20 May 2011

shoestring philanthropy

Maybe you are also guilty of this idealistic notion, too-- I've wanted to help "make the world a better place" since I was little, and I still hope I'll be able to leave this world a little better than I found it.  And if hearing about good deeds truly can beget more of them, then here goes.

Enter Marc Gold, retired community-college professor from San Francisco, who is practicing "shoestring philanthropy."  He travels to "where the poor people are," and he does what he can to make life a bit better, whether it's through buying art supplies for orphanages in Tibet or a year's supply of rice for a battered women's shelter in India.

"For people who live on a dollar or less a day, $50 can make a big difference," Gold says.  He adds:

"I'd thought you had to be rich to do such things.  I realized I had the power to help change people's lives."

Pretty empowering stuff, and a good reminder: doing what seem like small things to us can really impact positive change.

I wonder if Americans, Europeans and other "first-world inhabitants" know just how wealthy we are compared to so much of the rest of the world.  My biggest shock in backpacking around the world was seeing just how poor most places were.  And it wasn't just Africa-- it was the same in lots of South America and Asia, too.  Even our North American neighbor, Mexico, considered an up-and-comer, has areas where people live without electricity, running water, sanitation, etc.

In related news, people are finding that when helping others is fun, everyone benefits.

Here are two adorable robots that collect change for charity, and it's no wonder that no one can resist them.

A 21-year-old Scottish college student named Tim Pryde created the DON-8R (pronounced donator), and it roams the sidewalks singing out "Hello hello hello."  When you put change in it, it lights up, makes a bling sound like when Super Mario gets a gold coin, and says, "Thank you."

Here's a video:

MIT, Carnegie Mellon and a team of Korean researchers have also teamed up to create Dona, a little robot with a red cape who blinks and bows.  She waves her arms to get attention instead of speaking, and she turns her head to bow to the person who leaves change in front of her.  While testing in New York's Union Square and Seoul's Museum of Art, Dona averaged $30 an hour in donations.

Here's a video:

So, feel like doing some good yet?  We can be like Amélie, bestowing little kindnesses here and there.

With love from your new shoestring philanthropist. :-)

P.S.  If your money is really burning a hole in your pocket, you can always buy a copy of The World Through a Little Lens (link is to blog post about it), which will benefit two nonprofits.  Or even better, for you creatively inclined folks, you can create your own Blurb for Good photobook, where all proceeds can go to the cause of your choice.  (You can also get 20% off of your order if you use the code NEWBLURB by May 31st.) 

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