So we’re nearing the end of the first round of the AMEX Members Project discussed in my previous post, and my idea to develop a national website that would support matched savings accounts for the poor by directly connecting individual donors with eligible savers who have a plan to get out of poverty (www.membersproject.com/Community_Development/4122) has slowly built its way to a respectable 14 votes and an average vote score of 4 stars out of a possible 5.
As I suspected would be the case, some earlier entrants have built up a commanding lead in terms of cardmember votes, and I think it has to do with the fact that no one has the time to read about thousands of separate project ideas, so many folks voting in this contest just look at ideas that already have plenty of votes (which tend to be ideas that were submitted early on), a process that naturally leads to the rich getting richer and the poor staying poor, so to speak. There are certainly some good ideas among the frontrunners, but honestly some of the ones with the most votes are pretty half-baked; they show good intentions, but they seem to provide almost no particulars about what makes the idea innovative and feasible. I’m frustrated by the high scores of lots of ideas that aren’t particularly original. Microfinance for the developing world is a wonderful thing, but it’s already happening in a thousand terrific ways around the world, and none of the microfinance proposals struck me as offering something new and original to the field, but they have nevertheless garnered lots of votes just because microfinance itself is good idea. I was also frustrated by the inclusion of “ideas” for groups like DonorsChoose.org, for example, which is a great organization but their idea has already been realized. Sure, they could do terrific things with an extra 1 million or 5 million bucks, but the spirit of this contest seemed to be more about taking a good idea from obscurity into reality, sort of the way American Idol creates instant success for some talented singers who may otherwise never have been discovered. If I were choosing the 50 finalists, I would say there are other vehicles for awarding funds to deserving organizations to expand the work that they’re already doing, but what we want here is something that doesn’t already exist.
I admit, this may all be an advance case of sour grapes, given the likelihood that my idea won’t have the votes behind it to get the judges’ attention and advance to the final 50. But I hold out hope that I will have picked up just enough interest and support from cardmembers for the judges to include my idea as an interesting dark horse candidate in the Round of 50. The judges do have slightly more information at their disposal than the cardmembers, after all, and I think they do have the discretion (at least in this first round) to consider factors like feasibility and originality and potential impact in deciding how much weight to give to the voting of cardmembers. So maybe this IDA thing still has a shot. We shall see.
In the meantime, go vote for my idea at www.membersproject.com/Community_Development/4122 if you’re an American Express cardmember and haven’t already rated my project. Thanks.