Why do we do good?

July 30, 2013

Reading Time: 2 minutes

There’s never been so many ways for so many people to come together and do some good. But why do we do good and how can we be sure the changes we seek are meaningful and lasting?

GCT 2013 Final Facebook Square

In Saturday’s edition of The New York Times, an op-ed column from NoVo Foundation chair Peter Buffett sparked some serious social media chatter about the motivations and challenges of doing good. Son of legendary investor Warren Buffett, Peter briefly outlines his intellectual journey as shepherd of a massive fortune bestowed upon the NoVo Foundation as a result of his father’s making good on promising to give back almost all of his accumulated wealth to society.

Peter raises plenty of questions about how and why people choose to do good, and it’s never been more important to raise them, as today’s increasingly, mutil-layered, inter-dependent, hyper-connected, globalized world means opportunities to do good have never been so numerous and wide-ranging. For the second year in a row the Global Citizen Festival, organized by the Global Poverty Project, has collected a crucial cross-section of those opportunities in one place, and linked them to a chance to win a pair of the 54,000 free tickets to see Stevie Wonder, Alicia Keys, John Mayer and Kings of Leon in concert later this year in New York City. Here are just ten of the opportunities to do some good on the Global Citizen website, each of which earns registered users points they can redeem for a chance to win tickets to the concert, scheduled for September 28, 2013, on the Great Lawn in New York City’s Central Park.

  1. One Million Community Health Workers for Sub-Saharan Africa: join the call! (four points to sign the petition from the Earth Institute, another two points for sharing to your networks)
  2. Why justice matters to development (two points to watch the video from Open Society Foundations)
  3. Women’s equality at the heart of the post-2015 development agenda (four points to sign the petition from Women Deliver)
  4. The value of education (four points the sign the petition, another two points for taking a quiz, from the Global Partnership for Education)
  5. Introduction to the importance of primary education (one point for watching the video, one point for sharing to your networks, one point for taking a quiz)
  6. What if we doubled our investment in family planning? (four points for signing the petition from Women Deliver, one point for sharing to your networks)
  7. Want to save 79,000 women’s lives every year? How we can do it (one point for sharing to your networks)
  8. United Nations designates November 19 as World Toilet Day (four points to sign the petition from the UN, three points to send an email to members of U.S. Congress in support of water/sanitation/hygiene program funding overseas)
  9. World Toilet Day: Get the facts (one point for sharing the infographic to your social networks)
  10. The long short walk for safer roads (two points for singing the petition from Make Roads Safe)

So are these opportunities and the rest of the Global Citizen Project just more of the same “charitable-industrial complex” designed merely to give a few beneficiaries of massive injustice a chance to make themselves feel better, as Peter Buffett describes in his op-ed column? Or is it something else, perhaps an indication of a growing culture of widespread, democratized participation in doing good that aims to break wide open those same philanthropic meetings that Buffett describes, bringing in some fresh air and less-privileged perspective into conversations about what progress means and how to make it happen?

It’s a debate worth having. Tell us what you think in the comments below.

(Disclosure: NoVo Foundation has been a huge supporter of BRAC over the past few years, and Peter along with his wife Jennifer sit on the BRAC USA Advisory Council.)


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