Weibo philanthropy in China

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Nine months after Ma Chunhua’s baby was born, she was diagnosed with leukemia. Ma, a low-wage worker in Hubei province, said she grew desperate, knowing her family couldn’t afford the chemotherapy and bone-marrow transplant needed to save her baby. So she turned to China’s online masses, tweeting pictures from the hospital and posting their plight.

Chinese citizens are increasingly depending not on their government nor officially sanctioned nonprofits, but on Twitter-like microblogs called Weibo for donations.
The emergence of Weibo philanthropy has been spurred on by widespread suspicion and exasperation among Chinese with their government’s decades-long stranglehold over the social assistance and charity sector.

Current laws prevent the existence of any nonprofit unless it is partnered with a government-related entity. Even then, such groups cannot raise money — a right reserved for a small number of government-controlled charities.

And for the ruling Communist Party — in the midst of a once-in-a-decade transition of leaders — the trend towards Weibo fundraising suggests a troubling disconnect. The fact that increasing numbers of citizens would rather donate to random strangers online than to state-managed charities points to a growing distrust in government institutions. And donations to official charities has declined over the past two years.

“Weibo is putting great pressure on the government because it shows that if they don’t solve basic problems they are responsible for like food and health, the people will solve it without them,” said Deng Fei, a former investigative journalist.

The less religious are more stingy in their charitable giving

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A new study on the generosity of Americans confirms the suggestion that the least religious are also the stingiest about giving money to charity.

The study released by the Chronicle of Philanthropy found that residents in states where religious participation is higher than the rest of the nation gave the greatest percentage of their discretionary income to charity.

Northeast residents, with lower religious participation, was the least generous to charities.

The study was based on Internal Revenue Service records of people who itemized deductions in 2008, the most recent year statistics were available. By focusing on the percentage given to charity from discretionary income — the money left over after necessities are paid for — the study aimed to remove variables such as the differing costs of living around the country. Churches are among the organizations counted as charities by the study.

Who gives how much in America

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A study by The Chronicle of Philanthropy, based on Internal Revenue Service records, provides an unusually rich look at giving by geography and income level. The study uses the most recent data available and provides detail about the relative generosity of US states, cities, towns, and even ZIP codes based on the share of discretionary income their residents gave.

The Chronicle’s study examines taxpayers who earned $50,000 or more. They donated a median of 4.7 percent of their discretionary income. Altogether, they provided $135-billion to charity, nearly two-thirds of the $214-billion donated by all individuals in 2008, according to “Giving USA,” the benchmark of American giving.

Among other findings:

The rich aren’t the most generous. Low-income people give a far bigger share of their discretionary income to charities. People who make $50,000 to $75,000 give an average of 7.6 percent of their discretionary income to charity, compared with an average of 4.2 percent for people who make $100,000 or more.

As for the 1 percent: Rich people who live in neighborhoods with many other wealthy people give a smaller share of their incomes to charity than rich people who live in more economically diverse communities.

Religion has a big influence on giving patterns. Regions of the country that are deeply religious are more generous than those that are not.

Grantmaking to Latin America

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While the nonprofit sector in Latin America is among the smallest in the world, these nations are on the cusp of significant philanthropic transformation. This is due, in part, to a rising middle class, technology connecting more citizens and increasing corporate social responsibility (CSR).

Concerning grantmaking in Latin America and the Caribbean: Findings show that Canadian and European foundations favor funding programs in Central American and Andean countries, while Caribbean foundations almost exclusively fund within their own region. U.S. foundations favor Mexico and Brazil, although grants are made extensively across the region.

Nearly two-thirds (64.2 percent) of all grant dollars went to two countries—Mexico and Brazil. Four other countries—Peru, Colombia, Argentina, and Chile—comprised the next 22 percent. The remaining 13.8 percent was distributed among the other 39 countries of the region.

Net US migration from Mexico dips to zero

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Mexico has directed more immigrants to the United States over the past four decades than any other nation.

In fact, the United States’ Mexican immigrants represent the largest chunk of immigrants in any country in the world.

