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Maverick Philanthropists - How to be one.

PostPosted: Tue Mar 21, 2000 8:32 am
by BarbaraSher
Why this topic? Because I have had some surprising experiences, both good and bad, over the last few months as I pursued my dream of creating a model to teach e-commerce to village women, starting with Turkey. (To see my progress you can look at the webpage under construction at My foray into the world of funding has been most enlightening. Sometimes the behavior of the people who professed to support the project was so abominable I felt like I had food poisoning. Sometimes it was so wonderful I was proud to be a human. I think that many of us are creative and have exciting ideas of how to make a small but wonderful difference in the world, but that we're unprepared for the arena we enter when we begin. So I'd like to offer my experiences, and to share what I've found about other "micro-philanthropists" in the hopes that if we support each other we can figure out how to slip over the top, slide under the radar, or sneak into the party and get the insider info we need to make the world better. Call it another kind of Success Team, and we'll help each other succeed. (For any private messages, go to "Ask Barbara" and your message will go directly to my e-mail) [This message has been edited by BarbaraSher (edited March 21, 2000).]

PostPosted: Tue Mar 21, 2000 9:19 am
by Transitionalgirl
Barbara, have you had any luck with donations from within Turkey itself? I'm thinking government small business grants, women's associations, export associations... Have you had any success drumming up interest with media coverage in that country - i.e. newspaper/magazine articles? Are there any Turkish organizations/publications in North America that might pick up on the story and need for funds? Can you raise some funds through selling ads on your web site? I'm not sure who you would target for this, but there must be some related businesses/organizations who want their name out there. I have a family friend who has done some similar work with women in India & Nepal. I'll try to contact her and pick her brain. ------------------ Julia

PostPosted: Tue Mar 21, 2000 9:26 am
by BarbaraSher
Over the years I've come across stories in newspapers and magazines about individuals who have bypassed the big foundations (or been rejected by them) and just gone out to do some good on their own. In a newspaper in London, I read about a nun who went to Africa by herself without any backing (because she couldn't get consent from the church), walked to a village, sat under a tree until the kids brought her food, and proceeded to teach them how to read and write.

After 20 years she had created 20 schools. She appeared in the London newspaper because she'd finally been noticed and was being given an award by the Queen. Her wonderful responses (instead of what my most ungracious one would have been: "Thanks for nothing. A lot of kids could have used your help for the last 20 years.") was something like "What's the big deal?"

Very cool. I'm filled with admiration.

In a United Airlines magazine a few years ago I read an article about a retired engineer named Eric Schonblum who never even tried to bring in outside funds, but went to the Ozarks and started a 2 week summer computer camp in the local school. He sat on the porches of the people who lived back in the hills, telling them what he wanted to do, and saying he'd come by every morning and toot his horn, and wait a minute or two, and if their kids came out he'd take them to school and bring them back at the end of the day. And if they didn't, well, that would be okay too.

At the school he had/has some old Macintoshes and his only goal was to make the kids comfortable with computers. A very gentle and wise human being, this man.

I have a great article from The New York Times (International Section, author Barbara Crossette, no date, unfortunately) about a French writer and historian named Dominique (and his wife also Dominique) Lapierre: "[who] went back to India to try to share his success with the people who had inspired his work...LaPierre, 68, calculates that he has spent $5 million on his small and largely unpublicized projects, drawn from royalties on his books...

"Along the way, he has learned some hard lessons, he said. He has come to distrust official foreign aid -- from governments, the United Nations and big international agencies..." and their refusal to give money to humans (apparently they just want to have buildings and vehicles, which wind up empty and rusty). So they too did it on their own.

If you know of any more stories like these, I'd love to hear them. This is a long post, so I'll continue on another.

PostPosted: Tue Mar 21, 2000 9:31 am
by BarbaraSher
TransitionalGirl, thanks for the suggestions. I'd love to hear from your friend!

PostPosted: Tue Mar 21, 2000 9:44 am
by BarbaraSher
Amazing. Look what just this moment came into my webpage (no permission to use it yet, so I'm deleting name and identifying marks)

"Question: Hello Barbara, I have just been through one of the worst years of my life in the public school system, trying to teach science to grades 11/12. I know I am a good teacher but frankly I am totally disillusioned and am currently on stress leave. I love science, reading, research, etc. I also love travel and visiting countries like Guatemala (went there with my son) and I'm looking for ways I can be a 'philanthropist'.

I have taught everything from kindergarten on up as a teacher on call for many years. I had hoped that this was my year to make a real go of it, teaching something that I love. Apparently not - partly due to the tremendous pressure on the students and myself with respect to marks marks marks. Enough said.

Is there any hope for a tired disillusioned 50-something teacher who loves art, nature, the outdoors, travel, etc.? Where do I start? Where do I fit?"

How about that? How can we possibly let talent like this go to waste? Why do institutions and individual consistently stonewall, even punish the most gifted and generous people among us, the ones who could make the world so much better. Maybe it's time to stop preaching that we should go out and be good to each other, and start putting together a guerrilla strategy sheet to show us HOW. Meantime, can we help her?

