Tuesday, August 27, 2013

David Geffen, a billionaire, wants to give all his wealth away during his lifetime

When asked what he would do with his wealth, David Geffen, the record-business manager and entrepreneur, a movie and theater producer, co-founder of a film studio, investor, and prominent art collector,  replied, "I intend to give every nickel away....Actions speak louder than words. If you're going to give it away, then give it away. And do it when you are alive." In a revealing interview with David A. Kaplan, Geffen discussed how he went from being "a young, small, thin, gay guy" without money or obvious talents to becoming a millionaire by the time he was 30 and a billionaire by 50. (Fortune, August 12, 2013, pp. 74-80)

So far, he has become a philanthropist with the UCLA medical school named after him since he does not believe in giving anonymously. He has also donated to the arts and AIDS research. Now that he is 70 and has retired, he can look back on an incredible career in the record industry, movies, and theater. Although he was once considered "the most powerful man in Hollywood," he has no desire to leave a legacy. Instead, he will continue enjoying his life in Hollywood, Wall Street, and Silicon Valley, and give all his money away.

Geffen also said he did not join the "Giving Pledge" of Bill Gates and Warren Buffet for billionaires who promised to give away half of their assets to charity during their lifetimes because he said, "I don't believe in it. It's grandstanding: You're just saying you're going to do it. There's no legal obligation. I know more than one member of the club who told me, 'Well, you're not actually required to give anything away, but you look good.' "

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

What could "Blue Jasmine" in Woody Allen's film have done to start a new, meaningful life?

If you were as fascinated by Cate Blanchett in "Blue Jasmine" as many critics and I were, you may have asked yourself what a wealthy socialite who suddenly loses all her money in dramatic circumstances might have done to come back to reality and lead a constructive, meaningful life. Fortunately, an incredible woman, Elizabeth Maxwell, did just that, according to The New York Times obituary on August 9, 2013, after Dr. Maxwell died at 92.

Elizabeth Maxwell met her husband, Robert, when she welcomed Allied officers to liberated Paris after World War II. She was a French Huguenot who came from an aristocratic French family. He was a Holocaust survivor born in Czechoslovakia, who later changed his name when he became a British intelligence agent during the war. Together they built a multibilllion-dollar media business, including the Macmillan publishing group and The New York Daily News, and a 53-room manor. They also produced five daughters and four sons. 

Then everything changed when Robert Maxwell fell or jumped from his yacht in 1991 near the Canary Islands. Because of the strange circumstances of his death, she could not get insurance. Then many illegal actions turned up in his business dealings leading to bankruptcy, and she was suddenly penniless.She also found out that her husband had been unfaithful. What could she do when she appeared to have nothing? 

Instead of being overwhelmed by her changed circumstances when she was 70, she continued her educational efforts to bring more attention to the Holocaust, which had led to death of so many of her husband's family members. Armed with her Oxford Ph.D., which she had obtained at the age of 60, she continued the Holocaust and Genocide Studies journal she had started with her husband in 1987 and arranged several scholarly conferences on the subject. To make some money, she published her autobiography, "A Mind of My Own:  My Life with Robert Maxwell" and lectured widely. By the time she died, she had been honored widely for her educational and philanthropic efforts and had lived a full life in the midst of her family.

The lesson is clear for anyone who experiences a great or small loss or dislocation: concentrate on having a meaningful life helping others rather than making yourself sick regretting the material riches you have lost.

Dr. Susan Gitelson, author, Giving Is Not Just For The Very Rich: A How-to Guide for Giving and Philanthropy

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Parallels between Nelson Mandela and Jean Valjean

I just saw "Les Miserables" for the fifth time (twice on Broadway, once in Paris, the film, and a regional theater production) and each time I was terribly moved. Why? It struck me that Jean Valjean demonstrates the same courage and compassion that we celebrate with Nelson Mandela. Both, after having been imprisoned for many years, were able to overcome their anger enough to resume their lives and to help other people. Both have fought to overcome injustice and inequality and to change their societies. (Although Jean Valjean is a fictional character, it seems that he and his cause are still alive!)

Think of what might have been the outcomes:

People thrown into prison like Jean Valjean for stealing a loaf of bread for a small child released after nineteen years could easily have turned into hardened criminals. He was saved by a priest's compassion and went on to establish a business, employ many people, and show compassion to a woman who was fired unfairly from his factory.

People who have faced discrimination and cruelty could turn into terrorists or dictators -- we certainly have more than enough of them!  Instead, these men have fought for justice and equality.

If only fewer people would be sent to prison for trying to help others (like Jean Valjean) or for opposing discrimination because of race, religion, ethnic origin, etc. (like Nelson Mandela)!

Let us hope that more people who have suffered in prison will find the spiritual resources to become constructive citizens and leaders!

How can a small business go GLOBAL?

How can a small business go GLOBAL?

Even if you have a small business with less than 10 employees engaged in consumer or scientific products, which you have been selling locally, you can consider going global. You can either import and distribute products from abroad or export products made in America to international markets or both.

