Zuckerberg Backed Org Launches Contest to Help Grow Internet in India

A massive 69% of India’s population does not have access to the Internet. A non-profit back by Mark Zuckerberg — probably the most successful student entrepreneur of the past 10 years — has put up $1 million in prizes for creative solutions to this problem.

From TechCrunch:

The contest from Facebook-backed Internet accessibility partnership Internet.org could help millions of people recognize the value of the Internet, pursue access, and gain knowledge and opportunities that can help them get better jobs and improve their lives. That could in turn help Internet.org’s flagship sponsor Facebook gain new users that it can connect to the world.

While Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg have a clear interest in getting all those folks online, its seems there is more going on. This is philanthropy in action, making funds available to people, but demanding that they produce something that continues to provide returns to society – in this case apps that connect more people to the internet.

Rabbi’s Farm School Seeks to Be University with $30 Mil Gift

Interesting story from the NYTimes that highlights the exceptional nature of higher education in America and the central role that philanthropy plays in the system. Delaware Valley College, in suburban Philadelphia, just took in a $30 million gift from a local foundation in order to transform itself from a small college into a university. The gift has more than doubled the endowment and the leaders plan to strategic deploy the new assets. From the article:

Del Val, as it is known, was founded by American Rabbi Joseph Krauskopf at the suggestion of writer Leo Tolstoy, according to college archives. Krauskopf met the author of “War and Peace” on an 1894 trip to Russia, during which Tolstoy said U.S. immigrants would be better off tilling soil than living in cramped industrial cities.

In 1896, Krauskopf bought 118 acres of land about 25 miles north of Philadelphia. The National Farm School, open to all faiths, began the following year with 10 students.

The school has since broadened its offerings to include subjects like biology, business and criminal justice. Today, more than half its 1,700 undergraduates are non-farming students — but the agrarian image persists.

“People think it’s just for ag. We’re trying to definitely move away from that,” said Del Val senior Dariyen Carter, 21, of Baltimore. “We really need to have a well-rounded institution.”

Brosnan’s strategic plan includes reorganizing the college’s 27 majors into three undergraduate schools; he also wants to add a doctoral and three more master’s programs to enable Del Val to seek university status from state and regional accreditation agencies.

So, as I often tell my entrepreneurship students, there are always opportunities for growth. Even when the economy is tanking and our policy makers are out of touch, there are opportunities. In a higher education marketplace full of moaning and groaning, Delaware Valley College has entered growth mode.

via With $30M Gift, Pa. College Seeks to Be University – NYTimes.com.

More Disruptions in the Textbook Market

Wow, it appears we are on the cusp (or in the midst) of a textbook revolution. Students, parents, and campus entrepreneurs should be dancing in the streets. We have been talking a lot about e-books lately, but have talked textbooks more generally here (Godin), there, and other places.

Today brings even more news, Barnes and Noble is buying back its College Booksellers (it was independent), digital textbook maker Akademos just took in more VC, and the William & Flora Hewlett Foundation has given money to the Community College Collaborative for Open Education Resources. Doug Lederman has a nice post on the subject at InsideHigherEd.com. From Lederman:

The third and last of Monday’s news developments also comes in the digital textbook arena — but from the free, rather than for-profit, perspective. The Community College Collaborative for Open Educational Resources said the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation had given it $1.5 million in new funds to expand its work, which focuses on increasing the number of free, online textbooks and training community college instructors on how best to use such books. Its main resource, the Community College Open Textbook Project, has dozens of college members and seeks to significantly expand the number of freely available digital textbooks it makes available.

“This grant comes at an opportune time,” said Mike Brandy, chancellor of the Foothill-De Anza Community College District, which leads the online collaborative. “It coincides with the growing interest in open educational resources, such as President Obama’s proposal to invest $500 million over the next decade in developing free high school and college courses. Open textbooks are moving into the mainstream as financially distressed states such as California look to free digital textbooks to reduce the cost of public education.”

By the way, I also read (h/t TechFlash) that the iPhone now has a textbook reader and a small catalog of textbooks from CourseSmart.

Congress to Shakedown Philanthropists?

In working with Zoltan Acs and his ‘new model of American Capitalism’ and Phil Auerswald on Social Entrepreneurship, I am becoming increasingly interested in the role of philanthropists in economic growth and opportunity. Philanthropy is different from charity — philanthropists provide opportunity to others, charity provides immediate needs.

