Speaking up for philanthropy

Paula Park

In a two-day discussion at the Bosch Foundation in June, people expressed disquiet about the endurance and impact of their work. As I write, for example, both the MacArthur and Charles Stewart Mott Foundations are halting grant giving in Russia, where they’ve partnered with communities and institutions since the 1990s to help people organize effective free societies after the fall of the Soviet Union. The foundations cite new regulations that bar foreign organizations from funding actions deemed political. 

Like a drumbeat, the tally of new rules rolls out.

While restrictions mount up, new wealth in rapidly growing developing economies and among technology entrepreneurs in North America and Europe means new opportunities for philanthropists. Adam Pickering, in a strident call to action, examines the balance between forces that encourage philanthropists and those that could cross-border giving. Douglas Rutzen urges foundations to ‘engage in advocacy and fund initiatives to help improve the legal environment for global philanthropy’.

While these writers press for action to protect the civil society organizations philanthropists support, others celebrate the variety of philanthropy globally. Atallah Kattub, Natasha Matic and Noha El-Mikawy, for example, relate how the tradition of ‘waqf’ – a form of charitable endowment – has evolved. In Saudi Arabia, for example, philanthropic institutions create income by building market outlets for poor farmers, decent housing for poor young families, and local health centres and pharmacies.

That commitment to philanthropy making an impact is reflected in the personal stories of short-listed Olga Alexeeva Memorial Prize nominees. Each faced obstacles to implementing their visions of giving – each persevered.  ‘If we are able to speak up in defence of the rights of others to  pursue their causes,’ writes Adam Pickering, ‘even those with which we  do not wholly agree, history has shown we are likely to succeed.’

I accept this message as an emblem of my first issue as editor of Alliance magazine, one that will, I hope, amplify past efforts by writers  to share their strategies to help others work to achieve the singular goal of making society as just as it can be.

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