Growing up in Los Angeles at the age of two it was just my mother, brother and I.” John Paul Dejoria told me, “We had very little but didn’t know it. We had a very loving mother. At 6 years old, my mom took my brother and I downtown for Christmas to see the store window displays, trains, puppets and holiday festivities. She gave my brother and I a dime and asked us each to hold it and together put it into a red bucket towards a man ringing a red bell. This was the early 50’s. We said, ‘Mom, why did we give him a dime when that could buy us two soda pops?’ My mom said, ‘boys we just donated to the Salvation Army. They help people that do not have homes or food. Always remember in life there will always be someone that will be in more in need.’ We could only afford a dime that year, but we gave to help out others! I never forgot it!

Dejoria, now a billionaire, has become one of the world’s wealthiest entrepreneurs- notably for his role founding Paul Mitchell Hair systems and Patron Spirits.  Alongside his businesses, he’s one of the USA’s most prominent philanthropists. “I’m fortunate that I can make a change that in a very positive way affects a better way of life for many humans as well as all living creatures and our planet…” he told me, adding “while I’m alive and that will live on.”

Understanding Philanthropy

Whilst ‘philanthropy’ has become a buzz-word (in perhaps the same way that ‘entrepreneurship’ has), it can perhaps be most easily understood as the umbrella term for the activities that an individual engages in to improve their community, environment or culture.    As Dejoria explained to me …charity and philanthropy are the same. Charity giving is more aligned with money and not so much individual time. Philanthropy is more of a practice and way of being…

This holistic view is important.  For many in the world, writing a cheque is seen as the only method by which they can reach causes they’re passionate about.  Let me be clear, whilst money is certainly important to causes, there is a huge amount more you can do to engage- often with significantly more impact.  Jeff Raikes, former CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (the world’s largest charitable foundation) told me, “…the most important thing is to commit your resources, whether it’s money or time, to a cause that you’re passionate about, whether that is a local school, supporting an environmental project, or helping poor kids in Africa…

Where To Begin….

The first step is introspection.  You need to know what you are personally passionate about.  What do you feel strongly about? What interests you? Where would you like to make a change?  This is often the hardest part of the journey- there are so many opportunities to give in this world, but understanding where your passion lies is critical if you want to make your journey a success.  Introspection is always a hard process, and can reveal many demons- more than a handful of those I know who give, do so because of significant events, drivers or experiences they’ve had in their lives- and a wish to turn those into something positive.

Do Your Research…

Once you’ve decided the ‘broad areas,’ where you want to engage, it’s time to engage.  For me (and many other philanthropists I’ve met and worked with) this has meant spending time with other’s involved in giving to learn what (and how) they support, visiting causes to understand them and their beneficiaries, reading around topics of interest, attending conferences, seminars and more.    You wouldn’t get into a new business without doing your homework, and philanthropy is no exception.

Now, The Fun Bit…

Dejoria told me, “I feel it is the duty for every human and company to do something to either make their community, their city, their state, their country or the world a better place to live. You don’t have to contribute financially, but rather your time, smile and good wishes to start the ball rolling. Time is a very valuable thing, when you contribute your time to others- you’ve contributed something of great value”  Understanding you have a lot to offer is important:

Your Experience:

The skills you deployed to build a successful career are hugely useful for causes.  Charities and social-ventures need mentors, advisors and those willing to help them.   You can do this directly, or through the hundreds of ‘time bank’ initiatives that connect experienced individuals to causes that need their support.  This is a hugely rewarding, and intensely impactful activity. 

Your Network:

Don’t underestimate the power of your network.  One lesson I’ve learned from American philanthropists in particular is that your work in the community is in parallel with your career.  Historically, many have chosen to wait till they retire before they engage- but, as one philanthropist (who wishes to remain anonymous) told me, “by the time I retire, most of my contacts will probably be dead, and I sure as hell won’t have the energy to do anything of note…” Being an active advocate for causes, connecting them with people who could help them, opening doors- all those activities add significant value to charities and social organisations.

Your Time & Energy:

It goes without saying, but time is precious.   For many charities- the most important volunteers and philanthropists are those who commit the time and energy to putting on  fundraisers, events, and who commit significant time resource to helping.  

Your Company Resources:

Your company is a powerful pool of resources.  Whether it’s staff time volunteering and advising, or the physical resources you have (trucks, space, machinery) or even your brand (as leverage), there is a huge amount you can do to plug philanthropy deeply into your business.

Your Money…

I’m a nerd, old-school,and have learned to know when enough is enough.” Craig Newmark told me, adding “Specifically, once I have enough for my family and myself to live well enough, then it’s more satisfying to make a difference.” In truth, whether it’s small amounts on an ad-hoc basis, or significant on-going support through foundations, charities and causes are hugely reliant on this financial support to remain sustainable.  You have to approach this with caution though.  Do your research into the cause, look at their financials, meet the team, and make sure you get good advice.  Your financial giving should feel like investment.  As Sir Ratan Tata (one of the world’s most prominent philanthropists) told me “, you have to have goals – that can be measured.  There cannot be an endless outflow of funds, your strategy has to be sustainable.   Paying out money year on year becomes like charity, not philanthropy.”

Enjoy It.

From my own personal journey I can tell you that philanthropy has given me some of the most rewarding, exciting, enjoyable, emotional and life-changing experiences I’ve had.   It’s great fun, and that builds my (and many other’s) motivations to engage.

Eli Broad, one of the world’s wealthiest entrepreneurs, who has given billions to charity told me, “You’ll find it’s very rewarding.  You’ll feel very good about making a difference and you’ll get a lot of respect from a lot of people for what you’re doing.  It’s hard work, but it’s incredibly enjoyable.”


Thought Economics

About the Author

Vikas Shah MBE DL is an entrepreneur, investor & philanthropist. He is CEO of Swiscot Group alongside being a venture-investor in a number of businesses internationally. He is a Non-Executive Board Member of the UK Government’s Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy and a Non-Executive Director of the Solicitors Regulation Authority. Vikas was awarded an MBE for Services to Business and the Economy in Her Majesty the Queen’s 2018 New Year’s Honours List and in 2021 became a Deputy Lieutenant of the Greater Manchester Lieutenancy. He is an Honorary Professor of Business at The Alliance Business School, University of Manchester and Visiting Professors at the MIT Sloan Lisbon MBA.

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