Winter 2012 – Editor’s Introduction

An overview of the Winter 2012 issue on international giving

“Right now, just over one billion people—about 15 percent of the people in the world—live in extreme poverty,” writes Bill Gates in his 2012 Annual Letter. But, he continues, “15 percent of the world in extreme poverty actually represents a big improvement. Fifty years ago, about 40 percent of the global population was poor.”

Gates credits the decline of extreme poverty to the Green Revolution, a series of agronomic advances in the 1960s and 70s that vastly increased crop yields and dramatically slashed food prices. With support from the Rockefeller and Ford foundations, Norman Borlaug and a small team of researchers undertook a project that by some estimates saved approximately one billion lives. It was perhaps the most consequential achievement of 20th-century American philanthropy—yet virtually none of its beneficiaries were American.

American philanthropists have long been excited by the challenges and opportunities of assisting those abroad. To this day, they are helping to build schools, eradicate diseases, resolve conflicts, empower entrepreneurs, and bring comfort to those in distress. The winter issue of Philanthropy tells some of their stories.

  • Dale Dawson is helping rebuild Rwanda, one small loan at a time. It all started a decade ago, on a beautiful October afternoon, when a Rwandan Anglican bishop challenged Dawson: “You’re a businessman. You’ve built businesses. Why don’t you build businesses in Rwanda?” Since then, Dawson has dedicated his life to helping impoverished Rwandans save money and pursue entrepreneurship. Read more about Dawson and his work in Rwanda here.
  • Whenever disaster strikes—earthquake, tsunami, hurricane, wildfire—donors are moved and want to help the victims. But be strategic, write Richard Tren and Gerard Alexander. Read their six recommendations that every donor should consider before writing a check for disaster relief.
  • John Montgomery, a Houston-based investment manager, is known for his detached, analytical investment strategy. But his philanthropy is the exact opposite: hopeful, passionate, even a touch idealistic. He has one big goal for his charitable giving. John Montgomery is trying to end genocide. Click here to read about how he and his team are working to end a guerrilla war in central Africa.
  • In February 1812, five young men and women boarded the Caravan, headed for Calcutta. Supported by Congregationalist churches and generous individuals, they intended to perform mission work in the Far East, making them the first Americans to go abroad in the service of their fellow man. Two centuries later, Karl Zinsmeister asks whether evangelicals are again focusing their time, treasure, and talent overseas. What does that mean for the world? And for America? Click here to read his article.
  • Michael Fairbanks, an expert on enterprise-based solutions to poverty in the developing world, interviewed some of the planet’s leading thinkers and practitioners about what makes international philanthropy work. Take a look at what they had to say here.
  • We were also honored to convene a group of widely respected and accomplished international donors. We asked them three questions about giving overseas: What have you learned that changed the way you give internationally? Tell us about a really smart international grant. What’s an unsung organization doing great work in the field? Click here to see what our participants thought.

In this issue, we also feature a story by Kari Barbic on a Venezuelan-American family seeking to instill character in young people by teaching a curriculum infused with universal values. We also offer book reviews of Olivier Zunz’s Philanthropy in America: A History and Steven Brill’s Class Warfare, on recent developments in K–12 education reform.