What we do here at GlobalGiving is a mix between the complex and utterly simple. Systematically finding and vetting the best projects and plugging them into a global development ideas marketplace is rather complicated. However, the mechanisms at work that encourage more of the people to donate their money to better than average projects are simple.
Try this: Fast all morning and then walk through the aisles of your local supermarket at lunchtime. Everything looks tasty, right?
Just like feasting one’s eyes on tasty treats in a supermarket is to the ravished, a tromp through GlobalGiving’s market should evoke similar excitement – towards giving. Most of the people who find our site are already looking for a way to reach others and build relationships, but the simplest part of the system is also the most difficult: People need to arrive hungry, and the only way we build an appetite for helping others is by building relationships between strangers across the globe. Few Americans travel outside North America, and most that do go to Europe. That leaves few Americans with a realistic picture of the total human condition. That 5 out of 6 humans on Earth live nothing like Americans and Europeans should concern us. Do we understand? Or are we just sitting in the back of the class, nodding our head?
Recently, the Poverty Action Lab proposed a series of tests to see what encourages poor people to save money. In one test they asked the person to think of a savings goal (buying a goat?) and then gave a piece of a puzzle with an image of that savings goal in exchange for each deposit. This way, the person would feel like she was not giving money away, but rather trading money with the banker for a piece of what she wants.
If you don’t read and write, and all you own is what you can see and count, banking can be uncomfortable. That’s why 95% of rural Gambians (where I used to live) prefer matresses to accounts. But before you lament the plight of the illiterate non-banking farmer, keep in mind that we in America and Europe are often no better when it comes to understanding the human condition – meaning, specifically the condition what it means to live as a person for 5 out of every 6 people on Earth.
This brings me back to the simplest and most difficult piece of the GlobalGiving marketplace puzzle – how to tell the stories of these other 5 in a way that builds an appetite for a relationship. For all our Western education, our understanding of the world is the poorest of all. In many respects, we need to begin with something simple like a puzzle – a gimmick that puts an image of the more abstract goal in the front of our eyes every day.