How should philanthropy consider the tension between its maker and its mission? In many cases, foundations wish to solve social problems like extreme poverty and hunger — but acquire their resources through forces that have arguably helped create those very problems. Can philanthropy get past this contradiction? How?
Last week on The Development Set, we brought together several leading thinkers to explore these questions in a wide-ranging discussion. Leah Hunt-Hendrix and Jee Kim of the Ford Foundation opened the floor by describing philanthropy’s fundamental contradiction — and reminded readers of a keen insight from Martin Luther King, Jr.:
“Philanthropy is commendable, but it must not cause the philanthropist to overlook the circumstances of economic injustice which make philanthropy necessary.”
Hunt-Hendrix and Kim then ask what a “new gospel of philanthropy” might look like, if it wrestled with these questions.
Here’s a recap of the conversation, which we hope will continue in coming days. If the spirit moves you, please hit “Write a response” below any of the pieces in the forum and add your voice!
“The story we’ve told about the poor in America, the story that we continue to ask them to tell in order to get funding, is that they’re broken. In fact, we are.”
In this thoughtful essay, writer Courtney Martin highlights people and institutions who break traditional hierarchies by elevating the voices of traditional recipients of philanthropic dollars — people of color, the working class, and women. Relationships, she asserts, are at the center of all good work.
Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation, noted the significance of our current moment: Populist sentiment is rising on both sides of the political spectrum, and evidence shows that people are increasingly dissatisfied with capitalism.
Philanthropists, he says, must grapple seriously with the root causes of inequality — and he expresses faith in their ability to face them with ingenuity.
Jessie Spector, Executive Director of Resource Generation, is on a truth-telling mission. The new mandate of philanthropists, she says, should be to put themselves out of business by organizing for structural change and advocating for redistributive policies — all while honoring the histories of “stolen land, labor, and lives” that have led to unequal wealth accumulation in the United States.
The Brooking Institute’s Richard Reeves challenges philanthropists to recognize the inherent tension at the heart of their work, and then move on to action. What if big foundations fought inequality not just with their operating budgets but also with their assets, through socially responsible investments? What if philanthropy was more purposely experimental?
By Daniel Lurie
Daniel Lurie, CEO of Tipping Point, which operates under an “intentionally hungry model” of zero endowment, believes philanthropy has an “existential crisis.” As a first step to counter it, he said, we need to embrace honest and uncomfortable conversations about race and class.
If you’re receiving this letter, chances are you’re interested in something related to philanthropy, global health, or international development. At The Development Set, we work to create novel and sometimes uncomfortable conversations on these topics.
As always, please reach out to me on Twitter (@sarika008) with any thoughts, questions, or suggestions for how we can push TDS’ boundaries even further.
Thanks to Jennifer Gathright for her assistance in crafting this letter.