A South Pacific approach to philanthropy (and other inspirations)

Philanthropy New Zealand’s Philanthropy Summit 2015, held 15-16 April in Auckland, challenged us with nothing less than rethinking our philanthropic paradigm and embracing other cultural approaches to giving. And, in case that seems a little too ambitious for this week’s to-do list, we were also invited to consider impact investing and to take a hard look at our grantmaking processes. In a conference packed with inspiration on both philanthropy and the causes we may seek to address (including youth employment, inequality and the environment), here are some highlights.

A revised philanthropic model?
What would philanthropy look like if it was based on reciprocity and gift exchange? New Zealand keynote speakers Dame Anne Salmond and Dr Mānuka Henare described how traditional Pacific cultures depend on sharing and reciprocity for survival. Gift giving is therefore very important, with each gift containing a small part of the giver’s life force. This ‘spirit of the gift’ carries with it an obligation to reciprocate – if not to the giver then to someone else. How different this is from our western style of philanthropy, where giving is often an arms-length and contestable process where the giver and receiver never even meet! It was eye-opening and exciting to learn that an ‘ambi-cultural approach’ to philanthropy is being explored.

How about that asset allocation?
Why shouldn’t our investments align with our vision and values just like our grants do? This was the challenge from US keynote speaker Justin Rockefeller. He shared the journey of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund in impact investing, noting the huge untapped potential in the trillions of dollars invested globally to be a force for good in the world. We were invited to join the trend and given some practical tips for how to go about it.

Shining a light on grant-making processes
If a grant fails to deliver the promised community benefit, is this because we made a bad grant? Or did we grant badly? Often it is the latter, according to another keynote speaker from the US, Mae Hong. Confronting and hilarious, Mae questioned many of our standard practices, including funding a small portion of a large project then demanding results that are both large and instant, requiring onerous reporting that distracts from the real work, and expecting that grantees are simultaneously in need of our money and also sustainable. Time for a good hard look in the mirror!

Words of wisdom
To finish – a few inspiring quotes from our conference speakers:

  • ‘The good we secure for ourselves is precarious and uncertain until it is secured for all of us and incorporated into our common life’ (Jane Addams, quoted by Mae Hong)
  • ‘If we don’t up skill our young people, we risk their future – and ours’ (Sir Mark Solomon)
  • ‘There is so much to do in the world – and if not us, who?’ (Audette Exel)


 The above post was written for the very excellent Alliance Magazine, an international publication based in the UK and a must-read for those of us working in Philanthropy.  The original post is here.   



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  1. thanks for the summary and reflections Kate.
    Was talking to Seumas in the early hours this morning about philanthropic support for social enterprise and concluded investment in skill development, business planning, feasilibility assessments, R&D subsidies and the like is probably the best way philanthropy can support the SE sector to grow sustainably – rather than directly funding any position in an SE.

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