— Or: I’m Sorry: Profit is Just Better – A Whole LOT Better! —
I drove past a billboard this morning. On the billboard was the shining face of a cute kid smiling. The billboard’s caption was: “At Age 5, Joshua Formed a Non-Profit. 20,000 Fed So Far.”
Nice, right? What could possibly be jarring about that?!?
Well, I’ll tell you. It wasn’t the billboard I saw, it was the contrasting billboard that I’ve never seen.
Let’s examine little Joshua’s feat for a moment. I’m not sure that I know for certain what “20,000 fed so far” means, but I’m going to hazard the reasonable guess that every time they serve a meal, that’s “one person fed.”
So 20,000 fed would mean something like “100 people given a meal once per day for 200 days.” 100 x 200 = 20,000. Or maybe it’s: Thirty-three people three times a day for two hundred days. Or: 33 x 3 x 200 = 19,800. Close enough to 20,000 to round up. Sound reasonable? Okay.
So, what’s so bad about that? Well, nothing. Nothing’s bad about that. There is food insecurity out there, and if young Joshua is able to lessen the sting of that for some people, that’s a very good thing. However…
However, when was the last time you saw a billboard with a smiling executive-type on it, above the caption: “At Age 30, Steve Started a For-Profit Company That Employs 100 People“?
I’ve never seen such a billboard.
Let’s run Steve’s numbers, shall we? One hundred people fed three times per day for 365 days is: 100 x 3 x 365, or: 109,500.
In one year, Steve, with his ever so selfish-sounding for-profit company feeds more than five times the people that our brave Joshua has fed in the entire time his “non-profit” has been in operation. (On the billboard, Joshua looked to be about 13-years old, so I’m guessing about eight years.).
However, most people aren’t just one person. If we realize that on average, people are contributing to the care and feeding of three people(1), then what Steve has done becomes even more impressive. That math is: 300 x 3 x 365 = 328,500, or more than 16 times greater in one year than Joshua’s non-profit over its entire lifetime.
More to the point, the people Steve is “feeding” don’t need Joshua’s compassionate generosity.
You have to love young Joshua, he’s obviously a really sweet kid! But in reality his activity is little more than industrialized begging. It’s not contributing to the betterment of society, but rather merely helping to slow its decline. Cynics (me among them) have suggested that organizations like Joshua’s, can serve actually to lock people into behaviors that cause them, and society, to break down.
Steve’s efforts, on the other hand — with his nasty for-profit company — help to diminish food insecurity. To improve people’s lives, not just slow down the rate of their deterioration.
There is something that young, energetic, caring, thoughtful people like Joshua can do that would be truly impressive. What a great sight it would be indeed, to see a billboard with a smiling Joshua, and the caption: “At Age 5 Joshua Started A Company Training Kids to Program. 20,000 Trained So Far.”
Let’s do some of those numbers: 20,000 (trainees) x 3 (meals per day) x 365 (days in a year) = 21,900,000!!!
That’s one thousand ninety-five times more people fed — per year — than those fed in the entire time Joshua’s non-profit has been in existence!(2)
Now, I understand that there’s a lot more involved in “training one person” than in “feeding one person.” However, according to those numbers, it sure seems as if our intrepid Joshua needs to say “Screw this!” to his non-profit, and go start up a computer programming training company — and do some actual good(3) in this world!
(1) I admit: just a guess. Replacement rate for a population is 2.1 births per woman in the population. My numbers assume a rate well below replacement rate. If, as in America, we’re at roughly replacement rate — or: 4.1 people per average household — then my numbers simply look slightly more than 25% better.
(2) Don’t forget: that number assumes that all those 20,000 people are feeding only themselves. If we go with an average of three people per person, then the real advantage that for-profit has over non-profit is… tripled. To a factor of nearly 3,300. Or three hundred thirty thousand percent better.
(3) We define “actual good” as doing something that’s not merely slowing down pending disaster, but is a net positive. Something that actually counters or eliminates negatives, or adds positives. It’s not the aspirin that alleviates the pain, but the surgery that eliminates the problem causing the pain. Or, it’s the discovery that dramatically improves the quality of people’s lives.