Philanthropy: 'Passion, permanence and partnership'

A new book by management guru Charles Handy profiles a group of 'new philanthropists' who have put their wealth into good causes. In this extract, Handy ponders what seems to motivate them and what they have in common.

The 23 individuals and their projects are, by design, very different.

Some are shy, others extrovert. Some are driven by spiritual or religious feelings, others by a sense of social responsibility or just a need to help and be useful. What they all have in common, however, can be summed up in three words: passion, permanence and partnership.

No entrepreneurial venture will succeed without a large injection of energy and personal commitment. Good ideas, even carefully researched business plans, are not enough in themselves. Given passion, however, any problems can be dealt with, any difficulty endured. Niall Mellon would not fly out from Dublin to South Africa twice a month if he was not passionately committed to his township project. Jeff Gambin could not give up his lifestyle to feed 400 homeless people every night unless he was passionate about it. Peter Lampl would not give most of his time and a lot of his money to his educational trust unless he was passionate about ending what he sees as educational apartheid in Britain. That was true of all of them.

What they do is not required of them, is not done for status and certainly not for personal gain. They do it because it is what they believe in.

The passion is often triggered by some event. Peter Lampl recalls how he woke up one day to find himself on the front page of The Times for a charitable initiative and realised that one person can make a difference to the way things are done. David Charters discovered one weekend that his immersion in his work had lost him his family and resolved to change his life. Christopher Purvis calculated on the back of an envelope one evening that he had enough money to meet all his family's needs for the foreseeable future and decided there and then to change his life. Sara Davenport's nanny's poor treatment for breast cancer stung Sara into doing something about it, even when that meant selling her treasured business.

Ram Gidoomal had an eye-opening experience in Mumbai that forced him to look again at his priorities.

Tom Hunter took a phone call one morning offering to buy his business for a sum that would take care of all his future financial needs and set about deciding how he wanted to spend the rest of his life. He was only 37.

Others, such as Jeff Skoll, Michael de Giorgio and Chris Mathias, had similar experiences when they sold their businesses. They were all fortunate to find projects that consumed their interest and allowed them to turn an unexpected opportunity or problem into a passion. Had that not happened, one suspects they would have been content to set up a family trust or foundation and just respond to requests for assistance. There would be nothing wrong with that, and many have done it, but they would not then have initiated the projects they did. To be the kind of catalysts that they hoped to be, there had to be passion and the commitment that springs from it.

The new philanthropists have all been successful, most of them in business, and many still retain some business interests. They look at their philanthropic projects in a businesslike way and see their interventions as an initial investment of money, time and energy, but they are clear that their projects have to be self-sustaining in the long run. In the end their initiatives have to stand on their own. If they can't, the founders themselves would be trapped in a continuing role as principal supporters and funders, leaving them unable to move on to other projects. If the investment of their time and energy is to make a real difference, it has to last beyond their own graves - it has to have a permanent impact.

Some of them are careful to build in alternative sources of support.

Jeff Gambin has started a for-profit enterprise in Sydney to earn enough money to fund his project when his own money runs out or he departs. Mo Ibrahim's breast cancer clinic in Khartoum will be seven storeys high, but the top two storeys will be let out as luxurious office suites, the income from which will support the clinic in future years. Gordon Roddick insists the social businesses in which he invests break even after a specified period and he keeps a close eye on them to make sure they meet his targets.

Sustainability, however, depends ultimately on partnership of one sort or another. Others must have a continuing interest in the projects or else they will tend to die when the original sponsor and investor moves on. If new projects are to be more than an interesting experiment, they need to be scaled up. That often requires a partnership between fleas and elephants. Fleas, be they individuals or tiny groups, can be more creative and experimental, but they need larger organisations or movements, the elephants, to roll out the results. The track record of elephants for innovation, in any field, has not been good. Fleas, on the other hand, can do little on their own. The poor record Britain has acquired for the development of new ideas in business is largely due to the lack of these sorts of partnerships between the inventive fleas and the efficient and resource-rich elephants. The best of the new philanthropists know this.

Peter Lampl organised and funded the first summer school at Oxford University but was careful to involve not only the university but also David Blunkett, then the Secretary of State for Education, with the result that there are now summer schools at 60 universities, jointly run by the universities and the Department for Education and Skills. He has said that "where a project has proven its efficacy, we work closely with government to secure nationwide uptake and funding". Tom Hunter is delighted that his investment of £35m in education in Scotland has leveraged £175m of government spending, extending his pilot schemes across the country.

