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March 1, 2010

Greening Philanthropy

By Spear's

How many philanthropists does it take to change a lightbulb? None: they just fund a project helping disadvantaged youth to learn a skill and wait in the dark till they can do it.

by Josh Spero

How many philanthropists does it take to change a lightbulb? None: they just fund a project helping disadvantaged youth to learn a skill and wait in the dark till they can do it.

There was plenty of light at Caroline Garnham’s party on Thursday night as the stars of London’s philanthropy and financial scenes came together at her apartment overlooking Hyde Park to discuss the future of philanthropy and enjoy some outstanding canapés. Caroline, who has a column in Spear’s, is a partner at law firm Lawrence Graham but also the founder of Family Bhive, a social network for high net worths. Their recent survey found that philanthropy is the number one concern of young HNWs.

Michael Green, co-author of Spear’s-nominated book Philanthrocapitalism (buy it here), gave a brief speech; Stephen Dawson, co-founder of Impetus, the charity which uses private equity methods to help other charities, and an old friend of Spear’s, was there too, as was Plum Lomax, senior consultant to New Philanthropy Capital. On the finance side, Jonathan Bell (CIO of Stanhope Capital) and James Strachan (once of the Bank of England, now at the FSA) were also present.

In an interview after his speech, Michael (who has a new book on the crisis in capitalism out later this year) was frank about the failure of the government’s efforts to help society: ‘The idea that the government could solve social problems was false, and now they haven’t even got any money.’ He also said that it was equally clear that ‘market idolatry’ had been shown as empty: ‘Short-term profits aren’t good business. Now they have to think about long-term value.’

The happy medium was corporate and private philanthropy which was targeted, he said: ‘KKR [the private equity firm], who were once the barbarians at the gate, now have an alliance with the Environment Defense Fund – they’ve taken a very strong position.’ He conceded that there was still a lot of window-dressing, philanthropy for the sheen it brings, but said business and charity needn’t conflict: ‘There’s a whole space in the middle between making money and doing good.’

Rather than unaffordable and ineffective tax breaks, the government should make giving part of the new social contract. Anything that the government does give should be rerouted into matching private or corporate funds for projects that have been proven to work – that’s exactly what Michael Bloomberg, mayor of New York, has encouraged, he says.

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And with that, someone else approached to ask him to sign a copy of Philanthrocapitalism, like a rock star of the world of giving with another adoring fan.

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