EBay Founder Pledges $100M to Fight Fake News and Hate Speech

eBay founder Pierre Omidyar has committed $100 million to fight fake news and hate speech.

A Forbes article about eBay founder Pierre Omidyar. Photo: GongTo / Shutterstock.com

Taken aback by the way “fake news” has wormed itself into mainstream political discourse, eBay founder Pierre Omidyar is pledging to fight misinformation and hate speech.

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) will be among the independent and investigative media outlets that will receive funding from Omidyar’s coffers over the next three years.

According to CNBC, the ICIJ will receive up to $4.5 million to expand its investigative reporting. Other organizations that will receive funding are the Anti-Defamation League, the world’s leading organization speaking out about anti-Semitism; and the Alianza Latinoamericana para la Tecnologia Civica (ALTEC), designed to promote civic engagement and transparency in Latin America.

The funds will be provide through the Omidyar Network, a philanthropic investment firm founded by Omidyar and his wife, which has so far committed more than $1 billion to nonprofit organizations, including a $220 million gift toward a government and citizen engagement initiative which aims to drive accountability and transparency in government.

“Across the world, we see a worrying resurgence of authoritarian politics that is undermining progress towards a more open and inclusive society,” said Omidyar Network Managing Partner Matt Bannick. “A lack of government responsiveness and a growing distrust in institutions, especially the media, are eroding trust. Increasingly, facts are being devalued, misinformation spread, accountability ignored, and channels that give citizens a voice withdrawn. These trends cannot become the norm.”

But the United States isn’t alone in these problems. Corruption scandals have rocked governments in Brazil and France, among other places, which have led to growing accusations against the mainstream media by politicians. As a result, fewer people than ever trust their country’s mainstream institutions.

“At a time when autocrats, demagogues, criminals, dodgy businessmen, and other shady characters are seeking to enrich and empower themselves at the expense of society, it is more important than ever that journalists can remain the world’s independent eyes and ears, and root out corruption and wrongdoing,” said ICIJ Director Gerald Ryle.

2017 Guggenheim Fellowship Winners Announced

The 2017 Guggenheim Fellowship winners have been announced.

Simon Guggenheim (1867-1941) worked in the family mining and smelting business and served as Senator of Colorado from 1907-1912. He established the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation in 1925.

On April 6, the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation announced its 2017 class of fellows. The 173 Guggenheim fellows were appointed on the basis of prior achievement and exceptional promise, and were chosen from a group of almost 3,000 applicants.

The Guggenheim Fellowships are unique for the great variety of backgrounds, fields of study, and accomplishments of the program. Forty-nine scholarly disciplines and artistic fields, 64 different academic institutions, 27 states and the District of Columbia, and three Canadian provinces are represented in this year’s class of fellows. Sixty-eight of the fellows have no academic affiliation or hold adjunct or part-time positions at universities.

The Dorothy Tapper Goldman Foundation is underwriting the Fellowship in Constitutional Studies.

This year’s fellows include astrophysicist Eric Agol; filmmaker and artist Signe Baumane; writer Deborah Rudacille; intellectual historian Margaret Cohen; composer Oscar Bettison; sculptor, photographer, and performance artist Lesley Dill; journalist and author Masha Gessen; linguist Brian Gick; law professor and author Heidi Kitrosser; cultural historian Cheryl Misak; and education scholar Natasha Warikoo.

“It’s exciting to name 173 new Guggenheim Fellows. These artists and writers, scholars, and scientists, represent the best of the best,” said foundation President Edward Hirsch. “Each year since 1925, the Guggenheim Foundation has bet everything on the individual, and we’re thrilled to continue to do so with this wonderfully talented and diverse group. It’s an honor to be able to support these individuals to do the work they were meant to do.”

Since its establishment in 1925, the Guggenheim Foundation has granted more than $350 million in fellowships to more than 18,000 individuals, among whom are Nobel laureates, Fields Medalists, Turing Award winners, poets laureate, members of the various national academies, winners of the Pulitzer Prize, and other important, internationally recognized honors. The Guggenheim Fellowship program remains a significant source of support for artists, scholars in the humanities and social sciences, and scientific researchers.

For a complete list of the 2017 Guggenheim Fellows, see the Guggenheim Foundation website.

