This is Peter Deitz's response to What are you skating towards in 2012?
"What are you skating toward?" is a Canadian remix of the classic Siddharthian question, "Whither will my path yet lead me?"
I recall coming across this question in high school, and thinking, "that's one of the best questions I've been confronted with ever." I printed it out on our family's first black and white laser printer, and carried it with me for several months. "My path" jumped out in contrast to "the path" I gloomily felt I was traveling along with little influence over the route, mode of transportation, or final destination.
If the last seventeen years are any indication, I'm doing a fairly good job of proving my glum fifteen year-old self wrong. Al's question "What are you skating towards?" has just as much agency built in. It conjures a skater or team of skaters who have fixed their sights on a hockey puck and are doing their best to land it exactly where they want it to be.
So what is the puck I'm skating toward in 2012? Where is it now? And where do I want it to be? Of all the big ideas I've taken a shot at in the past several years — social enterprise, nonprofit technology, open data, impact investing — the one that still holds the greatest promise in my eyes is microphilanthropy.
Microphilanthropy spans the transactional (giving of time, talent, and money) and the non-transactional (giving a damn about the people and world around us). Microphilanthropy is in equal parts something we do and something we care about deeply.
Unlike democracy, economic development, and the like, which have their champions, some more legitimate than others — microphilanthropy isn't even on the radar of most systems thinkers and social innovators. As a result, the infrastructure for it appears underdeveloped. In our daily entanglement with mobile, social, and cloud technology, we aren't exactly confronted with an abundance of "one-click checkout" buttons for creating the change we want to see in ourselves, our families, and the world. And yet, I've learned the presence or absence of such buttons has little impact on microphilanthropy's long-term prospects.
To be activated, microphilanthropy requires little more than tightly networked individuals who share a deep and common concern. Fortunately, the technology sector, after years of making money by isolating individuals behind television sets and word processors, has transformed itself into a multi-billion dollar industry that thrives on tightly networking individuals. The tighter the networks a technology company can create, the larger its valuation. Viewed through the microphilanthropy lens, this is a very good trend.
If the technology sector is covering the networks, then the philanthropic sector needs to be tackling the second condition for microphilanthropy: individuals sharing a deep and common concern.
In 2012, I'd like to see grantmakers become far more visible in their efforts to deepen and widen the communities of individuals who share their unique concern for a specific cause, community, individual, resource, or idea. The deeper and wider the shared concern, the more likely we are to witness unprecedented giving of time, talent, and money.
All this to say, I'm committing to skating alongside any effort that bridges the tight-network-forming innovations of the technology sector with the common-concern-building activities of organized philanthropy. The elusive prize of a world abounding with acts of generosity, creativity, and empathy will follow.
Thanks Al for creating the opportunity to put these thoughts in writing.
Peter recently completed one year as the Managing Editor of SocialFinance.ca, an online community run by the MaRS Centre for Impact Investing, whose mission is to catalyze and sustain a robust social finance marketplace in Canada. Peter is also the Founder of Social Actions, an initiative acquired by GuideStar in March 2011, that helps people find and share opportunities to make a difference. He lives in Toronto, Canada. Peter's website – https://peterdeitz.com Twitter – https://twitter.com/peterdeitz
Note: I am releasing individual essays from the collection, What are you skating towards in 2012? on a regular basis. Upcoming contributions are by Cheryl Rose, Jacques Dufresne, Linda Perry, John Stapleton, Delyse Sylvester, Sherri Torjman and many others. You can access the accumulated essays here.