Latest Asian Flu – Generosity

Heard of the term “Generation G”?  As opposed to the greedy 80s, “G” stands for “generosity” today.  The concept clicked for me as I was reading one of my favorite sites – trendwatching.com – a little while back.  The term sums up “the growing importance of ‘generosity’ as a leading societal and business mindset.”  We’ve been burned by corporate greed, shameless Wall street gambles and a handy recession that took us to the brink of economic Armageddon.  So people seem to be looking for companies and organizations that actually care about the customer and the environment. Trendwatching points out that these warm cuddlies have jived well with “an online-fueled culture of individuals who share, give, engage, create and collaborate in large numbers.”

Trendwatching includes, “for many, sharing a passion and receiving recognition have replaced ‘taking’ as the new status symbol.”  YouTube, Flickr, Wikipedia, free stuff on Craigslist are vehicles for this trend towards community thinking and collaboration that rejects dated dog-eat-dog aggression.  And the trend towards generous living is not just limited to sharing resources online.  If you are a billionaire today, there is positive pressure on you to give. High-profile pack leaders like Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffet are persuading peers to donate huge parts of their fortune to charity.  In fact, Bill Gates and Warren Buffet with $53 billion and $47 billion fortunes respectively, have set what they call the Giving Pledge, a list of 40 members American billionaires that they have persuaded to give away at least half their wealth during their life or when they pass – click here for the list of who has signed up so far.  The Financial Times published an article last week announcing that Facebook founder and billionaire, Mark Zuckerberg, has just opted to join the list.

What I think is especially interesting, is that this kind of billionaire generosity is not all limited to the rich in developed countries.  A couple of months ago, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett hosted a dinner in China for the über-rich (including movie star Jet Li).  Gates said that he may head to India to have a similar gathering next year with that country’s emerging community of extremely wealthy tycoons.  Increasing wealth in these countries is going to increase pressure on them to give and share.  Some stats that back this prediction:

“86% of global consumers believe that business needs to place at least equal weight on society’s interests as on business’ interests.

78% of Indian, 77% of Chinese and 80% of Brazilian consumers prefer brands that support good causes, compared to 62% of global consumers.

8 in 10 consumers in India, China, Mexico and Brazil expect brands to donate a portion of their profits to support a good cause. (Source: Edelman, November 2010.)”  trendwatching.com

April 2010 marked a milestone in China when megawealthy 88-year old Yu Pengnian took the stage as a billionaire philanthropist. His foundation today is impressive by anyone’s yard stick:  $260 million in bank deposits and a $1 billion Hong Kong and Shenzhen property portfolio that is projected to bring in $50 million annually in cash.  The Chronicle of Philanthropy showcased Li Ka-shing who in 2006 announced a $10-billion cash infusion of his own money to his Li Ka Shing Foundation, building a philanthropy powerhouse that is stiff competition for some of the best American foundations.

This post isn’t intended as fodder for the “China is taking over” crowd but rather to show that Big Generosity is increasingly a worldwide phenomenon.  Living generously is no longer a lifestyle restricted to the pious few.  It is not geographically or culturally defined.  Giving is good and it is universal.  A recession will not stop this.  If anything, economic downturns spur creativity and a sense of interdependence that isn’t as prevalent in years of plenty.  While the stark figures of fundraising bottom lines may have suffered since 2008, the shift towards generosity is growing and it is shining in the East.

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Bjorn Karlman

12 thoughts on “Latest Asian Flu – Generosity”

  1. The greedy 80’s did way more for Asia than any amount of generosity ever will. People have a really hard time understanding that providing a good at a price people can afford will do much more for poor people than giving them stuff for free.

    The only good thing about this is that people are taking the initiative rather than trying to lobby governments to control everything everyone does like they normally do.

    1. David, I am with you in your aversion to handouts. My main point is that more and more, there is a shift towards generosity as culture, with generosity being common place. While motivations are rightfully questioned, I am at least happy with the help that is going to those in need.

  2. I don know Bjorn, this tends to confirm me in my view that the world is headed towards feudalism. Basicallay, this reminds me of how the monarchs of the past fed the serfs from their ‘generosity. They created and benefitd from a system of unequal wealth distrubition and then in their goodness, fed the poor. Bill Gates is an excellent example. How many companies has he sued over copyright in order to get his Billions. If he really wanted to benefit the world, he would have shared in that way, rather than crushing all opposition and then giving handouts.

    1. Jonathan, I see your point. Inequality and the growing gap between the rich and poor is very concerning to me too. I am not out to declare every billionaire that dabbles in philanthropy a saint. Of course, there are many that are rich as a result of less than stellar ethics or business practice. Bill Gates himself is obviously a complex character and my goal isn’t to condemn or redeem him. Instead I am trying to point out that what we are seeing is fairly unique – a culture of generosity is spreading and instead of hoarding wealth, giving is seen as good. On a very high level I understand your feudal system point but I think that system of societal ordering bears little resemblance to today’s globalized economy.

