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  1. Law
September 18, 2009

Right Back Atcha

By Spear's

Caroline Garnham on thoughtful philanthropy – giving not just because you can but also because you care
 
 
IN THIS COLUMN I thought I would depart from my regular brief of the law to consider a matter my clients often ask me about, namely how to be a more effective philanthropist…

‘Respect!’ demanded the wild-eyed, bare-chested Jamaican as he jabbed a pink bucket towards my handbag.

Athletic and talented as he was, ‘Tigger’, which was what I understood his name to be, was collecting for his friend ‘Muscle Brain’. I had joined the crowd with my daughter at Rick’s Café, at the furthermost tip of Jamaica, to enjoy watching the daring of tourists leaping like lemmings off a cliff into the cool, deep sea-water pool below. But this was nothing compared to the daring of Muscle Brain, who was to climb a dead tree overhanging the cliff’s edge. From there he was to perform acrobatic feats of daring before diving into the sea many yards below.

‘Respect!’ I pondered the word. When used by Tigger it was clearly used as a demand ‘with menaces’. Ted Turner similarly shamed Gates and Buffett into giving. He believed in the Carnegie philosophy, which was first published in 1886 in the North American Review and is today published as a book called The Gospel of Wealth, and wanted other billionaires to do similarly.

Carnegie’s theme is that if you are able to make money responsibly, you are probably the person best able to give it away responsibly. I am not sure my donation to Tigger and Muscle Brain was responsible, but I felt I had little option, and I doubted how else they could use their skills to earn a living.

For whatever reason Gates started the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, now also backed by Buffett, it is without doubt now taking over their lives. But their focus is not on providing a better environment for the country in which they live, but on health and Third World poverty.

Many believe that in the western world the state takes proper care of its citizens through taxation and therefore they need not engage in philanthropy. Carnegie was of the view that if you had failed to give away your wealth during your lifetime, heavy estate taxes should be imposed on death as a ‘condemnation of the selfish millionaire’s unworthy life’.

But all this was well before 1932, when Franklin Delano Roosevelt created the US welfare state. Caring for the unemployed, he said, should be provided ‘not as a matter of charity, but as a matter of social duty’. Similarly in the UK, in 1948, if you had failed to give away your wealth the Labour government expressed the desire to take control of 90 per cent of what had been the domain of charity, namely, education, health and provision for the poor, through higher taxation.
 
 
BUT ARE WE defining philanthropy too narrowly? Matthew Bishop, in his book Philanthrocapitalism, encourages the reader to construe philanthropy more widely than the single theme of money for the needy. The ultra-high-net-worth community can provide for their fellow man in more responsible ways than by just giving or making provision. The Chinese proverb says: ‘Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.’

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My brush with Tigger came while I was staying in Jamaica for a week at Beaches Negril; my son was doing a six-week intern programme there as one of the entertainment team. The majority of his co-workers were Jamaican. O’Ryan, a very likeable streetwise lad, was learning that he could use his easy charm and natural athleticism to make a living.

Then there was Sacha, our maid, who made different shapes out of towels each evening, to the delight of my daughter — one day a tortoise, another day a head wearing her sunglasses. Sacha had lived all her life in Negril and her family depended on the money she made. This story was repeated endlessly by everyone I met.

But the Sandals and Beaches company is intent on doing much more than providing employment. A family-owned hotel company founded less than three decades ago, its success is attributed to its philosophy of exceeding expectations. This philosophy is now being extended to its philanthropy.

The maintenance staff are frequently deployed to work in local schools and homes for the elderly. Waste food is given to local farms, and the environment is protected wherever possible. Jet skis are not part of the watersports programme because of the harm they do to marine life. Water is drawn from a re-salination plant.

Even this is not enough. It is estimated that the Caribbean communities benefit from an approximate contribution of $11 million from Sandals and Beaches Resorts. Now, under the auspices of the Sandals Foundation, this is set to increase substantially with funding for projects in education, the environment or the community across the Caribbean.

Sandals and Beaches can do this because it is not answerable to avaricious shareholders; it is owned by the Stewart family. As Adam Stewart puts it: ‘We all have a responsibility — as individuals, as companies, as communities and nations — to do what we can to help each other no matter where we are in life. We are committed because we care… it is the right thing to do, and we are so proud to be able to give back.’

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