New York State Law Targets Donor Confidentiality

The names of donors who give $1,000 or more to New York 501(c)(4) charities must be disclosed.

Photo: Shutterstock

The state of New York has a law on the books that targets the confidentiality of donors to 501(c)(4) nonprofits, those focused solely on social welfare. While that definition is broad, and the Tea Party is such a nonprofit, the problem is that the New York law essentially puts up what some refer to as unacceptable cost barriers to free speech.

Basically, the law says that the names of anyone who donates $1,000 or more to a 501(c)(4) organization must be disclosed. The law also requires 501(c)(3) nonprofits to disclose when they make even minimal donations or in-kind donations like office space or supplies to 501(c)(4) organizations.

If a 501(c)(4) nonprofit in New York tries to address or otherwise influence public policy by taking a stance on an issue, the law kicks in. According to the law, if the organization “refers to and advocates for or against a clearly identified elected official or the position of any elected official or administrative or legislative body relating to the outcome of any vote or substance of any legislation, potential legislation, pending legislation, rule, regulation, hearing, or decision by any legislative, executive or administrative body” they face disclosure obligations.

Basically, if a group dedicated to social welfare talks about anything related to social welfare, they have to disclose.

Supporters of the law say they are protecting individual rights by giving the state’s attorney general the discretion to restrict public disclosures when those disclosures “may cause harm, threats, harassment, or reprisals.” Opponents say this does nothing to preserve anonymity from the government and that it doesn’t protect a right of anonymity from the public.

The law is currently being challenged in court, so it may or may not be long for this world, but it is exactly the kind of model that the current federal government might consider applying more broadly across the country. More pressing, though, is that if the trial goes in favor of the State of New York, it becomes precedent, and that will give other states the courage to pursue similar laws in their own legislatures.

Should You Start a Nonprofit or a Social Enterprise?

There are important things to consider when deciding whether to start a nonprofit or a social enterprise.

There are important things to consider when deciding whether to start a nonprofit or a social enterprise. Photo: Shutterstock

The rise of social enterprises has helped to make the world a slightly better place, as companies that care try to do good by the world around them, through partnerships, direct donations, or any number of other plans. But while they have contributed to the good in the world, they’ve also complicated the charitable field, though that’s not a bad thing.

When you’re thinking of ways to do good in the world, it can be tempting to think that starting a nonprofit is the only way to go. It’s not, though, and there are three important factors you must consider before going down that road.

First, is it already being done? If it is, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it at all, but it means you should think carefully about whether to consider a partnership with existing nonprofits rather than launching your own enterprise. There is a lot of competition for limited funds, and grantmaking agencies like to see partnerships and cooperation among nonprofits in a certain geographic area.

Second, what value will the organization bring? Just as with any for-profit company, you need to determine your value proposition—what is it about your organization that will attract donors and clients? Some businesses may work better as for-profit companies with a strong ethical foundation or as social enterprises (low-profit limited liability companies or B-corporations, for example). Let the “why” control the “how,” not the other way around.

Finally, how are you going to support your organization financially? If your only fundraising tools include grant money or donor support, a nonprofit may be the best option. But if you have a product or service people will pay for, consider starting a social enterprise instead. As we said in the previous point, let the “why” drive the “how.” Your value proposition will help you determine which way to go and will help you be prepared for the special strategizing that comes with being a social entrepreneur.

If it turns out that a social enterprise works better for your business model and value proposition than a nonprofit, Fast Company has some great questions to ask before you get started.

Understand that social enterprises are designed to use the power of the market to address social challenges—so the first question to ask yourself is “What is the problem you’re trying to solve?”

Then, develop your business model and find ways to measure your impact. Figure out how you’re going to acquire the capital you need to get started and to grow—impact investing is a fairly hot thing right now, so there may be “angel investors” willing to provide startup funding for your enterprise. Then, plan how you’re going to tell your story and what corporate form your company is going to take. There are several options for social enterprise businesses that are not available to standard for-profit companies.

Whether you choose to start a nonprofit organization or a social enterprise, there’s a lot of thought that goes into determining which form to take and how best to make a positive impact in your community.

Founders of Nonprofit Charged With 15 Felony Counts

Should nonprofits be involved in political action--even if that action may not be overtly political?

David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt of the Center for Medical Progress, have been charged with 15 felony counts in California for falsifying their identities and using a fake bioresearch company to covertly record videos of themselves trying to obtain fetal tissue from Planned Parenthood.

