Cassandra Kelly has always been aware of the shortcomings in human nature. As founder and Global Chair of Pottinger, she advises governments and global companies to challenge these shortcomings and channel their energy into something that can benefit the world for generations to come.
Here she talks to Thread Publishing about the language of change, the concept of power, and how an empathic awareness can transform us all for the better.
When I was very young, perhaps as little as six years old, I noticed that the world wasn’t as charitable as my family home. My family were generous, and I noticed sometimes that there were other families that had more money than us that weren’t as generous, or even generous at all.
Just prior to my teenage years, I participated in some organised groups that were supposed to be about charity and giving, and sometimes the motive behind the giving wasn’t really to give, to help people. There were other motives. That disappointed me. I was maybe eleven or twelve when I became really aware of the hypocrisy of some people. It was a harsh shock.
Looking for insight
Having spent much of my life in the world of finance and banking, I’ve often been exposed to this kind of imbalance. I’ve met people who are very well off, and I’ve seen people with so much and I have seen their waste – and yet with all this excess, they still feel like they don’t have enough. I sit there and I’m disappointed and amazed, and I think, ‘When is enough, enough? How much more do you actually need?’
When you get involved in fundraising for charities, really deeply involved, you become aware of how hard it is to shake money out of people. But having been around it, I have insight into it.
It’s important to have that sense of self-identity, of self-awareness to be truly outward facing and focused on giving back. Cassandra Kelly
I think it’s a sense of identity that makes people hold onto their money so tightly. Money can give people status, credibility and kudos. It’s a sense of safety. People feel like they need to have plenty, because they never know when they’re going to need it. Keeping that safety net – making sure you have enough for a rainy day – it’s a powerful motivator.
We as a society make it important to retain money. We put up stats on the richest people in the world, like league tables. If you start giving away that money, you slide down a few places on the league table. If you’re at the top, people hold you in high regard. Fortunately this is starting to change with initiatives that are very public, such as the Giving Pledge – supported by the likes of Warren Buffett and Bill Gates.
Generating the conversation
If I had ten minutes in a room with some of the people on that list of the wealthiest people in the world, I’d love to talk to them. I wouldn’t start with talking about their money. I want to empathise with them, first.
I understand that it must be tiring or frustrating at times to feel like everyone wants a piece of you, and it must be hard. Of course the charities need the money and if you’ve got it, logically they want some of what you’ve got to give. Every day they have to go through people asking, ‘Hey, can you sponsor a wing of my building?’, ‘Hey, can you buy a goat for charity?’, ‘Hey, can you come to my fundraiser?’ It must be frustrating, and difficult to keep up with, and there are only so many hours in a day. Sometimes you have to say no so you don’t spread yourself to thinly.
Revealing a purpose
Instead, what I’d want to ask those people is, ‘Who are you? What are you about? What is your life’s purpose? Set aside for the moment the money, those piles of cash, and focus on who you are and what you stand for.’ It’s important to have that sense of self-identity, of self-awareness to be truly outward facing and focused on giving back.
In that same room, I’d ask some of my guests to think about how much is enough. At some point, how much do they really need? It’s not my place to set a person’s lifestyle. If it’s a huge budget, that’s fine by me. Planes and boats and multiple homes – the maintenance adds up. But do you have excess? And if you do have excess, could you give just a portion of it away? Just a fraction of it? Even just one percent of it? One percent is better than zero. Anything’s better than zero.
Our understanding of one another is a pretty powerful weapon. It’s how we come together to make a collective difference. Cassandra Kelly
A tailored approach
Of course, for some of those people, I might not enjoy the answers. Some of their answers aren’t going to stack up to some kind of magnificent, marvellous purpose. That’s just not who they are.
With those people, the ones who haven’t got a meaningful purpose, I’d stick to the facts if I had the chance to talk to them. I’d ask them to think of what they’ve done and where they’ve got to. They’ve done incredibly well and that’s fantastic. They’ve got power and influence and that’s why they matter so much now. The world around them is unstable and we’re in a time of unprecedented abuse; we’re fragile. Money matters at times like this – to create some practical or emotional good, besides giving our time. Sometimes time isn’t valuable; it isn’t what people need. Sometimes it’s got to be money.
When money talks
You have to make it mathematical and business-like when approaching the less compassion-led would-be or could-be philanthropic investor .You have to make it more practical and transactional, as opposed to relying on trying to reach their heartstrings. If you talk to people in their own language, in the language of money and goals and outcomes, for example, they might understand the point a little better.
It’s naïve to assume everyone has some wonderfully noble purpose for living, or that they will at least share your particular noble purpose. But everyone does have a purpose of some kind, and they believe in themselves and in that purpose. If I could just ask them about it … I feel like I might just stand a chance at bringing them around to see what I do.
Our understanding of one another is a pretty powerful weapon. It’s how we come together to make a collective difference. There are some exceptionally powerful people out there – and they’re not always the ones on a most-wealthy list.
Pottinger is a global corporate advisory firm owned by its employees. This independence allows them to provide completely objective advice. Pottinger has won multiple awards in recognition of its contribution to staff and clients and was recently highlighted as a role model by the Australian Government’s Workforce & Productivity Agency.
Pottinger’s notable work includes advising on the 2007 AUD$7bn Suncorp-Metway/Promina merger and 2008 AUD$230m sale of its credit card portfolio to Citigroup, and the AUD$4.4bn water transaction and further development of Queensland Urban Utilities in 2010. Pottinger has also launched the Glass Elevator initiative to help connect, inspire and engage senior businesswomen so that they feel better supported as they continue their journey to greater impact and seniority.
Written by Thread Publishing (threadpublishing.com). Connecting the world one story at a time to bring humanity back into business. © 2015