Wednesday, May 10, 2006

More Than Just a (Football) Club

Barcelona are doing something quite amazing and unique, they will donate 0.7 percent of their annual income starting from the 2006/07 season to the United Nations as a contribution to their Millennium Development Goals campaign. And that is just the start of it -

Laporta confirmed that Barcelona's famous scarlet and blue shirts would not be sponsored by a commercial brand but could be used instead to promote humanitiarian causes.
"We are planning on using the shirts to carry a humanitarian message as part of our plans to become more than a club in the rest of the world," he said.

If 0.7% rings a bell then your probably remembering the amount of GNP pledged by richer countries for the UN millenium develop project.

Friday, May 05, 2006

The Single Best Way to Solve a Problem

The Longitude Prize was set at £20,000 in 1714, the Orteig Prize was set at $25,000 in 1912 and the X-Prize was set at $10,000,000 in 1996. They were awards set to motivate great leaps forward in technology.

The Longitude Prize was set by the British government to solve the problem of how to accurately measure longitude when navigating, something that had always eluded mariners and which cost Britain unimaginable amounts through naval accidents. The prize inspired the invention of a very accurate maritime clock which solved the problem for good.

The Orteig Prize was offered for the first non-stop aircraft flight between New York and Paris. It was won by Charles Lindbergh in 1927.

The X-prize was offered for the first non-government organization to launch a reusable manned spacecraft into space twice within two weeks. It was won in 2004.

As philanthropy goes this is a wonderful way to pledge your money because;
-you get to choose the very ambitious goal
-you only have to pay out if it is accomplished satisfactorily so not a penny is wasted and the price is fixed
-you get amazing value for money because it is highly leveraged by the amounts invested by others in order to win the prestigious and valuable prize

What can be learned from such examples? An urban myth describes how NASA spent millions developing an anti-gravity pen while the Russians used a pencil, the myth is actually a myth but it is believable but it roughly described the waste NASA indulged in. In NASA's hands the $10m X-prize probably wouldn’t have gone much further than a paint job for a space shuttle and yet it in the right hands it revolutionised the civilian space industry. Setting prizes like those I mentioned is probably the most cost effective way to achieve ambitious goals when what only matters is innovation and accomplishment.

The Methuselah Mouse Prize was set in 2003 to reward researchers who extend the lifespan of a mouse to unprecedented lengths. The prize is named after Methuselah, a patriarch in the Bible said to have reached 969 years of age. It is designed to combat ageing. (If you have not read the story of the Dragon READ IT NOW)

Does anyone know of any such prizes intended to combat Malaria or AIDS or similar diseases that devastate the poorest, those who can’t themselves reward innovation in such a way as to make it attractive enough to concentrate some of the brightest minds?
The easy part should be formulating a goal – say developing a product or initiative that eradicates malaria in a third world country. Another easy part should be getting micro donations over the internet to increase the prize over time. The hard part would probably attracting a reputable institution to coordinate the project and award the prize.

NASA has learned from the X-prize and has set the Centennial Challenges
shouldn’t we the public, the blogoshere, whoever, set one up to achieve something a lot less frivolous?

Thursday, May 04, 2006

The Deadline is Midnight Tonight

Tonight is the deadline for a peace deal on Darfur. The African Union, Khartoum, rebel groups and the US and Britain have been working in Abuja, Nigeria to reach an agreement. No doubt some of the recent manoeuvring may have been intended to choreograph this point. It involves establishing a suitable Sudanese security force. It will be interesting to see how it would accommodate the refugees in Chad or if it encompasses terms for a continuing non-Sudanese security presence. The Irish Examiner has some coverage.