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Atlantic Philanthropies SVP Colin McCrea interviewed on the Pat Kenny Show, RTE (Ireland)

Resource type: News

Pat Kenny Show, RTE |

Colin McCrea, SVP, Atlantic Philanthropies was interviewed on the Pat Kenny Show on Ireland’s National Radio station (RTE) recently in a discussion on philanthropy. The morning chat show of 8 July, 2008, broadcast an interview exploring the field of philanthropy and the role it plays in bringing about lasting change in today’s society. The segment included Colin McCrea of Atlantic Philanthropies as a model of how effective philanthropy operates; an Irish Times journalist, Arthur Beesley, who outlines the history of Philanthropy in Ireland; and the author Fran O’Brien (who was so moved by the work of the Laura Lynn Children’s Hospice Foundation, that she raised money in support of their work). Listen to the audio interview below, or read the transcript. Pat Kenny: 185715900 if you’ve got any comments to make on any of the items in the program so far, or indeed comments to make on our next item because this morning we’re talking about something which the philosopher Nietzsche said only encouraged the weak to sponge off the strong, and which Henry Ford argued encouraged idleness. Andrew Carnegie, on the other hand, said he who dies rich dies thus disgraced. Celebrities from Bono to Angelina Jolie have promoted it, as have entrepreneurial success stories such as Bill Gates. I’m talking about philanthropy. And to discuss it I’m joined by Arthur Beesley, Senior Business Correspondent with The Irish Times, and Colin McCrea, Senior Vice President of Atlantic Philanthropies-which was of course founded by Chuck Feeney-and Fran O’Brien, who’s devoted her time and energy to raising money for the Laura Lynn Children’s Hospice Foundation by writing and publishing her own novels . Let’s start, Arthur, with you and get a definition. You define Philanthropy as distinct from charity. Arthur Beesley: Sure, and I’m borrowing here from a definition offered by Colin beside me: Charity seeks to relieve the symptom that presents itself, while philanthropy seeks to remove the cause that gave rise to the symptom in the first instance. In essence charity is a response; philanthropy is a strategic effort to do away with the cause of the symptom. Pat Kenny: And tell us about some of the significant philanthropic figures that we’ve had over the years. Arthur Beesley: Well I think if you look at Ireland, I mean if you look at, say, Dr. Steven’s Hospital in Dublin where HSE (Health Service Executive) is now based, that was a philanthropic gesture going back to the early 1700s. If you look at the Hugh Lane Gallery in Parnell Square, the Municipal Gallery of Art, that too was a philanthropic gesture. In modern times we have the Ireland Funds. We see dotted around the universities of the country we see institutions named after some of the more eminent and wealthier business figures who have achieved success in the country. I’m speaking of the Smurfit School of Business, the Quinn School of business, the O’Reilly Hall and so on. So we do have a culture. There are plenty of examples of giving on a grand scale in this country. Internationally we have the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. We have the Bill Clinton Foundation-he uses his role as former President of the U.S. to raise money from wealthy people which in turn is redistributed. Pat Kenny: Andrew Carnegie, the philosophy of Andrew Carnegie: He who dies rich dies thus disgraced. And I suppose he’s most famous for libraries. Arthur Beesley: That’s right. He wrote a book called The Gospel of Wealth. He made a huge fortune in the steel business in the U.S., sold the business to JP Morgan thereafter, and decided that…developed a philosophy whereby the wealthy were duty bound, having looked after themselves, to give something back to society and provide for others. So we do have the example of the Carnegie libraries. In more modern times the Carnegie Corporation of New York-which is the institution that he set up-deals in educational projects, international development, projects to promote international peace and stability, strengthening US democracy and, more recently, projects to encourage the study of Islam. Pat Kenny: And explain the basis of operation for these philanthropic organizations because, I mean Carnegie would have been alive-I know he was alive in the 20th century as well-but he would have started all of this in the 19th century. How come these foundations are still around? The Rockefellers, the Mellons, the Carnegies, all of this? Arthur Beesley: The Carnegie Corporation basically started off with an endowment that is invested in the public markets. The corporation at the moment has some three billion in assets. It typically gives in the region of 100 million dollars per year. So the idea is that you have a pool of money which is making money in the same way as a pension fund would or in the same way as a private investment fund would… Pat Kenny: which at the moment, of course, are not making any money Arthur Beesley: Well indeed-these are the times in which we live. But the idea is essentially that the endowment makes money, it derives an income, so therefore the endowment is there all of the time and from that then that money is dispersed. I know in the case of The Atlantic Philanthropies… Pat Kenny: This is why I asked the question… Arthur Beesley: The idea is that they’re going to spend themselves out of existence within the next eight years. But the man beside me is better qualified to speak about that then I am. Pat Kenny: You’re talking about the gift that keeps on giving. And Colin McCrea, Senior Vice President of Atlantic Philanthropies, I