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