Bill Gates just gamified philanthropy. His offering, Coop Dreams, is an extremely short trivia game about chickens. Get the questions right, and Gates will donate a flock to a family in sub-Saharan Africa.
Gates himself kicked things off on Wednesday by somehow managing to build a temporary chicken coop filled with actual live chickens on the 68th floor of World Trade Center Tower 4 in lower Manhattan, to coincide with Forbes annual philanthropy summit. "There’s a whole story about how we got chickens into this tower," he joked as the event began. A handler in a shirt questioning "Can a Chicken Change The World?" corralled a few birds trying to flap over the open pens behind him. "They're not used to having chickens here," Gates added. "We snuck them in."
The game went live on Gates’s personal blog this morning. It is exactly the sort of thing a billionaire programmer trying to teach people the most logical way to make an impact might develop. According to the World Bank, more than a billion people currently live below the global poverty line, earning less than $2 a day. Raising chickens, Gates says, can help families bootstrap their way out of poverty and also hedge against malnutrition.
The goal, as the site puts it, is "give a flock, help a family." Basically, for each activity you do on the site—reading Gates’s memo, watching a video, taking a quiz—you’re awarded points. Complete the right tasks—which basically means upping your learning curve enough that you’ll probably want to help anyway—and Gates will donate a flock through the charitable group Heifer International. Currently, only 5% of that region raises chickens. Gates hopes the game helps raise this number to about 30% through his initiative. The team wants to donate 100,000 birds, or roughly 10,000 flocks of chicks.
Here’s a quick cheat code for how that will actually help. As the site explains, chickens breed exponentially. (They’re also cheap to vaccinate and easy to keep fed.) So give a farmer five hens, and her standard of living can shift rapidly. After three months, she’ll likely have 40 birds. After a year? Several hundred. At about $5 bucks per free-range bird—the going rate in that region—she can hawk a couple hundred chickens and earn $1,000, rising above financial devastation.
That "she" pronoun is intended. In many places, it’s women who tend the flock, Gates says. This provides them with more power over family expenditures, which can drastically improve their children’s lives.
"These chickens are multiplying on an ongoing basis, so there is no investment that has a return percentage anything like being able to breed chickens," Gates says. "It’s like the classic thing of teaching somebody how to fish. If you don’t live near water then it’s pretty hard to fish. But the parable could have been stated in terms of giving somebody a chicken and showing them how to raise chickens."
By creating Coop Dreams, he's coaching everyone else about why it's important to give.
Cover Photo: GGRIGOROV via Shutterstock