November 24, 2008 · Updated 7:11 PM
The focus of the 35th Annual Economic Outlook conference at the downtown Seattle Convention Center last Wednesday was on giving money away rather than making it. Instead of focusing on the usual indicators of employment growth or jet aircraft orders, the conference of business leaders and economists centered on the role of philanthropy as not only an engine of social change but also a tool of profound and growing impact on the world and the local economy.
The billions to be given away by the Gates Foundation and Warren Buffet are only part of the story. These efforts to identify needs and disperse funds will create jobs for the local economy.
The business of philanthropy also represents a kind of global cultural shift in commerce. As Matthew Bishop, the American business editor of the British magazine The Economist, noted, the model of giving being adopted around the world comes from the United States. Western Washington is at or near the center of the universe in this growing trend. A University of Washington study shows that:
On Mercer Island, philanthropy and giving are modeled daily with programs and individual efforts. Youth & Family Services, through its VOICE programs, involves youth as early as middle school to help others. The Mercer Island High School Day of Service sends students out in the community to help with projects. The students at St. Monica School adopt a seriously ill child and his/her family each year, raising money to help pay medical bills and other expenses.
Helping those without the resources and opportunities that we enjoy, either at home or across the world, helps individuals and communities reach their potentials. In the process, we help ourselves.