Being a young social entrepreneur, I have quickly come to understand the value of money. Sure, wealth generally means opulence: lifestyles of luxury and excess. But on the occasions when somewhere in our universe a wealthy individual or a group chooses to discover the value of funding as a vehicle for impact, I have seen just how incredible the right, just allocation of resources can be.
In the last two weeks, I traveled to Los Angeles and there witnessed extreme affluence in different settings. More interesting than the beach clubs, Louboutin heels and Del Mar horse races were the possibilities I imagined if just some of that wealth could have funded the incredible people and organizations I encountered.
While in Los Angeles, I attended the Do Something Awards, an awards show that honors young people 25 and under who are rocking social causes. For two years, I have been a member of the Do Something Youth Advisory Council, so I was ecstatic to support my friend and fellow YAC member Sarah Cronk as she and her organization, The Sparkle Effect, won $100,000. The Do Something Awards honors celebrities who do social good, too. One celebrity presenter was Kim Kardashian, who was also a nominee for celebrities using Twitter for good. While I applaud Kim for her willingness to promote Do Something and support its young award winners, I cannot help but notice a stark contrast. At stage left, five of the most inspirational, selfless and dedicated young people of my generation graciously received a modest $10,000 that would power their organizations' programming. At stage right, Kim stood just hours away from a reported $29-million wedding extravaganza. I do not want to bash Kim or negate her charitable actions. Instead, I want to think about what a $1-million wedding (still a large budget) and a $28-million contribution to some of our world's most dire causes, talented young change agents and diligent organizations could look like.
First, if I, like Kim, had millions to spend and had just witnessed five outstanding young people dedicating their lives to creating social change, I would write out five $1 million checks in order to guarantee those leaders and their organizations a successful several years of operation. Next, I would look to other causes that are under-recognized. I would ask, what could a major gift (for most nonprofits, one over $100,000) do for an organization working to address an under-funded cause? I might look to past Nicholas Kristof columns, crowdsource funding websites and youth-run organizations to identify programs that are effective but unsexy. Preventing and treating fistulas is far from as glamorous as microfinance, but imagine the impact.
Similarly, the organizations working to combat human trafficking and modern-day slavery, let alone the commercial sexual exploitation of children, are under-funded. The issue is complex, and measuring impact for any work other than rescue and rehabilitation is difficult. Siddharth Kara is a Harvard Kennedy School Fellow on Human Trafficking and the author of "Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Slavery." In his book, Kara notes that organizations working to combat the sale of human beings have no central government agency, let alone a central nonprofit organization that collects and disseminates data, facilitates inter-organizational communication, pools and allocates resources, and combines advocacy efforts among organizations. With just a fraction of that $28 million, my organization, Minga, would take a giant step toward fulfilling our mission and Kara's vision: we would create an international agency that would serve to unite the efforts of government agencies, nongovernmental organizations and individual experts. Dollars would fund research, prevention education, law enforcement training, new legislation and large-scale victim rescue and rehabilitation. A central agency with $29 million in funding could exponentially grow the impact of the hundreds of organizations that are already doing great work on a small scale.
Some day I, too, will plan a magical wedding, but I hope that when that time comes, I'll think back to my 19-year-old self and remember how I pledged to use wealth: to better humanity by investing in those people and organizations other wealth has left behind. I plan to build Minga's programming around uniting organizations in our field because I believe that only collaboration will ultimately end human trafficking and modern-day slavery. I hope you will join me in choosing impact over opulence, and that you, too, will contribute your time, money and energy toward the important yet slighted causes and organizations in those cause areas.