Next Generation Philanthropy: A Conversation With Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen

When I was in college, no one had ever heard of strategic philanthropy and certainly the idea of investing in the community to deliver both social and business benefits was not a part of any classroom discussion I participated in. So when I learned about Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen's class in Strategic Philanthropy at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, I was intrigued.

At the time, I was two years into the job as the leader of Gap Foundation, after a long career in more traditional business roles. As a relative newcomer to corporate philanthropy, I was hungry to learn more about the intersection between business and community, and Laura's ideas inspired me.

Laura is a social entrepreneur, author, philanthropist and educator who has been sharing her philosophy about strategic philanthropy with students at Stanford for more than a decade. As a regular guest lecturer for her class, I've watched the course evolve and students advance in their sophisticated discussion of philanthropy over the years, and I am encouraged by the conversations taking place in her classroom.

I recently had a chance to ask Laura about the evolution of her work and how investing in communities will evolve with the next generation.

Q: For the past 14 years, you have taught a strategic philanthropy class at Stanford Graduate School of Business. Why did you start this course?

A: The reason I initially embarked on a teaching career and still continue to teach today is to provide the resources, networks and materials to prepare students for careers as philanthropists, change makers and social entrepreneurs. Through a lens of consumer empathy, I have created and am constantly refining and evolving the courses for Stanford undergraduate and graduate students that I wish I could have taken to prepare me for my career.

Students nowadays are born to be disruptors -- they think, make decisions, act and react in ways that demonstrate their aspiration to consistently improve the world around them. I want to give my students the tools to take action on their dreams; teach them about design thinking and innovation; and empower them to change the world.

For me, my classroom is my church. When I am with these extraordinary young minds and generous souls, giving them the tools to become this generation's is exhilaration at the highest level. Now that I've been teaching for 14 years - 24 classes in total - I have an extraordinary network of former students, many of whom have become my philanthropic colleagues and are in leadership roles around the country. As an educator, I could not be prouder to play a role in their professional evolution!

Q: What have you seen change over the years since you started teaching this course?

A: What hasn't changed?! This new generation of students has social consciousness built into their DNA. They take philanthropy courses because regardless of what industry they want to go into - business, government, healthcare, finance, retail, nonprofit - they want strategic giving and measurable social change to be a core part of their pursuits. When I started teaching, there were no social networks; smart phones did not exist; and Google was still a small start-up. Over the last 14 years, technology has dramatically changed how we create, consume, connect - and philanthropy is no exception. Technology is disrupting philanthropy in myriad ways - impacting the scale, speed and cost at which we can create change and who gets to participate. Tech is fueling new social business models, new social impact tools and an important culture shift towards transparency, data and feedback. Technology now enables anyone with social passion - regardless of what other resources they have - to be a part of creating social good.

Q: What do you believe is the role of business in changing and supporting our communities?

A: Corporations play a unique role in the philanthropic sector because they have incentives, assets and networks to create social impact which individual givers and foundations do not. I believe that the best corporate philanthropy aligns with a corporation's business strategy. Corporate giving should create good for the company and its stakeholders - customers, investors, the communities in which it operates, the individuals who live in those communities and society at large. By deploying its unique portfolio of assets (e.g. products, manufacturing capacity, physical space, distribution networks, and research and development expertise), a company can help address social problems in ways that are much more valuable than financial support alone.

Additionally, when a corporate giving program is strategically implemented, it can increase a company's brand equity, employee satisfaction, customer loyalty and its bottom line, as well. Corporations play important roles in communities, and thanks to changing social norms, being a good corporate citizen is now an expectation as opposed to an exception.

Q: If you could provide one piece of advice to anyone interested in being more strategic in how they give, what would that advice be?

A: Don't give based on an emotional reaction - of any kind. We are all compelled to live in a way that positively touches and transforms the lives of others. However, one of the great failures of human generosity is we do not give to our greatest potential. In the U.S., individuals made up 79% of the $316B given in 2012 - that is $252B. Additionally, 62.6M Americans volunteered last year. However, it is estimated that ~ 2/3 of individual giving is based purely on emotion - it has no research behind it. This is massively untapped potential.

Individuals largely do not approach giving with the same level of accountability as they do their for-profit investments. You would never invest in a stock or bond without an understanding of its expected return; however, we frequently invest transactionally, emotionally and spontaneously in social change opportunities. The onus is on us as givers to be accountable for what specific impact our generosity creates. We must research our investments - both before and after we make every gift. Our commitment to learning about what happens to our resources helps to fuel a powerful cycle of accountability and impact, compelling nonprofits to evaluate their work and clearly communicate how they are creating tangible, measurable impact.

Q: Through your work at Stanford, you interact frequently with the next generation of philanthropists. What have they taught you about the future of giving?

A: Creating social change will be imminently ubiquitous because of 1) the Millennials' commitment to creating social impact; 2) the fact that all Millennials are digital natives; 3) Millennials will become half of the US workforce by 2020. Their innate use of technology to solve problems and their desire to make an impact will drive an entirely new global generation of social change organizations, philanthropic models, giving platforms and corporate responsibility.

Q: At the end of every class, you give your students an inspiring quote to get them to think differently. What quote is inspiring you right now?

A: On the last day of each course, I always leave the students with my wish for them...this is what I shared with my last class.

"There are limitless problems in our world, and there are limitless people who need our help. But there are only a limited number of you. There are three key things that I want you to take with you from this class.

The first is, to do what you love. There is no disparity in the nobility of any pursuit, whether it's for-profit, nonprofit, educational, medial, government. What matters is that you have the opportunity to actualize your passion every day, because if you are actualizing your passion, your work will not be work. Your work will be your joy. And when you have the privilege to live your joy every day, there is no, literally, no limit to the success that you can have.

Number two, regardless of what path it is that you choose, you are here because you embrace giving. Generosity is a core part of your being; it's part of your soul; it's part of what makes you alive. So give as generously as you possibly can because every single day you will be showered, literally showered, with opportunities to give to others. Express your generosity with every opportunity that you have and if you live a life based in generosity, it is literally impossible not to be happy, not to live in a constant state of gratitude.

And finally I want every one of you to dream lofty dreams. Dream the loftiest dreams possible for your own lives. For it is as you dream that so shall you become."

Case studies are a core part of Laura's course and she just published a new study that focuses on a program she has heard me talk to her students about. It is the Gap Inc. P.A.C.E. program, which has been providing life and work skills education to female garment workers for the past seven years. This case study highlights the incubation, impact and learnings from this strategic philanthropic investment that benefits the garment workers, their families, communities and business.

Bobbi Silten is President, Gap Foundation and Senior Vice President, Global Responsibility for Gap Inc.

Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen is a social entrepreneur, philanthropist, author and Stanford Graduate School of Business lecturer.

To learn more about Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen and her work, visit