Making a Difference
Nov 15, 2007
Commentary by Stephen Downes

'Free Rice' is a program that gives rice to the U.N. World Food Program people if you define words for them. Get the word right and you successfully donate ten grains of rice. If you're wondering how much rice that is, it's less than a spoonful. Which makes me ask, how much does rice cost? If you define words for a full hour, how much worth of rice have you donated? Well if you want to know about rice you go to rice online, which puts it between $350 to $450 per metric tonne, bagged, depending on the quality of the rice and where you buy it. According to Brett Jordan (who appears to have looked it up) 1000 grains of rice makes 26 grams. That gives each grain of rice a value of less than one one-hundredth of a cent (obviously it costs more if you buy it at Safeway, but the U.N. doesn't buy it at Safeway). So if you define one word, you have earned less than a tenth of a cent. At that rate, if you manage to define 100 words in an hour, you will have contributed 10 cents to poor people. Much less than the site is making in advertising - and rather less than if you had spent the time working at McDonalds and mailing them the cash. Total: 151
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Re: Making a Difference

Well burst my bubble:-/
I posted that after reading this article:

Natalie Vaupel, private donations officer for United Nations' World Food Programme (WFP), "explained that the only restriction on funds raised by the website is that WFP must purchase rice instead of other foods. The organization is then free to choose who receives the rice and when.

The program also allows WFP to purchase rice from local farmers, which stimulates the local economy and contributes to agricultural sustainability in the region.

WFP is currently working with 1,000 organizations in more than 75 countries to provide the rice to those in need. In 2006, WFP provided 4 million tons of food for 87.8 million people -- 58.8 million of those were children."

I was under the impression that all proceeds from the website went to purchase rice, but in hindsight this was only my assumption.
I let my students (in two classes) spend 10 min. on this to start class on Thursday and figured that over 32,000 grains of rice were donated by the end of the day... so by your calculations they donated about $3.20 to buy rice... (perhaps a bit more if local farmers are paid a higher premium for the rice).
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Re: Making a Difference

Nonetheless, if you're working at McDonalds, you're not donating anything, because you haven't anything to donate. I still think this is a nice idea, in that kids can work on their vocabulary, and teachers can at the same time use this as a springboard for talking about hunger.
Also, I can define about 100 words in 5 minutes, so that would make roughly 1200 words per hour, 12,000 grains of rice. If you consider that the average wage in countries like Burma is about $5 a month, and that I personally haven't got the money to donate, since about 65% goes to rent and utilities, then it's not such a terrible amount.
Is the website making gobs for its founders? Probably, but then again, thousands of other websites are too, and they don't necessarily donate anything at all. [Comment] [Permalink]

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