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~ Monday, September 24 ~

The Philosophy of Giving

Question: What are your short-term (in the next 18 months) and long-term goals for giving and what steps are you taking right now to ensure your success? Are there barriers to your success? If so, are they financial, physical, social/emotional, technical, cultural, and/or political? Please explain. Finally, how can AU support you in achieving your goals for giving?


            Philanthropy is something that I have held dear to my heart because in high school and middle school I would always want to do humanitarian work and so giving a cause money, time, or both was essential. Since then, I have discovered several different avenues for giving. I have put some of these avenues to practice. Some of these fail, and some of them succeeded. However, what I have learned is that giving is a life-long commitment and needs to be continued despite failures. And so when I learned that we were reading Giving 2.0 I was really very excited.

            Giving can be broken up into two types: short-term and long-term. In order to be a successful philanthropist and continue one’s commitment to giving one needs to partake in both types. My short-term giving plans are focused primarily on one project: “Scholars for Progress”. “Scholars for Progress” is an initiative that first began with Falon Dominguez, but has since been handed down to several FDDS scholars and myself. It is a pre-college, mentoring program for Washington D.C. high school students. We are beginning to implement the plan, which we have been working on for months now. This project is a different type of giving which I have never done before. We are pairing high school sophomores with college sophomores that will help guide them through the college application process. After two and a half years of the program the pair will hopefully have developed a personal, and sibling-like relationship.

            Laura Arrillaga-Andreesen, the author of Giving 2.0, begins the book by stating that there are multiple and different ways for one to engage in philanthropy. She is quick to dismiss the traditional ways of giving small amounts in which “you had to put your dollars into the collection boxes rattled by charity fundraisers on the street.” Instead, she informs the reader of new, 21st century ways of donating. One such way of giving that she advocates for is giving time or experience. In “Scholars for Progress” we will be giving our friendship, time, and experience in hopes of making some positive impact on D.C.’s education system.

            In Rwanda, I learned that there is a difference between giving out of sympathy and giving as equals. When you watch TV you sometimes see commercials from religious and intergovernmental organizations showing viewers horrible scenes of poverty in the developing world hoping to solicit some type of response. This is not respectful giving. There is a difference between giving out of sympathy and giving as equals. If you are giving out of sympathy you are giving because you feel bad for someone and their situation. This strips them of their independence and places you at a higher pedestal than them. Everyone has done this. Although this form of giving is rooted in good intentions, it communicates a negative message. Therefore, giving should not arise from sympathy, but from mutual respect. You give as equals. You understand that the homeless man on the corner of the street has the exact same worth as you do reading this blog via the Internet. You give with the knowledge that you, yourself, have achieved some form of success because others invested in you. You are then giving as a way to continue the circulation of positivity. There is a philosophy in giving. I am reading Arrillaga-Andreessen’s book in increments, but I do hope that she addresses this at some point.

            You may be reading this and think that I have gotten off topic. I apologize. I simply needed to address that point about giving sooner rather than later. The mentality of giving that I just mentioned coincides with the “Scholars for Progress” mentality of giving. Students are giving as equals. Our mentors want their protégés to succeed not because of sympathy, but because they genuinely care. This form of giving is both a short-term giving goal and long-term giving goal.

            “Scholars for Progress” is a two and a half year mentoring project. It is supposed to last from the Winter/Spring semester of both students’ sophomore year until graduation. Thus, it is both a short-term and long-term goal.

            Everyone who has had a profound positive effect on my life has told me “giving may not be direct”. In periods in which I get frustrated because I am not giving by getting my hands dirty I always tell that to myself. What I mean is that there is a process in order to give. Sometimes these processes require great amounts of planning and preparation. Arrillaga-Andreessen references one great instance of this in her book. She says that one of the great problems with the Red Cross’ distribution of aid during the Haiti Earthquake crisis was that they had not planned an efficient way of delivering mass aid. Therefore, many aid efforts were wasted. This mentality of preparation may also be applied to the individual level. Scholars in FDDS are planning and preparing for successful careers in social Justice in order to have a greater giving effect later in life. This does not mean that we are not partaking in short-term giving, but simply that our greatest impact requires extensive education and therefore cannot be implemented immediately. While, we are enrolled in higher education we are working on such short-term projects as “Scholars for Progress” with hopes that in the future we can create policies or create organizations that can help thousands, if not millions of people.

            Personally, I want to give through soccer and development. One of the ideas that I juggle in my head is to create a social business that combines both of the previous items. I am not exactly sure what that specifically entails, but in order for me to accomplish this I will need education and training. Georgetown, George Washington University, and University of Maryland, College Park each have their own centers for Social Entrepreneurship. American University is in the process of creating its own and as soon as that becomes completed I hope to get connected with it to learn more about social enterprise. In addition to this, the Frederick Douglass Distinguished Scholars program has given me a plethora of experience and information. However, I realize that the program has its own limitations due to the to the size of the staff. Another way that the university can contribute to other students and my own success is by providing offices such as the Frederick Douglass Distinguished Scholars with more resources to implement larger ideas and aspirations.

            Giving is an art. Like Michelangelo, John Lennon, and George Lucas have all perfected their own arts, giving requires practice and commitment. Giving needs to be done with accuracy and rigor. It is our moral obligation to practice and perfect our own giving.


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