A New Approach to Philanthropy
“The right hand should not know what the left hand gives,” so we were taught. And it is good advice considering that philanthropy often becomes an exercise in self-advancement, gaining tax advantages or showmanship. Well, with due homage to our great teachers who gave us this homily, we should change all that. As the internet age ushers in times of transparency and sharing of knowledge, we should ensure that not only the right hand know what the left hand gives but also, all hands should know the same. All hands, eyes, ears and hearts. As long as this does not become an exercise in egoistic publicity, this sharing of knowledge and activities can have a cumulative effect.
My second insight was that the leaders in each community, whether political, social, business or educational, should adopt the local community. Too many are trying to help national or international organizations who have huge overheads, bloated bureaucracies and other priorities in mind than the local needs. And if I may say, all philanthropy is or should be, local. And why not? Who else would know what the acute requirements in the community are, the emergent needs? Who else is invested and who else can help expeditiously, while being connected and concerned?
We should be able to create a model community in this digital age, equivalent to a town square, where the locals can meet regularly and evolve the best approach to the problems confronting the community. This was the model in the old days when cities or towns were still small. It can be brought back, leveraging technology and advanced knowhow. The principles of being your brother’s (or sister’s) keeper remain the same, simple and human. Just the approach could be different, a kind of virtual platform of helping each other, informing, communicating, sharing, showing, mentoring and inspiring.
There are many good organizations in each community, at least in my limited experience. Sincere and compassionate people wish to help everywhere. How do we create a concerted effort? An ecosystem where all can work together without losing intensity or focus. Where the need can be connected with surplus? Where coherent and coordinated action can be enhanced with community spirit and true community action? Where all the work done can be documented and shared openly? Where specialized and collective strengths can be leveraged?
I saw all this when I met Gus a few weeks ago. Gus runs the Veterans Heat Factory in Hernando County, using his own resources, housing it in his own factory. He aims to empower veterans, help them with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, give them due recognition and respect and get them professional placements if needed. Gus dreams of scaling this project across the country.
And I introduced him to what we were trying to do with our Community Garden, open to the community, owned by our Foundation. There children or patrons can go and experience natural farming, touch the soil and participate in the harvest. And we felt that the veterans could go there too and feel the natural surroundings once again, feel productive, be healed and get grounded (pun intended) for a while.
And he loved it. And then I introduced him to our initiative with helping the Disabled American Veterans (DAV), where we gave one of our office units for them to use rent-free for the next fifteen years. The DAV helps nearly a thousand veterans a year get benefits, apply to Veterans Affairs as appropriate and provides expertise and counselling. Their big concern is that most veterans do not know what benefits they qualify for. They have an extremely dedicated team that goes all out to help the veterans in need and their passion is only to be seen to be believed.
And then I got Gus together with Steve who is the commander of the local DAV. And that gave me more insights. We had raised about twenty two thousand dollars for the Wounded Warriors Project in 2007, I believe, and then about twelve thousand dollars in 2008. And then, my friend Franky Dee raised another five thousand dollars for them about three years ago with his orchestra. Yet, to this date, we have never received one update or newsletter on what the Wounded Warriors Project has done with the money or what they have done locally to give something back. They might have done great work. But we do not know. And that got me thinking. Why not do our own simple digital platform that caters to our needs locally? Needs such as poor community resources for the elderly, behavioral health, children’s nutrition in schools and the homeless among others.
That is my dream now. Not so much to initiate new and great philanthropic ventures but to be a catalyst in bringing all of them on one platform harmoniously and in a spirit of togetherness. If that alone can be accomplished, I believe we will start looking at philanthropy differently, as a business rather than just a vocation. And when I say business, I mean the same focus, operational detail-management, envisioning, developing teams and creating an infrastructure. For philanthropy too is an investment, not so much for us in the short-term, but rather for our children’s future and their children ad infinitum. It too needs measurables, self-reliance and constant tweaking, leadership development and education.
And each community has to develop its own.