By Shelagh Gastrow
MOST of us tend to think, "I've paid my taxes - the state will now look after everything and everyone". But citizenship isn't just a transaction in which you put your taxes in and get your services out. It's a relationship; we are part of something bigger than ourselves. And as such, maybe it's time we recognised that we could all do a little bit more to build a bigger, stronger society Levels of giving internationally have flatlined over the past few years clear is that we are in desperate need of a new generation of philanthropists to fight the ravages of poverty and unemployment, and ensure that our society continues to provide a much-needed safety net for millions.
The capacity of philanthropy to serve as the engine room of social change is critical, with philanthropists not answerable to the market or voters, but having the capacity to take risks with cutting-edge ideas and social change. The women's movement and the environmental movement are reminders of what philanthropy can achieve. There is obviously a moral debate around the affluent being obliged to give back to the society that made them wealthy.
This is all very well, but I firmly believe that philanthropy should not just be the domain of the very rich. There are thousands of people across all economic classes in South Africa who have given to causes and institutions that mean something to them, contributing to the public good. And so often, it is those who have the least to give who give the most. The vital question in South Africa is, how can we grow philanthropy at all levels to support our civil society? We tend to take for granted the thousands of organisations that provide services and contribute to our democracy. They educate, they create jobs, they build, they research, they publish, they contribute towards policy, and they help to ensure that we keep moving forward. They are also key to ensuring that we live up to the aspirations of our constitution, which is our social contract to forge a society based on equality, human dignity and the advancement of freedom.
For many years, civil society has been overly dependent on foreign funding, but international funding is steadily being reduced as South Africa is now seen as a middleincome country with the requisite structures to support itself. We therefore need to ensure that this sector continues to thriva. Without that support, our democracy cannot be fully realised. There is criticism that the rise of new millionaires in South Africa has not seen a concomitint growth in philanthropy. As it is considered "good form" not to shout too loudly about your philanthropr work, it generally operates under the radar. Old money is very coy about its giving.
We believe that highlighting their good work will help grow the philanthropic movement in South Africa. But it is not a one-way street. Looking back at last year's nominees, I am reminded of the impact of social giving for both those who give and those who receive. Philanthropic acts are one of the strongest ways to support social development and break the concentrations of poverty in our country. At the same time, giving is a powerful mechanism for individuals to express their personal values. Even with the distortion that transfers of money can involve, philanthropists are exposed to new perspectives, and their giving brings them into contact with people they otherwise might never have met.
So, while philanthropy clearly supports the work done by others, it also transforms the people who give - the personal satisfaction, the potent sense of meaning and the true happiness that arises from supporting social initiatives bigger than ourselves. I firmly believe that when we look back on our lives, we will discover that the times when we felt most fully human and alive were when we were acting in a spirit of kindness and generosity and love.
Gastrow is executive director for the SA Institute for Advancement, Inyathelo. Nominations for the 2011 Inyathelo Philanthropy Awards close on Thursday. Award categories include arts, media, youth, family, international and health. Call 021 465 6981 or visit www.inyathelo.org.za The rise of new millionaires has not seen a growth in philanthropy.