Wednesday, July 18, 2007

It?s cool to be a philanthropist

Giving isn?t just about large sums of money


By SABINA DANA PLASSE
Express Staff Writer

Express photo by Sabina Dana Plasse Philanthropy Northwest?s CEO Carol Lewis discusses the art of giving at The Sun Valley Center for the Arts in Ketchum.

A new era in philanthropy is taking hold in the U.S., and it's changing the way Americans give money.

At The Sun Valley Center for the Arts in Ketchum on Monday, July 9, a panel discussion, "Giving in the 21st Century: A Panel Discussion on Philanthropy," explained how the idea of being philanthropic is no longer a distinction reserved for the very wealthy.

The discussion was part of The Center's multidisciplinary exhibition, "Profit & Loss," which opened on May 26 and continues through July 27. "Profit & Loss" has been examining the role of wealth and greed through films, lectures and in ongoing exhibition at The Center in Ketchum, where the work of six international artists is being featured.

In front of a packed house of 80 people, The Center featured philanthropists Matt Flannery, the CEO of Kiva.org; Rand Runco, the founder of Ten Friends; and Carol Lewis, the CEO of Philanthropy Northwest.

Lewis spent some time discussing how philanthropy is changing and why.

"Bill and Melinda Gates, along with Warren Buffet, have made it cool to give money away," said Lewis. "Money does great things and can change people's lives. However, there are a lot of other people who can make changes besides big spenders like Bill and Melinda Gates."

Celebrating 30 years, Philanthropy Northwest covers the five state region of Alaska, Oregon, Washington, Montana and Idaho promoting philanthropy, which proponents say can strengthen community and improve quality of life.

All three panelists agreed that people are searching for meaning and purpose in their lives, and that led both Flannery and Runco to create their organizations.

Flannery and his wife began Kiva.org after a trip to Uganda inspired them with the idea of micro lending. Micro lending allows several people to give small amounts of money to someone in need anywhere in the world to start businesses themselves and cycle out of poverty. Micro lending is not charity. It encourages entrepreneurship.

"What if your job is socially benefiting and generating money for people around you?" asked Flannery. "Kiva.org allows Americans to lend money more directly."

Part of the success behind Kiva.org is technology, which has been a major contribution to the changing world of philanthropy. However, Runco's Ten Friends organization (tenfriends.org) takes a different approach to philanthropy, which is more hands on.

"Six years ago two of us went to Nepal to trek, and we were struck by the people and kept going back," Runco said. "We found small projects and went home to raise money so we could do them. It started with medical stretchers. We created stretchers and took them back to Nepal."

Runco is a schoolteacher, and since he has the summers off he can set up projects in Nepal a year in advance and take volunteers with him. Specific identification of where help is needed allows young people a chance to be involved and not feel helpless.

The trend for philanthropy is keeping people sustainable. Investing and receiving services provides many more avenues for people to become involved and not just give money away.

"The challenge is people like me trying to change the world," said Lewis. "That is a very big job."




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