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“Blue Collar Professor” Shawn Humphrey is the initiator of the student-oriented Month of Microfinance and the Two Dollar Challenge. He teaches a variety of development-related courses in most fascinating ways, among other things having his students sleep in cardboard box shelters and (for better or worse) roping them into the operations of a Honduran microfinance institution.
Usually narrated in a personal, essayistic style, Humphrey’s blog offers candid and often bravely self-critical insights into the vicissitudes of trying to “do good” and “development” – and of teaching American students how/how not to do it. Even though they’re hardly always up my alley (as with the suggestion that “doing good” is a “market”) and not always palatable, Humphrey’s musings are ever thought-provoking, sometimes philosophical, and overall highly relevant given this blog’s consistent interest in ethical questions over social justice and philanthropy. It is my pleasure therefore (as the ninth instalment in our occasional series about great series on other blogs) to introduce “Do-Goodernomics / Do’s and Don’ts of Doing Good” with this reprinting of parts of some of my favourite posts.
We were just finishing up our conversation with Clementina when another van full of Gringos arrived. A middle-aged man in a ball cap and shades bounded over to us. “What are you all doing here?” he asked with a hint of accusation. I introduced myself and my students. I began a review of our microfinance program. And, somewhere between “no fees” and “no penalties” he lost interest. “You know” he interrupted me. “Before we got here…,” there was a dramatic pause and a deep draw of breath “they had nothing.” He swept his hand over the small community of 30-plus families in makeshift shelters. “We built that meeting house. We built those two public restrooms. We are building that home.” He turned to place his eyes on my eyes. He removed his shades. He raised his cap. “You know without us I do not know whether or not they would have survived.”
A colleague forwarded an excellent article by Peter Buffett (son of the “Oracle of Omaha” but also someone with his own list of impressive achievements) in the New York Times. Peter Buffett critiques what he calls the “Charitable-Industrial Complex”: a global feel-good industry in the business of alleviating guilt.
Ironic illustration from the op-ed
©2013 The New York Times Company
The failures of present day large, organised philanthropy, Buffett argues, extend beyond just naively transplanting unsuitable ideas (“philanthropic colonialism”) to new places. Particularly the business-infused variant of philanthropy feeds a desire for cheap “conscience laundering”, making the rich and powerful complacent about their own part in creating social problems. Analogously to medieval indulgences, the Charitable-Industrial Complex promises easy absolution from wrongs committed in the pursuit of profits:
As more lives and communities are destroyed by the system that creates vast amounts of wealth for the few, the more heroic it sounds to “give back.” It’s what I would call “conscience laundering” — feeling better about accumulating more than any one person could possibly need to live on by sprinkling a little around as an act of charity.
The Buffetts aren’t exactly known for mincing their words. Warren (the investor and father) is known for his television statement “there’s been class warfare going on for the last 20 years, and my class has won.” (See also: the Daily Show’s take.) “Derivatives are financial weapons of mass destruction” – also Warren B.
This post is provided by guest blogger Domen Bajde of the University of Southern Denmark.
As evidenced by inventive movements and campaigns (for a future example see Half the Sky Movement: The Game), the field of charity is undergoing considerable dynamics. As a skeptically-optimistic observer, I am happy to see research that explores such developments against the backdrop of broader material and social change, appreciating their innovativeness and critically questioning the suppositions, mechanics and stakes at play.
I recently stumbled upon a book sharing my skeptical optimism. Surveying historical change in Amnesty International and Oxfam advertising, Chouliaraki argues that poverty is increasingly instrumentalized, setting the focus on the “self” (of the Western donor), turning charity into an ironic spectacle largely shaped by “compassion fatigue” (a.k.a. avoiding stuff that is unpleasant). Rather than amplifying the voice of those in need, many charities end up prioritizing the interests/pleasures of donors.
The series “Tagged Tabs” is short list of commented links in a recurrent attempt to clean my browser from open tabs containing interesting articles on governance across borders in the field of copyright regulation published elsewhere.
- “International Communia Association“: the EU-funded thematic network on the digital public domain “Communia” evolved into the NGO “International Communia Association”, which is officially launched today. Among the members of the Communia network are most of the European partner organizations of Creative Commons.
- “Sharing License Library“: Volker Grassmuck, among the most prominent advocates for a cultural flatrate (see “Extending Private Copying Levies: Approaching a Culture Flat-rate?“), put together an extensive collection of works on the issue.
- Debate on Open Educational Resources: Reacting to an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education entitled “Publishers Criticize Federal Investment in Open Educational Resources“, Creative Commons’s Cable Green issued an extensive “Response“, defending the requirement of CC BY licensing for certain grants by the U.S. government.
- Europeana v1.0 Draft for a Data Exchange Agreement: Europeana v1.0 is a project funded by the European Commission’s eContentplus programme, which strives to transform the Europeana.eu portal from a prototype into a fully operational site.
- The inaugural issue of the new journal “Critical Studies in Peer Production” features a short report by Michelle Thorne and myself with some reflections about the “Free Culture Research Conference” that took place at Freie Universität Berlin in October last year (see also #FCRC).
This post is provided by guest blogger Domen Bajde, Assistant Professor of Marketing at Faculty of Economics (FELU) at the University of Ljubljana/Slovenia. He is also running a personal blog at bajde.net.
In one of his depressingly amusing anecdotes Ronald Reagan suggests that in the US ‘War on poverty’ (declared by Lyndon B. Johnson two decades earlier) ‘poverty won.’ In the decades that followed, Reagan’s smug conclusion has resonated with many who have either lost faith in organized political/governmental action against poverty or have altogether refused to conceive of poverty as an issue of governance. Similar qualms have been raised in regard to nonprofits’ and charitable organizations’ ability to effectively besiege poverty. Not surprisingly, the ‘foot soldiers’ of the anti-poverty regiment (i.e., regular citizens/donors) are often overwhelmed by the endless charity appeals and a profound sense of hopelessness.
In our collective efforts to discover (create?) ‘fresh’ champions in the ongoing war on poverty, many heads have turned to business. Philanthropy-business hybrids, such as venture philanthropy, philanthrocapitalism or social entrepreneurship, have become central to contemporary pursuits of poverty alleviation. These hybrid alternatives are often depicted as an unproblematic marriage of economy (self-interest, resource management) and philanthropy (social values, charitable giving). Due to their supposedly apolitical and non-ideological nature they appeal to individuals of varied political convictions and domiciles (globally, so to speak). Read the rest of this entry »