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Philanthropy and Charity

The Carnegie Corporation, founded in 1911 by Andrew Carnegie, has given grants that led to the discovery of insulin and the creation of "Sesame Street". In honor of its centennial the Corporation's president Vartan Gregorian speaks of its history in a brief video. A rough transcript:

Being president of the Carnegie Corporation carries a heavy weight on one's shoulders, especially if you're a historian, because you're in the presence of this giant, who was small physically but giant in terms of his vision. What he accomplished during his lifetime is just not only legendary, it's unbelievable. He knew about poverty, and he saw inequality and unequal access to learning as a way of oppression.

He came to the United States with practically nothing. He did not inherit anything except his name, and his quest for learning, his thirst for learning. He saw this country was not based on class alone, was not based on wealth alone, but was based on ideals.

I see two of them as fathers of philanthropy: John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie. They came to philanthropy from different backgrounds, one from religious impulse, the other entirely as a civic duty. Both of them, however, believed in philanthropy.

You have to differentiate between philanthropy and charity. Charities give to the poor and the destitute. You don't question why they are poor. You alleviate ills. You don't do eradication of the cause of ills. And Carnegie decided that they had to deal with causes. Hence philanthropy, as a long-term investment.

Foundations have no reason to exist if they don't take risks. Otherwise they become charitable organizations that just distribute money. If you're a philanthropy, you take a risk. Carnegie Corporation during a century has been in the forefront of major institutions in the United States, major ideas in the United States, and major institutions around the world, a kind of incubator of ideas, a laboratory for change.

But at the same time, and I stress this, a testament to our people, our nation, and our democratic institutions. I'm proud that we're not parochial, parochial ideologically, parochial internationally, parochial ethnically — that we are a reflection of American democracy and institutions. I'm proud that we recognize diversity of opinion and diversity of our nation's ethnic make-up.

Those who have endured for a century have great responsibility for the future of philanthrophy in our country. Not as elders, but as keepers of memory and keepers of challenge.

(cf. EstateTax (2005-05-06), ...) - ^z - 2010-03-28

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