Monday, February 23, 2009

TED2009 and Philanthropy

There are two themes of a TED conference. One is Ideas Worth Spreading, which is the slogan of the conference, and what appears on TED sweatshirts. What you put on the sweatshirts always is the ultimate definition of what you are about. The other theme is making the world a better place. There were several talks at Ted University and on the main stage this year about philanthropy. As one might expect from TED, they combined creativity with a wish to help others.

Blake Mycoskie is 'Chief ShoeGiver' of TOMS shoes, a company that gives a pair of shoes to a child in need every time you buy a pair of shoes. You can see this at the Toms Shoes site.

Then there was John Breen of Free Rice who invited us to play games on site, and donate 10 grains of free to the UN World Food Program for every answer you get right. There are games about words, math, geography, art, foreign languages; if you like trivial pursuit you could get quite hooked. And 10 grains of rice are donated every time you get a correct answer, courtesy of sponsors on the site.

Martin Fisher offered some guidelines on how to choose among charities proposing to address global challenges. Make sure they're:
  • Measurable
  • Cost-effective
  • Sustainable
  • Replicable/scalable
He discusses these ideas further at the Real Good, Not Feel Good site.

Austin Hill described the online social reality game Akoha where you earn points by playing real-world missions with your friends. Based on a Play It Forward idea, you can earn points by giving someone a gift (chocolate, your favourite book), or by simply making contact. Completing Akoha missions can result in real-world partnerships - for instance a school project in Nepal.

Hill attended his first TED just weeks after his brother's funeral. The inspiration of TED's positive spirit decided him to do a site like this rather than starting another disease foundation.

Jacqueline Novogratz is founder of the Acumen Foundation and Chris Anderson's wife as of last summer. The Acumen Foundation is a non-profit global venture fund that uses entrepreneurial approaches to solve the problems of global poverty. The TED Book Club has just sent us a pre-release of Novogratz' book, The Blue Sweater (a gift from Chris himself, he hastens to note, not from TED), whose stubtitle is Briding the Gap between Rich and Poor in an Interconnected World.

Novogratz spoke about the dismal facts and uplifting hopes around malaria. Malaria kills a child every 30 seconds. Novogratz talked of the efforts of people like Awa Maria Coll-Seck, Executive Director of Roll Back Malaria. Roll Back Malaria was founded in 1998 with a goal of reducing malaria by half by 2010. Coll-Seck is a very impressive woman, former minister of health for Senegal.

In Ethiopia, there were 50M people at risk of malaria and 16M cases among children in 2003. After an aggressive malaria campagn, they were able to achieve a 50% reduction in deaths. They took a multi-pronged approach, training over 33K health care works, distributed 20M nets in 18 months, delivered 12M doses of medication and sprayed 1M houses. This prevented 9.6M dcases and saved 57K lives.

Novogratz feels that you need this full set of interventions to be successful against malara, backing by tremendous political will, and the provision of multiple years of funding at one time (as against the unpredictable year-to-year funding approach in much of such work).

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