Teaching others how to give money
Born into wealth, Marion Rockefeller Weber uses her Flow Fund Circle to teach others how to give money wisely.
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The process can be rather astonishing.Skip to next paragraph
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Chimene Hickey walked into a store owned by Weber one day in 2006. She figured by its wares that it might be a good place to sell the handicrafts she was importing from Indonesia. The person behind the counter was Weber.
Ms. Hickey was looking for an outlet for her notebooks made from leaves, bamboo, and rice. But in the back of her mind was the suffering going on in Indonesia following the 2004 tsunami. Hickey had spent years in Indonesia and grieved for the loss of many acquaintances in a remote village swept away by a flash flood.
She and Weber began talking. "I didn't even know who she was," Hickey says. "She said, how would you like to join the Flow Funders? It was like a dream come true."
Hickey returned to Indonesia, and proceeded slowly to find uses for the money she had been granted. She helped with disaster relief and supported nascent recovery efforts, everything from helping stores restock basic items to funding educational programs in the interests of food security.
"I kept quiet about [the] money and just observed," she says. "I learned a lot about appropriate aid and inappropriate aid." The experience, Hickey says, has been "transformational. I'm not an inherently trusting person. But that's part of the lesson."
Helen Gunthorpe, who undertakes medical relief efforts in Burma (Myanmar), received a letter from Weber in the spring of 2008. Basically, the San Francisco-based Ms. Gunthorpe recalls, the letter said, "Here's [some] money, and I know you will give it to the right people."
The money eventually helped establish a nonprofit business in Burma called Good Sleep, which has made more than 6,000 bed nets for protection from mosquitoes, a market that had been dominated by imports.
While deciding how to give money away is daunting at times, Gunthorpe takes "the inspiration that has been given to me ... to do that with another person."
Speaking of Weber, she says, "She lit the candle. She makes us all a little larger than we could ever be on our own."
Finser is confident Weber's approach can be replicated, and he's hopeful some foundations might try her stripped-down, small-scale approach on a pilot basis.
"She's created a place of discovery, but it's done in a very thoughtful and disciplined way," he says.
In his 2001 book "American Foundations: An Investigative History," author Mark Dowie says it's unlikely traditional foundations would "place so much faith (and power) in people like Weber's visionaries."
However, he writes, doing so would "undoubtedly find and ferment far more creative ideas and innovations than conventional philanthropic practices...."
•For more about Flow Funding, go to www.flowfunding.org.
• For other stories about People Making a Difference go here.