Verge Magazine: Global Heroes Changing the World (2009)
Marc Gold, 100 Friends Project
Residence: Bangkok, Thailand and Berkeley, CA
Bicycles. Rice. A restaurant in Bangkok. Mosquito nets. Animals. Mattresses. Sewing machines. Schools. These are just a few of the countless things Marc Gold has purchased with the nearly $600,000 he’s raised in the last twenty years.
Of course, Marc’s 100 Friends Project is about much more than just things: it’s about helping people in developing countries and improving their lives. In 1979, on his first trip to India, Marc met a woman suffering from an ear infection. He stopped the infection with a $1 antibiotic and restored her hearing with a $30 hearing aid. “And that’s when the light bulb went on,” he says. “I realized you can do a tremendous amount with almost nothing. That blew my mind, of course, and so, one thing just led to another.” He returned home and sent letters to 100 friends, telling them about his experience and asking for donations he could distribute on his next trip.
Since then, Marc has been on 22 humanitarian missions in 67 countries, the majority of them in Asia. Of his work as founder and director of the 100 Friends Project, which is really a one-man show, Marc says, “I just go looking for problems. I go into slums and villages and prisons and hospitals and orphanages and clinics and just see what I can do with the money.” His only rule is that the people he helps must not be receiving aid from another source. There are no strings attached to Marc’s gifts, but he does ask recipients to give back by helping others.
The 100 Friends Project has funded the construction of five schools. Every year the organization donates $10,000 to the Centre for Children’s Happiness, an organization that provides a home and education for 150 children who used to live and work in a landfill in Cambodia. Marc has funded heart and cleft palette surgeries and awarded scholarships. He helps people he’s read about in the newspaper, those he’s heard about through his extensive network of friends and those he meets by chance.
Marc isn’t the only one doing this type of humanitarian work: “You know, the big groups like Oxfam and Doctors Without Borders, they do great work, but there’s a lot of very, very small oneor- two-person operations,” he says. In his travels, Marc has met a number of individuals doing great things on their own. He enjoys increasing their ranks by helping others get started. In total, Marc estimates he’s helped about 30 people launch similar projects and says, “I have a standing offer—anyone who’s serious, I’ll give them their first $100, teach them everything I know and give them contacts.”
Nearly two years ago, Marc quit his job as a community college professor, teaching psychology and public health, to devote all of his time to the 100 Friends Project. He is grooming his youngest son to take over the project when he is no longer able to run it himself. In the meantime, Marc wants to continue building schools, “because that’s something that will last a lot longer than me.” He also wants to keep funding operations, giving away scholarships and teaching people how to do what he does—amongst other things. In short, “I just want to keep doing what I’m doing,” he says. “I’m 60, I figure I can do this another 10, 11, 12, 15 years, who knows.”