Give a Man the Means to Fish

Give a Man the Means to Fish:

From Paternalistic Charity to Venture Philanthropy

Blog by Wayne Visser

Part 3 of 13 in the Age of Responsibility Blog Series for 3BL Media.

Give a man a fish and he will eat today. Teach a man to fish and he will eat tomorrow – or until his nets break. Invest in a man’s fishing business and he will feed himself and others for a long time to come. This is what it means to shift from paternalistic charity to venture philanthropy. It is an evolution that is important to root in a long and varied cultural tradition of philanthropy.

Confucius (551-479 BC) said: ‘When wealth is centralized, the people are dispersed. When wealth is distributed, the people are brought together.’ Hence, ‘a man of humanity is one who, in seeking to establish himself, finds a foothold for others and who, desiring attainment for himself, helps others to attain.’ When asked, ‘Is there one word which may serve as a rule of practice for all one’s life?’ he replied, ‘Is not reciprocity such a word? What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others’.

This so-called Golden Rule, which we find in all the world’s major religions, has come to represent the very essence of charity. In fact, the word charity derives from Latin caritas, which meant preciousness, dearness, or high price. However, in Christian theology, caritas became the standard Latin translation for the Greek word agapē, meaning an unlimited loving-kindness to all others. Hence, in St Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians, we read, in the King James Version of the Bible, of ‘faith, hope and charity’. Of course, it is not only giving that is important, but also the nature of giving. There is a Jewish proverb that says: What you give for the cause of charity in health is gold; what you give in sickness is silver; what you give after death is lead.

Islam also has a strong tradition of charity. Zakāt, or alms-giving for the purposes of alleviating poverty and helping those less fortunate, is one of the Five Pillars of Islam. The practice is generally in the form of an annual tithe or tax of 2.5% of an individual’s wealth, including money made through business, savings and income. The zakāt must also be above an agreed minimum (called nisab), which is said to be around $2,640 or the equivalent in any other currency. As important as the collection of zakāt in a community is its fair distribution among the needy. Another form of charitable action is sadaqah, which literally means ‘righteousness’ and refers to the voluntary giving of alms or charity. These ancient traditions are considered to be a personal responsibility for all Muslims, practiced out of love for humanity, to ease economic hardship for others and eliminate inequality.

There are numerous other religious and cultural variations on the theme. Philanthropy in Latin America typically revolves around asistencialismo, which is charitable giving for poverty alleviation. Out of dedication to their religion, education and culture, Bulgarian communities raised donations to build churches, schools and cultural centres called chitalishta. In India, Gandhi’s trusteeship concept was adapted and applied to welfare acts. In Mexico, the Raramori, who still live in the mountains of the state of Chihuahua, use the expression korima, which means ‘to share’ resources in times of stress. In Southern Africa, ubuntu is the practice of humanism based on the collectivist notion that ‘I am a person through other people’.

So much for the roots and cultural traditions of philanthropy. Upon these foundations, the great philanthropists, ancient and modern, built their charities – from Rockefeller and Carnegie to Gates and Turner. The more interesting question, I think, is whether there is anything new and transformative about charitable giving? …

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Visser, W. (2012) Give a Man the Means to Fish: From Paternalistic Charity to Venture Philanthropy, Wayne Visser Blog Briefing, 21 February 2012.

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Is Philanthropy a Smokescreen?

Is Philanthropy a Smokescreen?

Blog by Wayne Visser

Part 3 of 13 in the Age of Responsibility Blog Series for CSRwire.

“I believe it is my duty to make money and still more money and to use the money I make for the good of my fellow man, according to the dictates of my conscience.” —John D. Rockefeller Sr.

The Rockefeller story is a good one to introduce the Age of Philanthropy, not only because of John D.’s iconic status as a tycoon and philanthropist, but also because his life and views on charity embody much of the philanthropic attitudes that still prevail today in business. At the heart of the Age – and its chief agent, Charitable CSR – is the notion of giving back to society. Rather interestingly, this presupposes that you have taken something away in the first place. Charitable CSR embodies the principle of sharing the fruits of success, irrespective of the path taken to achieve that success. It is the idea of post-wealth generosity, of making lots of money first and then dedicating oneself to the task of how best to distribute those riches, by way of leaving a legacy.

In 1970, the respected US economist Milton Friedman published an article in the New York Times Magazine (13 September) entitled ‘The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase Profits’. In it, he called the ‘doctrine of social responsibility’ a ‘fundamentally subversive doctrine in a free society’ and argued that ‘there is one and only one social responsibility of business – to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits, so long as it stays within the rules of the game, which is to say, engages in open and free competition without deception or fraud’. As such, he came to define one end of the spectrum of opinion on CSR: the purist, stockholder (or shareholder) view, a view which was once again given an airing in the Wall Street Journals’ ‘The Case Against Corporate Social Responsibility’ article on 23 August 2010. Despite his hard-line view, Friedman does allow some concessions, saying:

“It may well be in the long run interest of a corporation that is a major employer in a small community to devote resources to providing amenities to that community or to improving its government. That may make it easier to attract desirable employees, it may reduce the wage bill or lessen losses from pilferage and sabotage or have other worthwhile effects. Or it may be that, given the laws about the deductibility of corporate charitable contributions, the stockholders can contribute more to charities they favour by having the corporation make the gift than by doing it themselves, since they can in that way contribute an amount that would otherwise have been paid as corporate taxes.”

