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Thursday, August 04, 2005

Charitable Endeavors

Part of my work is managing money, according to my needs. Money has never been a goal for me, but as a means to an end, it's hard to argue that it helps. Managing money wisely, however, has been quite educational for me. My mantra is to learn from my mistakes, and I have made my share of mistakes.

Charitable giving is something that deserves a few entries by itself. But that's for a later time. Right now, I'll just say that I have several causes of interest, I attack them in a very low profile manner, and in total I try to give away 80% to 90% of my wealth. I'll be the first to admit that 90% isn't as impressive fraction as you might initlally think (unless you are wealthy, but I'll get to that in a moment), since the remainder of what I keep is more than enough to maintain a lifestyle in which I can do whatever I want; it's a luxurious lifestyle, and more than enough. What would I do with the rest anyhow? Somebody is going to get it, whether I'm spending it on a yacht, or buying a company, or wiping my ass on hand-softened Egyptian cotton toilet paper every day (yes, I am very regular). Might as well be people who really need it.

Having said that, I learned from my first fortune, that there are far too many people who need money to help even a small fraction. The more you help, the more you realize how much more help is needed. Somebody with a statistics background might find it difficult to believe any one person can make a difference. And an optimist like me wants to feel they are going a good job. An obvious point is that giving the poor and needy money isn't always the most leveraged approach. There is a Chinese parable: "Give me a fish, I eat for a day / Teach me to fish, I eat for a lifetime." There are variants on this theme that may be more relevant, but leverage and independence is the key point. Sure, maybe I could buy everybody in Africa a french fry (and I mean a single fry, not an order of fries), but perhaps it's better to invest in education and economic productivity. Yes, there is a fine line between such "wise" investment and cultural imperialism but again, that's a topic for another discussion. I happen to believe that self-determinism, productivity and economic independence is the best compromise to solving issues of the poor and repressed while respecting culture.

So when I was asked by a close friend to join a strategic advisory mission to the tsunami affected countries in Southeast Asia, my first reaction was to research it. Could I make a difference financially and in an advisory capacity? Was this something that would be interesting?

I found it curious how poorly covered this disaster was in the United States. At least I could learn a lot, and advice often leads to a closer relationship than just money. And I had a little surplus that year, surprise found money, not much, but a little bit that I could put to work if I found this interesting. So I accepted.

In the course of the highly educational trip, I did end up investing charitably into the cause. But only after extensive research, and strings attached. Micromanagement? Yes, perhaps, but it is my money...


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