Here Come the Philanthropreneurs

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Entrepreneurs using wealth and power to transform society are not a new phenomenon. A century ago, Andrew Carnegie’s love of libraries helped bring education to the masses, and he spent millions promoting world peace. Today’s “philanthropreneurs” are equally ambitious—and they’re succeeding, while redefining what it means to give and give back.

Historically, the rich endowed their estates upon death. Or, from a distance, they wrote their checks and went on with their lives. Twenty-first-century philanthropists have a much more interventionist interpretation. They recognize that a check really is a piece of paper and can only go so far; not only do the wealthy want to give their money away while they’re still alive, they want to play an active role in doing so. Charity has become a social investment, impactful and measurable.

In particular, the work of Bill and Melinda Gates has helped to recalibrate what exactly philanthropy is—or can be—and how philanthropists can bring their wealth to bear in more productive and long-lasting ways than simply bestowing money to go toward a problem. As London-based independent charity the Stars Foundation has aptly said, philanthropreneurs are “reclaiming ‘enterprise’ to mean more than simply ‘for profit.’”


At the heart of philanthropreneurship is the idea that the same skills that enabled people to make their fortunes are often the ones required to solve seemingly intractable social problems. Philanthropreneurs leverage their creativity and leadership—and their money—to try to make life better for others. Jeff Skoll and Pierre Omidyar of eBay. Virgin’s Sir Richard Branson. Steve Case of AOL. Ted Turner, Bono, and Oprah. Each of these wealthy individuals brings his or her entrepreneurial chutzpah and business thinking, along with a checkbook, to some of the world’s most pressing challenges. They’re not acting alone.

This modern philanthropreneurship approach goes far beyond compassionate capitalism. No longer is money mostly invested in things, but in people who can make things happen. Philanthropreneurs cast wide nets, pooling the resources and expertise of a multinational network of people who want and have the means to lend their thinking, connections, or cash. Often, it’s the collective capacity of brainpower that achieves goals. Bill Clinton’s Global Initiative, for example, brings together thousands of world leaders to seek sustainable solutions to combat diverse problems.

Source: Fast Company (link opens in a new window)

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