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by Wendy Vapors, 3/17/00

Dc: Young billionaires, bored with making more and more money, are now beginning to decide how they will use their fortunes to help other people. Wendy Vapors reports.

(sfx: propeller plane, interior, steady)
(sfx: high wind)

Wendy: Robert Manybucks is 35 years old. He's spent the last twenty years working around computers, virtually nonstop, often alone in a barren room.
But now he's at 20 thousand feet, preparing to jump out of a plane.

Manybucks: (shouting over engine and wind) I never thought I would ever, ever, ever do something like this. I was never physically adventurous in any way, but this is so exciting … I feel like I'm starting my first computer software company all over again.
All you have to do to be a success is close your eyes and jump! That's the whole ball o' wax right there. And here I goooooooooooooo…… (fade)

Wendy: (calling after) Don't forget to pull that cord thingy!

(sfx: propeller and wind fade)

Later, on the ground, I talked to Mr. Manybucks about his fortune, and his long fall.

Robert: (still pumped up from the jump) It was awesome! Just fantastic.

Wendy: What were you thinking? As you fell and fell and fell.

Robert: I was thinking about how much money I have. And I realized that even though I have billions and billions … if my chute didn't open, I still wouldn't have enough to save me.

Wendy: Wow. Is that when you pulled the ripcord?

Robert: No … I started to think about people less fortunate than me … who don't have all the billions and billions I've got … who may not get the chance to do this because they don't have enough money to buy all the equipment and hire a plane so they can fly up and jump out and realize on the way down that money isn't important.

Wendy: Is that when you pulled the cord?

Robert: No … something suddenly hit me!

Wendy: A bird? The ground?

Robert: An idea. That I could use my enormous wealth to build a "Free Fall Foundation," so people with nothing can still jump out of a plane.

Wendy: And then?

Robert: Then I thought briefly about a pesky error message that keeps popping up every time I try to re-boot my hard drive with a file open.
And then I pulled the ripcord.

Wendy: (annc) Robert Manybucks is one of a new generation of billionaires trying to add meaning to their wealth by establishing foundations and institutions to spend their money on a greater good.
But often, the missions chosen are unusual, or at least non-traditional.

Greg: Anybody can pour money into college scholarships and stuff like that. I was thinking an elementary school online would be a good thing to create because so many parents work at home and don't want their kids to go to a school anyway. They'd just like them to be there at home, busy in their rooms. I want to make that happen.
I'm ready to put 100 million dollars into it as a start-up.

Wendy: Greg Windsor made his fortune refilling laser printer toner cartridges and selling them on the Internet. He was snorkeling around a coral reef in the Caribbean when he got his big idea to help human kind.

Greg: Sit the kid down in front of the computer … have them log on to the Greg Windsor Elementary School … it's totally free. And then they can go into one of the classrooms where there are other students from all over the world and as many teachers as we need to keep them busy. The best teachers.

Wendy: How, exactly, will you keep them busy?

Greg: I don't know yet. This is still a fresh idea. But the teachers will do that … with standard curriculum things and individual attention.

Wendy: What if there are thousands and thousands of students? Will you hire thousands and thousands of online teachers?

Greg: Hire? Well, that would get pretty expensive.
I think they'll do it for the prestige. For publicity.
To be part of the first online elementary school … to be able to have thousands of students from all over the world …

Wendy: But they still would have to have some kind of pay, wouldn't they? To continue to live?

Greg: This isn't about making money. It's about helping people.
I was skiing in the French Alps and as I was zooming down the mountainside I started to think about how I was going to be remembered and this idea came to me. Let's not cheapen it.

Wendy: I thought you were snorkeling in a coral reef.

Greg: Oh yeah, that's right. But the point is …

Wendy: It's about helping people.

Greg: It's about ME helping people. And I already have plenty of money.

Wendy: Greg Windsor, who admits his idea is in it's earliest stages and is short on details and has not yet been the subject of any thorough critical thinking … but he wanted to get it out there as soon as possible, because it has to do with the Internet, and nobody waits anymore.
I'm Wendy Vapors, and I'm reporting.

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