Clash of the humanitarian titans

In August of this year, Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg unveiled his plan to improve humanity by expanding internet access into the developing world, touting it as “one of the most important things we will do in our lifetimes.”  He published his thoughts and visions in an online document where he asks the question:  “Is connectivity a human right?”

Zuckerberg goes on to say, “I’m focused on this because I believe it is one of the greatest challenges of our generation. The unfair economic reality is that those already on Facebook have way more money than the rest of the world combined, so it may not actually be profitable for us to serve the next few billion people for a very long time, if ever. But we believe everyone deserves to be connected.  The internet not only connects us to our friends, families and communities, but it is also the foundation of the global knowledge economy.”

However, Microsoft mogul Bill Gates has reacted publicly with some harsh criticisms about Mark Zuckerberg’s plan, calling the Facebook entrepreneur’s mission “a joke.”

“As a priority? It’s a joke,” Gates told CNBC in an interview. “I certainly love the IT thing. But when we want to improve lives, you’ve got to deal with more basic things like child survival, child nutrition.  Take this malaria vaccine, [this] weird thing that I’m thinking of. Hmm, which is more important, connectivity or malaria vaccine? If you think connectivity is the key thing, that’s great. I don’t.”

Gates, co-founder of Microsoft and someone who has been labeled the richest man in the world, has devoted himself to humanitarian causes since stepping down from a full-time role at Microsoft in 2006, personally investing millions of dollars from his own personal fortune into efforts to eradicate illnesses such as polio, HIV, and malaria on a global scale.  His website www.gatesfoundation.org thoroughly outlines many of the other social issues Bill Gates and his wife Melinda are getting in front of, including extreme poverty and poor health in developing countries and the failures of America’s education system.

At first glance, it is easy to mock Zuckerberg’s “get the world online” plan when contrasted against the sobering perspective offered to us by Bill Gates, who also blasted Google’s dream to bring the internet to the world’s unconnected population by floating hundreds of weather balloons equipped with solar-powered radios in an attempt create an aerial wireless network with up to 3G-like speeds. “When you’re dying of malaria, I suppose you’ll look up and see that balloon, and I’m not sure how it’ll help you,” said Gates.  “When a kid gets diarrhea, no, there’s no website that relieves that.”

But setting aside for a moment the disapproving commentary by Bill Gates, is it quite possible that Mark Zuckerberg is onto something here, too?  He believes that “bringing everyone online will not only improve billions of lives, but we’ll also improve our own as we benefit from the ideas and productivity they contribute to the world.  Giving everyone the opportunity to connect is the foundation for enabling the knowledge economy. It is not the only thing we need to do, but it’s a fundamental and necessary step.”

No stranger to philanthropy himself, Zuckerberg and his wife were the second-biggest charitable donors in the United States last year,  giving roughly half a billion dollars to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, a charitable organization whose causes in 2012 ranged from programs to teach immigrants English, to groups providing food and shelter to the needy, to funds for victims of the California wildfires.  In addition, he donated $100 million to help schools in the U.S.

Can the crises humanity is facing right now – hunger, poverty, homelessness, illness, lack of education – be alleviated by both of the innovative ideas of these two powerful men who are more than willing to put their money where it matters?

Are we willing to risk an extraordinary opportunity for significant positive change to occur while we sit back and debate with each other who is right and who is wrong?  Isn’t the biggest obstacle we currently face — the one thing that stands in the way of real, positive, and beneficial change taking place — our inability to embrace each other’s perspectives as “another way,” not a “better way”?

Can the internet be counted as a fundamental and basic necessity for everyone in our world?  Or is it a tool, a resource, a luxury that should be reserved for those who can afford it?  If the latter is true, are we simply playing into the continuing the cycle of “those who have” and “those who do not”?

Do people who have no running or clean water, families with barely enough food to sustain their bodies, and those who struggle with life-threatening illnesses on a daily basis really even care about having internet access?  Is the information superhighway, as Gates contends, just not, “in the hierarchy of human needs, in the first five rungs” and instead we should be placing our intentions and financial wherewithal elsewhere?

