Less than a year into operations of Northern Ireland’s largest Combined Heat and Power (CHP) biomass plant, Derry-born brothers Stephen and Ciaran Devine have already turned their attention to future...
Philanthropy comes from the Greek words for ‘love of man’ and in modern times is normally associated with rich individuals giving large bequests to help society at large.
The concept has become best known on the other side of the Atlantic. The USA is home to an estimated three million millionaires and has a smaller network of public services than the UK, meaning that good causes often depend on the support of wealthy individuals and foundations.
Bill and Melinda Gates aim to give 95 per cent of their wealth to charitable causes. Their foundation’s endowment stands at $36.2 billion and has funded polio eradication, the Global Fund to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, and micro-finance projects in the developing world. The fund also helps to set up smaller schools in the USA where pupils with reading difficulties can receive better tuition.
The Gates’ approach, though, also has its drawbacks as it focuses on the benefactors’ preferred causes. A 2007 investigation by the Los Angeles Times, for example, found that focusing on four specific conditions diverted resources away from other health services.
Closer to home, David Cameron’s Big Society concept was partly inspired by One Nation conservatism. Benjamin Disraeli lamented that Britain was becoming “two nations between whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy” as the Industrial Revolution developed.
Victorian and Edwardian philanthropy was largely replaced by the redistributive welfare state, pioneered by David Lloyd George and then fully implemented by the post-war Labour Government.
The voluntary and community sector has become deeply cynical towards the Big Society but it has practically helped charities by encouraging philanthropy. The Youth and Philanthropy Initiative (YPI) has raised £1 million and has been supported by the Cabinet Office’s Social Action Fund.
Secondary school pupils research the needs of their community, select a charity to support and then deliver a presentation to a ‘Dragons’ Den’ style judging panel, with the best team winning a £3,000 donation from the YPI for their charity. The initiative has been taken up by schools in all four countries of the UK.
Personal philanthropy is limited by the small number of very high earners locally. HMRC’s survey of personal incomes for 2009-2010 showed that out of a 747,000 strong workforce, only 2,000 earned £200,000 or over. That said, local philanthropists have made a major impact.
JP McManus, Michael Smurfit, the late Allen McClay and Lord Ballyedmond (Edward Haughey) have contributed to higher education through scholarships or large scale university projects. The Norbrook Laboratories Professorship at the University of Ulster and McClay Library at Queen’s are two prominent examples. All of them came from relatively modest backgrounds, which acted as an incentive to give back to society and help others take up opportunities to learn, work and achieve.