest United Way campaign in history, delving into local issues such as homelessness. And, at the urging of Mary Gates (Bill’s mother) Tricia helped start a local Boys and Girls Club.
The Gates Foundation is also a place where we dream big. Our work is guided by a simple belief that all lives have equal value, and in the potential of each individual life. We believe that whether a child is born in Brazzaville or London shouldn’t determine whether she will have access to health, education, and opportunity.
Around the world today, there are a growing number of people who have amassed considerable wealth who are exploring the possibilities of their own philanthropic journeys. We have an incredible opportunity to encourage each other to become philanthropists and have a positive impact on the world.
What excites me most about philanthropy today is that we’re not standing still. We are finding new ways to pursue and measure our impact. We are sharing best practices. We are getting better at what we do. But we need to accelerate progress by embracing technology, encouraging greater transparency, and engaging our grantees, partners, and critics as a team.
Q: How does philanthropy sit alongside other forms of organisation?
[Jeff Raikes] The issues we are trying to address at the Gates Foundation are certainly big enough and difficult enough for many funders and partners to be involved. Even within the areas where we invest, we are just one of many players. There are significant needs around the world and close to home where funders have ample opportunity to make aligned, complementary or entirely distinct contributions.
I believe the philanthropic sector functions best when we are keenly aware of and clear about our own and others’ passions, interests and capabilities. We learn faster. We combine efforts or go our separate ways sooner because we are more conscious of when it makes sense to do so. Intentional crowding in or crowding out is a good thing for the sector.
The foundation emphasises partnerships, and looks to foster innovation, often pursuing new technologies or delivery schemes. For example, in India, we have enjoyed a tremendous partnership with the National AIDS Control Organisation to expand HIV prevention through the Avahan India AIDS initiative.
Q: What can philanthropy learn from entrepreneurship, business and enterprise?
[Jeff Raikes] Government, business, and philanthropy make up a “three-legged stool,” where each leg can be mutually supportive of one another and promote social good. There are things each sector can learn from one another and areas where each can make a unique contribution.
That said, we often say that it’s harder for foundations to measure impact because we don’t contend with market forces and the reliable feedback markets provide. But even at Microsoft we had to go for long periods of time without any real market indicators. Sometimes you just have to set your own milestones, learn as much as you can from available data, and then go by instinct.
There are some aspects of the private sector -- long-term R&D, for example -- that are very similar to the work of philanthropy. In that type of situation you have to have a clear vision, define milestones, and track progress using a mix of best judgment and self-criticism, accepting and trusting that it may take a long time to see any meaningful impact.
In philanthropy, we don’t have sales results or stock prices to measure success. There also isn’t competition, at least not at first glance. We’re all here trying to change the world, right? But I have learned that while maybe we can’t say that we have competitors, we do have opponents. People and organisations that fight against the very change that we believe is necessary to positively impact the world. And they often have a very legitimate, different point of view about achieving the same goal, or they may believe it’s just not the right goal.
In this sense, competition is good in philanthropy. Opponents are good. They help foundations make smarter choices. They test conviction and theories of change. They can be seen as part of the “team” that will drive us forward to greater impact.
[Eli Broad] Philanthropy is not charity. Charity is simply writing cheques- and while we do some of that also, philanthropy is different, Larry Summers (who is on our board) once said, “…if it’s going to happen anyway, we’re not going to do it.”
We’re looking to do things that nobody else is willing to do, we want to make a difference 20-30 years from now and we need to find the people who have the ability to make it happen.
Our foundation is different to most others in that 90% of what we do is driven by ideas we have internally rather than from people coming to us. We’re continually looking for opportunities across the broad range of activities from education, scientific and medical research and the arts.
George Bernard Shaw once said, “…the reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man”. That might be a little bit of an exaggeration, but my wife gave me that as a plaque some years after we were married- and I believe it’s right. What we’re doing in education reform and in other areas is not always popular.
You have to have a deep belief and a commitment to do what’s right, even if it’s not the popular thing to do and even if you get pushback from established interests that don’t want to see change.
Q: What is the role of philanthropy in global policy and advocacy?
[Jeff Raikes] One of the most important drivers of a foundation’s or philanthropist’s impact is access to knowledge of where to give and how to give. We should be thinking hard about how we share with others what we are doing and learning. Advocacy is one way for us to share what we’re learning, and to create support or momentum for social change.
