Imagine villages in sub-Saharan Africa where people live on less than $1 a day, where school-age children have never attended school, and where children who have never seen a photograph of themselves cannot recognize their own faces in the viewing screen of a digital camera.
Now imagine the same place on the eve of a school opening, a school built just for them with contributions of money, time and talent from the other side of the world. Imagine the celebrations, the excitement and the joy of the children and their families. Imagine the impact the school will have on the villages when 325 of their children are able to attend school for the first time.
Actually, there is no need to imagine. Marshall-Wythe alumni Doug Bunch and Doug Smith, members of the Class of 2006, lived this scenario, working with other volunteers to envision, fund and execute the construction of a new school in Buwasa, Uganda, through their nonprofit Global Playground. Their efforts exemplify the type of leadership that Thomas Jefferson expected of William & Mary graduates, of educated "citizen lawyers" who could change their communities, or even the world.
Children and parents in the village of Buwasa engaging in a cross-cultural exchange. They are watching a video of children in Brooklyn, NY, explaining what they like to do and posing questions to the children in Uganda. Bunch and Smith then videotaped the Ugandan children answering those questions.The foundation for the school built with funds from Global Playground is the background.
Both Dougs live busy lives, Bunch as a graduate student in theology at Catholic University, and Smith as an anti-trust lawyer at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom in New York City, yet both spend on average eight to fifteen hours per week volunteering for Global Playground. I spoke with them recently about their volunteer efforts with Global Playground.
What is Global Playground?
DB & DS: Global Playground (GP) is a federal-tax exempt 501(c)(3) nonprofit that provides educational opportunities to communities in developing countries. It does so by building educational infrastructure, such as schools and libraries, and then using that infrastructure as a launching point to share the vast resources of the developed world with those communities. When deciding in which communities to operate, GP ensures that its projects are sustainable and that its donor's contributions have a substantial and lasting impact.
What motivated you to create Global Playground?
DB: As a student at William & Mary, I learned to give back to the community and world at large. I also learned the value of education, and developed a strong interest in using education as a means of increasing opportunities in the developing world.
DS: As a student at Marshall-Wythe, I was instilled with the Jeffersonian concept of a citizen lawyer. During my first few years in practice, I sought to embody that concept by co-founding GP and by performing various pro bono work for other nonprofits. In addition, I wanted to co-found GP because I believe that the best way to improve the standard of living in developing countries is by investing in "human capital," that is, in the education of children. Education, more so than any other means, is the most effective way to transform a country and to alleviate poverty.
How are you personally involved with Global Playground?
DB & DS: We both serve on the Board of Directors, and we have provided both legal and nonlegal support to the organization. Legal activities include incorporating GP, obtaining nonprofit and federal-tax exempt status, preparing corporate filings and annual tax returns, and negotiating and drafting contracts with partnering organizations. Nonlegal activities include community outreach, fundraising, evaluating the impact of GP's projects, and due diligence on countries and local organizations.
How much money have you raised for your projects, and what types of infrastructure have the funds provided?
DB & DS: Since being formed only two years ago, GP has built a primary school in Uganda for $33,500 and is nearing completion on a middle school in Cambodia for $13,500. (Funding for the latter is being matched by the Asian Development Bank.) GP's next project will be in Northern Thailand and will cost between $15,000 and $20,000. In the future, GP plans to expand to other continents and hopes to build playgrounds, community centers, libraries, and other education-related infrastructure.
GP's board makes every effort to ensure that close to 100 percent of its donor's contributions are used to directly fund its projects in developing countries. It keeps non-project-related expenses to an absolute minimum by seeking out free goods and services to support GP's objectives. For example, GP received donated business cards, and a contributor is producing a documentary about GP for free. Also, one of the board members built and manages GP's web site.
GP also encourages members of the communities served to support its projects. For example, in Buwasa, fathers of the students volunteered to lay brick for the school, and mothers are selling crafts to help purchase books and school supplies. Even the students themselves are helping. During our visit to Buwasa, we saw a little boy make several trips with a wheelbarrow to bring bricks to his father.
DB&DS: GP is working on its projects in Cambodia and Thailand. Eventually, GP would like to implement the technology needed to foster connections among all of GP's schools, as well as connections with schools and teachers in the U.S. GP plans to send U.S. students and teachers to volunteer at its schools and would like to promote cultural exchanges with other professionals.
Any suggestions for William & Mary law students and other alums?
DB &DS: Look for opportunities to become involved with nonprofits, as those experiences are oftentimes the most rewarding both from a professional development standpoint and the impact that you can have on others. Understand the fiduciary obligations of nonprofit boards. Take classes on corporate law, nonprofit law, and human rights law.