A New Purpose for Philanthropic Services
by Kelley Buhles
“Where do natural resources come from? Did humans buy them from somewhere?
What about our knowledge and abilities? Did we also buy those? Or are they on loan to us?”
John Bloom, RSF’s Senior Director of Organizational Culture, recently posed these questions to staff. The response was a long stretch of thoughtful silence, it was clear these weren’t easy questions.
Perhaps that is because it isn’t often that one is asked these types of questions; they are often delegated to the philosophers and spiritual practitioners of our time. Yet, if we take the time to search within ourselves for the answers, what we arrive at can dramatically change how we frame our relationship to the world around us.
Can we begin to explore the idea that the bounty of life, our ability to physically engage with the world, and our mental capacities to imagine, reason, and learn are all gifts to us? How differently would one behave in the world if we started to see everything we have as a gift, rather than something we earned? And if we can, how might that transform our relationship to money?
The Philanthropic Services team at RSF has been working with Rudolf Steiner’s thinking around the vital role gift plays in our lives. We observed that gift is typically left out of modern economic thinking. As part of RSF’s work to transform the way the world works with money, we also feel it is important to transform the way the world works with gift. We are excited to announce a new purpose statement for our philanthropic services department:
To cultivate giving as the source of economic life
As a transformative intermediary we:
· Move the field of philanthropy towards a gift economy
· Support and honor our client’s deepest intentions
· Integrate gift money into catalytic capital
· Facilitate the circulation of gift money
With this framework we can start to build a new understanding of the role that gift plays in economic life. Gift moves at the beginning of the cycle, rather than being something that happens at the end, once an individual has accumulated adequate wealth. By seeing gift as the primary igniter of economic activity we can start to understand what Steiner said in World Economy, “We cannot arrive at a healthy economic process unless, in the first place, it is made possible for people to have something to give and, in the second place, unless they have the good will and intelligence to give what they have.” (Lecture 5)
This transformation of our understanding of the world from something we have earned to something we are gifted with can inspire us to live into the spirit of interdependence with each other. Ultimately it can transform our understanding of the primary purpose of economic life, from meeting our own needs, towards working together to meet each others needs.
Kelley Buhles is Director of Philanthropic Services at RSF Social Finance