#341: Philanthrocapitalism?


Fisher, Melissa S. (2012). Wall Street Women, 145.

Story behind the Passage

I got this book in the context of the work I did on business women’s biographies. There was a phase when I was really into this and women’s leadership in general. In fact, people continuously associated the topic with me. At some point, I realized that all this learning and talking about women’s leadership makes no or little sense unless you become a leader yourself. Still, Wall Street women are special “units” of analysis, if you want so, because Wall Street is special. Banking and especially investment banking is a shark bassin. And there were not many women in the past. Now, it is changing slowly, of course, but women pioneers on Wall Street (like Hetty Green, “the witch of Wall Street”) were really pathbreaking.

So, the interesting thing about this passage is the fact that is occurs in the chapter “After Wall Street” and it talks about philanthropy. Obviously, there is a life after Wall Street when people who have been thinking about money all their professional lives think about people. Today, as I flipped through the pages of the book, the term philanthrocapitalism caught my attention because I am really wondering how much philanthropy — how much helper syndrome — is healthy. I am including both genders here. Yes, women might be particularly inclined to help other people, especially women. But one thing that I have learned in the past year is that wanting to help everyone around you and partly actually doing it is not really the path to success — at least not for me.

You might argue that success and helping others has nothing to do with each other. That might be true. I do not know. What I know is that, back to my original statement, if you want to stand out as a successful woman in your field, you should give up helping everyone else and instead become a role model in your core field. If that field happens to be some charity work, o.k., fine, then successful work and successful help are connected. But charity ususally means you depend on the money of other people instead of making a lot of money yourself. That is a fundamental difference. And the way you make much money is, this is what the passage shows, by knowing how capitalism works and how to do business — among other things.

My Learnings

Philanthrocapitalism draws on ‘private wealth primarily to advance public good by applying entrepreneurial skills’ (Clinton 2009).” You might like the Clintons or not. And you might like the fact that people come up with all kinds of new concepts by blending old ones. Fine. But this one at least is more or less realistic because it does not deny the fact that we live in a capitalist world in which you need money in order to move things. Hence, what might seem like opposites — philanthropy and capitalism — can go together. And what especially attracts my attention, of course, is the fact that this is based on entrepreneurial skills.

I have gone through so many loops of volunteering and coaching others. The simple point is: Yes, enabling people and empowering them is great. But all this has little effect if there is no thinking about money involved. And the nice thing about entrepreneurship is that it comprises not only all these other helpful things like creativity and market know how. It also deals with money, especially with investment strategies. And this is also why it makes a lot of sense to have experienced Wall Streets women get active in projects which apply entrepreneurial rules to helping people, particularly poor women around the world.

I am just so puzzled by the fact that women seem to be so much less willing to take risks. This is not a cliché. You always find women who do not fit the stereotype, of course, and as an entrepreneur you need to surround yourself with people who are brave and successful. Still, there is so much cultural work to do to kick people in the butt and make them believe in the fact that they can do it. After all, it does not matter that much that you have exactly the type of role model that fits your profile. It is enough to read about the successful examples of some pioneers to at least get inspired to follow their footsteps.

But now I am falling into the same trap again.

I am writing about successful women.

I need to get back to being one.

Reflection Questions

1) In how far does philanthropy in the U.S. differ from Europe?

2) Do you think there are gender differences when it comes to helper syndrome?

3) How do you think about entrepreneurial skills as an alternative/addition to “charity”?