Gates pitches a Financial Transactions Tax to raise revenue to solve social problems

Bill Gates is proposing to the G20 nations the concept of a financial transactions tax as a way to raise revenue and discourage financial speculation.

The proceeds from a FTT could be used to help the disadvantaged. This isn’t just an errant, off-the-cuff musing of the Microsoft founder, but the result of a study by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation commissioned by the G20 nations to examine ways of helping poor nations address an estimated $80-$100 billion funding gap they face in tackling climate change.

Gates thinks conditions are ripe for a financial transactions tax to work and that it will generate “huge” revenues to devote to solving social problems. Gates deserves credit as a philanthropist looking at the sources and structure of public-sector revenue generation.

Critics will undoubtedly associate him with Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez, both of whom also support the Tobin Tax, though it would be hard to imagine that one of the richest people ever is actually a closet socialist.

The as-yet unreleased report apparently concludes that “even a small tax of 10 basis points (0.10 percent) on equities and two basis points (0.02 percent) on bonds would raise about $48 billion among the G20 member states, or $9 billion if adopted only by larger European countries.”

Unfortunately, it appears that within the G20, only France and Germany support the idea.

-Rick Cohen


The Dalai Lama on Charitable Giving and Happiness

Giving is good for you, and scientists at Stanford University are finding out why. Following a discussion with the Dalai Lama, scientists at Stanford from fields as diverse as neuroscience, psychology and medical science were inspired to explore the neural underpinnings of compassion and altruism – some of the ancient practices of Buddhism.

The result was the creation of The Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education in 2009. The Center uses state-of-the-art science to explore ways compassion can be cultivated in individuals, as well as society.

They believe that health, well-being and even happiness, are related to leading a giving life, characterized by charitable thoughts and actions. A team led by noted Stanford psychologist and neuroscientist Brian Knutson, PhD, is using brain scans to identify regions in the brain associated with compassion.

But, even as scientists locate those compassionate areas of the brain, can we learn to develop them and become more giving and therefore lead richer, more meaningful lives? That’s another question the Center hopes to answer. Donors tell us it “just feels good to give.” Charitable giving does feel great. Now science is exploring what we already know instinctively. If you want to feel good, help someone else.

The Dalai Lama put it more eloquently: “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion.
If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”

Debbie Starke


Why invest in education and microfinance for women?

Worldwide, 1.4 billion of the ultrapoor survive on less than $1.25/day. More and more, to change this sad situation, the popular strategy is investing in education and microfinance for women.

This interview with Zainab Salbi (Women for Women International), Cheryl Wudunn (Half the Sky), and Nicholas Kristof (New York Times) really sums it up.


Foreign Aid Set to Take a Hit in US Budget Crisis

America’s budget crisis at home is forcing the first significant cuts in overseas aid in nearly two decades, reflecting the country’s diminishing ability to influence the world.

Both the Republican-controlled House and the Democrat-controlled Senate have proposed slashing financing for aid agencies at a time of desperate humanitarian crises and uncertain political developments. The proposals have raised the specter of deep cuts in food and medicine for Africa, in relief for disaster-affected places like Pakistan and Japan, in political and economic assistance for the new democracies of the Middle East, and even for the Peace Corps. It would also cut American contributions to international organizations like the United Nations and its Human Rights Council, the World Bank and the World Health Organization.

Representative Kay Granger, chairwoman of the House appropriations subcommittee overseeing foreign affairs, said lawmakers needed to prioritize spending according to American national security interests. The Republicans attachs conditions on aid to Pakistan, Egypt and the Palestinians, suspending the latter entirely if the Palestinians succeed in winning recognition of statehood at the United Nations. However, one of the largest portions of foreign aid — more than $3 billion for Israel — is left untouched in both the House and Senate versions.

Given the relatively small foreign aid budget — it accounts for 1 percent of federal spending over all — the effect of the cuts could be disproportional.

John Norris, a former official at the State Department and the Agency for International Development, or U.S.A.I.D., said that the country could “be much more selective” in delivering aid “without doing much harm to the national interest. …The budget impact is negligible. The impact around the world is enormous,” he said in a telephone interview from Nairobi, Kenya, where he was overseeing relief to the famine in the Horn of Africa.

[The New York Times]


Soros commits millions to African village project

George Soros has pledged $27.4 million to aid development in targeted villages across rural Africa.

Soros also pledged up to $20 million in loans to support business projects within those villages over the next five years.

Soros says that some of the board members of the Open Society Foundations opposed his giving any donations to the project when it was first launched five years ago, considering it risky. But he said he gave money anyway, "because it was my money" and the idea seemed "worth a shot." His $50 million pledge in 2006 was distributed over the next five years.

A report on the project's first five years, released Monday, shows that the proportion of households in the targeted villages with access to improved drinking water soared to 68 percent from 17 percent, and students benefiting from school meal programs grew to 75 percent from 25 percent. Average maize yields more than tripled during the same period.

The Millennium Villages project aims to help 500,000 people in 10 countries across Africa to reach U.N. development goals and offer a model for the remainder of the continent. It is directed by Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University's Earth Institute, and operates closely with U.N. agencies.


Digital philanthropy comes of age

The recent Social Good Summit mounted by Mashable, 92nd Street Y and the United Nations Foundation with support from Swedish mobile phone giant Ericsson was a chance for the most innovative technologists, influential minds and passionate activists to come together with one shared goal: to unlock the potential of new media and technology to make the world a better place.

Consider, for example, the legacy "Save the Children" campaigns, which connected donors with impoverished children through personal letters. The first wave of digital updates included initiatives like Kiva, which pioneered online crowd-sourced micro-finance.

charity:water's Scott Harrison gave an Ignite-style introduction whereby the recipients, many of them in sub-Saharan Africa, receive wells yielding clean water, while donors receive a first-hand view of the wells their donations are digging -- thanks to an unusually well-conceived back-end as a platform and an inspired use of Google Earth as the telescope.

Howard W. Buffett (Warren's 27-year-old grandson) used his platform at the summit to announce his aunt Doris Buffett's new program to promote university-level "non-profit studies" through her Learning by Giving Foundation. "Innovation has no power without implementation," he warned.

In the tech world, there is constant pressure for ideas that reach maturity to continue to evolve (along with the veiled threat that the failure to do so will be punished). The push to innovate has touched every sector of society, including formerly reticent circles such as diplomacy. One U.S. government representative was Dr. Raj Shah, a former Gates Foundation officer who was appointed the head of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) last year. Shah announced the creation of a new initiative called FWD (for "Famine, War and Drought Relief"), which seeks to attract emergency donations for the massive catastrophe currently unfolding in the Horn of Africa. The new FWD site borrows an SMS-based mobile giving platform (#777444).

The new era of connectivity is creating new forms of transparency, in which the various parties to altruism can now encounter each other online, for a compelling new conversation.

--Anne Nelson, Columbia's School of International and Public Affairs