For many people, the words “entrepreneur” and “philanthropy” do not belong in the same sentence. According to conventional wisdom, entrepreneurs are focused on building their own companies and even franchises. An entrepreneurial spirit is usually understood as a savvy ability to generate your own profits through creativity and innovation; entrepreneurs are not necessarily known for their charitable impulses so much as their business acumen. Increasingly, however, successful entrepreneurs are taking philanthropy seriously as part of the entrepreneurial model, and these leaders are making positive contributions in the meantime.
For Ehsan Bayat, Afghan entrepreneur and CEO of Telephone Systems International, philanthropy is part of his larger mission. By focusing primarily on telecommunications projects, his Bayat Foundation works to rebuild Afghanistan in the aftermath of recent wars and promotes democracy in the broader region. It is becoming increasingly common for business leaders like Bayat to devote a portion of their personal or company profits to philanthropic causes or to endow non-profit organizations.
This turn toward philanthropy is more than a trend or public relations maneuver. Successful entrepreneurs are essentially good investors; they understand how to invest their own time, money, and labor strategically to spur growth for their own businesses. At heart, philanthropy uses these same principles of investment, leveraging gifts and donations to grow and promote a project that supports some larger good. This model of investment and growth tends to be a good fit with entrepreneurs who are already familiar with this framework in their own revenue-generating enterprises.
Businesses in general are also showing signs that they understand branding on a very broad level, and philanthropy often complements a business’ larger brand message. In the Bayat example, the philanthropic foundation is not simply a pet project; it participates in the same industry as its affiliated corporate entities. Many businesses are turning to philanthropy as a way to further promote brand messages by building visible partnerships with non-profit or charitable organizations.
For entrepreneurs in particular, a commitment to philanthropy may also be part of a feeling of personal obligation to pay it forward. For many successful entrepreneurs, personal success comes only after years of struggle, and the generosity of a single investor is often the thing that generates an entrepreneur’s ultimate wealth. As a result, many self-made business leaders feel a personal responsibility to uplift others in need. Philanthropy offers a ready way to use business success as a means of providing resources and attention to a worthy cause.
As entrepreneurs continue to incorporate philanthropy into their larger public portfolios, new models for both business and charity may emerge. For entrepreneurs, the spirit of innovation and creativity underlying business success is perfectly suited to the spirit of philanthropy. As more entrepreneurs bring their innovation to the philanthropic world, new business models and opportunities for collaboration may arise. As these practices become more commonplace, look for entrepreneurs to propose incentives for philanthropic participation. In addition to tax incentives, industry leaders may find new ways to mobilize around common causes. Ultimately, philanthropy may be a site of cross-business cooperation, innovation and opportunity.