  3. Top 5 American Philanthropists: Estimated Life Time Giving (in millions)

    1. Warren Buffet: $40,785
    2. Bill & Melinda Gates: $27,602
    3. George Kaiser: $2,897
    4. George Soros: $2,214
    5. William Barron Hilton: $1,700

    The 5 Largest Private Foundations by Asset Size

    1. Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation ($38.9 Billion)
    2. The Ford Foundation ($11.0 Billion)
    3. J. Paul Getty Trust ($10.8 Billion)
    4. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation ($10.7 Billion)
    5. W.K. Kellogg Foundation ($8.1 Billion)

    “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues (boardrooms?) and in the streets (media?), that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.”

    Matthew 6:2 – English Standard Version with ( ) added by me

    I was appalled that CSU Chico received an award for the volume of “volunteer” work “given” by its students knowing that a large portion of this work was done as a “requirement” for course work or graduation. Being bribed, compelled or coerced into into “giving” with an expectation of reward (beyond just feeling good) somehow does not feel voluntary to me.

    1. Glenn, thanks for point out the issue of recognition. It is a really awkward area in fundraising and charitable work overall. Some donors prefer to be anonymous but the ones that choose to go public about their do-gooding often do so for more than merely the positive PR. The ripple effect of generosity is significant so publicizing major gifts is not necessarily an egocentric thing – it could be a way of exerting positive peer pressure. Also, major gifts are often given in honor or memory of a loved one so it is seen as a dignified act intended to show respect…

      I agree that donors should give based on correct motives and that coercion of any form is wrong. However, I don’t see what Bill Gates is doing as coercion – I actually see him as setting a positive tone for others to follow. There is a liberation in giving and I think that great philanthropists understand this and are able to generate an enthusiasm for generosity in others.

  4. I agree with you, Glenn, on the sounding the trumpet point. Anyone looking for publicity for their good deeds I automatically distrust. I also distrust anyone who seeks to coerce anyone into doing deeds they consider good.

    As for the litigious history of Microsoft, I am unaware of the details. That said, the profit motive must be protected. If someone invents “x” and then someone steals “x”, then the person doing the stealing is in the wrong. If we don’t protect profits, motive drops. The countries with the biggest corporate profits contribute the most to the improvement of the standard of living. You may not like it, but humans are self-centered. Most are not going to work simply for the betterment of the world.

    1. So if being self-centered is natural and normal in business, isn’t it logical to expect ego and self-obsession in philanthropy too? I think the twisted motives are unfortunate but isn’t it hypocritical to condemn human nature in one context and not the other?

      1. “So if being self-centered is natural and normal in business, isn’t it logical to expect ego and self-obsession in philanthropy too? I think the twisted motives are unfortunate but isn’t it hypocritical to condemn human nature in one context and not the other?”

        My browser is acting up, but I am responding to this post.

        I think ego and greed does play a role in philanthropy. I think people do it to feel good and to sound the trumpet to everyone about how good they are. That is why, in my opinion, people are willing to throw other peoples’ money at problems through government programs even though many of these programs are an absurd waste of money.

        I do my best not to judge motives though. The reason I bring up the importance of profit motive isn’t just to say that greed motivates people. That is one way of looking at it, but I think that is overly cynical. The fact is people work for themselves and for the people they care about. If a person doesn’t benefit enough from their hard work or benefit from less work, then they won’t work as hard.

        We can see it on both extremes of the wealth spectrum. There are rich and middle class people, in my experience, that won’t or cannot expand their business/work more because of government created barriers. We also see people who don’t work at all and live off of government programs. I took a free tax class from a local Liberty Tax service. The lady that runs the local office says that one of the common tax frauds that occurs is that people will come in, say they own a business, and make 15k a year, but provide no documentation or other relevant information that a real business person would have. Because of that wage of 15k, they qualify for the EITC and get a nice government check. Honestly, until I did research recently on the various government programs (since I now qualify for all of them) I thought that welfare was kind of a conservative boogie man. If I took advantage of any and/or all of the programs I qualify for, I would be living like a king and I wouldn’t have to work as much. I am really not exaggerating.

  5. Also, the point about feudalism is way off base in my opinion. It would be one thing if the standard of living for everyone was getting worse. I think the opposite can be said with a few exceptions. All these billionaires hope to do, from my understanding, is to be a band-aid until the poorest of the poor are able to fend for themselves. In the mean time, someone needs to help them, and they are filling a temporary role.

    1. I think that a lot of the billionaires are doing more than meeting immediate needs. Sustainable solutions are more and more in demand after the clear failure of handouts… check out the list of “Illustrative Grant Commitments”… there are a lot of sustainable ideas there..

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