The MacArthur Foundation, known for bestowing “genius” grants on artists, actors and other creative people, introduced a new competition on Thursday that would award $100 million to an organization with the best proposal to solve a global problem.This is kind of intriguing, but count me as a skeptic. Which of “society’s most pressing problems” could be solved for $100 million? We have thrown billions at problems like child abuse, and we are gearing up to spend hundreds of billions fighting climate change.
The competition, called 100&Change, is open to organizations in any field, anywhere in the world, as long as the proposal identifies a problem affecting people, a place, or the entire planet and comes up with a way to fix it.
The foundation said in a statement it was “placing a few big bets” that significant progress could be made on social challenges like incarceration, climate change and nuclear risk. It did not place limits on what kind of problems should be addressed to be eligible for the award, which will be given every three years.
“Solving society’s most pressing problems isn’t easy, but we believe it can be done,” said Julia Stasch, the president of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. “Potential solutions may go unnoticed or under-resourced and are waiting to be brought to scale.”
While I think the notion of solving a major societal problem using only $100 million dollars -total- is unrealistic, I do think that offering a $100 million dollar prize as a sort of investment capital to help get the ball rolling for a potential solution might be worthwhile.
Take for example the development of the automobile. Filling the world with cars, and creating the infrastructure that would service them, cost staggering amounts of money and resources stretched out over many decades of development and implementation. And yet, what got it all started in earnest was Ford's Model T, the development and production cost of which was only the merest fraction of the total collective costs of introducing automobiles to the world.
The entire solution to a major societal ill, and its implementation, certainly is not be purchaseable with only $100 million dollars, but perhaps that amount can be enough to at least get the ball rolling. It's the difference between the cost of an entire forest and the cost of the single seed from which such a forest can propagate.
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