I recently heard two successful entrepreneurs talk about philanthropy. Interestingly, both said they didn’t realize they were “entrepreneurs” or “philanthropists” until they read it in the paper.
Both were uncomfortable with the terms. There is wisdom gleaned in the precise use of language. What made them uncomfortable about the labels? We are all uncomfortable with labels and in the matter of giving they and most would probably prefer to remain anonymous. Perhaps neither wanted attention for simply doing the right thing. Unspoken was “it’s not about the money”.
Maimonides, a twelfth century philosopher and biblical scholar spoke at great length about the ethics and moral imperatives of charity. He described what we intuitively understand. There are levels of charity – the lowest is the donation you make, unwillingly. Higher is when you give and the recipient knows you. Higher still is when the giver and the recipient are unknown to each other.
I am sure that these and most donors would like to count themselves among this group.
But these people come to the table and identify themselves as philanthropists, uncomfortably – because they know that their gifts and actions will spur others on; if not to actually give in that moment, than to think and rethink their relationship to giving. I hope they come to be more comfortable with the term; they serve us well in the role.
Entrepreneur, however, is a label I would like to encourage them – and all of us to embrace. They seemed uncomfortable being cited for simply doing the work of their lives, going to the job of their choosing –they happened to be their own bosses. And decades ago – it was an alternative workstyle.
Today, it is a career choice for many. That choice – to do what they love, and to do it well, empowered them to be the generous donors they are.
No matter that they can no longer remain anonymous. Maimonides goes on to describe the highest level of charity. It is a gift, loan, or partnership that results in the recipient supporting himself instead of depending upon others.
So, thank you to all entrepreneurs, not for the donations, but for creating jobs and partnerships. These two men have empowered families and revitalized communities throughout the UK and beyond. Most of the recipients have never considered that they have received a gift and in the end, it is I and my fellow citizens who have benefited.
The word for charity as written biblically in Hebrew is rooted in the word justice. Giving is just.
Living in Northern Ireland on the eve of BizCampBelfast.com – a free conference where 400 people are registered to talk about how to rethink business, how to support emerging businesses, how to become entrepreneurs. No money will change hands but, I am seeing charity and philanthropy being practiced in its highest form.
I think it no accident that Maimonides defined this measure of charity and justice about 800 years ago; how better to ensure this peace than with people committed to this kind of giving.