Learnings from our Great Philanthropists August 26, 2015



I was fortunate to attend a moderated panel discussion hosted by The Atlantic Philanthropies and Koda Capital recently and learned some valuable insights from two world renown Philanthropists, Allan English of the English Family Foundation and 2014 Philanthropist of the Year and Christopher G. Oechsli, CEO of The Atlantic Philanthropies Foundation – founded by Charles “Chuck” Feeney.


Some key take outs from the discussion include:


Gen Y will become the Philanthropists of the world – not only are we witnessing the rise in social entrepreneurs and unwavering fearlessness of Gen Y to tackle the big issues, Allan also spoke of this generation as having “the biggest compassion muscle” and prophesied this generation as becoming the greatest Philanthropists of the world. Such compassion, coupled with the biggest transfer of generation wealth, will showcase the unique power of Gen Y’s to shift the paradigm of reliance on Government to address social issues to the private sector and individuals.


Depth & Span – measuring the social impact of giving is commonly a topic of debate, with few answers being provided. Allan English was generous enough to share his own social impact measurement metric, which he coins “Depth & Span”. Depth refers to the degree of transformation that a single grant or donation can have on a person or community, while Span refers to how many times it can happen with just one grant/donation. Allan shared a successful grant story on micro financing. If one micro finance loan can allow a woman in a developing nation to start a business and enable her children to go to school, that is a 10/10 for depth. As the loan is repaid and recycled as a new loan to another deserving person over and over, the span is also a 10/10.



The failures of giving– Christopher Oechsli spoke candidly of Chuck Feeney’s experience and highlighted that giving money is still a measured risk and noted the importance of trusting the benefactors as well as doing proper due diligence so that your grants are effective in addressing or contributing to a cause. Christopher mention that while the foundation had many successes, there too came failures, which he attributed to three main areas:

  • Not partnering long enough with their benefactor or the funded project

  • Not finding suitable funding partners to sustain the progress of the program or project

  • Backing the wrong person or institution

Australians are the most generous, except for the wealthy – while the average Australian is considered one of the most generous in the world, the amount donated per capital is significantly lower than our counterparts in the UK, Canada and the US. Why is this? Apparently our Ultra Rich don’t give much at all. While the reasons are not clear, Allan noting that the culture in Australia stymied a lot of potential Philanthropists as we tend to judge our wealthy quite harshly and label them egotistical and in need of public flattery, if they publicly donate large sums of money. This is materially different to the cultural expectations in the US, where being proud of being wealthy and a Philanthropist is more supported.