Although Friedman calls this ‘hypocritical window-dressing’ when done under ‘the cloak of social responsibility’, he concedes that these practices may be justified if they contribute to shareholders’ interests. Hence, he is setting out an early version of what today is more popularly called ‘strategic philanthropy’ – the practice of social responsibility only when it is aligned with corporate profitability. …

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Visser, W. (2011) Is Philanthropy a Smokescreen? Wayne Visser Blog Briefing, 20 October 2011.

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The Ages and Stages of CSR

The Ages and Stages of CSR:

From Defensive to Transformative Corporate Sustainability & Responsibility

Article by Wayne Visser

I have found it useful to view the evolution of business responsibility in terms of five overlapping economic periods:

  1. The Age of Greed;
  2. The Age of Philanthropy;
  3. The Age of Marketing;
  4. The Age of Management; and
  5. The Age of Responsibility

Each of which typically manifests a different stage of CSR, namely:

  1. Defensive CSR;
  2. Charitable CSR;
  3. Promotional CSR;
  4. Strategic CSR; and
  5. Transformative CSR.

My contention is that companies tend to move through these ages and stages (although they may have activities in several ages and stages at once), and that we should be encouraging business to make the transition to Transformative CSR in the dawning Age of Responsibility. If companies remain stuck in any of the first four stages, I don’t believe we will turn the tide on the environmental, social and ethical crises that we face. Simply put, CSR will continue to fail  …

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Related websites

[button size=”small” color=”blue” style=”tick” new_window=”false” link=”http://www.csrinternational.org”]Link[/button] CSR International (website)

[button size=”small” color=”blue” style=”info” new_window=”false” link=”http://www.waynevisser.com/books/the-age-of-responsibility”]Page[/button] The Age of Responsibility (book)

Cite this article

Visser, W. (2010) The Ages and Stages of CSR: From Defensive to Systemic Corporate Sustainability and Responsibility, CSR International Inspiration Series, No. 8.

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Generosity

Generosity

Prose by Wayne Visser

~ Generosity is sharing that which you can least afford to give ~

Who do you know that is particularly generous?
How would you describe them?
Do they give without expecting anything in return?
 
We all know people like that (perhaps you are even one of them) – people who are always there to help, who share what they have, no matter how little or much that may be.
They rightly deserve our admiration, for we live in selfish times, all caught up in the age of the individual – my needs, my rights, my wants, my desires – it’s all about “me”.
 
Seemingly, it is no longer fashionable for individual aspirations to play second fiddle to community responsibilities.
In fact, if the rhetoric of commercial advertising is to be believed, our pursuit of personal happiness through self-pampering is not only desirable, but it’s our God-given right.
 
It is easy to become cynical in such a world, especially when we secretly admit our own complicity in perpetuating the myth of self-centred fulfilment.
But then a disaster happens, a catastrophe strikes, and the outpouring of public generosity revives our faith in humanity again.
 
Why does it so often take a crisis to bring out the best in us?
People pull together to fight a common cause. There is a sense of camaraderie that is infectious.
Suddenly, we find ourselves tapping into one of the most powerful human drives – the desire to make a positive difference.
 
Somehow, dramatic events manage to penetrate our psychological armour of indifference, reaching through and touching our emotions.
Crises invoke empathy.
We find ourselves thinking: what if that had been me?
And often, it so easily could have been – there, but for fortune, go you or I.
 
But what happens when the calamity slips back out of the headlines?
Does our generosity go back into hibernation?
And what about the much larger, creeping disasters – the slow, insidious killers like Aids and cancer, poverty and climate change?
What will trigger our generosity when the needs seem so overwhelming, so persistent, so far away, so unlike to affect me?
 
It is clear that we cannot rely on melodrama and CNN to draw out the spirit of generosity that lies like a sleeping giant inside us all.
Perhaps reciprocity is a more reliable catalyst for giving – you reap what you sow, what goes around comes around.
 
This is the ancient law of karma and the modern law of physics – every action has a reaction.
It may seem rather selfish as a basis for generosity, to only give in the hope of receiving back in return.
But then again, bargaining for favours is more endemic than we are willing to admit.
Even religious injunctions to generosity are laced with promises of heaven’s reward – pay now, collect later.
 
Or maybe we are overcomplicating things.
Think of the last time you acted with generosity.
How did it make you feel?
Good, right?
So generosity is nothing but enlightened self-interest.
 
Even so, what does it really mean to be generous?
To be charitable, of course, but in what way?
 
Generosity is being willing to give what we have least of – be it money, or time, or patience.
You can be generous with your donations, your attention or your love.
Generosity is also giving fully what we have most of – especially our talents and skills. We should not underestimate the importance of sharing our highest potential.
 
Being the best we can be – finding our calling and following it – may be one of the most generous things any of us can do.
Because, ultimately, generosity is all about giving of yourself. 
 

Wayne Visser © 2005

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