Michelle Wright is interviewed in a Guide to Philanthropy
Blue & Green tomorrow produced a Guide to Philanthropy, called Sustainable Philanthropy, featuring an interview with Cause4 CEO, Michelle Wright:
How do you think philanthropic projects stand between individual citizens’ actions and institutional policies? Which is their role?
My best understanding of philanthropy is that it seeks to solve problems at root causes, for instance by teaching a man how to fish for himself, rather than giving him a fish, which is also the key difference between the concepts of philanthropy and charity. The most conventional modern definition of philanthropy is commonly understood as private initiatives, for public good, focusing on quality of life. When this is combined with the word’s root, such as ‘love of humanity’, linked to the solving of root causes, it really takes the concept of philanthropic projects way beyond the day-to-day action of individual citizens’ action and the more often self-interested development of institutional policy and into the territory of catalytic projects that make things actually happen.
You use the concepts of effective and ineffective philanthropy when talking about the work your organization does. What do they mean?
Effective philanthropy addresses key issues and can demonstrate both the impact of the intervention and its sustainability. I come across many people that wish to be philanthropic and with a ‘good idea’ but in fact the approach ends up replicating existing initiatives and not being collaborative. The best and most effective philanthropy will either address a new idea or will join up individuals and organisations, so that the sum of the parts addresses new and key areas that are important in solving problems at root causes.
Research by the environmental funders Network has shown that the environment is one of the least popular sectors for philanthropic giving. Why do you feel that some areas (for instance, education) are more popular among the wealthy than others?
Another key to effective philanthropy is that it needs to be passion-led, which means that the philanthropist will invest the best amount of time, energy and resources in areas where they are completely committed to the change that is needed. I think as an emerging area of interest it makes sense that the environmental sector will see more philanthropists as it becomes an ever more important area to address. Another trend that I am seeing is that, as the economy gets tougher, philanthropists are keen to invest in their local area, and the concept of attachment to a particular place becomes very important. Otherwise causes will usually emerge from the interests of the specific donor.
Philanthropy often receives criticism from people who argue that it simply serves the interests of the donor. What would you say to that and how can philanthropy genuinely help some of the world’s biggest challenges?
It could be argued that there is some self-interest in all endeavours and philanthropy is not immune. In my work, I am just interested in making sure that philanthropy is effective and sustainable and as long as the motivation to solve an issue is realistic and tangible, then a philanthropist should be able to take good comfort and enjoyment from setting in train an important development. The best philanthropy should also be fun!
With foreign aid budgets under increasing pressure, the significance of the potential in global philanthropy becomes ever more important. Philanthropy can provide a real source of innovation in development and without the political accountability and economic spending constraints of aid budgets. Philanthropists are also better placed to take on more risk and to foster new approaches and partnerships than foreign aid organisations, and the best will also do so with great accountability.