Philanthropy and Corporate Social Responsibility
All my adult life, I’ve woven together three passions – cutting edge philanthropy, advancing socially responsible business, and building networks to promote a more just and sustainable society.
In the '80s, I founded two peer networks: The Social Venture Network for socially responsible business, and Threshold Foundation, for individuals with significant personal wealth. These networks have provided hundreds of people with fertile ground for mutual learning and growth, and the relationships people formed there have nurtured innumerable projects promoting new visions of all kinds. In addition, Threshold has made close to $20M in grants, mostly to innovative, grassroots organizations for which Threshold’s early funding was a real turning point.
I have also been active in private companies “doing well by doing good.” I was among the first investors in Stonyfield Farm, the Utne Reader magazine, and Seventh Generation environmental products. I co-founded GrameenPhone, which has become the largest cellular operator in Bangladesh and the only phone company in the world now 40 percent owned by a bank that represents the interests of the poor.
Many major philanthropists look primarily to support large institutions. This neglects the development of new ideas. It’s a whole different ballgame to give small grants to emerging organizations, and to do it strategically. I’m now advising a Trust that is giving about $30 million a year to groups working on global human rights, especially women’s rights. I believe those groups epitomize where real change is going to happen.
I try to remind myself that if I’m making more, I can give more. Giving from a foundation isn’t enough when you’re wealthy, because that money was already given. We’ve got to remember to keep giving. I view giving as a spiritual discipline: to not hold on to money, but instead to practice the habit of letting it go out and letting it flow!
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