Giving Compass’ Take:
• Katerina Manoff questions whether recent critiques of philanthropy will actually change philanthropic practice.
• How can funders work to incorporate constructive criticism into their approach?
• Read about three steps towards democratizing philanthropy.
Serious criticism of 21st-century philanthropy has only recently found a major platform. Unlike prior waves of generosity from the ultra-rich, which attracted heavy scrutiny from the public, the most recent outpouring of billionaires’ magnanimity has been broadly praised for years. Generous billionaires attacking the critical global problems that inefficient governments had failed to fix—what could be more noble? The sector’s narrative fit conveniently into the neoliberal worldview that had deeply entrenched itself in our national psyche: the primacy of markets, the wisdom and skill of the one percent, the easy symbiosis of financial and societal gains.
But as the broader neoliberal paradigm has grown increasingly controversial, philanthropy has also come under fire. Giridharadas, Villanueva, and the rest struck a nerve, leading to broad media coverage, numerous jokes at plutocrats’ expense, and hand-wringing among foundation staffers suddenly stricken with guilt.
In light of all this buzz, it may be tempting to celebrate. But let’s not confuse publicity with progress. The world may finally be hearing philanthropy’s gadflies, but few of their targets are listening.
Take the keynote Giridharadas delivered at Harvard’s Social Enterprise Conference. Inviting the journalist to speak at an exclusive gathering of the kinds of people he denounces appears, at first glance, to be a bold step forward. But the conversation, guided by a friendly moderator, remained largely superficial. Giridharadas took only a handful of questions, actually refusing to answer some due to their complexity. Afterward, he signed books and met privately with a small group of students. But conference participants otherwise moved on to the next session. So much for deep engagement with the philanthrocapitalists.
Read the full article about changing philanthropic practice by Katerina Manoff at Nonprofit Quarterly.
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