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Philanthropy: A New Approach Is Needed

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Much has been made of the Giving Pledge, an initiative spearheaded by Warren Buffet and Bill Gates that encourages wealthy individuals around the world to devote most of their assets to philanthropy. That praise is well deserved, and I join it full-heartedly. But other, less top-down initiatives are underway in the sector of philanthropy that are at least as ingenious, as effective, and as inspiring. We need to bring more attention to these efforts, in order to spur a new and vigorous approach to more effective giving around the world. That's why I have taken the initiative of setting up the Prince's Prize for Innovative Philanthropy, which will be awarded for the first time this month.

Philanthropy isn't new. Private donors have always grappled with social and environmental challenges, two of the three main pillars of sustainable development, in the broader community. But today, at a time when the lack of economic growth and the high level of debt are cutting government spending, the role of philanthropy is growing more vital. We are living in an era of individual giving, whether it is high or low-profile, and these contributions can and are already transforming the struggle against, for example, major pandemics. My Foundation, which I created in 2006, focuses on environmental preservation and sustainable development, and its continuing work is one of the achievements of which I am most proud.

Meanwhile -- less obviously -- digital tools and new concepts have been reshaping the nature of philanthropy itself. These advances include the incredibly powerful use of mobile and electronic devices to donate funds. Other digital tools deploy completely new kinds of metrics, enabling us to better identify and evaluate projects and measure the impact of donations. Web platforms bring us new ways to promote valuable work being done far away.

We are also seeing new conceptual approaches to philanthropy, including venture philanthropy, which supports aid projects with business-planning expertise for maximum scale and sustainability. New financial systems deploy entire endowments to promote social change, rather than just the 5% of assets that foundations normally disburse as grants. "Donor-advised funds" set up investment portfolios for individuals that easily direct regular donations to philanthropic works. New networking technologies, related to social media, make for much more fluent and useful conversations, whether between philanthropists and the projects they support, among philanthropists who share common interests in giving, or among volunteers looking to contribute their money and time.

There's a new generation of philanthropists, with new characteristics. They are successful business people in the prime of their careers. Ingenious, innovative, demanding, they seek to make a difference by applying a business mindset to the practice of giving. Their commitment to ever more effective and strategic philanthropy, and their fluency with a wealth of digital mechanisms, has helped all of us in the philanthropic community to create systems that are smarter and more transparent.

It is time to applaud these pioneers, many of whom operate without regard for personal publicity. Addressing all the major challenges that our world faces, these are people who are informed, skilled, thoughtful and generous in time and mind. The Prince's Prize for Innovative Philanthropy -- which it will be my privilege to bestow later this month on a particularly creative and inspiring individual -- will, I hope, shine light on the great work that is being done to increase the effectiveness of giving.

I am particularly grateful to be able to count on the advice and expertise of my fellow members of The Prince's Roundtable on Philanthropy, an annual meeting of donors that, since 2011 takes place every January in Monaco. Many of these men and women wish to remain discreet about their work, a humility that I applaud. I am also delighted with the partnership for this event between my foundation and the Tocqueville Foundation, which works within the framework of the Institut de France to promote Alexis de Tocqueville's unique vision of democracy and the rights and responsibilities of all members of society.

But above all I want to acknowledge the remarkable and moving actions of the millions of people who regularly volunteer their time to 'doing good' -- or who support important causes by clicking through on their mobile phones , or amplifying awareness messages on their social media pages or other means. Acting together to address our common problems in order to establish a fairer and more sustainable world, they are the bedrock of an equitable and engaged civil society. By participating in resolving challenges of our societies through thoughtful giving, they are investing in humanity -- surely among the best-spent dollars of all.