So…I guess I’m one of those philanthropist wankers. (Part 1)Posted: 16 June 2011
In part one of a special four part series, David Hardie explains how it is he came to be a philanthropist. You can follow part two of his journey tomorrow.
I’ve been an interested observer of the world of philanthropy for a few years now and in particular, the increasing efforts to encourage a greater sense of giving amongst wealthy Australians. I’ve nodded quietly to myself when reading the assessment that Australians just don’t like to go public about such things (the tall poppy syndrome and all that) and I’ve heartily laughed when noting a recent observation that many ordinary Australians equate the word philanthropist with wanker.
Although I suspect I’ll never fully embrace the philanthropist job title I also firmly believe in the importance of de-mystifying and challenging labels, especially through the power of personal stories.
So I thought why not use the Three Eggs musings to share some of my insights drawn from what has been a ten year, (umm, yep I’m going to use the dreaded ‘j’ word)…journey, to get me to my recent milestone of establishing a private ancillary fund. I’ll do it in four parts. The first two will provide some history on what has got me to this stage and in parts three and four I’ll share some thoughts on the strategy I’m putting in place for this PAF.
To deal with the obvious question first…where did the $ come from? The money is an inheritance from my beloved grandfather – an unassuming man who through sheer hard work and a great mind for smart investments managed to establish and build a small family investment company during his lifetime. We’re not talking massive wealth here – but it is more than I or my other family members need to lead the type of lives we want – again, pretty unassuming ones. I realised from a young age that one day there was a good chance that, as an ‘only grandchild’, I’d end up with responsibility for the company. To say that this didn’t particularly excite me was an understatement. Despite my grandad’s best efforts to get me engaged, I just could never get interested in this world. Money and finances have never been my thing, I’ve always liked words not numbers and I’ve never once (until very recently – but more on that in part four!) got a thrill from reading a balance sheet or shares portfolio, no matter how positive they might be. I also really liked my life and didn’t want the acquisition of wealth to change it. So the idea that one day I might be responsible for this seemed quite a burden. My grandad passed away in 2001 at the age of 88 and he was still overseeing his investment portfolio right till the end…proudly reflecting on what he had built ‘for his family’.
For quite awhile the family just let things continue on as they were (with the assistance of sound investment advisors). I just put all this to one side and continued on with my life as it was. I didn’t really consider that the wealth was mine and didn’t even want to think about it too much. So things stayed like that for a few years. With one exception. I established a memorial scholarship in my grandad’s name to provide an opportunity for a student from a disadvantaged background to undertake an undergraduate engineering degree. Having pursued a HR career and been responsible for a large public sector trainee and graduate recruitment program this was an area I knew something about. So I guess that this scholarship (which continues to this day) was my first act of traditional philanthropy.
Then, in 2004, I met someone who was in the process of setting up the Sydney Community Foundation and shared an intense and challenging time with her and 30 others on the eight month Sydney Leadership Program – a social leadership program that tends to turn your world upside down (in a good way!). I had undertaken this program because of a growing realisation that I was interested in social issues and that while money wasn’t my thing as such, that people certainly were – especially people who were marginalised in some way. I’d been volunteering as a telephone counsellor for a few years and slowly developing more self-awareness about what mattered to me, what my values were and had started to consider those simple questions like ‘what’s your purpose in life?’ And creating the space for those questions led to some clarity about what I should do next.
David Hardie recently worked as a Program Manager and Intern at the Myer Foundation and Sidney Myer Fund. He is the Founder of the Slingsby Foundation and strongly believes that those Australians who are financially well-off should grow Australian philanthropy and help build the social fabric of the nation that has provided their wealth.