Niall Mellon could not hope to make more than a small dent in the housing problem of South Africa without the help and involvement of the local municipalities and the national government. They had to fund and prepare the infrastructure on the sites, validate the leases and subsidise part of the price of the houses he built. The volunteers he flies out from Ireland are also partners in that they all raise money to pay for their own fares and accommodation and contribute to the cost of the houses.

Partnership creates involvement, which builds commitment and long-term sustainability.

Peter Ryan provided the initial investment for his micro-loan operation in Malawi, but has been careful to share the overall supervision with members of his local church community and to involve the UK Government as a co-funder once the project was off the ground. Tony Falkenstein's investments in entrepreneurial education necessarily involved the co-operation of the schools and universities involved, but he has also striven to make them dependent upon complementary help from government. Leverage is always key.

We would like to think that the examples of these new philanthropists will also have an indirect leverage; that their example will inspire others, even if they and we never know of it. We believe that there are increasing numbers of successful professionals and entrepreneurs in our society who must sometimes wonder what they should do 'beyond success'. We hope the stories of the individuals in this book will have given them some ideas and some encouragement.

- Extracted from The New Philanthropists, by Charles Handy, published by William Heinemann on 5 October @ £20. Copyright (C) Charles Handy 2006. Photographs (C) copyright Elizabeth Handy 2006.

- See Newsmaker interview , page 11

SOME OF THE NEW PHILANTHROPISTS ...

In 2004 Niall Mellon chartered a plane and flew 343 volunteer workmen to Imizamo Yethu, a township outside Cape Town. In less than a week they built 50 houses. The following year he took 500 workers, who built 106 houses in two weeks. The property developer from Dublin started selling fire extinguishers as a teenager and was a millionaire by 24. His plan to transform the townships came after he bought a second home in South Africa in 2002. When he consulted township leaders, they asked for help with education rather than building, so he sponsored 25 people to go on vocational courses. But he never lost sight of his ambition to improve local housing. He aims to have all the shacks replaced by houses by 2010.

At 45, Jeff Gambin was living in Australia, running a clutch of successful restaurants. But when a homeless man offered him a blanket as he sat in a park, he resolved to change his life. He sold everything and now runs the Just Enough Faith Foundation, which offers hundreds of meals a night to the homeless.

David Charters enjoyed a lucrative City career until his marriage collapsed. But he started again, co-founding the Beacon Fellowship Trust to recognise the work of philanthropists through annual awards, first presented at 11 Downing Street in 2003. He is also a magistrate and a trustee

When her children's nanny was diagnosed with breast cancer, it changed Sara Davenport's life. Appalled by the poor care her nanny received, she sold her gallery to fund Breast Cancer Haven, which offers support and information to breast cancer patients.

... AND WHAT THEY'VE DONE

In his forties, Christopher Purvis worked out his assets on the back of an envelope and informed his wife Phillida that they need not earn any more money. Since then the couple have devoted their energies to a portfolio of charitable activities. In particular, their knowledge of Japan, where they lived for some years, has inspired their efforts to create the Japan Arena in London. It will house restaurants, social entrepreneurs and businesses to foster greater cultural understanding. Between them they are involved in the Burma Campaign Society, Global Links Initiative, Gap Activity Projects, the International Refugee Trust, the Japan Society of the UK and the Handel House Museum. Christopher is chairman of the Academy of Ancient Music and sits on the board of the Royal Academy of Music. They attribute their success to regarding every day as a new opportunity and doing nothing they don't believe in.

Ram Gidoomal arrived in the UK as a 16 year-old; 20 years later he was running the family firm. In Mumbai on business, he visited the slums and was shocked by the poverty. He co-founded Christmas Cracker, with its 'Eat Less, Pay More' idea, asking customers to pay extra and using the proceeds for famine relief.

At 37, Tom Hunter sold his sportswear business - he had made his fortune. Since then he has put £100m into the Hunter Foundation to support education in Scotland. With Bill Clinton, he founded the Clinton-Hunter Development Initiative for the relief of poverty in Africa.

After years in business, Peter Lampl had decided, aged 49, that he was ready to play golf and manage his portfolio. Instead he became an educational visionary. His charity, the Sutton Trust, now runs summer schools at 60 universities for 6,000 teenagers every year.

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