Maimonides ‘Highest degree of charity’ is an analogy for innovation in business.
“The highest degree of charity is to aid a man in want, not by offering a gift or a loan, but by entering into a partnership with him or by providing work for him – so he may become self-sufficient.”
Written by Maimonides – a preeminent medieval Jewish philosopher and astronomer – these words have been an inspiration to many. Maimonides was one of the most prolific and influential writers of his day – born in 1135 in Córdoba, Spain, he died in Egypt in 1204.
In his Mishneh Torah – Laws of Gifts to the Poor – he set out eight levels of charity – this highest form is ranked as such because it allows the receiver of the gift to be strengthened so he becomes independent – and then gains his freedom.
It’s a way of saying that fair and effective partnership beats the charity hand out. Working towards this would help the much needed redefinition of the third sector, where financial returns are used to facilitate effectiveness. But partnership furthers the scope for the attainment of goals, resilience and long-term survival – all of which are ultimately far more valuable than just money.
This begins to explore the difference between “money” and “value” – the latter being ultimately a measure of usefulness to society. For many businesses, profit is measured in money and is an end in itself. This valuation has limited and temporal value. This is becoming a main reason why – in the new environment – the businesses who focus solely on this measurement will decline and their most useful employees and partners will leave.
Businesses and organisations that focus on the creation of value – and beyond just words – will become a force for positive change across society. They will also become go-to destinations for the next generation of intellect, talent and effective workers.
Maimonides’ highest form of charity offers a broader analogy for innovation in the wider business community. Today, he would have been a good candidate to join the Advisory Board of the businesses of the future.