If you type the word philanthropy into Wikipedia you find it was first used by the Ancient Greek playwright Aeschylus, in the play Prometheus Bound and literally means ‘the caring of man’ – caring, nourishing, improving and enhancing the quality of life for other human beings.
Whatever meaning it had back in Ancient Greece, it’s become a word we now tend to associate with the likes of Rockefeller, Carnegie, Bill Gates, George Soros and Warren Buffett – incredibly wealthy men giving away their millions later in life to worthy foundations, charities and causes.
Men who tend to get libraries, concert halls and public buildings named after them.
It’s fairly normal to be cynical about this type of giving, and unsurprisingly we sometimes question the motives involved:
‘It’s OK for them to give a few million when they still have millions left. If they really cared they’d give more’.
‘They’ve enjoyed all their money, now they’re just worried about how history will judge them’.
Do we ever ask ourselves the same questions ?
We may not have Bill Gate’s billions, but no doubt many of us reading this have more than we really need. How would our choices about how we spend our money look from the perspective of a hungry parent in the developing world, struggling to feed and nurture their children ?
Would we also be seen to be just cynically donating a few pounds here and there in order to feel better about ourselves, while still squandering much larger sums on luxuries we don’t really need ? If we really cared would we give more ?
These aren’t questions with easy answers. We have to wrestle with and resolve them ourselves on an personal basis.
In her uplifting TED talk below, the social change activist Katherine Fulton argues that things are changing when it comes to philanthropy. That philanthropy is being democratised, influenced in large part by the networking and collectivising power of the internet.
The world might be facing more significant emerging global problems than it’s faced before, but we also have more potential to create emerging global solutions than ever before. Our ability to connect, support and give, to all kinds of people around the world offers new opportunities and incentives.
We are now able to connect far more directly with the beneficiaries of our giving. We can individually select recipients of micro-loans we might make to developing world entrepreneurs through Kiva. We can sponsor individual children, and their villages, through international child sponsorship schemes like those run by World Vision, Barnardo’s or Compassion International. We can find and choose organisations and causes we might wish to support more easily than ever through sites like Charitable Giving, Just Giving or Donors Choose, and we know far more about how money is spent by these organisations, and what effect it has than ever before.
And it’s not just about the money.
These are tough times, and many in our own societies who previously felt comfortable, are now struggling financially. Charity donations have begun to decline in recent years – but there are many ways to support charities and good causes other than sending money:
- Record yourself reading a public domain book.
- Spend one hour helping someone get familiar with the internet.
If we are to be successful in tackling the many challenges facing the world – whether in India’s slums or down the road – we’re going to have to further refine our vision of philanthropy, and embed it more into our normal, everyday lives.
Katherine’s TED talk finishes with two pictures.
The first is a photo of her Great Grandfather and Grandfather, taken nearly a hundred years ago, who devoted much of their time, money and energy in the benefit of their local communities, and whose legacy is her admiration, fondness and inspiration.
The second is a blank picture, which she asks us to imagine is a photograph of us, viewed a hundred years in the future, perhaps by our grandchildren.
What would we wish our legacy to be ?
What is it you want to be part of creating ?