At the Gates Foundation, we see a definite role for ourselves in shining a spotlight on inequity, and making sure policymakers see both the challenges and possibilities in tackling tough social problems. The foundation has capital at its disposal to create change, but it also has knowledge, leadership, and a voice. We can use those tools as much as we do grantmaking to help achieve our mission, in partnership with others around the world.
Q: What has been the impact of the giving pledge?
(Editor’s Note: The Giving Pledge is a commitment by the world's wealthiest individuals and families to dedicate the majority of their wealth to philanthropy)
[Eli Broad] I was at that first meeting at Rockefeller University with David Rockefeller, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and others. The idea was to get a lot of people interested in giving, and that we would all be examples of why to do it... by telling others how we got great satisfaction from it. Our hope was that others would emulate what we were doing.
The giving pledge started with just 15 individuals, and now has over 80 people.
Q: How is philanthropy leveraging technology?
[Jeff Raikes] Technology and social media today are making the capture and sharing of data, information, and knowledge easier, faster, and cheaper. These help us develop stronger feedback loops, and create stronger, more efficient philanthropy. Let me share a couple of examples.
In the U.S., the Council on Foundations and TechSoup Global have developed an online repository called NGOSource for collecting basic information about individual charities around the world. This online knowledge sharing could streamline an inefficient, redundant, and costly process called “equivalency determinations” and help more philanthropic dollars get across borders to where they are most needed.
A couple of years ago, as part of a U.S. Department of Education effort to invest in innovative education programs, we were part of a collaboration of education funders that developed a website called the i3 Foundation Registry. This is an online proposal repository for applicants to the U.S. government’s grant funding pool for education to share their plans simultaneously with interested private foundations and individual philanthropists. The registry enables funders to privately share with each other what proposals they are considering, which organisations and projects they are interested in, and which ones they ultimately fund, all via Facebook or Twitter-like status updates. In a few short months, the participating funding community grew from the original 12 to 46, and the successful applicants to the U.S. Department of Education program raised their required private match dollars in record time.
Philanthropy should do more to harness the power of technology to make us all more effective and efficient. We should have every tool to create change at our disposal and that includes the use of technology, information, and data on par with that of industries. Technology itself is not a “silver bullet” – but we can add it to our other strategies to help accelerate and improve our efforts.
Q: What does philanthropy mean to you?
[Jeff Raikes] Tricia and I believe that our success, and the opportunities we’ve been able to provide for our family, have been supported by societal institutions – schools, communities, health institutions, and more. Philanthropy is an opportunity to invest our resources back into society to build the social, spiritual, and material wealth that can help the lives of others. Our passion for humanity leads us to philanthropic choices and investments to share our wealth for others.
[Eli Broad] This city and country have been very good to me, and my family, and because of this we have a desire to give back through philanthropy. We do this in a number of areas; education reform, scientific and medical research, and the arts.
Andrew Carnegie said one time, “…he who dies with wealth, dies with shame…” I think you have an obligation to give back, to make things better and to create institutions that didn’t exist before.
Everyone can contribute something. If people don’t have the financial resources, they can certainly commit their expertise and their time to various organisations. We have been very fortunate and have quite a staff at our organisation to do the things we are doing, but everyone can do something at different scales.
[Anousheh Ansari] I feel that I've been fortunate in so many different ways. I was born and raised in Iran, and lived there during the early part of the revolution and war. I come from a middle-class family, and we were never very wealthy and when we moved to the US, we faced many difficulties. I know how it feels to be on the other side of the table, and understand how some of the programmes and projects that were available to me- such as scholarships, student loans and so on- helped me and family establish a new life in a new country. We didn't just establish, but we were able to reach out for our dreams and really succeed. All this tells me that with a little help and support, things can change- not just on an individual level- but at a global level too.
I look at philanthropy as an investment. I don't do it to gain brownie points with god. I do it because I believe in investing within the community and world I live in. It may be an investment in an individual, or an idea that can change the world.
The terminology I prefer is social investment, but many people use charity and philanthropy interchangeably. Ultimately it's an investment- a high risk one- where the return you get may not be monetary, but rather the satisfaction of change or success.
Q: How did you choose the areas [and methods] of philanthropy you engage in?
