A D.I.Y. How-to-change-the-world Revolution

If you were going to change the world, which problem would you tackle?

Nicholas Kristof has a pretty nifty piece of journalism in this weekend's New York Times Magazine about an as yet unnamed revolution, which he terms "Do-It-Yourself Foreign Aid." He writes: "It starts with the proposition that it’s not only presidents and United Nations officials who chip away at global challenges. Passionate individuals with great ideas can do the same, especially in the age of the Internet and social media."

He writes about a few young women who are in the midst of truly extraordinary work. Elizabeth Scharpf, 33, started Sustainable Health Enterprises, which manufactures sanitary pads out banana-fiber for impoverished Rwandan girls who might otherwise skip school. And Maggie Doyne, 23, created Kopila Valley Children's Home and School in Nepal, whose seed money was $5,000 she had earned as a babysitter during high school.

Kristof concedes that while the experiments are noble, entrepreneurial ideas sometimes fail and combating poverty can't alone be accomplished by good intentions. He also adds that making the world better is really hard work.

Are these young idealists unsophisticated about what it takes to change the world? Yes, often. At first, they don’t always appreciate the importance of listening to local people and bringing them into the management of projects, and they usually overestimate the odds of success. They also sometimes think it will be romantic to tackle social problems, a view that may fade when they’ve caught malaria.


Kristof has compiled a handy list for those that want to change the world, but don't know quite where to begin. He encourages reaching out to particular organizations and causes, rather than spreading one's time (not to mention resources) too thin. One option is One Day’s Wages, which asks that people to donate a single day’s pay (or 0.4 percent of their annual income) to various causes and organizations.

If you were going to start a D.I.Y. world-changing revolution, what problem would you tackle first?

Photo (cc) via Flickr user mckaysavage.

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