Wednesday, November 3, 1999

The Mother of All Charities

By AbuBasil

It was a long time ago in Africa. I was driving through a ramshackle of huts that passed for a hospital when I spotted a young mother leading a small child by the hand. The child turned its large, dark eyes toward me and in the next instant threw up blood that reached all the way to the ground. The next time I saw blood like that was when my nine-months pregnant wife's placenta ruptured and I had to rush her to the hospital. Within 30 minutes our fifth child had dramatically but safely entered the world.

Two mothers, two children, two totally different worlds. I'll never know what happened to the African child but I do know that neither my wife nor our daughter would have survived without the infrastructure that supports us in the developed world. And as the days in our sheltered lives have ticked by, I've often wondered how I could have helped that child or any other person not as fortunate as us.

Needless to say, we've donated bits and pieces now and then after being caught by some TV ad for charity. Usually it's an emergency appeal, but I know that these are just stop-gap measures. And besides, we all know that charities (a little like mutual funds) often carry expensive overheads, plush offices, high paid executives. And yes, there are the international organizations, like the various United Nations entities that also help. But most of these efforts operate within a tightly controlled web of international politics, a game of gain with little give, strong against weak, a pecking order that often plucks the poor and fattens the fat cats.

Governments will not solve these global issues, despite token gestures and foreign aid programs. Usually, they're too concerned with keeping your vote for a few years and cannot plan for the long term -- so the poor and disadvantaged will always be with us, here in our own countries and in increasing numbers in the undeveloped regions of the world.

And what can we do? As we grow richer, will history view us in the developed world as the sponge that sucked the rest of the world dry? Or could we be the river of life to so many, a fountain of riches sparkling across globe?

I believe that the Internet is another step towards a still-to-be-defined vision of global humanity. The net creates millions of rivulets of communication reaching around the world building an increasing global awareness. Why don't we use it to help, not just for enrichment and personal gain? Could this be a vehicle that generates a massive pooling of resources? And couldn't we build this? We can't wait for governments -- we the people need to look after the people.

I have an idea. It's simple. We Netizens should create our own charity that accumulates funds over the long term so that it can benefit from compounded growth. Once the fund has reached a certain size or has been held for say 50 years, it will start releasing this money. Just look at the numbers:

Number of People Donating / Donation Fund Value After 50 Years (at a compound growth of 10% p.a.)

Participants  Donation  Fund Value After 50 Years
1 million     $100      $11,739,085,288
5 million     $100      $58,695,426,440
10 million    $100      $117,390,852,880
50 million    $100      $586,954,264,398
100 million   $100      $1,173,908,528,797
200 million   $100      $2,347,817,057,594

Imagine, depending upon the number of people donating and the size of each contribution, we could create a fund that was anywhere from tens of billions to trillions of dollars in size. What government or organization will ever be able to command such an amount of money solely for the purpose of helping the less fortunate?

How would we manage this, determine responsibilities and rules? The fund would have to be managed by a reputable Netization (net-based organization). Well, I don't want to put The Motley Fool on the spot, but they seem perfectly set up for this task. The fund would grow its investments using TMF principles and all decisions would be debated in the message boards and democratically voted upon by the donors (current and future) -- that's us, you and me. Yes, you and me will build the Mother of all Charities and help to improve the world!

It might only happen beyond our lifetimes, but like a tree planted today, future generations will enjoy its fruit, shelter in its shade, and wonder at its beauty. Just maybe, they might even remember us and our foresight for their well-being. And we, we will be happy knowing that we have created a reservoir of wealth for this wondrous tree of life.

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