The Philanthropy Handbook by Tej Kohli (Chapter Two - Why Do Philanthropy?)
A Serialisation Of 'Rebuilding You: The Philanthropy Handbook' by Tej Kohli
Let me be clear from the outset. There is a very long list of reasons not to ‘do’ philanthropy. Perhaps the most surprising experience that I have had was when a journalist from what I had previously regarded as a highly prestigious publication had the temerity to suggest that my decades of philanthropy was merely a thin veneer that had enabled me to “invent an image”.
The Impetus To Do Good
It was a huge shock that my consistent efforts doing good for tens of thousands of the poorest people in the world were being used as a stick to beat me with. I even found myself questioning whether the publication in question declined to give credence to my decades of philanthropy because the people that I had helped were almost exclusively brown skinned and based in the sub-continent
For a short period that experience made also me question if it was all worth it. But I revolved that no matter what you do, there will always be people who want to bring you down. But they only want to see you down because it makes them feel better about themselves. So don’t give them that satisfaction. Keep building yourself. Keep giving back. And keep helping others.
This is an adage that has always served me very well.
If you believe that philanthropy is a good way to promote your reputation, your brand or even your company, then you are sorely mistaken. They say that “doing good is good business” but the reality is that by doing something, in this case philanthropy, you inevitably will expose yourself to more possible problems than if you chose to sit privately upon your accumulated wealth and do nothing with it at all. That would be a waste of your life as a human being, but in philanthropy as in business, knowing when not to do something is often important.
We live in sceptical times and there are few out there who will thank or congratulate you for doing good for others. Societal tolerance for merely attaching yourself to a cause or ‘virtue signalling’ your good intentions is zero. If you are thinking about becoming a philanthropist because you welcome acclaim, you should be wary of your own hubris. And yet if you embrace the opportunity of philanthropy and set out to make a real difference in the world, then you should expect censure for making even the smallest misstep during your mission.
A sociologist or anthropologist might suggest that to use your accumulated wealth to help others fills a very human desire to be a good person and to do good for other humans. Stories about doing good for others are drilled into most of us throughout childhood, and most cities in the West are populated by statues and monuments to the achievements of early social reformers and pioneers of human improvement. The impetus to ‘do good’ is threaded throughout society.
Philanthropists Do Matter
Yet this doesn’t account for why philanthropists choose the causes that they choose. If it were just about giving back to society, then philanthropists could simply give all of their wealth away to Governments to redistribute.
The reality is that philanthropists often find their calling in the places that the world has forgotten about – the areas where there are problems that have been left unsolved by Governments or markets, often where there is an unmet need waiting to be filled. In many ways this is a natural territory for philanthropists, most of whom can attribute their financial success to commercial activities that were predicated on finding a gap or unfulfilled need and then providing a solution to fill it.
For me this is where most philanthropists will find their impetus. It is in the belief that the world can very easily be much better than it currently is with just a little ingenuity and innovation to solve problems, often with novel applications of existing technology.
How is it for example, that humans can be starving in a world of surplus food? How can any human be living with blindness that is entirely curable?
This for me gets to the heart of the matter of ‘why’ you should do philanthropy. Because the solutions to so many seemingly intractable human problems are quite often ‘out there’ in the ether, just waiting for an individual with the time, resources and inclination to put them together. Whether it is redeploying existing technologies to new applications, or creating novel combinations of sciences and technologies, or merely solving a logistical challenge, to be a philanthropist is to see the opportunity to make the world better and to be struck by the obligation that as an individual with intelligence, experience, aptitude and resources, you can make these solutions into a very tangible reality. What you can bring to the party goes far beyond your wealth.
Being a philanthropist is therefore just one sidestep from being an entrepreneur. It is to look at the human needs that are unmet by Governments, NGOs and markets and to engineer ways to fulfil that need with a calculus based on human impact rather than on profit.
Philanthropists are simply entrepreneurs who measure their ‘profit’ in entirely non-monetary terms. As a philanthropist you will innovate, and engineer and problem solve and build movements; all which skills you will likely already possess from of the activities by which you have accumulated your wealth. And so it follows that you should ‘do’ philanthropy not just because of the deep-seated human imperative, but because it is probably what you are good at and because, by virtue of your commercial success, you are uniquely equipped for it.
As Nelson Mandela once said: “It always seems impossible until it’s done”. It takes people who embody this sentiment to create real change in the world. Those people are pioneers, technologists, scientists and entrepreneurs. You should think of the successes that have allowed you to accumulate your wealth as ‘training’ for your journey into philanthropy, which offers an unprecedented opportunity to transform lives and to improve the world.
You should ‘do’ philanthropy not because it makes you feel good or to bask in a halo of praise and applause. Do it because the world needs philanthropists. Do it because you can. Do it because you are able to.
Because where others dream of a better world, you have within your gift the ability to make it a reality. And because to ignore this responsibility would be a dereliction of your duty as a human being.