As the literature on collaboration clearly notes, the less structured and defined a collaborative mission, the greater the importance of superordinate social concepts like shared values, shared purpose and shared perspectives to ground these partnerships.
Since these superordinate dimensions are based on relatively stable psychological beliefs and individual constructs, it is even more important to identify and understand them in the earliest stages of partnerships: the precondition stage of collaborations (Gray, 1989).
As outlined in my previous post, my colleagues and I sought to capture these dimensions by interviewing the top leaders of 30 family-controlled firms. Our research gave special attention to the interviewees’ family background since our main aim was to discover business families’ specific approach to philanthropy.
After analyzing our interviewees’ basic human values (Schwartz et al., 2012) and their intersection with philanthropic priorities, we identified three distinct values clusters.
(1) Repair the world. This cluster emphasizes the classic philanthropic topics of peace and justice and reduced inequality, followed by the eradication of poverty and zero hunger. These philanthropists prioritize tradition and faith, as well as achievement and self-determination.
The sociodemographic profile of this cluster reflects an older generation (mean age = 60) and male heads of families who belong to established and older families (6th generation and beyond) who positively identify with their religion and are vocal on philanthropic initiatives in line with their Christian values.
(2) Entrepreneurial solidarity and universalisms. Philanthropic entrepreneurs, founders and members who strongly identify with their family business form this cluster. Their primary focus is human dignity, compassion and solidarity with employees and the wider social context, where they take an active entrepreneurial role.
Grateful for their opportunities, they are committed to topics related to the decency of work and good health and consider philanthropy an integral part of their businesses.
(3) Capability-centered perspectives. The youngest cluster of our survey (average age = 47) their philanthropic interests are centered on quality education, innovation, sustainability and environmentalism.
The values of humility and self-direction in thought and action inform the priorities of philanthropists in this cluster, which is strongly prevailed by female philanthropists, who espouse a maternal perspective of creating the necessary conditions to promote and maximize human potential.
The identification of these value clusters is just a starting point as business families map out their ideal route for joint philanthropic enterprises.
As they navigate the myriad possibilities of “360 degrees of good,” I hope they remember the wise counsel of the Roman philosopher Seneca: “There is no favorable wind for the sailor who doesn’t know where to go.”