PostPosted: Tue Mar 21, 2000 11:54 am
by Helga
Barbara, I am very intrigued by this topic. I've always had an interest in helping third world countries but didn't have the faintest idea how. I would love to be able to buy a pair of shoes that gave a third world craftsman a decent living - and they would probably be extremely well made and durable, rather than buying something made in a corporate sweatshop. All that is needed is some type of network between third world co-operatives and the North American market. A co-operative e-bay? If all those craftspeople can't find markets all their skills will be lost as they go work in factories for low wages. That would be a great loss to humanity, I think. Helga

PostPosted: Wed Mar 22, 2000 10:29 am
by BarbaraSher
Helgo, yes I agree with you. You get the picture so clearly. I don't know where to buy great handmade shoes, but maybe somebody here can make a suggestion.

PostPosted: Wed Mar 22, 2000 10:42 am
by BarbaraSher
YAY! A good rich lady! It happens! Look at this article some kind person just sent me from Forbes magazine, Sept 20, 1999, about Ann Lurie and her husband who set up a philanthropic plan before he died at 48. Running it seems to have changed her.

"Ann has transformed an interest in giving into a career as a philanthropist...One lesson she's learned: She can do without the bureaucracy of charitable foundations. "'I really wanted to run a soup kitchen,' she says, 'only to find out that even that is complicated...After nine years of giving, Lurie has had enough of the paperwork and administration that goes with running her family foundation.

"'I want to go out there and look for a soup kitchen,' she says. 'I don't want 80 soup kitchens coming to me."

I wonder how many good rich folks have been buried under the weight of their big family philanthropies and wish they could be freer. Well, if any such are reading this, take heart from her.

PostPosted: Wed Mar 22, 2000 12:32 pm
by Hopeful
I'm the disillusioned teacher who wrote to Barbara yesterday. I like the idea of planning guerrilla strategy showing people how to be good to one another! Let's not complain any more ; let's be models in how it's done. I am certainly nore hopeful today after thinking about this column and some of the ideas that were suggested.

There are so many needs - I just have to go downtown in my city and I could be volunteering all the time in soup kitchens, etc. A one day walk downtown last week yielded at least three volunteer opportunities. A walk through my school can yield many ideas on how to reach kids who are falling through the cracks if only there were enough people to help and enough money.

How does one become a maverick philanthropist? (What do you mean by the term maverick, Barbara?) How do I live? Do I give up my job to do this? I am not independently wealthy and I have children who are going to college.

(By the way, another philanthropic idea -help all worthy teenagers achieve a higher education, not just the brightest who get most of the scholarships.)

I am trying my hand at the stock market, carefully, but that isn't likely to get me anywhere soon. So, any ideas on how to become independently wealthy? Then I will think about funding for the many needs out there. Is that being selfish? Any ideas appreciated.

PostPosted: Wed Mar 22, 2000 7:04 pm
by BarbaraSher
Hey Hopeful, welcome to the fireplace. Come warm your hands. I love your ideas, and think they're all great. You should pick the one that looks like the most fun for you -- yes I said FUN, because that will ensure you're using your talents, and being creative. And that you won't burn out like the Guilt-Driven people do.

But I think you've made your choices tough by such a big list. Pick one project and one only because that's the only way things get done: one thing at a time. I'm not sure you should volunteer anywhere.You're a good teacher. That's the most special creature in humankind. And the rarest. I think you might be one of those people who designs their own program.

I guess that's a maverick philanthropist. They don't run with the herd and they have a vision that makes it impossible for them to take orders from people who don't. I accidentally found a tiny, wonderful foundation that gave me enough money to buy one computer for Turkey. But they are the exception. No matter. We let all bureaucratic structures make us forget that through history people have always managed to do wonderful things to help others without any help at all.

I'm looking for an article I read in the NY Times, I think, about a retired woman in Harlem living on social security, who started a soup kitchen in her home. Eventually her daughter, a professional of some kind I can't remember, joined her and helped set it up in a storefront. And after a few years they got a grant from an organization called "The Giraffe Foundation" (I believe), designed to help people who stick their necks out.

What will you do for money? The same thing you'd do if you weren't a micro-maverick philanthropist: get a job. You've got to anyway. Just make sure it's something that doesn't sap your strength, and don't worry if it's boring or irrelevant. Paying the rent is always relevant. There are good people out there who might help you make one of those dreams of yours come true, but you just can't wait for them.

Here's my contribution to the Guerilla Philanthropist Manifesto

1) Find stories of people like the lady in Harlem to make you remember what's possible.

2) Stay close to your friends (that's us). Some dreadful people are really going to treat you unkindly and you'll someone to console you and curse them.

2) Start small. Start next door. Start with $11 dollars. If you pay for things yourself you don't have to give fools a vote.

3) Never ever forget: Nobody can stop you. If someone says you can't help a teenager learn how to read in the park on Tuesdays, tell them to get a lawyer and send you a letter.

