BOOKCASE : The New Philanthropists: The New Generosity

• By Charles Handy / Photography by Elizabeth Handy • William Heinemann • $59.99

I should probably start by declaring myself Charles Handy enthusiast. I have read, pondered, learned from and enjoyed most of his books. So it is difficult to admit that my enthusiasm for his latest, The New Philanthropists, is muted.
The purpose of the book is to profile wealthy people who, their fortunes made, have been equally intent on spending them on variety of good causes. While philanthropy has existed, particularly in the United States, for as long as fortunes have been made, Handy is interested in new breed of givers for whom this activity becomes an important part of their lives, not just by-product of having more money than they can possibly spend. In his introduction he cites number of articles and surveys that make the point these ‘new’ philanthropists are “hands-on, pioneering and entrepreneurial, their resources dedicated to their own causes”. They do not, Handy says, fit the old mould of grant-giving foundations, responding to requests and applications. “… they want to use their money while they are around to see the results.”
This is interesting although well-trodden ground, with the number-boggling generosity of Bill and Melinda Gates, and the reasons behind it, making the headlines regularly. Instead of applying his sharp, analytical mind to the phenomenon, Handy has written brief profiles of 24 wealthy individuals (three of them women) in the Gates’ mould. Most are British and there is one New Zealander, Tony Falkenstein, who is ill-served by the journalistic approach – not Handy’s forte. He is unlikely to thank the author for one quote in particular: “I bring tea to my wife in bed every morning. That is in part the celebration of happy marriage but it is also because I’m giver.”
Charles Handy was, during the closing decades of last century, one of the most incisive thinkers and certainly the most elegant writer about the new emerging work patterns, and the ‘portfolio’ lives that would profoundly change business and personal worlds this century. Possibly Handy has little more to say as management philosopher. Certainly, he now has the personal satisfaction of working on projects with his wife (which I can enthusiastically commend), but I do miss the challenging ideas, thoughtful observations and, however complex, the arguments and illustrations, the page-turning prose in books like The Age of Unreason, The Empty Raincoat, and Beyond Certainty. Ian F Grant

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