Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Animals versus Humans

One of the most memorable nights I had last November in Africa was visiting with a couple that drilled bore holes (to provide clean drinking water) in Uganda. At the time of my visit, they were packing up to move operations to Sudan.

The couple was originally from South Africa and were very gracious hosts to me and my traveling companions. At their house, they were caring for a litter of newborn puppies, one of whom is featured below.

I remember my hosts complaining that NGO workers and other temporary workers in Northern Uganda who adopted stray animals should have the "decency to kill the dogs when they leave." I understood (though didn't totally agree with) the point she was making: That it's "far worse" to give stray dogs a home and a stable food supply only to then abandon that dog months later and force it to return to a life of disease, starvation and suffering.

Then, on January 1st, I was reading an article published in the Globe & Mail by Lisan Jutras (no longer available free online) which spoke about the problem of stray animals in vacation "hot spots" like the Dominican Republic, Cuba, and Mexico.

As someone whose heart is split evenly between a passion for international development and animals of all kinds, I often feel a tug-of-war between my passion for animals and my passion for people. How (I often think) could I possibly invest resources in a few stray dogs when people in that same community are starving?

I wonder how other people who have almost equal compassion for animals as they do humans resolve or manage this tension?

here is a story about a rescue dog being flown from Iraq to the USA.

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Monday, February 11, 2008

Obama and online fundraising

According to Barack Obama's official website, more than 280,000 people have created accounts on BarackObama.com.

From those online accounts, 6,500 grassroots volunteer groups have been created and more than 13,000 off-line events have been organized through the site.

Over 370,000 individual online donations have been made, more than half of which are less than $25 donations .

And most interesting to me, personal fundraising pages (individual fundraising pages where you proactively recruit your social network to donate through your personal fundraising page) have raised over $1.5m.

Obama's campaign really emphasizes the "Power of Plenty" and demonstrates the power of grassroots fund-raising.

My critique of the Barackobama.com website is that the functionality of the fundraising page is that it provides no opportunity for me to link my blog (the site offers simple hosted-blog functionality) with my fundraising page, which seems to be a big missed opportunity.

Also, there is probably a ton of great social media buried deep within the site but no
way to easily search or browse other great stories of people joining the Hope Revolution.

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Saturday, February 02, 2008

Weekend reply

Mr. Baines has published in the Vancouver Sun his fourth installment on his opinion of me and that of GiveMeaning and the work it has set out to do.

Baines told me when I first responded to him that as an editorialist, he was free to write his opinions. And so, in summary, his opinions appear to be:

1) I have gotten too much positive attention and praise in the media, most of which I don’t deserve;
2) I am most undeserving of praise because as a teenager and young-adult, I made some mistakes;
3) That before starting GiveMeaning, I ended a business relationship acrominiously and that story (or one side of it) merits publication and judgment in the court of public opinion;
4) That I naively bragged of my media savviness in an interview more than 7 years ago, which almost merits publication ;
5) And finally, that neither I nor GiveMeaning should be trusted because of the points above;

It is quite clear from his articles that Baines doesn’t like me and apparently a few former “friends” and associates feel the same way. But I am not sure this is worthy of 4 articles which are almost entirely personal and don’t establish any balanced or well reasoned arguments as to why GiveMeaning should not be allowed to operate as a registered charity financed by generous donations. Baines brings up the point that GiveMeaning’s donations have been subsidized by tax-payers. He repeatedly makes this statement knowing full well that the same is true of any other registered charity.

Baines has chosen an interesting time in my life to attack me: I have finally grown up. In his four articles, he has attacked me not for anything that I am currently doing now but for mistakes I've made in my past. This must be because there is no story in suggesting that GiveMeaning is up to anything other than trying to achieve and facilitate social good.

I admit I have made mistakes in my life. GiveMeaning is evidence that I have learned from those mistakes and am now devoting my energy to the betterment of others rather than myself.

Baines has no evidence of nefarious behaviour at my foundation or that it is not in complete compliance with CRA’s regulations. We can all take confidence in the fact that an investigative journalist of Baines’ experience has nothing but innuendo after 4 weeks of “research”. His primary innuendo is that the measure of GiveMeaning Foundation’s efficiency is the percentage of receipted donations which is transferred to other charities in the same fiscal period. To be clear:

100% of what is raised through GiveMeaning Foundation for projects listed on the website is distributed to qualified donees.
GiveMeaning has operating costs like any organization and like any start-up, costs are high in creating a new organization from scratch. Those operating costs have been funded by donors who recognize that overheads covered by GiveMeaning Foundation reduce the overheads of other charities, primarily struggling small charities.

We take it as a point of pride that we do not share or sell the names of donors and have had this policy from the very beginning. In fact, we state it clearly in the About page of our website and so I cannot release donors names. This is undoubtedly a prudent policy in a sector when too many charities sell the names of their donors.

Baines also mentions that before I decided to stop speaking to him that I offered him the opportunity to speak with some of our donors. This is true. I don't think it should be of any surprise that after reading his articles, that none of our supporters would wish to speak with Baines. Had he chosen to wait and speak with donors before writing his articles, I know he would have found what he says he's looking for: Donors who understand and respect the service we are providing. Given the personal nature of his articles and his reputation for a particular form of editorial, it should come as no surprise that I was advised not to talk with him. Note that this is the first time I have ever stopped talking with a person of the press.

To now enter Blake Bromley into Baines questioning of my or GiveMeaning's integrity only hurts Baines' case further. Blake is one of the most highly respected charity lawyers in Canada, if not the world. Not only was Blake Bromley proven innocent of the charges that Baines brings up, his reputation and professional practice thrives in spite of the assaults of CRA and David Baines. Baines fails to mention that Blake was also cleared by the Law Society which investigated the accusations as they would of a complaint against any lawyer.

One of the very few new things that Baines has written about today is a charity called Amazing Grace Foundation of which I am a director.

I have received no fees or had any expenses paid by Amazing Grace Foundation. Amazing Grace has received funds for specific projects, as have many other charities. The reason money didn’t flow directly from donors to Amazing Grace is because this charity (like others who use GiveMeaning) doesn’t have the technology to raise money via the internet nor does it have the money to fundraise. Instead he refers to a “circular flow of money”. What is circular about a donor coming to GiveMeaning.com and making a donation which is flowed through to Amazing Grace at 100 cents on the dollar and spent by Amazing Grace to achieve its charitable purposes? Perhaps by “circular” Baines meant “straight line”.

Baines has said that as a young man, I had some screw-ups and wasn’t as much of a “whiz kid” as I and some media outlets have portrayed myself as. Ok.

It is my past that has led me to my present. My past drives me to work as hard as I do. In the past, as Baines has made readers aware, I often ran or walked away from challenges and problems. That time is over. David Baines has only increased my resolve and inspired me to most certainly stay and continue to fight for this fledgling charity the Vancouver Sun has devoted so much energy and space to discrediting.

Ironically, Baines has said what I have known and spoken about for a long time. That up until starting GiveMeaning, I was more “famous for being famous” than for actually accomplishing anything. Baines has perhaps done me a service by bringing that weakness to the fore. It is a pity that in his zeal to tear me down he could not recognize that with the help of so many of you I am now finally building something great. I want to thank Baines for inspiring me to be both a better man and a better steward of GiveMeaning’s resources. More importantly, I want to thank you for standing with me in this time of trial.

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