want to address that issue of why you’re going about things in the way that you’re going about them. But tell us a little about the history of Atlantic Philanthropies. Colin McCrea: Well Chuck Feeney is an Irish-American, he grew up in Elizabeth, New Jersey, and he’s a self-made billionaire. And when he had enough money he decided that in fact he was more interested in the deals and the buzz from the deals than he was in the money itself. So he decided to give away all his money. So in the mid-eighties he gave away all of his money to set up the Atlantic Philanthropies. So it’s not his money anymore, and he gave away around I think 620 million at the time but that, through investment and business, that has grown and he has given-or his foundation has given-four billion dollars to date and its got about another four to go. Pat Kenny: Is he not a bit worried that he might need some of it later? Say he lives into his nineties or something like that, is he not worried that he might need to take some of it back? Colin McCrea: Well… Pat Kenny: He’s not going to do that, he’s not going to be able to do that-as you say, it isn’t his money. Colin McCrea: It’s not his money. He’s on a salary from Atlantic Philanthropies. He’s very actively involved in the whole business. He’s not going to want. Pat Kenny: So he’s not going to starve. Colin McCrea: No, he’s not going to starve. I have no worries about him starving. Pat Kenny: because I was concerned… Colin McCrea: (laughs) yeah. Pat Kenny: Genuinely concerned. The man’s given away all his money and we’re going to find him in a dumpster or something like that on a cold December night in Washington D.C. at some point in the future. Colin McCrea: He has very modest requirements. He lives very modestly. Pat Kenny: He doesn’t even have a house apparently. Not only does he not have an executive jet, he doesn’t have a house. Colin McCrea: He has no interest in the trappings of money. But what he is interested in is what his money can do. And he’s really interested in bringing about lasting change. Pat Kenny: What is his money doing? It’s doing quite a lot at the moment. Colin McCrea: Well we give away about 400 million dollars a year and we will for the next eight or nine years. And then all the money will be gone. And we operate in four programmes, as we call them, four areas. One is children-special area, very small children. The other is the elderly and the other is in human rights and in developing countries and public health. Pat Kenny: And why-to address the point that Arthur was making-why give it all away in, I don’t know you probably can’t call it one fell swoop, but in a few fell swoops? Why not do what the Carnegie and the Mellons and the Rockefellers did: establish a foundation and 150 years from now Chuck Feeney’s money could still be used for charitable causes, or philanthropic causes. Colin McCrea: Well there’s no right answer to that, and most foundations are perpetual foundations. But we decided, for good or ill, that we were going to spend ourselves out of existence by 2016. And the reason for that was that we think that the baby boomers are going to bring an awful lot of money down in the next few years and that there will be foundations to carry on. The other is that we didn’t want any mission drift, as they say. Henry Ford was a very conservative man and the Ford Foundation in New York is a very progressive one. We are a progressive foundation and we didn’t want ourselves drifting maybe in many years time into something that the founder wouldn’t have liked. Pat Kenny: Buying arms or something, instead of spreading alms. Colin McCrea: (laughs) That wouldn’t appeal to Chuck at all. Pat Kenny: You’re worrying me again though when you say you’re going to spend yourself out of existence in 2016. Who’s going to pay Chuck’s salary in 2016 when you spend yourself out of existence? Colin McCrea: I think that’ll be looked after. Don’t worry about that. Pat Kenny: My hair is going gray worrying about the prospect. Your hair has already gone gray. Right. Now a different kind of philanthropy, a different kind of giving, and that’s Fran O’Brien who’s raised €60,000 for the Laura Lynne Children’s Hospice Foundation in a very interesting way. Fran, tell us how you’ve actually raised this money. Fran O’Brien: Well I write as a hobby and have done so for years, and one day on the radio I heard Jane McKenna of the Laura Lynne Children’s Hospice Foundation speak about the tragic loss of her two girls Laura and Lynne. And I’m sure a lot of people would know the story and I was just so moved by it, I said I’d love to do something. But I had never done anything for charity, I thought, other than give to GOAL or whoever and so as I say all I could do was write-which is what I did in my spare time-and my husband and I decided that perhaps we’d put a few bob in and we would publish the books ourselves instead of a publishing company and distribute them all around the country to all the shops, get them in there and just see what we could do. And really we didn’t think that we’d raise any money at all. We thought we’d be burning the books eventually, but it was amazing how well it went and we reprinted a few times and then-that was in ’05-and in ’07 then we published another book. And the first two books have raised €60,000 to date and now we have a third book out this year, which hopefully will raise more money and continue to… Pat Kenny: There’s two elements here: one is that you’re giving your time-which is something I wanted to talk to all three of you about-but also there’s an element of risk where you’re concerned: you’re not just giving money that you have raised in other fields that you don’t need in order to exist. Basically you are investing