Question: Is philanthropy a means for reducing inequity in the world or just another vehicle used by the super-rich to justify the inequity?
Answer: It depends upon what you mean by philanthropy.
Oddly enough (or maybe not), there is wide disagreement about some of what many would see as the most basic assumptions and characteristics of philanthropy. I’ve written about these confused semantics before, such as this argument between two experts over whether philanthropies should seek profits — a debate which ended up promoting an even more heated exchange of words.
The battle has been rejoined in a debate going on between the advocates of the more business-oriented, profit-seeking approach they’ve dubbed “philanthrocapitalism” and those who think philanthropy needs to be more precisely defined by its ability to effect positive social change.
Leading off in the debate online at the Stanford Social Innovation Review is Kavita Ramdas, former chief of the Global Fund for Women now based at Stanford University. Ramdas opens with a tale of Bill and Melinda Gates in India seeking more billionaires for their Giving Pledge initiative.
The problem here, writes Ramdas, is that such well-intended acts of charity usually do nothing to solve the fundamental problems they are trying to solve:
In fact, as a recent Wall Street Journal article suggests, the same factors that helped create the billionaires may have also exacerbated social injustice and inequality, malnutrition, and dis-empowerment for millions of poor people cross India.