Strategies from the Next Generation of Philanthropists

May 17, 2016

With an unprecedented transfer of wealth to the next generation, the United States is witnessing a new wave of philanthropy in the modern era. Just what this looks like and how the newest generation of philanthropists are reshaping the world of giving was the subject of a panel at the 2016 Milken Institute Global Conference.

At the hour-long session moderated by Melissa Stevens, executive director of the Institute’s Center for Strategic Philanthropy, panelists Matt Dalio, Leili Gerami, Justin Rockefeller and Cameron Saul shared their strategies to effect change. The overarching theme? Combine for-profit and non-profit models to increase efficacy and scale of impact.

Saul, who noted that fashion is the second-most polluting industry in the world, said he created the Bottletop Fashion Co. in 2011 with hopes of harnessing the power of consumption and brands to drive positive change. It’s a power Saul said he learned from his father, Roger, the founder of Mulberry. A sustainable luxury fashion company, Bottletop Fashion aims to empower artisans and young people globally by providing training programs that enhance craftsmanship and spur economic opportunity. Proceeds cover the running costs of the Bottletop Foundation, which tackles issues such as HIV/AIDS prevention, teenage pregnancy, substance abuse, gender inequality and vocational-skills deficits in global communities.

With Bottletop Fashion, Saul is redefining what it means to be a luxury brand by broadening consumer expectations beyond the beauty of the products themselves and toward beautiful methods of production that benefit rather than harm the world.

Likewise, Gerami is disrupting the fashion industry with Maiyet, a luxury brand that forges partnerships with global and often female artisans to promote self-sufficiency and entrepreneurship in developing communities. Maiyet products are ethically and environmentally conscious, incorporating sustainability and responsibility into the business model. As a third-generation philanthropist, Gerami is keeping a family tradition alive—but she is also improving on it with new models of giving. Before Maiyet, Gerami started an investment company that finances ethical companies globally. She believes that investment-based models achieve greater reach and impact than the more traditional philanthropic giving of previous generations in her family.

Dalio, son of Bridgewater founder Ray Dalio, has taken a similar approach with his newest venture, Endless. A startup that aims to make personal computers affordable to 2 billion people around the world, Endless targets emerging markets where the burgeoning middle classes have money, but not enough to own computers. In founding Endless, Matt Dalio said he acted primarily as an entrepreneur and not a philanthropist, creating a for-profit company with a nonprofit mission. For-profit models, he argued, are more streamlined and often more effective than nonprofit models and should be used in cases when the target causes are compatible with a profit-making structure.  

Rockefeller is a fifth-generation member of his family and he, too, is taking a different approach from his family’s traditional philanthropic model by incorporating investment strategies. Since 2009, he has served on the board and the investment and audit committees of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund (RBF). A significant portion of RBF’s programmatic work focuses in promoting sustainable development and combatting climate change. However, the fact that the foundation’s assets were invested in fossil fuels was detracting from this work. In 2013, largely under the guidance of Rockefeller, RBF began a gradual divestment from fossil fuels, embracing the irony in the fact that the wealth of the fund originated in that industry. In the panel, Rockefeller conceded that the divestment would be largely symbolic but nonetheless mattered. While their divested shares would be bought by others and continue to support the industry, divestment would allow RBF to take a meaningful ethical stance and set an example for other foundations with similarly contradictory investment and grant-making practices.

In addition, Rockefeller founded the ImPact to encourage other foundations to align investments with mission and program goals. Member groups make a threefold pact: to make impact investments, track returns and impact generated, and share this information with one another. Rockefeller is also global director of family offices and foundations at Addepar, a Silicon Valley-based technology company reinventing the tools to aggregate and analyze financial data. The ImPact benefits from a pro-bono license of Addepar’s software, which it uses to analyze and distribute impact investing data. Rockefeller noted that the ImPact’s partnership with Addepar is an example of how for-profit and nonprofit entities can work in tandem to increase efficacy.

Dalio, Gerami, Rockefeller and Saul represent a larger movement across sectors to align dollars with values. Increased global interconnectivity has raised the stakes for philanthropists and entrepreneurs alike, pushing them to depart from traditional methods in their efforts to effect positive change on a global scale. In doing so, they are blurring the lines between for-profit and nonprofit strategies, using investment and entrepreneurship as vehicles for producing social good alongside financial return. Foundations like RBF are learning to incorporate asset management into their mission-related activities, and companies like Bottletop, Endless and Maiyet are creating marketplaces that mobilize consumption and capitalism to help individuals and their communities around the world. 

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