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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Profit motive the future of giving

    Stan Molevercolumnist
    Stan Molever
    columnist

    As we gear up for Thanksgiving, some of us will surely take the time to reflect on the spirit of the holiday – a few minutes to consider what we are thankful for.

    And college student-activists are always quick to point out that millions around the world are impoverished and enjoy none of the “”basic necessities”” we take for granted in such a wealthy nation. College students have distinguished themselves in every generation as those Americans most willing to take up the cause of their less fortunate brethren, rallying around the motto of social justice and philanthropy.

    A few weeks back I wrote excitedly about the merits of the well-deserved Nobel Peace Prize awarded to Muhammad Yunus and his Grameen Bank for their work in microfinance – providing millions of dollars in minuscule loans to help poor Bangladeshis out of poverty. Yet instead of lauding the accomplishments of profit-driven philanthropy, many student-activists and traditional philanthropic foundation leaders are expressing skepticism toward the ability of Americans to harness the free market in order to make the world a better place.

    Many anti-globalizers, economics-ignoring liberals and traditional philanthropists are quick to accuse profiteering businesses of “”exploiting”” the poor in order to make a buck, ignoring the reality that saving the world is good business, and good business generates good revenue.

    I don’t mean to be simplistic. But companies wanting to appear as contributors to the good of their world or their communities will invest in alternative fuels so consumers think of them when they go to fill their gas tanks. Investors will be drawn toward firms that are increasingly able to feed both the starving and their clients’ bank accounts.

    For both the protesting student-activist and the many aspiring businesspeople being trained right here at the UA, it is high time to acknowledge that success in entrepreneurship is going hand-in-hand with philanthropy.

    In fact, on Monday, The New York Times published a special report on the extent and influence of these very successful “”philanthropreneurs.”” The report illustrated the current trend of financial assistance migrating from its traditional position of wealthy foundation philanthropic handouts to entrepreneurial investments and start-ups.

    For instance, Yunus and his groundbreaking technique of microlending is being imitated in this country by Pierre Omidyar. Omidyar, the founder of eBay and self-made billionaire, donates in the traditional-foundation way by providing Tufts University with $100 million devoted specifically to developing the field of microfinance.

    But additionally, he invests millions with groups like the Global Commercial Microfinance Consortium, which assists in establishing microfinance groups within large banks – and, like any good investment, generates a profit for Omidyar.

    And the increasing importance of philanthropreneurship, or socially responsible business, certainly is not limited to microfinance. Stephen M. Case, the co-founder of America Online, has invested heavily in FlexCar, a program designed to promote consumer choice and a healthier environment by essentially letting consumers buy into a predetermined plan that allows them to reserve a co-owned car for a certain number of uses in a set timeframe.

    The result is that Americans have more options in terms of automobile use, and the increase in car sharing promotes a carbon-monoxide-free environment in a way that carpooling never will. Why? Because there is no one with a direct monetary interest in how well people carpool; there is no businessperson ensuring its efficiency.

    But with Case standing to earn a large profit from FlexCar, he has a vested interest in making sure that people are getting exactly what they want: more ride-sharing, less pollution – and a self-perpetuating donation to the environment.

    These two examples are by no means isolated. Entrepreneurs from Larry Page and Sergey Brin of Google to Virgin megamogul Sir Richard Branson are increasingly pouring millions of dollars of investment, not gifts, into businesses and individuals with an interest in solving global issues of poverty, illness and famine.

    In the near future, philanthropreneurship will be the norm, not any longer the subject of quizzical scrutiny or skepticism. It will be the financially powerful businesspeople with an entrepreneurial zeal who will turn the tide against global poverty and help welcome millions of marginalized men and women into a global community that will be increasingly disinterested in killing each other.

    So this Thanksgiving, as you sit down with family and friends to the kind of meal not enjoyed by millions of people all over the world, be thankful that there is, actually, plenty of money to be made in saving the world.

    Stan Molever is a philosophy senior. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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