There will be a special session at TED in Monterey later this month entitled: "What would you do with a million dollars?" What a great question.
I wonder just how much impact you could have with that, and whether there's enough leverage to actually change anything that could be generated by that amount of money. It's within one order of magnitude of the media reports of Al Queda funding. Clearly if it's carefully applied it's enough to do something.
Today's world is a complex adaptive system (in the sense that it is understood by researchers at the Santa Fe Institute). John Holland says that there are several four basic properties of any CAS: aggregation, nonlinearity, diversity, and flows. Brian Arthur identifies three mechanisms -- tags, internal models, and building blocks
In the Whole Earth Review, Donella Meadows wrote that there are these nine places to intervene in a system (lower numbers have increasing impact):
9. Numbers (subsidies, taxes, standards)
8. Material stocks and flows
7. Regulating negative feedback loops
6. Driving positive feedback loops
5. Information flows
4. The rules of the system (incentives, punishment, constraints)
3. The power of self-organization
2. The goals of the system
1. The mindset or paradigm out of which the goals, rules, feedback structure arise
These are both informative points of view, and in my mind (at least) complement eachother nicely.
So I have two ideas of where to spend $1,000,000.
First, use the funds to lay the foundation for The Open Polytechnic University of Dubai. Dubai is a relatively stable place in the Middle East, with a very large expatriate population. The day labor segment of that expat population come from India, Africa, and the Phillipines. The Open Polytechnic would be an institution to explore the mutual interaction of technology, business, and society. The students would all attend on scholarship. You would qualify if you posess the academic credentials and have a connection to the population (citizen and expat) of the country. The goal would be to export skilled, knowledgable, literate graduates linking the Mid-East with a new network of graduates that understand the forces of globalization. The $1m would be used to plan, lobby the Emir, and to recruit a Nicholas Negroponte type to head the polytechnic and raise the additional funds.
The second idea that I have is to turn the users of pirated software in the developing world into authorized users. I would use the million dollars to: understand the pirate software industry, establish a website to enable downloads of authorized versions of the nex-to-last release of software from as many sources as possible for $1. Give the downloaders fully-featured legitimate copies, and have the companies contact them with offers for upgrades to the current versions. This would be quickly self-sustaining, since I believe that most users around the world would want to have inexpensive but legitimate copies of software. Can you imagine what one billion authorized users would do for the high tech industry?
Just a couple of thoughts.