It was in an attempt to create something positive out of senseless loss that Mark Weingard began to think what he could do to help the people of Bali. His outlook was affected by his own narrow escapes from fate’s wheel. He dodged the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks only because he was late for a meeting. He just missed the Bali bombing of 2002, which killed his girlfriend. Two years later, he survived the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami by clambering onto the roof of his home in Phuket, Thailand. It was these moments that changed his outlook on life and inspired his giving.
Weingard had created an electronic trading platform for interest rate and foreign exchange derivatives, and become a millionaire trader by his early thirties. In 2002 he formed the organization which became the Inspirasia Foundation, and proceeded to fund 16 projects across Bali, Thailand, and India, working with small nonprofits to help the poorest of the poor with health and education so they can become economically and socially independent. His philanthropy involves applying professional disciplines, skills, and planning to grantmaking. This might include offering his nonprofit partners advice and training on HR practices, bookkeeping, inventory control, and clinical standards.
It’s like giving someone a crutch and, just when they’re getting used to walking around, you take it away.
“We mentor organizations and look at things in the long term,” he says. “I hate the short termism that of a lot of giving involves. One of the greatest problems today is that when there is a disaster everyone wants to give money for it, and they ignore other causes. People tell us how they’ve got a project going and then suddenly the money just stops. You almost think ‘What was the point of doing it in the first place?’ It’s like giving someone a crutch and, just when they’re getting used to walking around, you take it away.”
Giving must be long term, it must be planned, and able to grow, he believes. “The money should increase as people learn how to use it, rather than going for a massive, quick fix which often causes more problems than it solves.” Donors, Weingard believes, should apply the same kind of rigorous analysis to new projects that business people do: assess whether a potential recipient organization has a capable leader and management team, whether it has an entrepreneurial mindset, whether it measures its results. His foundation typically makes first-time grants of around $25,000 and monitors the initial investment over 12 months, assessing how the organization uses it with a view to making more donations and establishing a long-term partnership.
Weingard wants to ally himself with business people who are already giving and willing to give more. Last year he opened the high-end hotel Inialia in Phuket, with a business plan that gives 10 percent of room revenues and 5 percent of food and beverage revenues to charities, including the Inspirasia Foundation. He hopes to inspire other businesses to do likewise. “I want to show people how, by giving, you can grow, your employees can grow, and your clients can grow.”
“We can give maybe a million dollars a year, maybe three, but that will only make a small difference. If we can get thousands of other companies to join us we can make a massive difference to millions of people,” he says.