A primer on “finding innovative and effective ways to give back,” from Pulitzer Prize–winning New York Times journalists Kristof and WuDunn (Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, 2009, etc.).
In their fourth collaborative effort, the husband-and-wife team addresses how ordinary people can participate in “a revolution in tackling social problems, employing new savvy, discipline and experience to chip away at poverty and injustice.” While big-name charitable givers such as Warren Buffett and Bill Gates garner the headlines, the authors cite surprising statistics showing that poor and middle-class Americans collectively donate more to charity than the heavy hitters. Small, targeted donations can make a major difference in the lives of children by providing clean water and inexpensive medications—e.g., deworming an African or Asian child for a cost of only 50 cents per year. Kristof and WuDunn cut across ideological barriers in their discussion of how to address poverty in America, and they reject the notion that charitable giving is an alternative to government intervention; both are needed. “Let's recognize that success in life is a reflection not only of enterprise and will power but also of chance and early upbringing,” they write, “and that compassion isn't a sign of weakness but a mark of civilization.” They make a strong case for the importance of early intervention in the lives of children, as well as prenatal assistance and guidance to mothers. These challenges are especially evident on Native American reservations, where fetal alcohol syndrome is prevalent. Using anecdotes to illustrate their case, the authors squarely face the problems inherent in charitable giving, and they examine how clever-sounding projects may look good on paper but prove ineffective in the field. Noting that “the ability to empower others [by] giving is self-empowering,” they warn that social entrepreneurship must be accompanied by practical business experience and careful management; this means monitoring outcomes as well as initiatives.
The authors deliver a profound message that packs a wallop.