The Center for Medical Progress is a nonprofit organization that describes itself as “a group of citizen journalists dedicated to monitoring and reporting on medical ethics and advances.”

Among the charges California Attorney General Xavier Becerra has leveled against the pair are that they filmed more than a dozen people in Los Angeles and San Francisco without first receiving their consent. The AG also alleges that Daleiden took documents from a biotech firm specializing in stem cell procurement for scientific research, using a password from an employee who had been terminated.

The next year, Becerra alleges, Daleiden and Merritt posed as employees from another biotech firm to get into to a National Abortion Federation conference in San Francisco, where they secretly recorded speakers, vendors, and attendees. Daleiden and Merritt pretended to work for that same biotech firm and recorded private meetings with health professionals in Pasadena, Century City, El Dorado, and San Francisco.

“The right to privacy is a cornerstone of California’s Constitution, and a right that is foundational in a free democratic society,” Becerra said in a statement. “We will not tolerate the criminal recording of confidential conversations.”

The Center for Medical Progress itself hasn’t been implicated in the current charges or in a trial of Daleiden and Merritt last year in Harris County, Texas. The pair was cleared of any charges in the Texas trial.

The charges leveled against the Center for Medical Progress’s founders do, however, lead to ethical questions around political activities of 501(c)(3) organizations. The Center for Medical Progress is known to be funded by political groups such as Operation Rescue, and Operation Rescue President Troy Newman sits on CMP’s board. Operation Rescue’s umbrella organization, Youth Ministries Inc., had its 501(c)(3) status revoked in 2006 for endorsing political candidates and other actions disallowed under section 501(c)(3) of the tax code.

Does that mean that the Center for Medical Progress isn’t a legitimate 501(c)(3) organization? It seems like the work the organization’s founders did in producing their film about Planned Parenthood was aimed at influencing the political discourse and discrediting another nonprofit organization. And if a nonprofit’s founder is found guilty on felony counts, what happens to that organization?

Do you have any insights on the issue? Please share them in the comments.

Brookings Institution Announces David M. Rubenstein Fellowship

The Brookings Institution

The Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. Photo CC-BY-ND Josh via Flickr

On March 22, Brookings Institution President Strobe Talbott announced the establishment of the David M. Rubenstein Fellowship.

The fellowship was made possible by a multi-million dollar gift from David M. Rubenstein, co-chair of the Brookings Board of Trustees and co-founder and co-CEO of The Carlyle Group, one of the world’s largest private equity firms.

The fellowships will help to implement Brookings’ goal of advancing diversity in its scholarly community by appointing early- and mid-career scholars from the United States and abroad. The work of the Rubenstein Fellows will significantly augment and diversify the independent policy research and analysis of Brookings’ 100-plus resident scholars.

The Rubenstein Fellows will be appointed for two-year terms in one or more of Brookings’ five research programs, where they will conduct in-depth research and analysis, and generate policy ideas and recommendations on key governance challenges of the 21st Century.

“I believe strongly not just in Brookings’ work to improve governance locally, nationally, and globally, but in the institution’s commitment to fostering diverse thinking in the ranks of public policy researchers and practitioners,” said David Rubenstein. “Finding solutions to the complex challenges we face requires new and innovative thinking that reflects a variety of perspectives, disciplines, and experiences. It is my hope that these new Fellows will contribute in meaningful ways to building the next generation of experts who are committed to Brookings’ high standards of quality, independence, and impact.”

The first class of Rubenstein Fellows will take up their positions at Brookings by September 2017. To apply, visit the Brookings Institution’s website.

Mel Gibson Supports Charity Assisting Holocaust Survivors

Actor/director Mel Gibson is supporting a charity that helps Holocaust survivors.

Actor Mel Gibson at the photocall for “Blood Father” at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival. Photo: Featureflash Photo Agency / Shutterstock.com

Surprising many, Mel Gibson, the once beloved Australian actor who is best known now for his drunken anti-Semitic rant in 2006, has been quietly working with a charity that helps Holocaust survivors.

According to actress Zane Buzby, Gibson has been supporting her organization, the Survivor Mitzvah Project. The charity brings emergency aid to Holocaust survivors in Eastern Europe in need of food, medicine, heat, and shelter.

