Wednesday 13 November 2019

Ireland could be doing more good, while it's doing so well

Chuck Feeney, founder of Atlantic Philanthropies
Chuck Feeney, founder of Atlantic Philanthropies

Dr Jacob Gayle

Ireland should lead the world in bringing the public and private sectors together to deliver the UN's 17 development goals. Ireland is drawing more foreign direct investment, and across more sectors of the global economy, than ever before. But when it comes to corporate giving for social causes, the record in Ireland is less impressive. Last year, Ireland's largest companies contributed only €22m to community groups and organisations. Between only 2pc and 3pc of the income of Irish non-government organisations came from corporate donations.

Ireland trails Europe when it comes to social investment. Europe and Asia are now major givers, and Europe and the US are practically neck-and-neck. In the US, the contribution of private donors to social causes is about 2pc of GDP, with a heavy preponderance for religious giving.

Philanthropy in Ireland is relatively under-developed. Maybe it's felt that making a global difference through giving is beyond the reach of a small nation. Or that, as a people, the big gesture jars with the national spirit, with a tendency to regard wealth creation more cynically than others.

This is likely to have been exacerbated by the economic crash. When it comes to money, the Irish are generous around emergencies, contributing to humanitarian causes in huge numbers. But big donors with Irish connections - the likes of Chuck Feeney and Ray Murphy of Atlantic Philanthropies and the Mott Foundation, for example - prefer to give quietly. They hide their charitable lights under the bushel.

In the corporate world, too, organisations are often cautious about publicly touting their philanthropic credentials, fearing they may be interpreted as self-serving and gauche. This caution in the corporate community may be magnified in the Irish context, given the country's traditional modesty about blowing its own trumpet.

But neglecting to show leadership in the corporate philanthropic world would, for Ireland, be a lost opportunity.

As the country continues to grow in global influence, the private sector can contribute more to social progress. Ireland can do good while it does well. Irish people, and the business minds that lead their companies, have the character and skills needed to create an impact in society. As valuable as Ireland's charitable donations might be, what is more important is the country's accumulated know-how - innovation, persuasiveness, leadership, work ethic, global diaspora network, passion and social deftness.

Most large corporates that give are not looking for plaudits. They simply have the scale and know-how to make a social difference. One of the primary reasons corporates get involved in philanthropy is to put in place a business model that will continue helping people. The intersection between the business and social worlds can yield solutions that empower people to help themselves.

Giving just for the sake of giving is not enough. What really counts is giving that results in lasting social impact.

People and companies give for different reasons. Individual giving is often guided by personal motivation - for example, a private donor might fund university cancer research because there is family history of the disease. For the corporate sector, giving is usually more strategic and involves work in an area in which the company has expertise. Globally, healthcare is the largest target sector for philanthropic work, followed by the environment, education and social causes such as diversity and inclusion.

When the private and public sectors work together, developments with profound social consequences can occur. For example, the pharmaceutical giant Merck partnered with the Carter Centre, the Centres for Disease Control and the World Health Organisation to provide free Mectizan drugs to treat river blindness, the world's second leading infectious cause of blindness, mainly affecting Africans.

Medtronic, which employs more than 4,000 people in Ireland, has been adopting a similar approach to partnership with communities for nearly four decades. Earlier this year, we announced the €1m Medtronic Healthy Communities Fund which is backing Irish projects that improve pathways to healthcare services, promote healthcare and well-being and tackle healthcare inequality. The funding goes to organisations that show how they would remove barriers to healthcare, especially in under-served communities.

The fund, a partnership with the Community Foundation for Ireland and the Ireland Funds, is aligned with our overall corporate strategy, which is to change how debilitating, chronic diseases and conditions are treated and managed.

A few months ago in New York, United Nations member states signed up to 17 strategic development goals which, it is hoped, will define global public policy priorities for the next 15 years. The goals are ambitious, aiming, among other things, to end hunger and poverty, promote well-being among all ages, reduce inequality and widen access to education.

To succeed, this global social pact will need massive collaboration between nations. Given their extended time frame, it is likely that the i-Gen, or "post-millennial" generation born since the late 1990s, will be called on to realise the lofty ideals. The challenge will be to find a way to get people, across the public and private sectors and between nations, to work on common solutions.

Where better to begin than in Ireland, where the people have the skills, passion and a thriving corporate community. It is where a nascent culture of philanthropy can mature into a collective intervention that makes the world a better, fairer, healthier place.

Dr Jacob A Gayle is vice-president of Medtronic Philanthropy. Today he will deliver the key note address at the Philanthropy Ireland Ray Murphy Lecture 2015 in the RHA

Irish Independent

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