Ranking generosity and social impact instead of wealth

For years, Forbes has published a list of billionaires that reflects the cult of money we live in.  We lionize wealth.  Why? Wealth accumulation is only a means to an end.  What are you going to do with that money should matter to society much more.   Why is it that so many people forget that? At least partly it’s because our society glorifies financial success, and ranking it is relatively easier as you are dealing with a very easy measure: money accumulated.

It would be far more interesting, though, if a publication or organization measured and praised the social impact of the greatest contributors to civilization. For example, Mohammad Yunus from Grameen Bank, who is nowhere to be seen on the Forbes list, would rank quite high because of the enormous impact he has had on society.  Bill Gates would too, given how much of his wealth he has given out and in such methodic ways to try to impact society. 

My friend Martin Varsavsky forwarded me a list published by BusinessWeek that is a useful start – ranking the most generous philanthropists within the Forbes 400 list. 

What we need now is to take it to the next level, asking a trusted third party to develop a way to take donations into contribution as the BusinessWeek list does, but to not stop there.  To add a measurement for the way the money is given out, whether there is a social innovation or model that helps advance society in the process.  For example, the Skoll Foundation is among those responsible for supporting social entrepreneurship and making it “cool.” So it’s not just the enormous amount it has invested (donated) into the space, but also the way it has gone about doing it.  That counts more than just writing a check, assuming the process and the platform are well thought out and innovative.  And even if someone doesn’t donate money, but they create models to benefit humanity, whether through better health systems like Paul Farmer, or through the many innovations that social entrepreneurs from India and South East Asia (including several impressive ones selected by the Schwab Foundation) have introduced to truly impact their countries.

Celebrities also have a currency – fame, and the power to use it effectively.  So here again, we could turn blind worship of celebrities into appreciation for those that, rather than paying the dues their publicist asked them to, sincerely engage in ways that are sustained and impactful.  George Clooney comes to mind, but there are dozens others who truly dedicate themselves to make this a better world.

If Fast-Company Magazine or TIME Magazine could create a formula that is sufficiently consistent, transparent, and simple while robust, it could become the basis for others to start rallying around and quoting and praising those truly worthy of adulation.

People that truly want to change the world do not do it for the sake of a popularity contest.  Changing the world is not easy, so if you just want to be popular in today’s society there are shortcuts to think you can get there.  So this list is not intended to impact those people.  For that there is education – helping people find purpose in their lives.

But for our society as a whole, which is so obsessed with Hollywood celebrities, political power, and financial wealth, a credible list that focused peoples’ attention on the contributions people are making to society could help start changing the discourse.

And to make this platform truly inspiring and accessible to high school students and not just people already in a position of influence, a supplemental list could be created that would track the CREATIVITY AND MAGNIFICATIONAL IMPACT of just one simple action or relatively modest behavioral change within every person’s reach.  The power of the internet can be the great equalizer.   With Do The KIND Thing, the KIND Movement is trying to inspire unexpected acts of kindness that are the most KINDTASTIC – truly transformative and impactful.  Ideally we can start putting a spotlight on how “the average citizen” can make a far-greater-than-average contribution to their community.  It would be great if society could find effective platforms to praise those who step out of their zones of comfort to make others a bit better off, to show how a 15-year old can change the world, one idea at a time.

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