$10 Philanthropy: Change for Change (Part II)

Premal & Anis

by Anis Salvesen

The Commonwealth Club.  It sounds like some brick-walled, ivy covered institution where old people sit around and drink tea or smoke cigars.  It was really intriguing to me that they have a program called INFORUM is a division of The Commonwealth Club by and for people in their 20s and 30s, with a mission to inspire debate around civic issues. Imagine my excitement when I found out I could attend a forum there called “$10 Philanthropy: Change for Change in Ten Minutes.”

The best part?  The impressive lineup of speakers:  Darian Heyman (current Member, United Nations GAID High-Level Panel of Advisors & former executive director of the Craigslist Foundation), Premal Shah (President, Kiva),   Joe Engle ( Sales Associate, Network for Good ) and Jacob Colker, Co-founder and CEO, The Extraordinaries ).

If you have not read Part I, it’s not a problem.   These panelists have such great things to say, it’s like one of those really interesting, animated conversations where you don’t necessarily need to have been there from the beginning to become engaged.

Here is Part II:

You brought up the term “slacktivism,” Jacob. ..It’s really easy to do something that appears meaningful and whether or not it’s meaningful is up for debate. ..Doing something for 10 minutes is essentially meaningless, and people that are doing it are essentially slackers.       Do you agree or disagree?

Premal:  My view right now is that the enemy is disengagement, apathy, ignorance.  So many hours are spent playing video games than thinking about how to make the world a better place.  The view at Kiva is that we can give someone something even really small – for example, you can translate a profile that’s uploaded from Senegal in French to English. …Or..something really small and frictionless; that is so much better than you not having engaged.

In Wikipedia, are these slackers who just edit small little articles, or have they created an incredible public good? One out of every two hundred page loads on the internet is a Wikipedia page.  And it’s a nonprofit.   If we can give people really small ways to participate..you can see some really big change over time.

Darian:  It’s also issue-specific.  There may be certain issues that because a friend forwards me a petition, I’ll sign; but I’m not necessarily going to take a leadership role in it.  And there’s other issues..where I will step to the front.   The reality is it takes a mix of all of that from all of us to really make the world a better place.

JacobMillenials, the largest generation in American history (75M) that were raised on texting, video games, these very quick experiences that they have.  With The Extraordinaries we approach it from the angle of if we can engage them..even for 3 or 4 minutes, our hope is that over time, that will be the gateway drug to enhance civic engagement and channel them to other opportunities for social good.

Let’s talk a little bit about innovation.  What are some of the innovations that organizations are doing that make it really easy for people to engage in a meaningful way? [Premal mentions e-mail signature lines]

Premal, we’ve talked a little bit about Kiva, and I just wonder if you can talk a little bit more…about kiva, what it’s about, how many people it’s helped.

Premal:  Kiva’s a website that allows you to make loans in $25 increments to developing world entrepreneurs.   And we just recently opened up here in the United States. .. It’s about three-and-a-half years old, and in that time about 500,000 people have made $80M in loans..to help out about 200,000 entrepreneurs in 50 countries.  The first year we raised $1M, and we do it every week now – one million dollars.  We don’t have a marketing budget; it’s just people telling people.

In terms of some of the innovations..a real frictionless, low barrier to entry kind of process. It doesn’t have to be about the money ; you can volunteer at Kiva by just translating a profile from Spanish to English.  You can change your signature line on your e-mail.  We want everyone to be involved and co-create this internet public good with us.

We think a lot about gaming mechanics, and how do we compete with video games, which, I think, is really the competition here.  How do we make this an addictive experience, that you would rather go to Kiva and surf around the website than play Solitaire on your..computer or World of Warcraft.   There’s a lot of that we still need to do.  But that’s where I think a lot of the innovation’s going to come from..transparency and gaming dynamic applied to fundraising.

What else is innovative out there?  What are unusual ways that other organizations are figuring this out. ..Maybe Jacob, you can talk a little bit about The Extraordinaries.

Jacob:  An excellent point is that the enemy is video games.  Just on government computers, we spend 9 billion hours a year playing Solitaire.  Ok. Solitaire.  In comparison, it only took 7 million [hours] to build the Empire State Building.  This is the kind of human energy we’re talking about.  We spend 4.6 hours a week playing mobile video games.  The point is, video games are fun and engaging, and there’s something you can feel rewarded from in a very short amount of time.

Our approach at The Extraordinaries is to look at all of the spare time we have – the 51 minutes we spend on public transportation to and from work, the 18 minutes you spend standing in an airport security line. ..We have all this spare time.  We..offer somebody the opportunity to pull out their phone and in a few moments engage with a cause or community..they care about.

I think the interesting thing all of you..are saying is this idea of meeting people where they’re at rather than trying to get people to come to you.  I think also of the social networks.  I wonder if there are examples of meeting people where they’re at.

Damian:  I can bring it into the real world as well as online marketing.  Every year I work with something called the Power To The Peaceful Festival here in San Francisco (coming up on September 12th). ..It’s a huge free concert for peace and social justice.  For me, as opposed to meeting people where they’re at, it’s more about offering different options and going wider, but also deeper.  Just by coming to the festival, those 70,000 people are going to have their awareness heightened.  Then there’s going to be a subset of that group that want to engage on a deeper level.  That’s a more real world example.

On the online side, I work with a group called Project Ahimsa, which is a global effort to empower children through music.  We just launched our first benefit album, and now it’s up to #5 on the iTunes charts.  We just passed Bob Marley.  That is only really possible because of the tremendous viral marketing and people telling each other.  Some might call that “slacktivism.”  All people are doing is downloading an album, and ultimately that’s going to result in programs for poor children in the slums of India.  The main point is that every action counts, and in tandem, if we give people options to go wide as well as deep, it all really adds up.

What about my mother-in-law on Facebook?  Is anybody doing anything that could get her to use her Facebook page for something good?

Premal:  Well there’s Facebook Causes, which is a very interesting app.  Essentially if you back a cause..say Unicef, you can..show it on your page..and..very easily invite other people.  But what’s interesting about meeting people where they’re at is you make people feel good with quick feedback loops.  In the case of Facebook, they actually have leader boards so you can..beat your friends, or..see where you are; you’re a top fundraiser, or you’re a top recruiter for Unicef.  And you get quick updates on your impact or your lack of impact.  And I think that’s a really big part of what’s made that successful.

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There was a Q&A, and then the presenters were gracious enough to hang around for a bit for the audience to meet them.

Here’s what happened in my case:

Oh my god, I get to meet the Premal Shah!  Is my lipstick fine?  No wait, I have to focus on more serious preparation.  Aaahhhh!  I get to meet Premal!

So I walk over to the front of the room, where some of the panelists are holding court (not that any of them were arrogant).  Naturally Premal was popular, so I chatted with another attendee who it turns out recently wrote a book about volunteering.  Anyway, I realize the photo I took of the podium was rather dull, so maybe I could get a photo of Premal.  It seemed eerily crazy-celebrity fan-like to just snap his photo, so I decided to ask if we could take a picture together – which I now realize is not that much less crazed fan-like.

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