Tag: charity

My Favorite Charity is Team Rubicon

My favorite charity is Team Rubicon.  I first heard about the team when they were getting their start in the aftermath of the Haiti Earthquake disaster back in January.  Former Marine and UW football player Jake Wood and his friends knew that they had the skills to help the people who had been affected by the earthquake.  They put together a team of ex marines, firefighters, doctors and nurses, organized donations and sent the team to the hardest hit parts of Haiti.

While traditional aid organizations like The Red Cross, The UN and even the US Military were still at the Port-Au-Prince airport making plans, Team Rubicon was in the field saving lives.  It was amazing to see the pictures that Team Rubicon was sending back in real time from the field and anyone could tell they were doing amazing work against long odds.

Team Rubicon brought an entrepreneurial approach to disaster relief.  They didn’t wait for permission, or for bureaucrats to tell them what to do.  They saw people in need, knew that they had the skills to help and deployed.  During Team Rubicon’s time in Haiti, they realized that there was a need for fast acting disaster relief to bridge the gap between the disaster and when the more traditional aid groups could fully provide aid.

Team Rubicon organized as a non-profit dedicated to bridging the gap between natural disasters and traditional aid responders.  They’ve deployed multiple times since the Haiti earthquake, most recently to Pakistan.

Pakistan has had horrible flooding in the past few weeks that has displaced over 1m people.  The flood victims are living in refugee camps, where they are susceptible to diarrhea, cholera, malaria and other waterborne diseases.  Team Rubicon is currently deployed and providing medical care.  Make sure to check out the Team Rubicon site to see some unreal pictures.

Not only is Team Rubicon providing essential disaster relief, they are also some of the best ambassadors for the United States that I can think of.  Like Greg Mortenson of Three Cups of Tea fame, Team Rubicon goes into places where people may not have a favorable opinion of the United States and saves lives.  I have to think that Team Rubicon’s actions speak louder than any of anti-American propaganda out there.

Since they are a non-profit, Team Rubicon are relies on donations to be able to do their work.  You can donate cash or you can buy equipment for the team. They’ve even set up a registry of all of the things that they need to operate and you can buy it for them, which is a great idea.  I think charities would see high donation rates if they showed exactly what they needed instead of just asking for cash.  If charities could show the things that people bought for them in use in the field, I bet donations would go up even more because they’d make the donors feel even more a part of the rescue effort than simply writing a check (or pushing send on PayPal).

Follow Team Rubicon’s relief efforts on their blog and Twitter.  Here’s how you can donate.

Team Rubicon’s Privately Funded Relief Effort to Haiti

Over the past week, I have been incredibly inspired by Jake Wood and the rest of Team Rubicon’s privately funded relief effort in Haiti.  Wood and his team were fed up with the bureaucracy and red tape associated with providing relief in Haiti, so they took matters into their own hands.

Jake Wood, who is about my age, is a former UW football player who graduated and enlisted in the Marines.  During his service, he completed two tours of duty, one in Iraq and one in Afghanistan and is now retired.  I first heard about Wood when I found his blog, Jake’s Life, shortly after he deployed for the first time.  I’ve been following his blog ever since.

Team Rubicon flew into the Dominican Republic and drove overland into Haiti with supplies donated from people in America.  They quickly got to work helping people survive.

Their blog posts are heart wrenching and amazing, all at the same time.  Many of the pictures are graphic.  One of their recent posts was called Bureaucracy is killing people, not bandits, and laments the fact that donations are sitting at the airport and not reaching the people who need it most.  Today, Team Rubicon has managed to treat over 200 people, in addition to the hundreds they have helped in the past few days and are quickly running out of supplies.  Their entire mission is completely privately funded, so they rely on private donations.  Please check out their blog and think about what you can do to help their effort.

The world needs more people like Team Rubicon.  Their entrepreneurial approach to helping people is saving lives, while supplies sits at the airport.  Mark Cuban recently said, “We need people who try to change the game. Who don’t just approach problems with gutless answers.”  He was referring to NBC and the Tonight Show, but I think it really applies to Team Rubicon.  They have changed the game for hundreds of Haitians by acting, not just sitting around.  I am inspired by their work and wish them the very best.  Good luck, stay safe and keep up the good work!

An Antipoverty Nudge

A charity in New York City is trying an innovative approach to helping people below the poverty line.  Modeled after a program in Mexico that pays poor people to do things like immunize their kids, send them to school and make healthy food, Groundwork brings a similar approach to New York’s poverty stricken communities.  Here’s how the program works:

This modest community-based nonprofit is one of six neighborhood partners in the experimental Opportunity NYC program, which pays poor people — mostly single moms — for a broad range of health, education, and work-related activities, everything from taking their kids to the dentist to getting a new job to attending parent-teacher conferences.

