When you hear the word philanthropy, what comes to mind?
Older. Richer. Later. Larger?
A recent experience inspired me to drop the preconceived understanding of philanthropy and adopt a new one and I encourage you to change your way of thinking too.
According to Arrillaga-Andreessen, "A philanthropist is: anyone who gives anything--time, money, experience, skills, and networks--in any amount, to create a better world."
Arillaga-Andreessen is on a fierce mission to inspire, educate and empower everyone to give --no matter who or how much they earn. Additionally her mission includes energizing tech titans of Silicon Valley to give now, while they're living, so they see their money affect movements, instead of waiting until they die before giving their fortunes away.
Her message isn't exclusive, or complicated. She suggests everyone, from every walk of life give what they can, whether it be in the form of funding, volunteering or networking.
"We need to give in a meaningful way that matters! One in six Americans live in poverty, Arillaga-Andreessen explained. One in eight Americans received food help last year. You do not need mega bucks to have mega impact."
This ethos is the exact reason I left my TV News gig and started Go Inspire Go (aka GIG), my new GIG: A multimedia platform that uses storytelling and social media to inspire social change. The goal is that viewers "Discover and use their power (resources/talents/network) to help others."
I'm so grateful to my friend and GIG Board Member, Connie Chan-Wang, who invited me to the Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy (AAPIP) event at Linkedin yesterday where Arrillaga-Andreessen shared her message about giving.
Like many of us, the entry point into spirituality or a shift in consciousness occurs from what we perceive as a "bad experience."
Arillaga-Andreessen started her speech by explaining the impetus of her "Giving challenge." Immediately, the clicks from laptops and qwerty keys of mobile devices halted when she spoke excitedly about the moment the shift happened for her. "My Mother inspired me to give."
In 2005, she cared for her ailing mother, diagnosed with cancer. During that difficult time, she discovered the meaning of selfless service. "When you take care of a terminally ill loved one, it is the ultimate act of service."
This resonated with me, as I too found my calling after my father, aunt and both grandmothers passed away in just under a year's time. In 2001, my father was diagnosed with stomach cancer. Doctors gave him six months to live. I was a fledgling TV Reporter at the ABC Affiliate in Wausau, Wis., when I got the call. I packed my little Honda Civic and moved back to Sacramento to take care of my father.
Many hospital visits ensued. I can still hear the horrifying cries of pain. The memories of shoving morphine down his throat haunted me after his passing. It was an agonizing and exhausting long six months. Unfortunately, the doctor's were right. Dad passed away six months after the diagnosis. Shortly after his death, my aunt and two grandmothers passed away.
This was the true test of the human spirit.
Four deaths in eight months was too much to bear. During the healing process, I became obsessed. Obsessed by the thought that we are not immortal, that we have to do something with our lives while breath still runs through us. That is what planted the seed to what is now Go Inspire Go.
What I know to be true is that when you give, you experience true joy. And you don't need anymore than what you have -- to give.
Arrillaga-Andreessen agrees and believes, "You have enough! You have everything you need right now, to be an extraordinary philanthropist." Not convinced? Meet Phoebe, Jorge and the people of Tent City Sacramento.
What I love most about GIG is that I get the opportunity to meet philanthropists from all walks of life.
Phoebe Russell, the youngest philanthropist I've ever met, saw hungry homeless people. It made her sad. She wanted to start an aluminum can drive to collect $1,000 to give to the San Francisco Food Bank. She raised $3,736.30, enabling the Food Bank to give 18,000 meals. Thanks to Phoebe, the more than 150,000 meals have been served in her local community.
During the height of the down economy, I spent the day with several homeless families who set up a tent encampment, "Tent City," along the American River in my hometown Sacramento. What surprised me most was that even though the homeless people didn't have much, they shared blankets, bottled water and extra tents with other families. I was moved that Erika Duran, a teacher at Kennedy High and her students were inspired by the video and started a movement of their own to help the homeless.
Across the country, in Queens, N.Y., there's Jorge Munoz. Munoz is a school bus driver by day --but by night, he's known as the Angel in Queens. Every single night (except one night when a snow storm shut down all lines of transportation) for about eight years, this "Angel" and his family buy, cook and package enough food to feed 150-plus people at a local subway stop. Munoz said he spent more than half of his $700 a week salary to feed his neighbors in need. Warning: grab a Kleenex before watching the follow up:
These are just a few examples of how "citizen-philanthropists" are using their power to help others. According to Arrillaga-Andreessen, in 2010 alone, 63 million Americans volunteered and more than $234 billion in donations were tabulated.
My father had the biggest heart. He helped other immigrants file paperwork, as a mechanic, he fixed cars for free for the less fortunate and he always connected those in need with those who could lend a hand. He was a true philanthropist, who did a lot to help others through service.
I believe he was one of the influencers in my life who inspired goodwill in me. When Arrillaga-Andreessen said, her Mother lives through her work now -- the epiphany sent chills throughout my body. I realized Dad's deeds lives on through me and my new GIG. Now I realize that you don't need money to help others, you just need the heart.
YOU can be more of a philanthropist - but how you give is up to you.
What can you do?!
Follow Toan Lam on Twitter: www.twitter.com/GoInspireGo