Buzby went on to state that Gibson isn’t just donating money, but has taken an active interest in the group, visiting the office and getting more people involved.

“Mel Gibsoon is helping Holocaust survivors in eight countries,” Buzby said. “I have great respect for people who turn their lives around, and I think that everyone makes mistakes in life, and I think the real proof of what kind of human being you are is what you do with that mistake.”

The news of his involvement, which coincides with his first directorial work in a decade, didn’t come from Gibson or a press agent on his behalf, which lends credence to the news. It’s not unheard of for a celebrity to try and make themselves look better through charitable work, but Gibson has gotten sober and started educating himself about a variety of issues. While his 2006 comments didn’t ruin his career they certainly tarnished it. Gibson has, in the past, expressed homophobic and racist opinions as well, before and after that incident.

As for the Survivor Mitzvah Project itself, it is a relatively small charity, which is only beginning to attract attention. It is not yet rated on Charity Navigator, having less than $1 million in revenue, but has teamed up with Amazon Smile and other programs in order to pursue its mission. The organization boasts a good number of celebrity supporters, not surprising for a Hollywood-based charity.

Buzby will be recognized by the Anti-Defamation League for her work in founding the Survivor Mitzvah Project at its annual Deborah Awards Dinner in Beverly Hills.

Russian Charity Brings Life to Children Suffering from Cancer

Podari.life's mission is to help children in Russia and other former Soviet states who have cancer.

Podari.life’s mission is to help children in Russia and other former Soviet states who have cancer.

Curing cancer, particularly in children, is hard enough. But imagine if these children had no access to important resources that could save their lives!

Increasing access and support is the drive behind Podari.Life, a Massachusetts-based nonprofit focused on providing services to children with cancer and their families. What makes Podari.Life unique, though, is its cultural connections: Its mission is specifically to help children in Russia and other former Soviet nations.

One way Podari.Life does this is by connecting with Russians and related organizations in the states. In January of this year, for instance, Podari.Life held a fundraiser in Miami, Florida. The event was sponsored by the Coffey Burlington law firm, whose founding partner, Kendall Coffey, is on the board of the Russian American Chamber of Commerce. Coffey himself gave a speech in support of Podari.Life’s mission, as did fashion designer Masha Tsigal. Other celebrities were also in attendance, including journalist Julia Bordovskikh, television producer Sergey Kalvarsky, and Bel Harbor mayor Gabriel Groisman. Professional ballroom dancers Loreta Kriksciukaityte and Aleksandr Skarlato gave a surprise performance that wowed the crowd. Art and luxury items were also up for auction, and a portion of the proceeds, as well as all donations from the event, went directly to Podari.Life.

Podari.Life’s significant connection to its Russian sister charity Podari Zhizn and the UK-based charity Gift of Life give its programs and mission a wider range of expression. In fact, Podari.Life exists today in large part because former volunteers for Podari Zhizn came to the US from Russia and decided to expand that charity’s work. All three nonprofits share the same vision: “the child’s life should not hang on money.”

The conflict between young cancer sufferers’ needs and the availability of funding is particularly problematic in Russia, where national healthcare support has taken a big hit in recent years. That’s why Russian actresses Chulpan Khamatova and Dina Korzun came together in 2005, along with a team of volunteers, to help more than 30,000 children and their families get the treatment, support, and rehabilitation they needed. Their team became Podari Zhizn, which now works out of Moscow to provide medication and medical equipment to Russian hospitals, promotes and organizes blood drives, and develops volunteer networks across the country. Thanks to donations from Podari Zhizn, the Federal Center for Pediatric Onco-Hematology has been able to purchase much-needed equipment and provide services to 1,000 patients annually.

In 2011, the UK-based charity Gift of Life, which provides access to the leukemia drug Erwinase—not available in Russia—was established as a sister charity to Podari Zhizn. Gift of Life is particularly important to the cause because it creates the connections and resources needed to get treatment to young Russian cancer sufferers who can’t get it in their home country.

Inspired by these two organizations, the US-based Podari.Life was formed in 2015 to spread information, treatment, and support further. With three related charities operating in three different countries, Podari hopes to not only help more children, but also send the message that international cooperation on important issues like cancer is possible—even between countries whose governments are often at odds with each other.

6 Tips for Raising a Child to Be Philanthropic

Teach your children to be generous wit the six tips in this article.