4) Don't try to become a non-profit by yourself unless you have a large staff, plenty of money, more time than you need and a tolerance for mindless, boring procedure. What I wish someone would do is start a foundation that helps us micro-philanthropists become non-profit without having to do a damn thing. It's such a bad use of the time of a creative person who can really make things happen to tie them up in the Bleak House atmosphere of Official Paper-dom.It's also an immoral use of the money they've scratched together to pay lawyers and fees. If anybody with bucks out there wants to do some good, start a foundation that does *that*. [This message has been edited by BarbaraSher (edited March 22, 2000).]

PostPosted: Thu Mar 23, 2000 7:58 pm
by MaggieMe
Hi Barbara, I may have a suggestion for you. You might want to ask friends who work in medium-large corporations what they may be doing with their "old" computers . We are in the process of giving away 250 "old" (Pentium 233's with 1 gig hard drives, 33.6 modems - not too shabby at all!) PC's and our office gets to decide where they go. As a whole, we decided to give them to YMCA, Boys Clubs and any community non-profit which may be in need.

I know Turkey is far away but the cost of shipping "old" PC's might be less than buying new PC's and paying to ship the new ones...

For buying items from indigenous people who have set up co-ops so they can make some decent $$ and stop destroying their forests..try these sites:

Conservation International go to their Rain Forest Market Place and to

I have ordered tons of gifts from this site and these people are marvelous..they sent my gifts prior to receiving my check even !

Wildlife Works is a great place too:

There are many others out there but I have lost my bookmarks at the moment. Hope this small tidbit helped

[This message has been edited by MaggieMe (edited March 23, 2000).] [This message has been edited by MaggieMe (edited March 23, 2000).]

PostPosted: Thu Mar 23, 2000 9:25 pm
by BarbaraSher
Boy that oneworld site is wonderful! If you're not into kilims, you should definitely do your gift shopping there. if you are into kilims, don't be shy about coming to I figure I should make that link every 10 posts. Thanks!

I think it's definitely going to have to be a volunteer project -- one Good Guy at a time, visiting a village overseas with laptop in tow, and leaving it behind -- Just for someone to hold until the next time s/he comes and will need it. And while this person is at it, s/he could maybe even teaching people how to use them before leaving.)

I make this promise right now: If you can pay your own transportation, and you'd like to carry/loan us your laptop until your return (and maybe do some techie teaching to these grand people) for a week or two, you won't have to pay a penny for food or a place to sleep while you're there. And you'll have a great time.

Just go back to the Home Page, click on "Ask Barbara" and we'll start the whole underground railroad for needed volunteers right now.

PostPosted: Fri Mar 24, 2000 2:08 am
by KKG
Hello -- What an intriguing discussion this is! I just found and skimmed it -- will read in more detail later. But I thought I'd pass on the story of a lovely philanthropist I know.

Bruce Renfroe is an elevator operator at the 181st Street stop on New York's "A" train. Every elevator in the NY subway system is, to me, a little piece of hell. But not Bruce's. It's decorated with pictures of jazz musicians and kids from the neighbourhood. Bruce knows his jazz and plays it in the lift -- quiet, mellow jazz. He has a kindly word for everyone on the lift. A smile from Bruce can turn a bad day into a good day.

At holiday time, it's amazing in there -- Christmas lights, a menorah, a fireplace with stockings, a Santa ... incredible. Since Christmas, Bruce has put a big plastic bin in the elevator and everyone donates canned goods. Thousands of pounds of food have been donated to City Harvest. Bruce's actions remind me daily that we can all make a difference.

PostPosted: Fri Mar 24, 2000 6:49 am
by topatate16
KKG: (What are you doing up at 4:08 am?) Please tell Bruce that he is my new personal hero. Thank you for this wonderful story.

Barbara: For heaven's sake...why didn't you say something about needing laptops? I just donated one to my church for use in the bookstore. I would have gladly sent it to you. Since the computer industry likes to torture us with creating newer, faster, computers about every six weeks, there are untold number of computers out there that are being used as door stops.

I remember seeing a news story about a man who takes in old computers that don't have the latest fancy bells and whistles but were perfectly good machines. He had a garage full of them. Wish I could remember where (and when) I saw that story.

I know you don't believe in affirmations but sometimes, Barbara, you have to write down what you need and put it out into the universe. And the fastest way is through your own bulletin board! Here you are talking about maverick philanthropists yet you are trying to get stuff out of companies and foundations. Let us help you!

PostPosted: Fri Mar 24, 2000 11:02 am
by BarbaraSher
Ha, topatate, you're funny. But it isn't the computers I need as much as people to carry them there. (Read the details above. It was late last night and I may have been unclear.)

I need "computer shepherds" who are willing to bring a bit of equipment and spend a few hours a day for a week or so teaching how to use the things. I don't need many people for Turkey. Just a few. (When the program expands to India, Cambodia and the Philippines I'll need more.)

And I'd love you to help me. You're right. Why should I go to strangers?

First step, go to and click on the "village" button to see photos and read my sentimental copy. Then you're sure to fall in love with the village and will will yearn to visit.

Second, find a relatively recent laptop you don't need and bring it over. You'll get great food and stay in charming homes, sometimes a bit primitive but excruciatingly clean. And you'll fall in love with people even if you don't understand a word they're saying. (Especially the older people, because they are so incredibly expressive and lively.) How's that for asking for help? Better?