The beauty and power of philanthropy
The first time I truly understood the beauty and power of philanthropy was when a woman who was normally quiet and composed became so filled with passion that she ran down a long hallway to hug me. It was in that moment that I realized that philanthropy has the power to change people from the inside out. I’ve had the privilege to witnessed up close how philanthropy can transform the giver -- providing profound life satisfaction by opening avenues to meaning and happiness that are not easily found otherwise. When this kind of transformation of the giver is met with impact through an effective mission – the effect is awe-inspiring.
Etymologically, philanthropy simply means, 'the love of humanity'. This definition of love is the sense of caring for, nourishing, developing, or enhancing something or someone. It asks the questions, what does it mean to be human? What is our human potential?
This definition paints the full, nuanced, and respectful nature of philanthropy -- it is about transformation of both the giver and the beneficiary -- unleashing human potential in our world.
Over the past decades it has been clearly demonstrated that philanthropists, can lead the way forward when it comes to caring for our world. Philanthropy enables change – change that may not yet be popular enough to gain widespread support by the public. The founding of MEDA is a perfect example of this kind of leadership. MEDA was founded by a group of Mennonites because they saw the need around the world for a sustainable solution to poverty. MEDA and our supporters have continued to be philanthropic leaders since our creation. Our supporters have been at the forefront of respectful engagement with our clients, the micro-finance movement, and more recently the blended-finance movement.
I am not poor anymore
Another unforgettable and enlightening experience with philanthropy came through meeting one of MEDA’s clients. I was leading a group of MEDA supporters on a trip to Tanzania where we met and engaged with several clients in our Strengthening Small Business Value Chains project. All three of these farmers shared powerful stories of their path out of poverty and as they spoke their self-reliance and pride was palpable. I believe there is something important for us to reflect on in the words of Anagisye. He poignantly told us, “I am not poor anymore … Now I give money to build a school in my community.” Anagisye was a beneficiary and now he has become a giver to his community.
Time for philanthropists to lead again
I believe it is time for us to be very purposeful and intentional in moving beyond a North America-centric approach to philanthropy to a global approach. In many ways people across the world are similar -- having the same desires, needs and motivations. So much of philanthropy and fundraising is internationally relevant. In his book, Global Fundraising: How the World is Changing the Rules of Philanthropy, Bernard Ross provides insight into our rapidly changing environment stating that “it is true that some of the very best fundraising is happening in the global south.”
At MEDA, an aspirational shift from being North-centric to a more South-centric organization is part of our strategic direction - Towards an Equal World. I am eager to see how we can integrate this aspiration with our fundraising --to care for, nourish, develop, and enhance humanity. It is important that all of us be respectfully invited to be philanthropists. Imagine what could be possible -- I believe it could be almost magical.