According to a senior United Nations official, “Helping developing countries build their citizens’ access to the Internet is akin to giving them a tool that boosts their chances of achieving sustainable economic growth.”

Is it possible that maybe, just maybe, it doesn’t have to be one or the other, this or that, yours or mine?  Can you imagine a way these two humanitarian giants can work hand-in-hand, supported by a new framework of understanding, clarity, and wisdom which would give rise to the harmonious implementation of both of their powerful visions and creative ideas?

Personally, the prospect of that level of collaboration and heartfelt cooperation is something I would definitely hit the “like” button for.

(Lisa McCormack is the Managing Editor & Administrator of The Global Conversation. She is also a member of the Spiritual Helper team at www.ChangingChange.net, a website offering emotional and spiritual support. To connect with Lisa, please e-mail her at Lisa@TheGlobalConversation.com.)

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  • If you are poor sick & hungry you most likely will not be using the internet.

    Human needs come first. Nice idea to blend these ideas. I agree it doesn’t necessarily have to be an either or situation, but if it were, if we have to choose, for me, human needs are always on the top of the list over any thing else.

    What do others think?

    Magically,
    -Marko

    • Hello, Marko! I agree with you. But I am wondering if there is an educational component to this connectivity idea that might allow more people to get in front of the widespread sickness and hunger so that it doesn’t happen in the first place. Maybe a long-term plan to prevent instead of repair. At first glance, it seems preposterous that someone who is starving could care at all about “getting online.” But are some people missing opportunities by not having access to information and resources that the rest of the world readily enjoys? Just wondering…

      • ” Maybe a long-term plan to prevent instead of repair”

        That sounds good, but we haven’t yet set our priorities on what we want to do as a larger collective & even as a smaller collective.

        To me, it’s very helpful to prioritize our world solution desires. So say our first top 3 desires were to give everyone access to water & clean toilets, food, & medical attention. That would be a start. It’s simple, gives focus & unites.

        Education is the key. The type & how of that education is another question. For us folks here, I say teach a man to fish by understanding the LOA & you can feed him/her for life.

        Again, If you yourself are cold, hungry, tired, sick & unhappy, does the internet even register on the radar? I think not. Get them well first.

        Magically,
        -Marko

        • Excellent points, with which I agree to all. I still can’t help but notice that oppression and seclusion are the tools that people use in order to garner power and render someone else powerless. How would someone even know about LOA without access to information systems which teach it or talk about it?

          Perhaps the first step is to crumble the walls of separation that categorize human beings into geographical locations on a map, making it shockingly permissible and acceptable for so many to say “not my country, not my problem.”

          Wouldn’t it be terrific, Marko, if some of those people who do not have access to the same resources you and I do could participate in this discussion with us, where they could not only hear what we have to say, but they could offer us their insights, too?

          I agree, we have a lot of work to do in feeding, healing, and supporting an entire segment of the human population that is needlessly suffering. No doubt. I don’t think I’m ready to discount the value of affording these same people the benefits that technology is providing us when it comes to education, awareness, and global human connectivity and relationships.

          • Hi Lisa, yes we are in much agreement here.

            Still, what good would the internet be to those who can’t even read? Education is the first key along with critical thinking.

            I still think we have to prioritize or, things will continue to be as they are now, unconsciously prioritized by default unthinking which is not working well.

            As for the LOA, I think that for me, it’s something that people like us & this site who are advocates need to consider educating people more. It’s still not on the radar of most people.

            To me the LOA understood is understanding how this reality works & thus allowing us to use it consciously for our benefit rather than so much needless pain & suffering

            Everyone eventually at some point in the future will be fed, educated and have access to the internet which will first come through the library, as it is here for those who don’t have access.

            It’s simply more a matter of time & how quick we get on board with organizing what to do to create solutions.

