2005 was a year plagued by natural disasters of biblical proportions. These came in such rapid succession, they seemed to make mainstream America finally begin to accept as reality the gloom and doom of global warming that scientists have warned about for decades. It was a year to make people who might have scoffed at the notion of the greenhouse effect a couple years ago think seriously about things like alternative energy sources, sustainable farming practices, and trading in their SUVs for hybrids. There's no question that last year's natural disasters brought with them a sense of urgency for providing relief on a global scale, and it was understandably a year of record charitable giving.
If last year's Foolanthropy campaign (The Motley Fool's annual charity drive, now in its 10th year) had a theme, it would have been disaster relief. Of course, we tried to pick a range of charities as always, but we tended to gravitate to those with extensive operations, such as hurricane relief in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, earthquake aid in Pakistan, and tsunami aftermath assistance in Southeast Asia. In fact, of the five charities we picked, three were major players in the relief efforts here at home and around the globe: Humane Society of Louisiana, Mercy Corps, and Doctors Without Borders.
This year (so far), we've been lucky enough to escape such devastating natural disasters. Now that we have a little time to breathe, take a step back, and plan, we should seize the moment to work toward solutions to problems that might work for the long term. We may want to make 2006 the year of the sustainable solution.
While we can't prevent hurricanes or earthquakes no matter how much money or thought we put into it, we can put our support into programs that are working to improve the way we prepare for and respond to disasters, and into organizations working to rebuild the parts of our country and the globe that were rocked to their very core last year -- areas that are still reeling from the impact.
Lending our support to charities helping to rebuild one of our most cherished cities to a much safer, prepared, and less-impoverished standard is one way to do that. What's more sustainable than rebuilding the vital infrastructure of a whole city? To that end, Mercy Corps' Gulf Coast Recovery Program looks to "add value beyond the emergency phase." Initiatives include Comfort for Kids, which provides emotional security and developmental support to preschool children and training to their parents; Economic Recovery, the goal of which is to revitalize destroyed neighborhoods and empower small businesses; Youth Program, which addresses the psychosocial needs of older kids and their caregivers and offers grants supporting day care and after-school nonprofits; and the Gulf Coast Youth Program Recovery Fund, in which Mercy Corps teams up with UNICEF to support licensed day care providers, schools (preschool through grade 12), and after-school agencies.
And the Humane Society of Louisiana continues to struggle to care for the thousands of abandoned pets and strays in Louisiana, never stopping its immense pre-Katrina task of trying to end animal abuse and neglect in a part of the country notorious for it. The group has also successfully worked to pass legislation that allows for people to be evacuated with their pets in future emergencies, which, sadly, could have saved untold numbers of human as well as animal lives had it been in place pre-Katrina.
As for working to address the very-long-term environmental problems that may have helped contribute to the intensity of last year's storms, the ideas that green charitable organizations have espoused for years are finally beginning to fall into line with those of big energy corporations. Alternative energy sources are being seriously explored, and companies that include green grocer Whole Foods
Another way to think long-term is to consider how to fix one of the biggest problems on the planet -- poverty. Almost 3 billion people, half the world's population, live on less than $2 a day, according to the World Bank. While we can't expect to eradicate poverty from the globe, we can support organizations that give people a hand up instead of a handout.
In the past, Heifer International and Nobel Prize winner Grameen Bank have been very popular Foolanthropy recipients. Both work by making small loans (in Heifer's case, the gift of an animal) to help people pull themselves out of poverty for good by their own efforts. Both encourage small businesses, entrepreneurship, and the idea that people are better off when they're empowered to help themselves. And not only do recipients help themselves and their families, but they become productive members of their communities as well, helping the global village loan by loan.
And finally, for the first time this year, Foolanthropy has set aside one spot among our five for a financial literacy charity, as we think toward the future. In doing this, we hope to help educate people about finance in a new way, one that fits seamlessly with our everyday business of giving financial advice. Education is inherently self-sustaining, and if we can help educate people about managing their finances through charitable support as well as by our own efforts at Fool.com, we'll be helping that many more people avoid foolish (small f) money mistakes that can have serious consequences on their quality of life -- learning to avoid bankruptcy, being able to afford to retire without working well into the golden years, and more. To learn more about financial literacy, get Fluent in Finances.
So the goal this year, I propose, is to teach people to fish, versus handing them the catch of the day -- day after day after day. Or if they already know how to fish, let's set them up with a proper fishing pole and a clean pond to fish in.
I've only touched on a few of the ways we can make a self-sustaining difference as a group. If you have ideas about charities you think offer long-term solutions to problems facing the planet today, we're asking you to post them on our free Foolanthropy discussion board. We're taking nominations through Friday, Nov. 10, and we'll announce the five we think are most Foolish on Nov. 20.
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