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STORY EIGHT Trying Simply to Help Eastern Europe, 1990 124 In the late 1980s, a couple who had made so much money that it was a slight moral embarrassment to them decided to start a private foundation. They had lived part of their childhood in Africa and loved the continent. They believed in education. They also believed in simplicity and had made their money by acting on one of those timehonored , commonsense business fundamentals: They made their business moves on the basis of trust in individual people rather than sophisticated analyses of markets or economic trends (though they did not skirt these entirely). Most of the time their instincts about people were right, and they established wide-ranging and intricate but always personal cum business relationships that helped their business prosper enormously. When luck brought large opportunities for multiplying their investment, they were in position to take advantage. Thus, when they began their development assistance foundation, they did not bother to study the field, get to know how the World Bank does it or how other foundations do it. They simply surmised that these institutions and organizations, however much expertise resided in them, were not relevant to them, if only because they were just that—institutions and organizations. They did not, above all, want their foundation to be an organization. They wanted to give away about $1 million per year, directly to people involved in education in Africa who they felt could and would do good with the money. They did not demand much paperwork, lengthy proposals , or revisions to the proposals but simply a sense that the person knew where he or she wanted to go and that this end goal (building a new school, repairing a classroom, extending primary education to an underreached group) made sense and was reasonably achievable. Above all, they did not want their help diluted along the way—if a grant was to be for ten thousand dollars, they did not want to spend more to get the money to its “target” than the cost of wiring the money. Of course, they needed some sort of agency, in the pure sense of the term. They had their own lives to lead and could not spend months in Africa getting to know such individuals or searching them out. Thus some of their decisions were made on the basis of recommendations from those they knew and trusted already. That this once-removed stance might make some of their grants more risky, they were more than willing to accept . For their other basic principle was that if you were not prepared for the possibility of failure, even total failure, you simply had no business giving away money to help others. Development, intended to be of help, is in the end a gamble—you could lose it all; the money could indeed go down a black hole, leaving nothing behind, not even the final defense against the abjectness of such an egregious loss: the illusion of having “learned a lesson.” In the end, they knew it was their money and they had to answer for it only to themselves. On one of their visits to Africa they met a white man who had gone there to seek a more meaningful life. He was working with schools. They liked him. Around that time they had been thinking it would perhaps be more efficient if they had someone managing things on a day-to-day basis , that perhaps they could accomplish more if they had a full-time person , for they were beginning to learn that it is not that easy to give away $1 million per year. They also had a geographic expansion of sorts in mind. With the fall of the Berlin Wall, Eastern Europe began to seek development help from Western institutions. It so happened that the husband of the couple who established the foundation, during his many years in business, had often had dealings in Eastern Europe and had felt frustrated with how Trying Simply to Help 125 much talent and resources were being wasted there. He had a strong feeling that if examples could be given to Eastern Europeans about how differently the economy could work, that two generations of communist mentality would begin to erode. He knew also that Eastern Europe was not Africa and that providing assistance by doing things directly in the schools was not going to be the way to help. Not knowing exactly what approach to take but wanting...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781613760826
Related ISBN
9781558493926
MARC Record
OCLC
647376217
Pages
320
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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