Blog home

Who is a philanthropist? How do you define a “philanthropy champion?”

By Marie-Rose Romain Murphy
December 16, 2019

Distributing roofing material in Haiti
Project Leve Kanpe, disaster relief work with community partners after Hurricane Matthew. Courtesy of The Haiti Community Foundation.

This story is an uncomfortable confession and a challenge of current systems’ paradigms and definitions.

My name is Marie-Rose Romain Murphy and I am a co-founder of the Haiti Community Foundation. After Haiti’s 2010 earthquake that killed hundreds of thousands of people and made 1.5 million homeless, I felt compelled to get involved.  I had decades of experience working in community development, social services, and philanthropy.  I did not feel that I really had a choice.

What I focused on was the structural issues of aid misuse, lack of accountability, and long-term dependency on aid that I saw emerge clearly during the first few months after the earthquake. Only 0.6 percent of the billions in public and private funding was going directly to Haitian organizations and businesses, and I was horrified, enraged, and absolutely galvanized by what I felt was a monumental scandal and an unacceptable robbery.  After recruiting a strong cadre of Haitian leaders to this cause, I threw myself into the monumental task of setting up a Haiti-based and community-led, bottom-up community foundation for Haiti, at the detriment of my financial, physical, and (sometimes) mental health.  This is part of my “uncomfortable confession,” because no matter how “great” the outcomes were, I haven’t quite forgiven myself for the impact that my involvement had on myself and my family.  It had been obsessive, compulsive, and definitely fairly “unhealthy.”

A few years ago, a philanthropy management firm contacted me about writing a story about one of our donors who had been very involved in Haiti.  They, as they put it, were doing a series of articles about “champions of philanthropy.”  We arranged a conference call during which we first discussed the history of the donor and her great work. The firm’s executives proceeded to describe the characteristics of the individuals featured in their series.  They (the “champions”) went over and beyond “just giving.”  They were true champions of their causes.  As one of the callers went on, I couldn’t help thinking of myself and the way I had thrown myself into the Haiti Community Foundation Initiative.  Hesitantly, I said:

“I think that I am a champion …”

The response from the two women was quick:

“Oh, no!  That’s not what we’re talking about.”

There was an awkward moment as I clearly saw that the lack of multiple zeros in my net worth was the issue.  I wasn’t a “philanthropy champion” because I wasn’t a high net worth individual.

Here comes the other part of my “uncomfortable confession”: I did NOT insist, something that as of today still doesn’t sit well with me, as I not only didn’t agree with their definition, but actually questioned it.  I am ashamed to say that at that very moment, I didn’t muster the courage to push the issue out of both self-doubt and compulsion to please. I regret it.

Today, after almost 10 years of working on the Haiti Community Foundation with a network of community leaders that have often given and contributed not just their financial support but their time, energy, hearts, and souls, I respectfully and firmly challenge the very definition of philanthropy.

The world tends to assume that philanthropy is the domain of the wealthy. The reality is that philanthropy is ancient and as old as humanity itself.  It really has always been about human beings helping others.

In the philanthropy sector, we must develop more inclusive parameters for philanthropy to emphasize the fact that it is about human beings helping each other. It will be a shift if donors can connect at this basic level.

When philanthropists can connect to the core humanity of giving and be humbled by the existential gifts that community leaders and givers make in their everyday life, our world will understand the true meaning of philanthropy and will be a better place for it.

Please, allow me to introduce myself again.  My name is Marie-Rose Romain Murphy. I am the co-founder of the Haiti Community Foundation, Haiti’s first community foundation, and I am a philanthropy champion.

Tags: Philanthropy; Equity