Giving Away $100m

By Willie Cheng, a former partner of global management firm, Accenture. Since his retirement in 2003, he spends a large part of his time working with non-profit organisations at the board and volunteer level.

This blog entry was first posted on SALT Online and republished with permission from SALT online.

“If you had $100 million to give away, what cause would you give it to? And why?”

This was the closing question that moderator Jenny Santhi of UBS posed to the panel at a UBS-INSEAD Forum on Philanthrocapitalism. It was an interesting question. It was totally unplanned and our responses were equally spontaneous.

Matthew Bishop, author of Philanthrocapitalism: How giving can save the world, said he would invest the money in data. Coming from the number-crunching financial world, he finds a dearth in the quantity and quality of data in the social sector. He believes that such data, if readily available, can make a significant difference to the quality of giving and the actions taken in the philanthropic and social space.

Pushan Dutt, Associate Professor of Economics & Political Science at INSEAD, said he would use it to fund causes that are “less glamorous” and therefore attract less attention. He suggested oral rehydration tablets for diarrhea.

Mathias Terheggen,global head of UBS Philanthropy Services, said he wouldn’t tell anybody that he had $100 million to give away. He would get a professional to advise him and he would spend considerable time trying to figure out what he really cares about and wants to focus on in a targeted way. In doing so, he would also think about what else he can bring to the table, beyond the money, in terms of skills and capacity to make his effort impactful and sustainable.

Me? I said that rather than a specific cause, I would put it into a fund that I would name the St. Jude Fund, after the patron saint for desperate cases and lost causes. I have seen far too many worthwhile causes such as human rights and migrant workers (both of which were mentioned by the audience earlier) that continually struggle to get the necessary money to operate. I would then find a few smart and empathetic people, put them in charge of the Fund, have them make a call for applications and let them distribute the money to those they deemed most worthwhile but that are unable to find funds from other sources.

Of course, I am also hoping that the Fund trustees will give me some money if I need, since, as my wife will vouch, I, too, am a lost and hopeless cause.