Posted on November 24, 2011 by Clarence Ceniza
With all the world’s distractions and never-ending responsibilities, we sometimes get so caught up in our own worries and personal quests for gratification that we forget to reach out to others.
In a society that has its priorities confused, here are five powerful TEDTalks to remind us of what really matters. Each talk highlights the importance of giving and challenges us to rethink the way we give. It is a fact that life is short, so let us make it count by making a difference with others.
1. Katherine Fulton: You are the future of Philanthropy
In this inspirational talk, Katherine Fulton asks us to imagine ourselves in the future of philanthropy not as a passive observer but as an active participant. While it is easy to revert to a traditional assumption that only the wealthy can make a difference, she offers several examples proving otherwise.
The prevalence of online philanthropy marketplaces offering micro-financing, such as Kiva or GiveIndia, challenges the assumption that organized giving can only be initiated by powerful organizations. She argues that there has never been a point in time when an average individual held as much power as he holds now, referring to the “philanthropy of all of us all” or the “democratization of philanthropy”.
Many of us are guilty of the cynical mentality that, as a mere individual, we cannot possibly make a difference. But in this highly technological and connected world, each of us is more capable than ever to reach out and help. Through mass collaboration, individuals can be mobilized towards a common cause.
Another common excuse that is particularly fitting in a world currently struggling with economic difficulties is that some of us may not be in the privileged position to offer financial help to others. However, as this talk conveys, regardless who we are or what our economic status is, there is always a way to give. She notes that philanthropy is not necessarily about money. The real essence of philanthropy is in sharing our time and talent, a crucial point that the next talk in the list further illustrates.
Fulton describes the future of philanthropy as one that is open, big, fast, connected and long (in reference to sustainability). Ultimately, her talk reminds us that we have the power to shape our future and change it for the better. I cannot think of anything more reassuring than that.
2. Ben Rigby: Micro-Volunteering – Giving Back for Busy People
Second on our list is Ben Rigby’s talk on micro-volunteering. He shares what I consider to be a perfect example of the “future of philanthropy” as described by Katherine Fulton in the previous talk, only this time, it is a future that has been realized and already in action.
Micro has become a utopian buzzword in a world that is constantly busy and on the move. Rigby concedes that we are living increasingly hectic lives, yet, as he points out using some eye-opening statistics, 24 million hours are spent playing online solitaire and a total of 338 million hours are spent on Facebook, every single day. It is indeed a tremendously large amount of time that could be put to good use. While he does not condemn people spending time tending their virtual crops on online games such as FarmVille, this illustrates the possibility of sparing some of these minutes to contribute to something beyond the virtual world.
This is where micro-volunteering comes in. Defined as philanthropy done in small bits of time, this is the very idea that ignited Rigby’s Sparked.com, an online “micro-volunteering network that allows people to volunteer on-demand and on-the-spot using mobile phones and the Internet”. The whole idea is to transform volunteerism, making it more:
- convenient, by utilizing devices we already have in our own pockets,
- bite-sized, by taking big projects and splitting them up into manageable pieces allowing us to be able to do significant and fulfilling things in our spare time, and lastly,
- network-managed, which signals the move from the hierarchical, management-model of organizations to a more collaborative network-model which distributes the amount of work across the network and enables peer-review.
Technology, which has always been seen as a double-edged sword, now offers us a redeeming chance to make a big difference, with what little time we have left. Being busy is certainly no longer a valid excuse.
While the cynics in us might scoff at the idea of helping out of convenience, it is a reality that we will have to embrace. Micro-volunteerism, along with micro-financing as discussed in Katherine Fulton’s talk, provides a practical, sustainable alternative and perhaps even serve as a complementary activity to bigger philanthropic endeavors.
3. Sasha Dichter: The Generosity Experiment
Can you say yes to every request for help? In this stimulating talk recorded at NextGen:Charity conference, Acumen Fund’s Business Development Director Sasha Dichter shares his 30-day generosity experiment where he said yes to every person who asked for help. His message is simple: be as generous as you can be.
With his background in fundraising, Dichter observed that we have become too comfortable living within the extremes of the spectrum: with philanthropy on one end, where we give our money in exchange for social change, and the market on the other, where we aim our efforts towards maximized financial returns with little or no regard for social impact. He suggests exploring the space in between, and through his experiment, understood the value of saying yes not just in his personal life but also in the organization that he runs, which continues to lend funds to enterprises that support socially beneficial projects.
The experiment began when he encountered a man on the train who asked him for money. He did what most of us would do and responded with a no, thinking that it was the smart move but later felt that he had done the wrong thing. Compelled to change a habit, he embarked on a month-long experiment of saying yes, to alter his perception on giving.
Like him, I also rarely give to people on the streets thinking that it is more rational and safer to say no and help non-profit organizations instead, that can guarantee where my money goes. However, as Dichter appropriately points out, we have a tendency to hide behind what we think is smart and in end up not necessarily doing what is right.
By saying no, we are cultivating a habit of distrust and are allowing ourselves to be critical and judgmental of people we hardly know. As he perfectly sums up, “no becomes who you are and what you do”. In the end, the experiment became more than just giving a handout to the man on the street, but cultivated an attitude of generosity.
