Thursday, February 01, 2007

Open Philanthropy - Building Blocks #3 and #4

This post picks up where I left off in January, excerpting my article on "Open Philanthropy" that appears in The World We Want. Think of the these seven building blocks as guiding principles to open philanthropy. The full list of seven is:

1. Facilitate adaptation, don’t hinder it
2. Design for interoperability, local specificity will follow
3. Build for the poorest
4. Assume upward adaptability

5. Creativity and control will happen locally
6. Diversity is essential
7. Complex problems require hybrid solutions

Numbers 1 and 2 were discussed here. In this post I give examples of numbers 3 and 4.

Codes that facilitate sharing and global systems of exchange are a big part of open philanthropy. The third building block is to build for the poorest. The fourth building block is to assume upward adaptability.

"Together, they address the directionality of change in a flat and connected world. If we really want social actions to spread from place to place, we need to design them for the least resourced situations. The reason is simple; solutions that work in the toughest conditions can be adapted where greater resources are available. Once a health intervention or agricultural practice is successful in arid and poor conditions, it can spread to places where clean water is prevalent and electricity is available. We know that this doesn’t work in reverse – things built for the rich may be incapable of being adapted for the poor. It is easier to adapt ‘up’ the resource chain.

There is something inherently right about the notion of beginning with what works for those with the least.

“The principle of ‘building for the poorest’ is beginning to take hold in philanthropy. In 2005 The William and Melinda Gates Foundation announced $437 million in awards for health innovations. The idea was to support risky research that would “…concentrate on projects for the world's poorest people.” For example, vaccines that need no refrigeration are critical for tropical climates. Once such vaccines exist, there is nothing to stop them from being useful in places with refrigeration – they can easily be ‘adapted up’ the resource chain. As we practice sharing ideas globally and promoting their local use, we also need to ensure that the ideas are adaptable.

Perhaps that is what both Pierre Omidyar and Steve Case meant when they said that once launched in this new networked direction of interconnectivity, there is no turning back."

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