            People will probably benefit more having a smart phone than computer. The phones give them more than access to the internet but also the useful apps.

            The WECCE site is the most successful helpful CwG demonstration in helping individuals. Nothing like it on the internet & wow, it’s free!

            Now if we can only do the same on a larger collective level in solving larger problems rather than individual ones.

            TGC is a start HT is a start, but none as I see it have the impact of the WECCE site. To me that would be the next step. A site for solving world problems & actually doing something.

            I believe Neale’s book The Storm Before The Calm is his CwG manifesto in advocating solutions from the viewpoint of the CwG cosmology.

            This site is part of getting there with our help in writing a book to provide possible solutions from members of this site.

            As for me, none of this has come together yet as well as the WECCE site.

            Yet it will at some point, our deep desires are calling every moment a solution to the problems we face & by the LOA will we eventually bring in the solutions.

          • Karen G.

            I love your perspective on this Lisa. It seems that we would always serve the world best when accept some new option that has not been available before.

            I see this as an example of hand-up versus hand-out mentality. Mark offers a hand-up while Bill is offering the traditional hand-out. If connected to all the knowledge and information available who knows what someone previously isolated could do to change his/her life and circumstances. There have been examples of entrepreneurship develop as a small banking operation or internet cafe when “connectivity” arrived. Certainly internet access doesn’t necessarily mean everyone on earth sitting in front of their laptop.

          • Terrific observations, Karen! I especially agree with your statement: “Certainly internet access doesn’t necessarily mean everyone on earth sitting in front of their laptop.” Connectivity enables an exchange of ideas, the opportunity to enter into dialogues with people from around the world (just as you and I are doing). Great ideas are born out of thoughts and conversations. Thank you for being here, Karen.

  • Terri Lynn

    Wow. I had no idea the statistics were so high as to the number of people on facebook have more money than the rest of the world combined. I admire both of these men who have given so much to the world with their generosity. I agree, that basic human needs such as food and shelter are very important but it seems to me that internet access can equally enhance a person’s life.
    The information alone the inernet can provide can enhance the lives of many. Is it a human right? I believe all human beings should have the advantage of any and all knowledge available. We are all equal no matter what status we hold. We are all here in this moment for a reason and I agree with Zuckerman on the point that we can all benefit from getting the input from every being on the planet.
    We are all here and each of us plays a valuable part. The more connected the better the view. I believe that food and shelter need to come first but the internet is equally important. I hope and pray that someday soon poverty will be a condition of the past. Until we extinguish the suffering of the poor we will have no peace on our planet.
    Thank you, Lisa, for bringing this to light.

    • Thank you, Terri, for sharing your point of view on this. At first read, my first reaction was more in line with that of Bill Gates. But after more consideration, I began to appreciate the value of what Mark Zuckerberg is proposing. It seems to me like we have two powerful people poised to create some big changes where they are much needed. And that is exciting!

  • darrelf

    It is nice to hear of people attempting to make a difference with their time and money. However, if that time and money is used to patch up issues dealing with the symptoms then what is the point of it all?

    Is there a long term benefit to the race if we eradicate a disease if all we do is then funnel the survivors through an education system that contributed to the disease becoming a problem in the first place? These diseases are problems in third world areas and it is our attention to ego that allowed us to divide the haves from the have nots. We created the third world and it is a result of our education system that we did so.

    When we eradicate those diseases, but our mindset remains, then something else that is the results of our ego attention will appear and we will put money into that.

    Isn’t the difference between the two philanthropists just ego expression? “My cause is better than your cause.”

    If we are serious about making change we must stop reacting to the things we see and think fresh. What we have done so far has produced the situation we find ourselves in. Tweaking it will not work. We must throw it out and start again. The first lesson we need to learn is that it is our attention to ego that is behind everything we see as problematic in the world. So where do we start? We start by understanding the ego and and relationship to it. We educate with this as our guide. Only then can we hope to change.