Philanthropy Lesson #006: There’s No One Way to Lead

If philanthropy in 2010 has a theme, then it is that of leadership.  Earlier this year, Warren Buffett and Bill Gates launched the Giving Pledge, encouraging their peers to give half of their wealth to charity.  Their initiative was met with a swift and positive response from dozens of donors in the US, with forty philanthropists coming out in its support.  In taking this welcome lead, Buffett and Gates opened themselves to scepticism from sections of the media and the wider public, who wondered whether they would succeed in delivering solutions for any of the social problems that they had set out to tackle. But scepticism is a hurdle which, though often confronted by leaders, rarely deters them.

At the Institute, we have been lucky to welcome to dinner a leader who – in a far more perilous context than that of Gates and Buffett – was greeted with not only scepticism but hostility when he made the defining move of his career.  FW de Klerk, the former President of South Africa who was instrumental in the dismantling of apartheid, addressed an audience of philanthropists with whom we work.  Having left office several years ago, he is now a founding member of the Global Leadership Foundation, which “exists to improve the quality of political leadership and governance by enabling today’s national leaders to benefit from the experience of former leaders.” 

The model is an interesting one: the Global Leadership Foundation is “a network of former Presidents, Prime Ministers, senior ministers and other distinguished leaders who make their experience available discreetly” to other heads of state grappling with tough problems.

If the Gates and Buffett campaign is public and de Klerk’s is behind the scenes, we get a rich view of the varied forms and styles of leadership that are needed to advance solutions to social problems.  As with so much in philanthropic work there is no one formula, no one-size-fits-all intervention.

Interestingly, these varied leadership styles are reflected in our own network, with a number of the donors we are privileged to work with seeking large public advocacy roles and others achieving results, like President de Klerk, behind closed doors.   Public leadership vs. quiet leadership?  I say we need both.


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