Sunday, February 1, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - What to do with that $18 billion bonus

There's a lot of buzz about the $18 billion that financial firms paid out after requesting and receiving TARP funding. Both President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden were outraged and very vocal about their opinions on these bonuses - they don't like them. My friend, Jon, has a close friend at one of these financial firms. She just received her bonus in her paycheck this week and has been grappling with a lot of guilt for having it. 

After months of watching her friends be escorted out of the building following round after round of layoffs, she's not sure what to do with this money. She spoke to her boss about the ethical dilemma she's having with this money and the conversation was met with confusion, anger, and frustration. She tried to ask some co-workers about it, and she found little support for her beliefs. At a recent company meeting, she raised her hand and asked about the justification of the bonuses when the company had asked for and taken so much taxpayer money in the past few months. Again, no fruitful conversation. No one had an answer to her question, and no one had any interest in even listening to her concerns. 

As always, Jon listened patiently to his friend and considered her options of what she might do with this bonus money:
a.) she could give it back, though given the lousy track record of the bank's management in recent months that doesn't sound like a good idea
b.) she could donate the money to a nonprofit
c.) she could just keep it and get over her guilt. This is unlikely - not her style
d.) she could invest it in her own future in a way that would help others 

D. - invest it in her own future was the choice that intrigued her the most. For quite some time, she has wanted to start her own company in the social entrepreneurship space. Her bonus check is large enough to be the seed money for this new venture. Of all the ways to use this money, she felt that one would have the greatest return for the largest number of people. 

This story was a great lesson for me. Jon's friend was beating herself up over this money when a better use of her energy was right in front of her. She just needed Jon, with his outsider perspective, to point her in the right direction. There is always a way to do good.

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