About 10 years ago, David Bradley visited a small village in the Philippines. Bradley spent time in Manila as a Fulbright scholar years earlier and long had wanted to do something to help stem poverty there.
He had returned to the Philippines with an idea. A friend had told him about a self-sustaining form of agriculture that involved using pigs to produce fertilizer for rice. The "cycle of life" method, Bradley was told, yielded more swine and rice. So he chose to test the proposition and bought some farmers 100 pigs.
A year later, he returned to see how the experiment was going. "There wasn't a pig anywhere," Bradley said.
When Bradley inquired about the fate of his investment, his host replied, "Oh, very delicious. . . . Would you be giving us more pigs?"
"It was clear that the experiment had imploded on itself," Bradley said.
Over the past 20 years, Bradley has made hundreds of millions of dollars in the corporate consulting business, gathering and disseminating industry "best practices" to companies. But, Bradley said, he has had less success in the giving arena, calling the pig incident "one in a string of failed philanthropic efforts."
Such missteps have taught him a secret irony of philanthropy: the more money you have, the harder it can be to do good works. "I've been deeply sobered by how dangerous money is," Bradley said in a recent interview. "Money in the absence of thought or personal attention can be . . . destructive."
Bradley put more thought into his next charitable venture: a shelter for street children.
After several months, the shelter was mostly empty; children stayed there only during hurricanes. Confounded, Bradley tackled the problem the way his consultants would approach the topic of rising health care costs -- by studying it.
In 1996, Bradley sent staff to Manila to interview hundreds of street children. After two years, his researchers learned that there were more shelter beds than homeless children. But street children preferred independence to shelter life. Bradley's investigators dug further and found out why: Most of the children had been victims of sexual or physical abuse. "We had one of those quiet moments at the table where the light goes on and we realize the root cause isn't the number of shelters and beds . . . [but] a deeper sociological problem," Bradley said.
After studying different ways he might help, Bradley focused on a shortage of treatment options for abused children. In 1997, through his family charity, the Advisory Board Foundation, he funded the Child Protection Unit at the University of the Philippines College of Medicine-Philippine General Hospital -- the first such unit in the country.
The Child Protection Unit has handled thousands of cases and has produced a cadre of trained professionals. There are nine more centers. In addition to treating victims, the main center also trains doctors to examine abused children and teaches police officers how to interview victims and their parents.
These days, new problems preoccupy Bradley, such as making the Atlantic Monthly -- a magazine he bought in 1999 -- profitable, and luring Major League Baseball to Washington. He returns to the Philippines once a year to check up on the child-protection program.
"I wouldn't say 'Oh my goodness, we've broken new ground,' " he said. "We've just taken best practices here and brought them to the Philippines. . . . It's what I do for a living."
Success in philanthropy, he learned, "is more about being attentive than being original."
-- Annys Shin