Our collective desire to accumulate and consume seems more prevalent than ever. The notion of success, money and ‘stuff’ has been fostered since the days of capitalism’s founding father, Adam Smith, began espousing his economic theories in the 18th century. The world now is, of course, a very different place but we can see that the maxim of ‘more is more’ is firmly rooted in much of the western world’s psyche. So, it’s refreshing to see a new breed of philanthropist emerging in the last decade – using wealth as a tool for social betterment. In short, it has become trendy to leave the world with nothing left in your account because you’ve given it all away. And this is a good thing.
This Zen-like stance has been propagated and loudly trumpeted by some of the biggest financial players in the world – Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and Charles Feeney. The latter has had an interesting interview with the New York Times, and elaborated on his Buffett-esque philosophies and giving nature. Like the Midwestern values of Buffett, this billionaire flies coach class, wears unostentatious clothing and has been donating his billions to good causes – “medical care, education, criminal justice advocacy and peace-building initiatives,” since the early 80s, according to the article. Feeney’s contributions, and that of his Atlantic Philanthropies organization, will have totaled somewhere near $10 billion by the time they close their doors in 2020. His attitude is selfless, encouraging a new ‘hands on’ approach to social responsibility and also one that doesn’t want self-glorification – as Feeney’s donations are not noted anywhere by naming a building after himself, for example. The only reason he’s doing more press now, is to encourage other billionaires to jump on board.
Gandhi’s belief of “being the change you want to see in the world” is particularly apposite in describing the philanthropic approach of Feeney. He ends the interview with a great quote that may not have the same heft as Gandhi, but sums up his attitude well: “I want the last check I write to bounce.” Now that’s the spirit of giving.