What is it that drives successful entrepreneurs, such as Microsoft founder Bill Gates, to dedicate substantial amounts of their time and effort to helping others? Philanthropy is certainly popular with the business elite, and the value of their input can be huge: entrepreneurs know how to make money, how to get things done and how to establish successful systems, all of which are hugely important skills in philanthropy. But what is in it for the business people themselves?
In fact, philanthropy can be very helpful to the entrepreneurs. Such people are often very driven, and deliberately seek out challenges. Solving the problems of the poor, the dispossessed and the marginalized are certainly huge challenges, and helping to find solutions can give the entrepreneur an equally huge sense of achievement, purpose and satisfaction. Philanthropy can also give them a chance to connect with their local communities, or communities with which they have some link.
An excellent example of this is found in Ehsan Bayat, a business giant who arrived in the United States as a refugee from the Soviet invasion of his native Afghanistan. In 2006, Bayat founded the Bayat Foundation, dedicated to improving lives in his country, which has been devastated by conflict over many years. Despite great success in business, Bayat continues to work tirelessly promoting the work of the Bayat Foundation. For example, in March 2015, the organization sent the equivalent of US$100,000 to help Afghans affected by a massive avalanche in Panjshir Province, around 60 miles from Kabul. The Bayat Foundation also pursues projects related to healthcare, education and water supply.
Of course, philanthropy brings benefits that are more tangible for business people, too. It can unite colleagues behind a shared cause, and thus encourage them to work together effectively on professional, as well as philanthropic projects. Being seen to be charitable can undoubtedly also add value to an organization's brand and encourage potential clients and associates to engage with that brand.
However, most philanthropic entrepreneurs, whatever their motivation, are less interested in giving handouts than they are in helping the disadvantaged to help themselves, and that is where their entrepreneurial skills really come into play. Many people can donate money to a cause, but relatively few - the entrepreneurial, in fact - can help the less fortunate to develop systems and skills that will give them a long-term future, such as education, business skills and access to useful networks and influential people. Thus, for as long as there is inequality in the world, philanthropic entrepreneurs will be serving a crucial, humanitarian purpose.