Almost all grants support human beings. But only some concentrate on cultivating human excellence. Five factors, drawn from The Atlantic Philanthropies' work in Viet Nam, seem to define this important form of grantmaking.
Modesty is a personal virtue, but it can be a vice for foundations and their causes. Paul Grogan of the Boston Foundation recently explained why.
Through some combination of interest and luck, I have been listening to a lot of discussion of Social Impact Bonds, which are also known as Pay for Success programs, recently (see below for sources/more information). Social Impact Bonds are a form of nonprofit financing where a group of investors fund a nonprofit program which then reduces future government costs. When the nonprofit succeeds, the government repays investors under the terms of a pre-negotiated contract.
Philanthropy tends to pride itself – not always accurately – on being society’s big risk-taker. Whenever I hear the claim, I find myself asking (silently): Is that true? What’s more, is it even desirable?
Robert Gallucci, president of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, one of America’s ten largest by asset size, posed those questions out loud at a recent session of the Sanford School’s Foundation Impact Research Group. Here’s what he said, in part:
Economist Zoltan Acs, who has made his academic mark mostly by thinking and writing about entrepreneurship, has lately trained his lens on philanthropy, in an engaging book called Why Philanthropy Matters. Appropriately, for a scholar of the entrepreneurial impulse, Professor Acs spends much of his book talking about the kind of philanthropy practiced by wealthy and successful people during their lifetime, and how that kind of enterprising philanthropy benefits society.
About two years ago CSPCS, along with the Fuqua School's Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship (CASE) and the Bridgespan Group, hosted a conference at Duke titled "Scaling Social Impact: What We Know and What We Need to Know." (Session summaries of the conference can be found here.) Out of that conference came a book edited by CASE's Paul Bloom and our own Edward Skloot, Scaling Social Impact: New Thinking
“Women are part of the development agenda for the first time—and we are making use of our time. Traditional culture has made us reticent. But no more. Our eyes are now open and there is no way they will close again.” These are the words of Liberia’s Vabah Gayflor, Minister of Gender and Development. Soft-spoken and patient, when her moment comes to speak, her voice drops to a whisper that commands the attention of all in the room. The 19 philanthropists with whom I am traveling in Liberia are focused; we have met a truly powerful person.
Given the rise of neoliberalism over the last twenty years—the extension of the market into every sphere of life—it’s no surprise that civil society has begun to receive the same attention. Large parts of politics and government, health care and education, knowledge production and the media have already been overtaken, but civil society, one could argue, is a more important case because it’s the ground from which alternatives can grow.
Is there anything more frightening to foundations than democracy? I don’t mean the kind you pay for through projects, but the kind that enables people to participate in decisions that affect them, including decisions about philanthropy. If philanthropy is "private funding in the public interest," it doesn’t seem unreasonable to ask that the public has some say in defining how its interests are identified and met. Yet there is no way they can do this at present.
Much of the "new philanthropy," it seems to me, inhabits a world like Pandora of Avatar—James Cameron’s new film that is now the biggest blockbuster of all time. Pandora is a place whose inhabitants live in perfect harmony with their environment, with no hint of conflict until those nasty corporate mercenaries start bulldozing their trees. It’s the same with philanthropists who see no contradiction between civil society and the market—between competition and cooperation, self-interest and sacrifice, social impact and the financial bottom line.