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Near and Far

“What’s driving the global boom in philanthropy?”

“I don’t know if it’s right to say there’s a global boom in philanthropy. We work with dozens of partners who’ve been doing phenomenal work for decades. But I do think that in all walks of life (not just philanthropy), people are more aware of what’s going on in the world around them. There seems to be a boom in how much people are paying attention to global issues, largely because the Internet makes it so much easier to connect with people and information from around the world.

[...] “Once you’re talking to people in Kibera, Kenya or Sao Paulo, Brazil, your natural desire to work together kicks in. When I was growing up in Dallas, Texas, people put a lot of energy into making our community better. It’s just that now, people’s sense of community is much, much larger.”

At the end of October, PhilanTopic posted a list of questions directed at Melinda French Gates — who in fact answered several of her favorites on the Gates Foundation blog just last week.

Her above answer provides some good food for thought in this post-Thanksgiving week. First, to what extent has the Internet made us more aware of our world? Do we know a bit more about countries and communities that were once truly foreign lands? Or do we simply know a lot more about communities with which we already were familiar? In other words, I do wonder what the Internet actually does best. Is it better at expanding our reach or deepening our understanding — or is it pretty good at both?

Moreover, her point about our “sense of community” really caught my attention. I follow the idea, but I am not sure that I would merge my understanding of local and global community as she has done. I definitely believe that our commitment to justice and health and education should not end at our borders. We are responsible to one another just as we are responsible to the planet that we share. However, our sense of interpersonal responsibility — and basic knowledge of how to enact change effectively — generally is strongest where we live.

Even if the world has become more interconnected — the Internet, faster modes of transportation! — I’d posit that most people still think of their community as the world within walking distance. As the people that we see every day and the schools that we attend and the businesses that we frequent. For most of us, our community is the space that we talk about the most and understand the best. And when we give or we work locally, we have a unique appreciation of how we are helping and what we are doing.

So are we all part of both a local and international community? Sure. But I do not think that the former has simply expanded into the latter. Advances in technology have given us the tools to give both close by and over distance — but in most cases, not the actual means to get close to the results. So I would ask: how can we connect with and assess an organization when we are not within walking distance of the work? I certainly don’t think that one type of giving should replace the other, but how can we bring the amazing benefits of local giving to a national and international level — and vice versa?

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