Towards a New Philanthropy

Mari Kuraishi is the founder of GlobalGiving, an innovative global marketplace aimed to raise money for philanthropic projects

When Mari Kuraishi, President of GlobalGiving, worked at the World Bank, she realised that the existing initiatives intended to help developing countries were too often inefficient because of bureaucratic delays and experts’ limited focus on the economic aspects. The approach ignored the socio-cultural roots that are essential to fighting poverty.

“We thought it was important to create GlobalGiving, as an independent source of capital for emerging organisations and initiatives that would have difficulty meeting the due diligence thresholds of the World Bank”

While at university, Kuraishi specialised in Russian Studies and Political Science. This led her to joining the team of Dennis Whittle, an executive who was in the midst of gathering ideas and proposals for aid initiatives. From this collaboration came the World Bank’s Development Marketplace in 1997, aimed at connecting projects seeking financing with potential lenders. By streamlining the typical bureaucratic rigidity of the big organisations, minimising risk and making small investments, it was possible to create a network where innovative ideas and investors could meet and formulate an anti-poverty project more quickly.

Even with all of the undertakings success however, in 2002, Kuraishi decided to continue this trend independently of the World Bank and, alongside Dennis Whittle, launched GlobalGiving.

What Kuraishi is attempting to do through the website is strengthen the concept of "donation" in terms of transparency and giving a greater role to the figure of the “donator”. This consists of providing a careful economic projection - how his money is effectively spent - and constant updates about the project itself. Through social media - Facebook and Twitter, it is possible to check in to see what is happening with GlobalGiving, to receive information, share news and be quick about donating.

The proof that the commitment has been taken seriously is confirmed by the fact that if the donors are not satisfied for any reason, GlobalGiving offers them an opportunity to reassign their donations. To keep tabs on projects, GlobalGiving also requires that every organisation posts an update every 90 days. It also sends staff, volunteers and consultants to the field to meet with organisations directly and observe their work. A more recent initiative undertaken to monitor the situation is getting direct constituent feedback, something GlobalGiving believes is key to closing the loop between the donor, the organisation on the ground and its “customers”.

Through GlobalGiving every interested donor can choose from different projects around the world according to their own personal interests. There are 4,079 active projects, with 56% of the organisations headquartered in the United States and 44% in other parts of the world.

Yet even with such high numbers, in a capitalist society is philanthropy really emerging as a viable alternative to spending money? What can realistically be expected from the behaviour of the consumer?

“I do know that consumer spending has shifted—for instance, women’s clothing sales have been flat for the last 10-15 years despite economic growth over that time. What has happened is that people have shifted some of their spending from consumer goods to consumer experiences—eating out, vacations, etc. I think we still have room to grow as a sector in improving and really transforming the philanthropic experience,” Kuraishi says.

This growth, though perhaps feasible, has also been unattainable thus far, so how does the co-founder of GlobalGiving actually think that the philanthropic experience can be transformed to bring in more activity? As she likes to explain, it is “the dog food problem”.

“The donor is like the dog owner buying dog food for their pet while being completely in the dark as to what the dog food tastes like"

“The donor is like the dog owner buying dog food for their pet while being completely in the dark as to what the dog food tastes like. The feedback of real customers of the nonprofits and social enterprises aren’t heard by the donors, and the real customers frequently lack the ability to walk away from the product or service provider if they are delivering substandard fare. We want to fix that—we think there is tremendous potential that we will unlock when we solve that problem”.

Collaboration is the key word to promoting development and, as GlobalGiving hopes, when the organisations engaged in social enterprises and those capable of making financial resources available begin working closely together a seamless ecosystem will be created, signifying a definite turning point in society’s approach to aid and development.

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