Matthew Bishop


Philanthrocapitalists propose a Social Progress Index | 

Metrics Mania
Metrics Mania
Flicky, Beto Ruis Alonso

Measurement, in case you didn’t know it, is the new black for the aid and development community.

It’s true that innovation, as a buzzword anyway, hasn’t gone out of fashion yet and social entrepreneurship is still hot – despite the fact that few seem able to define it.  But measurement is definitely this year’s favored wrap for the hip humanitarian.

Bill Gates’ annual letter this year was all about the need for better metrics and data in the fight against poverty and inequity. Bono, dutifully following suit at a recent TED talk, said he is actually sexually excited by data now and considers himself less just an anti-poverty activist and more of a factivist.

Measurement is it, fo shizzle! Nobody who wants to be anybody in fighting poverty and injustice talks about doing anything anymore if it can’t be measured.

Last week, at the Skoll World Forum in London, came more evidence of this trend. The Skoll Foundation and their gathering of social entrepreneurs helped launch yet another humanitarian yardstick – the Social Progress Index.

And who could argue against such a thing? Who wouldn’t want to be able to quantify the impact of an aid or development project?

Answer: Nobody

The only problem is that it’s not that easy to actually measure this stuff – equality, opportunity, security, happiness and well-being.

“These are tough concepts to measure,” said Michael Green, a renowned economist in London who with Matthew Bishop, a journalist at the Economist magazine, is one of the leading proponents of philanthrocapitalism (which, like social enterprise, I also think is ill-defined … but that’s another story).

“We need a new way to measure social progress that is independent of economic indicators,” said Green, who with Bishop is proposing just such a new measurement tool with this new Social Progress Index. It’s still just an idea to test out, he said, but we’re clearly in need of a better yardstick for aid and development. Continue reading

More Fighting Over (the meaning and purpose of) Philanthropy | 

Question: Is philanthropy a means for reducing inequity in the world or just another vehicle used by the super-rich to justify the inequity?

Gates Foundation

Bill Gates in India, checking on polio eradication

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.


Kavita Ramdas

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.

Continue reading

Update: Fighting over (meaning of) Philanthropy | 

Felix Salmon

Felix Salmon


Matthew Bishop

Two of my favorite writers or “thought leaders” on economics and philanthropy, Felix Salmon of Reuters and Matthew “Philanthrocapitalist” Bishop of the Economist, continue their war of words here and here.


As I noted earlier, this all started when Salmon felt compelled to emphasize that the point of philanthropy is not to make a profit. Yeah, I know that sounds obvious. But, as he noted, there are lots of folks out there — he included Matthew Bishop among them — who seem to confuse business with philanthropy.

“All of this is profoundly silly,” Salmon said.

Matthew Bishop responded that it is, in fact, Salmon who is the muddle-headed one. He called Salmon a “bigot,” which I still don’t quite understand in this context. Bishop’s point is that there is nothing inherently wrong with profit-making and trying to help poor people.

Anyway, you can read their arguments for yourself.

Update: Fighting over Philanthropy | 

I posted earlier on an interesting debate between two economics writers, Felix Salmon of Reuters and Matthew Bishop of the Economist, about the nature of philanthropy.

The debate, in summary, is if making a profit is in itself a social good — and better than most of those other more limited humanitarian goals of reducing maternal mortality, digging wells or getting food to the hungry.

Salmon was arguing against the notion, and pundits like Bishop, who he thinks are (deliberately or not) confusing the potential social good of business growth with the social good of philanthropy. It was a rousing debate, which ended with a joust from Salmon. Here’s Bishop’s latest retort from his Philanthrocapitalism blog and an excerpt:

Felix is right that how the wealth-creation process of capitalism serves humanity has been debated for centuries, but it has entered a new phase, especially since the global financial crisis. Before then, much of the world had settled on a consensus that what is good for today’s stock price is probably good for humanity. That belief has been proven wrong. We now have an opportunity to build a better capitalism where the self-interest of investors and the interests of society are aligned more effectively. (And no, we don’t believe that a long-term focus in the corporate world would deliver nirvana, as government regulation will certainly still be needed, but we do think it would be a huge step in the right direction.)

Fighting over the fundamentals of philanthropy | 

There appears to be a  deep-seated intellectual boil festering at the base of our discussions around philanthropy, foreign aid and development.

Those three words? I’m not sure anyone really knows what they mean.

Flickr, Erebos

I can’t see what you’re saying

Yes, I’m sure the experts on philanthropy, aid and development all think they know what they mean. But as a journalist assigned to cover this stuff — and asked to translate it into “normal” language — I’m increasingly running into debates about fundamentals, if not outright confusion.

To wit:

Felix Salmon, a brilliant and often hilarious economics writer for Reuters, felt compelled to point out that Philanthropy Isn’t For Profit.

Duh, you say? Salmon was responding to the notion, which seems to be gaining popularity in some circles, that making a profit is in fact the best way to achieve a social good. He writes:

You can’t just invest money in the stock market and declare it the best way to do good in the world, any more than you can start an arms or cigarette manufacturer and claim that your pursuit of profits is the best way to improve global welfare.

Continue reading

Yunus Watch: Microfinance pioneer further piled on | 

World Economic Forum

Muhammad Yunus

I’m sorry to reveal a bias here, but all these attacks and critiques of the Bangladeshi economist and Nobel Peace Prize-winning pioneer of microfinance, Muhammad Yunus, appear to be so obviously opportunistic (if not an outright smear campaign), I can’t figure out why smart people just keep piling on.

As I’ve written about before on this blog, Yunus has come under heavy attack — accused of being a crook, of libeling politicians (is that possible?) and all sorts of wrong-doings — after publicly taking a stand against those who would make a profit off providing loans to the very poor.

The latest example of piling on comes from Matthew Bishop, a top business editor at The Economist and author of the popular book (and blog of the same name) “Philanthrocapitalism.” Continue reading