The eight questions all philanthropists and donors should ask themselves (but often don’t)
February 11, 2023/Economic Empowerment, Featured
Philanthropy is at a pivotal point. In the current conditions of a fast-changing geopolitical landscape, the rapid creation of new wealth and technology and a heightened awareness of how philanthropy can create social change are leading to exciting innovations and new thinking. Lily Lewis (Founder of The Pocressi Initiative), Derek Bardowell (CEO of 10 Years Time, Author of ‘Giving Back’), Grant Gordon (Social Entrepreneur and Philanthropist), sat down with Simon Mundy (editor of FT’s Moral Money Platform) to discuss the current state of philanthropy and ask what the future of giving must consider to achieve truly effective and impactful results for people.
Is it a danger to get philanthropy badly wrong? This was opening question presented to the panel, the response to which set the tone for the discussion. Massively, is the answer. Good intentions alone do not ensure public good, meaning it is absolutely crucial to “get it right” when it comes to private giving. Our panel discussion generated some critical points of reflection for philanthropists. Here are some of them:
Are you cognisant of the inequalities our philanthropic system are built on?
Lily began; “I think there’s a lack of acknowledgement and reflection on how our philanthropic system was built, especially in the UK”. Indeed, philanthropy as a market-based phenomenon of giving is rooted in inequality, and thus has the capacity to perpetuate entrenched societal disparities which hold power from the legacy of colonialism. Grant explained that this lack of understanding of the impacts of giving also disregards the cultural issues surrounding philanthropy.
Are your short-term gains laced with long-term harms?
Derek emphasised the need to really interrogate whether philanthropy is inherently good. Philanthropy as an institutional practice maintains the social order, allowing wealthy people to enter markets in the name of altruism and humanitarian benevolence.
This approach to giving away large sums of money is often a strategic means for individuals and institutions to ‘offset’ their extractive investment practices, which ultimately perpetuate unequal power relations in society, particularly between the global north and global south.
Without individuals interrogating their own wealth, its sources, and its impact, perceived short term gains can actually result in long term harm. The power of decision-making residing in the giver removes autonomy from the beneficiary, thus disparities are replicated from society via philanthropy and little goes towards actual systems change.
Are communities being empowered to determine their own solutions?
Effective philanthropy is not just about philanthropists directing funds towards need; it’s about funding impactful solutions. People in the communities who receive funds know more about the challenges they face than academics do, and funders need to understand a lack of community engagement results in problems.
Derek points out that indigenous and low socio-economic communities have often ‘done it first’. Just because someone has money and access to wealth, why should they choose how to spend it? Communities themselves should have the decisive power to choose where funds are most effectively directed and purposed.
Grant draws from his own experience as a philanthropist, working with the organisation Thrive at 5. Their approach was to bring together different stakeholders to encourage community engagement and put trust into the local people, empowering them to be the change.
Have you done the work or are you taking shortcuts?
Experience and learned knowledge cannot be unvalued or underinvested in when it comes to maximising the impact of philanthropic work. So, a core principle for philanthropists to follow is to ‘do the work’. Examine how decisions are made and by whom, and interrogate wealth and sources of funds. Whilst there is certainly a level of urgency when it comes to funding projects and getting money to where it’s believed to be needed, there is a strong case for reflection.
Are you engaging with the grassroots and valuing them properly?
The panel all agree that community-learning presents a huge potential for philanthropy to develop as an effective means for change. Derek discusses how building a regenerative alternative process that learns from communities, and is not just a market-driven response, empowers communities and massively increase the impacts of funding. Recognising that communities are the sources of ground-level authority and knowledge could benefit systemic changes in philanthropy entirely.
Change can stem from the grassroots and ground-level, and this learning is so valuable for private initiatives looking to transform their ways of working to maximise their impact in an ethical way. Lily raises an important point on this, drawing on her work with The Pocressi Initiative, who aim to support their partners in ways that prioritise their needs. If grant-givers and funders engage with activists, communities and people with lived experiences, it is of vital importance that they are paid for their time, their consultancy, and their emotional labour. Bringing in the community to engage with philanthropy boards is the work that needs to be done, but it is work and should be respected as such.
Do those on your board reflect the communities you’re serving?
