Philanthropy During the Olympics

Olympic RingsThere has been a large amount of controversy about having the Olympic games in Rio this summer, as many believed that holding the games in a place with such poverty and inner turmoil would backfire. However, the games went on as planned. Thankfully, they have inspired some high-profile people to start philanthropic ventures that helps Rio’s less fortunate. For example, the celebrity chef Massimo Bottura has become determined to not let the massive amounts of leftover food from the Olympic games go to waste.

Bottura owns an award-winning restaurant in Modena, which is not exactly close to Rio. Nevertheless, he made the trip to the games and started repurposing leftover food from the Olympics into gourmet meals for the homeless. He got together together a team of chefs and started creating meals right away in a quickly-put-together kitchen space. All of the chefs, who have traveled from all over the world, are donating their time, just as ingredients are donated to the kitchen. They all worked to not only feed the homeless, but to change a little of how Rio regards human dignity. They wanted to exhibit social inclusion and sprinkle a little bit of hope into the lives of those who have none.

This little eatery has provided something of a refuge in Rio, whose inhabitants have been overrun by Olympic commercialization. They are made five-star meals with donated food and served in the venue. Different chefs choose the menu for each night. Interestingly enough, this is not Bottura’s first kitchen to reduce food waste and feed the less fortunate. It turns out, he has some sprinkled in other places.

About a year ago, for example, he opened one out of an abandoned theater in Milan. The one in Rio, however, was constructed in an empty lot that Bottura had to persuade the mayor to allow him to use while he was raising $250,000 for its construction. Rio was not exactly a welcoming place for these chefs, due to the aforementioned turmoil, but Bottura was somehow able to secure all of the supplies he needed for a real commercial kitchen.

This is not just a project for the Olympics, either. Bottura has leased the land that the mayor allowed him to use for 10 years, and he is determined to keep it sustainable. The benefits of his labor show every day when people enter the kitchen to dine. He meets so many inhabitants of Rio that are living on the streets, and have been for years, and rarely have enough to eat. Not only are the diners fed, but they are treated with courtesy and respect, which is a rare experience.

This form of philanthropy is perhaps one of the highest there is. I am excited to see where such a venture will lead.  

When Fintech Means Charity

TechAll companies can reach success by adhering to the needs of their customers. Businesses that put customers first by listening to feedback tend to do better than others. It so happens that, currently, customer feedback has become focused on something more. More specifically, a recent study found that almost half of consumers globally look for the social value a company adds when deciding whether or not to make a purchase. Furthermore, another survey showed that, when given the chance, almost all consumers would switch from one company to another that is more involved in philanthropy.

Fintech companies have an interesting opportunity due to the above information. Several companies are adding social value directly into their business plan from the start, however technology companies have the unique chance to use digital platforms to incorporate giving into the daily lives of normal citizens. Instead of simply letting customers purchase their products, such companies can make customers a part of their social mission. Take AirBnb, for example. A huge part of AirBnb’s mission is to promote the trusting of strangers, and the company is doing quite well.

Companies in the Fintech sphere develop their social missions to be more straightforward by simply making it easier for people to give. Charitable giving is as easy as pressing a button on a phone screen now. Businesses such as Paypal have incorporated micro-giving programs straight into their applications and websites. It does not matter how much one gives, which encourages people at all levels of income to contribute to charity.

Some companies take Paypal’s approach while others, like Humble Bundle, build the option of charity into their purchases. Customers can choose a charitable organization to support with every item they buy. With this method of giving, customers are more likely to go back to Humble Bundle for their game and book-related needs. The fact that customers can now find their own social purpose through digital platforms means that they will be looking for said purpose in every digital platform they adopt. This is something businesses have to take into account moving forward.

Social impact has become almost as important to companies as having a good product. Customers are, more and more, looking to have an impact on the world and to give to the less fortunate. Fintech companies should embrace this unique opportunity and build social value into their digital platforms. This will not only retain customers and boost business, it will also help the world.

Airbnb and Philanthropy

AirbnbEveryone knows about Mark Zuckerberg’s wealth, and that he has decided to give most of it away to charity. However, many people are not aware of how many founders of companies are following suit. One prominent example today is the founders of the popular lodging website, Airbnb. The three cofounders of this wildly successful company have pledged to give most of their wealth away to charity. They have, indeed, joined the Giving Pledge, and are some of the youngest individuals to do so.

Airbnb was founded in the year 2008 without any notion that it would make as much money as it has. The story of this company began in 2007, when two of its cofounders, Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia, did not have enough money to pay their San Francisco rent. Instead of resigning themselves to their fate, they set up a website for their home, offering an airbed stay, breakfast included, at eighty dollars a night. They received three guests, and decided that such an experience could lead to a viable business.

So, they called on their engineering friend Nathan Blecharczyk to join them in creating Airbnb. The three started fundraising in the summer of 2008, during the presidential election. They sold candidate-specific cereal boxes and managed to raise thirty thousand dollars. In the spring of 2009, Airbnb was officially launched, after receiving funding. It has now grown to be a company worth $25 billion. The Giving Pledge they signed will ensure that almost $5 billion of their worth will go to charity, at least.