Since its September 2007 launch, the New York initiative has paid $10 million to 2,400 families living at or beneath 130 percent of the poverty line — about $22,000 for a family of three. The typical participating family earned just under $3,000 during Opportunity NYC’s first year.

I’ve been interested in nudges, small behavioral changes that can create big changes in society, since I read Nudge by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein.  I love learning about these nudges, whether its ways to increase the tips that tour guides receive or ways to help students retain more information over summer vacation, so this program caught my attention.  I think its an interesting experiment that could be very successful with enough testing.  Currently, the program has spent over $25mm on 2,400 families, which doesn’t seem like that great of a return.  I’d like to see the program focus on 2-3 of the most important tasks that people were being paid to do and expand the program to more people.  If they could show that going to parent teacher conferences, taking your kid to the doctor for a checkup and cooking a healthy home cooked meal once per week had the most impact, the program could invest in the tasks that had the highest benefit with the lowest cost, all the while helping more people.

Some anti-poverty workers are not a fan of the this program.  One worker said thinks the program is almost offensive:

Opportunity NYC borders on offensive — the idea that a person can be bribed into doing better in school or being a better parent,” says Mark Winston Griffith, executive director of the Drum Major Institute for Public Policy in New York City. “It sort of suggests that poverty is a lifestyle choice, that somehow if we’re just given a nudge, that we can choose not to be in this condition, or choose for our children to do better in school, or choose as parents to provide better child care. It comes out of the idea that poor people are almost sort of culturally and inherently dysfunctional. Not because of structural circumstances but because of their own personal failings.”

David Jones, the President of the Community Service Society in NYC, is not a fan because he thinks the project it too small to combat the huge problem that is poverty in NYC.

“In New York City, almost 50 percent of African American men are not currently employed. We have nearly 200,000 young people who are neither working nor in school,” he says. “Those numbers can’t be addressed with incremental incentive programs. Not because the ideas are bad but because the scale of the problems is huge.”

While I understand where both of these critics are coming from, I can’t agree with their thinking.  We know that the current anti-poverty programs are not working very well, so we might as well try something new.  Just because a problem is huge does not mean that a small solution can’t be successful.  In the startup world, many small solutions have solved huge problems, even when the founders were simply trying to change a small part of the big problem.  If the program doesn’t work, then end the program, but if it does work to make people’s lives better, then by all means continue it.  I’d love to see more innovation and entrepreneurial thinking in the charity space.  I think there is probably room for a great deal of innovation and improvement.

How To “Stickk” to Your Goals

Have you ever set a goal that you wanted to accomplish, only to give up after a few days or weeks?  How about a New Years resolution?  If you are like me, your probably set a bunch of different goals each year, but are only successful on attaining a small percentage.

Most of my goals are not huge.  For example, this year, I wanted to make sure that I traveled more frequently, played more soccer, read more books and learned how to cook at least one new dish per month, to name a few.  I have done some of them, but all of them and wanted to try to find ways to give myself incentives to actually complete them.  I was reading the Freakonomics blog the other day and remembered an old post about a new website designed to help you follow through.

StickK.com, a website founded by Freakonomics contributor by Ian Ayres and two of his Yale collegues, allows you to set a goal, a completion date and puts some teeth behind failing to complete your goal.  They came up with a “commitment contract” to help make sure that you follow through on your goal.  From their site:

Entirely unique to each person, a Commitment Contract obliges you to achieve your goal within a particular time-frame. Not only are you challenging yourself by saying “Hey, I can do this,” you’re also putting your reputation at stake. If you are unsuccessful, we’ll let your friends know about it.

Oh but wait, there’s more…

Sometimes losing face with your friends might not be enough to keep you on track. So, what is the one thing no one can stand to part with? You guessed it! Cold hard cash.

As a true test of your commitment, stickK will let you put your money on the line for any Commitment Contract. Achieve your goal and you don´t pay a thing (and you´re much happier than before, aren´t you?).

But if you aren’t successful, you forfeit your money to a charity, an anti-charity or even that neighbor who keeps stealing your newspaper.

Adding money into the situation is a really interesting idea, but the idea of an “anti-charity” is what makes this website unique and innovative.  For example, if you are a hardcore Republican and you want to lose 15 pounds, you can make your contract say that you will donate $100 to a gun control advocacy if you do not achieve your goal.  The anti-charity adds so much added motivation for you to complete your goal.  If you fail, you are not only letting yourself down and spending money, but you are helping a cause that you do not like.

I decided to try it out today to see if it works and set up an account.  They only have a few anti-charities, so I used the “friend or foe” option.  Since I am a proud UW grad and a huge Badger sports fan, if I do not achieve my goal, I will donate $200 to the University of Michigan Athletic Department.  I will keep you updated if I accomplish my goal or if the University of Michigan Athletic Department will get $200 of my hard earned money.

Do you think StickK is a good idea?  What anti-charity would you donate to?