Epic Foundation Says Business Can't Do Well Without Doing Good
(Nyaka, Uganda, 2015) Alexandre Mars meets children from Nyaka, Uganda during a visit to social organizations, candidates for his Epic Foundation portfolio.COURTESY OF EPIC FOUNDATION
Alexandre Mars likes to cite media reports calling him “The French Bill Gates,” and if you consider that both men have made a fortune in the tech sector and have now turned their considerable wealth and energy to philanthropy, the analogy holds. Indeed, the Frenchman who divides his life between Paris and Manhattan made the NY Observer’s list of NY’s top 20 philanthropists in 2015 when he was barely 40 years of age.
But instead of committing his personal resources to funding charities and NGOs and humanitarian projects himself, the serial entrepreneur created Epic Foundation (his sixth company since the age of 17) in 2014 to encourage other wealthy individuals and wealthy companies to donate to the youth-oriented organizations in Epic’s roster of 36 agencies in 13 countries around the world, selected from 3500 candidates. Epic is meant to bridge the gap between a new generation of donors and NGOs and social enterprises supporting children and youth globally, making the process of giving easy, and the disposition of donations transparent.
Mars underwrites the operating costs of Epic, headquartered in NYC with offices in Paris, London, Brussels, Dubai, Mumbai, Bangkok and San Francisco, and now devotes 90% of his time into running Epic. He claims 100% of the money raised goes directly to Epic’s portfolio of organizations aimed at helping children in such fields as health, education, protection and employment.
Vetting The Portfolio
Mars, supported by a network of leading foundations, funders and think tanks (including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation), carefully vets the agencies he chooses to fund through Epic, focusing on impact, operations and leadership. "We give to non-profits and social enterprises with a track record of social impact," he told me recently during an interview in Paris..
(Mumbai, 2015) Alexandre Mars meets children from the poor quarters of Mumbai, India, during a site visit to scout candidates for Epic Foundation's portfolio of charities.COURTESY OF EPIC FOUNDATION
For example, Aangan, in Mumbai, India, protects children who are victims of violence and abuse in the home or workplace, or are forced into fixed marriages and the sex-traffic trade.
While the specter of such need evokes concern and compassion, how can those feelings be translated into contributions? “Giving has to be painless, systematic and optional,” Mars says. So he proposes companies offer employees a variety of donor options, including transactional giving and (matching) payroll deductions. Christian Dior now offers its employees the opportunity to “round off” their salary, to support two of the social organizations in the Epic portfolio: M'Lop Tapang in Cambodia (which protects children’s rights and health, and promotes economic emancipation for some 7,000 children in Sihanoukville) and SNEHA in India (which provides health care to some 52,000 children up to age 24 in Mumbai).
Epic’s ”Sharing Pledge” embraces those not working in big companies, encouraging entrepreneurs to pledge shares or a fraction of their proceeds from the future sale or IPO of their company. If there’s no sale, there’s nothing to pay. The Pledge also encourages investment firms to donate a percentage of their management fees, and asks business leaders to donate a percentage of their company profits.
It may be just a few Euros each month, but it is ongoing and affordable. “When people give more than they really want to, they regret it and become resentful,” Mars admits.
A Tsunami In The Workforce
It’s an idea whose time has come. “The current generation, the Millennials, want this social disruption to make things better,” Mars affirms. “Today’s generation doesn’t belong to one state, but to one mindset. We need to engage this generation that wants to do good.”
This theme is now resonating throughout moneyed financial circles: a letter to clients from Laurence D. Fink, founder and chief executive of the investment firm BlackRock, quoted in the New York Times in mid-January, informs business leaders that “their companies need to do more than make profits — they need to contribute to society as well if they want to receive the support of BlackRock.” Fink writes, “Society is demanding that companies, both public and private, serve a social purpose… To prosper over time, every company must not only deliver financial performance, but also show how it makes a positive contribution to society.”
(New York., NY) Alexandre Mars, CEO and Founder of Epic Foundation. The serial entrepreneur devotes 90% of his time to running his charitable foundation.COURTESY OF EPIC FOUNDATION
Alexandre Mars started his first venture at age 17, promoting concerts. At 21, while a university student and then at the prestigious HEC business school in Paris, he founded one of Europe’s first web agencies, and then created and managed his own venture fund, Mars Capital. His two next ventures, Phonevalley and Scroon, were sold to Publicis Groupe and BlackBerry, respectively.
An eight-month world tour, in which he and his wife and their children travelled to such places as Bangkok, Moscow, Mongolia, Sydney and Hawaii, convinced Mars that more needed to be done to combat poverty in the world, and Epic was founded on his return. Mars was also one of the judges panel creating the social entrepreneur list for Forbes’ “30 Under 30 Europe” list, released January 22
“There is a tsunami coming on the social front,” Mars predicts. “Today’s generation want more than a paycheck; they want to do good. Companies that don’t understand this will not be able to attract or retain talent. They will be left behind.”