I get contacted from time to time by 'new' philanthropists looking to do something positive and productive with their wealth. Usually this is someone who has made a lot of money in the technology industry and who is now starting her or his own family foundation.
Chronologically speaking, many of these people are closer to what one would consider the age at which someone starts a career than the age at which one 'retires'. In other words: They are often rather young.
Based on my (admittedly limited) experience, many of these sorts of folks are often firm believers in the value of education (even if they themselves dropped out of formal schooling early to focus on writing code), in the transformative potential of technology (something which has profoundly and positively impacted their lives personally, offering them opportunities and riches they could never have dreamed of) and in the desire to do something globally (the person may be an immigrant her/himself, be married to an immigrant, have worked with lots of people from different countries or cultures, and/or just have done a lot of international travel).
Last year, for example, I was contacted by someone (writing on behalf of someone else) who wished to (I am slightly paraphrasing here) "explore innovative ways that technology can be harnessed to help overcome longstanding challenges in education around the world". (As for how such folks find me, they usually say: I stumbled across the EduTech blog.)
Given that I have been approached a number of times in a similar sort of way quite recently, and that I serve on a number of externally advisory boards where this sort of thing is discussed, I thought I'd share this scenario here, as well as little bit about some of the things I sometimes say in response, in case it might be of interest to anyone else:
Let's say I had the equivalent of a few million U.S. dollars
available to do something innovative at the intersection of
education and technology somewhere in the 'developing world'.
If it works out, a lot more money could potentially be used
to support activities further, and more systematically,
over a longer period of time.
If it doesn't work out -- well, that would not be great, of course,
but I am willing to take some risks.
I want to be innovative,
and would really like to do something
that no one else is doing.
What should my new foundation do, and how should we do it?
I must confess that, whenever I am asked these sorts of questions, I find it to be a rather exciting, and perhaps even a little terrifying, scenario. (Often times such adjectives are not mutually exclusive!) When presented with a blank canvas of this sort, where and how does one start to paint?