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The pin-striped trousered philanthropists

“Something extraordinary is happening – the rich are getting generous.” Or so management guru Charles Handy declared last night, as he addressed a select group of corporate do-gooders in London.

Handy entertained the crowd with anecdotes lifted from his latest book, The New Philanthropists: The New Generosity, which profiles 23 individuals who have decided to invest their wealth in so-called ‘good causes’.

For the first time since the Victorian age, argues Handy, philanthropy is back in fashion. The caricature philanthropist – A bald old man, trying to smile, while his conscience picks his pocket – is outdated. The New Philanthropists, he argues, are not donors. They are business people looking for social opportunities in which to invest their hard-earned cash.

There may be some truth in this. But the admiration Handy lavishes on these nice rich people does itself seem a little Victorian.

It is hard, for example, to match his enthusiasm for an entrepreneur who is not only building houses in Africa, but showing Africans how to build “proper houses”. Or for a Maltese millionaire whose foundation offers inner-city kids the privilege of using private school playing fields – and in so doing helps those venerable institutions preserve their debatable “charitable” status.

John Russell, deputy editor

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