Most of you know of (or are actively involved in) the start-up of a foundation, being created for the preservation of families in Sidama, Ethiopia. Being involved in what would be considered a “philanthropic endeavor” has had me thinking the past year about the true meaning of philanthropy.
Someone the other day used the old saying, “Philanthropy is not about you, it is about other people.” The sentiment is nice, but I completely disagree. There seems to be a lot of self-righteousness in a statement like that. And really, that is my biggest fear- that philanthropy is seen more as a good deed, with the person considering themselves the “giver,” thus, having the upper hand.
Philanthropy, in the true definition of the word, is anything but a charitable act by one person.
Philanthropy etymologically means “the love of humanity“—love in the sense of caring for, nourishing, developing, or enhancing; humanity in the sense of “what it is to be human,” or “human potential.” –source
Philanthropy, is about community. No one has the upper-hand when building a relationship with one another. I do consider it an exchange, but not in the basic sense. Just like with building a relationship, both parties offer and help develop the other.
I think in our own ethnocentric western perspective, we consider ourselves having the most to offer because we hold wealth, medicine, and technology as more valuable than wisdom, happiness, and fulfillment. I am not saying one is better than the other, but every person, culture, and society has something to offer and is lacking in another way. There is no reason we cannot have both health and fulfillment. Philanthropy makes that possible. We just need to start realizing this is a collective effort for the globe. No one is bearing the majority of the weight.
So what is philanthropy? What does it look like when it is authentic? I believe we will be able to discern true philanthropy through the community built that teaches us about our own humanity. As a follower of Jesus, I believe Gods central program for creation is the establishment of community. To me, there is no greater way of building community/relationship, both with God and fellow humans, than through philanthropy.
If it lines up with God, and does not put glory on any human being, you most likely are looking at the true meaning of the term.