Epic is disrupting the giving economy for everyone.
If charity begins at home, then the future of philanthropy may lie in the palm of your hand. An increasing number of companies are building apps and other online services that help initiate and manage long-term giving using a smartphone.
Grow, a fintech start-up in San Francisco, has developed Grow Invest, an app that allows investors to manage a portfolio that only features firms with high Environmental Social and Corporate Governance, or ESG ratings (the three central factors in measuring the sustainability and ethical impact of an investment in a business). The app is powered by Grow’s in-house algorithmic analysis tools that the company says build a portfolio that minimises risk and promotes ESG, with wide-ranging investments across asset classes, industries and sectors.
Cradle, meanwhile, is an app that streamlines and supports the process of continued charitable donation. Launched at the 2017 Disrupt Hackathon in New York, Cradle leads users through a potential minefield of charitable donation options by finding the causes they like, settling on the right amount to give and enabling simple, regular payments.
Philanthropy simply means sharing your success. Everybody has the ability – and the responsibility – to share a bit of their own success and give back
It is an interesting time to be in the charitable innovation business. According to the 2017 World Giving Index, a generosity report published by the Charitable Aid Foundation, giving was down globally in 2016. (The CAF calculates giving via three metrics: surveying monetary donations to charity, volunteering and help given to strangers.)
In data published for 139 countries, the UK ranked 8th in monetary giving, with 64 per cent of the population causing charity boxes to rattle. Myanmar was top, with 91 per cent – the CAF puts this down to widespread support for Buddhist monks – but that was down from 96 per cent the previous year. The USA came in 13th, with 56 per cent of its population sparing a dime.
Bucking the overall trend was Africa (37 countries surveyed), with an overall increase in all three giving metrics. Along with the increased mobile internet usage across the continent, this means that the developers of charitable apps and platforms have reasons to be cheerful.
Along with charity and socially responsible investing, philanthropy is also being disrupted via apps. (Charity and philanthropy are similar, but those in both camps would agree that charity tends to deal more with alleviating short- and mid-term suffering, and philanthropy tackles problems but with longer-term goals.)
Epic is a non-profit start-up founded by French-American entrepreneur Alexandre Mars. Mars wants to make anyone a philanthropist, despite the big-money connotations of the word. He was inspired to create Epic after the sale of his fourth start-up in 2013; he set up his first, a concert promotion company, when he was 17.
This was followed by a web agency, back when such things were a rarity, while Mars was at business school in Paris. Then, in 2001, he founded a mobile marketing agency that in 2007 was bought by Publicis, and in 2013 Blackberry bought his six-year-old social media management system.
After the sale to BlackBerry, Mars says he “realised I was in a position to finally achieve a goal I’d always had: to help those in need. I could dedicate my time to advocate for more social justice.” The due diligence for this new deal took place as he travelled the world for eight months with his wife and children.
“On the trip I met with philanthropists, social development experts, policy makers, leaders of NGOs and social entrepreneurs to identify the pain points of the philanthropic industry. Then I founded Epic to address them.”
What Mars found was that people would like to give more, but that they don’t because “they don’t have the time, the knowledge or the trust.” Epic, he says, is a platform that addresses those issues by allowing users to choose, monitor and even experience the impact of their philanthropy.
Individuals can pledge directly, companies are encouraged to start schemes where clients and employees can become philanthropic via payroll or transactional giving. Entrepreneurs are invited to make a share pledge of a percentage of stock after an IPO.
How deeply users engage with their philanthropy is up to them: from regular updates on organisations and projects, to VR films and even visiting the places where money is being put to use. Epic spends a lot of time vetting social enterprises before partnering with them, and passes to them 100 per cent of money received.
Epic may simplify philanthropy but some argue the current global economy makes it less likely, even for those who could make the most impact. Bill Gates launched the Giving Pledge initiative in 2010, which asks billionaires to openly dedicate most of their fortune to philanthropy. In November 2017, there were 171 signatories to the pledge. According to a 2017 survey by Forbes, there are 2,043 billionaires in the world.
Mars, to his credit an optimist, sees humanity as a stronger force than economic downturn. Epic targets high-net-worth individuals and corporations, but Mars feels that everyone could, and should, be a bit more philanthropic.
“What’s more difficult [than a problematic global economy] is to see people suffering way more than what we could ever imagine and stand there knowing that those issues aren’t addressed. Giving is about sharing your success within your means, whatever they may be.
“The more we discover amazing social organizations that really have an impact, the more optimistic and confident I become. Solutions exist. There are outstanding social organizations all around the world that help those in need, and the more we give, the sooner we will achieve actual social change.”