More than 15,000 people are now members of a Facebook group called The Official “Pay it Foward” Experiment. The title comes from the 2000 movie, Pay it Forward, in which a young schoolboy comes up with an ingenious idea to change the world for the better. His idea is to help three people do something they can’t do for themselves, and to ask them, instead of paying him back, to thank him by giving help to three other people, who in turn will give thanks by doing something for three other people, and so on.

The administrator of the Facebook group acknowledges in the group description that “[p]erhaps we can’t change the world with this project, but if we can share our kindness and generosity with three other people, maybe we can change ‘their’ world.” 15,000 is a lot of people. If even a fraction of them help three people and ask them to pay it forward…and even a fraction of those helped go out and help three more people, who then go out and help three more and so – you can see the exponential effect.

Think of how much more we could magnify the effect by spreading the idea around. More than 50,000 people are members of another Facebook group, World Poverty Day Oct 17 ’08 can we hit 1 million to show support? I put a post on the “wall” of that group asking the question: What if part of everyone’s commitment to World Poverty Day included “paying it forward”? Another 220,000 people are members of a Facebook group called I Bet I Can Find 1,000,000 People Who Just Want Peace. I put a similar post on the “wall” of that group, suggesting that perhaps everyone’s commitment to helping to create a more peaceful world might include “paying it forward”. I then made a post on my blog asking my readers to think of what they might do to “pay it forward.” Add all those up and you that’s a lot more people getting into the act, again, even if only a fraction decide to participate in the “experiment.”

Amerliorating poverty takes big steps, it is true, but it is also the case that we can make a difference in people’s lives, one person at a time. The internet puts a vast resource at our disposal to get the word out. I’m guessing you can think of others to whom to pass along the idea.