At Goldman Sachs’ inaugural Philanthropy Forum, hosted recently by the firm’s Private Wealth Management business, more than 350 clients convened in New York to hear perspectives from notable philanthropists and learn strategies for maximizing giving and measuring impact. Dr. Deepak Chopra, a pioneer in integrative medicine and personal transformation, spoke about the power of philanthropy with Goldman Sachs’ Meena Flynn. Edited highlights from their conversation are featured below.
Meena Flynn: One of the biggest challenges in the philanthropic community is the ability for donors to measure and evaluate the impact of their contributions. You’ve often made the case that in addition to measuring the effectiveness of philanthropy, you can also measure the happiness that one derives from the act of giving. What do you mean by that?
Deepak Chopra: One can boil down the ingredients to happiness to three things. About half of our happiness can be determined by what we call the “set point” in our brain for determining happiness or unhappiness. That’s basically attitude: Do you see problems or opportunities? The other components of determining happiness include conditions of living, such as financial conditions, and our voluntary actions, or the choices we make every day. With our choices, we basically make two types of choices every day. We make choices for personal pleasure, such as shopping or going to the movies, but these choices are short-lived. The second type of choice encompasses the ability to make other people happy. This is where concepts such as appreciation and philanthropy fit in. The fastest way to be happy is to make another person happy. Every individual has the power to overcome their genetic dispositions and other conditions of living, while the choices we make can also lead to greater happiness.
Meena Flynn: What have you learned through your philanthropic efforts that can help philanthropists maximize their impact?
Deepak Chopra: When you work with a lot of nonprofits, which I’ve done over the years, you end up finding out that even the nonprofits are competing with each other. They’re afraid of each other’s successes and are often competitive with other founders. That interferes with a lot of good work, often because egos get in the way of service and passion. So in philanthropy, it’s important to find out what the nonprofit leader’s personal passion is—there’s usually a story behind it. It’s important to work with nonprofits run by leaders with personal stakes in their missions, something that clearly feeds their passions and visions for the organizations. Then you have to connect them with other people like them, who complement their strengths to achieve specific goals. Find out their personal passion and story and then connect them with other people like them.
Meena Flynn: What makes a leader charismatic and how do you define charisma?
Deepak Chopra: To me, the most charismatic leaders have three qualities. For one, they’re present, not distracted. Second, they have humility; no one is beneath them. And third, at least to their audience, they’re extremely friendly. If you think about it, the most effective leaders are also charismatic. People want to be around them and be part of their teams.
Meena Flynn: You’ve accomplished a lot. What’s your mission now?
Deepak Chopra: I believe that I’m in the most productive years of my life. I come from a tradition where, in the first 25 years of life, people are focused on creating as much knowledge and education for yourself. In the second 25 years, you’re pursuing fame, fortune and success. In the third 25 years of life—which is what I’m in—you give back. And in the last 25 years of life—because I believe people should be able to live to they’re 100 years old—you should seek spiritual enlightenment. My mission right now is to reach a billion people for personal and social transformation through philanthropy and education, and by creating networks of service, compassion and spiritual practice—in the hopes of creating a more peaceful, sustainable and joyful world. There’s no doubt that we need that more than ever today. There is no social transformation in the absence of personal transformation. You can’t create peace, for example, by being an angry peace activist.
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