I am reminded of this more and more as I dive into the history of US higher ed with such books as Randolph’s The American College and University: A History.

An editorial at the WSJ points out a Congress Member that is planning on going after foundations in order to get more ‘public’ control over their activities. Given my growing understanding of the power that philanthropy — often through foundations — continues to play in America’s political and social development. From the WSJ: Congress Targets Philanthopy

Like divining rods, Members of Congress are always alert to fresh sources of money, which once discovered they will spend. California Democratic Congressman Xavier Becerra thinks he’s discovered a new source of political treasure: the money inside private and community foundations.

The tax exemption foundations enjoy, says Mr. Becerra, is a “$32 billion earmark.” As he explains: “I have an obligation to make sure that those $32 billion that would have gone to the federal government are used for a . . . public good.”

This sounds like political intimidation. Unless the foundations reprogram money in the direction of Mr. Becerra’s preferences, he’ll start proceedings to dismantle their tax exemption.

Mr. Becerra and his allies, however, may want to think twice about whacking foundations. A study out this month suggests that foundations spread economic benefits more broadly through society than had been previously imagined. The research was commissioned by a new organization called the Philanthropic Collaborative and was conducted by Robert Shapiro, President Clinton’s under secretary of commerce for economic affairs, and Aparna Mathur, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. The Washington-based group’s goal is to persuade policy makers of the benefits of philanthropic dollars flowing to communities across the country.

For the $43 billion that foundations spent on grants in 2007, they created direct economic benefits of $368 billion. Those nonprofits that consistently outperform government programs have been saving taxpayers a bundle.

I am in the midst of a steep learning curve on the role of philanthropists in society as Zoltan ramps up work on his forthcoming book and GMU moves further into the Social Entrepreneurship field with the ChangeMakersCampus effort, active social entrepreneur networks on campus, and more coursework and research.

Many believe the rise of Gates, Skoll et al. on one extreme and Kiva.org etc. on the other extreme herald a new day for philanthropy and sustainable development globally. What are your thoughts? Also, should the government be making new policy on as the players bring in their new models, methods, and ideas?

Barron’s on Next-Gen Givers

For those interested in civil society, non-profits, and social entrepreneurship it is a clear that there is a new kind of philanthropist on the scene these days. Barron’s offered a piece last weekend titled Next-Gen Givers, by Suzanne McGee. From the article,

Already, these givers look to be more generous than their forebears. A survey conducted by Northern Trust, the private-banking concern, revealed that Generation-X millionaires (aged 28 to 42) gave an average of $20,000 to worthy causes in 2006, double the size of giving by their parents and grandparents. Take that, boomers.

“They aren’t jaded, and they don’t accept the status quo readily,” says Melissa Berman, chief executive officer of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, which counsels big givers. “They have new perspectives and new ideas.”

I see a lot of this ethos among my classmates in Phil Auerswald’s class on Social Entrepreneurship. While I’m not sure how many in the class are millionaires, they are connected by a generational desire to have an impact directly. Not to wait and not to do things as they have always been done in trying to solve global problems.

Zoltan Acs Interesting Theory on American Capitalism

I attended a really intriguing talk by Zoltan Acs earlier this week where he discussed his latest research on American Capitalism. His basic thesis is that the US exhibits such high rates of entrepreneurship, innovation, and growth because of philanthropy.

Philanthropy in the US is much larger and intertwined in the US social and cultural institutions than other OECD countries. Zoltan argues that it is the mechanism of philanthropy that reconstitutes opportunity (via the wealth accumulated by US entrepreneurs) back through society. Philanthropists have used  foundations (Ford, Gates, Rockefeller) and world leading universities (ie Duke, U of C, Stanford) to improve society and expand opportunity in a variety of directions.

In most other countries it is the government that takes accumulated wealth and decides where it goes. Or elites keep wealth and live behind big walls. Or in some cases it is a combination of both. The US system that Zoltan describes appears unique.

I find Zoltan’s ideas pretty compelling and it doesn’t hurt that they fit within the frameworks of American Exceptionalism that I am making use of for my dissertation.

(I am looking for any of Zoltan’s writings on the topic and will post when I find).