It’s been almost six months since my husband David and I attended the second annual Philanthropreneurship Forum in Versailles, France, and I wanted to share some of my reflections about this amazing experience. When David and I were invited to participate by the Forum’s Founding Chairman, His Excellency Amr Al-Dabbagh, we didn’t know what to expect, but were intrigued by the notion that His Excellency was bringing together people from all over the world to discuss how to best leverage the skills needed to create a more just and equitable global community. Before meeting, he asked the participants to ponder which attributes philanthropy and entrepreneurship could bring to the pressing problems facing our world. His Excellency had actually coined the term “philanthropreneurship” to describe the nimbleness of the entrepreneurial spirit combined with the philanthropic mission of working for the benefit of mankind. David and I had already liked his courageous vision and were honored to be asked to participate in the gathering.
We met in a secluded and beautiful environment in Versailles to discuss philanthropreneurship in depth. His Excellency’s vision is both strategic and purposeful: to bridge cultures and skill sets, and most importantly to build trust and diplomacy. With this as his guide, His Excellency is creating an international network—a Davos of sorts for philanthropic and likeminded entrepreneurial leaders—that recognizes the need for global diplomacy in a time when borders between countries are blurring, refugees are increasing by the millions, and water and other natural resources are being strained by overpopulation.
In 2001, the Al-Dabbagh Group established the Stars Foundation as an international platform for His Excellency’s philanthropic activities and his vision to help better the lives of children around the world. During the Forum, a short film was shown which highlighted the work of the foundation and showcased the diversity of our global culture, with many children and mothers having been impacted positively by the foundation’s focus on education and lifting youth out of poverty.
Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever, was given the Global Leadership Award. Mr. Polman spoke about Corporate Social Responsibility, innovations in greening supply chains, fair wage and educational opportunities for workers, being carbon neutral by 2030, and the need for cross-sector collaboration, as philanthropy alone does not suffice.
My husband and I like to use the phrase “changing watch.” It’s not about passing the baton, but rather acknowledging
that we are all together on this global life boat and need to take turns at the helm. The conference suggested ways to navigate this:
1. Finding your niche is important for a successful entrepreneur but equally important is recognizing that global collaboration is needed on a scale we have never seen before. This provides great opportunities to find your niche and take it to scale.
2. Sustainability is about environmental responsibility and a smarter and more compassionate way to do business.
3. His Excellency is creating a global community where the power of ideas, science, innovation, creativity, business acumen, and entrepreneurship can ignite our imaginations to create a better vision for now and a better future for all.
4. We can harm or destroy our planet, or we can nurture and create a new way of relating to her.
5. For a more resilient and equitable world, we need everyone at the table. All skill sets need to be welcomed.
6. Every single one of the Sustainable Development Goals could be impacted by brilliant new ideas and initiatives. The SDG should be an evaluative lens for decision making.
7. It will take an ecosystem of philanthropists, campaigners, brands, policy makers, civil society and social movements to solve global problems of environmental degradation. We must work together to elevate the role of women, help close the gap between rich and poor and help better the livelihoods of those most vulnerable.
8. Philanthropreneurship is an over-arching idea about solving global problems, uninhibited by World Bank rules or governments who are bogged down in bureaucracy.
9. Philanthropreneurship is about innovation and finding a niche. There will be big winners and small drops alike in the bucket that will cause significant ripples of change.
10. Employ a portfolio approach to philanthropy. Smaller, high-risk ideas may have more agility and can yield big wins.
11. You can have a GUT sense about something and go for it without metric analysis. Philanthropreneurship is about supporting an array of worthwhile endeavors.
12. Artists and entrepreneurs can take risks, but we must also listen to those with longstanding roles in the foundation world, as we are not eager to reinvent the wheel.
13. There is inherent strength, imagination, and ingenuity to harness nature’s limits with the possibilities of innovation and adaptation. All of which is increasingly important given the realities of a burgeoning population and warming climate.
During the formal dinner celebration, I reflected on the beauty and grandeur of the event, as well as the bountiful art and flavorful food. It was an honor to meet leaders from all over the world and I was proud to be part of His Excellency’s challenge to think about doing right or doing wrong, about the values inherent in the choices we make, and about how we can work to balance the inner world of desire with the outer limits of our finite natural resources.
I left the forum thinking that perhaps philanthropreneurs are the new canaries in the mine. But unlike the canary who did not know its fate, we do know what is at stake and have come together to help solve some of the world’s most pressing problems. We realize it takes a network of likeminded people to amplify our collective voices and generate powerful solutions.
Luckily, His Excellency is onto something big: A global community that is harnessing the energy, ingenuity, collective creativity and innovation needed to make the world kinder and more equitable for all. Philanthropy is defined as “Love of mankind.” We can certainly begin to practice philanthropy by practicing love, kindness and empathy in all that we do. In turn, we can support this new emergence of philanthropreneurs by mobilizing business and entrepreneurial skills to accelerate the solutions needed to bring ourselves, and our world back into better balance.
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