On Philanthropy

I came across a great example of networking in the December 2, 2013 issue of Forbes.  The magazine, entitled “Special Philanthropy Issue:  Entrepreneurs Can Save The World,” features stories about several innovators who have used their largess to address social problems.  One of my favorite articles summarized an interview by journalist, Randall Lane, with rock star (and most effective social activist), Bono, and the world’s richest man (and largest philanthropist), Bill Gates.

During their conversation, Bono laughingly recalls how he tried and tried to meet Bill Gates, but Gates refused, deeming the meeting a likely waste of time.  Eventually, their mutual friend, Paul Allen, convinced Gates to take the meeting.  Reluctantly, he agreed… soon, it seems, we can say the rest is history!  Once Bono and Gates connected, they were able to make magic happen.  Today, they are, together, attacking the global HIV/AIDS crisis.

In the article, Gates talked about how important it is for innovators to unlock resources – a maneuver quite familiar to entrepreneurs.  And, Bono recounted how he shifted his thinking about commerce – he learned that activism and capitalism are two critical and equally important components to ending extreme poverty.  These ideas, these notions about the world, may not have been considered by these two high powered men had they not come together to form an alliance, to march forward together, to think creatively and innovatively about how to solve problems.

For our purposes, the unlikely pair engaged in conversation… discovered common ground (in addition to their mutual interest in philanthropy, both have been inspired by Nelson Mandela)… used their brainpower coupled with their social and monetary capital to tackle a problem faced by humanity… formed a partnership… expanded the pie.

In this season of gratitude, remember that networking opportunities are often found in unlikely places and in unlikely pairings.  Additionally, in giving, whatever we put out into the world charitably comes back to us in greater and greater ways worth more than we ever put into the effort.  Though we may not have the financial means of a Bill Gates or the fame of a Bono, we can each give what we can – in money and/or time.  The contributions we make to the world – whenever we are generous with our time, information and resources – will derive returns on investment several times greater than initially anticipated.

So, open your mind, open your heart to making connections.  You simply never know what power may be found in sharing a cup of coffee (or whatever your beverage of choice) with someone new.  You simply never know what kind of movement you will enable.  You simply never know what kind of good you will do for the world.

3 thoughts to “On Philanthropy”

  1. Just a thought…
    People wonder why very wealthy people like Gates and Buffet and in another day Carnegie and Vanderbilt, choose to give away vast sums of money. The less gracious think of a tax dodge or a poor attempt at buying their way into heaven. I suspect it is much more simple, a practical example of Occums’s Razor. They have spent their lives solving problems. They have done what others could not do. They continue to do what they do, because it is what they do.

    When approached by someone with a a capacity to explain a desperate need and a vision of how to correct it, they are drawn in. Their treasure is but a simple resource, not unlike time and talent. They are permitted to once again jump in with all they have, to change the world. It is not philanthropy for the sake of philanthropy, but rather a new end by means they can bring to bear.

    If this appears either overly subtle or perhaps facile, I would make this point for entrepreneurs: accessing the capital and wealth held by another to drive your business forward is the the same challenge Bono faced with Gates. His success was finding a common interest against an important task, that allowed the capital source to once again make a difference. If you approach someone with the capacity to immediately change the discussion, then do so with passion, resilience and draw them into the solution.

    We invest of our time and money where and with whom we can attach our identity. Bono talked to a bunch of people before Gates, but Bill was the one who became attached. So it is with our more mundane needs. Keep networking and find your Bill Gates. There will be a need for your philanthropy later.

    1. Brilliantly stated, George. Thank you for your thoughtful commentary. Couldn’t agree more. When we build meaningful, authentic relationships, drawing members of our relationship base into the conversation isn’t work at all, it just makes sense.

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