The location was timely: Paris in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks. The setting was spectacular: Versailles. But, as always, it was the people and the context that made a lasting impression.
It was the second annual Philanthropreneurship Forum, hosted by H.E. Amr. Al-Dabbagh, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the Al-Dabbagh Group. Hundreds of philanthropists, public officials and private citizens active in good work around the world gathered to exchange ideas, interact with their global counterparts, and try to figure how better to achieve their charitable goals in the future. Many of the subjects were extensions of earlier discussions, at the previous year’s Forum and other similar conferences. But new to this year’s Forum, and to the general program, was the emphasis on philanthropy in the emerging markets.
It took 200,000 years from the time when human beings first walked the earth for the world’s population to reach 1 billion. The most recent billion, the seventh, was added in 13 years. Although the rate of increase has slowed, growth continues. In its most recent projections, the United Nations estimates that the world’s population will grow from the current 7.5 billion to over 9.5 billion by the middle of this century and will peak at 11 million by the end of this century. Most of the growth will take place in undeveloped and developing countries, many of which are already under great stress due to a complex combination of factors: rapidly rising population, internal discord, poor governance, widespread corruption – all of which lead to an inability of many governments to meet the basic needs of their people. And the absence of a large and effective philanthropic sector makes a meaningful response all the more difficult.
Thus it was especially relevant that the discussions at this year’s Forum focused on philanthropy in areas like Africa and Asia. A series of panels featured a number of articulate and distinguished panelists, including entrepreneurs, philanthropists, economists, educators and public officials. The attendees heard informative (and sometimes challenging) exchanges about the challenges of establishing meaningful global goals; how to meet those goals at the local level; how to bring the energy and innovations of successful entrepreneurs to the problems of poverty and lack of health care and education in remote rural areas; and redefining corporate practices.
The closing ceremony of the Forum focused on corporate practices. The recipient of this year’s Philanthropreneurship Prize was Paul Polman, the Chief Executive of Unilever, whose leadership in best practices by large corporations has been recognized world-wide. In his acceptance, Mr. Polman delivered a powerful argument for the principle that good corporate practices are good business.
Those of us who had the opportunity to attend the Forum are grateful to H.E. Amr. Al-Dabbagh for his outstanding leadership in identifying and advancing the concept of philanthropreneurship. The objective is to harness the energy and resources of the private sector to those in philanthropy in achieving the important and common objective of helping people to develop their talents to the maximum, thus benefitting the individuals, and their societies. That is a goal worthy of all of our best efforts.