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Guest Thinkers

How Much Money Is Enough?

“There’s always an opportunity to give money, if that’s an option,” says Mary Ellen Iskenderian. “But giving money is just not sufficient.”  

What’s the Big Idea?

Last year, President Obama found himself on the receiving end of much indignation for saying in a speech in Quincy, Illinois, “I do think at a certain point, you’ve made enough money.” It was the equivocal statement heard round the world – rarely has such weak language sparked so much outrage – and yet, neither Obama’s hesitancy nor the media reaction was all that surprising. 

No one likes to talk about limitations. (Politicians, especially, have avoided the issue for decades with their own unique combination of delicacy, trembling, and feigned ignorance). To do so would forces us to reckon with the question, “how much is enough?” How much money does a single person – even a very smart person – deserve, and how much of a contribution should she make to society? Can one individual even make an impact?

“I am a great believer in… the individual’s impact on [a] system to change that system,” says Mary Ellen Iskenderian, CEO of the Women’s World Bank, the world’s largest network of microfinance institutions and banks, which was founded during the first UN World Conference on Women in 1975. “There’s always an opportunity to give money, if that’s an option,” she says. “But giving money is just not sufficient. You’ve got to really make sure that the people that you’re giving your money to are keeping their eyes on the things that really matter to you.”

What’s the Significance?

The most effective way to ensure that your contribution is meaningful, not just another tax-deductible donation, according to Iskenderian? Committing to specific goals. “What we found is, if you have explicitly in your mission statement that you want to serve low income women, it’s really quite remarkable the number of indicators that you hit right on the money as they pertain to women.” The Women’s World Bank is the only micro-finance organization, for instance, which has a explicit focus on women. 82 percent of their clients are poor women entrepreneurs.

“Everyone either want[s] to alleviate poverty or [have] lofty missions,” she explains. “But it[‘s] the ones who specifically communicate, ‘We’re about serving women,’ that then when they measured themselves against it, really [are].  Philanthropy is wonderful… but being smart about what your money is actually out there doing… is [the] real responsibility.”  

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.


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