Community News: Philanthropist & Author Sylvia Brown Writes About Philanthropy in Sicily: Modern Giving for An Ancient Land

Community News: Philanthropist & Author Sylvia Brown Writes About Philanthropy in Sicily: Modern Giving for An Ancient Land


Have you ever wondered how to get the biggest bang for your buck out of your charitable donation? Or how to choose between non-profit organizations? Or how to make the most difference to a cause that’s close to your heart?

And if you could learn these skills, where would you rather do so – in a conference room watching power points or ‘on site’ in a beautiful and fascinating location?

sylvia brownTwo years ago, long-time friends, Rhode Island based Sylvia Brown (who is half American-half French) and London based Antonella Miro (who is half Belgian-half Italian), launched Uplifting Journeys to combine their love of travel with donor education. Sylvia, who grew up in a family steeped in 300 years of charitable giving (including an Ivy League university), has worked in economic development and trained in strategic philanthropy. Antonella has a lifetime of volunteer experience and fundraising for major charities, and is a professional tour director. Both noticed their friends searching for more meaning in their charitable activities and greater impact from their donations. They found that private banks, family offices and consultants will assist ultra-high net worth individuals, but there is little guidance available for everyone else – especially advice that incorporates the emotional dimension so vital to philanthropy. No wonder 85% of American donors spend less than two hours a year doing any research before writing a check!

So Antonella and Sylvia conceived a “boot camp for smarter donors” that appeals to the “head, heart and hand.” They would seek out locations around the world offering fascinating case studies to illustrate good giving practices. They would provide lively workshops, site visits and – perhaps most important – curated volunteer opportunities in local charities. Their goal is to offer a transformative experience where culture and cuisine feature alongside local interaction rarely accessible to the average tourist. No donation is required; rather, participants should return home inspired and equipped to give more thoughtfully to any cause, anywhere.

At the suggestion of an Italian-American Uplifting Journeys alumna, Sylvia and Antonella explored running one of their courses in Italy. Like so many travelers before them, their search eventually ended in Sicily. Though an enchanting tourist destination, Sicily also faces complex social and economic challenges, making it the ideal Uplifting Journeys case study. There is no tradition of American-style philanthropy, but Antonella and Sylvia discovered amazing individuals and inspiring local charities pioneering innovative solutions.

And so you are invited to share in their enthusiasm for Sicily next May 6-11. This program will be of special appeal to women or mother/daughter couples.

One issue that has moved many of us is the migrant crisis – in 2015 and 2016, 400,000 arrived in Sicily after harrowing voyages, then spent months in transit camps. Then what? The migrant crisis typifies those seemingly intractable challenges that leave us feeling confused and helpless. We shall learn how to research such issues and how relatively small donors can make a difference through Moltivolti, a social enterprise helping migrants and refugees start new lives in Sicily.

Another topic that often perplexes donors is measuring social impact. Some results are easy to quantify, particularly in health and education. But what about changing mentalities? We have picked a particularly difficult challenge to measure: creating a post-mafia society.
AddioPizzo and Libera will take us through a Palermo neighborhood and to farms outside the town of Corleone that have been reclaimed from the mafia.

All of Southern Italy suffers from high unemployment – but Sicilian youth unemployment hovers at 75% – which inevitably leads to high juvenile delinquency. What can be done? How to pick among charities? We will visit several projects, including an innovative foster home and a bakery inside Palermo’s juvenile prison to learn how best to evaluate and engage with non-profits.

Evening activities will include meeting Sicilians passionate about historic preservation in a splendid palazzo; a dinner devoted to the Slow Food movement; and hearing from a behavioral psychologist about “the Sicilian mind-set.”

And on the last two days, participants will put their newfound insights to work volunteering in local charities, carefully selected to match their interests.

The six-night Uplifting Journeys program in Sicily will be centered in Palermo (we have blocked rooms at the four-star Grand Hotel Piazza Borsa), but participants (limited to 20) are encouraged to explore the island’s beauty and cultural heritage beforehand or afterwards. For more information and to register, please go to

In September of 2017, Sylvia Brown gave a thoughtful presentation on this subject to NOIAW Rhode Island Region members and friends.

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