A Much Better Investment

Network for Social Change
London, England

Ingrid vividly remembers when her mother first told her she would inherit a lot of money.  They were out for a stroll, pushing her newborn son in the pram. She had known that her family was well off because she had gone to a private school, she had a horse, and the family took skiing holidays.  But she didn’t know they were very wealthy. Her mother’s disclosure took her completely by surprise.

She was shocked and didn’t really want to think about it. “I had two young children and I was working part-time as a physiotherapist.  Between juggling jobs and kids I had no time to deal with anything else,” Ingrid says.  “I was politically progressive and being rich didn’t correspond at all with my self-image.”

Ingrid continued being a working mother and she just let the money sit in investments for a few years. She thought about it as little as possible. But in 1984 her husband heard about the Network For Social Change. She recalls,  “We were curious to learn more about a group of wealthy people who came together to give money away collectively”.

Ingrid describes how complicated it felt. “We packed the kids into the car and set off, but by the time we reached the end of the street we pulled over, unsure whether to continue. We were thinking, ‘What are we doing, spending the weekend with rich people who are selfish and money-grabbing?’  We had no positive images of rich people.”

With great misgivings they decided to continue and give it a try.  “When we arrived there were about 15 people and, to our delight, we had an enjoyable and a very interesting time.  In fact it was mind-blowing. They were so nice; they had the same politics we did. They were rich, but they were not different from us.”

After going to their first conference, they applied for membership in the Network for Social Change and readily agreed to the condition of donating a minimum of £2,000 each year to socially or environmentally beneficial causes. They were invited to join.

“We started to give money away through the Network – it felt wonderful.  I realized the money wasn’t a burden, it was something I could really use to do some good with the resources I had.  It was one of the most significant events of my life.  With only one exception, I’ve been to every Network for Social Change conference – two per year since 1984.”

As the name suggests, the Network is explicitly focused on funding social change initiatives and addressing the root causes of problems, rather than just helping ameliorate the negative effects of social injustice and environmental damage. The members are particularly concerned to fund projects that take a radical approach, or address new, marginal and/or untested areas or concerns. Network members perform due diligence in assessing every application, but they often fund small start-up charities, high-risk charities and those who have not been able to establish a stable funding base. Such projects often have uncertain outcomes so they may have difficulty raising funds from more traditional sources.

Because all its funds come from its members, the Network for Social Change is freer than most other organizations to take risks. Ingrid’s perspective on this is a good indication of the culture of the group, “Sure, some projects have failed, but it’s not a problem – if you fund radical and risky stuff, that’s going to happen.”

During Network conferences members are also encouraged to share life experiences at many levels. This helps counter the isolation and guilt many wealthy people feel. As one Network member says, “It’s been useful to explore how other people deal with personal issues around money: for instance, money and relationships, money and children, lending money, telling people about inherited wealth, and working for money when you don’t need it. I feel so much less isolated now.”

For Ingrid and her husband, the experience of belonging to the Network has been life-changing.  “We had been in denial about our wealth.  Acknowledging the reality of our situation and being able to use it constructively was incredibly liberating.”

Ingrid also donates money to projects outside those funded by the Network.  “What interests me most are David and Goliath projects that empower middle and low income communities, such as Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment (MORE), and Reverend Billy who has agitated against consumerism and for sustainable local businesses with campaigns against Walmart, Starbucks, Bank of America and Disney. Reverend Billy has also campaigned against coal mining by ‘mountain top removal’ (MTR) and for grass-roots action on climate change.”

The McLibel Campaign was another social justice project that attracted Ingrid’s support. This involved a case in which McDonald’s sued two activists who had criticized McDonald’s in a pamphlet entitled What’s wrong with McDonald’s: Everything they don’t want you to know. It criticized many of McDonald’s business practices, including health and safety, advertising and the harmful social and environmental impacts of cutting down rainforest for beef cattle. After the longest running libel case in English history which ruled in McDonald’s’ favor, The European Court of Human Rights ruled that UK laws had failed to protect the public’s right to criticize massive corporations whose business practices can affect people’s lives, health and the environment. They also ruled that the trial was biased because of the defendants' comparative lack of resources and what they believed were complex and oppressive UK libel laws. The activists were awarded £57,000 in compensation by the UK government.

The Network for Social Change continues to be an important focus for Ingrid’s philanthropy.  She is also a member of The Funding Network, a different type of giving circle based in London (which is described in detail in Fred’s story).  She reflects on her years of experience as a donor and her priorities for the future, “Social and environmental issues are multiplying and we need to give more money as problems escalate. I want to inspire others to give away more, as well as giving more myself. Participating in the Network for Social Change and The Funding Network is the best way I know to do that. Giving together encourages more giving.”  When asked about how the uncertainty in today’s economy affects the way she thinks about giving money, Ingrid replies, “My advice is ‘Give more away. It’s a much better investment in the future than putting it in the stock market’.”