Philanthopos Tropos

… but what does it mean, really?

I’m sure we all aspire to some level or form of philanthropy. After all, don’t we all love being human?

I do and buoyed by that I inherently hope that everyone else feels the same way. Sadly, that’s not always the case but it doesn’t deter me from still wanting to believe that fundamentally most of us want what’s best for our fellow humans and, if there’s any way we can help someone else out then we’d jump at the chance.

I like to think of philanthropy in the simplistic sense of trying to, in some way, enhance what it is to be human whether on a global or very local scale. Unless you are Sir Richard Branson or Bill Gates, for many of us our philanthropic endeavours are mostly local in size and impact. We universally cheer when we see the likes of Branson and Gates raising the bar in standards of development and enhancement programs with their global reach and vast sums of cash, and rightly so. They are ‘giving back’ which we all love to see from our mega-Captains of industry.

And few would argue against the immense importance of the attention Diana Spencer brought to the plight of the disadvantaged; work admirably carried on by her sons. The positive actions of internationally recognised personalities such as these must be seen and reported in order to jolt others who have been similarly blessed into action, while also inspiring those whose personal attempts will only ever be at the coal face, pursuing some local cause that is close to them but equally valid and worthy of our praise. We don’t often hear of our unsung philanthropic heroes: the retired grandfather who helps out every day at the local centre for the disabled, or the single mum who makes the time when her kids are at school to read to the elderly and infirm.

Yet, to those who look forward to seeing them every day, they are playing their part in enhancing our status as human beings in equal measure alongside our much lauded billionaires and royalty.

All that said, there is one niggling issue wrapped up in all this goodwill which really bugs me.

Corporate social responsibility.

Now, we all know and acknowledge that there is a great deal of good behind the genuine adoption and implementation of a solid corporate social responsibility (CSR) culture within any organisation.   What really gets under my skin though is where individuals looking for an angle to enhance their public profile use the banner of CSR for no other purpose than gratuitous self-promotion.  That infuriatingly ambiguous fine line between philanthropy and throwyourmoneyatme.

Usually the self-promoter will attach themselves to some suitably innocuous cause that makes them look like they really care, while not being so controversial a topic as to deflect attention away from them and actually onto the issue. We couldn’t have that now.

Those who get my unequivocal respect are the quiet achievers; those who get behind things rather than in front of them.  Those who, if they have a profile, use their influence and connections cleverly, strategically, behind the scenes and who achieve awareness for their chosen cause without benefitting from that awareness personally.  At a time when there is so much division and fear in the world, we should all be looking for ways in which we can play our part in bringing back some balance.  Fundamentally, there are many ways in which we can genuinely help others without trying to gain a benefit for ourselves.

Who knows, by being a little more humble about what we’re doing to make the place better, we may just do a lot more for evolving ourselves as human beings.

This article first appeared in the 2014 December issue of LBD GLOSS Magazine.