Afe for Vanguard

March 15, 2023

Philanthropy and sustainable development (2)

By Afe Babalola

THE HARVARD CLASSIC EXAMPLE: The Harvard University, indisputably the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States of America, presents a perfect example of how a university should be funded. Founded in 1636, Harvard University derived its name from the College’s first benefactor, John Harvard of Charlestown, who, upon his death in 1638, left half his estate to the institution by vote of the Great and General Court of Massachusetts Bay Colony.

An early brochure of the University published in 1643 justified the college’s existence in the following captivating words: “To advance learning and perpetuate it to posterity; dreading to leave an illiterate Ministry to the Churches.” The transformation of Harvard University from a relatively small provincial institution to a five-star modem university was accomplished during the incredible 40-year (1869-1909) tenure of Charles W. Eliot as President of the institution.  

Harvard’s endowment funds: The Harvard’s endowment fund is a success story worthy of being told over and over. The Harvard University’s endowment, valued at $22.6 billion at the end of Financial Year 2004, is unrivalled and unequalled. The endowment is staggering and mouth-watering. The all-time high of Nigerian external reserve is only $25 billion. Suffice it to say that Harvard University has comprehensive endowment funds which is second to none. I need not belabour you with the details. Other worthy examples are Cambridge and Oxford universities.

Philanthropy in medieval Europe: The history of medieval Europe shows that philanthropy was actively encouraged and practised through chivalry. Chivalry is defined by the Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary: “1. polite and kind behaviour that shows a sense of humour, especially by men towards women 2. (in the middle ages) the religious and moral system and behaviour which the perfect knight was expected to follow”.

The practice of chivalry was according to some, next in value only to Christianity itself. Professor F.J.C Henshaw in his essay titled “Chivalry and its place in history” stated as follows: “Above all, it inculcated an ideal of social service; service without remuneration; service, however, humble its nature, free from degradation or disparagement; service of the weak by the strong; service of the poor by the wealthy; service of the lowly by the high”.

The above passage exemplifies the code by which members of the society were expected to live. Everyman rich or poor was expected to engage in act of benevolence to the other in the overall good of the community. A classic example of this occurred in the time of King Richard of England. It was stated that the King after a hunting expedition, paused to rest with other members of his hunting party beside a spring. Sensing that the King was thirsty, the servant hurriedly brought a flask of wine for the King. However seeing a servant had only brought one flask which could not go round the entire members of his contingent, the King emptied the contents of the flask into the spring as, according to him, in so doing the wine would be shared by all who drank the from the spring. Without a doubt, this practice has influenced modern day Europeans who from available records give a large chunk of their earnings to one charitable cause or the other.  

Some professional callings and philanthropy: As stated earlier, the law profession, much like the medical profession, is founded on love. These professions are, therefore, classic example of how a person can by the very nature of his professional calling be required to engage in act of phila. The first lawyers were people who pleaded the cause of others for free. Their only motivation was to serve and protect the interest of their fellow men.

A practice evolved by which persons who received free legal service from these early lawyers would as a show of appreciation drop a token into the bag carried by the law. This practice of pro-bono service has been carried on till today. Most senior lawyers charge little or no fee for services rendered. In my law firm, 75 per cent of our cases are handled absolutely free of charge to people who daily throng our office for one legal assistance or the other. In addition we do not charge fees for consultation. 

Medical practitioners have historically been in the forefront of the provision of care to those unable to afford the most basic of medical care. Doctors offered their services in virtually every corner of the globe and sometimes in the most harrowing of conditions. The doctors are known to care for the wounded and dying even on the field of battle. One of the foremost organisations of doctors offering humanitarian medical services today is Doctors Without Borders.

Doctors without borders: Medecins Sans Frontieres, MSF, or Doctors Without Borders, is a secular humanitarian-aid-non-governmental organisation best known for its project in war-torn regions and developing cultures facing endemic disease. Medecins Sans Frontieres was created in 1971 by a small group of French doctors and journalists in the aftermath of the Nigeria Civil War, who believed that all people have the right to medical care regardless of race, religion, creed or political affiliation, and that the needs of these people outweigh respect for national borders. The organisation is known in most of the world by its French name or simply as MSF, but in Australia, Canada, Ireland and the United States the name ‘Doctors Withou Borders’ is also used.  

In 2007 over 26,000, mostly local, doctors, nurses and other medical professionals, logistical experts, water and sanitation engineers and administrators provided medical aid in over 60 countries. Private donors provide about 85 per cent of the organization’s funding, while governmental and corporate donations provide the rest, giving MSF an annual budget of approximately USD 400 million.

The mission statement of the organisation as contained on its website reads as follows: MSF rejects the idea that poor countries deserve third-rate medical care and strives to provide high-quality care to patients and to improve the organisation’s practices.

Through the Campaign for Access to Essential Medicines and, in recent years, in partnership with the Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative, this work has helped lower the price of HIV/AIDS treatment and has stimulated research and development for medicines to treat malaria and neglected diseases like sleeping sickness and kala azar. In 1999, this organization was deservedly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.   

Nursing: Nursing is defined as “a healthcare profession focused on the care of individuals, families and communities so they may attain, maintain, or recover optimal health and quality of life from birth to death”. Nurses work in a large variety of specialties where they work independently and as part of a team to assess, plan, implement and evaluate care.

Nursing Science is an established field of knowledge based on the contributions of nursing scientists through peer reviewed scholarly journals and evidenced-based practice. Nurses form an integral part of the health delivery system in every country. Often, most patients in need of medical care and attention come into contact mostly with Nurses more than any other health personnel.  Based on the definition of philanthropy as said earlier in this lecture, one can state confidently that the profession of nursing is a classic example of philanthropy as it is founded on love and care.  

International Red Cross and Crescent movement: The International Red Cross and Crescent Movement is an international humanitarian movement with approximately 97 million volunteers, members and staff worldwide which was founded to protect human life and health, to ensure respect for all human beings, and to prevent and alleviate human suffering, without any discrimination based on nationality, race, sex, religious beliefs, class or political opinions.

National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies exist in nearly every country in the world. Currently 186 National Societies are recognised by the ICRC and admitted as full members of the Federation. Each entity works in its home country according to the principles of international humanitarian law and the statutes of the international movement. In many countries, they are rightly linked to the respective national health care system by providing emergency medical services.

Members of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement have since the middle of the 19th Century been involved in the care and treatment of the wounded on the battle field. They have played a significant role in saving numerous lives in virtually every battle fought by man since that time. Without a doubt, only love can motivate a person to put his own life at risk to enter a battle field simply for the purpose of care for the wounded. This ability to face danger and which sometimes result in the ultimate sacrifice is to my mind a very notable form of philanthropy.  

To be continued…