From childhood, we are told, “Charity Begins at Home”. This mantra is impressed upon us into our adulthood, and throughout our daily lives. It is a way of encouraging responsibility toward oneself, one’s family, community or country, “Before, you go off saving the world, save yourself first, and your immediate surroundings.”
So, why isn’t the same mantra applied to charities, philanthropists and philanthropies? I am thinking here of world re-known philanthropists, foundations like Ford, Mellon, Bill & Melinda Gates, Google, Soros, Nike, Rockefeller and the Carnegie Corporation of New York, who are widely known and hailed internationally.
In all fairness, Soros is well-established in supporting toward domestic non-profit constituencies, out-of-the-box projects and changemakers. So is Carnegie’s domestic support toward the development and sustainability of public libraries. You should already be aware that I am biased. I mention these, not because they are the worst culprits, but because they are the ones I am most familiar with or most highly celebrated globally for their “spirit of giving” to the world’s most vulnerable. Or perhaps, I have encountered and interacted with more beneficiaries from among these philanthropists, myself included!
Anyway, how did I concern myself with the “Charity of Philanthropies”? It all started while chatting with a parent at our neighborhood school bus stop, after getting my first grader onto the school bus. I took it upon myself to let him [the parent] know that I spoke to his daughter about the limp in her right foot, which she informed was from a fall in second grade (she is now in fourth grade!). I urged him to take her to the doctor, because “Prevention is better than Cure!” Not that he and his wife are bad parents; of course I knew that!
He told me, getting orthopedic treatment is so expensive (Yes, I knew that, too!).
“Maybe you could negotiate with the doctor for a subsidized charge, or partial payments? You may find someone with understanding and would sympathize with your situation.”
I told him that a friend did that when she did not have insurance in grad school.
“Or perhaps the government could help with medical treatment?” my next suggestion.
“Well you know, the government will not help you, unless you are making no money at all,” was his response.
Of course I knew that as well!
The government does not pity those close to the poverty line, unless you are below the poverty line. Which explains why some people who earn barely enough or nothing at all, get trapped under the poverty line. If one were to rise above the poverty line, even by a penny, s/he would be immediately excluded from much-needed public assistance toward housing, food and health care. Then, they would be left with barely any pennies to offset the cost of basic upkeep, and provide for their families. Even in situations where one is unable to afford all basic expenses with, for instance, extra $50 paycheck earning, the government will immediately cut them off public assistance.
The other day, a Tae-Kwon-Do mom, with a six month old explained to me that she chose to stay at home for the first year following her child’s birth, because it would not make any sense going back to work, and struggling to pay for daycare. In fact, her entire paycheck [with a little public subsidy] would go toward daycare. with no guarantee that her child would receive quality care and attention than if she stayed home her first year.
You might be asking, “Why doesn’t she get a job capable of providing for her a more comfortable income?” More complicated, that mere personal choices and commitment! The level of education, the professional industry and job availability are all big factors in securing a good paying job. She told me that even if she worked full-time, her best possible income, based on her qualifications would not earn her earned an income to ably support her and her family. The current job market is a world of insecurity; those who work 38 hours are hired as part-time employees, while others working the full 40 hours per week, are day-to-day [substitute teachers, for instance], casual or contract workers, without employee benefits.
I am telling you all this because among these employers, paying their dedicated, hardworking employees bare minimal wages, are some receiving huge mileage as big philanthropists. Our favorite “corn popper” at the Target Café in our neighborhood told us she had to leave for a better paying job elsewhere. She was barely surviving with the wages she earned. Ironically, Target’s advertises on its “popcorn paperbags” that it “gives 5% of its profits to communities, $4 million every week”!
Then I wonder, “How about giving that money as an extra income to the people who enable your business accumulate such huge weekly profit margins? How about improving the lives of those who work so hard to enable you gain national fame, instead of those who might not necessarily work to make you big? I bet the company would receive the same accolades it fetches from defining itself as a “philanthropist”.
Why can’t all philanthropists be like Richard Branson, the Virgin Group mogul who is giving his employees a year-long paid paternity leave [for both sexes]! The offer extends full year paid leave to men who have been with the company for four years, or 25% for those who have worked for two years or less. While he is not inventing the wheel on paid annual leave, because the Scandinavians governments are already doing that for the mothers, it is a first in corporate employment!
As he says, “If you take care of your employees, they will take care of your business.” Can we disagree that taking care of your immediate constituency improves their job security, families, personal lives, possibly disposable income? I am thinking here of what a difference Ford Foundation, for instance, would make, resuscitating Detroit City, its birthplace through Ford Motors! The philanthropic arm of big business should start with those in its midst, who make their livelihoods and the health of their companies brighter, because Charity Begins at Home!