Interesting Philanthropic Foundations from Around the World
The origins of the term “philanthropy,” which date back to the 2nd century, are paradoxical because this word was once used to describe individuals thought to be extraordinary and superior to others; to a certain extent, this was the concept of the Übermensch described by German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche in his book Thus Spoke Zarathustra. The Roman Catholic Church would later come to define philanthropy as the practice of total charity for the sake of salvation; it wasn’t until the 18th century that Samuel Johnson described philanthropy as a noble endeavor performed by good-hearted individuals whose ethical principles inspired a love of humanity.
In the 21st century, philanthropy has enjoyed a boom thanks to the kind and visionary works of wealthy individuals such as Bill and Melinda Gates, Warren Buffett, George Soros, Michael Bloomberg, and others. This is a field that has welcomed collaboration; for example, Buffett and Gates often get together to discuss matters related to philanthropy versus impact investing, which are closely related in the eyes of many economists and researchers. While we have gotten used to the idea of philanthropists being ultra-wealthy individuals funding noble causes because they essentially have money to burn, it is important to note that anyone who makes efforts to provide comfort to those in need is a philanthropically-inclined person.
What is interesting about the current wave of philanthropy is that many organizations are doing things differently, or at least they are not afraid to admit that their charitable work is tied to an agenda of social change. There was a time when philanthropy and charity were closely aligned to specific religious doctrine; while this is still often the case in many organizations, others have more specific agendas that encompass all religions. There seems to be an underlying current pushing major charitable foundations towards making societal changes instead of just addressing problems.
The organizations listed herein are worth keeping an eye on because the work they are doing is thoroughly fascinating. Not everyone will agree with what these foundations are dedicating their efforts to, but the way they are getting things done is certainly interesting.
The Al Qasimi Foundation
This is the foundation of Sheikh Saud bin Saqr al Qasimi, ruler of Ras Al Khaimah in the United Arab Emirates. As one of the more progressive political leaders in the Arab world, Sheikh bin Saqr has managed to transform Ras Al Khaimah from a sleepy emirate into an attractive destination for business and tourism. Since Ras Al Khaimah does not have the advantage of crude oil as a major natural resource, economic development has been more challenging; nonetheless, the results have been impressive.
In the late 1980s, the Ras Al Khaimah Investment Authority began attracting outside funding and business ventur (RAIKA) es; as can be expected, the debt obligations of this emirate quickly piled up, but it only took a couple of decades to become stable and profitable, and this was when the Al Qasimi Foundation was born. What makes this foundation interesting is that it is closely tied to RAIKA, thus making it a think tank as well as a charitable organization dedicated to capacity development, community engagement and researching methods of governance that benefit the 417,000 residents of the emirate. Not too many philanthropic foundations follow this particular business model.
The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
Although this foundation is mostly known for its patronage of journalism and freedom of information, its principals have been funding various programs that seek to empower communities through aesthetics. You know that satisfying feeling you get when your house is not only squeaky clean but also nicely decorated and in good repair? This is what the Knight Foundation has been working on over the last few years, but at a community level and with a particular interest in beautifying public spaces.
In American cities such as Detroit and Memphis, the Knight Foundation has improved the looks of libraries, parks, greenbelt spaces, and trails. In addition to make these areas look prettier, the foundation also provided grants to artists for the purpose of commissioning their works as public pieces. Naturally, journalists reported on the progress of these efforts, and they encouraged local neighborhoods to adopt similar projects for the purpose of improving quality of life. Eliminating blight and injecting style into residential communities can go a long way in terms of encouraging development.
The John Templeton Foundation
Sir John Templeton lived a rich life in many aspects. He was not only a highly successful manager of mutual funds but also a deep thinker who believed that religion and science should walk hand in hand for the betterment of society. Templeton did not believe that either religious leaders or scientists had all the answers; he was more inclined to follow the work of philosophers who remind us that we are more often wrong than right. The Templeton Foundation has a sizable endowment that has funded some unusual research into topics such as human self-control, attitudes towards the after-life, and the origins of economic freedom. This is a foundation that is not afraid to take a philosophical approach to philanthropy.
An ongoing collaboration between Templeton and Northeastern University seeks to connect the public with psychologists and science in a language that everyone can understand. Just like The New York Times strives to publish articles on a reading level that 10th grade students can grasp, the Templeton Foundation would like to expand this effort to research normally published on scientific journals. Think about the way Canadian writer Malcolm Gladwell explains intellectual subjects such as social psychology in his international bestsellers; this is something that the Templeton Foundation would like to see on a more widespread level.
In the end, philanthropic and charitable organizations do not have to follow rigid operational rules. The three foundations listed herein may seem to deviate from the usual “feed the hungry and care for the sick” doctrine, but this is not quite accurate; the good work they perform eventually translates into meals and medicine in different ways.