Philanthropy from Within

by | Jul 24, 2014

“The desire to engage must come from within.” These words came from Azim Premji, chairman of the Indian global technology company Wipro. Premji was the recipient of the Economic Times Life Achievement Award in 2013. In his acceptance speech, he also said, “Philanthropy is the mechanism for us to make positive change.” These words followed each other. That got my attention…philanthropy from within.

We talk a lot in the philanthropy field about how to “teach” giving. It’s as if we can inject someone with everything they need to know about philanthropy, and they will go out and get change done. It doesn’t work that way. When someone wants to change their neighborhood, community or the world, they first have to be willing to engage. They first have to be willing to really understand as much as possible about what they want to change – black, white and gray. With knowledge and information, philanthropy can then become a mechanism for creating positive change. Frankly, that’s when the work begins.

Premji may be India’s richest person. He has also signed the Giving Pledge to contribute at least one-half of his wealth to philanthropy. While this may sound wonderful to you and me, it is an incredible challenge. It is far easier to make gifts here and there, to be unintentional about giving. It is a tremendous challenge to give one-half of great wealth to philanthropy. Premji understands something about philanthropy often missed; he says, “At its core, philanthropy is about the connection you feel with the people around you or the world around you.” That connection will impact his decisions. In his own words, he describes it as knowing that he “can genuinely contribute.”

Here are three more Premji lessons about philanthropy from within.

  • Involve your family early on; think about philanthropy as belonging to your family.
  • Committing to or being part of large philanthropic projects means getting good people on the team. Premji believes philanthropy is more complex than business because social issues are more complex. Thus good people and good teams are critical.
  • Philanthropic work requires patience, tenacity and empathy.

Back to the black, white and gray, you have to be open to change your own mindset in order to be a part of change that makes a difference. So my wish for the many wonderful donors I know is they will have the patience to learn what they need to know, the tenacity to stay the course and the empathy to connect so that they too can genuinely contribute.

What lessons are you learning?


  1. Fred Smith

    I have a framed saying in my study someone wisely gave me when I was a young teacher. “A student is a lamp to be lit and not a vessel to be filled.” I like that because it is so tempting – especially as we get older and more experienced – to “fill” instead of lighting. Thank you for being one of the teachers in our community. It takes patience!

    • Your Philanthropy

      As you so very well know it is a privilege to share the journey.


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