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Charles Handy and “The New Philanthropists”

This was the second time I had met Charles Handy in person and he is one of the most charming and gentlemanly people I have come across. He is a prolific author of at least 19 books and regarded as Britain’s most respected management writer.

He is also unassuming. When he joined me and a lady I was talking with, he enquired with interest what we both did. After answering, the lady I was with then asked Charles what he did. Obviously she did not realise who he was, even though Charles was speaking at the conference we were at. Nonetheless, Charles took it in his stride and simply described himself as a management writer.

Charles Handy’s new book, “The new Philanthropists” is both beautifully produced and a joy to read. Even though 87% of Brits thought managers were in it for themselves, Charles has researched and written up 23 case studies of successful people who are (often quietly) putting something back into society. Apparently philanthropy is becoming fashionable in both the US and in Britain.

This book has been produced with his wife Elizabeth Handy who seems as charming as Charles. Amongst other things she is a photographer and the book includes some fascinating insights into the people through the photographs.

As well as a portrait, each case study is accompanied by a small still life containing six objects that are important to the subject. Each object represents aspects of, and provides insights into, that person’s life. Accompanying the lecture I attended was a display of other photos associated with the subjects of the book. The subjects include a wide variety of people such as:

  • Gordon Roddick, who set up the Big Issue in the UK,
  • Mohamed Ibrahim, who invests in African businesses to create jobs, sets up breast cancer clinics and invests in education
  • Tony Adams the ex footballer, who set up the sporting chance clinics to help athletes addictions, and when their playing days are over.
  • Daniel Petre, once the youngest Vice-president in Microsoft who is seeking to change the meaning of success in modern society.
  • Peter Lampl, who has helped the under-privileged get their proper share of higher education in Britain.

Also at the lecture were a series of photos that were not in the book. These, again by Elizabeth show the same scene, yet shows the person appearing three times within it. Elizabeth’s view is that there are often more than one side to us: Outside work there is the family, hobbies, or whatever. By showing the same person in three of their guises you are getting a deeper insight into the person, that just the single picture provides.

It is clear that the role of Charles’ wife Elizabeth, both in the book and in his life, have been substantial.

This book is an excellent and inspiring read. He brings together a collection of cameos of the new philanthropists and what they have achieved. At the same time he brings out their human side in a easy to read and delightful style.

Charles said, “If you want to understand a subject, try writing a book about it”. Likewise, if you want to understand a person, try writing about them as well.

Well worth a read.

Phil Jones
Strategy & Performance Specialist