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Tales of Holiday Generosity Around the World

Frenchman sets up charity for third-world kids

PIERRE BERNARD LE BAS could have worked for a high-powered investment firm. Instead, he went to India as a volunteer and came back to France to use his management degree to enhance the world's giving."

I met an American in London who told me that the way to launch a charity was to do a market survey," says Mr. Le Bas, who now heads fund-raising for UNICEF. "So I went back to France and started to use what I had learned in management courses to start an organization to help children in the Third World."

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"The first year [1980], we raised 4,000 sponsors, who agreed to give 100 francs a month [$20] to support a child." Aide et Action now has 60,000 sponsors, and, at $16 million in annual charitable giving, is the largest charity in France that sponsors children.

Until two years ago, there was no tax deduction for charitable giving in France. Much of what is covered by charitable giving in the United States, such as education and health care, is in France a direct responsibility of government.

"There has been a dramatic change in attitudes toward giving in France," says Valerie Sanders, a spokesman for the Fondation de France, an association created to give individuals a legal avenue for charitable giving. According to a study released last month by the association, charitable giving in France has increased by 50 percent in the last three years.

Le Bas's impact has stretched beyond French borders. In 1981, he started a workshop to help other international fund-raisers. The group challenges the assumption that fund-raisers compete with each other. "In the commercial world, if you have a good idea, you keep it to yourself," he says. "But we are helping poor people, young and deprived people, so our ideas can't be confidential. If they are good, they will help more people."

It is critical to encourage traditional recipients of giving to raise funds on their own, he says, and the group has begun promoting workshops in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and Eastern Europe. "The Indians who are raising funds in India are proud to be doing so. Fund-raising is an emancipation mechanism."

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