A matter of rights

Caroline Hartnell

I’m going to admit it, this has been a difficult issue to edit, mainly because most of the articles in the special feature went through several iterations. Why was this? Was it because the contributors were somehow less competent than usual? Of course not! I think it was because they were trying to pin down what exactly distinguishes social justice philanthropy from ‘other’ philanthropy, and this is no easy task.

Why are we doing this? Does it matter whether a funder is or isn’t really practising social justice philanthropy as long as they are helping the poor and marginalized? The obvious answer relates to root causes: we could be funding soup kitchens for ever if we don’t tackle the underlying causes of poverty.

Related to this is the issue of rights vs charity. Even if people are getting what they need, it’s better for them to have it as a right than as a handout. This is a matter of human dignity, of knowing you will continue to receive what you need, of not being dependent on the whims of those who hold the purse strings. Of course, a right can be denied, but there are at least grounds for resisting the denial.

This issue of rights is also the issue about who provides for people’s basic needs – state, business or philanthropy. It isn’t just an issue of effective use of resources, an empirical question of whether business-savvy philanthrocapitalists will make better use of limited resources than bureaucratic governments. What comes from the state can be seen as a right, enshrined in legislation – as long as the legislation is in place. What comes from philanthropists comes because they have chosen to give it.

Next Editorial to read

Pledging for what?

Caroline Hartnell