Flynn's Harp: Oki vision: Micro-philanthropy on global scale (10-28-09)
Posted on 10/28/2009 by Mike Flynn
Picture thousands of messengers delivering small gifts or donated items to millions of the world’s needy, each delivery recorded via cell-phone photo and sent back to the giver, and you have a sense of the global scale Scott Oki has in mind for his micro-giving site, SeeYourImpact.org.
Oki, who spent a decade with Microsoft, founding the company’s international division then serving as senior vice president of sales, marketing and service, is one of the Puget Sound area’s best-known philanthropists. The micro-philanthropy site could make him one of the world’s best-known names in international philanthropy.
But fame isn’t the goal. Rather it’s to prove his theory that if small donors could see the human-life impact of their gifts, as those who bestow large gifts frequently are able to do, “it would probably bring about a lot more giving.”
Oki says he and his partner in this initiative, Digvijay Chauhan, also a former Microsoft executive who went on to co-found AskMeCorporation, “figured if we could tap into the social networking phenomenon in some manner and tie it to giving, then micro-giving could go viral.”
The simple appeal on the SeeYourImpact.org website is this: “See the impact of your gift on the life of an actual recipient. Find a cause you believe in, donate a small amount.”
“We felt that focusing on small donors and providing a way for them to see the impact of their giving was where there is huge untapped potential,” Oki said during a telephone conversation about the plan. “We thought ‘if we can engage hundreds of millions of people to give small gifts, and connect them in a meaningful way with the recipients of the gifts, imagine what that would look like?’”
I suggested that the concept sounded like a micro-philanthropy version of the micro-lending website Kiva, and Oki acknowledged the similarity, noting that Matt Flannery, co-founder of Kiva, which is billed as the world’s first person-to-person micro-lending site, is on his advisory board.
I asked Oki how it would work and he offered the example of a person who gives a $15 brail kit to a blind person in some faraway village. “The person who delivers it would use his cell phone to snap a picture of the recipient with the gift, then download it to the SeeYourImpact site for viewing by the giver.”
Oki has been too busy in recent months on the speaking and interview circuit touting his new book, “Outrageous Learning: An Education Manifesto,” to give much time to promoting the micro-giving site. But in each presentation he mentions it, without elaboration, among the current priorities he has before he launches into the pitch for the book and its “11 foundational thoughts for bringing constructive change to public education.”
But SeeYourImpact.com is likely to move into the forefront of his conversations after the site’s web portal is created “in about a month.”
Oki said India will be the first country in which the site and its army of photo-messengers will be operational, partly because Chauhan is Indian and partly because Microsoft has key connections there to help facilitate the launch.
“India has about three million NGOs and the first step is to vet the ones we would use for the deliveries,” Oki said.
“Then we’ll launch somewhere in sub-Sahara Africa in about a year,” he added, noting that the first step is to vet the NGOs in each country at a cost of about $250,000. “We expect to scale in four-to-five years.”
He said he and Chauhan expect to have SeeYourImpact.org become self-sufficient through the donor “tipping function” that Kiva employs in which donors give $2-$3 of each investment to the operation of the micro-lending site.
Oki is passionate about his pursuits, whether in business where he founded and chairs his Oki Development Inc., investment company, and Oki Golf, or his philanthropy, which takes many forms, mostly under the umbrella of the Oki Foundation, with which he’s created 16 non-profit organizations.
Perhaps his most visible achievement was in co-chairing with Costco Chairman Jeff Brotman the local United Way campaign a dozen years ago that brought Seattle-King County to the fund-raising pinnacle it still occupies as the number one United Way office in the nation in dollars raised.
The Oki-Brotman way was a series of candid and upfront one-on-one conversations with the region’s business leaders and wealthy individuals with the simple message: “More is expected from you.”
In his years since departing Microsoft as a wealthy young man, Oki has routinely done more than expected. The micro-giving undertaking will bring Oki’s personal mission into focus, a mission stated on his website as “to marry my passion for things entrepreneurial with things philanthropic in ways that encourage others to do the same.”