More than a dollar

It’s a myth that money is fungible.

Ok, not really.  Money itself is, strictly speaking, fungible, but that doesn’t mean all money is equal.  Who it comes from speaks volumes about your organization, its worldview, and what you stand for.

Some of the pieces of the equation are obvious: money with a lot of strings attached is worth less than unrestricted money.  Money that will take you off mission is money you shouldn’t take in the first place.

But it goes deeper than that.  A few weeks ago I was in Ghana – we opened our Acumen West Africa office earlier this year.  One of our top priorities from the outset has been to raise significant philanthropic funding from West Africans, and by far the most humbling part of the trip was the chance to spend time with the three Ghanaian Acumen Partners who have already stepped up significantly to support our work.  Theirs is not just a vote of confidence from some of the most amazing business leaders in the country.  It also creates a completely different level of accountability, a completely different conversation what we mean when we talk about “our” work in West Africa.   It is truly ours, it is truly shared.

Recently, the UK government made headlines when it announced that it would stop giving aid to India after 2015.  In our lifetimes, the bright lines around which countries are rich and which are poor will fade.  By 2025 India could easily have 500 million people in its middle class and 500 million people in poverty.  Brazil’s GDP per capita could easily pass the $15,000 mark with 10 million or more people living in urban slums.

The time to start cultivating a truly global corps of philanthropists, philanthropists who support both local and global causes, is now.    There’s no doubt that today it is easier and cheaper for your organization to raise a dollar in New York or San Francisco or London than it is to raise it in Mumbai, Lagos or São Paulo.  But if you keep doing that, you’ll miss the boat.

Remember, all money isn’t equal.

What do you practice?

Finally over my cold, I did sleep past 4 in the morning last night, helped by a late night out the night before. But I’m in the habit of waking up at 6:20am, usually 7 days a week, thanks to my kids, early risers that they are. (I do miss the occasional chance to sleep until noon).

Habits are interesting things. The New York Times recently ran an article about Dr. Val Curtis, an anthropologist living in Burkina Faso who is currently the director of the Hygiene Center at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. Dr. Curtis has enlisted the help of the some of the world’s leading consumer product companies in an effort to double the rate of hand-washing in Ghana. If this can be achieved, it could significantly decrease transmission rates of diarrhea and other fatal disease caused by poor hygiene. Wouldn’t it be amazing if the same companies that have taught us to need blister packs of gum, branded detergent, and Swiffers could apply these same techniques to teach people habits that save lives? And where do we draw the line if, along the way, this results in pushing a particular brand of hand soap, maybe one that costs a little more than another option?

A lot of how we go through our days is about habits. By repeating certain actions — drinking a morning coffee, brushing our teeth, smoking cigarettes, or checking a Blackberry — we condition ourselves to do and expect certain things. I think this is why making real personal change can be so difficult.

On the other hand, think about the power of simply practicing a new behavior. What if you wanted to get better at being kinder or listening more? Why not start by practicing, by the simple act of repetition? Start small. Say ‘good morning’ to the person you see in the lobby every morning where you work. Spend two weeks turning off the TV at 9pm. Make a point of looking people in the eye when they talk to you.

We are the way we go through the world. What behaviors are you practicing?