Epic Foundation CEO Alexandre Mars visited Orange Silicon Valley on March 13 to discuss his work, outlook on philanthropy, and ideas that went into his new book Giving: Purpose is the New Currency. The fireside chat was led by Scott Austin from The Wall Street Journal, who talked to Mars about how he sees businesses playing a role in the future of charitable giving.
Epic Foundation is a global nonprofit that bridges the gap between a new generation of individuals and corporate donors and organizations supporting children and youth. It operates in a manner similar to a VC fund, but it is philanthropic, with program teams that spend each calendar year identifying nonprofits that are working to support children across the world.
Orange Silicon Valley CEO Mireille Helou introduced the speakers and gave a few opening remarks about the importance and impact of giving. “More than one out of two humans don’t have access to the internet,” she said. “By giving internet access, we are giving access to education and employment.”
Mars on giving
Mars opened the event with two questions: Do you give to charity? Do you give enough?
As the conversation continued, he discussed exactly what “enough” meant. Giving enough varies on a case by case basis, he asserted; it all depends on how much someone can give, without it hindering their own ability to comfortably survive. During the Middle Ages in France, each person would give up 10 percent of their income to church. This was called a “dim,” and Mars sees this as an example to be emulated when donating to charities.
According to Mars, it is unrealistic to give away most of one’s income to a charity. Most people cannot feasibly do that, and should not stretch themselves just to donate. “I believe the biggest changes in donations will come from businesses,” he said. In some cases, employees will opt for rounding down their paychecks to the nearest dollar, and having the company match that by four or five times. “For example, if you earned $1,000.20, you as an employee would donate twenty cents, and the company would put in a dollar,” Mars explained. However, Mars does not want people to view giving as a negative or detrimental act, “We believe at Epic that giving should not be painful, but joyful. Don’t give up too much that it hurts,” he said.
Scott Austin questioned Mars on how he grew to be such a charitable person. Mars revealed that he grew up with his mom who would give to the community and helped people in need; so seemed like a normal thing to do. When Mars started his first company at 17, he realized “money is power, and money will be what creates an impact.” While his first business was to raise money to take care of his mom, Mars now views himself as “a founder with corporate responsibility, and accountability as a leader.” “My mission is to fight for and change the lives of the undeserved.” Mars said.
Hesitation with giving
“One problem we see with donating is people are skeptical of what their money is really being used for, and where it is going. The philanthropic industry as a whole suffers from transparency issues. We are changing that with Epic Foundation,” Mars said.
Epic Foundation selects a portfolio of companies to showcase, and 100 percent of the donations go towards the companies it sponsors. Thousands of organizations participate in Epic’s selection process, however, according to Mars, most of them fail to clearly explain what they are trying to achieve. 40 percent did not have specific impact metrics, and 26 percent of them were not even measurable. “How can we expect an organization to demonstrate an impact it has not even formalized?” he asked.
Currently, Epic supports 29 different organizations, and each of their missions are clearly stated. Mars assured the audience that “when you donate to Epic, you will know exactly where your money is going. There will be no trust issues or no hesitation.”
Mars on his book
“What inspired me to finally write my book was the impact and outreach that it would bring,” Mars said. “I wanted to get my ideas out into the world and spread my message.” So far, many people have reached out to him asking for more ways to get involved with philanthropies. Mars observed that “gen y and gen z in particular” have been contacting him, “because they want to live for a purpose and feel the need to be a part of something bigger, much more so than the generations before them.”
“There is definitely a generational shift with involvement and feeling purposeful,” Mars continued. “Just ten years ago, only one percent of the younger generation was interested in being involved with social innovation startups, and now it has skyrocketed to twenty percent. The world has changed. The new generation is working for a purpose, and that’s how we view Epic. We’re doing good through our product, so the underprivileged can have a voice.”
Following the event, Mars signed copies of his book for all of the participants that attended.