Before you bash the one percent…

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By Alastair Sloan
“We know we make a lot of money, and we know that we live in this world, and we have a responsibility to give something back,” announced a CEO in 2007. “It’s in the long-term interests of this firm to do good things and not just dress up as if we’re doing it.”

Which hippy corporate outfit could this be? The Body Shop? Toms Shoes? Marks & Spencer? Was that bloody Richard Branson? No.

Goldman Sachs, dread of the dreadlocked, flirtatious target of conspiracy theorists and the epitome of ‘the one percent’. Goldman “bloodsucking” Sachs. The bank with a Twitter account that moans about being stuck in an elevator with rich people.

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Back in 2007, Goldman Sachs were serious about giving back. Lloyd Blankfein was announcing a philanthropic fund calledGS Gives, to which it expected its 350 partners to contribute a fixed percentage of their annual pay. The crash took a healthy chunk out of the funds activities, but it survives – in the last three years over a billion dollars has gone into the fund.

It doesn’t matter that the bank reduced it’s giving during the downturn. Most companies reduce their activities during recessions, it’s the natural ebb and flow of capitalism. GS Gives is part of a new brand of philanthropy – calling itselfphilanthrocapitalism, which sets itself firmly apart from the old world of corporate social responsibility (CSR) or rich billionaires “giving it all away.”

Rather than giving, philanthrocapitalism is investing in the world around you. It’s a model for delivering welfare, disease prevention, education and aid that competes, that sets measures and targets, that approaches social impact in the same way you’d approach investing in a pension fund.

It’s this commercial approach to giving which puts the philanthrocapitalists a step ahead of well-meaning charities, bloated NGOs and wasteful governments. This new brand of giving is defined commercially, by entrepreneurs and profit-hunters, who know how to squeeze every last drop out of a dollar. And with donations to charities dropping 30 percent last year, and record numbers of entrepreneurs becoming overnight billionaires, their brand of social enterprise – mixing charity with business, could be century defining.

There are many corporate citizens getting in on the act. Walmart, IKEA and Costco have turned their roofs into giant solar panels, cutting their own energy costs and supplying enough electricity to power 73,400 homes. With every sale of Pampers, Procter & Gamble has given a vaccination for water-born tetanus. They’ve helped forty million children so far.

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