It shouldn’t take a tsunami

The tsunami that killed thousands in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand and neighboring nations has shown the power of do-it-yourself media. Within hours of the disaster sites had sprung up to post eyewitnesses reports, upload pictures of the missing, or provide links to donate money or help.

All of this is commendable but not surprising given the magnitude of the disaster. Yet each day thousands of minor tragedies go unnoticed. Children die of dysentery because their water is contaminated. I recently came across an initiative that focuses on these overlooked tragedies by linking donors in the developed world with tiny unmet needs. It’s called Giving Global. I tripped over it one day while searching for something else and thought, “What a great idea!”

The non-profit group was founded in June 2002 by Pamela Hawley. Her bio says she did volunteer work in India around microfinance — making tiny loans to get individuals or families on their feet. In 1996, she co-founded VolunteerMatch, a non-profit that matches volunteers in the U.S. with groups in need. Now she seems to be taking that same concept global.

I wasn’t able to find much written about the group, which is not surprising given that it’s new, so I don’t mean to suggest they’re the best or the only effect in this realm. In fact, when I mistakenly transposed the words in the group’s title to “GlobalGiving,” I found a website under construction by the Salvation Army.

The point is that we shouldn’t wait for big events to take action. We need to do little things on a regular basis. Take water purification. The Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose recently honored a scientist who invented a way to kill bacteria and viruses using ultraviolet light. The inventor, Ashok Gadgil of Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, estimates it would cost $1.50 a year to provide clean drinking water to a single person. That’s less than I will spend on coffee today.

Ultimatey, web-based matching systems will make it possible for me to forgo the occasional cup of coffee and donate a buck-fifty to provide someone with a year’s worth of drinking water. Of course I’ll hope most of that money makes it thru the donation pipeline, because there have been scandals. But web-based links and small projects may be less prone to problem. We’ll see.

I’m just pleased that global giving via the web will continue after the current wave of interest recedes.

Tom Abate
January 4, 2005