A couple days ago I read a blog post in which the following question was posed: “What if you were a wealthy philanthropist who could write a $100 million check to fund any infrastructure or public project in Brooklyn? What would it be?” It’s an interesting question to be sure, as were many of the answers (bike lanes, trolley cars, etc.). However, my mind wandered and I asked myself, “what would I do if I had $100 million to spend?”
The interesting thing about having that much money is that you can’t really blow it on stuff. I mean, sure, you’ll buy maybe a half-dozen nice cars, a couple nice homes, a PlayStation 3 from eBay, and a new wardrobe (which would add up to maybe a few million) but that which costs into the tens-of-millions are investments, usually some kind of real estate or business (which includes stocks/bonds). Those who have that kind of money are keenly aware of the difference between an asset (that which brings in money) and a liability (that which takes your money) so they usually purchase assets (therefore making themselves even more money).
So after buying a few million dollars of worldliness I would have to decide what to do with the remainder. Because (after I spend millions on myself) I’m the most giving person I know, I would want to help ease the suffering of others around the world. There are countless ways of accomplishing this (giving money to the Red Cross, working in an African orphanage, donating supplies to Katrina victims, etc.) but I’ve come to the conclusion that the most effective way to help people is to help them help themselves. Or, in other words, teach them to fish.
One of the greatest inventions of our time is microcredit (small loans to the poor who are not bankable for the purpose of education or entrepreneurship). The brilliant thing about this concept is that it is a cradle-to-cradle system. The lender is lending money, not donating it. You can start out with a million dollars, loan it all out, and after the term you will have your million dollars back (plus any interest you impose, minus any defaults). You are giving to the poor and getting your money back. Muhammad Yunus and the Grameen Bank just won the Nobel Prize for their work in pioneering this idea.
If you’re thinking that the Church already does this with the Perpetual Education Fund, you’re thinking would be right. Their fund specializes in (wait for it…) education. From what I gather it’s been very successful.
Yesterday I discovered one of the greatest ideas I’ve seen in a long time, a website called Kiva that allows anyone to be the microlender. I can get on, research the database of entrepreneurs (in poor countries around the world) and choose to whom I will lend money to (as low as $25). Because of certain checks and balances they claim a 95% repayment record. That’s pretty dang good.
Yeah, yeah, I know, it’s not a perfect system, lots of people default, millions of people need fresh water more than a loan, I know all that. But I just can’t help but think that this is the best system available for helping the largest number of people out of poverty. And besides, I’ve already got my Rolls Royces.