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May 15, 2011

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A rich life in charity

She comes from the Rockefellers, one of the wealthiest families in the world, but firmly believes and asserts that "money is not everything." As the fourth daughter of David Rockefeller, the grandson of oil tycoon John D. Rockefeller, Peggy Dulany has spent much of her life to giving to rather than taking from society.

Unlike many offspring who inherit the family wealth, Dulany dedicated herself to philanthropy, founding The Synergos Institute in 1986, an independent non-profit organization aimed at creating sustainable solutions to poverty.

When asked why, her answer is simple and direct, "My interest has always been in the better of humanity."

Synergos has left its footprint of love across the world. In Maharashtra, India, the organization effectively helped in reducing child malnutrition; in South Africa, it participated in designing a model reducing the isolation and vulnerability of children in distress; and in Mozambique, it helps by providing sustainable care for orphans affected by HIV.

Earlier this month, Dulany came to Shanghai to attend the THREE Talk, an inspirational speaker series held at Three on the Bund. During her interview with Shanghai Daily, she reinterpreted philanthropy by saying that the more important thing about it is not donating money since it cannot completely solve poverty but "building love, energy, trust and wellbeing."

Dulany's definition of philanthropy takes the word right back to its source meaning. The Oxford English Dictionary defines the word as follows - philanthropy, from Greek philanthrpos, from philein "to love" and anthrpos "human being."

Q: When did you start your charity life?

A: It depends what you call the 'charity life.' It can be defined as giving money. But I consider it my commitment to humanity and the Earth. So, that would be the first job I had when I was 23. I was teaching in a school for underprivileged adolescents.

Q: What's been the most impressive Synergos achievement for you?

A: When we were working in child malnutrition in India where 42 percent of children are malnourished. There was an initiative started by UNICEF (United Nations Children's Fund) and Unilever in which they invited Synergos to be the third partner to create a new system for addressing problems of child malnutrition. This was taken out by the entire state of Maharashtra which is the state where Mumbai is and has 100 million people. It took two and a half years to build trust between the government, local organizations, businesses and UN agencies so that they could create an organization that they all would agree to participate in. The result is that the percentage of malnutrition in that state is going down and the national government of India is interested in expanding some of the strategies to other states as well.

Q: Are there any charity projects in China supported by Synergos?

A: Synergos itself doesn't donate money. We help bring people together when they invite us to solve problems. This is our first visit to China. So it's too early to know whether we'll develop these kinds of collaborations in China. But the reason we came here is that we're very interested in how Chinese people, government and businesses are approaching problems. We're sure that there's a lot we can learn from.

Q: What's your understanding of charities in China?

A: Because the government plays such an important role in China in addressing problems such as poverty, employment, agriculture and health, and also because until recently, there were not many wealthy individuals or Chinese families, in my understanding, it's fairly new that there will be organized philanthropy in China. Of course, people here have helped each other in human ways all along. That's the case in China and other societies. But I think there's still discussion in the government and even among businesses about how China wants to approach philanthropy. Besides, I believe that philanthropy in China, although being in an early stage, will achieve further development, from immature to mature, just like the US has experienced.

Q: The media and public seem to pay more attention to you being a member of the Rockefeller family. What do you think of the special label on your head?

A: When I was younger, I found it a little threatening to my individual identity because the only focus was on my family background. But now, I understand that's curiosity. It's a famous name. I really believe that because of supporting humanity to live in greater wellbeing and greater harmony, I don't mind if people start with an interest in my family and I hope that I can use that to draw attention to issues like peace and antipoverty.

Q: So why did you relinquish the Rockefeller surname and use your middle name Dulany instead?

A: It's another story. When I was 19, I was living in a squatter settlement in Rio, Brazil. Some people thought that it would be a great press story to talk about the Rockefeller living in a squatter settlement. At that age, I wasn't ready to deal with that. So I changed my name.

Q: Why did you live there?

A: Because I wanted to understand how people who are living in poverty are trying to get out of it. I was studying anthropology at that time, so it was an opportunity to learn from the people and I learned my most important lesson which was that those who are suffering from a problem have the greatest will and the desire to get out of the problem.

Q: What other interests are you involved in?

A: I have a ranch in Montana which produces grass-fed beef and I have a larger one in Namibia in a beautiful desert canyon called Fish River. I love to spend time there and also invite guests to have a visit since both, I think, provide opportunities to expose us to nature so that we can to some extent achieve self-reflection.


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