Tech billionaire philanthropists need to understand confirmation bias


A new crop of billionaires is emerging, and
estimates suggest they will put a
combined $20
trillion toward philanthropic endeavors in the next half

If these newcomer philanthropists want to ensure that their
dollars do the most good possible, they will first have to
grapple seriously with the issue of confirmation bias.

Confirmation bias is a well known if little-understood
phenomenon, prevalent in practically all organizations and
businesses. Cognitive scientists, such as the authors of the new
book “The
Enigma of Reason
” (Harvard University Press), describe
confirmation bias as the human tendency to accept information
that is in line with a known belief system while rejecting,
usually out of hand, what is not. Confirmation bias can
happen anywhere, from business to science, and to anyone,
sometimes resulting in disastrous consequences. It is especially
acute in philanthropy because, understandably, most of us donate
based on deeply-held personal beliefs and values rather than an
evenhanded assessment of data or gathering of critical feedback.



The Rockefeller Foundation developed a systematic
approach to keep individual and institutional confirmation
bias in check—one that could be used by today’s
newcomers to philanthropy. A good example was its effort over the
past few years to help feed the world by shifting attention and
philanthropy dollars to the problem of food waste from the more
common focus on food production and agriculture.

More than one billion people today suffer from hunger and
malnutrition. With the global population expected to reach 10
billion by 2050—an increase of around 2.5 billion from today –
the world needs to produce at least 70 percent more food without
increasing pressure on the environment.  As a charitable

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