First, you have to be part of, or at least familiar with, a particular industry, such as housewares, hardware, or ....
If you have been manufacturing and selling products in the American market, then you want to become familiar with markets in Europe, the Far East, Latin America, etc. by reading the trade press.
Probably the most important way to make actual contacts with buyers and sellers from abroad is through industry trade shows in this country and abroad because
-- people from all over the world can visit your booth and see your products so that you can begin a discussion of mutually NS YOU  advantageous trade opportunities
-- you can walk around and see what products are available from other countries -- what products appeal to you? what is the competition? who is distributing these products in the US? does anyone else have exclusivity for distribution? could you?
-- alternatively, foreign buyers could approach you about selling your products in their country -- then you would want to know what other products they carry and from which country? what are their distribution networks?
-- as you speak to people who have products attractive to you, be prepared to indicate your successes in your market and your potential for enhancing markets for your products and theirs.
The process requires a lot of research, but can lead to global possibilities you had not imagined before.

5 steps to get ready to launch a small global business:

1. Research your industry and market -- what are the new products? what kind of distributors and stores are likely to carry them? who will be the most likely end users?
2, Attend trade shows in your industry and talk to as many people as possible -- which are the major producers and distributors? what are their specialties?
3. Learn to observe and listen first before talking too much about yourself and your products
4. be ready to discuss the markets intelligently and, if possible, to tell success stories about your own business.
5. Financing -- where possible, begin as an agent of one or more other companies, where they carry the costs for production, import/export, warehousing, etc.
After you have learned the ropes, you will be in a better position to become your own boss as an importer/distributor and exporter.

If you consider global business an exciting adventure as a way to see and learn more about the world and to enlarge your profit-making potential, then go to it with hard work and imagination!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Why Not Extend the "Giving Pledge" to the Merely Wealthy!

The "Giving Pledge" for Billionaires has received wide publicity. Since Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett promulgated it in 2010, over 100 billionaires have signed on. But why should the central idea of pledging to give away half one's assets while still living or in one's will and estate be confined only to the super rich?

The concept of sharing half of one's resources with others for good causes might also be appropriate for those people having assets in nine, eight or even seven figures. Now that the cachet of the wealthiest people sharing a good portion of their fortunes to benefit society has caught on, why not extend giving more widely?

The Foundation Center could establish a national register of very wealthy donors divided by regions or states or other categories. Similar pledges could also be encouraged from wealthy people all over the world.

The major benefit of this campaign would be to encourage people to enrich their lives by pondering how to help others in a big way. They would not be legally bound to actually give half of their assets while alive, but they would signal that they really want to contribute to other people and society in a significant way.

Friday, November 23, 2012

SCAMS: How To Avoid Being Taken In

Scams are always lurking after emergencies like 9/11 and Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy. Then there are the con-artists who post pictures of hungry children far away or the semi-celebrities who set up their own "foundations" to battle cancer or other life-threatening diseases. The scams multiply at holiday times when well-intentioned people want to be especially charitable.

What can we do to avoid being taken in by scams (although some may slip through despite all our efforts)?

1) Direct your support to well-known, legitimate charities, or to organizations you know and related agencies they recommend.

2) Instead of just following your emotions, take some time to reflect about your priorities for your charitable efforts and to research several organizations in the area that interests you the most to find the one that has the greatest impact.

3) Since bogus charities often adapt names similar to bona fide ones, check out the exact name and leadership of the soliciting charities through the watchdog agencies, such as Charity Navigator (www,charitynavigator.org), GuideStar (www.guidestar,org), and Charting Impact (www,chartingimpact.org). 

Consult  Giving Is Not Just For The Very Rich: A How-to Guide for Giving and Philanthropy  by Dr. Susan Aurelia Gitelson for further guidelines.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Giving is at its best when it encourages other people to give

I established the Gitelson Award for "Human Values in International Affairs" at the Columbia School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) a number of years ago. Originally it was interpreted by the SIPA awarders as a prize for human rights scholarship and action. Nonetheless, I maintained that the core concept went beyond just "human rights" and was applicable in all fields when people treated others from different backgrounds in a humane way. It was essential, moreover, to consider human values in economics, finance and other areas where the emphasis is usually more on profit and cost-benefit analyses than enhancing other peoples' lives.

As the award has evolved through the years, the winners have really come from a variety of disciplines. Lately, the prize has gone to collaborative groups in workshops often traveling to other countries on thoughtful missions. This year (2012) the award went to a workshop project on "Avoiding the Resource Curse in Uganda" under the supervision of Professor Jenik Radon. Eight students from Canada, India, Norway, the US and elsewhere worked in Uganda with Members of Parliament and others to emphasize that the revenues from newly discovered oil should not be concentrated among the elites, as happens in so many Middle Eastern, African and other countries, but rather should be distributed widely for the benefit of people throughout Uganda. They could find models, for example, in Canada and Norway.

When I met the awardees and their parents at the SIPA commencement in May, it was obvious that they had formed close bonds with each other and with the people they had met on their Uganda workshop. So much so that the eight recipients decided rather than keeping their prize money for themselves, together they would give all the funds to build wells in Ugandan villages so that the people would have easier access to essential water.

It is thrilling to know people who have taken what they have received and given it joyfylly to a project where it can make a difference. They demonstrated that they are likely to continue giving effectively to others in the future!