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Changing the Present
Sarah Rich, 20 Dec 06
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I thought I might really have to hunt to have anything worthwhile to say about holiday gift giving. Sure, there's plenty more "green" stuff to buy this year. As Alex pointed out in a recent San Francisco Chronicle article, it's increasingly common for consumers to be curious about the backstory of the stuff they buy. Whether it's a pair of shoes or a refrigerator, a product's history and ultimate destination are more traceable than before, and therefore we are able to purchase gifts with a clearer conscience than before. But it's still stuff, you still have to drive somewhere to get it (or have a truck drive to deliver it), and ultimately it's not causing any radical shift in a tradition that boils down to a fair bit of waste.

Not that we don't like presents! This is not a manifesto for renunciation or sacrifice. Rather, it's a spotlight on a new project called Changing the Present, which is in the business of promoting meaningful gifts (and putting stupid gifts to shame). Here's their motivator:

Every year, one hundred billion dollars is spent on holiday presents. That's "billion" with a "b" and 100 with a hundred. Imagine, for one delirious moment, what could be done this very year if all of it, or even some meaningful percentage, went to changing the world for the better.

To help us imagine that, Changing the Present offers a long list of supportable causes and non-profits and allows the user to search according to specific criteria and select exactly what kind of gift to give. It's a way to ensure that our philanthopy is direct and effective (an issue we address often). You can contribute to delivering wheelchairs to landmine victims; help pay for an eye exam, glasses or cataract surgery; offer a loan to microfinance entrepreneurs; facilitate internet access in limited-resource areas, or even buy a One Laptop Per Child machine. They also offer gift certificates, a registry, a place to stash wishlists, and a networking area where you can create a personal profile.

As a bonus, Changing the Present has established the Stupid Gifts Hall of Shame, which reminds me a little bit of SkyMall (one of my favorite catalogues) with less useful merchandise. Here you can submit your own nominees for the digital pages of tasteless gift mockery.

Since giving a gift -- even a bad one -- is always in part meant to make the giver feel as good as the receiver, it seems logical that we ought to be trying to give things that we actually feel good about, not just for the gesture of giving, but for the ultimate benefit of the gift itself. Changing the Present might be a good place to start.

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My friend Jamie has an idea for an alternative holiday to Christmas/Chanukah/Kwanza. He calls his holiday "Belongza" - as in "Hey, this belongza you?" The idea is for friends and/or extended family to get together at Yuletide, perhaps for a nice pot-luck supper. Then they draw names from a hat. Whomever is chosen, all the other friends/family members descend on that person's home, and clean it, top to bottom, while boxing up all the accumulated clutter, knick-knacks, and assorted junk. "Hey, this belongza you? You really want it?" Whatever is left is organized - everything else is recycled or donated to charity.

Boy, I'd LOVE a holiday like that!

Posted by: David Foley on 20 Dec 06

SkyMall Rules ! Woo-hoo !

I like the Belongza idea.

One year, we tried to focus on immaterial, hand-made or recycled stuff. It was not too bad. I offered one year of Mac support to my sister who had recently bought a Mac, and she made extensive use of it, without feeling bad about having to ask _again_. Our kids received a doll-house from my sister, who had spend quite some time repainting and repainting it with funky colors and repairing the doll house (that had actually belonged to my grand-mother). Same with a castle. Both are still heaviliy used, and mix perfectly with new Playmobil and other stuff.


Posted by: Serge de Gheldere on 20 Dec 06

I have a strong suspicion that One Laptop Per Child has not endorsed Changing The Present as a donation collection agency.

According to the OLPC Wiki, they do not encourage donations of this sort. In addition, certain aspects of the Changing The Present information about OLPC is suspect.

More details here:

Posted by: wayan on 21 Dec 06

wayan's "strong suspicion that One Laptop Per Child has not endorsed Changing The Present as a donation collection agency" is entirely unjustified. All of the information about nonprofit organizations and their donation opportunities was provided by the nonprofits. That includes OLPC.

Posted by: Robert on 21 Dec 06


Then why has Changing The Present removed all references to OLPC now, a day later? And who would you be to speak for them? You don't even leave a URL link.

Posted by: Wayan on 22 Dec 06

I make all my donations through established, reputable organizations, so I was not planning to use Change the Present, but after reading Wayan's comment, I clicked a little deeper on the Change the Present site, and found a lot of "coming soon" pages that seem fishy, including the very generic "thoughts" of their almost too-good-to-be-believable list of advisers. None that I have read even mention the "Change the Present" group.

I hope that, given the trust and respect WorldChanging has gained among those in the online world interested in changing the world, that you have actually done your homework before promoting this organization. Can you vouch for their authenticity? I assume you must know some of their famous advisers, can you give them a call to make sure their name and face is actually being used with permission?

Posted by: Anon on 23 Dec 06



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