Another look at philanthropy

Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat its grapes? Who tends a flock and does not drink the milk? Do I say this merely on human authority? Doesn’t the Law say the same thing? For it is written in the Law of Moses: “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.” Is it about oxen that God is concerned? Surely he says this for us, doesn’t he? Yes, this was written for us, …1 Corinthians 9:7-10

The hardworking farmer should be the first to receive a share of the crops. – 2 Timothy 2:6

Be sure you know the condition of your flocks,

give careful attention to your herds;

… When the hay is removed and new growth appears

and the grass from the hills is gathered in,

the lambs will provide you with clothing,

and the goats with the price of a field.

You will have plenty of goats’ milk to feed your family

and to nourish your female servants. –   Proverbs 27:23-27


We were created for connection, not isolation. An isolated life is in no position to add value to itself talk less of doing so for another. A life that is driven by consumption rather than contribution will always exist at the mercy of those who are contributing value. The irony of that is that the latter continue to prosper at the expense of the former.

For a long time, my perception of philanthropy was about bankrupting yourself to help others without the expectation of deriving any benefits therefrom. To be a philanthropist therefore, I believed that you need to keep giving to all in need even if you cannot identify anything tangible that they are doing to get themselves out of the benevolence or benefits queue.

The more I study the psychology of the poor and that of the rich, the more it occurs to me that even God is not pleased with the kind of benevolence that makes some people incurably dependent on others while they themselves are doing next to nothing if anything at all, to change their dependency status. Such benevolence, which usually arises from a pang of conscience rather than a genuine attempt to radically change the life of the recipients, more than anything else, perpetuates poverty in any collective. Going by this definition, it is no wonder that when it comes to philanthropy, the world would celebrate a Mother Theresa more than it would a Bill Gates. Mother Theresa lived and died among the poorest of the poor in Calcutta, India and was beatified by the Catholic Church after her death. Bill Gates on the other hand, through the Microsoft Corporation, has lifted millions of people worldwide out of poverty by providing them with jobs. Microsoft products have made the everyday computer user’s life easier and enhanced the way we function in every part of the world. In addition to these, through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, he continues to give money to fund research or deploy resources towards the eradication of diseases that are prevalent among the poorest of the poor, something that Mother Theresa could not do.

Yet, society would not consider Bill Gates a philanthropist because he, almost on auto-pilot basis, benefits from all these gestures. What we often fail to realize is that the one who helps more people is without doubt, doing more good than the person who only has capacity to help a few.

True philanthropy is about being in a position to significantly influence the lives of others with a view to empowering them to effectively render a service or do a job that makes it possible for others to reward them. The image of a philanthropist is the one who throws money around at every imaginable project, including those that actually perpetuate the dysfunction that made the beneficiaries poor and needy in the first place. This is how political demagogues in developing economies keep their people dependent and entitled.

Benefitting from the good that we do does not in any way diminish the value of the good. You can hardly lift a poor man out of his predicament by becoming like him. In the wisdom of a Yoruba proverb, when a man says he wants to clothe you, you first take a good look at what he himself is putting on! The most successful businesses in the world are those that have employed advocacy as a strategy of operation.

The God of the universe does not bankrupt one person to enrich another. He has designed resources to flow in the direction of those who are constantly creating value significant enough to make a difference in the lives of others.

Take a good look at the lives of most beneficiaries of money that they did not work for. A good example are the so-called empowerment programmes of government that involve the distribution of cash and equipment to people who have no visible means of livelihood or way of turning the money into income-generating value. Such monies are usually spent on an acquisition or drinking spree and not on anything that significantly improves the quality of the lives of recipients or anyone around them. I witnessed the distribution of such largesse recently and from the reactions that greeted the gesture from the recipients, it was obvious that they had no idea about how to deploy the money profitably to create value for themselves and others. I was heartbroken. Statistics indicate that over 95 per cent of people who won millions of dollars in lotteries are flat broke in less than a year after they swept the stakes!

Developing nations continue to rake in billions of dollars annually from donor nations. Yet they have little or nothing to show for it because such monies are spent largely on increasing the size of an already overbloated government.

In recent times, more and more philanthropists are recognizing that giving away money to the so-called poor is akin to casting pearls before swine. The emphasis of giving is shifting from simply giving grants to non-profit organizations. It is moving towards giving grants to organizations or individuals who are engaged in ventures that are designed to truly empower people for productivity in a way that lifts as many people as possible out of poverty. This new face of philanthropy is known as “impact investing”.

This dimension of philanthropy operates on the premise that you help more people by empowering those who are able to create goods and services that enhance others’ lives through the creation of jobs, new opportunities and products that many would be willing to give value for. The more that cycle of productivity is enlarged, the greater the sustainable impact of any act of benevolence.

Wealth doesn’t come by simply relying on a rich man to give you money. It comes when there is value that you have to contribute and connect to the lives of others in a way that makes them genuinely desire to reward you without feeling that they are doing you a favour even while empowering you to do more.


Remember, the sky is not your limit, God is!


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