I used to love writing stories when I was little. Tales about forest dwelling people and stories of weird animals, and bizarre worlds. I think I was quite a creative little guy. But I grew out of that, or so I thought.
Philanthropy is a strange word. It can be hard to say…
Philanthropy, Philanthropist, Philanthropic…
It also carries with it connotations of meaning which may not be accurate.
When we hear the word Philanthropist in can conjure up images of older (normally white) men who have made their millions and have now decided to give a tiny portion back. Most people don’t connect with that imagery, which is fair enough because it is not a true indication of what philanthropy is.
The true understanding of the term is that it is someone who has a strong desire to promote the welfare of others – usually through a generous donation of money to good causes.
Philanthropy has no gender, no specific cause and no specific amount tied to it. Really, if you care about people and give some money to charity, to see the closest philanthropist who is making a difference in the world take a look in the mirror. You are most likely one already.
I was born in a little town called Naracoorte, in the South-East of South Australia. Nothing I did had any bearing on where I was born, that is literally where I popped out.
Through no effort of my own, I was born within the borders of this country we call Australia. As a result of that I have managed to live the life that I have so far. I got an education, went to university, had a family, travelled, lived interstate, and created a life for myself and a future.
If I am honest, very little of this has come as a result of my intelligence. Sure, I have a debt to pay to my ancestral line, but if I was born in Indonesia, for example, where nearly half the population live in poverty, there is no doubt my life would have taken a very different trajectory.
Geography is destiny. It shouldn’t be, but it is.
For a while I felt guilty about this fact – but that didn’t help anyone, so I chose to feel pride about my country of birth and take with it a sense of responsibility. To use what I have been given to help others who haven’t had the same advantages as me, purely because of where they were born.
Geography is destiny, unless we act. Unless we use what we have been given to do what we can to create a better world.
One of the most well known characters in Literature is Ebenezer Scrooge. You know the one, the miserly old man who places all his value and effort into the riches he earns and doesn’t care for the people around him, until one Christmas eve he is visited by the ghosts of past, present and future. It’s the final one, which forces him to face the fear of the unknown and to think of what life would look like for others after he died which changes his attitude. A thought provoking fiction and a standard movie to watch at Christmas.
There is such a thing as the Ebenezer Scrooge Effect, which has seen many people change their attitudes towards money and relationships as they get older and think about their mortality. The reality of death can be an incredibly positive thing.
People who have been miserly and greedy have become generous and thoughtful, and as a result their quality of life improves as does the quality of life of those around them.
The good news is that we don’t have to wait until a certain age to start being generous, we don’t have to wait until we are at death’s door – we can save time and a lot of heartache and begin now, changing the way we think and behave.
It starts with small actions, giving some time, some kind words, some money to an organisation that you like. Doing these things consistently will create the generous quality of life that we are called to.
A Keynote Delivered to the Graduating Group from the John Curtin Leadership Academy of 2018
Uni’s are a funny place. I mean that in a nice way of course – they can be the making of people, or they can also be the breaking of people.
For me, they are a place where nice ideas go to die.
My nice idea was to go to university to study a degree in Banking and International Finance and I gave it everything I had…for about a week, until I discovered that I didn’t know anything about economics and even less about accounting. This was not fatal, but my problem was that I didn’t care about those things. This was the start of the death march of my nice idea.
So I left uni after a term and went to work in a bank, can you believe. I spent 5 years working my way up and ended up selling financial products to financial planners. My recollection of that time was that I would meet with people and they would tell me how many millions of dollars they had in funds under management and I would pretend to be impressed and understand what that really meant. One day I woke up and realised that I didn’t care about that either. So I left the bank to find something that I could find purpose in. The nice idea finally died.
There is a difference between nice ideas and world changing ideas. Nice ideas are normally ones that others may suggest for you, or ones that you think will be okay mostly because you have nothing better to do. World changing ideas are the ones that grab you by the scruff of the neck and throw you into a place completely out of your comfort zone. They change your life, the lives of those around you and potentially the world as you know it.
My world changing idea came from a casual job. From the bank I went into community radio for a while, then went back to study at Bible College. At that point I needed a casual job to keep some money coming in, and somehow landed a role with World Vision in their Youth Team. I’m not entirely sure how I got it, I have it on good authority that I wasn’t in the top 8 applicants. (That’s in the top 10, so that is still good…right?)
I spent 9 years engaging young people in the fight against poverty and my world changing idea was created. I studied my Masters of International and Community Development and now with Opportunity International, I continue to find my place and my purpose in the world. The more I learn about development and empowerment, the greater purpose I find in overcoming poverty. You see, poverty has such a devastating effect on people – it makes it impossible to see past your immediate needs today to be able to plan ahead, or hope for a future keeping people trapped and unable to reach their full potential.
There is poverty of the non-poor too. This is where too much creates poverty. This kind of poverty, where there is excess, creates greed, corruption, health issues from too much food, and slavery to the idea of a bigger and better house, a newer car, a faster boat. Somewhere in the middle of nothing and excess there is a balance where we are neither a slave to survival nor a slave to possessions.
Overcoming poverty of the non-poor requires generosity; learning to master the excess and become skilled at giving money away. This also, is how we overcoming the issue of financial poverty. It creates a place where people can reach their full potential. But potential is hard to measure so knowing whether or not we reach it is a little difficult – except to say this, you drastically underestimate what you are capable of and you drastically underestimate what the people around you are capable of. Although to reach your full potential requires good people.
Like Jim Rohn says, you are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with. So find some amazing people that challenge you and push you beyond your comfort zone and make them your people, because we were designed for growth.
So, do you have a nice idea that needs to die so you can discover your world changing idea?
I have a secret for you.
I have jealousy issues.
