THE BLOG

You Don't Need to Be Bill Gates to Be a Philanthropist - The Young Professionals Are Getting in on the Game

17/11/2014 16:49 GMT | Updated 17/01/2015 10:59 GMT

I used to think philanthropy was for extraordinarily wealthy people. I was wrong. And I didn't realise how much we're all missing out on. Let me explain.

I feel incredibly privileged to be doing a job where I can make a difference to people's lives. One of the defining characteristics of Generation Y, the generation born between 1980 and 2000, is that they want jobs with meaning and impact. I actually don't think this a new phenomenon. I went into politics because I wanted to tackle the structural problems in our housing market, which were causing (and still cause) homelessness. I wanted to do something which wasn't spectating, or consuming. It was part of a bigger picture and it connected me to others instead of isolating me. I was not alone in this, and I'm not now.

I've been lucky. I've had the satisfaction of seeing my party in government begin to help those who haven't had the opportunities I've had. For many people, their day jobs don't feel like that. It's hard work and it's a way to make money (and that isn't a bad thing at all). But it doesn't feel directly meaningful.

Children in Need was fantastic, poignant and full of hope. But I confess I feel slightly envious of the celebrities who get to see first-hand the inspiring work that charities are doing. I think a lot of people want to do more than spectate.

Not everybody can, wants to (or should) work in a charity. Frustratingly, it seems like in the UK, you need parents who can fund you through unpaid internships and a masters before you can even paperclip some reports together. We have let ourselves believe that you need unachievable wealth, a job in the not-for-profit sector, or fame to make a difference.

There is a new wave of opportunities growing to have a tangible impact. We can now give sociably, and can give smarter in the process (see www.givingwhatwecan.org, a website that wants your thought, not your money). One in particular caught my eye. The Bread Tin (www.thebreadtin.org) groups young professionals with a core donor to form a giving group. They spend a year learning how to give smart, researching charities, even going on to create their own. Collectively, they have much more power and opportunity than when giving alone. As young professionals, none of them are millionaires. But when you read their testimonies, there is no hint of regret about the money they've given. It's transformative both ways.

This is not a party political issue. I'm not saying that we shouldn't sort out those deep structural issues holding us all back. In my view, this is absolutely not a substitute for Government aid and I am incredibly proud that the Lib Dems are making it law for Government to invest 0.7% of GDP in overseas Aid. But 21st Century philanthropy is no longer for the astronomically rich.