Cre8tive Philanthropy

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Investment and innovation in the for-profit social impact community.

The Philanthropy Paradox II

Within his thought-provoking article, The Philanthropy Paradox, Rajni Bakshi suggests the giving pledge of billionaires stands in stark contrast to the current economic distress of the middle class as both are representations of capitalism within American society. Coded within a question, a bold statement is made: Philanthropy is a challenge to economic democracy.

He illustrates well his basic argument that more power should be given to “the commons”, that the middle and working class can only achieve equity through economic freedom.  He gently suggests the efforts of billionaires should, therefore, be focused to that end, rather than amassing profits and then distributing their charitable dollars.  Therein lays the paradox; while the philanthropy of the ultra-wealth provides needed social benefits, their wealth is the true challenge to economic democracy.  In another context: why teach a man to fish when all he really needs is his own pond – or at least not let other men have too many ponds. Instead of philanthropy providing education and the opportunity to advance, why not encourage the wealthy and powerful to focus on changing the rules to include wealth distribution and economic democracy?

He goes on to describe the philanthropy of the Gates Foundation as “welfare activities” and criticizes the attempt from businesses to improve social conditions as “an approach that treats inequity as a business opportunity.” Not to burst anyone’s utopian bubble, but either via philanthropic investment or business investment, a purpose to improve the social conditions of society by its nature is promoting economic democracy, and the simple act of freedom anyone has to direct their resources, particularly for investment, supports economic democracy.

There’s no doubt that many of us would agree that we need better solutions to some of society’s pressing problems, but simply re-writing the rules to include more equitable wealth distribution would diminish opportunities, stifle innovation and risk-taking, and generally create greater societal tensions and new problems. 

When tackling the paradox, examine that each billionaire has their own story, that few have played a dirty game, and that many have gained their fortunes due to creating and building something of value to, or wanted by, society. Many modern-day ultra-wealthy have not made gains by exploiting commodities, but rather on the back of talent, drive, creativity, and innovation. To demand the rules be changed to make the world more “equitable” would leave these individuals without their freedom and opportunity, and leave the rest of society without the benefit of their talent and labor.

Philanthropy, then, is their re-investment into society. The only criticism may be of philanthropic execution or intent. The same can be said of business. It is not the game, but perhaps the failing of the players that is the problem.

As an end note, it is wise to suggest that true democracy and freedom require true responsibility and accountability, from each member of society. Many philanthropic efforts and activities underway in the world today have undertaken tremendous responsibilities in ensuring the freedom, happiness, and well-being of others. Perhaps for that reason, it is called Love of Humanity.

Thank you to Rajni Bakshi for your attentive thoughts and sharing your perspective with the world. When each of us speaks our truth, we are all able to come closer together.

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Filed under: Challenges, Giving, Innovation, Philanthropy

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