Warren Buffet’s Second LIfe

I have been trying to pull this post together for over a week. It has been difficult because the issue is a bit touchy and complex and I am not sure I have a full handle on it.

One of the only things that has disappointed me about Israel since I arrived here, has been what I regard as a less charity-oriented society than I was accustomed to from the US. Israelis are charitable with their time and do many acts of kindness (chessed) that you would never see elsewhere. It is, in fact, quite remarkable. H

However, on the whole, monetary charity is less widespread here. Even though Charity/Tzedaka is such an important part of Judaism (and humanism), I think that the combination of the socialist foundations of the State and lower income levels have built a mindset of relying on the government to be the provider of social and religious care and services.

In America, if you did not raise donations, you could not have Jewish schooling for your children or, for that matter, a synagogue. That is true for the Jewish community in the same way it is true for Catholic churches, many social services and the Make a Wish Foundation. When trying to raise money for our children’s school in Jerusalem, I often heard the claim that “it is the Government’s responsibility.” (to be fair, it is a public school but you still need to invest in raising education levels.)

Against that backdrop, I was amazed by Warren Buffet’s incredible charitable contribution last week. It was not just the size of the contribution but it was the manner in which he made it. He took a very rational look at the cost of setting up his own foundation and decided to leverage the Gates’ infratsructure and build a huge charitable warchest that could make a real difference. The amount of money in the Gates Family Foundation can make a government-like difference in the world, without the government’s bureaucracy. It will actually be quite a test to see if the two icons of American capitalism can win at charity also by applying similar discipline and focus.

More importantly than that, I think both Buffet’s contribution and Gates’ decision to focus on charity now, set an incredible example for a generation of wealthy Americans. It shows a great sense of where priorities should lie and how one gives back to a society that gave so much. This gift, gives Warren Buffet a second life to make a difference in thc charitable world. At 75, he will create 75 more years of good from his charity. That is a lesson that I hope transcends borders.

I used Second Life (a Benchmark investment) in the title for a reason. On the same day, I read about Buffet’s contribution, I found this blog piece by someone named Beth. She writes:

If you are a nonprofit or affiliated with a nonprofit that is already doing something in Second Life, take thissurvey or let us know by leaving a comment in this post. …
I also checked out a few of the nonprofit spaces that we have identified as part of the directory. One of them is “Make A Wish Foundation.” This space was set up by a resident named Yonder Dousberg. It is unclear whether or not he is affiliated with the organization or just wants to raise money. He has collected approximately $14,000 in Linden dollars which translates into about $45.00.

This brings up two issues in my mind. First, that’s a lot of effort to raise $45.00 — that is if a nonprofit is going to learn how to use and build in SL, let alone set up donation boxes. Second, how do we know that Yonder will be giving his money over to the nonprofit he proports to be raising money for? Nonetheless, this is an example of virtual grassroots fundraising. And certainly, not the only potential way a nonprofit could benefit from a presence in Second Life.

This may sound corny, but I find it heartening as well, that the initial foundations of the virtual world, have a charitable element as well. I think that is part of the founding American Ethos which is alive in the virtual SecondLife as well. Looking at the the result 60 years later of the Israeli charity ethos, where Israeli took money from little blue boxes and the government rather than contribute itself, it is encouraging to see new “worlds” founded on a charitable infrastructure, small as it may be. Maybe Israelis and Israeli charities can set up shop in SecondLife and help improve the charitable infrastructure for the next generation, thereby giving us all the second life that Warren Buffet has given himself.

[Originally published on 4th July 2006 by MIchael Eisenberg]