The word “philanthropy” comes from the Greek word “philanthropia,” meaning “love for mankind.” But the word’s meaning has changed over the years, and today it refers to the practice of wealthy individuals donating portions of their wealth to help those in need. But while the definition is modern, the method is not new. In ancient China and India, philanthropy and benevolence were considered essential parts of the culture. The ancient Greeks even believed it a necessary component of democracy. These were far from the only cultures and religions that emphasized giving. In short, philanthropy has always been a part of global human culture.
But even in the past decade, philanthropy has changed drastically. Part of it is undoubtedly due to the increasingly rapid rise of technology, and part of it is due to the increasingly global worldview many people have. While there is still a wide disparity of wealth, people are overall wealthier than they were, which means more people have disposable income to donate. And they can contribute in many ways and are not limited by geography. A person in Ohio can donate to a cause they care about on the other side of the world and vice versa.
People are also donating more than just capital. Now philanthropy can include donating time, expertise, and other resources to causes and people in need. People are also more educated about global issues thanks to smartphones. They seek solutions that address the root causes of the problem rather than just putting a metaphorical bandage on things by donating money. Philanthropists today, especially the younger generations, want to see the impact of their giving. They are not content to donate every so often and then not worry about results.
Humans have always been moved to give to those that need help. It is in our nature to help. But while philanthropy has existed since the dawn of civilization, it has changed drastically in modern times. Technological advances, increased globalization of culture, and the desire of younger generations to impact the world has all changed philanthropy within just the past ten years. But while the definition of philanthropy may change, the original “love for mankind” from which it is derived does not.