Chris Liddell: Taking care of what happens Next

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Philanthropic body complements education, environment projects, writes top businessman Chris Liddell.

The foundation has contributed to the restoration of Rotoroa Island. Photo / Natalie Slade
The foundation has contributed to the restoration of Rotoroa Island. Photo / Natalie Slade

Philanthropy today has a greater role in making society a better place than ever before. Philanthropic organisations can be catalysts for positive change.

Think of what the US$40 billion Gates Foundation has done for global health initiatives and you will understand the scale and scope of philanthropy in helping address some of the world's challenges.

This is not to say that the efforts of foundations are taking the place of the government -- they aren't and nor should they try to. But philanthropy can complement the state by taking up some of the slack created by constrained resources. It can also facilitate experimentation at the edges of traditional systems.

The increasing role for philanthropy comes during a time of unprecedented change. The most obvious are the technological advances - virtually every single aspect of our lives is being touched in some way by technology - but also socio-political change brought on by global population growth and globalisation.

When I was born there were 4 billion people in the world. There are now 7 billion and we are on our way to 9 billion by 2050.

This growth is creating huge new markets, often in areas that are New Zealand's strengths. With billions of new mouths to feed, clothe and house, our country is well placed to increase its per capita wealth by growing and creating products other people want.

But not all the impacts are positive. Population growth is putting a huge strain on the natural resources of the planet. Humanity's environmental footprint grows ever larger.

Furthermore, global changes are creating winners and losers. As American journalist Tom Friedman has put it, "average is over". You can no longer automatically expect that doing an average job will lead to an average lifestyle.

We now live in a world which is equalising across countries but often with greater inequality within a country. We have seen a hollowing out of the middle class, as jobs that used to be carried out by a human have been outsourced to technology or to emerging nations.

Expanding and improving education is key to adapting to change, enhancing economic mobility and confronting global challenges. We need new and innovative ways of educating our people. Our education system will need to teach skills aimed at the new requirements of our changing world: creating value through ideas, technology-enabled roles, service roles for the economy, new forms of communications and international business. The ability to retrain throughout life and adapt to a changing pattern of workforce requirements will be essential.

Protection and conservation of the environment is also critical. New Zealand is heavily reliant on its natural environment for not only our national identity, but our economic wellbeing. Primary production, tourism and many other sectors depend on the health of our land and water. More than that, our relationship with our environment helps define who we are as New Zealanders.

All of this thinking has been background to how we have approached the Next Foundation.

We believe in a system of strategic philanthropy, which plays a different role from traditional charity. To quote an old expression, "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach him how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime." Philanthropy seeks to do the latter -- to effect lasting positive change.

At Next we are focusing our energy and resources on innovative projects in the areas of education and the environment. We believe these are two of the most important foundations upon which to build a country's success in the world of the next generation.

We hope to be a positive addition to the efforts of the government, and the large number of existing non-profits in New Zealand.

We will work with a selected number of New Zealand social entrepreneurs to help make their ideas a reality. We will fund projects that have three characteristics: a large and lasting impact, a clear plan to deliver that impact, and a team of people that will make it happen.

We have already taken this approach with the projects we have funded so far. To date we have contributed more than $60 million to a number of projects, such as those at Rotoroa Island, the iconic Abel Tasman National Park and the University of Auckland Business School.

We live in exciting and challenging times. How we adapt to the accelerating pace of global change will define our success as a nation. We cannot take advantage of every opportunity or solve every problem but against this backdrop we believe philanthropy can make a substantial positive difference to our country's future.

www.nextfoundation.org.nz/

Chris Liddell is chairman of the Next Foundation, which has been established to invest $100 million in transformational projects in education and the environment. The foundation is seeking to support New Zealanders with great ideas in a process that opens today.

- NZ Herald

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