Listen to “Unreasonable People” by Fred Smith
Almost every time I read about a major foundation tackling another global problem I have two responses. The first is, “Go get ‘em tiger” and the second is, “Good luck. More than a few do-gooders have broken their picks on that one.” So, when I read that people with no endowment, connections in high places or detailed strategic plans have jumped into the ring I think of Don Quixote jousting with windmills because he imagines them as giants with whom he will do battle, slay them and rid the world of evil.
“Now look, your grace,” said Sancho, “what you see over there aren’t giants, but windmills, and what seems to be arms are just their sails, that go around in the wind and turn the millstone.”
“Obviously,” replied Don Quixote, “you don’t know much about adventures.”
And so it is with adventurous and unreasonable people.
Oceans of Trash
Two young surfers from Florida, Andrew Cooper and Alex Schulze, had saved up their money for a surfing trip to Bali. Finding a beach completely covered in plastic with the waves bringing in more they asked why the beach had not been cleaned up. They were told the beach shoreline had been cleaned only hours earlier. On the spot, Andrew and Alex vowed to reverse the tide of plastic being dumped into the ocean every year – almost 14 billion pounds. Starting with nothing they have created 4ocean, a for-profit company with 200 employees across 27 countries working 24 hours a day, 7 days a week that has so far removed 5 million pounds of ocean trash.
Oceans of Debt
In 2011 two loan collectors, Craig Antico and Jerry Ashton had something of an epiphany. Nearly 80 million Americans carry medical debt, which accounts for 50% of all personal bankruptcies. Almost half of the ten million people diagnosed with cancer between 2000 and 2012 depleted their assets within two years. In fact, there is $75 billion of medical debt on the books of collection agencies and much of that will not be recovered. Typically, debt is sold to collection agencies by hospitals, insurance companies, and doctors and the collectors work on a contingency basis with guarantees of a percentage if they are able to recoup it. It’s expensive and relatively unproductive for everyone. So, like distressed bonds with little value, agencies start packaging the debt and selling it steeply discounted to whoever will buy it. At least they will get something for it. Craig and Jerry put a twist on it. They decided they would buy the debt for pennies on the dollar and instead of collecting it they would forgive it. They don’t negotiate the debt to get a lower bill. The forgiven debt is not considered taxable income for the recipient. They completely eliminate it and make certain it is wiped from credit reports as well. Through the non-profit they created (RIP Medical Debt) they buy the debt and abolish it. Calling themselves “predatory givers” they have made it possible for donors, churches, faith-based organizations, and corporations to purchase overwhelming medical debt held by families and forgive it. Not everyone qualifies. They focus on those making less than two times the poverty level, spending more than 5% of their income on medical debt or families of veterans. For example, a group of Chicago churches worked with RIP to purchase for $18,000 the $5.3 million debt of almost 6,000 families. When the debt is paid each family receives a letter telling them their debt has been forgiven. I read one mother’s response this week.
“I am a single parent who is raising my son with special needs. Life has hit us with some hard blows Mentally, Spiritually, and Financially but through it all, in obedience to God, He has always made a way. Opening up this letter to find that the medical debt that I had has been paid in full was a drop to my knees, thanking God for hearing my prayers snapshot that I will never forget. You have truly blessed our lives with your Generosity, Compassion, and Love. On behalf of both my son and myself, I say Thank You.”
So far, RIP has abolished hundreds of millions of dollars of medical debt and they hope to reach $1 billion in 2020.
None of these will “fix” the larger problem, will they? That would be unreasonable. But, these are unreasonable people.
Edmund Burke said, “Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little.” I am grateful for those with large resources addressing global issues and especially these four individuals who have decided to joust with windmills.
Art by Henri Eisenberg
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