Jan
11
2010

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Dan Morrison is CEO and founder of Citizen Effect. Learn more about Dan and Citizen Effect at the bottom of the post.

We are seeing a sea change in philanthropy. Traditionally, philanthropy and international development was left to the big guys - governments, multi-lateral institutions, and foundations. While the 20th century was the era of the Rockefellers, MacArthurs and Fords, the 21st century will see the rise of the new philanthropists or Citizen Philanthropists - students, young professionals, and retirees that don't want to outsource ‘doing good’ to large organizations. They want to do it themselves, to bring their social networks together and to see the direct impact they are having on a community in need.

The traditional players dominated philanthropy in the past, not only because they had the money, but because they also had the access and the expertise required to go half way around the world to provide critical services to communities in need. The cost and scope of large development projects necessitated a top down approach. Some of that money did a lot of good - bringing water, food and life's basic needs to hundreds of millions of people. Some of it unfortunately did a lot of bad - leading to dependence, corruption, and poor resource allocation. Today, billions still live without adequate water, sanitation, food, and life's most basic necessities.

Now, we are seeing two critical changes in the development and philanthropy world. First, communities in need are asking for small projects that they can control and complete themselves if given access to the required financial resources. Second, citizen donors no longer want to just give, they want to build relationships with the community that receives their financial contribution and they want to see their direct impact.

Statistics that say "1.4 billion people live below $1.25 a day and 2 billion lack access to sanitation" are being replaced with "500 people in Vaccharajpur Village (Gujarat India) need $5,000 to build a sustainable well to access clean water." The first statistic is abstract and unsolvable for even the wealthiest philanthropist. The second is tangible and doable for a group of friends that get together and leverage their social network to raise the money.

The rationale for communities in need wanting to take control of their own development is clear. Rather than wait for large infrastructure projects that are often over promised and under delivered, local communities want projects that address their immediate needs, allowing them to be more self-reliant and sustainable. It may take years to bring electricity to a community, but a targeted solar project can provide light to a community in months, allowing people to work and study after dark and create a safer community at night.

On the flip side, many small donors don't want to just give $50 anymore. Small donors also want to know the impact their charitable dollar is having. Small donors may only be able to budget a charitable gift of $50, but they want to leverage their social network of friends, family and colleagues to raise $5,000. These types of donors are Citizen Philanthropists and are driven by the desire to make and see the impact they are producing in the communities they are giving to.

The change in the philanthropy market is happening for several reasons. First, top down development, while having helped millions, often leaves out communities that are most in need. Connecting rural communities or sprawling slums to public water and electricity projects is in many cases cost prohibitive and near impossible to maintain. Second, local communities in need are dissatisfied with the results of large development projects. Farmers all over the world are still hungry and wondering why they are growing cash crops while their families starve. Third, technology, the Internet and mobile communication are connecting people of all income levels from all over the world (my iPhone works better in the salt pans of Gujarat, India than in my DC apartment). And fourth, average citizens in wealthy countries no longer want to outsource doing good to large organizations. They want to see the impact of their donations and build relationships with their partner communities.

The confluence of these trends has created the microphilanthropy movement. Communities in need of small but critical projects or microloans are now connecting with citizen philanthropists and sharing the impact the contribution is having on the community. They send money and messages to each over the Internet and by mobile devices. The small projects they complete together will not solve the global water or food crisis, but they will solve the water or food crisis in one community.

Citizen philanthropists will by no means replace USAID or the Gates Foundation. These organizations address issues and crises that need the large scale these organizations provide. However, citizen philanthropists will strongly compliment them and should be supported by them. At Citizen Effect, we estimate that in a few years, every $1 spent on operational expenses will empower a citizen philanthropist to send $15 to a small but critical project in the field. Large organizations can therefore leverage citizen philanthropists to have a much greater impact at the community level where their large programs cannot reach.

Citizen philanthropy does have one more strong advantage over traditional approaches that was well summarized by a woman in Gujarat, India.

"I don't need you to tell us what to do. What I need is for you to help me take advantage of the opportunities right in front of me. I cannot take advantage of them now because I have to walk four hours a day for water. Help me become more self-reliant by building a well, but trust me to use my time the way I feel I can be most productive."

While she was an elderly woman that never went to school, she used her time to start a bike rental business and now gives loans to other women in her village.

Microphilanthropy is taking off because citizens in wealthy countries, even in this economic climate, are capable of giving their time and money to a cause they believe in and they no longer want to outsource their ability to do good to large organizations. At the same time, communities in need around the world are seeking new partners to help them address critical needs that will help them decide how they want to develop. Technology is bringing them together and creating possibilities we never imagined before.

About Dan Dan was a strategic consultant working on Middle East policy and economic development issues before he met Reema Nanavaty of the Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) and took a trip to India in December 2006. After coming back, he brought his friends and family together to build a well in a poor, rural community in Gujarat India with SEWA’s help. Over the next couple years, Dan created Citizen Effect based on the belief that anyone could be a philanthropist, whether you are a grade school girl, small business owner, or retiree on a fixed income. Citizen Effect calls them ‘Citizen Philanthropists’. To be a Citizen Philanthropist, all you need are the tools to harness your passion for change and to bring your friends, family and social network together to raise more money than you could give yourself. Citizen Effect is now working in six countries around the world and empowering people all over the United States to partner with a community in need to complete a small but critical project and have a direct and significant impact in the lives of those in need. To learn more about Citizen Effect and to become a Citizen Philanthropist, please visit www.CitizenEffect.org/about_us, or email Dan at dan.morrison@citizeneffect.org.

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