How Would You Design the World?

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Foolanthropy 2006 Donations
Charity Amt. Raised
Co-op America $169,425
NFTE $91,341
Rare Conservation $30,047
Room to Read $25,266
Half the Sky $21,350
TOTAL $337,429
As of January 9, 2007
Foolanthropy 2006
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By Robert Brokamp
January 5, 2007

Only three days left in this season's Foolanthropy campaign! Visit to learn about five reader-nominated charities and make a donation.

One of the many benefits of the Internet -- besides allowing us to relive curious moments in underwear ad history -- is the ability to view speeches by some of the world's greatest thinkers. We here at The Motley Fool consider Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE: BRK-A)(NYSE: BRK-B) Chairman Warren Buffett among the best brains of our time. And recently, I stumbled upon an online video of a speech Buffett gave at the University of Florida. Per usual, he mixed investing lessons with life lessons. Here's one of the latter:

"Let's just assume it was 24 hours before you were born, and a genie came to you, and he said, 'Herb, you look very promising, and I have a big problem. I've got to design the world in which you are going to live in. I have decided it is too tough; you design it. So you have 24 hours. You figure out what the social rules should be, the economic rules, and the governmental rules, and you and your kids and their kids will live under those rules.

"You say, 'I can design anything? There must be a catch.' The genie says, 'There is a catch. You don't know if you are going to be born black or white, rich or poor, male or female, infirm or able-bodied, bright or retarded. All you know is you are going to take one ball out of a barrel with 5.8 billion. You are going to participate in the ovarian lottery. And that is going to be the most important thing in your life, because that is going to control whether you are born here [in America] or in Afghanistan or whether you are born with an IQ of 130 or an IQ of 70. It is going to determine a whole lot. What type of world are you going to design?'

"I think it is a good way to look at social questions, because not knowing which ball you are going to get, you are going to want to design a system that is going to provide lots of goods and services, because you want people, on balance, to live well."

So what kind of world would you design -- besides the obvious things, like everyone gets an afternoon nap and french fries are free? My guess is you'd design a world where everyone had a fair shake at success. You may not require that everyone has the exact same skills, but an ideal world would have everyone starting off on a level playing field. For example, you'd probably create a world where every child has a home and a caring adult or two who will watch over that child and let him or her know that someone cares.

Unfortunately, the world we live in is not ideal. There are children throughout the world -- thousands and thousands of them -- who don't have a home, or even an adult who is looking out for them. They may be in an institution where they have enough to eat and a bed in which to sleep, but that's pretty much it.

Fortunately, however, there are people who work to make the world a better place for these children. One such group of people is Half the Sky, an organization that provides nurturing care and enrichment programs for thousands of orphaned children in China. It is also one of five organizations chosen for this year's Foolanthropy campaign. As explained on its Foolanthropy page, Half the Sky helps these children, 95% of whom are girls, through four programs:

  • The Baby Sisters Program, which provides trained nannies who cuddle, sing, and play with their small charges, helping them avoid the problems that are so common in institutionalized children who have been fed and clothed but not cherished.

  • The Little Sisters Program, which offers preschools designed not only to prepare children to succeed in primary school, but also to help develop the "whole child," to help each young learner attain the positive sense of self so often missing in institutionalized children.

  • The Big Sisters Program, which provides older children growing up in orphanages with individualized learning opportunities, according to their own interests, talents, and aspirations.

  • The Family Village Program, which provides loving, permanent families for children whose medical and developmental challenges preclude them from finding adoptive families. Instead of facing the probability that they will spend their entire childhood in orphanages, the children live in HTS Family Villages with loving parents who have pledged to take care of them all the way to adulthood.

Half the Sky pays for its programs partially through partnerships with corporations such as Goldman Sachs (NYSE: GS), JPMorgan Chase (NYSE: JPM), UPS (NYSE: UPS), Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT), and McDonald's (NYSE: MCD), which, through the Ronald McDonald House Charities, will underwrite the costs of two complete Children's Centers and 10 new Family Villages.

But Half the Sky still relies on donations from individuals. Given how far a dollar goes in China, a donation can go a long way. Fifty dollars will sponsor a nanny for a month; it could also pay for special outings and adventures at an orphanage or preschool. One hundred dollars will buy an entire month's of supplies for a school. Three hundred dollars will sponsor a child for an entire year.

It's up to you
There's no genie who will ask you to design the perfect world. But you can do things to make the world a much better place. One of those things is to support organizations such as Half the Sky. If you'd like to learn more, visit the Half the Sky Foolanthropy page.

JPMorgan Chase and UPS are both Motley Fool Income Investor recommendations. Microsoft is a Motley Fool Inside Value pick.

Rule Your Retirement newsletter service advisor Robert Brokamp and his wife adopted a 10-month-old girl from a Half the Sky orphanage in Gaoyou City, China.