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On Bono’s campaign March 7, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in America, economics, india, life, rant.

Okay, so you thought very highly of Bono and his friends, their African effort, Time Person of the year etc. So now is this another example of making judgments based on people’s intentions rather than results ?

An article out on Advertising Age, a leading ad magazine reports that although $100 million has been spent on the “RED” campaign to raise funds, the funds collected are a mere $18 million. As MR quotes a fellow blogger :

Just to be clear…

  • Total spent on making Bono more famous = $100million.
  • Total spent on drugs for Africans = $18million.

When do they promise to “break even” ? And how much should to raise to justify the $100 million ( and growing ) spent on ‘awareness’ ?

See previous post on foreign aid here.

Numerous attempts at centralized, monolithic and grand designs to change the world has either failed ( Africa ) or ended up worsening the lot of people ( Communist China & USSR) . And this irrespective of how noble the intentions were. As Milton Friedman doesn’t tire reminding us not to judge policies by their intentions but their results.

So now before I am tagged as cold hearted capitalist, let us take stock and in the process make some disclosures. Over the past 1.5 years, I have made a contribution of a total of $ 400, about 2% of my income :

$115 ( Rs. 5500) to my elementary/primary/high school for the Little Rock Silver jubilee project fund to build a Stadium and Science Laboratory expansion

$75 ( Rs. 4000 ) to the domestic servant back home – for her high school going son’s books and college going girl’s introductory computer course.

$240 – to AID ( Assoc. of India’s Development ) – of which 160 was direct and 80 was for my friend’s marathon running fund raiser ( he lost some 20 kgs in the process ! )

The first was out of gratitude for my school and second was something based on a real and present need. The third was out of wanting to do philanthropy ( although latest allegations over AID funds being channeled to Naxalite/Islamist elements in India means I am not doing it this year ).


My idea of giving away money for philanthrophic causes has changed over the years. From a bleeding heart liberal from the Jeffrey Saachs school of thought, I have moved into the Bill Easterly school now. I don’t believe in grand missions anymore – I think we can help in smaller ways and still make a difference. If you are in India and have a maid, start with her/him. Or go to your son/daughter’s school or your own alma mater and ask to fund a poor, meritorious child’s education. I want to give to causes closer home ( like the domestic servant ) and hence I am discontinuing my funding to AID. One of my friend’s father, a retired banker volunteers to teach at a neighborhood school and I might consider making a small contribution there. I don’t think we must all wait to have a huge income to start giving something. Scarce income means there is incentive to spend and donate more efficiently and purposefully. If I had a lot of money, I am more likely to give away to causes to wash off my guilt even if it might be spend inefficiently.

Let us now get a count of all those who contribute at least 1% of their income to any kind of a philanthropic cause.

On the other hand, let us now turn over the mike to all those who have disposable incomes, no dependents and no contribution but will still pontificate on one or more of the below :

a) Need for globalization with a human face.
b) Budget for Aam aadmi ( common man )
c) Deterioration of values in society and invasion of ‘western culture’
d) Perils of capitalism and capitalists

And now see how loud it gets.

On a departing note, here is an exercise for the reader : πŸ™‚

“Hypocrisy is the ________ (rule/exception), not the ________ (rule/exception).

Is that hard ? How about now πŸ˜€

“Hypocrisy is the ____ (rule/exception), not the ________ (rule/exception).



1. Megan - March 7, 2007

give me a break…400 dollars in a year isn’t that much…. unless you have dependents, which I couldn’t tell that you had from this post. Truth be told, we need to do both. We need to intelligently allocate funds for large projects(the macro economic) and we need to invest in smaller, personal projects…(the micro…)

2. raosharath - March 7, 2007

Thanks for the comment Megan.

Well, $400 for a international graduate student on a stipend ( not a salary ) who has other commitments back in the home country ( though not exactly dependents) , its likely above average.

What by the way is the average rate of giving for the general public ?

That apart, “intelligently allocate funds for large projects” is exactly what has been done for the past 4 decades in Africa. Large scale reconstruction efforts have worked in post-europe and Japan and for entirely different reasons. Its pays to be skeptical about these issues.

Maybe you can read this –

3. Graham Martin - March 7, 2007

Nice post, I agree with what you say about donating closer to home. Too many people think that supporting big charities is good, but they benefit from Brand Recognition (the poor are a brand? help!) and they are very wasteful due to their size. Keep up doing the small things!

4. Abhinav - March 8, 2007

Hi Sharath,

I really hate that red campaign. Especially the advertisement in which some celebrity (can’t remember who) comes up, poses sexily, flaunts her red Motorola cellphone and goes: “My phone can do this, this and this…and solve the AIDS crisis in Africa. What can your’s do?”

So bloody annoying.

Just how much of the collected money would actually go to AIDS inflicted Africans? With such a glamourised (and $100 million?!?!?!) campaign, I feel they forget what the campaign was really for. To help some needy people. Not to make people go: wow!

As for Bono, with all due love and respect for his music, I really think he seems to have been caught up with lessening the white man’s burden. He has indeed brought more attention to the problem, but sometimes it all seems futile and becomes an exercise in PR. Actuallu I like this kid’s campaign more:


And as for your $400, thats nearly a cool 20,000 rupees, ya. A princely sum of charity for a grad student. What would Megan know…I have newfound respect for you:)

5. raosharath - March 8, 2007

Thanks for the comment Graham. I agree….although yeah some exceptions – programs have accountability built into them ….like the BMG foundation …they are extremely well managed…is doing good work…

6. raosharath - March 8, 2007

Thanks for the compliment …..and that cool link you sent in !! I must admit I haven’t seen any of the TV ads…since I don’t have a TV here… rather boring stuff on American TV :p

7. Regina and Pham « Epistles - October 21, 2007

[…] Previous post on personal philanthropy. […]

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