Monday, December 31, 2007

"Philanthropist in Chief" - my new book

I haven't been writing this blog lately because I've been distracted by life. For one, I've spent a lot of time managing our business in Boston, which usually runs its self, but for Christmas this year the language school decided to throw several monkey wrenches at us simultaneously. Running a company from 900 miles away isn't as fun as you'd think.

For another, Naples Social Action keeps taking more and more of my time - which I love, so that is in no way a complaint. And there's the Naples Institute, which is time-consuming as we put it together - but also enjoyable.

...And, I started a new book a week ago (Xmas day). It is about my adventures in philanthropy since September of last year, though some of the tale predates that.

I'll share a bit with you. Here's the first installment:

Philanthropist in Chief

When my Mom and Dad were newlyweds living in Richmond, Virginia in the early 1950s, they taught Sunday school at the Unitarian church, the only integrated church in the city.

All of their students were white but one, Julian. The entire South was still segregated at that time, which meant that any trip the Coinés took their class on would involve searching for black restrooms for Julian, black water fountains, and as for meals… they would all have to be picnics, as blacks, even little boys, were not allowed in white restaurants.

So Marion and Steve did the only option they saw: all of their field trips in those years were to Washington, DC, about two hours away. Our nation’s capital was not segregated.

They never made a big deal of this when we were kids, but my sisters and I sometimes asked our parents how they withstood life in the South in the Forties, Fifties, and early Sixties. This was the time that Senator Trent Lot’s idol, Strom Thurmond, ran for President on a segregationist platform, remember.

They did not own a car for several years just out of college. Because Mom and Dad had to take the bus to work every day; they tacitly participated in the segregation of public transportation that would eventually inspire the weary Rosa Parks to refuse to vacate her seat for a white passenger.

Michelle, Ahndi, and I knew our parents were people of strong conviction, and we had trouble matching our image of them to Southern life pre-Civil Rights. That is when they would bring up Julian and their Sunday school class. It wasn’t much, they admitted, but it was their little way of trying to make the world a better place. I disagree that it wasn’t much. It was more than almost anyone else in their city did at that time. I’m proud of them.

Perhaps you’ll keep this story in mind as you read the rest of this book. I hear from an awful lot of friends, mostly the older ones, those of the Depression and World War II generation, that our culture is in crisis; that our world is sliding fast down the slope to self-destruction.

I’m not going to fight that sentiment too much. Their thought has a lot of merit. But please, think of Richmond in the Fifties and Richmond today. We’ve made progress from the “good old days.”

The world is a better place today than it has ever been in the history of mankind. We’ve got a long, long way to go before it’s perfect, I concede. But we’re on a roll. People care – a lot of people care an awful lot. Our collective human conscience is more vibrant and Good than it has ever been.

In many ways, we in the present are building on the Good works of the past. In others, there is something new afoot, a democratization of philanthropy that is unique to our time.

Let’s keep it going. Let’s add some fuel to this warming fire.


My wife, Jane, our daughters Ayla and Maryn, and I want to make the world a better place, too. Thus this book. If I can inspire my readers to pitch in just a bit, in any way that makes sense to them, then my hours at the keyboard will be well-spent.

This isn’t a reading book. I hope you make it a doing book. Read it and do – something, anything, that promotes Good in the world.

Monday, December 10, 2007

One Laptop Per Child... again

The following is excerpted from an email exchange with a very good friend who is a very good person. We just don't see eye to eye on my favorite charity. Below, first comes his email, then my reply:


This is a man I SELDOM agree with, but in this instance, he is right on the money, as far as I'm concerned:,2704,2227850,00.asp

I was told the same thing by everyone I visited in Central America--both by the aid organizations and by the people. Computers are THE LAST thing on their minds, they want food, and even better, a way to cook and prepare the food without burning their limbs or chopping them off (Del Monte sent truckloads of fruit cocktail as aid relief, but forgot to send can openers so people could actually EAT the fruit cocktail--so what happened? Everyone's trying to open the can with a Machete, or a gun, or a rock--so the rate of cuts, bruises, limbs being cut off increased dramatically).Dvorak is right--we need to get these people the BASICS and moreover the ability to CREATE the basics on their own. OLPC is a stupid, stupid idea, completely driven by corporate greed (although they DID manage to come up with a nifty little computer).

My reply:

How do you really feel about OLPC? Don't hold back! :)

We're going to have to agree to disagree on this one. I think that writer's a little bombastic: I wonder what he's done to help the poor, including providing food, fresh water, or can openers.

I'm with you that OXs alone aren't going to save the poor. If we could only do one thing to help that 1/3 in deepest poverty, I think I might vote for digging wells for safe drinking water. I'm also completely swept up with Kids Against Hunger. Wanna join me for 2 hours next Sat.? It's truly the coolest thing I've ever done for other people (sex and surfing are both cooler, but less selfless). For ten cents, a person can eat a meal that Jane, the girls, and I actually enjoy. And the local group has packaged up and shipped close to 1 million meals since August. I think we may break that mark this Sat.

As for OLPC... it's like a football game. We have to do a holding pattern, which is basic survival: water, food, medicine, shelter. Basic survival is a basic human right, and haves are morally obligated to provide it for have nots. I truly believe that we have no choice in the matter, morally.

But we also have to fight the causes of poverty, or we're never going to end it, and we'll just end up with more people who need us each day, month, and year, and we'll never catch up, and more and more will die. I think efforts like Heifer Int'l (, microcredit, and OLPC are all awesome because they give people a way out of poverty.

Here's another point I'd like to make. Why deride any charitable effort? So few people do anything at all to help anybody, and most who do something do very little. So many who do give write checks to their churches, the #1 beneficiaries of giving - which is fine, we do too, but we don't exactly lavish a fortune on our church - our church doesn't need it as much as kids in Immokalee and Haiti do. So as I've said before, you buy Central Americans can openers, I'll buy them laptops, and together we'll change their lives.

Last thing, I promise. Jane and I own this half-finished online ESL school that our company designed a few years ago under speculation for a big employer who scrapped the whole project - big mistake, cost us a few hundred thousand dollars; live & learn. But the idea all along was to sell its use to employers and wealthy foreigners who could afford it, and give its use away free to those who could not. (One reason of many that we won't vote for Romney is that we offered its use up free to every kid in Massachusetts, and his office completely dropped that ball. Similar story with Negroponte, so I'm not his biggest fan, either.) Well, we don't even care too much about charging for its use anymore; we just want to give its use away to kids who could benefit from it - after all, it's just collecting dust in cyberspace. And it's designed to teach folks who (a) are 100% illiterate, and (b) can't even say "hello" in English.

Bottom line? With OXs, kids anywhere can learn English, the international language of business and science. They can join the industrialized world. Farmers and craftsmen can sell their products to a global audience, something many are already doing with satellite phones - this will just make that easier.

I could go on all day. Suffice it to say, I'm a die-hard OLPC fan, even if the ultimate technology comes from Intel or elsewhere.