The front-page headline of The Sunday Times this weekend read: ‘Tory Ashcroft to give away half his £1.2bn fortune’.
“Surely it’s a good thing?” my friend said while diving into her skinny cappuccino.
This got me thinking, but not along the lines that The Times most likely anticipated. Instead of, perhaps intended provoking my congratulations at Ashcroft’s benevolence, it made me lose even more faith in the Tory institution and other politicians sitting in Westminster trying to differentiate themselves from each other.
Since starting my Year Here Fellowship I have learnt an awful lot about social innovation, and my mindset has now been altered. I think in terms of social innovation almost constantly. It is through this lens that I began to scrutinise Lord Ashcroft, and indeed the rest of the world’s billionaires who have joined the “Giving Pledge”. In a nutshell the Giving Pledge is a platform for some of the world’s billionaires to make philanthropic donations. I am not anti-philanthropy, but after reading about Ashcroft’s billions of pounds, and looking into the Giving Pledge I felt quite angry at the ignorance of some of the planet’s most influential individuals.
Why? Because I think that simply giving a one-off donation is not going to solve the world’s biggest social issues. Instead it is a way for people like Ashcroft to publically justify his wealth and carry out an act of self-preservation. Ashcroft is clearly a generous man, but his give-away reeks of a huge PR stunt.
There is little coincidence that this announcement comes at a time when Britain is on the brink of a triple-dip recession and the public is losing faith in the government. Not only that, but in the wake of the MP’s expenses scandal politicians are keen to prove their worth and integrity.
Without a doubt £600m is a huge sum of money. But if Ashcroft had applied his charitable giving to a social enterprise model, he could have had a transformative impact. Rather than making a one-off grant, he could have invested the money. Dan Pallotta explains this idea in his TED talk. Ashcroft could have allowed that £600m to be used as start-up loans for businesses and young entrepreneurs, which would act as a catalyst for rebuilding the economy, and he could use the interest to donate to a charitable cause. This is a sustainable system that would allow his contribution to go a lot further in the long-term. But perhaps not make as sizeable an impact on Ashcroft’s public image.
This may appear to be an attack on charitable giving, but it’s not. Donating money to charity is very valid, and better than not doing anything at all. And the Giving Pledge is a great way for the world’s richest to give something back. But I propose that we need to redefine the way we give, I have been thinking this for a while now, and Ashcroft’s announcement provided me with the perfect means to illustrate this.
Kudos for trying Lord Ashcroft, but maybe a little more thought would have led to much more sustained impact.