I pledge to give at least $1,000 a day away, every day, for the rest of my life.
I've had the blessing of earning significant amounts of money in my career as a real estate re-developer, sustainably renovating tired and dilapidated apartment buildings into spaces where communities can thrive. I will likely have the opportunity to earn more money in the future since it's much easier to make money once you already have it. With financial privilege like this, however, I have to wonder, what is the money is for? Why continue to grow my nest egg when my family's financial needs have already been met? That would seem to be a thirst that could never be quenched, like a hungry ghost where the food it eats falls right through the body without ever feeling satiated. Not long ago, I annually gave a few large donations to more established organizations. I felt more or less fulfilled by the experience of being financially generous and by knowing I was helping good causes. I still do this and am proud to support these groups. However, there was an aching feeling my money wasn't achieving its potential.
I realized that reducing some societal negatives wasn’t filling me up. I needed to balance that giving by increasing societal positives, and by finding a more intimate way of giving. I wanted to connect to the goodness in people and to give in a way that was easier for me to relate to the beneficiaries; to know the names and to see the faces of the individuals I was giving to. I wanted to utilize my own wisdom and compassion so I could show up each day with more skillfulness and bring more love and kindness into the world. I also wanted to reduce my greed, aversion, ignorance and delusions so I can live a life that’s further aligned with my values and acknowledges that I’m merely a conduit for financial resources and material things.
My wife Becky, a doctor who cares for underserved populations, and I wanted to share our desire to serve others and act as role models for our two young boys. We wanted to come up with a way of giving that supported our belief that we’re all deeply interconnected to all life, and acknowledge that we all play an integral role in supporting or obstructing its ability to thrive through our thoughts, words, and deeds.
We, along with my sister-in-law Stephanie Klempner came up with the concept of The Pollination Project, which starts with the belief that everyone has something to contribute towards making the world better. We identify motivated, passionate and committed neophyte social change entrepreneurs who are ready to turn their game changing ideas into reality. Three years ago we launched the The Pollination Project and within 6 months we were giving away at least one grant every single day. Fast forward two and one half years and we haven’t stopped. Just this month we made our one thousandth grant.
Our 1,000th grant just went to 22-year old, Padmanaban Gopalan, founder of No Food Waste. He set up a telephone hotline for venues like hotels, banquet halls, and catering facilities to report surplus food. A team of volunteers then collects food, repackages it, and distributes it to the hungry people in ashrams, slums, and on the streets. Padmanaban and his small team of friends and volunteers aim to feed 3,000 people each month in Coimbatore from meals that have been "re-purposed", and plan expand to five other cities, for a total of 60,000 meals a month diverted from landfills.
Our goal is not about sustaining an established organization; it’s about believing in the power of individuals, armed with a calling, a passion, a practical vision, and sometimes a smartphone, to make meaningful and fundable change in the world.
Here is a small sampling of some of the other projects we’ve been blessed to fund:
- Raghu Makwana lost both of his legs due to polio. Raghu uses his $1,000 grant to deliver meals 2x a day via his wheelchair to hungry people regardless of the conditions – from monsoons to 105’ heat in the slums of Ahmedabad, India. Raghu was sadly and tragically killed in an auto accident in early 2014.
- Teresa Njoroge had a successful business career in Kenya until she was arrested for a crime she didn’t commit. Unable to pay her bail or pay for a defense lawyer, Teresa served 12 months in Langata Women’s Maximum Security Prison before being exonerated after her release. She used her $1,000 grant to found Support Me in My Shoes (SMIMS) which is dedicated to helping former inmates reintegrate into wider society upon their release.
- Hashem Abushama, an 18 year old living in the Palestinian refugee camp of Arroub, used his funds to beautify his community which he describes as an overcrowded and dirty refugee camp. He and his team of volunteers paint murals, put trash bins around the camp, and conduct workshops in the elementary school classrooms teaching children about how to respect the land.
I’m proud to say some of our grantees have gone on to win prestigious international awards, secure large government and foundation grants, and secure national and international media attention. I write a weekly post in the Huffington Post highlighting their projects so that they can share it in their networks and help build their credibility.
Now my goal is to make the process of making money as nourishing and contributory as the process of giving it away; to change not just the generosity of what we do with the fruits of our labor but to make the process itself as important as the outcome. I’m currently adjusting my real estate business and making changes to ensure my values are at the core of our business practice. Now my focus is regeneration, sustainability, and community-building. We take older buildings that are run down to add to their useful life. Last year I put in over a megawatt of solar panels, installed ultra low-flow toilets and installed a handful of organic gardens. We’re concerned about making sure our resident’s bills are lower and that they have a lower footprint so we added insulation, replace incandescent bulbs with CFLs, install low-e windows and added weather stripping among other improvements. To build a sense of community we have two afterschool tutoring program (with a 3rd one on its way soon) and there are lots of dog parks.
My advice to others is not to see giving as an obligation or responsibility, but as an opportunity to express or create your own sense of abundance and to find a way to be contributory that breeds a deeper sense of connection. Think about how you create your wealth, not just how you give it away. Be willing to challenge the dominant paradigms of giving. Don’t just do what other people are doing and have more fun and intimacy with your gifts. Think about non-supporting structures that are causing more harm than good and address these root problems. Question your unexamined assumptions about what the world needs, especially do that my examining what you truly need for a happy life.
How we show up is like the soil in which we plant our intentions, our vision and our hope for the world. If our soil is rich with love, compassion, beauty and joy, what we plant will be loving, compassionate, beautiful and joyful. As we are, so our work is. If we start with self transformation, wisdom will direct our generosity in ways that bring greater fruits then we could ever have anticipated. Small investments can pay big returns, for both ourselves and the world at large.