Newsmaker: 'Generosity is fashionable' - Charles Handy Management guru and author

Stephen Cook

- Calls on the third sector to welcome the 'new philanthropists'.

In the run-up to the publication of his latest book about entrepreneurial philanthropists, Charles Handy explained its theme to a group of senior people from the voluntary sector. "They were not as excited by it as they might have been," he says with a smile.

"The complaint was that these people were rocking the boat: 'We're going about things in a steady way, and they come and leap over the barriers - all very newsworthy, but they're not in it for the long haul.'"

His own view is that some of the new philanthropists will soon disappear.

"But a lot will build their ideas into something greater because of the partnerships they form," he says. "It would be foolish to try to turn back - it's better to co-opt them because there's going to be a lot more of them. They are the spearhead of a new breed of people."

Handy is best known for management books with a mystical edge and titles such as The Empty Raincoat. The 'new philanthropists' gained his attention, he says, because he thinks their emergence marks a cultural shift.

The book consists of interviews with 23 wealthy people who have used their money to tackle the deprivation or unmet need they have encountered, sometimes after personal misfortune or life-changing experiences.

They range from former footballer Tony Adams, who founded the Sporting Chance Clinic, to former sports shop magnate Sir Tom Hunter, who has put millions into Scottish education and African poverty relief. Other subjects are Peter Lampl, whose Sutton Trust works with government on disadvantage in education, and Sara Davenport, who founded Breast Cancer Haven to offer support to women with breast cancer.

The book includes coffee-table style photographs of the subjects and their favourite objects, and the interviews are delivered rather breathlessly ("It is hard to resist Sara under full steam ... Meeting the Purvis duo, you wonder how they fit it all in.").

"When you meet them they are inspiring," says Handy. "They are not doing it for the glory or to get their names on plaques. Fear of Greeks bearing gifts is the initial reaction, but the sector has to find a way of using these gifts coming our way."

He can't see any of his subjects trying to further their aims by going into politics: they don't have the patience and are the kind of people who like to stay on the edge of things. "In my view, major change happens outside politics, initially," he says. "People change the climate, then governments move in to legitimise."

He thinks the state should be encouraging the new philanthropy by introducing incentives such as the one in the US that allows people to gain a tax advantage by giving money to charity while retaining the income from it during their lifetimes.

He doesn't think the Government will do that, but feels the pressure will grow: "My view is that fashion is a change agent in cultures, and I hope these people are setting a fashion."

He thinks there is a growing number of rich people who think charities get enough support and don't want to "send direct debits or run foundations".

Instead, he says, they want to do something special.

"They are by definition disruptive forces," he says. "They are high-involvement people who see their mission as making a difference. Even if they give money to existing institutions, they will attach strings and want to see demonstrable results, and to give their time and experience as well.

"They are the leading edge of a movement of self-made rich who want to apply their business experience to philanthropy. We should welcome them, no matter how irritating."

- See book extract, page 18

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