Power of Purposeful Philanthropy
The American Bazaar Philanthropy Dinner
October 14, 2017
Thank you, Venky, for that generous introduction. I appreciate your kind words
Before I begin my remarks, I would like to take this opportunity to commend The American Bazaar for inviting me to give these remarks. Let us give them a big round of applause to Asif and to all people who are associated with the American Bazaar.
Debbie and I are proud to be associated with the Philanthropy Dialogue. Our foundation has supported this endeavor since the first one in 2014, and I have had the privilege to take part in this event every single year. I am really glad that it has become a go-to event in this city.
I see, in this room, representatives of several organizations that are doing great work both in this country and in India. Tonight’s honoree, Ajay Raju, whom I had the pleasure of meeting for the first time at last year’s Democratic convention in Philadelphia, has done a fabulous job in regenerating the City of Brotherly Love. I see representatives of the Sehgal Foundation, the American India Foundation, Pratham and Ekal, who all are doing meaningful jobs in India. So it is humbling to be asked to share some of my thoughts on philanthropy because I know that many of you in this audience are as qualified to address this topic as I am. It feels like I am preaching to the choir.
Nonetheless, I am pleased to provide my perspective and to hearing yours in return. What I want to put a spotlight on tonight is what I call “purposeful philanthropy”.
Philanthropy takes many forms. The philanthropy that is of pivotal importance, in my opinion, is purposeful philanthropy.
Purposeful philanthropy is making investments directed at creating a positive and meaningful difference in pivot point areas that matter to the future of society. The returns on those investments are changes to problematic conditions and/or the creation of individuals who will become change agents to address those conditions.
There is a distinction between purposeful philanthropy and charity. The distinction is a critical one.
The focus in charity is to provide a handout. The focus in purposeful philanthropy is to provide a hand-up. The focus in purposeful philanthropy is to enable and empower people by giving them a helping hand and a hand up rather than a handout. The focus in purposeful philanthropy is solving problems and is being engaged and is to create a better world by doing good.
There certainly must be charitable support and assistance to address problem or crisis areas and the needs of the socially and economically disadvantaged. After the horrible devastation recently by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma in this part of the world and the flooding in Bangladesh due to the monsoon rains, the importance of generous charitable giving to well-recognized groups such as the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, Doctors without Borders and local non-profits becomes evident.
Charity as the sole means of philanthropy, however, has limitations. It does not get at the root cause nor change the underlying reason for the need for the charity.
By contrast, purposeful philanthropy concentrates on improving circumstances and conditions. This hand-up approach can take a wide range of forms, ranging from eliminating contaminated water that poisons those who drink or bathe in to enhancing the safety of working conditions to developing the requisite knowledge, skills, abilities, attitudes and behaviors for a person to be successful in life.
The pivot point areas — areas that can be leveraged and effectively addressed to effectuate change and achieve positive outcomes — for purposeful philanthropy are virtually endless. Our personal priority philanthropic areas are education, arts, world peace and civic engagement.
We have chosen those areas because they are important to us and because we know that improvement in them can make a substantial difference. Let me give you the short reasons for my selecting those areas and tell you a little bit about our investments in them.
Education is bridge to the future and opportunity creator. It moves people up the ladder and to help others climb the ladder with them. It is the gift that keeps on giving. It is a powerful equalizer for opening doors to all to lift themselves out of poverty. Education provides the keys to the kingdom.
In the educational arena, we have supported many scholarships at colleges here in the United States. Our most significant investment though has been in India where in February of this year my wife Debbie and I dedicated the Frank and Debbie Islam Management Complex at Aligarh Muslim University (AMU).
At that dedication, I predicted: “From this management complex will come the future leaders who will make the world a better place.” I felt completely comfortable in making that prediction because in addition to giving the substantial financial support to construct the management building at AMU my wife Debbie and I also provided funding for an endowed chair on Entrepreneurship and Innovation in the management school. That ensured the human element would be brought into play as part of the educational equation. I would not be the person I am today it were not for my education at AMU. We see our contribution to AMU management complex as an investment that will yield exponential returns and this is my way of saying thank you to AMU and keeping the hope alive.
President John F. Kennedy said: “Art nourishes the roots of a culture.” It plays a pivotal role in connecting, engaging, and inspiring communities. It has a unifying and healing power. Art represents the very best of our humanity. I agree with President Kennedy’s perspective and that is why I agreed to serve on the board of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and to invest in its programs to expose youth to the arts.
We are living in an increasingly dangerous world and times. World peace is essential for the future of this planet. There is much deadly conflict now and threats of it around the globe which must be controlled. Recognizing this, I support the U.S. Institute for Peace and the Woodrow Wilson Center both of which bring scholars and practitioners to develop programs to try to find peaceful means for conflict resolution.
India and the United States of America are the world’s two largest democracies. Civic engagement is essential to keep those democracies vibrant and vital.
The free press is one of the defining qualities of a democracy and a means for promoting civic engagement. The free press is a cornerstone of democracy. The United States and India remain a vibrant democracy in large part because of freedom of press. My wife Debbie and I recently supported an Alfred Friendly Press Partners Scholarship to bring an experienced journalist from India here to work at a newspaper and study at the University of Missouri School of Journalism.
I name those pivot point areas and describe my investments in purposeful philanthropy for illustration purposes only.
Each of us must choose the area or areas that matter for our philanthropy. The essential thing is to make that choice and to invest.
The size of that investment isn’t what counts. The act of investment is not just financially but also in non-financial aspects such as giving time, talent, and ideas or being a volunteer. Donating money is just a small part of philanthropy.
I know that many of you have already made that choice and invested generously. I thank you for that.
In closing, I would be remiss if I did not identify one final approach to charity. That is “hands-off”. The hands-off approach is really self-aggrandizement masquerading as a philanthropic contribution.
This approach is driven by what I call an “edifice complex” — the desire to get one’s name on a building such as a temple or mosque or church with little concern for what is being done there to improve the lot of the community or citizens in which it resides. We need and deserve better than that.
Purposeful philanthropy accomplishes this. It provides the platform for maximizing our participation and contribution to enable India, the United States, international society and citizens around the world to achieve their full potential. It is a pivotal idea whose time has come.
Thank you for listening to me speak on this topic which is of such special significance to each of us and of such critical importance to all of those who benefit from our philanthropy. May God bless and reward you for all that you do.