[Jeff Raikes] As parents, Tricia and I have a strong affinity to the opportunities and challenges for youth – they are the future of our society, of our world. With our own children we have observed the challenges that middle school children face – that tough period of early adolescence – when bullying and other negative social behaviors can develop. At our own foundation, the Raikes Foundation, we call this period the “Middle Shift”. We discovered relevant research on “student agency” – the academic mindsets and learning strategies that help students focus on positive behaviors that support better performance in the classroom, and ultimately success in life. So now we’re deepening our work on assessments of student agency, teaching behaviors that instill it, and classroom context that supports it.
In parallel to this, and through our work with United Way and the Gates Foundation, we learned there are multiple segments of homelessness, such as chronic homelessness and family homelessness. And we discovered a gap in how our communities address another segment, youth and young adult homelessness. So Tricia took a leadership role in our community to drive toward a systemic change in addressing this need, and was recognized as a White House Champion of Change for the innovative approach she and other leaders are taking.
[Eli Broad] It came about in different ways… I started by giving money to Michigan State- where I went to school- establishing an endowment for the business school and graduate school of management. We’ve always enjoyed arts and we began collecting, and eventually I became the founding chairman of the Museum of Contemporary Art. This led to our creation of an art foundation where we lend works of art to museums and University art galleries around the world.
Education came later, as did science and medicine. Education came about as a result of my travels to India, China, Korea, Japan and Northern European nations. I saw how well they educate their young people and how poorly we were doing. I felt this was the biggest problem America had- it was the civil rights issue of the 21st century. It was a security issue- financially and otherwise. That’s how we got involved in education reform. We got involved by creating a number of programmes in different cities, and eventually the biggest prize in education to showcase school districts that are doing a good job.
Scientific and medical research was really opportunistic. It started with the fact that one of our sons has Crohns disease. After going to UCLA medical library, I saw that nobody really knew the cause of Crohns. With everything going on in medical science, there are many young investigators and PhD’s with theories, who can’t get funding. This led us to get into the venture research business- it’s been very successful. We’ve given over 250 grants in 12 years, and many of these people have gone on- after getting our seed money- to get funding from federal sources such as the NIH and National Cancer Institute and many global institutions. The Broad Institute (a partnership between Harvard and MIT) was a great opportunity that we saw.
In terms of our civic activities… Cities are not remembered for their lawyers, business-men or accountants- they are remembered for their arts- and architecture is the mother of all the arts. This is why we’ve been involved in many architecture projects, and we feel very good about that.
Q: What attracted you to prize-philanthropy?
[Anousheh Ansari] Prize philanthropy has a high-multiplier. It's not just a project- but a way of inspiring people with common goals to go after something and make it happen... making a reality of something that could otherwise have just been a dream. That's why I like the prize model... it allows you define a specific target, and that brings focus and brings people out of the woodwork. It also helps collaboration. One of the things that impressed me during the Ansari X Prize was that we saw different competing teams helping each other! They saw the end goal of going to space and realised that regardless of who succeeded, everyone's dream would come true.
Q: What attracted you to 'space' for your X Prize?
[Anousheh Ansari] It started from my own personal wish- as a young girl- to be an astronaut. I wanted to solve the mysteries of the universe by gaining knowledge about space. I continue to believe that the future survival of humanity depends on how-well we become a space-faring species, and how we can learn to live and take advantage of resources in space. That belief, my own personal interest- and a very passionate pitch by Peter Diamandis (founder of the X Prize foundation) all came together at the perfect moment in time and we became partners with him in his endeavour.
X Prize as a foundation has now expanded into many different fields and areas. We continue to bring value to our society through inspiring innovation in critical areas that benefit people around the world. We have a very global board and look at problems worldwide. We also have an amazing group of people who genuinely feel anything is possible and go after crazy ideas. That kind of attitude is often missing in the corporate world where they have shareholder responsibilities, regulators and so on. You also find sometimes people are scared to do audacious things because others may think they're crazy! X Prize is a fertile ground for people who want to explore audacious ideas together, innovate, inspire young people and more.
Looking back at the Ansari X Prize, when we first started- everything was unknown. Most people didn't even want to touch it. I remember how difficult it was for Peter to raise funds. He always appreciates us stepping us to be his partner- with the other founding members. It was a proof of concept, and a very successful one. We have been able to expand on this in other areas.
Q: Has your own visit to space influenced your philanthropy and attitude?
