Wednesday, 10 September 2014

How We Can Build on ALS: Generosity is good for us as well as others

This article first appeared on Huffington Post here.

If you're anything like me, your Facebook wall has been transformed into a stream of people soaking themselves with the Ice Bucket Challenge. We are all getting soaked with water and in the process raising money (in fact lots of money) for charity. We have also learnt about amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and the devastating effects it has on those who suffer from it.

Now don't get me wrong, there are some valid criticisms of the Ice Bucket Challenge; Matt Damon by refusing to use clean water in his challenge raised the point that it is sparse in the developing world. Many in the U.S. have also pointed out that there is a significant drought -- particularly on the West Coast.

But despite all this, I'm loving the Ice Bucket Challenge. Why? Because people are having fun being generous and raising awareness of important issues and it's provoking me to be more generous with our words, our time and our money.

A survey done a few years ago by Mencap showed that 82 percent of children with learning disability in the UK are bullied, and 79 percent are scared to go out in case they are bullied. In the UK, we have also recently seen high profile cases of the disabled elderly being bullied in their care homes. These people are not just statistics, but are some of society's most vulnerable people. But, it's not just about these cases. If you believe as I do that evil prospers when good men do nothing, what does that mean for the way we can be generous with our words to those who are disabled and downtrodden. As Anthony Carbajal, an ALS sufferer says after heartbreakingly describing ALS "you have no idea how every single challenge makes me feel -- lifts my spirits, lifts every single ALS patient's spirits. You are really, truly making a difference and we are so, so, so grateful."

People are backing up their words with actions; they're not just posting videos online, they are giving millions of pounds. Admittedly, soon, people may be attracted to a different cause but organizations like Charity:Water have proved that social media can help drive much needed money to issues like giving clean water (as Matt Damon was promoting) over a sustained period of time. As a result of the $93m that they have raised, over 3.2m people have been given clean water -- phenomenal. Other companies, such as TOMS Shoes have put generosity into their business model: you buy a pair of shoes from TOMS and it also gives a child in need a pair of shoes too. Since its founding in 2006, TOMS has given more than 2 million pairs of shoes to children living in poverty in more than 51 countries. Where we spend our money can change lives.

But it's not only about words or money, it's also about the time. Some friends of mine have driven to the beach or to a lake, many have drenched themselves in their gardens but all have uploaded their videos on Facebook after -- I'd hope -- getting dry. Unscientifically, I reckon that each person who has done the ice bucket challenge has then spent an average of half an hour on it. Why have they spent so much time on it? Because it's fun! As a dad and an entrepreneur, time can often seem really tight for me, but counter-intuitively, when I spend time volunteering, my other time feels more productive. It's not just me who thinks this; a recent paper by professors Michael Norton and Cassie Mogilner actually proves it. It says that while we don't feel we have enough minutes and hours to do everything, volunteering some of our limited time actually INCREASES our sense of how much spare time we have. Numerous studies also show that being generous promotes trust, social connection and co-operation.

Every time I see the Ice Bucket Challenge on Facebook, and it's a lot, I'm provoked to be more generous. It's not only good for the marginalized in society, it's good for me too. Let's find ways of making this generosity last!

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