I’ve been out of commission for the past week with travel to Grinnell, Iowa (for Mrs. Asset Almanac’s college reunion) and our 9th wedding anniversary yesterday — variously known as the pottery, leather, lapis lazuli, and poppy anniversary, none of which figured in our celebration.
But now I’m back, and yesterday I decided to stake my humble claim for do-gooding innovation: I listed a project idea on AMEX’s “Members Project,” a search for one great winning idea that has the capacity to achieve broad impact and will receive at least $1 million (and possibly up to $5 million) from American Express to help implement it. Here’s what I proposed with the allotted 1,000 characters to describe my idea:
Help poor Americans lift themselves out of poverty
Much experimentation and research have shown that many poor people can rise out of poverty with a helping hand that consists of a restricted savings account (an IDA) in which savings by the poor are matched by public and private funds that can only be invested in a first home, a small business, or education. Matched savings accounts, together with financial education, have already assisted 50,000 poor families in America via hundreds of community-based programs. A national intermediary could help build on that success by tapping into the millions of individual donors who want new solutions to poverty in America, donors who could use a well-designed website to identify individuals committed to a path out of poverty and whose restricted IDA savings they would like to match. An innovative person-to-person fundraising effort using web 2.0 tools could help take this anti-poverty strategy to scale, so that IDAs could eventually aid and motivate millions of families battling poverty.
I happen to think that’s a powerful idea (better than most of the other 3,648 ideas listed so far), and one that’s also clearly defined and achievable with a few million bucks in start-up funding. Person-to-person philanthropy, like that practiced by Kiva.org and Modest Needs (organizations I’ve mentioned previously on this blog) have demonstrated that there’s tremendous interest among donors in creating a more direct connection with the people who are benefitting from their donations. And the existing network of IDA matched savings account programs all around the country presents a perfect opportunity to match individual donors (large and small) with poor families that are determined to climb out of poverty with some asset-building assistance. It can all be done through a well-designed web interface such as Kiva’s, along with good marketing and management.
If you like the idea (and if you’re an AMEX cardmember willing to take a moment to register to vote), you can go to www.membersproject.com/Community_Development/4122 to give my idea a 5-star rating, post a supportive comment, and share any suggestions for implementing the project. I only have 2 ratings so far, and I’m going to need lots more if I hope to make it to the next round consisting of 50 finalists. It probably doesn’t help that I posted my project two weeks after the competition began, partly due to my trip to Iowa, and that I have to play catch up with project ideas that have been gathering votes for weeks, but alas that’s life.
May the best idea win.