You may have felt like this too. I can only describe it as a pang. This feeling deep within when you hear of someone doing well, creating success in what they are doing, getting credit for great things they are doing, being recognised for how great they are at stuff.
On the outside you may hear yourself say, ‘Good for them. I always knew they had it in them. I am very excited for them’, but on the inside there is this little voice that whispers, ‘I wish that was me’.
It’s confronting to notice that side of yourself.
Jealousy is completely self-centred. It ruins creativity, positivity, relationships, it sucks joy out of any moment and it kills generosity.
Jealousy is the opposite of generosity.
I think the best way to overcome a negative attribute is to aim to become the positive attribute. Instead of trying to stop myself acting out of jealousy, I will focus on what generosity looks like and become that.
Generosity is other-centred, provides space for creativity, acceptance, builds a positive environment and is the foundation of all quality relationships. It provides joy and snuffs out jealousy.
Generosity is a true attribute of the heart of God. He generously pours out His love for us, His mercies are new every day.
Have you ever gone shopping and splurged a little bit, arriving back home with more items than you had originally planned, which brings about feelings of guilt and shame, even though it is your money and you can spend it however you want?
Ever been there?
It turns out you are not alone. It’s a global phenomenon. The feeling of guilt after a splurge comes because we feel like we are stealing from other important parts of our budget. Like the mortgage, or rent or food. But, studies tell us, if we set aside money in our budget specifically to splurge then the guilt disappears. Just like that, because that money is there to be spent however you want and it gives you the freedom to do that.
It’s the same with generosity and giving. Sometimes we feel guilt when we give because there are other important things that require our finance and it can feel like we are stealing from those parts when we are generous.
If we set aside money to give away, become intentional about being generous, that will overcome any guilt we may feel and make it easier for us to make a positive difference in the world.
Be generous on purpose.
What happens when you stress about money?
There is a story about sugarcane farmers in India – a group of researchers tested their IQ after harvest when they had money, then again a few months later right before the harvest. The difference was that they scored nearly 10 points less when tested right before the harvest. They simply had less mental energy to focus on the test.
That is the impact of poverty and financial insecurity. It is mentally overwhelming. Poverty places a huge burden on each person’s finite mental bandwidth which creates tunnel vision as well as decreases cognitive function. All of this makes it harder to focus on anything beyond the current problem, to problem solve, resist impulses or think long-term.
It’s not that the sugarcane farmers lacked intelligence or became dumber, it was because of the circumstances they were in on the day they were tested.
This is a good reason we don’t talk about “poor families”, but instead “families living in poverty” – because their identity is not that they are poor, that is just their current context.
This phenomenon is the same everywhere in the world. Poverty has a crippling effect and stops people from reaching their full God given potential. It’s the reason that God’s heart is always for those trapped in the poverty cycle. We must keep working to overcome it.
I missed a concert recently. It was going to be amazing, the first date night with my wife for a while, a musician that we both loved, the first concert of their Australian tour. By all accounts a perfect night ahead…until
There are very few words that I can use to explain what happened and not gross you out, but just before we were about to leave our 18 month old was unwell, which required a clean up and a decision that we couldn’t leave him with babysitters like that, even if they were family. So we gave our tickets away and I was shattered. We both were. So much of a build up led to a giant let down and disappointment.
Most people around me at the time shared my disappointment, but a few encouraged me to be thankful for what I did have and for the fact that other people enjoyed the concert on my behalf. I hear that, but I wasn’t in the place, yet.
I think it’s important when we experience loss in life that we acknowledge it and experience it. Sure, this was just a concert but the principal is the same with any loss. For us it was a loss of an experience, a loss of what could have been, and in some way I needed to grieve that loss.
After a little while we got tickets to another concert. A different artist and venue, but this one we actually made it to, just, and we loved it. We probably loved it more because we missed out previously.
Loss breeds gratitude. If we let it, if we sit with the painful, difficult parts of life and grieve, that paves the way, over time, for joy to be experienced.
Often people will have a particular area in the developing world that they are passionate about. So when they give money they will allocate it to that country or region.
Others may not have that connection and they will request that their funds be assigned to where the greatest need is.
With so much need in the world, how can anyone possibly suggest that one area is a priority over another?
It’s a difficult call.
Low income is one factor when it comes to poverty, but so is a lack of access to basic services, like clean drinking water, toilets, health and education, and vulnerability shocks, like illness, death or even festivals.
Opportunity International targets rural or under-served areas where poverty is high but the overall economic and political environment are stable. We also look for signs of development such as roads or markets in those areas of need. There is a tension between recognising the great need and also being able to genuinely create a positive impact and measure success over time. It’s vital to track and feedback on the projects that are being funded.
The greatest need is constantly shifting in our world as new events take place that cause poverty related issues, but also as more and more families work their way out of poverty. That’s the good news – today’s areas of greatest need will not be the same in the future because of the work that is being done.
Another word that gets overused in the not-for-profit sector is development. Which is tough because it describes the work that many, including Opportunity International, are involved in. But this means it gets used frequently and loses its meaning along the way.
So what is development?
A key theme of development is this idea of cultivation, which means creating something. Not in a mass production type of process, but bringing something to life and growing it over time. Creating a space for something to flourish and develop. It is very much in line with building relationships and getting the best out of people.
But at the same time, it is bespoke, as individual and unique as the people we work with. Sure, there may be many similarities but development is not a copy and paste mentality which assumes that just because an idea has worked in one area of the world then it will work in another country. Sometimes the same idea doesn’t work in a neighbouring town.
True development is a complex process which works with what already exists and finds a way to enable growth of people, agriculture, infrastructure and community engagement.
That’s how I think development should look. Which is less about the specific actions and more about the environment and culture an organisation brings.