This talk strongly resonated with me as I, too often, also approach giving with a lot of skepticism for fear of being taken advantage of. We are too focused on doing things with guaranteed, quantifiable results that we are forgetting to consider the fact that the man who just asked for help may genuinely be in need of one. There might be no easy way of finding out where the money that we give goes, but philanthropy, Dichter reminds us, is about taking a leap.
While he does not advocate completely saying yes to everything, at the heart of the experiment is allowing your heart to think first, before your head. So the next time someone asks us for help, let us remind ourselves that a yes opens up opportunities whereas a no marks a dead end. We also have to realize that it is often better to be happy, than to be right.
4. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala: Want to help Africa? Do business here
In this eye-opening talk filmed in 2007, Nigeria’s de facto Prime Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala discusses the state of Africa and stresses that the assistance it really needs from the rest of the world is trade and not aid.
Africa remains home to many of the world’s poorest people and thinking about it easily brings to mind negative images of poverty, conflict and corruption. Okonjo-Iweala does not deny the existence of these things but she also contends that “there’s an Africa that you don’t hear about very much,” one with a lot of promise and where people are looking for partnerships to uplift their lives. Backed by data, along with her personal and professional experience, she paints what seems to be an idealistic picture of Africa and its people.
Africa, she explains, is going through extensive reformation, from economics to politics and pointed out that even the fight against corruption and dictatorship is already raging on. In her talk, Okonjo-Iweala focuses on Nigeria due to the fact that one in four sub-Saharan Africans lives in Nigeria. The country is also witnessing unprecedented liberalization of its markets, which has prompted growth in telecommunications, agriculture, construction, real-estate and financial services. It is a crucial moment in Africa’s history and Okonjo-Iweala calls for those outside the continent to partner with their promising people.
While grateful for charity, Okonjo-Iweala explains that what the people need is the ability to be empowered and be put in charge of their own destinies. “The best way to help Africans today is to help them to stand on their own feet, and the best way to do that is by helping create jobs” she says. While handouts are not necessarily bad, helping people to help themselves has a far more long-lasting effect than the mere act of giving aid.
The theme of philanthropy in this talk may appear too specific as it focuses on Africa alone but the lessons we can learn from it is universal. I selected this talk for the simple reason that it encourages the creation of opportunities, rather than propagating pity. As an overused, but nevertheless appropriate Chinese proverb goes, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”
I believe that enabling opportunities, such as trade, encourages people to be more self-sufficient and disciplined. Those who work with borrowed funds are motivated to grow their businesses in order to pay back the loans and consequently, benefit themselves and their community. In the end, it is also a matter of giving them a sense of pride and empowerment, which no money will ever be able to quantify.
5. Jean Oelwang – Stop Saving the World, Start Reinventing
The final talk in the list is a little gem from TEDxOxbridge filmed in July this year. With less than a thousand views on YouTube, this is one talk that deserves to be seen and heard by more people due to the powerful message it carries. While it does not talk about generosity in a generic sense, it offers a different perspective on giving by encouraging us to save the world through reinvention.
As the current Occupy movements sweep the globe, Jane Oelwang’s talk becomes even more relevant and timely, as it deals with the existence of fundamental systems that no longer match the world’s current circumstances. Furthermore, her message also encompasses a wide array of issues, ranging from poverty alleviation to the conservation of the environment. She explains that we are going through a perfect storm of three crises: poverty, financial and environmental.
She believes that businesses, governments and even NGOs have created a system that only traps people in a cycle of poverty. Businesses, for example, are too focused on profit while the governments are preoccupied with short-term votes and are limited by their geographical boundaries. Even the NGOs, which I admittedly find to be a surprising inclusion, apparently puts up a heroic front but does not always scale in terms of efforts and reach.
In addition, the recent financial crisis, according to her, demonstrated not only how interconnected human beings were but also highlighted the inequity in the world, with Wall Street bonuses topping 20 billion dollars in 2009, more than the GDP of 64 individual countries.
We also consume natural resources at a rate far too high than the planet could replenish, which exacerbates the environmental crisis. “What we have done is we have created all these artificial systems where we put consumption as king and we certainly have not put Mother Nature as queen” Oelwang states.
Although her persuasive illustration of the perfect storm results in a rather depressing realization, she does offer a message of hope, citing that there could not have been a more exciting time than now to turn the systems upside down with the technology, tools and intelligence we possess.
She suggests taking businesses and turning them into forces of good. Businesses, can employ hybrid models that will still allow them to generate profit while delivering a tool for people to empower themselves. Today’s “age of radical transparency” is a chance for organizations to relook their models and put people and the environment at the center. The revolutions in the Middle East for instance, highlighted the power of social media and are clear indications that power is shifting. She also calls for the need of a new leadership model, requiring world leaders that are not influenced by their constituencies.
Ultimately, these entail the need to reinvent ourselves and consequently reinvent our world. While these might all seem too idealistic, echoing the questions that have been uttered by various political leaders in the midst of implementing changes: “If not us, who? If not now, when?”
Editor’s Comment: I want to thank Clarence for his thoughful and thought provoking write-up of these wonderful TED Talks. If you are ready to take action and contribute to the world in your own unique way, consider talking to one of our many life coaches who can help you create a plan and hold you accountable to being the change you want to see in the world. Start today! The world is waiting.