Philanthropists expect too much too quickly, report says

This is a problem.

Wealthy philanthropists are ambitious and want to see changes in government policies soon after they have made a donation, but their efforts are still too fragmented and often fail to have a great impact, a new study has found.

Entitled Alleviating Global Poverty: Catalysts of Change, the research by Forbes Insights was based on a survey of more than 300 wealthy individuals, with investible assets of at least $1 million.

It found that 73 per cent of respondents said they want to affect international and national government policies in a short time.

Interestingly, while 48 per cent admitted there were too many overlapping charities working in the same sector, only 20 per cent said they partner with experts in the field to realise their philanthropic goals.

‘There are two crushing weaknesses with the philanthropic model today,’ said Harvard Business School professor Michael Porter in the report. ‘There is not enough money to give away. And there is too much fragmentation and not enough large-scale impact. That is why we haven’t gotten a lot of great results yet.’

The study also found that philanthropists from different regions of the world disagreed on the main causes of poverty. North and South Americans, in fact, pointed to the lack of access to education, while Europeans focused on the lack of access to healthcare and respondents from Asia-Pacific emphasised on the scarcity of food and shelter.

According to the report, local causes were a priority among philanthropists, with a third of respondents saying only 10 per cent of their donations go on global causes. This was because they felt a need to give back to their own community and because they understood the local context better, but also because they thought local giving often makes an immediate difference.

This is similar to what Simon Thurley, the CEO of English Heritage, has been recently campaigning for in the UK, as he told Spear's. He called for the country’s wealthy to financially support many of the national historic buildings that will not receive any government funding for repairs and enhancement works, as part of the austerity measures.

However, the wealthiest respondents had a strong focus on global giving, which normally requires more resources. Forty per cent of those with a net worth of at least $50 million said they focused on such issues. Think of Bill Gates, who set up the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to eradicate malaria and polio worldwide.

Children’s education was the respondents’ preferred cause, chosen by 38 per cent, followed by children’s health (37 per cent), nutrition and food supply (33 per cent) and pre-school education (31 per cent). However, a third of philanthropists said family planning and contraception should be the top priority in the next five years, while 31 per cent chose the sustainable management of resources such as water and land.

When they have to choose what programmes to fund on, 45 per cent said they looked at the idea or at the premise of the initiative, while 23 per cent said they paid particular attention to the organisation behind the project. Interestingly, only 32 per cent cited the leader in charge of the programme as the most important factor – the report suggested that this was because wealthy individuals often have the ability to influence the choice of leader.

As for the future, nearly one in five philanthropists plans to give away more than half of their wealth. Thirty-one per cent of those with more than $10m in assets and 46 per cent of those with more than $50m plan to do so. They will join the likes of billionaires such as Gates, Warren Buffett, Richard Branson, Michael Bloomberg and Azim Premji, who signed up for the Giving Pledge initiative, committing at least half of their wealth to charity organisation after their death.

Read more from Giulia Cambieri

This piece first appeared on Spear's Magazine

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Air pollution: 5 steps to vanquishing an invisible killer

A new report looks at the economics of air pollution. 

110, 150, 520... These chilling statistics are the number of deaths attributable to particulate air pollution for the cities of Southampton, Nottingham and Birmingham in 2010 respectively. Or how about 40,000 - that is the total number of UK deaths per year that are attributable the combined effects of particulate matter (PM2.5) and Nitrogen Oxides (NOx).

This situation sucks, to say the very least. But while there are no dramatic images to stir up action, these deaths are preventable and we know their cause. Road traffic is the worst culprit. Traffic is responsible for 80 per cent of NOx on high pollution roads, with diesel engines contributing the bulk of the problem.

Now a new report by ResPublica has compiled a list of ways that city councils around the UK can help. The report argues that: “The onus is on cities to create plans that can meet the health and economic challenge within a short time-frame, and identify what they need from national government to do so.”

This is a diplomatic way of saying that current government action on the subject does not go far enough – and that cities must help prod them into gear. That includes poking holes in the government’s proposed plans for new “Clean Air Zones”.

Here are just five of the ways the report suggests letting the light in and the pollution out:

1. Clean up the draft Clean Air Zones framework

Last October, the government set out its draft plans for new Clean Air Zones in the UK’s five most polluted cities, Birmingham, Derby, Leeds, Nottingham and Southampton (excluding London - where other plans are afoot). These zones will charge “polluting” vehicles to enter and can be implemented with varying levels of intensity, with three options that include cars and one that does not.

But the report argues that there is still too much potential for polluters to play dirty with the rules. Car-charging zones must be mandatory for all cities that breach the current EU standards, the report argues (not just the suggested five). Otherwise national operators who own fleets of vehicles could simply relocate outdated buses or taxis to places where they don’t have to pay.  

Different vehicles should fall under the same rules, the report added. Otherwise, taking your car rather than the bus could suddenly seem like the cost-saving option.

2. Vouchers to vouch-safe the project’s success

The government is exploring a scrappage scheme for diesel cars, to help get the worst and oldest polluting vehicles off the road. But as the report points out, blanket scrappage could simply put a whole load of new fossil-fuel cars on the road.

Instead, ResPublica suggests using the revenue from the Clean Air Zone charges, plus hiked vehicle registration fees, to create “Pollution Reduction Vouchers”.

Low-income households with older cars, that would be liable to charging, could then use the vouchers to help secure alternative transport, buy a new and compliant car, or retrofit their existing vehicle with new technology.

3. Extend Vehicle Excise Duty

Vehicle Excise Duty is currently only tiered by how much CO2 pollution a car creates for the first year. After that it becomes a flat rate for all cars under £40,000. The report suggests changing this so that the most polluting vehicles for CO2, NOx and PM2.5 continue to pay higher rates throughout their life span.

For ClientEarth CEO James Thornton, changes to vehicle excise duty are key to moving people onto cleaner modes of transport: “We need a network of clean air zones to keep the most polluting diesel vehicles from the most polluted parts of our towns and cities and incentives such as a targeted scrappage scheme and changes to vehicle excise duty to move people onto cleaner modes of transport.”

4. Repurposed car parks

You would think city bosses would want less cars in the centre of town. But while less cars is good news for oxygen-breathers, it is bad news for city budgets reliant on parking charges. But using car parks to tap into new revenue from property development and joint ventures could help cities reverse this thinking.

5. Prioritise public awareness

Charge zones can be understandably unpopular. In 2008, a referendum in Manchester defeated the idea of congestion charging. So a big effort is needed to raise public awareness of the health crisis our roads have caused. Metro mayors should outline pollution plans in their manifestos, the report suggests. And cities can take advantage of their existing assets. For example in London there are plans to use electronics in the Underground to update travellers on the air pollution levels.

***

Change is already in the air. Southampton has used money from the Local Sustainable Travel Fund to run a successful messaging campaign. And in 2011 Nottingham City Council became the first city to implement a Workplace Parking levy – a scheme which has raised £35.3m to help extend its tram system, upgrade the station and purchase electric buses.

But many more “air necessities” are needed before we can forget about pollution’s worry and its strife.  

 

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.