Teach your children to be philanthropic by setting a good example and working together as a family. Photo: Shutterstock

If you’re a philanthropist yourself—no matter the amount or size of your gifts—you probably want your children to follow in your footsteps and learn the values of generosity and kindness to other living beings. But sometimes it seems like there’s so much distraction, you don’t know if your hopes are falling on deaf ears. Here are some tips to raise your kids to be philanthropists, too.

Start young

It’s a given that a little kid will listen to you and model your behavior a lot more than a teenager will, so make sure you start early with lessons of philanthropy. Encourage them to save aside a little bit of their allowance, or tooth fairy money, or birthday cash gifts, for doing good for others.

Set a good example

Children learn what they live, as the old saying goes. Lots of research has shown that if parents are charitable, kids are more likely to be charitable as well. Show your kids the joy of giving, and show them there are all kinds of ways to give. They don’t necessarily have to give money, for example; they could learn the benefits of volunteering their time. Even something as simple as calling a friend who’s feeling down can be a time to set an example.

Prioritize caring

Kids believe what adults value, so prioritize generosity and philanthropy in your family talks. Make sure your children know that you expect them to care about others just as much as you expect them to do their best in school, for example. You can even display photos of your kids doing thoughtful things like volunteering or donating gently used toys to kids in need.

Acknowledge charitableness

Whenever you see your child acting with kindness, say so and thank them for being kind or helping out. The more children get praised for a virtue, the more likely they’ll be to continue acting with that virtue.

Use real events as a teaching opportunity

If, for example, a family in your community had a house fire and lost everything, help your kids collect items to give to that family to help them rebuild their lives. You can even use bad news as a tool to get kids thinking about solutions instead of just complaining about the problems.

Help them see their impact

Kids are more likely to become even more helpful if they see that their help is making a difference. You can help your children think about a volunteer experience, for example, and teach them to have compassion by encouraging them to think about the people or animals they helped.

What other tips do you have for raising philanthropic kids? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Tumblr Shows the Changing Face of Corporate Philanthropy

Through its support of Planned Parenthood, Tumblr is showing the changing face of corporate philanthropy.

Through its support of Planned Parenthood, Tumblr is showing the changing face of corporate philanthropy. Photo: M-SUR / Shutterstock.com

For a long time, corporations tended to avoid controversy when they could, seeing it as bad for business. When they engaged in philanthropy it was with causes that everyone could get behind, or at least which didn’t alienate many people.

But we’re seeing a shift in recent years, well illustrated by Tumblr joining forces with Planned Parenthood.

While corporate advocacy has been going on for a while, tech companies like Facebook, Google, and Microsoft have the ability to reach millions across the country and around the world. And tech companies are not only becoming vocal in their opinions, they’re engaging in actions like petitioning the government, filing amicus briefs in court cases, and other boots-on-the-ground activism.

“The third rail is changing,” Planned Parenthood Executive Vice President and Chief Brand Officer Dawn Laguens told VentureBeat. “The third rail used to be companies should not get involved—they’re a blank canvas and should just do their business. Tech companies have changed companies. They have become personalities. They’re an expression of their users.”

Tumblr staff actually spent a lot of time thinking about whether or not to vocally support Planned Parenthood, but they eventually settled on a rule of thumb: If the company could contribute anything to the fight and if it could have an impact, then they would act.

“We’re still thinking through a lot of this,” said Tumblr Social Impact and Public Policy Lead Victoria McCullough. “What we’re seeing now and why we feel so compelled to act with swiftness and again be a little more definitive on certain issues, we do feel like [the president’s Executive Orders] are impacting a group that does not have a voice and does not have the political space to advocate for themselves.”

Tumblr has long used its voice for raising awareness of issues like wage equality and education, but this year the company is not just supporting Planned Parenthood, they’re going to advocate on four other issues as well: LGBTQ equality, mental health, racial justice, and freedom of expression related to media protection and net neutrality.

Tumblr’s move will hopefully benefit Planned Parenthood, and maybe inspire other companies to take similar steps. “I think they are going to unleash a flood of other organizations and corporations that say that this is what the new moment demands of us,” said Laguens.

But even if Tumblr’s actions don’t inspire other companies to take action, at the very least, it is reaching its audience and rallying them to support a cause that they as a company believe in.