I remember walking into the local post office where I grew up. In one hand cash and with the other looking through a variety of causes on offer to support. 12 years old, I had just gotten paid for a number of evening babysitting jobs for our neighbours. The amount of money I earned seemed huge. I felt wealthy. I didn’t need a lot. I had never experienced lack and I didn’t want anyone else to experience lack.
And so a portion of my ‘income’ went to a variety of causes and it gave me a sense of satisfaction to know I was doing something to make a difference. Granted my approach was a scatter gun approach. There were a lot of organisations I felt were worthy causes. I tried to discern the marketing material on display and was naturally drawn to organisations that told people’s stories in an emotive way. The underlying theme for the causes I supported was social justice and the eradication of poverty. Little did I know at the time that I started on a journey called philanthropy and that this would shape my work for decades to come. Over the years I have been intrigued by a couple of core questions:
How does one give well for greatest impact?
How can we mobilise more people to make the wrongs of our time right in more strategic ways?
I have worked with and learned from some incredible philanthropists who have humbly shared their approaches, many of them have been on a long and hard forged journey learning by trial and error as philanthropy still remains a very personal and private topic for so many. I have listened to the insights of people who have given away tens and hundreds of millions. I have learned from HNWI advisors, from academics, from governments, and most of all I have learned from the front lines - the program experts on the ground and from the beneficiaries themselves. I appreciate the complexities and tensions in addressing systemic problems. As an unapologetic idealist, I am continuously inspired by the many leaders who strive to make this world a better place TOGETHER. Here are some themes I have reflected upon yet again after the recent Philanthropy Australia conference:
Philanthropy is an eco system – it isn’t a few wealthy people doing good. We are all in the business of hope, reconciliation, restoration and creating new possibilities.
Philanthropy brings together people in partnerships and true philanthropy isn’t marked by power differential of those who have and those who have not. It is the humble realisation that having financial resources doesn’t mean having expertise on solving big issues. We need each other to get any job done.
People around the world are in a stage of indecision and it is paralysing the world.
There is no lack of WHY – Who could deny the enormous problems in the world: the colliding health challenges, climate change, economic challenges, inequities, political instabilities and splintering, the global mental health crisis, the surge of domestic violence, and the unprecedented challenges our youth is facing - just to name a few.
The problem isn’t the WHY we need to act. It isn’t even complacency. It is the HOW. What is holding leaders back is not knowing how they can make a difference in this season. And so we wait and go back to doing what we have always done. But the wait and the indecisiveness and lack of change has a cost.
As a person who has always enjoyed casting vision and breaking new ground I must admit that in this season I can easily feel overwhelmed by the sheer amount of questions we do not have answers for.
How do leaders lead through seasons of fog and confusion?
The world is in a fragile place and this creates both vulnerability and opportunities. This is not the time to hum the song 'wake me up when it's all over' WE GET TO REBUILD THE WORLD ANEW.
When leaders don’t see the clear path towards the future they start from conviction and affirm what they know to be true. And then they share a meal and listen to others. And then another. And ideas and courage arise. And then they humbly take a step at a time to march ahead. For not proactively leading at this moment could be the biggest leadership mistake of our time.
The decisions we make or not make today have the potential to impact endless generations. May we live each day reminded of what is at stake and confidently smile at the future we build, as wobbly as our steps might be.
I am challenged to use what’s in my hand. To always share the table on which I eat. To admit what I do not know and not be discouraged by what I do not have. It is our own limitations that draw us from self-sufficiency into community with others. We give what we can, we listen, we speak up as boldly as we need to and we value that which the other has to contribute and marvel at how, guided by invisible hand we all complement each other. And in this tender rebuilding there is peace that transcends all understanding, a peace that sustains and satisfies the soul.
When rebuilding the world I am also challenged to consider the impact of all my assets. How are any and all of my resources and investments contributing or alleviating the problems we are trying to solve? There is little value in trying to solve a problem with one hand while creating one with the other.
There is freedom in keeping life and purpose simple. I fundamentally believe that unconditional love is an unstoppable force for good. Philanthropy is about so much more than money. Philanthropy isn’t just the responsibility and privilege of a few, the 10% who hold 90% of the world’s wealth. It is an invitation to anyone to embrace ‘the love of humanity’. For this is what the word Philanthropy means and this is what the world needs right now.