Saturday, November 10, 2007

GIVING -- How Each of Us Can Change the World -- Bill Clinton

I purchased this book not because I am a big fan of Bill Clinton, but because I wanted to hear what he had to say about giving.

Frankly, I was quite disappointed. The book has a good introduction, excellent first and second chapters and a decent last chapter -- but most everything in-between is rather uninteresting; unless you want to hear about what Bill did (while president) and is doing -- and what his famous and wealthy friends have done and are doing.

While I would not recommend spending the money on this book, there were several things in the book that made me think or were fairly interesting. Let me mention a few.

1. Everyone can be great because everyone can serve.
- Martin Luther King

Great statement by a great man.

2. In every corner of America and all over the world, intelligence and energy are evenly distributed, but opportunity, investment and effective organizations aren't. As a result, billions of people are denied the chance to live their lives to the fullest, and millions die needlessly every year.

Because we live in an interdependent world, we cannot escape each other's problems.

Clinton identifies the three major reasons why people give to charities. I think these are quite interesting and should give those working to fund charitable organizations some food for thought.
  1. About 1/3 of all giving is directed towards places of worship and their affiliated activities.
  2. Another 1/3 is given towards local, national or global needs that are publicized in the media. Katrina, the Indonesian Tsunami and children in a local community needing medical help are examples.
  3. The final third of all giving is in response to local fund-raising activities by a group in which the donor is involved, or to which the donor is asked to give by a friend or family member.
4. Perhaps the most profound statements in the book are taken from a speech made by Bill Gates at Harvard University in June of 2007. Let me quote some of that speech here.

If you believe that every life has equal value, it's revolting to learn that some lives are seen as worth saving and others are not. . . . How can we let children die? The answer is simple, and harsh. The market did not reward saving the lives of these children, and governments did not subsidize it. So the children died because their mothers and fathers had no power in the market and no voice in the system. . . . If we can find approaches that meet the needs of the poor in ways that generate profits for business and votes for politicians, we will have found a sustainable way to reduce inequity in the world.

It is this last sentence that I find particularly sad. I think it is true -- but it is really very sad. What Bill Gates is saying is simply this -- the only way we can get the job done is if we can convince businesses that they can make more money by appearing to be concerned for the poor, and if we can convince politicians that being on the side of the poor will help them get elected.

I read this statement and I realized this is an indictment of the western world. If we can cater to the greed of corporations and politicians, then we can help the poor.

Perhaps this is what Bono has realized and why he started the "red" campaign. He convinced corporations to give a small percentage of their profits on some "red" items. It looked like this was good for business -- so corporations did this. No altruism here -- simply another way to make money.

Sad -- but unfortunately true.

Now I know that there are a small minority of business people who have a genuine concern for the poor (I've actually met some), and I know that there are some politicians who have a good heart and at least start out wanting to do what is right and just for everyone in our society. But, I think one would be hard-pressed to say that what Bill Gates said is not true. The good businesses and politicians out there are definitely in the minority.

5. Ideas are what change the world.
- Chris Stamos

6. We live in an interdependent world in which our survival depends upon an understanding that our common humanity is more important than our interesting and inevitable differences and that everyone matters.
- Bill Clinton

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