The following is an excerpt from an essay by La Salle University student Olivia Armater, who with 900 other freshmen this year were required to write on the topic of "Economic Justice." Armater wrote her entry about "philanthropy" in response to an opinion piece about the contributions of Bill Gates.
Armater's piece was cited by a university panel as the best essay submitted.
PHILANTHROPY, to me, comes from the heart and mind. It is thoughtful and informed.
The real philanthropists, whether a college student like me giving $50 to something I care about or Bill Gates giving $31 billion to alleviate world hunger, considers the worthiness of the cause and the impact their gifts can make.
For those of us who have the means, the concept of doing our fair share to ease the burdens of those less fortunate is something we must think about.
The question is how do you calculate what somebody's fair share is? In a New York Times opinion piece that had some harsh criticism of the Gateses, author Paul Singer discusses tithing as a way to alleviate suffering, but doesn't tithing feel more like a tax than a gift? Shouldn't the act of giving come from within or as a result of a request that is meaningful to the philanthropist, rather than be presented as an "obligation"?
Singer compares philanthropy to saving a child who's drowning. To me, this is unfair. If I saw a drowning child, I would instinctively do whatever I could to save them. Philanthropy, however, requires something different from me. It requires a deep understanding and concern for a problem, a commitment to improving the problem and money I am willing to contribute to the issue.
More than anything, it requires me to think about the problem and how to address it. If I believe my action will have a positive impact on the issue, then I must do it. Philanthropy has to make sense. Directing dollars to a poverty-stricken, war-torn region - like Darfur, for instance - would probably not make sense because of the likelihood the dollars would never reach the people who need it. The government simply stands in the way.
I RECOGNIZE this still doesn't reach the question of what I should do to help. Perhaps for me, a college student and certainly not a billionaire, my responsibility is to remain informed of the global issues and be willing to offer anything I can give to organizations around me that are dedicated to helping the underserved. The best I can do is to be aware of the local food pantries, my high school and other organizations that need all the help they can get. After all, doesn't charity begin at home?
Olivia Armater is a freshman at La Salle University from Poughkeepsie, N.Y.