Developing Philanthropy

Developing our Own Human Capacity to Give and Help Others

by David Wood

Working with Mona Foundation over the past three plus years has afforded an appreciation for the importance in developing institutional capacity for the projects we serve.  And of course, this capacity is primarily built by the dedicated efforts of administrators, teachers and supporting individuals to construct an engine for sustainable development.

But what about the development of these very people?  Specifically, how does one develop their own capacity to serve and make a difference?  Philanthropic pursuits may certainly involve financial capacity, but more importantly, those who make a difference bring a particular energy and output to the causes they hold dear.  In considering the expansion of individual human capacity, I note key catalysts of development in these four dimensions:

1.  Building a connection to the cause 

Last month, I had the opportunity to visit two of our projects in Haiti – New Horizon and the Zunuzi School.  Key from the visit was an enhanced understanding of the difficult environmental context that these wonderful schools operate within and sustain.  Seemingly simple objectives are not always simple and good intentions must navigate a minefield of obstacles to reach their ends.  While spending time with the youngest students at these schools brought great joy, I was so impressed and taken by the interaction, thoughtful questions and enlightened points-of-view of the secondary grade students.  There was a breadth of understanding that I found surprising – while the school curriculum clearly drives foundational academic skills, moral education and class engagement is providing these kids a world view.  They exhibited a sense of how families and societies operate and deep introspection about their own obligations, leadership imperatives and opportunity to contribute to society.  A deep and inspired appreciation for the difference these young men and women can make in the world was through direct engagement with the students, teachers and local leaders.  Through direct experience and discovery, individual capacity and energy is generated.

2.  Contributing to real results  
Net of our vocations, we all have finite capacities of free time and resources and so must contemplate how this value is best applied in our lives.  Between friend and family obligations, recreational pursuits, community activities and leisure lies a small amount of discretionary capacity to apply well.  Individual energy and commitment arises when that remainder is applied to activity that generates a clear return on investment.  We all want to make a difference, but often our service efforts may lead to uncertain or difficult to determine outcomes.  The impact of Mona Foundation’s efforts is so clear and so impressive.  In 2017 alone, Mona’s contribution included:


  • The education of more than 258,000 students, teachers and parents across 18 schools in 10 countries
  • 675 worldwide service projects with more than 1 million people directly impacted overall
  • Well over $2 Million in grants to wonderful and productive schools striving to develop new leaders


With Mona’s focus on developing educational opportunities for girls, the impact and return on investment increases further since we know that one educated girl directly impacts the lives of 100 more in their communities.  Such great realized value on personal capital spurns further capacity.

3.  Connecting to your passion

For many years, I had the pleasure of building and developing a retail store platform for Bose (audio and home entertainment products).  We began with one store location and a focus on providing a great experience, exciting customers and serving them in ways that were unexpected and wonderful.  Initially, this objective was easy – but as we expanded to 110 locations over eight years, replicating this experience became a challenge of a different order.

My own passion for education was really borne out of a need to not only align more than a thousand colleagues directionally, but inspire an organization to serve.  We developed an extensive leadership development program which ultimately touched hundreds of our employees.  While there was great reward in seeing our team grow and learn to perform their jobs more effectively, the real and less expected bounty was how the program changed their lives.  A focus on giving back, living aligned to core values and aspiring to make a difference in the world ultimately created better contributors but more importantly, better people.

My own commitment to Mona is fueled by this appreciation and respect for how education can transform individuals, businesses and communities.  And what further spurns my own energy in this regard is that Mona’s supported programs are truly grassroots in nature.  Program and institutional ownership is vested in the local communities, and how students are developed is catered to the distinctly unique economies, cultures and capabilities of their respective environments.  Building one’s personal capacity involves a certain “relatability” to the cause at hand through deep interest and discovery or similar life experiences that touch deeply.

4.  Filling your own cup while filling the cup for others   

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” – Mahatma Gandhi
Fulfillment in our own lives is the sum of the material and intangible bounties realized during our all too brief human journeys.  And through age, experience and discovery, over time we realize that these intangible bounties like love, relationships and engagement are of increasingly greater value relative to other hard assets.

I admire those in the Millennial generation whom have more rapidly discovered at a young age that experiences through social connection, travel and adventure are more prized than the next great iPhone.  And these experiences certainly do much to fill the personal “cup” of fulfillment.  Yet, the realized value is still generally limited to what is received by the individual alone.

When experiences are targeted toward serving others, we are in effect pouring our fulfillment value into another’s cup.  And in of itself, this is wonderful.  Yet, there is something else magical that happens when we choose to give of ourselves to others.  Building our own individual capacity through service does not deprive our own cup, but rather there is a reciprocal double bonus of bounty whereby our own cups become further filled.  In other words, the more you serve, the more you get back.  This expands self-discovery and personal capacity.

The opportunities with Mona Foundation are boundless – and, through the expansion of projects served, the emergence of local chapters and so many new means to connect with the cause of alleviating poverty through universal education, there is a fulfillment spigot for your cup never far away.



Four out of every five in this world live on $10 a day or less, in fact about half the world is living on just $2.50 per day.  The need for education to change global poverty has never been greater but so too is the return on investment.  For each dollar invested in education, ten dollars in economic value is created.  It is Mona’s mission to impact this multiplier to the greatest extent possible and it is fueled by the human capacity of its friends, supporters, contributors and the incredible “full cup” leaders who serve the foundation and affiliated projects.

I look forward to your thoughts and perspectives!


Thank you,

David Wood, Mona Board Member


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