Save a life for $10!

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If you've never seen the Colbert Report then you are missing out on the really funny part of the sad state of American politics. But there are also some really smart, interesting guests on the show - it's not just all for laughs. One such recent guest was Rick Reilly from the web site Nothing But Nets. For $10 they will send one malaria net to a family who needs it in Africa. And malaria nets save lives.

I first got interested in malaria nets when I took a class with Dr Carleen Maitland where we studied global issues like poverty, trade and the impact of China's economic growth. Turns out that malaria nets really work to save lives, but the US (and other's) foreign aid budgets aren't high enough to provide them for all who could benefit. At the time it was frustrating to feel like there was little that I could do about the situation outside of voting for who I thought was the most likely to address these issues. Now I can do something directly.

But this does raise questions for me about the ultimate value of such efforts on the web. I assume this organization is legitimate and that my money will indeed provide a net for someone  who will benefit from having it. Presumably, if enough people go to this site, their awareness of the issue of malaria will be raised and they will buy at least one net and eventually we will collectively make a dent in the issue. All good. But would this actually work for other issues? Certainly, the web is a great source of news and information - especially if you want to escape the questionable content of mainstream media news sources. But how do you get people to a site to read about an issue they might not be aware of and then get them to take action, even a small action like donating $10? I guess you still need to make sure you get the word out on television.

 I hear there are many groups on social networking sites like Facebook that are focused on issues like hunger or poverty. Do they make any difference? Do they actually do anything? Or are they just a way to associate our digital identities with something that makes us feel good? It would be great to think that there are large networks of individuals who could be efficiently mobilized to address an issue like poverty using the tools made available on the web. And maybe it is already happening and I am just out of the loop. Certainly there has been a lot of discussion about how effective the Obama Campaign has been at mobilizing voters using the Web. Maybe I'll be more optimistic about the power of the Web to create positive change after he wins in November. ;-)

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Interesting stuff, Harry! Your post reminds me of the Free Rice website (, where you don't even have to donate money -- just play a vocabulary game -- to donate rice through the UN World Food program. Yes, it's a measly 20 grains per correct answer, but if enough people play enough times...

That is one the things I was thinking of, that I heard about from an undergrad last year, but I need to evaluate it for myself. It is hard to believe, honestly. What is the business model? Can we 'web game' our way to solving hunger and poverty? If so, maybe i should be spending my time building 'web games'. :-)

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This page contains a single entry by Harry Robinson published on October 11, 2008 2:15 PM.

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