Darryl Penrice likes to talk. His preferred topics of conversation can roam anywhere from the music of the late rapper Tupac Shakur and the murky underside of politics in America to the mechanics of microeconomics. But if there’s one subject that the 32-year-old Brooklyn resident and self-professed “ghetto prodigy” loves to discuss more than anything else, it’s a vision of a new way to fight poverty that he's obsessed with making real.
For the past year, Penrice has been anything but silent about his proposal, meeting with an assortment of potential investors, city officials, nonprofit groups, college students and major grant-making institutions. In the midst of an outreach campaign, Penrice has been trying to earn support – especially the financial kind – to transform the website that he’s created from a prototype into a full-scale, anti-poverty platform that he contends will have a significant impact in the lives of people experiencing economic hardship in New York and well beyond. “I know what I have,” Penrice declares. “I’m not the most religious person in the world, but if God gave me a gift then I’m going to share it. This is something that can feed millions of people.”
Penrice plans for his initiative – an interactive website called Poverty's Demise.org (or as he calls it, "PDO") – to combine the open source atmosphere of Craigslist with the opportunity-expanding aims of Kiva.org, which allows for “microfinance” lending to entrepreneurs in developing countries. But in many respects, if Penrice's ambitious plan ever goes live, it will launch an unprecedented Web-based undertaking.
Penrice envisions PDO as an outlet for person-to-person financial transactions in which donors help economically disadvantaged individuals – who have been screened and approved for participation – and struggling working-class families pay for essential daily living expenses, including everything from food and rent to utility bills and child care costs. Under the proposal, which Penrice details extensively on his website, the tax-deductible donations would be sent to recipients in the form of “universally redeemable” bar-coded certificates to be exchanged at participating retailers and service providers for specific goods and services. Incentives are also provided to both donors and recipients for volunteerism, and the purchase of healthy food and environmentally-friendly products.
The PDO model would also help to ease the burden faced by those on public assistance and seniors, both of whom are subjected to often-frustrating bureaucracies, Penrice charges. “The government is spending billions right now, but nothing is being done to fix a system that isn’t very efficient,” he says. “A lot of people are against welfare, but how can we tolerate a society where people who worked for 40 or 50 years are forced to choose between their medication or groceries?”
As he seeks to create a high-tech community-oriented platform that circumvents government and nonprofit social services, Penrice is clearly aiming big. He’s hoping to land an investment of $4 million to make an initial run. In addition to setting up an office, hiring programmers and sparking the first wave of donations, Penrice plans to focus on New Yorkers in need before branching out nationwide. One endeavor that Penrice hopes to launch through PDO is a program he calls Broader Horizons, where disadvantaged families are sent abroad. “Can you imagine taking a kid from Bed-Stuy and dropping him off in Japan for a week? The problem with generational poverty is that Dad is in jail, Mom is smoked out, and you think the whole world is a ghetto.”
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