Billionaire Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, posted a tweet last week looking for philanthropic ideas. The thought of having billions to manage freaks me out but after a cold shower and some meditation I settled in sorting out Jeff’s request.
Dear Jeff, Thank you for the tweet. I have two big ideas designed to have maximum impact without hollowing out your wealth. They flow from two aspirational thoughts; (1) how can the world give those on the lowest incomes the greatest opportunity to better themselves, and; (2) how can democracy be given an optimal tool to combat authoritarian and propaganda-driven agendas worldwide?
There are two big ideas that need vision and money to address these issues. The first is to develop ultra-low cost, high capacity broadband systems that are accessible and usable by the poorest cohorts in society. If delivered, these can form the silver bullet by which the greatest power against poverty — education — can be spread widely.
Access to low-cost, if not free, high-power broadband on free or low cost, low energy use phones, tablets and computers give people on little or no incomes, from Boston to Bangalore, the means to better themselves over time. Internet connectivity provides information, employment opportunities and connections that empower individuals anywhere on the planet.
Just look at the core Amazon platform to see how fast the internet links individuals with information, product and service. Unfortunately, low-income earners or anyone who is absolutely poor does not have the means to either access a machine that provides an interface with the world wide web or can pay for access to broadband. Add to that the huge geographies where the kit needed to provide broadband simply does not exist.
If you can help design the equivalent of a wind-up radio that does the same for broadband and costs pennies it would help a lot. If you can help design drones or balloons or anything that brings high power broadband to large tracts of Africa, Asia or impoverished urban America for little or nothing it will energise those areas to become more dynamic centres of economic activity.
My second big idea is linked to your existing investment in the Washington Post. The big IT companies, whether or not they wanted to, have helped destroy traditional media systems across the world.
That is fundamentally undermining the role of independent journalism in supporting free speech and democracy. It has created the monster of fake news that we all witness in both the so-called developed and developing world.
It seems, from a distance, that you have given the Washington Post editorial team freedom and resources to create prize winning teams of journalists that are held to the highest historical measures of integrity and honesty.
I would suggest you should acquire a wide range of high profile but financially impoverished media titles worldwide and give them the wherewithal in Europe, Africa, Asia and the Americas to replicate the phenomenon underway at the ‘Post.
You might want to link up with other billionaires and create a trust that keeps the financial resources needed away from any sense of billionaire bias and instead stands firmly behind the principles of free speech and independent analysis using advanced technology to distribute content.
Such a power surge in the media industry would do so much to give everyday citizens around the world a better chance of learning the truth at a time of unparalleled challenges.
The response to those challenges cannot be left to the zealots who suppress free speech.
Joe Gill is director of corporate broking with Goodbody Stockbrokers. His views are personal.
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