It is often only after new role models have been established (who a critical number of people want to emulate) that new socio-economic trends gain momentum and are sustainable. With this insight in mind, Irish economic philosopher Charles Handy has assembled 23 portraits of good-doers in The New Philanthropists.
What is new about these benefactors? Unlike many of their predecessors most of them are entrepreneurs who have made money while still relatively young. Now they set out to apply the same principles which have made them successful in the world of business to the social realm. They don’t (only) donate their money, but initiate and actively manage social projects.
Among them are celebrities such as Bono and Bill & Melinda Gates, but also many others who operate under the radar of media attention. It is the latter The New Philanthropists concentrates on, people such as Irish real estate developer Niall Mellon, who gets volunteers together to build new housing estates in South African Slums and Jeff Gambin, a well-known Australian chef, who started Just Enough Faith to hand out quality meals to the homeless in Sydney. Or Michael de Giorgio, who’s Greenhouse Organisation offers underprivileged kids in London valuable sports opportunities.
The interviewees stand out due to their mix of social engagement, management abilities and economic expertise. Initially investing their own money, some nevertheless expect the initiatives to stand on their own feet after a certain time. Thus Greenhouse is planning to sell their expertise to companies, who could book them to organize staff sport days or team building workshops.
As mentioned, Handy wants readers of his book to identify with the protagonists, saying: “I want to do what these guys are doing”. But somehow this effect was lost on me.
Why? Maybe some of the portraits were too sleek for my liking. And there were only 2 women among the 23 (mostly British) philanthropists. This imbalance may reflect power relations in the real world. But then 51% of all assets in the US are held by women, and the trend towards female philanthropists is increasing. Thus for a book aiming at establishing new role models, this omission is incomprehensible. Everybody knows the late Anita Roddick, founder of the Body Shop, who started among others Children on the Edge . Also a woman such as Mahnaz Malik, the young British-Pakistani lawyer, acting on behalf of underpriviledged children in Pakistan and offering (through the Advocate Foundation) free legal aid to under-aged prisoners, would have enriched this volume.
I would welcome readers suggestions for their “favourite female philanthropist”!