We are excited to welcome 2010 with a lot of new projects. Here are the newest projects you will find on our website:

We are excited to welcome Ashoka to the Jolkona community. You can now support an Ashoka Youth Venture project right here in Seattle to encourage youth led journalism.

Jolkona Foundation believes that we can not only feature projects around the world, but also feature local projects right here in USA. Action Against Hunger has created the Race Against Hunger program to raise awareness amongst American youth about hunger. You can now show your support by sponsoring a class in the Race Against Hunger

Madre was one of our first partners with few popular projects. Their newest projects will continue that trend. You can support midwives in the troubled West Bank and allows them to provide much needed aid to pregnant mothers who can not get to hospitals. You can also provide assistance to farmers in Nicaragua through affordable donation options.

Last but not the least, we are working with TRIFC to allow our donors to support the blind children of Nepal.

We encourage you to checkout these new projects and give generously to these worthy causes.

Imagine something that has been proven to make you happier, healthier and more confident while being environmentally friendly, and having absolutely no adverse side effects. I am not referring to a new miracle drug or infomercial for aroma-therapy candles, but simply the act of giving. People have long known that altruism carries its own rewards. History is filled with references to the fact that in giving there is also receiving, however, there is still some debate as to why.

In his latest op-ed piece Our Basic Human Pleasures: Food, Sex, and Giving, Nicolas Kristof claims that giving leads individuals to live happier, more fulfilling lives (so far so good). Yet, he goes on to argue that because of this giving is, in fact, a selfish act. He demonstrates that we give not necessarily out of our interest for others, but because we feel good doing so.

While I don’t believe it was Kristof’s intent, he has fed the flames of an old debate, that volunteers and philanthropists aren’t out to help others, but to feel good about themselves. As an economics student I have heard this argument before, that of “Homo Economicus”, or the economic man. The premise of the Homo Economicus model is that human behavior is solely dictated by self-interest, or rather everyone is out for themselves. Under this model firemen wouldn’t run into burning buildings, there would be little volunteerism, and as Kristof asserts, charity would be self-interest in disguise. Yet, firemen do run into burning buildings, we do volunteer a substantial number of hours (over 8 billion hours in 2009), and we give an immense amount to charity ($230 billion in 2008 (see Adnan’s article posted back in June). So what’s wrong with this explanation?

While there is no denying that being altruistic feels good, emerging research tells us it is for a completely different reason then self gain. It turns out we give because we are social creatures. In a recent study participants were asked to either keep a $128 research stipend for themselves, or donate part of their stipend to charity all while being monitored on an MRI. When subjects chose to give (and they often did) their brain activated “reward pathways” as if they were fulfilling a selfish act such as eating; however these pathways were stimulated by regions associated with social, not selfish behavior. The conclusion of course being that we are innately driven to give not out of selfish, but communal interest.

Within the greater context of human interaction such a behavior makes sense. Being group-oriented creatures, what tends to be in the interest of one is in the interest of all. Yet, we must admit that sometimes our selfish desires blind us to what is truly best for our community, and ultimately ourselves. Thus, our innate drive to give is our brain’s way of subconsciously combating our selfish tendencies of “Homo Economicus”, which explains why we give above and beyond what is purely advantageous to us. This research also tells us that giving to communal needs can be just as instinctively rewarding as fulfilling personal needs, such as food or shelter. This finally explains why those of us who give often are found to be much happier than those of us who don’t give at all. And, there is no refuting that happy people lead healthier, more fulfilling lives.

So what does this all mean in practice? The next time you are having a down day, happiness may not be found in another latte or a new pair of shoes, but a donation. Intuitively we know that a latte will only make us happy until we reach the bottom of our cup, but giving someone the amazing gift of a healthy child or an education will give us reason to be happy for days, months, and even years to come. When we focus on giving rather than getting we not only help others, but ironically help ourselves, which we know, buried within the depths of our brain, is the gift of giving.

Kristof’s article:

Jorge Moll et al., “Human Fronto–Mesolimbic Networks Guide Decisions About Charitable Donation,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 103 (2006).

Volunteer statistics:

Our heartfelt condolences go out to the people and families in Haiti affected by the recent tragic earthquake that has claimed thousands of lives and affected over one third of the population.  We know that there are tons of relief efforts and fundraisers going on right now to help provide assistance, and although we ourselves do not fundraise for natural disasters and relief efforts, we are very committed to helping out in these times of need.  To help direct our users to places providing relief in Haiti, here are some of the options we would recommend:

1. BRAC USA.  BRAC USA is one of our existing partners where we provide support to one of their project’s in Bangladesh.  BRAC USA supports the development work of BRAC in Asia and Africa but are now working with two partners on the ground in Haiti to help support on-going relief efforts.  All donations received that are designated for Haiti relief and rehabilitation efforts will go directly to their Hatian Emergency Appeal and work directly on the ground in Haiti.  You can donate here:

2. Mercycorps.  Although Mercycorps is not a Jolkona Partner, we do have strong connections with some of their staff.  While they do a lot of development work around the world, one of their main focus is on disaster response and emergency and natural disaster relief and are thus very experienced in this area. They deploy their own teams and experts, and have local workers there as well so are well equipt to help out on the ground. You can donate to them here:

3. The American Red Cross. The Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters around the world and is currently on the ground and mobilizing resources to assist in Haiti.  You can make a donation to the Red Cross Haiti Relief and Development fund here:
You can also  Text the word HAITI to 90999 to give a  $10 donation to the Red Cross for Haiti Relief fund that will be charged to your cell phone bill

4. Yele Haiti.  Yele is a grassroots movement that builds global awareness for Haiti while helping to transform the country through programs in education, sports, the arts and environment.  It was founded by musician, Wyclef Jean who is now collecting donations to provide relief in Haiti.  You can make a donation to the Yele Haiti Earthquake fund here:
You can also Text the word YELE to 501501 to donate $5 to the Yele Haiti Earthquake fund that will be charged to your cell phone bill.

