Wealth is not new. Neither is charity. But the fact that individuals have chosen to use their private wealth in an organized and institutionalized way to promote philanthropy is something relatively new.
Modern philanthropy has its roots in the ancient world, where philanthropic practices were at the core of early social and belief structures. In the oriental world, Chinese classical thought exalted the virtue of benevolence while Hindu scriptures encouraged giving as a primary duty. But it is in the Greek ancient world that we find the very birth of the concept of “giving back” to society when Greeks defined giving as a core value for the development of democracy and invented the word filanqropoß, which simply means “love of humankind”.
In this column I will engage the reader in a broader reflection about the history of philanthropy, review some great philanthropists and their action on society, reflect on the different perception on what means “giving” in different parts of the world and more specifically in the East/West perception of philanthropy, challenging the readers with this very simple question: why give?
In the pursue of this answer we will travel on a journey trying to understand what exactly drives philanthropists: benevolence? generosity? bountifulness? benignity? humanitarianism? altruism? charity? compassion? Or simply and truthfully an art…. The art of giving.
From Andrew Carnegie “Gospel of Wealth” (1889) that called upon millionaires to share their wealth for public good to the John D. Rockefeller Charters Foundation setting a business-like approach to philanthropy and the growing influence of the American philanthropic foundations for the shaping of modern philanthropy worldwide, to the “Live Aid” concert (1985) against famine in Ethiopia that paved the way for celebrity philanthropists, where do we stand at the moment?
In 2010, Warren Buffet, an American business magnate, considered one of the most successful investors in the world, launched the “Giving Pledge Campaign”. Together with Bill Gates they brought philanthropy to a new and unprecedented stage by encouraging the wealthiest to give a majority of their fortunes back to society. Years later Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, and his wife Priscilla Chan announced they will give away 99% of their company shares in the course of their lifetime to contribute to a variety of philanthropic projects. On our side of the world, Chinese entrepreneur, Dong Fangjun, in is giving pledge put it in his own words: “Let’s make philanthropy a value, a faith, a commitment and a lifestyle”.
From the pure “love of humankind”, philanthropy has turned into a lifestyle.
It is time to understand how philanthropists have impacted societies and the causes they supported. In these controversial and challenging times, from climate change to artificial intelligence to the way cognitive science will guide us to reinvent our educational systems, are we heading towards a new path and new trends in the action of giving back? And where does Asia stand in this puzzle…
Finally, we will put the question: is Macau giving?
*President, Associação Internacional de Filantropia (Macau)
This column is sponsored by the Associação Internacional de Filantropia (Macau) – The Art of Giving.