The Elastic Twenty…

By the UniversalGiving Team

The New York Times Freakonomics blog published a fascinating post recently about a millionaire following around a squatter to learn about his habits and how he sustains himself each day. The article, about philanthropy getting personal, shows Michael the wealthy do-gooder literally floored at some points by a man who so candidly explains the importance of always keeping an extra cigarette on hand as a means of barter. As Michael finds himself confronted by the lack of adequate shelters and services for the poor, and struggling to survive on a meagre budget, he is chronicled by Sudhir Venkatesh, author of several recent books dedicated to urban poverty.

Michael is a multi-millionaire with the intention of starting a family foundation over the next couple of years. After becoming frustrated by fawning wealth management consultants who feed him such gems as “charity is a windmill turning intent into action,” on the subject of giving without ever really getting down to brass tacks, he decides to take matters into his own hands by spending a year with Sudhir Venkatesh trying to understand poverty in urban America, starting with his stint as an honorary squatter in Chicago.

All very noble.

However, we’re not all Michaels. We don’t all have the time or necessarily the inclination to follow a low-income man around to ‘see how the other half lives’. And let’s be honest most of us struggle a bit too at some point in our lives.

But just as Michael began to get a better understanding of the value of $20, we too can learn from his experience. Money can go much further than we think sometimes.

It can be easy to shy away from a regular charity commitment or donation but there are one-off giving options where a little money goes a long way. One of my personal favorites is Nothing But Nets; founded by Ted Turner, they work with the UN to deliver malaria nets to villages all over Africa. Each net is $10, and they’ve taken a ‘lighter’ approach to promoting themselves. Their website shows an interactive game where kids can motorscooter through a village handing out nets to villagers, and they use a giant mosquito mascot at PR events to encourage awareness.

And here are a few more giving options for $20 and under with UniversalGiving:

$10 – Provides Gardening Tools for a Cambodian Family

$15 – Can pay for 3 Vision Exams and a Pair of Glasses for a person in Guatemala

$20 – Supplies a Lifetime of Safe Drinking Water for a person in Vietnam

$20 – Helps to Distribute Medical Supplies and Equipment in Bolivia

I’ll keep you posted on Michael’s philanthropic journey. Ironically it’s a luxury only he can afford!

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