Are We Creating a Philanthropic Monoculture?
7 March 2013 at 8:52 am
Is philanthropy in Australia creating a mono-cultural sector that unintentionally excludes others who may genuinely want to ‘give back’?, asks Doug Taylor, the Chief Executive Officer of United Way Australia.
I have thought for a while that philanthropy in Australia is all a bit too nice and virtuous. If you look at the Philanthropic Sector in our country you would have to agree that it’s full of thoroughly decent, well intentioned and polite individuals going about their work of doing good with modesty and humility.
Don’t get me wrong- these are wonderful qualities and a great counterbalance to the cut and thrust of the world of politics and commerce. However my concern is that by creating a mono-cultural sector we unintentionally exclude others who may genuinely want to ‘give back’ but sometimes have a quite different cultural disposition and set of internal drivers.
We have lots of room to grow philanthropy in Australia so it’s worth thinking about groups that we may want to intentionally include by creating new entry pathways. A group that comes to mind for me are celebrities. Why should we consider them as a priority target group? To be blunt, they have money and the capacity to influence popular culture like very few of our current philanthropic ‘super stars’.
My work at United Way brings me into close contact with American philanthropy. We hear endlessly about the many historical and cultural differences that explain their scale of philanthropy relative to Australia.
Over the summer break I got to thinking about the importance of philanthropic celebrities as an overlooked explanation while listening to a repeat interview Geraldine Doogue did with Robert Forrester, the head of the Newman’s Own Foundation (http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/saturdayextra/robert-forrester-on-philanthropy/4412340).
This is a foundation created by the late actor Paul Newman which combined philanthropy and social enterprise. He did this by creating and marketing a series of Salad Dressings (I can personally vouch for the Balsamic Vinegar) with all profits going to create community benefit which to date totals over US$340m. Newman is not alone; take Dolly Parton as another example. I have now met Dolly (and yes been to her concert) a few times as part of a new child literacy strategy we are rolling out in Australia with her foundation and Rotary International. Like Newman she combines an unquestionable philanthropic drive with outstanding business acumen and a good dose of self promotion.
The evidence is there for Dolly’s work (https://imaginationlibrary.com/) ; amidst her entertainment empire she has created impressive community outcomes with 650,000 children under 5 across the US, UK and Canada receiving books in partnership with Penguin International.
Newman would often refer to his Salad Dressing endeavours as ‘shameless exploitation for the common good.’ Seems to be a good summary of celebrity philanthropy and my sense is that one of the biggest barriers to greater involvement of celebrities in Australia is the philanthropic sector itself.
Can we get over our cultural cringe and accept that celebrities can bring enormous benefit in new income but more importantly also increase profile and help mainstream philanthropy? While we are at it, it might also be a good idea to acknowledge that self interest is infused in everybody’s philanthropic endeavours. Perhaps by acknowledging this we can better accommodate celebrities.
About the author: As CEO of United Way Australia Doug Taylor is focused on creating and developing its Community Impact strategy, which addresses the education, income and health needs of local communities. He’s currently a member of the United Way Worldwide membership accountability committee and is responsible for the organisation’s Asia Pacific corporate development strategy. He is active in the broader community sector through Emerging Leaders for Social Change and has sat on the Commonwealth’s Volunteer Policy Advisory Groups.