Compassionate Capitalism: How the Arthur B. Schultz Foundation Pays it Forward

Arthur B. Schultz established his family foundation in 1985, but it didn’t become a staffed foundation until nearly 15 years later. In those early days, the Arthur B. Schultz Foundation (ABSF) focused its grantmaking on education, entrepreneurship, disabled mobility, and environmental conservation. While education, entrepreneurship, and disabled mobility remain top funding priorities at ABSF, the foundation spun off its environmental giving into a separate entity called the Confluence Fund.

ABSFs three remaining giving priorities have evolved over time as well, some more than others. For instance, the foundation’s disabled mobility giving continues to focus on providing high-quality and “technologically appropriate” wheelchairs for people around the world who could not otherwise afford them. But its giving in this space also supports other efforts to help people with limited mobility including amputees and children born with club feet. As well, the ABSFs education grantmaking is heavily focused on women, girls, and children.

Related: Arthur B. Schultz Foundation: Grants for Global Development

Perhaps one of the most interesting giving evolutions at the foundation is based on its entrepreneurial grantmaking and stems from Schultz’s belief in “compassionate capitalism.”

Compassion and capitalism? One of these things is definitely not like the other. Capitalism often conjures thoughts of a free market rife with cutthroat competition in a race to win a spot within the ranks of the one-percent. Compassion, well that involves sympathy and concern for the suffering of others.

Regardless of the seemingly oil/water mix behind these two ideologies, compassionate capitalism does exist and a few of the world’s one-percenters, like Marc Benioff, are on board. In 1999, Benioff developed his 1/1/1 model of philanthropy which calls for Salesforce to donate one percent of its earnings and one percent of its products, and Salesforce employees to commit one percent of their time, to charitable causes. Admittedly, the list isn’t long here. But short roster includes Arthur B. Schultz whose been supporting the act of compassionate capitalism through his foundation for over a decade.

In 2000, ABSF—which already had a hand in supporting entrepreneurs in underdeveloped countries around the world—decided to up its commitment by creating the Social Microenterprise Initiative. The foundation would carry out its mission by developing a program where small and micro business entrepreneurs could obtain interest free loans in order to grow their businesses. In turn, the loans would be repaid, but not with cash. Instead, the repayment plan called for loan recipients to donate “an equivalent value of products or job training to the poor in their communities.”

After a 10 year run, ABSF spun the program off to create another organization independent of the foundation, called Thriive.

Thriive continues to carry on Schultz’s compassionate capitalism values by giving interest free loans to viable small and micro enterprises, with the overall goal of not only allowing entrepreneurs to grow their businesses, but create jobs as well. Not only does this help break the cycle of poverty for the business owner receiving the loan, but it has the domino effect of helping others break free from the grip of poverty while bolstering local economies. And the results so far are incredibly promising.

From 2010 to 2015, Thriive has supported 380 businesses, of which 51 percent are women owned; created nearly 1,900 jobs; and provided job training for 2,600 people, 58 percent of which have parlayed that training into jobs. What’s more is that according to Thriive, over 70 percent of its entrepreneurs continue to give back to their local communities over the long-term and each Thriive business helps an average of 500 people in need.  

Talk about a rising tide lifting all boats.