Let the good ideas drive out the bad

Caroline Hartnell

The word ‘philanthrocapitalism’ was coined only last February, by Matthew Bishop in ‘The Business of Giving’, an Economist special supplement on philanthropy. In this issue of Alliance, Bishop sums it up as ‘a new way of doing philanthropy, which mirrors the way that business is done in the for-profit capitalist world’.

One year on, our Alliance special feature ‘Philanthrocapitalism: Myth or reality?’ aims to shed further light on ‘new philanthropists’ the world over. Are they philanthrocapitalists? Do they see themselves as such? While some of our contributors embrace the idea of philanthrocapitalism warmly, others don’t much like it or are wary of its connotations. What is quite clear is that, for better or worse, it is now part of the vocabulary of philanthropy.

As one of the guest editors, Matthew Bishop reflects on the other contributions, noting that ‘increasingly, the principles of philanthrocapitalism are being applied globally’. While acknowledging the difficulties of applying business principles to philanthropy, Bishop’s view is that ‘the techniques of the new donors offer an enormous potential benefit’ – and that ‘the best way to fulfil that potential is through open, transparent competition between philanthropists, so that the good ideas and approaches drive out the bad’. While no great advocate of unfettered competition in the ‘real’ marketplace, I like this idea of free competition of ideas.

The articles in this special feature use the word ‘new’ a lot. New philanthropy – if in fact it is anything different from traditional philanthropy – is really very new, and at this stage it is hard to tell where it’s going and what its impact will be.

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