“But you wonder if it’s all even making a difference.”
My friend Teri and I were talking about all of the new developments in philanthropic giving. There are the generous “Giving Pledges” by the likes of Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffet. There’s the more than $5 billion (and growing) in charitable funds raised annually via crowd-funding. There’s a notable increased corporate focus on giving back. And parents now actively engage their children in conversations and activities around giving from an early age.
But her question nags us all.
Because paging through the morning news headlines of ISIS, the Ferguson case, and Ebola, you have to ask…is the world becoming a better place?
And if your name is not Bill or Melinda, do your contributions even make a difference?
Luckily, I had just finished reading “A Path Appears: Transforming Lives, Creating Opportunity” by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. So I couldn’t wait to answer the question with a resounding “yes!” and cite all of the achievements made globally in poverty alleviation, literacy, and disease.
But I didn’t know any of the supporting statistics off the top of my head.
I should. We all should. Otherwise it’s too easy to get pulled along in the headlines of what still needs to be done.
So I went back to the book to remind myself:
- In 1980, 50% of the developing world lived in extreme poverty (less than $1.25 per person per day). Today, it’s 20%.
- In 1950, the majority of adults worldwide were illiterate. Today, the adult illiteracy rate globally is 16%.
- The number of children dying before age five has been halved since 1990 (even with more children on earth today).
- Crippling diseases like leprosy and polio are literally on their way out, while diseases like AIDS and malaria will likely be eliminated in the next 20-30 years.
I paused to put these achievements in the context of my own life. The pre-1940 U.S. census records list most of my Polish ancestors as illiterate. Sally Struthers’ pleas to help the masses of starving babies in Africa were a constant in my childhood TV viewing. I remember the early 1990s movie “Philadelphia” particularly striking me, as suddenly spreadable life-threatening disease wasn’t just in far-flung places, but could impact professional, educated, urban Americans.
The remarkable advances in poverty alleviation, literacy, and disease don’t just stem from charitable efforts– government policies, corporate investment, and individual contributions have been key.
But with today’s accelerated focus on philanthropy and impact investing, just think about what the next 20-30 years might bring.
That potential for impact is exciting. It’s something I want to be a part of, though I’m no Bill or Melinda.
But “giving” goes beyond dollars. It’s volunteering time, it’s advocacy. It’s sweat equity. It’s figuring out what you care about. It’s using your talents and skills to impact the lives of others.
So that might be going to Africa, spending a month coaching 20 high school girls in Kenya as I was able to do this summer. Sure, the girls likely learned some valuable skills from me.
But the experience gave me tools and credibility to be a better advocate for girls’ education.
Since returning home, I’ve found my corporate skills in strategy, marketing, and distribution incredibly transferable in supporting girls education organizations. I’ve hosted events, developed marketing processes, connected best practices across different organizations, and have become a coach to others so they can be better advocates. My efforts are scalable.
So in the spirit of Giving Tuesday, let’s “spend” some money in ways that make much more of a difference. But also take a moment to consider the unique, scalable ways you can give—your time, skills, and in your own or others’ advocacy.
Because all of us are indeed making a difference.