DIY PHILANTHROPY

One of the richest men on Earth is paying for the poor to learn carpentry and art history online

Bill and Melinda Gates are spending their fortune to eradicate hunger and deadly diseases. George Soros is devoting hundreds of millions of dollars to building open and democratic societies.

Mexican tycoon Carlos Slim wants people to learn—how to lay bricks, prepare a cocktail, appreciate European art or any of a myriad other skills and subjects available on his new online education platform. The world’s fourth richest man this week launched the project, called App-prende, a play on the word for “learn” in Spanish, aprende, through the foundation that bears his name.

The site compiles an array of learning materials that the foundation had already been offering, such as Khan Academy in Spanish, and detailed tutorials on technical professions. All of the content is free online, and customers of Slim’s cell phone company, Telcel, can peruse it without using up their credit.

“What matters is that it’s useful so you can have more and better opportunities,” the promo video says.

Slim’s philanthropic approach stands out from that of other billionaires. He’s declined to pledge his fortune to charity like other famous philanthropists, saying the best method of giving is through paid employment. When he does give, and he gives generously through his foundation, he applies a strict business-like focus (Spanish).

The first step, according to the principles stated on its website, is finding solutions; only then does he provide funding to solve the problem. “This is different from first supplying the resources and later defining how they are used,” it reads.

So App-prende is full of skills people can transform into money relatively quickly. In one video, aspiring construction workers learn how to make the cement mixture to attach bricks. It includes the ratio at which the materials should be mixed and helpful tips, such as avoiding shaking the cement-laden tool too forcefully. “It can spray your eyes, and it’s very painful,” it warns. Other trades (Spanish) App-prende users can learn include cell-phone repair, financial planning, and even dairy-farm operation.

The platform also contains less practical lessons, such as art sessions on “Rodin’s Era.” Slim already owns the biggest Auguste Rodin collection outside of France, as well as the swank museum that houses it. App-prende has recruited the museum’s director and curators as teachers.

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