Learning from the Wealthy

Jennifer Pendergast
Jennifer Pendergast

History is full of examples of leading business families who have used their wealth to make the world a better place.  Witness the contributions of the Rockefellers, who have had a family foundation since 1913.  You will find this description on their website, “ In the years since John D. Rockefeller inaugurated the first global US foundation, scientists, scholars, economists, and grassroots leaders supported by the Foundation have spearheaded the search for solutions to some of the world’s most challenging problems. Through their efforts, plagues such as hookworm and malaria have been brought under control; food production for the hungry in many parts of the world has been increased; and minds, hearts, and spirits have been lifted by the work of Foundation-assisted filmmakers, artists, writers, dancers, and composers.”  Similar examples can be found in reading about the Ford Foundation, where a recent headline states, “Ford Foundation grants $6 million to 7 organizations to reshape the global human rights movement”.  Or, a more recent entrant, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, where the Global Health Division, one of four focus areas, aims to harness advances in science and technology to save lives in developing countries.  Regardless of where you stand on issues these families have chosen to tackle, it’s hard to deny that they have set their sights high and aspire to make a meaningful difference in the world. 

While the scope of these endeavors may be out of reach for most of us, every family, regardless of its wealth, has an opportunity to make a difference.  And, business owning families are in a prime position to do so, given their visibility in their communities and relationships with other well-connected people.

At your next family gathering, be it at the dinner table, conference table, or large family meeting, ask yourselves the question “What can we do together as a family to make a difference?” Think about the unique assets your family has that it can bring to bear to address an unsolved problem.  Often, creative use of assets at your disposal, scrap materials, distribution networks, excess warehouse capacity, can have much greater impact than writing a check. Regardless of the financial resources at your disposal, your family can make a difference. And, in doing so, you will find yourselves in good company.

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