By Cheryl Mahoney
It feels unnatural to me to be promoting a TV show, but this show is definitely not the usual sort that populates the vast wasteland of television programming. Last week I watched the first episode of The Philanthropist, airing Wednesdays on NBC. Maybe you watched it too–I hear the ratings were pretty high.
If you didn’t watch, here’s the run-down on the premise (and why you want to watch next time!) The Philanthropist follows the journey, literally and figuratively, of Teddy Rist, American billionaire and businessman. Inspired by the death of his son and a humanitarian crisis in Nigeria (that was episode one), Teddy feels compelled to do more than sit in his office and occasionally throw money at a problem. He travels all over the world, confronting problems like poverty and human trafficking from on the ground, instead of from behind a desk. Last week he trekked through the jungle of Nigeria to deliver cholera vaccine. This week he goes to Myanmar and tries to help a girl in need of a kidney transplant.
The Philanthropist does a good job showing both the challenges and rewards of international volunteering–the difficulties to face, but also the real impact and relationships made. There is probably more action-adventure involved than normally happens in volunteering, but I can promise you (at least from the first episode) that it isn’t unduly violent or bloody.
The show did something a few times that I liked very much–starting from a scene of the characters, the camera would pull way, way back…the village, the surrounding landscape, the continent, finally the whole globe. This was a beautiful visual on how small we are, and yet so connected, all on this one planet.
My favorite moment, however, was when Teddy told the head of his foundation, “I want to do more than write a check.” That’s what the show is about. That’s what international volunteering is about. Who knew a television drama could capture such an inspiring idea?
The show isn’t completely fictional–partially, yes, but Teddy Rist is in fact based on Robert Sager, real-life philanthropist who travels the world to confront problems head-on, feet on the ground, hands dirty. You can read about his story on his website, TeamSager.org. I’m also proud to say that UniversalGiving just launched a partnership with the Sager Foundation, to provide our international volunteering opportunities.
So if you want to do more than write a check, come talk to us. And watch The Philanthropist Wednesday at 10 pm on NBC.