What once was a subject of discussion for old-money circles has now become the focus of individuals in search of mission-driven career paths and purpose-driven lives. The act of donating money, goods, time or effort to support a charitable cause has become a process engaged in not only by the wealthy but by individuals who do not possess great wealth and are committed to improving the quality of human life.
The enormity of the work and reach of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has made philanthropy more mainstream. Similarly, Irish Singer Bono and his “Red” campaign to fight HIV/AIDS has brought global press coverage to the topic, while young, rich, socially conscious entrepreneurs like eBay founder Pierre Omidyar and Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin are changing philanthropy through unique networks and new forms of giving.
But an important gap exists in the representation of today’s new philanthropist. An African-American group is steadily emerging outside the glare of the limelight as radical world changers — men and women who are challenging the status quo and taking tremendous leaps of faith for change for the global good. Typically, they are individuals who have excelled academically and are on the fast track for career growth, but who feel spiritually unfulfilled from being unable to use their ordinary lives for the good of their communities. Indeed, the new face of philanthropy is incomplete unless it reflects these young African-Americans who are now finding ways to address an array of socioeconomic disparities, often by partnering with large corporations. They include Scott Abdul-Salaam, Etu Evans and Tiffany M. Gardner. founders of ScottCares Foundation, Solesville and One World Foundation, respectively.
Social entrepreneurs with innovative solutions to society’s most pressing social problems, they are more strategic, more global and demand more results than previous generations of African-American philanthropists. They may not have a pool or channel of wealth to fund the initiatives they are leading, but they have become so connected to the issues that they self-fund many of their projects while seeking financial support for expansion.
As with any entrepreneurial endeavor, starting and developing a nonprofit organization can be challenging, but entering the nonprofit arena is particularly frustrating and often downright discouraging, with stringent tax, bookkeeping and personnel regulations to be observed. The new African-American philanthropists bring to their endeavors valuable exposure to corporate development and business training. However, the lack of seed funding or a large capital campaign can make it difficult to sustain those endeavors. And while in their corporate careers they find support among mentors and advisers developed over years of networking and from various experiences, finding the same support in the world of nonprofits and foundations requires familiarity with an entirely new set of events, meetings and people to whom they must gain access and with whom they must build relationships.
Despite these challenges, the emerging African-American philanthropist presses on, committed to their choice to transfer the focus of their everyday lives from the bottom line to helping create a better world.
Janeen Uzzell, a 2005 TNJ 40 Under-Forty honoree, is the founder of The H.O.P.E. Mission, www.thehopemission.org .
By Janeen Uzzell