Launching a Year-Long Exploration: Philanthropy in Virtual Worlds

Filed in: Virtual Worlds

Filed by Jonathan Fanton


6.22.07 | Today we announce support to the USC Center on Public Diplomacy at the Annenberg School to begin a year-long exploration of the role of philanthropy in virtual worlds. During the coming 12 months, the Center on Public Diplomacy will support a series of discussions in virtual worlds about the concept of philanthropy, help us share what we and the organizations that we fund know and are doing in areas such as affordable housing preservation, community and economic development and urban policy, global conservation and human rights, and provide awards for in-world innovations.

With this blog post, and our launch event today, I would like to invite the philanthropic and virtual world communities to join us in these conversations and ongoing activities. As I mentioned in my post ten days ago, later this morning I will step into Second Life to host a wide-ranging discussion with Philip Rosedale on the role of philanthropy in virtual worlds. As many of you know, he is the founder and CEO of Second Life, the largest virtual world in existence. For MacArthur, what is noteworthy is not just the robust growth of virtual worlds, but also the potential of virtual worlds for social, cultural and political interaction and the exchange of knowledge. At the event later this morning, Philip and I will be present both as avatars and through live audio. Check the event information page for details.

At MacArthur, we are cautious about claims that technology can solve longstanding social problems. We recognize that it is easy to get caught up in awe and admiration of the new, especially something as novel as virtual worlds. As we investigate the possibilities of Second Life and other metaverses, we also will consider the inevitable unexpected outcomes and unintended consequences of virtual worlds.
When we first considered working in virtual worlds, we were tempted to build a replica of our historic foundation building, located in Chicago, in the virtual world. We now believe that the best way to start is to participate in the virtual world by engaging in discussions of serious social issues, working with others to act on their philanthropic impulses, and encouraging innovation and new ideas through grant awards. There is much to be learned as foundations develop strategies around the opportunities and consequences of engaging in virtual worlds. We invite you to join us in exploring how new technologies might be used to learn more about and address pressing social problems.

- Jonathan Fanton




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Lucy Bernholz (Blueprint Research and Design)


The conversation with Phillip Rosedale was wonderful. Thank you. I think that Mr. Rosedale’s description of SecondLife as “an empowering platform for individual action” is an apt aspiration for real world (and virtual) philanthropy and civil society as well.

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Congrats on a successful event! \
I live blogged it and now very inspired!

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Buffy Beale (Bridges for Women Society)


Thank you, this is indeed a turning point for the glorious world of SL and how fortunate for us you spoke to Philip before building.  The foundation is providing a tremendous opportunity for non-profits and we will be unlimited with one voice for many causes united for goodnes in life.

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Harold Clay (VTOR--Virtual TO Reality)


I was impressed with the turn out for the discussion group today, I ended up having to leave the main room for a spill over area, thanks to an older video card.

I believe in your work, and also in how you are trying to engage a community in Second Life ... even before actually entering.

With only a fraction of the involvement you had today continues on, I see the world (RL) becoming a smaller friendlier place.

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Joyce Bettencourt (Global Kids)


If you want to read what teens within Second Life had to say during the MacArthur Philanthropy event you can read our blog post about it.

A comment from one teen in particular summed up the effect that the event had on many who participated.  “After hearing the conversation Philip had today, I just feel like I want to be part of something to help mankind.”

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Haney Armstrong (Omidyar Network Community Manager)


The discussion came across as quite groundbreaking with these two from quite different backgrounds recognizing the potential of working together and introducing a major philanthropic effort in a expanding virtual platform. It was especially encouraging to hear Philip referencing Pierre Omidyar and Muhammad Yunus in describing how SL is transparent environment that empowers individuals.

An event three days later offers a preview of the possibilities: 25 people from around the world - primarily speaking French along with some English and Spanish - met at the Camp Darfur exhibit in Better World Island to organize anti-genocide efforts.

As former Community Manager at Linden Lab, I’m very much looking forward to your work in Second Life.

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Carrie James (The GoodPlay Project, Harvard Graduate School of E)


This is an exciting extension of MacArthur?s digital program. Virtual philanthropy is an intriguing concept and MacArthur seems well-poised to explore its potentials. 

As noted, Second Life and other virtual worlds may lower many of the traditional barriers that make open dialogue between the public and philanthropic institutions difficult. I admire in particular MacArthur?s efforts to bring youth voices into the conversation.  Going forward, it seems important to consider whose voices are not represented in these virtual worlds and why ? including individuals and nonprofits who lack the basic technology to access Second Life. 

I look forward to learning more as this novel venture gets underway.


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