Here's a good podcast for you to pick up - Malcolm Gladwell's Revisionist History, where Gladwell breaks down topics that we previously thought we understood completely, but now looking back it appears we were wrong.
I've listened to two episodes - the first one was a fascinating recount of the Toyota stuck accelerator scandal, which now shows that it's user error (the driver) and panic 99% of the time. Toyota just settles the lawsuits because it's pragmatic from a PR perspective.
The one I listened to last week talks about the efficiency of rich people giving money to colleges to prop up endowment programs. Here's the description of that one:
In the early ’90s, Hank Rowan gave $100 million to a university in New Jersey, an act of extraordinary generosity that helped launch the greatest explosion in educational philanthropy since the days of Andrew Carnegie and the Rockefellers. But Rowan gave his money to Glassboro State University, a tiny, almost bankrupt school in South Jersey, while almost all of the philanthropists who followed his lead made their donations to elite schools such as Harvard and Yale. Why did no one follow Rowan’s example?
In the podcast, Gladwell breaks down Rowan's decision and what's happened since the gift, as the school has built an accessible Engineering program that has helped thousands of local kids get the education they need.
"With a $400 million donation from Nike co-founder Phil Knight, Stanford University is creating an ambitious graduate-level scholarship program -- larger in scope than the Rhodes Scholarships at Oxford -- for the "world's brightest minds" inspired to tackle global challenges.
The gift from Knight, who experienced his "aha!" moment to become an entrepreneur while pursuing his MBA at Stanford in 1962, is the largest cash donation from an individual in Stanford history. On Wednesday, Stanford will unveil the Knight-Hennessy Scholars program, which, with donations from dozens of alumni and members of Stanford's Board of Trustees, will grow to $750 million, the largest fully-endowed scholarship in the world."
That sounds fine, right? Here's what had Gladwell riled up:
"The Knight-Hennessy program will admit 100 high-achieving students each year -- one-third from North America and two-thirds from the rest of the world -- who have shown themselves worthy of helping to solve issues ranging from global warming and human rights to poverty and affordable health care. Applicants must be nominated by universities.
"The world needs more great leaders willing to take on the complex challenges we face," Hennessy said. "We hope to educate people who will go on to that kind of role."
Let that sink in a bit. The Knight gift was a part of a 750M dollar endowment that will admit 100 students a year.
Damn... Oh, yeah, here's one of the problems that Hennessy said they might tackle that Gladwell covered:
"One problem Mr. Hennessy said he might assign to a team is to analyze the $100 million donation that Mark Zuckerberg, the chief executive of Facebook, made to Newark public schools in 2010, and that has not been widely seen as a success. “Nobody understood the real difficulty in making significant change in the public education system,” Mr. Hennessy said. His scholars would be asked, he added, “ ‘How do you build a structure that will successfully deploy those funds for the benefit of all?’"
That's right! Mark Zuckerberg makes a Hank Rowan-like decision to give a gift to a public system in need. Stanford's creating a $750M endowment to work on big problems - like second guessing the effectiveness of Zuckerberg's gift to public schools.