What are You Doing to Make the World a Better Place?

We’re fascinated by money: the acquisition of it, and what it can buy.

But we already realize that, beyond having health, a roof over our heads and loved ones around us, money doesn’t really add a lot of value to our lives—and nor do the material things that we can purchase with it.

I struggle with this concept. Watching money grow fascinates me. And I’m not material at all. In this respect, I’m probably pretty strange. If you sent me downtown, suggesting that everything—for a ten hour period—would be free, (and if the rule was that I couldn’t given anything away) then I’d probably just come back with a couple of good books.

In a similar vein, if I won the lottery, I’d be both happy and sad.

Part of what I love about building wealth is the accomplished acquisition: the challenge of it all.

I’ve donated money sporadically to a couple of South East Asian NGO organizations: one based in India and the other in Cambodia. During one teaching semester, I gave away 20% of my total salary.

But I would never give to a group like Unicef, with its high administrative levels and expenses. I prefer having every dollar I donate go to a source that I (or a dear friend) have sourced out personally—and worked with personally at the ground level.

My favourites are Tabitha for Cambodia and Free Schools in India

I can vouch for these two. They make extraordinarily efficient use of donated money.

But my good friend, Kris Olson, has gone much further than I have, in his contribution to make the world a better place. He’s humble, inspiring, and part of his story is here: Incubator Made From Car Parts Saves Lives.

What about you? How are you helping?

And have you considered how most NGOs are, in Jim Roger’s words, “the best scam going”.

And how are you insuring that your money is going where it should be going—as Roger’s suggests, rather than into some organizer’s Mercedes Benz fund?

Andrew Hallam

I’m a financial columnist for Canada’s national paper, The Globe and Mail, as well as for AssetBuilder, a financial service firm based in Texas. I’m also the author of Millionaire Teacher: The Nine Rules of Wealth You Should Have Learned in School and Millionaire Expat: How To Build Wealth Living Overseas. My mission is to educate, motivate and inspire people on basic retirement planning and best practices for investing, using evidence-based strategies. I'm happy to comment on your questions.

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7 Responses

  1. Andrew, all I can say is that I am most certainly not doing enough. In fact, one of the biggest reasons I'd like to get out of the rat race is so that I could do more.

    I think that money only goes so far for two reasons: One is poor allocation of resources, which you alluded to in terms of high administrative expenses. People often cry for their governments to donate more taxpayer money, but this is probably one of the most wasteful ways to go about it.

    The resources aren't allocated very efficiently, and the emphasis here tends to be on "give a man a fish" instead of "teach a man to fish". Well, guess what, when you give a man a fish, you have to give him another fish tomorrow, and another fish the day after. This is not only wasteful and inefficient, but it is morally degrading for the people receiving the aid, and it is continuing the "superior-inferior" relationship. There is no dignity to such an approach.

    The second reason is that poor places are poor because they don't have an abundance of physical or human capital. If you could go back in time and dump 10,000 tons of gold on a bunch of cavemen, what would they do with it? They can't eat it, and they can't use it to produce many useful things.

    The problem here isn't whether we have money or if we don't have money. Money is simply a claim on real resources. If the real resources don't exist, more money won't help! Again, it comes down to "giving a fish" or "teaching a man to fish". Simply redistributing money and resources won't alleviate world poverty. What will alleviate it is by helping these people to rise up on their own, through good guidance, good rules, and aid that teaches them and helps them to catch their own fish.

    One thing I would like to do is travel to one of these countries and get involved in the projects directly, whether it be the construction of new homes and schools or what not. Then, if I ever have a substantial amount of money one day, I'd like to take the philantropic capitalist approach: I'd like to work with these people and produce wealth together, so that they can rise up on their own.

    I'd like to get more involved in concepts like charter cities and seasteading, which hold the promise of creating new spaces with new, better rules, for people to live in and build a future. It is hard to accumulate wealth and build a society when your wealth and life can be stolen from you at any moment by thugs or corrupt government officials!

  2. That incubator is quite a neat invention, and since it can be built from local parts and serviced by local people, is a great example of what I was talking about as well. Hats off to your friend for that!

  3. Hey Kevin,

    I agree with you 100%. GIving money to people in a third world country is like giving money to your children–it weakens the recipient. And in the case of the thirld world, that weakening is devastating.

    My wife and I took a very keen interest in Tabitha a few years ago. It was founded by a Canadian who suggested that the Cambodian people need to be empowered. When Tabitha builds a well, the recipients generally think that they came up with the money themselves. Tabitha helps them set goals, to work together with other familes, and prompt them to save up $20 U.S. to ensure that a well gets drilled–one that three families can share. The wells actually cost $120—which is where outside money comes into the picture. But the people who save that $20 are really proud. And Tabitha helps them reach other goals, with fuel from their new pride.

    The house building projects are inspiring. Again, the recipients have somehow earned the right to have a house built for them. My wife and I used to go every year. It's an amazing experience.

    I really believe in the importance of seeing how an NGO works firsthand before donating anything. It truly has to empower, as you suggest, and not weaken. Tabitha gets my full recommendation if you ever have a few extra dollars you'd like to donate.

    I'm so glad to know that you're as passionate about this as I am.

    I haven't done enough yet either. But I'm getting there. You would enjoy this part: I gave a seminar on investing, and donated the $3,700 I earned to Free Schools in India–another worthy cause.

  4. DIY Investor says:

    I like to keep it local. I work with the board of NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) and participate in their fund raising events. With an organization like NAMI it is easy to see results and it is impressive how many people in the community work really hard to make the community a better place to live. Sometimes I think most people are unaware of all the giving that goes on right under their noses.

    I also have gotten the family involved in "The Race for the Cure" which has evolved into a spectacular event. Surely the money raised goes to pay promoters and for t-shirts etc. but it comes back for the cause.

    I'm proud of my youngest daughter who started a food program at the Culinary Institute of America in New York to give food to the food banks in New York City. Like every major culinary school the CIA wastes a lot. It took a lot from the legalistic side to get the program running.

  5. DIY Investor:

    You're a wise man on many levels. And the fact that your daughter established such a food program speaks volumes to the example you've set. I think that's the best way to teach something: by setting an example and leading, somehow, so that others can see the benefits.

    I'll bet your daughter is an index investor too, right?

    Investing well gives us a stronger financial position to help others when we turn out attention to that. But I suppose an investment in time is probably even better.

    You're inspiring on loads of levels. And you know that I wish your business and your charities the very best.


  6. pgreensoup says:

    Andrew, I can vouch for the Tabitha Cambodia organization as well; I've seen first hand how they are improving lives through their savings program, wells, house building and cottage industry.

    It is interesting that I came across this post today as I just finished a blog post about what some of our students are doing to embed micro-lending into our school culture. If interested, check out my blog at http://pgreensoup.com to see how a few teenagers are spreading the word about kiva.org

  7. I'm going to check out your blog right away Patrick. How did you stumble on to this old post of mine?

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