Nothing makes me happier than hearing people talk about their passions; more specifically, when they talk about changing the world, and helping to pull millions of people out of poverty. For years, admittedly, the mere idea of a billion people hungry, poor or living on just a couple dollars a day was unfathomable to me--a more statistical "wow" than anything I could connect with. What I've realized over the last few years is that it takes connections to make these numbers feel even slightly real. Stories drive us to take action. Whether through books, movies, personal ones or even stories on Facebook. We are motivated by the stories of humans, and their successes, failures and tragedies. Statistics don't drive us to act.
I believe that if we can feel empathy for the poor, we might just be able to help them help themselves in a meaningful, sustainable way. Today, skip the Starbucks coffee (it's burnt anyway) and put your dollars towards a cause that you believe in--because to impart real, meaningful change in the world, people will need to believe that the underlying causes of poverty are solvable. I do.
Well, what can we do?
If you have the means, support successful NGOs and charities. There are thousands of organizations around the world that are saving lives everyday. Your five dollar donation might just be the one that completes the purchase of antiretroviral drugs for an AIDS patient, or offer clean water access to a family that previously had to walk for miles.
It's easy to lose sight of the impact that some of these nonprofits have in the world. You donate your money online or mail in a check, you get a thank you letter, and the transaction is complete, right? I think there's something missing here. Of course your dollars go into a big (hopefully) pool of funds. Of course some will go to overhead for the organization. Of course some will directly help people in need... but how can we feel the impact of our donations?
There's a better way.
With billions of dollars ebbing and flowing within our economy on a daily basis, we need to unlock and harness the power of our collective social consciousness---because it's there, just hidden from view. Some people might not want to give money directly to causes--for plenty of legitimate reasons. I get that completely, and this sentiment is shared with millions of Americans. You work hard for your money, and then sometimes more than a third is taken out for taxes, food, monthly expenses, bills, and the like. What more is there to spare for charities? Not much, if any. So, how do we connect the dots?
We need more dreamers.
My father has always told me to dream big. "Pretend that you were God;" he would say, "what would you do? If you want something bad enough you'll find a way to make it happen." This always resonated with me, because it worked when I was 13 starting a social enterprise DJ business, and continues to everyday I really try wholeheartedly.
While I'm not religious, there's something profoundly powerful--even rational about this type of thinking. What if the next generation of entrepreneurs all built giving into their businesses from the start--with the belief that they could actually change the world? Social enterprise could become the norm, not the exception. In this utopian "social enterprise economy," the potential to help people is so huge that I'm starting to smile just thinking about it--and you should too. What if, from inception Facebook, Twitter, Apple, Walmart GE, and heck, how about a big bank too, all built their businesses on the idea that redirecting just pennies from every dollar of revenue could likely end abject poverty in the world. Yep, I just said that, and I'll do it again: We could end abject poverty.
Rewrite the status quo of American businesses
It's time to start dreaming big. Release yourself, momentarily, from the here and now--from the existing economic and social paradigms of our culture. Did you notice how quickly Facebook fundamentally changed the world in less than ten years? One billion people have found their way to this social network. Businesses rely on it for marketing; political campaigns spend enormous amounts of money on ads on this one site alone. This is all to say that a half-baked idea in a dorm room can have enormous effects economically and culturally in a very short period of time.
So who will be the next Mark Zuckerberg in the social space? I want to think that it's people like Blake Mycoski of TOMS Shoes, Matt Flannery and Jessica Jackley. of Kiva, Will Hauser and Lauren Walters of Two Degrees, Lauren Bush and Ellen Gustafson of FEED Projects, Tyler and Terry Merrick of Project 7, and the many others whom I admire deeply. But so far, these innovators have yet to tip the scale-- and it's not from lack of trying; but rather it's our failure in not resisting this profoundly money-hording culture.
It's clear that we're headed in the right direction, but the reality is that these social enterprises are small fries compared to any fortune 500. Soon enough, however, I'm confident either one of these innovators will help push us over the edge, or someone else will. If not, we're going to destroy our own planet, and all the people that live here. A shift in consciousness must happen on a mass scale. There's smart business, and there's ethics. It's time that they align.
Let's raise the bar together.
New entrepreneurs need to start with the basic premise that a better world is possible and that they can actually help. Consumers need to raise their standards for every business, and demand that they start "doing good." With this shift in commerce, charities need not rely on massive donations from wealthy philanthropists. Through a vast network of strategic partnerships with the most effective nonprofits in the world (all American businesses will have these), you, my friend, will become the philanthropist, everyday. And if this paradigm shift occurs, you might even stop noticing that you're giving. It will just be part of your daily purchases. Every time you buy anything, you'll also be giving. Call it the Global Tax: .05% of all revenue for every American business must be donated. In short time, this tax would change the world, just like Facebook.
All I ask if that you start to dream bigger. Raise your standards for the companies that provide you with products and services. All things being equal, wouldn't you pick the business that gives back? There's too much unnecessary hunger, disease, poverty and death to continue with business as usual. Please join me, even if it's just with your voice or posts on social media, to begin the process of revival and growth for the global community.
We can end poverty instantly if businesses realize how simple and cheap it could be. Partnerships between corporations and nonprofits will be fundamental to this effort. But it's very real, and quite possible. Keep dreaming with me, and just maybe we can create or identify real solutions to the biggest problems in the world
Follow Peter Walters on Twitter: www.twitter.com/PetertheWalterS