‘Philanthropy’ is a term that was once associated with ultra-wealthy retirees who signed big cheques to support charitable causes they are passionate about. But times have changed. Today, the face of philanthropy is a much younger one – and one with a much wider scope to cover today’s emerging challenges.
While philanthropy still represents a love of humanity, it is no longer just about handing over money. Increasingly, it is also about the planned and structured giving of time, goods and services, influence and voice to improve the wellbeing of our communities.
Ultimately, philanthropy is a powerful tool to help create social change.
“Within the social change ecosystem, philanthropy plays a critical role,” says Sarah Davies, Chief Executive Officer of Philanthropy Australia. “It has the capacity to act as risk capital for new ideas that have the potential to spark positive outcomes for some of our toughest social challenges.
And if the success of the recent NEXUS Australia Youth Summit is anything to go by, the next generation has its sights firmly set on making a big difference – harnessing and growing philanthropy for the greater good.
NEXUS is an international network of more than 3500 young philanthropists, social entrepreneurs and influencers across 70 countries working to increase and improve philanthropy and social investing in order to bring about positive social change in the world.
“A quarter of the world’s population is now aged between 15 and 29, so if we can motivate and inspire these young people to create social good then that will do an immense job of getting us where we need to be.” explains Rachel English, NEXUS Australia Chair.
One of the keynote speakers at the NEXUS Youth Summit was Sara El-Amine, the Director of Advocacy at the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI). Considered one of the world’s most ambitious new philanthropies, CZI was founded by Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan in December 2015 to bring together world-class engineering, grant-making, impact investing, policy and advocacy work.
While methods and demographics of those involved in philanthropy may have changed over time, El-Amine’s message is that philanthropy is most effective when its role is as facilitator, not instigator. She also believes that philanthropy today requires an “entrepreneurial mindset of abundance instead of the typical non-profit mindset of scarcity, which stifles the type of boldness many of our most serious social challenges require”.
“Many of the social movements I was helping start and grow were stymied by more traditional philanthropies – funders who favoured quick, flashy wins over durable long-game investments.” she says.
“These philanthropies often saw themselves at the centre of strategies, instead of centering affected communities in their own solution-making. Although well-intentioned, these are problematic and often neo-colonial lenses, and they are still sadly the pervasive norm in philanthropic circles.
“I believe that the only way to solve problems at scale is to equip affected communities with the tools and resources they need to be at the centre of their own solution-making.”
Along with the growing number of younger philanthropists is the rise of corporate philanthropy. Over the past decade there have been significant changes in the way businesses have stepped up to accept their social responsibility and as it turns out, it is proving not only beneficial to social causes, but also the organisations themselves.
“It’s good for businesses to be philanthropic,” says English. “Organisations that are really committed to community are outperforming other organisations immensely. You have companies like NAB, a traditional institution that is trying to be innovative in the way that they are looking at impacting communities and how they can support community-led organisations.”
NAB’s key philanthropic initiative, the NAB Foundation, has donated more than $12.2 million to community groups and organisations as well as taking a number of steps to use its impact to affect the greatest social change.
“Our strategic priority is to support social change by funding social innovation in how societal challenges are tackled,” says Lucy Doyle, NAB Foundation Manager. “We provide seed funds to build organisational capacity and experiment with new solutions, and thrive grants to build scale and sustainability. We are looking to support the big ideas – those that encourage collaboration between stakeholders, are impactful, and provide sustainable and scalable solutions to complex societal problems.”
At the end of the day, possibly the biggest take-away is that anyone – no matter what their age, background or status – can be a philanthropist and no contribution is too small.
“Everyday people giving donations is a crucial type of philanthropy too,” El-Amine says. “Those small gifts add up, and often serve as a transformational source of power for new and existing movements.
“Having worked in dozens of winning and losing social change movements, it’s actually always the thousands of small things that serve as a tipping point, more than the big things do.
“Change still starts at kitchen tables and in living rooms and now in front of computer screens too, and the average person is actually far more powerful as an instigator than they recognise.”
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010