Last month, The Wall Street Journal featured the Laura and John Arnold Foundation in Houston, Texas in an article entitled “The New Science of Giving”. The piece highlighted an operational approach to philanthropy that may be unconventional, although its ideology is not: use data to guide giving. John Arnold is a man of tremendous wealth (about $4 billion) and practically incomparable success (he’s 39 years old) against the odds (a large part of his fortune came in when he correctly predicted how the price of gas would change in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina amidst erroneous calculations by peers). His success was rooted in the same principles that guide his foundation today: statistics. Nate Silver did it with the 2012 presidential election, and as WSJ points out, the household terms of “moneyball” and “freakonomics” are ones we’ve come to trust. So relying on data isn’t new; but employing it in philanthropy – really using it rather than just putting the words “evidence-based” in the president’s note of the annual report – sort of is. Well, it’s had to be. It just costs too much to do it right. Enter the billionaire. (more…)
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