I like charity that provides leveraged impact. I like charity that is aimed at building long term improvement. I like entrepreneurship. I like people having work they enjoy and can be proud of. And I like people having enough money for necessities and some treats and luxuries.
I think sites like oDesk provide a potentially great way for people to lead productive and rewarding lives. They allow people far from rich countries to tap into the market demand in rich counties. They also allow people to have flexible work arrangements (if someone wants a part time job or to work from home that is fine).
These benefits are also true in the USA and other rich countries (even geography – there are many parts of the USA without great job markets, especially many rural areas). The biggest problem with rich country residents succeeding on something like oDesk is they need quite a bit more money than people from other countries to get by (especially in the USA with health care being so messed up). There are a great deal of very successful technology people on oDesk (and even just freelancing in other ways), but it is still a small group that is capable and lucky enough to pull in large paychecks (it isn’t only technology but that is the majority of high paying jobs I think on oDesk).
But in poor countries with still easily 2 billion and probably much more there is a huge supply of good workers. There is a demand for work to be done. oDesk does a decent job of matching these two but that process could use a great deal of improvement.
I think if I became mega rich one of the projects I would have would be to create an organization to help facilitate those interested in internet based jobs in poor countries to make a living. It takes hard work. Very good communication is one big key to success (I have repeatedly had problems with capable people just not really able to do what was expected in communications). I think a support structure to help with that and with project management would be very good. Also to help with building skills.
If I were in a different place financially (and I were good at marketing which I am not) I would think about creating a company to do this profitably. The hard part for someone in a rich country to do this is that either they have to take very little (basically do it as charity) or they have to take so much cash off the top that I think it makes it hard to build the business.
But building successful organizations that can grow and provide good jobs to those without many opportunities but who are willing to work is something I value. I did since I was a kid living in Nigeria (for a year). I didn’t see this solution then but the idea of economic well being and good jobs and a strong economy being the key driver to better lives has always been my vision.
This contrast to many that see giving cash and good to those in need as good charity. I realize sometimes that is what is needed – especially in emergencies. But the real powerful change comes from strong economy providing people the opportunity to have a great job.
Related: Commerce Takes More People Out of Poverty Than Aid – Investing in the Poorest of the Poor – I am a big fan of helping improve the economic lives of those in the world by harnessing appropriate technology and capitalism – A nonprofit in Queens taught people to write iPhone apps — and their incomes jumped from $15k to $72k
I realize some people see risk in what sites like oDesk make possible to create a market that means people can’t earn a decent living. I do actually see that risk and think it is real. I don’t think trying to block commerce because of this risk is an effective strategy. I do think many millions of people can be helped (and some will be hurt). I think we are better off trying to help those that want to work in such a way to do so.
I do worry that we may well not have decent work for people that are not interested in highly valuable skills and/or are not willing to work (just expect to be given the rich life many of those in places like the USA got to have the last 70 years without much effort). As long as we have corrupt politicians selling out the country to those giving them cash the richest 20% in the USA will have huge trust funds to live off, so they will be rich. Those that aren’t living off trust funds or inheriting huge windfalls will have risks to survive.
They are still economically super lucky to have been born in the USA so I don’t really feel very sorry for them. But yes, there are real risks to the easy riches that we have had (and even so many in the USA struggled even while we have the richest middle class the world has ever seen in the richest country the world ever saw). But it is going to be harder going forward (at least comparatively to the rest of the world contemporaneously) – compared to the struggles people had 100 years ago I am not at all sure it will be more difficult for the average kid born in 2010 than it was for the average kid born in 1910 (especially if average doesn’t mean white boy but everyone and both boys and girls).