Last year, England named uber philanthropist Dame Stephanie Shirley as the government’s Giving and Philanthropy Ambassador. From the press release:
The Ambassador will work over the coming year to act as the voice of philanthropy as well as championing innovative and effective forms of giving, and to make recommendations to Government about how to encourage and facilitate giving. Her work will also inform the Giving and Philanthropy Summit to be held later this year to look at how to encourage giving amongst the more affluent parts of society, as well as considering how to support and encourage charitable giving more generally.
Dame Shirley has now launched a website featuring video interviews with British philanthropists. Flipping through the website, I realized that my colleague Roberta d’Eustachio (the founder of The American Benefactor, the first consumer magazine for philanthropists) has been named Dame Shirley’s Chief of Staff. I’m rather intrigued by the idea of an Ambassador for Philanthropy, so I pinged Roberta to ask about her plans. Below is an edited version of her response, which I’m posting with her permission.
By Roberta d’Eustachio (via email)
The Office of the Ambassador for Philanthropy is an idea whose time has come here in Britain.
For one thing, the appointment is honorary… meaning it is ‘of’ Government, not ‘in’ Government, an very important distinction. The Government provides no funds for the ‘Office’. And this is key — Dame Stephanie is investing her own funds (and these are significant) to make things happen because she believes there is much to make happen and we wouldn’t have done it any other way…
So we have not been handed a ‘brief’ from the Government to perform a particular action… We have been given something better (wilder) — the freedom to size up the situation (who’s giving, who’s not giving and why aren’t they giving) without constraint and to make whatever it is we ‘size up’ transparent and available to the society at large, including all political parties and their leaders, and in an election year this means that such a ‘social exercise’ as we are performing becomes of keen interest to the ‘thinkers and spin doctors” who advise the candidates.
However, there is much ‘perceived’ power and inherent prestige built into the the title "Ambassador for Philanthropy" and therefore, people are not only interested they are fanatically interested. The fact that a self-made tech entrepreneur — a woman — who was a child refugee from Germany during the second WW II and had given away nearly $100 million was chosen as the first “Ambassador” said it all. Dame Stephanie was a new model for philanthropy in Britain. If anybody could shake things up, get it right, ‘the powers’ that be’ that made the appointment likely knew Dame Stephanie Shirley could do it.
So, we are into our fifth month after talking to what seems like everyone in the country about what they think we should focus on…. AND SOON WE WILL ANNOUNCE THE ACTION PLAN.
The Ambassador(s) for Philanthropy website is/has the potential to be both a platform for Dame Stephanie’s work where we will announce the Action Plan, host editorials and blogs to get feedback on what we are doing, and Influence, Influence, Influence… but it was also always seen in its grand potential…. to eventually grow it country by country, starting with Britain, with philanthropists speaking out and making their voices heard. Adding original stories and creating varying groups of membership: Philanthropists (as in The Fellowship — see website definition); and non profits, charities and social enterprise groups and interested company memberships.
So yes, the website is about the work of the British Government’s Ambassador for Philanthropy but — and we hope we are communicating this loud and clear — we are all, each of us, wherever we live, Ambassadors for Philanthropy.
Part of the bigger potential is the nudging of other countries to have an Ambassador for Philanthropy… (as you had suggested in your first email to me.) (We’ve already had interest on this from Philippines, India, Spain, Canada…. and on and on.) Dame Stephanie and I are at one in our mission … To continue to advance Britain’s — and the greater United Kingdom — climate for giving and in so doing, advance giving throughout the world by giving philanthropists a voice.
So the adventure began and is onward moving. Exciting. Beyond exciting. To be in the middle of something. Carving out a path. Going forward.
Any ideas for us? We are All Ears.