American Philanthropy: Education Around the World

[One of the Alliance’s themes is celebrating and promoting philanthropy–particularly American philanthropy.  Alliance team member Rod Nichols offers this perspective:]

“Trouble shared is trouble halved.” This old saying is as true for nations as it is for individuals. It is also deeply embedded in the American traditions of voluntary associations and of philanthropy at home and abroad.

While not widely recognized, private American “assistance” to the rest of the world is enormous.  This helps to solve “troubles” and fulfill aspirations for communities everywhere.  In 2010, the most recent year for which reliable data are available, American private philanthropy to the developing world reached a total of $39 billion. In addition, private US investment was about $161 billion.  On top of this, official US government aid, based upon American tax revenues, was another roughly $30 billion. {These data come from the Hudson Institute’s authoritative, indispensable “Index of Global Philanthropy and Remittances 2012.”)

Among the many goals in mind by these donors and investors, in thousands of ways, the expansive American-funded activities have educational benefits. Some are directly aimed at K-12 children, training for energy and environmental programs, and infrastructure.  Some are mixed purposes. For example, US firms conduct extensive training for the staff in their facilities abroad, and health-oriented initiatives inevitably encompass education for staff, patients, and families.

No other country – yes, no other – does nearly as much as the US. For example, count all of the funding from Japan, England, and the Scandinavian countries — among the most generous nations. The sum of their financial aid, taken together, barely equals 20% of the US private giving. A major reason for this difference among international donors is the unique, historic generosity of the American society.

My colleague, Dr. Susan U. Raymond, a consultant to the Alliance For Global Good, smartly nailed the uniquely American, cross-national perspective in her keynote address to an Australian conference in 2010: “Philanthropy is the voluntary commitment of personal resources to addressing problems that we SHARE (emphasis added) together.”  Since almost all developing countries share problems and goals with us, and for reasons dating back to our founding and flowing from the values Toqueville underscored so powerfully, the US has always fostered private, voluntary solutions to social problems around the world.  Governments cannot do it all, certainly not today, and self-reliance is the most reliable path to sustainability.

Yet the world, as Leonard Kaplan, founder of the Alliance For Global Good, has said, remains “in crisis.”  Part of the crisis — a central challenge for all nations around the world — is in education.  That is why education is one of the five pillars of the AFGG’s philanthropic mission.

A deep reason for this priority on education, as Winston Churchill emphasized, is that “empires of the future are the empires of the mind.” His observation is even more profoundly relevant today. Technology-based economic growth is imperative and education is the foundation of modernization and growth.

Indeed, The economist and Nobel laureate Theodore W. Schultz updated Churchill’s sentiment in his 1981 book, “Investing in People: The Economics of Population Quality.” The wealth of nations, Schultz argued, is not limited by land or minerals. It comes instead predominantly from “the acquired abilities of people – their education, experience, skills, and health.”

Yet nations have been slow to heed that wisdom, and what needs doing has not been done. Children’s elementary education, particularly for girls, is not a high priority for too many governments. And making this worse, middle school and university education in many developing countries is not affordable for most families.  Hence,  American philanthropy’s emphasis on educational goals.  American generosity in programs for education, linked tightly to beating poverty, is urgently demanded,  freely offered, welcomed.



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Leonard Kaplan’s creation of the Alliance for Global Good was the expression of his passionate philanthropy.  It’s also the logical outgrowth of all that came before it.  Together with his wife and philanthropic partner Tobee, and through a family foundation later renamed TOLEO, they gave unselfishly of resources and time to improve their community and the world for more than twenty-five years.

Tobee & Leonard Kaplan

Tobee & Leonard Kaplan

The Alliance’s focus on five areas of giving—health, education, environment, poverty, and world relations—is mirrored in Leonard’s past.  He has made major gifts to Duke University Medical Center and the Duke Comprehensive Cancer and Heart Centers, to the Lineberger Cancer Center at UNC Chapel Hill, to the Cardiac Rehabilitation program at Moses Cone Hospital, and had a leadership position at the Greensboro Cardiac Rehabilitation Program.  In 2004, Leonard and Tobee built the new building for the Women’s Resource Center in Greensboro. He created scholarships for residents of Guilford County to attend North Carolina colleges and universities, and was a founding donor of Elon University Law School.  Critically, in partnership with the Kellogg Foundation, Leonard helped create the Center for Organizational Leadership, a philanthropic studies program (which was one of first nationally to educate non-profit executives).

“Everyone wants to leave something to their grandchildren.”

“The money won’t matter if the world they live in is so far gone,” Kaplan says. “The opportunity now is to take some of what might become their inheritance, and use it soon to make the world a better place.”

Addressing poverty, Leonard made possible the building of two houses for Habitat for Humanity, and by providing food for hungry people both close to home in Greensboro, and as far abroad as the former Soviet Union.   The Kaplans were staunch supporters of Trickle Up, which provides grant financing to women in the developing world who want to start their own microenterprise.

Leonard gave not only of his wealth, but also of his time and expertise, taking on leadership positions in many organizations and campaigns such as the Greater Greensboro United Way DeToqueville Society, and as a Core Member of ACTION Greensboro, a nonprofit dedicated to improving public education, revitalization of downtown Greensboro, and leveraging economic development.

Active in their community of faith, the Kaplans built a new building for the Greensboro Jewish Federation, and for the Hillel youth organization at U.N.C., Chapel Hill.  He served on the board of the Jewish Foundation of Greensboro, and on that of the national Hillel organization, and was a founder of Camp Ramah Darom.

Viewing giving as a responsibility of affluence, Leonard led by example, and encouraged others to do the same.  He created Wealth & Giving, an educational program designed to inspire the largest wealth holders in this country to be more generous.  The Alliance continues that work by promoting and providing donors with opportunities for effective and efficient giving.

Read more about the Five Guiding Principles.