In regards to boards of funds, Derek continues the discourse on ‘who makes the decisions?’: “if it is not reflective of the community it is serving, it’s not right.” Representation and ensuring the right people are there to make the decisions is a principal concern and consideration for the future of philanthropy.
Is your philanthropy truly catalytic?
Derek elaborates on the point of power relations, emphasising the interdependence of actors across the globe, and the power relations that philanthropy exacerbates. The global north is still extractive towards the global south, he suggests that philanthropy can act as a reparative power, and should look like reparations towards socio-economic oppression and exploitation.
As an independent monetary source, it is a good place to start to direct funds towards decolonisation and abolitionist movements. We must interrogate wealth because it is an it’s a relatively independent mechanism for funding initiatives. Philanthropy has to be catalytic, it can’t just replicate what the government does. Grant further discusses how this type of giving is a form of risk capital; it requires big bets on chase. But what makes it different is its ability to be a galvanising agent towards institutional and systemic change.
In whose name is this being done?
The discussion took an interesting turn to note how some wings of notable art galleries are christened with the name of their benefactors. Indeed, many philanthropists’ actions result in physical signs of their donations, which raises the question about the intentions behind philanthropic actions. However Derek makes the point “real legacy is not going to be in the building”. The true legacy of philanthropists stems from their work to create social change in an ethical way, and this is ultimately the way to achieve long-lasting benefaction through generations.
Taking real care to ensure that the level of power between groups is even and not unbalanced is the fair and efficient way forward. People’s legacies are going to be unpacked; altruism and philanthropy are heavily scrutinised activities. But for the sake of ensuring true, effective, impactful change, they should be. It’s also not about perfecting progress, but it certainly about moving forwards.
We should take this heightened awareness of philanthropy’s role in creating social change, and strive for equal power balances and impactful outcomes. The core of the work lies in ethical practices, true interrogation of wealth, examination of power relations, and work should be put in to ensure beneficiaries are empowered to become autonomous. This should be met with high levels of community engagement, to learn where the real knowledge is, engage with the groups with whom philanthropists hope to create impactful change, empower individuals and equalise power relations, to transform philanthropy into effective means for creative effective systemic change across societies.
In 2023, halting tropical deforestation is the world’s most cost-effective and scalable climate action. But getting it right isn’t simple. The Conduit presents an evening with climate organisation Cool Earth and special guests Go Conscious Earth featuring inspirational talks from people who have witnessed first-hand the challenges faced by those who live in the rainforest and what they are doing to overcome them. Our time to listen and act is now.
https://www.theconduit.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/07/congo-basin-event.jpg9911500Programme Teamhttps://www.theconduit.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/TheConduit_MasterLogo.svgProgramme Team2023-09-25 08:11:582023-09-26 09:10:49Deforestation Halt: People Power in the Congo Basin
The Conduit’s “Point of Care Around the World” series was created in collaboration with the Johnson
& Johnson Center for Health Worker Innovation, which catalyses efforts to respond to the human resource crisis in global health and build a thriving workforce.
https://www.theconduit.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/09/Barangay-Health-Worker-1.jpg10711600Programme Teamhttps://www.theconduit.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/TheConduit_MasterLogo.svgProgramme Team2023-09-22 11:10:292023-09-22 11:19:05Point of Care Around the World: Antipolo’s Barangay Health Workers
https://www.theconduit.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/08/david-runciman-2-709x400-c.jpg400700Programme Teamhttps://www.theconduit.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/TheConduit_MasterLogo.svgProgramme Team2023-09-06 10:00:312023-09-07 09:52:58How We Gave Control of Our Lives to Corporations, States and AIs
Click on the different category headings to find out more. You can also change some of your preferences. Note that blocking some types of cookies may impact your experience on our websites and the services we are able to offer.
Essential Website Cookies
These cookies are strictly necessary to provide you with services available through our website and to use some of its features.
We provide you with a list of stored cookies on your computer in our domain so you can check what we stored. Due to security reasons we are not able to show or modify cookies from other domains. You can check these in your browser security settings.
Other external services
We also use different external services like Google Webfonts, Google Maps, and external Video providers. Since these providers may collect personal data like your IP address we allow you to block them here. Please be aware that this might heavily reduce the functionality and appearance of our site. Changes will take effect once you reload the page.
Google Webfont Settings:
Google Map Settings:
Google reCaptcha Settings:
Vimeo and Youtube video embeds: