How Obama should give away his Nobel Prize money.

Advice on how to make the world better.
Dec. 23 2009 10:31 AM

A Nobel Goal

How President Obama should donate his Nobel Peace Prize winnings.

Do you have a real-life do-gooding dilemma? Please send it to ask.my.goodness@gmail.com and Sandy will try to answer it.

Dear Sandy,
President Obama just accepted the Nobel Peace Prize, which comes with an award of $1.4 million. The White House has announced that he will donate this money to charity. What is your recommendation for where this money should go?

—Caroline

Dear Caroline,

While President Obama's gift won't land him in the "Slate 60" list of top American philanthropists, it will bring a lot of attention—and scrutiny—to whichever cause he chooses. And though I'm under no illusion that he'll be looking to me for advice on which charity to choose, I'm happy to opine.

President Barack Obama accepting Nobel Prize.
President Barack Obama poses with his Nobel Peace Prize medal

As inspirational as the president's acceptance speech was, it didn't provide a lot of insight into which charity he'll pick. He managed to touch on every major global good in a matter of minutes: security, democracy, education, health, climate change, human rights. While I agree that all of these are integral to achieving peace, I think he should focus his donation on one issue that encapsulates his "call to action."

A prime candidate is nuclear nonproliferation, a lynchpin of Obama's foreign policy—and ostensibly one of the reasons he was awarded the prize in the first place: "The Committee has attached special importance to Obama's vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons." The Ploughshares Fund is a grant-making organization that endows the "smartest people with the best ideas for preventing the spread and use of nuclear weapons and building stability in regions where nuclear weapons may be factors." That would be putting his money where his mouth is.

On the other hand, perhaps the president would be wise to continue to use his political influence on nuclear nonproliferation and put his money toward other forms of peace building. He acknowledged that peace "is not just freedom from fear, but freedom from want." If that's true, funding an organization aimed at addressing basic human needs would make inroads to  promote peace. So what about donating to a global health organization such as Partners in Health or the Global Fund To Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria? Or to organizations doing agricultural and business development, such as TechnoServe or Heifer International?

Then again, since Obama acknowledges that war and conflict are inevitable, maybe he should put his winnings toward organizations that try to alleviate their effects. Doctors Without Borders provides medical care in some of the world's most dangerous conflict zones—assisting people whose survival is threatened by violence, neglect, or catastrophe. The U.N. World Food Program provides food relief for refugee camps, therapeutic feeding centers, and other emergency shelters.

Finally, how can the president use this opportunity to make the largest statement? He could use his donation to challenge citizens to follow his "call to action" and donate in support of global peace. Dennis Whittle and Mari Kuraishi, former World Bank-ers and co-founders of Global Giving, urged the president to consider using his donation as a matching gift—an excellent idea.

No matter which charity he chooses or how he chooses to donate his winnings, Obama's biggest contribution will be in continuing to challenge people worldwide to remember his declaration that "for all the cruelty and hardship of our world, we are not mere prisoners of fate. Our actions matter, and can bend history in the direction of justice." If he can persuade others to act charitably, it will be worth a lot more than $1.4 million.

Do you have a real-life do-gooding dilemma? Please send it to ask.my.goodness@gmail.com and Sandy will try to answer it.

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Sandy Stonesifer works on issues related to adolescent girls' health at a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C.

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