But now Mexican migration into the States has come to a standstill and may soon reverse, according to a report by the Pew Hispanic Center. This marks a dramatic change in the wave of Mexican migration that brought 12 million people to America over four decades.

Between 2005 and 2010, about 1.4 million Mexicans immigrated to the United States, which is roughly the same number of Mexicans who left over the same period.

The report attributes the drop to the drastic decline in birthrates in Mexico, the increasingly dangerous passage across the border, and the flagging American economy.

Andrew Carnegie the greatest philanthropist in history

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Andrew Carnegie, who died 93 years ago, remains a polarizing figure. He has been labeled a great industrialist by some, a robber baron by others. Even his unparalleled philanthropy — which continues to shape the American educational and cultural worlds to a remarkable degree — has sparked its share of criticism.

After immigrating to the U.S. from Scotland at age 12, Carnegie worked a series of low-wage jobs until landing a position as personal assistant and secretary to Thomas A. Scott, superintendent of the Pittsburgh division of the Pennsylvania Railroad. Scott, along with Pennsylvania Railroad President J. Edgar Thomson, taught Carnegie several valuable investing lessons. Among the most significant was how to exploit inside information whenever possible, which was legal at the time.

At 65, Carnegie sold Carnegie Steel and many of his other enterprises to J.P. Morgan for $480 million, netting $225,639,000 (about $6.5 billion today) for himself. Carnegie’s deal with Morgan would eventually make him the world’s richest man — significantly wealthier than anyone alive today. Carnegie “would be richer than the top six richest people in the world at the moment,” Evans says. “And he chose to give that away.”

Before his death in 1919, Carnegie donated $350 million to hundreds of organizations and individuals around the world. He funded universities, libraries and established pensions for professors and the workers in his mills. Still, not everyone agreed with the way he distributed his wealth. Contemporary articles and cartoons called into question his focus on higher education, which at the time was considered a luxury of the rich, as well as the extent of his international giving.

Puck magazine published a satirical cartoon in 1901 criticizing his founding of the Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland. According to Carnegie biographer Peter Krass, the grand scale of Carnegie’s philanthropy also frightened many people, who thought it was anti-democratic.

Despite the divergence of opinion about Carnegie’s methods, the scale of his charity remains unrivaled. According to Anthony Marx, the president of the New York Public Library — which was founded with a gift from Carnegie — his legacy of giving is without equal, even compared with today’s most generous philanthropists. “Andrew Carnegie was, as far as I can tell, the greatest philanthropist in history,” Marx says. “The New York Public Library system was created by a gift of $5.2 million, which in today’s dollars is equivalent to $2.7 billion.”

–From a Bloomberg article by Kristin Aguilera

Revolutionary toilets to provide safe sanitation

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A toilet that uses little or no water is expected to improve sanitation in the developing world. Last year the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, named after the Microsoft co-founder and his wife, gave grants to eight universities around the world to help create a hygienic toilet that is safe and affordable and can transform waste into energy.

About 2.6 billion people – or 40 per cent of world’s population mostly in sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia – lack access to safe sanitation and are forced to defecate in the open.

Open defecation leads to sanitation problems that cause 1.5 million children under five to die each year.

The winner of the Reinvent the Toilet fair was a team from the California Institute of Technology. Professor Michael Hoffman’s design toilet is solar powered, generating hydrogen gas and electricity [EPA]

The designs needed to operate at a cost of no more than five cents a day and would ideally capture energy or other resources.

Other designs submitted included a lavatory that used microwave energy to turn human waste into electricity. Another turned excrement into charcoal, while a third used urine for flushing.

A new crowd emerging on the philanthropy beat

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There’s a young, up-and-coming crowd of entrepreneurs, philanthropists, donors and volunteers who aren’t entirely like their parents or their grandparents.

The rising so-called Millennials, or Generation Y, now in their late 20s and younger, may have the same passion, commitment and concern for their communities as their predecessors. But philanthropy experts said many of these young individuals want to take more “ownership” of a cause than Generation Xers, “traditionalist” baby boomers or the “Silent Generation” of givers who have mostly been satisfied with just writing checks to large umbrella organizations for the past several decades.

