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Philanthropy comes from the Greek word philanthropia, which meant love of mankind. In its earliest days, philanthropy was the act of kindness towards strangers. Today’s philanthropy is described as systematic giving to improve the quality of human life by the promotion of welfare and social change. Philanthropy has developed throughout each different era but its main idea has remained unchanged.

Development of Modern Philanthropy
In the 15th and 16th centuries, people changed the way that they lived, prayed, and went about their daily lives in an ever-expanding world. When the Medieval Age came to an end, so did its economic, political, and social structures. The collapse of feudalism ended obligations between landowners and peasants. The feudal lords were no longer there to protect the welfare of their dependents. However, this also released the peasants from any sense of duty to stay and serve these feudal lords.

During the Reformation, which introduced new religious philosophies into Europe, the Catholic rule was nearing its end. At the same time, in the Middle East, the Ottoman Empire reached the height of its power. This is known also as the Age of Discovery. As such, there was an unprecedented exchange of people, ideas, goods, cultures, religions, and many more. This change in society shifted need to urban centers and it changed who gave and who received. This shifted the apex of giving from the religious orders, such as the Catholics, to the state, also known as the governments, to begin the global exchange of philanthropic ideas and acts.

Long after the Reformation period in Europe, wars and revolutions placed the world in a spin. This kind of change put new demands on philanthropy. From the Napoleonic Wars to the American Revolution, there were refugees, widows, and orphans left behind. These wars also established new nations and brought industrialization to the forefront of urban growth. Obviously, this came along with challenges of its own. The conditions of tenements and factories began the early discussions about sanitation and workers rights. In the United States, the issue of abolition came to a head so violently that the Civil War began.

To combat these issues, new forms of philanthropy took place as a result of asking how to improve the quality of human life. These new forms were characterized by private efforts to reform these conditions and an increase in placing responsibility with the public for those in need.

Philanthropy is a huge practice to discuss. As such, this post serves as part one in a three-part series. To read further about philanthropy, head to part two and part three to learn more.