The head of the Global Philanthropy Forum on what the future of giving–both from individuals and corporations–holds.
The world of philanthropy has changed dramatically over the past 10 years. No one knows this better than Jane Wales, founding president of the Global Philanthropy Forum, a project of the World Affairs Council of Northern California that puts on a series of events aiming to build a globally-minded community of social investors and donors. We spoke to Wales about her thoughts on the past, present, and future of philanthropy in advance of GPF’s annual conference.
Co.Exist: Your first conference was in 2002. How would you say the world of philanthropy has changed since then?
Jane Wales: I’d say it has changed in two ways. One is just in size and diversity, and so we’re seeing very significant numbers of new entrants to the field who are perhaps newly wealthy because they’re in these fast growing companies, or because they’re in an emerging economy. It’s both expanding within the U.S. and North America more generally, but also throughout the world. Change number two is in the character of philanthropy. There is this tendency to define philanthropy broadly, to really mean all private means of financing social change. So it’s both grantmaking from your endowment but it’s also investments from the endowment yourself. Or if you lead a company, it’s the shared value agenda in which you’re trying to put your company to the service of social change. In essence what you’re trying to do is make positive social change intrinsic to the company.
I’d also say that the [philanthropic] individuals themselves tend to be very young. They’re in the midst of their career, the height of their career, and they’re not about to retire. So they’re pretty bold in their investments for social change and they have a very long timeline. Maybe some look for silver bullets, but by and large I’d say this is a really thoughtful generation of philanthropists who know they’re taking on hard problems, who know that it will be a tough slog. They try to learn from the setbacks and successes of their predecessors.
Was there an event or something that happened that spurred this change in philanthropy?
All I can say is it seems to flow from the skillset that many of these folks have. Most of them come out of the private sector, and they’re applying some of the tools and approaches that they honed there. The other part of it is just the sheer magnitude of the problems they take on. But otherwise, this may relate to an entire cultural shift. This is probably the first generation that I’m not saying, why aren’t they more like we were? I’m saying, why weren’t we more like they are? They know what they’re up against. They know what they want to build. This is a great generation.
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