It is not uncommon these days to hear that individuals like Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey or Jeff Bezos have created foundations or donated funds to some esteemed cause. One might think that this happens only with people whose fortune seems to be infinite and who know not what to do with it.
However, throughout history there have been many great people who have committed themselves to providing for their communities and the wider world through support for education, community development, science, innovation, health, culture, and the like.
Philanthropy throughout History
The Greek playwright Aeschylus coined the term philanthropy in the 5th Century BC to denote “love of humanity.” The concept has had a varied career since then. It was taken up as an educational ideal in Plato’s Academy, associated with democracy and freedom, with excellence as its goal.
In Mexico, during colonial times, the establishment of philanthropic organizations fell to the Catholic Church, which financed schools, hospitals, and social works to address the health, education, and poverty of the indigenous population.
Noteworthy examples include the Hospital de Jesús, founded by Hernán Cortés, the Hospital for Convalescents and Forsaken, founded by the layman Bernardino Álvarez in 1537, or the Colegio de las Vizcaínas, founded by a group of Basque laymen.
The philanthropic sector suffered a setback in independent Mexico, as the nascent government lacked the capacity to provide for social welfare, while the Church – which had suffered an expropriation of property in this period – was prohibited from acting.
In Europe, philanthropic institutions arose from the efforts of figures like Henri Dunant, who founded the Red Cross and received the first Nobel Peace Prize in 1901. In the United States, industrialists like Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller allocated a significant part of their fortunes to philanthropy and education.
Throughout the 20th century, civil society, labour, and student movements raised awareness around issues of social deprivation and communities at risk, efforts which have been amplified in more recent years by electronic media.
Philanthropy and Sustainability
Looking back at the history of philanthropy we can say that, in its essence, philanthropy is about creating a better world, but the methods for realizing this may differ. Rather than give a man a fish, one might ask if the true philanthropist should seek to teach the man how to fish. The adage shows the importance of having a studied, long-term plan with a view beyond the immediate, to the future. The focus on transcendence in turn highlights the connection between philanthropy and sustainability.
Through innovation, creativity, and effort, dedicated organizations can support people on their path to development. Minimum essential guarantees of human dignity and opportunity must be provided, and, in this way, people can be empowered to pursue their own development, as they see fit.
The foregoing requires planning, conviction, but, above all, the channeling in a timely manner of the support that beneficiaries require.
Metals for Humanity takes these and other examples in the creation of its programmes to address challenges faced today while, at the same time, contribute to the development of capacities which, in the long term, endow people with knowledge and skills to determine and build their futures themselves.