SEATTLE — Bill Gate’s recent tweet asking, “How would you give away $50k?” has sparked interesting answers.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, of which Bill Gates is the co-chair and trustee, has given away $30.1 billion since its creation in the 1990s to organizations such as GAVI Alliance, Rotary International and Save the Children. Just last year the foundation gave away $3.6 billion in grants.
Gates’ 16.2 million Twitter followers responded to his question with suggestions ranging from funding school lunch programs to providing immigrants with secondary education opportunities. One follower suggested providing homeless LGBT youth in Chicago 24/7 services such as showers, bathrooms and storage. Another follower suggested donating to an organization called Sole Brothers that donates lightly used athletic footwear to those in need and financially helps under-served children to pursue athletics and recreational opportunities.
The question was inspired by a philanthropy class offered at Northwestern University giving students both the challenging and exciting task of deciding how to give away $50,000. This course creates a space for students to gain real-life experience in investigating and researching organizations.
The money for the course has been provided by a grant from Texas hedge fund manager, Geoffrey P. Raynor of Q Investments based in Fort Worth. Raynor, 46, has had an interest in philosophy for a good portion of his life, majoring in the subject at Princeton. Through his career however, between working for the Bass brothers directly following college, creating his own company Scepter Holdings and then creating his hedge fund in 1994, it has been pushed to the backburner.
Raynor believes that philanthropy is “practical philosophy.” He explains how philanthropy “is all about making ethical choices about how to do good.” Comparing it to if “There is only one seat on the lifeboat. Who do you save?”
Similar courses have been emerging at universities such as Harvard, Stanford, Princeton and Yale since 2011.
Last year, the students of Northwestern chose to give $25,000 to the Chicago charity Inspiration Corporation, an organization that provides job training and other services to the homeless.
Vinay Sridharan, a 22-year-old math major at Northwestern, said, “When I give in the future, I’ll do things like visit the organization, speak with people involved, before actually giving my money.”
Other students were not as convinced of the real life relevance of the course. Adrienne Le, a Yale student who took a similar course, found it was far too focused on the monetary aspects of giving back.
“Why should we presume that we will be extremely wealthy in the future? We really should be encouraging students to be the creative people who will be doing good work on the ground,” she said.
The question of how to give large sums of money charitably was once reserved only for wealthy philanthropists, but since 2011, it has made its way into top-tier university classrooms. Through the use of social media however, Bill Gates has gone even further to bring this question to the general public, arousing thoughtful responses.
Sources: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Business Week, CBS, NY Times 1, NY Times 2, Twitter