Our Better Angels was created by connecting several disparate dots:
The Leadership Education Movement: In 1978, publication of James McGregor Burns’s monumental study, Leadership, launched a global movement based on the recognition that leadership skills and values are learned rather than genetically inherited and that leadership behavior is ultimately a reciprocal, democratic process subject to the consent of the governed, not just the whims of the powerful.
The Philanthropic Boom: For decades, nonprofit activity has been growing faster than business and faster than government. Nonprofit activity provides goods and services that business can’t provide but which don’t qualify for government support because they don’t benefit society in general. People choose to donate money and time to nonprofit organizations because of what they stand for, and they don’t get any material rewards in return. As the general population of advanced societies has enjoyed longer life spans, better health, and increased wealth, more and more people are experiencing the need for a sense of purpose and meaning in their lives – thus the philanthropic boom.
The Internet: Thanks to digital media technologies, every human being on earth can now communicate directly in real time with any other human being on earth. The Internet, the World Wide Web, and a variety of social media now connect us in a truly global village. The Internet has expanded the philanthropic boom through a variety of crowd-funding and cause-marketing initiatives. Our Better Angels will attempt to create new ways to access and leverage the Internet to help everybody help everybody.
Microfunding: The ability to transform small amounts of money into significant economic and social improvements has been demonstrated by Muhammad Yunus and his Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, who won the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize for their microloan programs. They made very small loans, mostly to impoverished women, to support small-scale entrepreneurial activities. At Our Better Angels, we believe that building a community on small amounts of annual dues from many members is a better deal than catering to a small number of large donors with big bank accounts. Furthermore, we believe that the impact of Big Money in our political, social, and spiritual realms has become toxic. We will accept large-ish donations from generous donors, but we won’t seek them proactively and we will use them largely to support other Good Causes.
The Ice Bucket Challenge: In 2014, the Ice Bucket Challenge raised millions of dollars for ALS research from personal challenges issued by individuals to other individuals they knew. Our Better Angels was born by asking “what if there were an on-going organization that encouraged generous individuals to invite other generous individuals to support Good Causes of their own choosing rather than just one Good Cause in one entertaining spurt of generosity?” Our Better Angels aspires to be such an organization and to raise significant income for Good Causes of all sorts, identified and supported by our member Angels. We won’t ask anyone to dump anything on their heads, but we will transform the Ice Bucket metaphor into the “Ice Bucket List” metaphor. We are less interested in bucket lists of things people want to have or do or achieve for themselves, and much more interested in Good Causes that people want to support before they kick the metaphorical bucket.
Steven Johnson talks about where ideas like these come from in the following video clip.