The Giving Pledge was created in the year 2010 by the great philanthropists themselves, Bill and Melinda Gates, along with Warren Buffet. They wanted to give some of the richest people in the world accountability when it came to philanthropy. Of course, the Pledge cannot necessarily force the people who sign it to donate, but it makes sure that those on the list are educated in terms of ways to give and what makes an impact.

The founders of Airbnb signed the Pledge because they want more children around the world to have opportunities to follow their passions. The founders’ hope is that their donations spur children to pursue dreams, by helping eliminate financial obstacles. Airbnb has been involved in philanthropic efforts in the past, but this is its biggest one yet.

Airbnb is a unique company in the philanthropy sphere because it already services the community by fostering sharing of space and getting to know others from around the world. It wants to ‘rid the world of strangers,’ and it is now able to do that and so much more.

Philanthropy by Entrepreneurs

Many entrepreneurs are focused on generating revenue to make a profit. When running your own business, this is the ultimate goal to stay afloat. However, those that do make a profit have a decision about where to spend that money they make. Some entrepreneurs that run profitable organizations have made a practice of donating a large sum of the profit made by their companies. They operate on the platform of making money to support those who need help. Below are some such individuals.

Beth Doane

A self-branded social entrepreneur, this woman supports a number of causes. She is a partner of the all female communications firm, Main & Rose, which builds brands for clients. This company has a pro bono program in which their team works to promote one cause a year. They will do anything from social media management, to event planning, to web design for free. Doane also is the owner of a custom apparel line, which furthers her social entrepreneurship by helping to send children to school, and to plant trees in endangered forests, around the world.

Trina Spear and Heather Hasson

These two women are the founder of the company Figs, which sells high performance scrubs for doctors and nurses. They began the company with the realization that medical wear is outdated and uncomfortable, and those working to save lives all day should be wearing the most comfortable clothing possible. Spear and Hasson set up the Threads for Threads initiative through their company which, for every pair purchased, donates one pair of scrubs to a healthcare provider who cannot afford his or her own. They have given away hundreds of thousands of pairs of scrubs, and hope their donations are cutting down on hospital-acquired infections.

Sarah Kaler

Sarah Kaler is the philanthropic founder of the organization SoulPowered, a company focused on leadership coaching and empowering women to become CEOs. She is very active in philanthropy in Africa. Kaler both invests in African charities, and has created a mentorship program for the Africa Yoga Project, to teach people to be yoga instructors, and how to financially sustain a yoga business.

Dave Heath

This entrepreneurial athlete is the founder and CEO of Bombas, a company that manufactures socks for intense athletic performance. He created the company to assist active people in performing better during their workouts, while also helping people in need. He realized that homeless shelters are requesting socks more than any other item and decided that, for every pair bought, a pair would be sent to someone who needs it. Every employee, on their first day, is required to go hand out socks to, and have conversations with, people living on the streets.

For more inspiring entrepreneurial philanthropists, check out Fox News.

Know Your Philanthropy

DonateThere are several popular forms of philanthropy that circulate around places such as schools and churches. Canned food drives and clothing drives, for example, are typically publicized by said places as ways to give. When natural disaster hits a certain region, clothing drives are generally the first response. However, while taking the time to give is admirable, not to mention it has numerous health benefits, many people donate without doing the proper research. When giving anything to a cause or an organization, philanthropists must make sure they know the precise needs of the group they are giving to.

Think about it: you have to make sure you are giving people what they truly need in order to make a difference. Unfortunately, popular donation ‘drives’ usually do not take this into account. For example, having canned food drives for Food Pantries are not the best allocation of resources. Food pantries have the ability to buy a large amount of edible goods in bulk for a cheaper, wholesale price. Therefore, the money that is spent buying cans for a food drive, if simply given to a food pantry, could stretch a lot farther.

Knowing what to give at what time is doubly difficult when facing the aftermath of a natural disaster. Usually, when a devastated region is attempting to recover, its needs change on a weekly, or even daily, basis. There have been instances in the past of too many clothes being donated after a natural disaster, such as in 2004, after India was hit by a tsunami. The more clothing sent in, the more useless clothing donations became. It got to a point where there were piles of clothing lying at the sides of roads. Resources had to be used to clean up the clothing as well as the effects of the natural disaster, which stunted overall recovery efforts.

This may make it seem as if giving money is the only way to truly make a difference, especially in the wake of a disaster, but even this form of philanthropy has its own caveats. When donating any sum of money to an organization, you must delve into the organization to ensure it will make the most use out of your money. Of course, searching for fraudulent activity in a charity is a no-brainer. However, you must also discern if the charity’s program is effective, and has made a difference in the past.

This news comes as something of a surprise to all philanthropists, myself included. Things like food drives and clothing drives bring communities together in support of a specific cause, and I worry that stopping such programs will make people feel less fulfilled when giving. Therefore, we must find a way to maximize the effectiveness of the money of philanthropists, while at the same time providing them with the community that comes with drives.

