The power of philanthropy

By Beacon Chair, Gay Huey-Evans

The Beacon Awards 2015. Gay Huey Evans. 21.4.15 © JP Morgan/Richard Eaton

There is still a belief in the UK that philanthropy is best done quietly – that those who give should remain humble, modest and should never draw attention to the impact that their generosity has. Yet if we stick with that view, how are we ever going to encourage others to give?

I strongly believe that we need much more of a giving culture in the UK, with an established view that those who can give back, should.  Philanthropy is good for society and good for the individual that gives – we need to be talk about it a lot more and celebrate it for what it achieves.

I’d like us to take a leaf from my homeland across the pond where we shout about philanthropists and celebrate the contribution they make to American society. Take universities for example. American universities couldn’t survive without the donations from alumni to their funds. It’s pretty much become an expectation that you should give back if you have the means to do so. That was certainly my introduction into the world of philanthropy. This went further when I moved to New York and joined the Blue Hill Troupe, a musical theatre group. Since its inception in 1924, the group has produced a Gilbert & Sullivan operetta every spring, with lavish production values and a full orchestra, donating the net proceeds to a New York City charity. That involvement confirmed my belief in the importance of giving and is a message I continue to spread through all my work.

And it’s a message that is more important than ever now. If we look back over 100 years to the Victorian era, philanthropy was an enormous contributor to our society, funding areas such as health and education. Post-war governments then stepped in and a culture of public spending took over. Times are changing again and while I don’t believe that philanthropy can simply replace government funding, I do believe it can enhance it. The time has definitely come to look much more towards philanthropy as a solution.

One of the best ways to do this is to learn from those who have got it right. That’s where Beacon comes in.

The Beacon Awards recognise exceptional philanthropists, those that are changing our world through strategic philanthropy and can inspire others to follow in their footsteps. It’s these people who recognise the power of philanthropy and the need to use that power responsibly – people such as J.K. Rowling, Jamie Carragher and Kavita Oberoi .

But let me be clear, this is not about patting the big guys on the back and simply saying well done for your generosity. This is about learning from these inspirational individuals who ensure that their giving has an impact. They are using their money effectively, changing lives, creating positive societal change – and we celebrate them because of that work they do.

Look at Ben Drew. Most people know him as rapper and producer Plan B. Ben is shaking up the education system with his charity ‘Each One, Teach One’, which supports projects that invest in kids with creative vocational skills such as hairdressing, video-production and music and drama. He’s using his philanthropic power to change young people’s lives and as a 2015 Beacon winner, he’s certainly an inspiration to me and many others.

Just imagine if everyone who had the means took a leaf out of their book? How many social problems could we solve? I would love to live in such a society where everyone took responsibility and gave back.

Until we get there we need to continue celebrating and shouting about those who do. I call on you all to build on that network of inspirational philanthropists. Let’s stop being coy about philanthropy and celebrate its power and force for good.

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