Mari Kuraishi and The Global Giving Foundation

mari.jpgby Caroline Shannon (Dayton, Ohio)

Take this image for a spin: A Kenyan nurse gets notice that a particular patient needs help. She packs up her tools, straps them over her shoulder and quickly makes her way out to . . . her motorcycle.

And then, visualize Washington D.C.-based philanthropist Mari Kuraishi grinning when she pictures one of her favorite projects coming to life.

It might seem absurd, but, perhaps, thatʼs why one of Kuraishiʼs terms for success includes being “unreasonable about your dreams and aspirations.”

The Kenyan nurses straddling “gnarly” bikes, as Kuraishi likes to put it, is just one of the many projects she has had the pleasure helping to make possible as president of the GlobalGiving Foundation. She doesnʼt get to be picky about projects — and, truthfully, she enjoys them all — but thatʼs one “girl power” image that puts a smile on her face.

“I find working as a social entrepreneur is most rewarding in the huge range of amazing people I get to meet who are out there doggedly pursuing ideas and solutions that can make a difference,” Kuraishi said.

Her craving for a solution is exactly how the GlobalGiving Foundation became Kuraishiʼs brainchild. The foundation stemmed from Kuraishiʼs work with World Bank, where she paired up in 1998 with economist Dennis Whittle (now CEO of GlobalGiving) to fight poverty for the companyʼs Development Marketplace. The two launched a successful program and quickly recognized the potential for a global, 24/7 marketplace for philanthropists.

And unto those do-gooders was born the GlobalGiving Foundation.

Think of the GlobalGiving Web site as a philanthropist’s dream. People with projects that require funding and grants post their proposals on the site, giving potential donors the chance to browse opportunities and choose ones they would like to fund. GlobalGiving does not provide individuals with support. Instead, the site acts as a go-between for those who are looking for funding—whether it is health care, environment or education matters—and those who are willing to provide it.

“The fact that GlobalGiving as a grantmaking entity is set up as a foundation is instrumental from my point of view,” Kuraishi said. “ I’ve never been drawn to the activity of giving money away per se—and I actually find the power relationship that is implicit in most grantmaking a little problematic. Which is why I want to reposition donating money through a platform like GlobalGiving—something that people want to do because they get some value out of it as opposed to something they might do because they feel guilty or sorry.”

Kuraishi developed her knack for philanthropy after several years working in international development. It wasnʼt until she was hired by World Bank to develop a program for Russia that she began to notice “a gap in the social capital market where smaller initiatives were not being supported by the major funders.” Thatʼs when Kuraishi began to see need for a platform like GlobalGiving.

Now, Kuraishi and her team stand by their mantra of many-to-many, their theory that there needs to be “many” more people and organizations supporting the “many” communities that are developing throughout the world. Recent projects include educating orphaned teenage Kenyan mothers and providing clean water for Sudanese war refugees.

“The shortage of resources in the social capital markets is what prevents people from embarking on things they know will help local communities all over the world,” Kuraishi said. “And with masses of active people in the space, weʼll get more innovation, more creativity, more of a shot at solving the problem of global poverty. So, weʼre interested in many projects all over the world getting off the ground, and many people supporting them.”

And her theory of working for the “many” plays throughout her work with GlobalGiving, leading simply to her second term for success:
“Remember success isnʼt about you—itʼs about how effectively you can take the team around you to their fullest potential.”

Thatʼs right: Think of GlobalGiving as Kuraishiʼs “Internet Harley”. Hey, you can even call her unreasonable—she doesn’t mind. Because for her, “unreasonable” is accomplishing things all over the world—right this very minute.