yes, this blog title has a small p for philanthropy and the image begins to say why. Man in Suit. Greenwash. Fixing the whole world. Don’t you just love the hubris?
I was raised in a superstitious religious household where philanthropy was a value. So I’ve thought about the issues for a long time. My background led me to want to work in the international aid game which I did for many years.
I calculated that many aid projects would get better outcomes simply by giving cash away. My bosses didn’t like my calculations because of the Unspoken Rule – We run a business subsidy program for our own suppliers, Kevin, not an aid program. So at least I like the part of the image above where cash is flowing out of the watering can.
I got the Unspoken Rule message loud and clear when I came back after negotiating a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Chinese Government for a Tibetan aid project. I had negotiated a program of local training and local manufacture for solar parabolic cooking dishes (saves the backbreaking work of picking up sheep shit to burn for cooking fuel) and for local medical centres with a strong flaxroots health and women’s education focus (wash your hands after shitting and don’t rub cow shit on your new born babies’ navels). The Chinese had wanted a big hospital so the negotiations were interesting.
I was hauled over the coals for the MOU and the project was rewritten. My boss at the time specifically asked me why I had not built in opportunities for our businesses. I knew my bosses would be upset and that it would be the end of my career ladder in that part of the system, but I had decided I would no longer play by the rule that the more money that ended up back in our own compatriots’ pockets, the better. I also had other career options opening up. Brave ay?
It seems that the same mechanisms that I found in Government aid are also in private aid such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF). This article is an extraordinary catalogue of the damage they do.
So with the recent rise of the Philanthropy Industry (PI) I’ve been thinking of these issues some more. The essential problem with most philanthropy is that it fails to diagnose the problem, or if it does it fails to act on it. Some philanthropists actually make the problem worse – read Christopher Hitchens’ book on that dangerous nutcase Mother Theresa for a perfect example. I made the effort to meet her in Kolkutta during a research trip to India and formed the view that she was a hard-nosed greedy stupid woman. She was also incredibly rude and mean of spirit which truly stunned me. So Hitch’s book came as no surprise.
PI is typified these days by buzzwords such as “charity evaluator”, “effective giving”, “scientific altruism” and combinations of these phrases mixed and matched. Just like any industry, PI has its jargon.
PI is also typified these days by companies such as Good Ventures, the Gates Foundation, and Mark Zuckerberg’s self-serving tax avoidance scheme (Hey Mark, 如果我说得不对请告诉我).
Motivation ranges from trying to achieve good publicity to a genuine, if mistaken, belief in how to achieve a better world. Motivation to make a buck out of the PI industry as one of the “charity evaluators” such as GiveWell is also high.
Recently I spent a little time looking into Dustin Moskovitz (Facebook co-founder) and the philanthropic activities he does with his partner Cari Tuna. They formed Good Ventures which says it researches causes and charities in a scientific way. Yeah, sure. They and others like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet who have signed the Giving Pledge say they have been influenced by moral philosopher Peter Singer’s notions of Effective Altruism and his book ‘The Life You Can Save.’
I’m not arguing here against Singer, but my PI conclusions? Not all philanthropy is bullshit. Only most of it. I haven’t done the sums so might need to modify the conclusion about ‘most’ if more info comes to hand. In any case, we need structural change, not trickle down philanthropy from rich gits trying to soothe their consciences or run a tax avoidance scam.
If your philanthropist is not arguing for structural change then be very very suspicious, especially if they are one of the 68 super-billionaires who control the world’s wealth.
27 Jan 2016