Healthy Living Through Altruism

It is no secret that volunteering is good for your health, but, now, it is official: studies have shown that philanthropic efforts boost cardiovascular health. In fact, many health professionals are thinking about ‘prescribing’ it along with other preventative health measures, such as eating healthily and exercising regularly. Eric Kim, a research fellow at Harvard School of Public Health, has focused his work on philanthropic efforts and their effects on health.

Kim was inspired by results of past studies, which have shown that volunteering is linked to lower weight and lower levels of depression. He hypothesized that these results were due to to a sense of purpose in those who volunteered. When people feel like their lives extend beyond simply just living on a day-to-day basis, they tend to take better care of themselves. Kim decided to do his own research to figure out how the results of past studies could be used in the medical world.

In his work, Kim and a colleague tracked a large number of Americans over middle age, a portion of whom volunteered on a regular basis. After a couple of years, it was evident that the individuals who volunteered made time to take better care of themselves than the ones who did not. They were more likely to go to the doctor for regular checkups, for example, and spent less time in the hospital overall.

This aligns perfectly with the popular idea that one cannot take care of others if he or she does not take care of the self first. Volunteers, Kim has found, want to be able to take care of others, so it makes sense that they are more likely to take care of themselves. This decreases healthcare costs for individuals without costing the healthcare industry more money.

Overall, volunteering is good for heart health. That cannot be contested. However, it turns out that is not the entire story. Kim found that health is only truly improved if one volunteers for the right reasons. A person cannot volunteer, say, to escape from problems, or solely to improve his or her own health. Rather, there has to be altruism involved, or else it is not clear if health will be affected at all.

Philanthropic effort is not difficult, but altruism, selfless concern for others, involves some work. If such philanthropy was prescribed along with medication for cardiovascular issues, and these altruistic values instilled early in life, the healthcare industry could be turned around completely.

To read more about Kim’s work and findings, check out this article in The Atlantic.

How to Give : Sean Parker’s Tips for Hackers

firoz patel“It’s important for hackers to embrace the values that made them successful in the first place: skepticism of the establishment and a desire to provoke or upend it. The hackers who are entering the global elite should embrace charitable giving as its own reward, not as a means of acceptance into the very social systems they have played a role in demolishing.”

Sean Parker is known as many things. To some he is the unyielding kid behind the notorious Napster, to others, he is the controversial founding president of Facebook as famously portrayed by Justin Timberlake in the Social Network. Additionally,Sean Parker serves as a board member of Spotify and is the chairman of the newly formed philanthropic endeavor, the Parker Foundation.

In a recent article featured in the Wall Street Journal, Sean Parker outlined the challenges of wielding so much power and financial clout for emerging tech barons. Sean describes this “new global elite” as a class comprised of true innovators and pioneers in telecommunications, Internet services, personal computing and other tech-based niches.  He reflects on the fact that over the past few decades, the grand shift in demand for technology services has in turn restructured the division of wealth among, well, the wealthiest.

Parker mentions that this class of people has been described as “ technologists, engineers and even geeks, but they all have one thing in common: They are hackers”.

He then goes on to describe the common characteristics of this hacker class. Parker claims Hackers share a skepticism of the establishment, a demand for transparency, an inborn ability to find weak spots in systems and a passion for exploiting the weaknesses of a system through the creation of elegant solutions. Most importantly, hackers maintain a steadfast belief in data as an integral part of problem solving.

After Mr. Parker seemingly concludes his description of the “typical hacker” as an outsider, he goes on to describe the driving force of idealism as a propellent back into the more traditional realm of philanthropy.

Parker admits, that while this desire to do good ushers these new radicals into a well-established milieu, the hacker elite is more interested in evaluating their own impact as opposed to partaking in the pageantry that can accompany such generous giving. In this article, Sean Parker provides a call to action for those looking to contribute large sums of money to generous causes.

Parker suggests that those looking to create a foundation or contribute to an endowment:

Give Early

Parker alludes to an extremely important difference in how you look at managing the capital behind a business vs the mindset behind managing the money in a foundation. Business mogul Warren Buffett recently shared this same sentiment at the Forbes philanthropy summit.  Parker suggests that the money spent through a foundation or a charitable cause should be spent now. You’re not trying to build an extensive reservoir of money to be held onto in perpetuity. Instead  you want the assets to go to issues we face today with the hope that this will positively impact both the present and the future.

Stay Small

Another important tips that Parker offers, particularly to those looking to start a foundation is the importance of staying small. Although well-established foundations  and government-run agencies may have some advantages in the form of larger endowments or certain tax breaks respectively, smaller foundations bear one huge advantage. And that is agility. By keeping  a foundation small, this organization remains unencumbered by decades of red tape.  A small and new foundation has the mobility to contribute and react in real time, whereas older or government bound organizations may not.

Although Mr. Parker was directly addressing the specifics of small, but growing class of tech-elites, the overarching sentiment can still be applied to people in other fields trying to figure out how to approach the broad concept of “giving back”.