While the younger generation may not have as much financial capital as previous age groups, experts and studies indicate that many of these young individuals who do or will have money later in life want to have more of a stake in where and how their dollars are spent rather than blankly giving to an over-encompassing charity.

Young philanthropists are also more familiar with technology, armed with instantaneous “crowd funding” through smartphones, social media or websites like Kickstarter.com or Gofundme.com to have a global reach.

The generational differences, however, can sometimes become a “double edged sword” and has created new challenges for managing today’s philanthropic organizations at a time when many nonprofits are in desperate need of discretionary dollars, said Jeffrey Wilcox, a certified fundraising executive and president/CEO of the nonprofit consulting firm The Third Sector Company.

“What’s difficult for nonprofits is that [young] entrepreneurs who have a lot of money don’t like to give to a lot of processes that involve committees and a lot of people in decision-making,” he said. “They want streamlined decision-making and they want a larger voice in how their dollars are going to be used . . . The younger generation, at least in my opinion, sees a lot of things that the older generation has not made possible.”

Wilcox added that young individuals are branching out with their own endeavors, goals and philosophies with the technological know-how to “create a social movement overnight” rather than pandering to bureaucracies, boards and committees. While he said “due process” is still needed in today’s society, the obstacle for many organizations, Wilcox said, is to learn how to keep young people interested in philanthropy.

The Toilet Revolution is coming

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This week, engineers, philanthropists, media and more from around the world will gather at the the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in Seattle for the “Reinvent the Toilet Fair,” a $3 million project funded in grants by the Foundation that will showcase revolutionary new toilets that don’t need water, electricity or even a connection to a sewage system.

The goal of the project is to help improve the lives of the 2.6 billion people in the third world who do not have access to a toilet.

Lack of access to proper sewage can expose people to deadly diseases, and as Bill Gates notes on his blog, “we need new ideas to help reduce disease and find new ways to turn crap into valuable stuff, like fuel, fertilizer, and fresh water.”

Leaving Hollywood for Cambodia’s garbage dumps

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Scott Neeson’s final epiphany came one day in June 2004. The high-powered Hollywood executive stood, ankle deep in trash, at the sprawling landfill of Stung Meanchey, a poor shantytown in Cambodia’s capital.

In a haze of toxic fumes and burning waste, swarms of Phnom Penh’s most destitute were rooting through refuse, jostling for scraps of recyclables in newly dumped loads of rubbish. They earned 4,000 riel ($1) a day—if they were lucky. Many of the garbage sorters were young children. Covered in filthy rags, they were scruffy, sickly, and sad.

Clasped to Mr. Neeson’s ear was his cellphone. Calling the movie mogul from a US airport, a Hollywood superstar’s agent was complaining bitterly about inadequate in-flight entertainment on a private jet that Sony Pictures Entertainment, where Neeson was head of overseas theatrical releases, had provided for his client.

Neeson overheard the actor griping in the background. ” ‘My life wasn’t meant to be this difficult.’ Those were his exact words,” Neeson says. “I was standing there in that humid, stinking garbage dump with children sick with typhoid, and this guy was refusing to get on a Gulfstream IV because he couldn’t find a specific item onboard,” he recalls. “If I ever wanted validation I was doing the right thing, this was it.”

Doing the right thing meant turning his back on a successful career in the movie business, with his $1 million salary. Instead, he would dedicate himself full time to a new mission: to save hundreds of the poorest children in one of the world’s poorest countries.

Much to everyone’s surprise, within months the Australian native, who as president of 20th Century Fox International had overseen the global success of block-busters like “Titanic,” “Braveheart,” and “Die Another Day,” quit Hollywood. He sold his mansion in Los Angeles and held a garage sale for “all the useless stuff I owned.” He sold off his Porsche and yacht, too.

His sole focus would now be his charity which he had set up the previous year after coming face to face, while on vacation in Cambodia, with children living at the garbage dump.  [Read full CS Monitor article]

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