money in something that might not produce anything at all. Fran O’Brien: Yeah that was the initial thing. Now, it’s only a few thousand, I mean it wasn’t a huge amount of money. But at the same time the logic was: well will we go on the big holiday? You know, will we look at China or somewhere? We said well maybe we’ll do that, then we said well that’s all over in two weeks, so it’s gone, so we may as well put the money into the books instead and if it goes, so what? So that was the logic of it, and it turns out of course it didn’t, and the same money has rolled over all the time all the different books and so on… Pat Kenny: Once you make the initial investment… Fran O’Brien: Yeah, and it rolls over. And then you have an advantage, the tax advantage, being a writer and all that kind of thing. And also we’re very much helped by people. And principally our main sponsor who does all our deliveries for us is Cyclone Couriers. They’re fantastic. I make a phone call and I have a van up in two hours. Pat Kenny: Does this mean you’re not reliant on the likes of Eason, or Newspread, or whoever, to get your books into the shops. Fran O’Brien: No, we distribute ourselves. I deal directly with the shops. Now, they would include all the Easons as well. There’s only a couple different larger ones who wouldn’t deal with us because we’re small. But most of them might have around one hundred and fifty outlets around the country, so I have to service all of them, the admin and all of that. Pat Kenny: What kind of books are we talking about? Fran O’Brien: Well we’re talking, I suppose, the kind of general fiction, dare we say it, chick lit. Pat Kenny: I was wondering was that phrase going to come up. Fran O’Brien: But now I believe… Pat Kenny: You said it, I didn’t. Fran O’Brien: Writers get objections, I don’t really. We say hen lit as opposed to chick lit-slightly more mature. I write really… I don’t think in advance, I’m not that sort of writer that plans it all out and says I’m going to write this sort of book. It’s what comes out and they evolve. This current one now is called Odds on Love and it’s a kind of thriller. So that’s different from the previous two. Pat Kenny: A departure for you. Fran O’Brien: Yeah. Pat Kenny: Arthur, time as an element of philanthropy. Because aside from the initial investment a lot of what Fran is offering is not money directly, it’s her time. Is Bono a philanthropist, is Bob Geldof a philanthropist because they give time rather than money? Arthur Beesley: Well I think they are, without a doubt. I think Fran’s case illustrates that you don’t have to be mega-wealthy to make a contribution. I think there are thousands of people in this country who give very generously of their time to organisations such as the St. Vincent Hall over many decades. There are others who are involved in adult literacy schemes who teach very quietly behind the scenes week after week, year after year. There are others who, I mean, at a very basic level in the community who might train the local soccer team or the local hurling or football team. Pat Kenny: Altruism. When we were talking before the break you very politely accused me of cynicism. Does this genuinely exist? i.e., if there’s no possible payback in terms of publicity, self aggrandizement, tax write-off or eternal salvation, does altruism genuinely exist? Unless you’re getting one of those back. Arthur Beesley: I think it does. I mean, to say that altruism doesn’t exist is to say that an economic man is just that and there’s nothing else to man or woman or humanity. I don’t think the argument is sustainable, to be frank. Pat Kenny: And in relation to Chuck Feeney… Chuck Feeney kept all of this quiet and eventually went public. Why did he go public? Colin McCrea: Well he went public for two reasons. One is that we were in operation in Ireland for about ten years and we’d given away hundreds of millions to hundreds of organisations. So it was a secret that many people knew. And we thought we were very discreet and we’d go around University campuses and nobody would know who we were. But we found out afterwards that we were known as the MADs in one university. Pat Kenny: The MADs? Colin McCrea: The MADs-the major anonymous donors-are here. So it was a secret that everyone knew. Pat Kenny: You’re sure it was major anonymous donors and not mad anonymous donors? Colin McCrea: (laughs) It was major anonymous donors. But the second reason, and the more important one, Miles, was that since we’re going to go out of business in eight years time we want to encourage others to become involved in it. And Ireland, people are very generous but the number of charitable foundations does not stand up on a per capita basis. Pat Kenny: I’m skeptical about 2016. I mean Marx basically talked about Marxism and the withering away of the state, but you know Russia was still there in 1989 and it was withered away by other people. So… Arthur Beesley: It’s still there. Pat Kenny: It’s still there. Good point Doctor! Colin McCrea: If I could make one further point about altruism. It does have an advantage and when you talk to philanthropists what they say is you get the buzz, the self-satisfaction they get out of seeing what their money can do, is a real cause for doing it. Pat Kenny: Thank you all very very much indeed for coming in today and talking to us about the subject. And to once again mention Fran’s book: Odds on Love. And how do people get a hold of it? In bookshops? Any decent bookshops? Fran O’Brien: Well any bookshop, generally. Or they can contact me on my website if they want to, if they have difficulties. So that’s Pat Kenny: Thank you very much indeed gentlemen, and Fran. Thank you.

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