[Anousheh Ansari] On a personal level, having that experience [going to space] really changes you at your core. It really gives you a new way of looking at your life, your relationship with the environment and even with other people. It gives you a global perspective, you cannot look at earth and your own city, town and country in the same way again. You really do feel like a citizen of the world.
I think the first group of people we should send to space are politicians. I watch and listen to what's happening around the world, and see the laws and policies that are passed.... and sometimes feel like saying, "if you've seen what I've seen, you would not be sitting there arguing about these things...." If someone has the physical capability to have this experience, they should be able to do it. Over time I hope it becomes as inexpensive as taking a normal plane trip.
Q: How do you approach the big game opportunities in philanthropy?
[Eli Broad] In education, our aim was to improve student achievement and close the gaps that existed because of income and ethnicity. That’s how it all started. We really like to see change and therefore we support change agents... people who sometimes are disruptive.
In the arts- we want to see arts enjoyed by a broader part of our population, it stimulates creativity and society.
In scientific and medical research, whether genomics or stem cell research, we want to see solutions to a lot of the physical problems that mankind has.
Q: Have you taken inspiration from any other foundations or historic philanthropists in your own journey?
[Eli Broad] I like to mention Andrew Carnegie because of what he did, establishing a number of institutions, a library and an education foundation but we like to learn from all of them.
We’re really- probably- more aggressive than any other foundation in America, especially in education reform. The things we’ve done in science and medicine didn’t exist before. We were the first ones to get Harvard and MIT to do something together! That project now has over 1800 people, a US$280 million research budget, and we’re number one in the world now in genomics.
It all gets down to people, you need to find great leaders… people you can identify with, who have a plan, that have the ability to make it happen, and who can present you their plans and ideas. If you like their plan? You give them the resources... We don’t then walk away, we make sure they’re following the plan and that things happen... It’s not simply writing cheques.
Q: What are the key lessons you’ve learned in your journey in philanthropy?
[Eli Broad] Firstly, philanthropy has given us the opportunity to meet great people outside the world of business and so on. Secondly, it has given us many ideas, and it’s been very educational.
There are also big challenges every day. What we’re doing in education reform gets a lot of pushback and criticism from the established old interests, whether that be teachers unions or others. They want to maintain the status-quo and are uncomfortable with change. That is not so in science…
Q: Is philanthropy a family endeavour?
[Eli Broad] My wife and I are involved, but our children really are not. If you look at today’s foundations... whether it’s Gates, ourselves, or others. The fact that the people that founded them were entrepreneurs means they operate a lot differently to the historic foundations, whether it’s Rockefeller, Ford or others.
Q: What do you think are the biggest challenges faced by our society that philanthropy could impact?
[Anousheh Ansari] The most pressing issues that face us can all benefit from philanthropy.
X Prize not only inspired people to go after the dream of building spacecraft but also it changed a whole paradigm of policies around spaceflight, and changed how policy-makers looked at private space exploration. That accomplishment is perhaps even more valuable than winning the prize itself. We had to educate the FAA (who now have a division dedicated to spaceflight) and even change the way that NASA thought about public-private partnerships.
There are many challenges facing us in terms of energy, water, food, education and more. Every aspect of these problems can seriously benefit from prizes. They are complex problems that don't have a simple solution. Through publicity and paradigm changes, they can benefit. With prizes, we can make leaps in efficiency not just with technology- but with visibility about the problem, education and so on. We can become the link between innovators and policy makers. This is not a short process, it takes years of continuous involvement...
A lot of problems that have not been solved are problems that somehow get stuck with politicians and policymakers. It's not that we don't have the answers, but policy making has created an environment where solutions cannot be implemented.
Q: What would be your message to others wishing to engage in philanthropy?
[Jeff Raikes] The most important thing is to commit your resources, whether it’s money or time, to a cause that you’re passionate about, whether that is a local school, supporting an environmental project, or helping poor kids in Africa. One of the most important things about philanthropy is to really understand where you want to invest back into society, and how you want to do that. By finding the things that you’re passionate about, and learning from others’ successes, you’ll experience the greatest satisfaction in helping, and probably achieve your own capacity to support the greatest impact on society.
[Eli Broad] You’ll find it’s very rewarding. You’ll feel very good about making a difference and you’ll get a lot of respect from a lot of people for what you’re doing. It’s hard work, but it’s incredibly enjoyable.