Thank you ALL for your generous support and help to the people of Haiti!

Last month, I gave an interview where I discussed how I came to start Jolkona Foundation. This interview was distributed internally within Microsoft. It is my pleasure to share the article, in its entirety, with our readers.

Once again, I would like to thank my employer – Microsoft Corporation – for being so supportive of Jolkona Foundation’s work.

Trip to Cemetery Creates Life-Changing Moment

Jake Siegel
December 9, 2009 

A stranger in Bangladesh helped Adnan Mahmud realize he could help make the world a better place without much money. He did it by creating Jolkona Foundation, a nonprofit that channels small donations to specific people and causes across the world.


“I truly believe that in 100 years, our generation won’t be known for the technological advances that we’ve made. Rather, we’ll be known for how those technological advances were used to tackle humanity’s biggest challenges,” said Adnan Mahmud, Microsoft Research program manager.


Adnan Mahmud’s quest to change philanthropy started in a cemetery.

It was 2006. The Microsoft Research program manager was visiting his parents in Bangladesh, where he grew up. During the trip, Mahmud went to pay his respects at his grandfather’s grave. As he left the cemetery, he passed a man carrying his dead son. The man clearly couldn’t afford a proper funeral or the traditional Muslim burial cloth; the dead child wore shorts and an unbuttoned shirt.

Mahmud figured the man had spent all his money securing a grave for his son. Just outside the cemetery, vendors were selling burial cloth for 50 cents. “I could have helped him out with a dollar, but when I realized that, I was already home having lunch,” he said.

The recognition that even a small amount of money could make a big impact on someone’s life was a revelation, Mahmud said. He always knew that someday he would dedicate himself to giving back, but that would come after his career. That stranger in Bangladesh made him realize he could help now, even without the checkbook of Bill Gates or Warren Buffet. 

Thinking that many other young professionals must feel the same way, he set out to build a Web site where people could get excited about philanthropy without having a lot of money. In 2007, Mahmud and his wife, Nadia, created Jolkona Foundation. The nonprofit organization lets people channel small donations to specific people and causes while letting them monitor the impact of their gift.

By focusing on small-scale gifts that show a direct impact, the foundation allows donors to have direct control over where and how their donations are spent, Mahmud said. The goal is to galvanize a young generation that wants to do good with its limited resources.  


The foundation’s Web site lets donors see the Jolkona community’s impact around the world. Click image to enlarge.


Jolkona means “drop of water” in Bengali. “The idea is that every donation is a drop of water,” Mahmud said. “With a lot of them, we can have a ripple effect and change the world.”

The Jolkona Foundation site went live in June, and since then more than $15,000 has been raised for projects around the world. At the site, would-be donors can pinpoint projects in countries where they want to contribute and choose from five categories: cultural identity, education, empowerment, environment, and public health. Projects can be filtered by the amount of money needed, starting at as little as $5; and by the duration, from less than a month to six years. They can range from $5 to plant a tree in Brazil to $500 for sending a nomadic Kenyan boy or girl to high school for a year.
As far as Mahmud knows, Jolkona Foundation created the first Web site that provides donation-level feedback. Everyone who makes a donation through the site gets a report card on how that money is being spent. If a donor provides money for, say, buying books in Rwanda, he or she will get a list of the purchased titles.

Mahmud realized the power of that feedback as he started searching for ways to contribute after his trip to Bangladesh. He had always been put off by large nonprofits because it was difficult to choose specific programs or know exactly how his contributions were used. When he found an organization in Bangladesh that provides artificial limbs for $200, he asked them how he would know that he was doing the right thing with his money. They told him, “What if we send you a before and after photo of the person who received the prosthetic limb?”

He loved the idea of seeing the impact of his donation. Many of his friends were also excited when he reached out to see whether others wanted to help. “They said, ‘Normally we don’t know where our money goes, and we don’t have a lot of money to give. If this organization tells me that my $200 will buy someone a limb, and then shows me a picture of the person it helped, then yes, I’ll give them my money.'”



Because of the generosity of a Microsoft employee, this person in Bangladesh received prosthetic limbs. The donor received these photos as the proof of impact.


Being a self-described technology guy, Mahmud thought about putting together a Web site to track his friends’ donations. It wasn’t just a problem with one organization, though. “I realized that what people in my generation were seeking was donation-level feedback that was traditionally reserved for the big donors,” he said.

Jolkona Foundation was the result. Half a year after the site went live, Mahmud said he’s proud of the response so far. He hopes to continue to add more partners and projects and to spread the word about the site. He encourages all Microsoft employees to try the site out and make a gift this holiday season.

Silverlight and Bing Maps help power the site, Mahmud said, adding that technology lies at the heart of what Jolkona Foundation is trying to accomplish.

“I’ve always loved technology. I truly believe that in 100 years, our generation won’t be known for the technological advances that we’ve made. Rather, we’ll be known for how those technological advances were used to tackle humanity’s biggest challenges.”

Visit Jolkona Foundation.