​​How to Truly Make an Impact When Giving Back

Opinions expressed by Businessman the taxpayers are yours.

I’ve spent years contemplating the concept of philanthropy and giving back, and it has taken me almost as long to get to a place where I feel like I understand the difference between truly impactful giving and efforts that are limited in duration.

I believe that shocking acts of generosity are those that plant the seed of something greater and more lasting. And I’m not just talking about money. In my experience, the most impactful acts of donation don’t always have hundreds of thousands of dollars attached to them.

For example, I think of the small orphanage in India that welcomes newborn children who have been left at the door of its house or on the street. With help, the orphanage is able to take these babies under its wing and give them a good education, eventually giving them their own wings to fly and live successful lives.

Our approach to giving back is a departure from the traditional corporate model in that we don’t just focus on bigger initiatives. If we mutually decide that we want to help an individual, family, or singular charity in need or distress, we will. Little things do They add to something more shocking and, if appropriate, change lives for the better.

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Look long term

To explain the concept of meaningful and lasting impact, let me share another example: Here in California, there is Homeboy Industries, the world’s largest gang intervention, rehabilitation and re-entry program. The organization’s efforts include a bakery that offers jobs to people who have spent time in gangs and prisons. Many of these people struggle to find employment. For some, the temptation to return to a life of crime or gangsterism is too easy to give in, as they have no other way to support themselves financially.

By offering these people the opportunity for a genuine fresh start, the bakery does more than simply help them stay off the streets. It also gives them the opportunity to rebuild their lives in the right way and with dignity. Even better, these people serve as examples and inspiration to others who may have been through difficult times or whose lives have gone the wrong way.

Focus on value co-creation

The notion of “co-creation of value” is also close to my heart. When our business makes charitable donations, our goal is not simply to build something ourselves. We look for projects where there is potential for the recipients of the funds to participate in the conception, creation, delivery and ongoing management of infrastructure or services.

Another of my favorite examples is a rural town that had never had access to running water. What better way to give people access to the water they need for their health and sanitation than to make the solution something they can manage, grow, and actually “own” themselves?

There was also a project in India where we were commissioned to restore a large stretch of coastline. The coastline had been eroded by storms and this was affecting fishing activity. Villagers watched helplessly as their streets, places of worship and even homes collapsed and were taken over by the sea. The restoration project was a team effort involving the Government of India, the East Asia Bank, ourselves and the local community. Essentially, we built underwater sandbars that changed the flow of the water, stabilized the soil, and allowed the community to safely continue the fishing activities they have relied on for a living for centuries. This is a great example of a time when we could not continue to help indefinitely, as it takes a leader within communities to unite for their causes, and we were not that.

We always try to find ways to ensure that the communities we support are personally involved in some way and held accountable for the results. As part of this approach, I am passionate about helping communities regain control and protect their natural heritage.

Taking inspiration from the work of the late Dian Fossey and the charitable fund created in her name, we have become involved in a small way with this great organization that does so much to raise awareness and protect mountain gorillas from the scourge of poaching. His approach to the problem is not solely focused on arresting the perpetrators of poaching, but on tackling the problem at its source. Too many locals are desperate for money and unemployed, making them feel like poaching is their only way to earn a living.

Among other initiatives, a coalition of world leaders supported the creation of a campus and community learning lab. These efforts give people work and a livelihood. There are now opportunities for people to work in youth and community education roles about their national natural treasure, gorillas, as well as to support and grow the country’s tourism industry. We are participating in giving them a purpose and a way of living beyond killing. We are also helping communities better understand and appreciate these wonderful creatures.

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Use your influence with benevolence

To give back in a way that has a real impact on the cause you want to support, get personally involved. Charity is most impactful when the person you want to help is prepared to roll up their sleeves and participate in a meaningful way rather than just sitting back and assuming the money is being used in the right way.

For example, if you are donating funds to improve the delivery of basic health care services in a poor community, why not take your philanthropy a step further than simply writing a check? In my experience, you can play a role in ensuring your engagement has maximum impact by getting involved in purchasing mobile units, finding and hiring the best doctors, or even calling government representatives and building relationships with local law enforcement.

Thoughtful partner

I would also encourage leaders who want to give back more meaningfully to seek partners who have a wider audience than they do, someone who is a prominent and respected figure in the community. You don’t necessarily have to be a movie or sports star. It is more important that these people have a personal interest and a personal history related to the chosen cause. If approached correctly, these people can expand and contextualize your message in all the right ways.

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Don’t forget good governance

One of the potential risks of being a corporate benefactor is that you often lack a clear line of sight where exactly your money is going or if it is reaching its intended recipients – those in need. So make sure you have a voice and a seat at the boardroom level table. This way, you can ensure that your funds are used as intended. You will also be able to provide detailed feedback to your partners and shareholders regarding the return and impact of your investment.

And finally, never stop looking for those people or communities who have fallen through the gaps or whose suffering goes unnoticed. It is entirely possible for you to be his eyes, ears and voice in a world where shocking generosity and kindness are rare and precious goods.

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