[Anousheh Ansari] I would like to see more people look at their philanthropy, and their projects, as long-term investments. You get so many people asking for support, and so many projects asking for your help... they all seem important on the surface and with good intentions... but if you look at a long-term view, you can sometimes solve the big problem that will also solve the smaller problems too along the way.
My philosophy is to look at root-cause problems, and to try to solve the root cause issue that would then cascade to solve or help the smaller problems. I would like to see more people look at those issues and spend more time on those instead of sometimes just putting their name on a building, university or hospital.
As we identified earlier, wealth can take many forms; intellectual, economic, social and biological. Where we consider wealth (in any of these forms) in isolation; at an individual, organisational or even national level, we see that each act of charity or philanthropy is- in effect- executed at the will of a benefactor. Where we consider this wealth (correctly) in abstract however, we see that it is really an asset owned by the whole of society. Each and every member of this global family contributes to the wealth and well being of the others, and it is with this spirit that we have advanced from being a species like all others, to one like no other.
Some of this has been positive, we have made great advances in science, communication, engineering and medicine. We’ve conquered practically every biological and intellectual limitation we have to be able to view our planet from another celestial body, and even create experiments that could yield the answer to the origins of our very universe.
However, much of this remains less resolved. For example 80% of humanity still lives on less than US$10 a day, 22,000 children die of poverty related causes each and every day and nearly a billion people entered the 21st century unable to read a book or sign their names.
Charity and philanthropy can thus be considered a form of creative destruction. A method by which wealth returns from society to itself, and also a method by which it is transferred between generations; like collecting sand and throwing it back to the sea. As C. S. Lewis once said, "Nothing that you have not given away will ever be really yours."
At a philosophical level, one could even consider charity and philanthropy as antidotes to the 'human condition'.
“Each one of us was harmed by being brought into existence….” wrote David Benatar. “That harm is not negligible, because the quality of even the best lives is very bad- and considerably worse than most people recognise it to be. Although it is obviously too late to prevent our own existence, it is not too late to prevent the existence of future possible people. Creating new people is thus morally problematic.” He justifies his position by stating that, “…Both good and bad things happen only to those who exist. However, there is a crucial asymmetry between the good and the bad things. The absence of bad things, such as pain, is good even if there is nobody to enjoy that good, whereas the absence of good things, such as pleasure, is bad only if there is somebody who is deprived of these good things. The implication of this is that the avoidance of the bad by never existing is a real advantage over existence, whereas the loss of certain goods by not existing is not a real disadvantage over never existing.” (Better Never to Have Been, 2008)
Benatar’s views may seem extreme, but there is some element of truth. The majority of our species exist in conditions that the minority simply cannot comprehend, and the only sure-fire way of eliminating this suffering in entirety is for humanity to simply not exist. This option is abhorrent on practically every level, and we must continue our introspection with that in mind.
If we put-aside the enormous odds pitted against our very existing having occurred in the first place, the odds by which we are in a position to not- in some way- be at need of the generosity of others are also extraordinarily similarly slim. It is in recognising this good fortune that we should be called to action.
By not acting, we are also inadvertently placing a moral-price on the lives of our peers. The philosopher Peter Singer once postulated, “What is a human life worth? …you may not want to price tag on it, but if we really had to, most of us would agree that the value of a human life would be in the millions. Consistent with the foundations of our democracy and our frequently professed belief in the inherent dignity of human beings, we would also agree that all humans are created equal, at least to the extent of denying that differences of sex, ethnicity, nationality and place of residence change the value of human life. With a large proportion of humanity still trapped in conditions of life-threatening poverty, we might ask ourselves how these two beliefs- that a human life, if it can be priced at all, is worth millions, and that the factors I have mentioned do not alter the value of a human life- square with our actions.” (Giving Well - The Ethics of Philanthropy, 2012)
Charity and philanthropy are essential components of a healthy and functioning civilisation. We will never eliminate all the problems we face, but as a society, we have shown that we can go a long way. In under a decade, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation have saved the lives of over 6 million people with their healthcare interventions, and countless millions more individuals around the world, each and every year, are fed, sheltered, clothed, supported and empowered by countless other donors and philanthropists.
As an African-American proverb states, “God makes three requests of his children: Do the best you can, where you are, with what you have, now”.
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