The brighter side of philanthropy

Pamala Wiepking

If we want to use the study of philanthropy to create more generous societies, we need a more inclusive notion of the concept

The question that drives my research as the Visiting Stead Family Chair in International Philanthropy at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy in Indianapolis is how we can create more generous societies, defined as societies where people care for each other and want to contribute to the public good, rather than take from it. Philanthropy can be a powerful instrument to enable the creation of more generous societies, but there are many issues which limit the role it plays in this process. As Stanford University academic Rob Reich shows in his work, philanthropy can just as easily lead to the creation of more unequal, rather than more generous societies.

Philanthropy is a contested concept, with different meanings and connotations, depending on the local context in which it takes place. As researchers we understand very little about how people across the world define, understand and practise ‘philanthropy’ or what motivates them to display these behaviours. We know even less about how we can best study this.

When research is overwhelmingly conducted from a small subset of countries, there is no place for different cultural perspectives on the study of a phenomenon.

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Philanthropy is about generosity, not self-redemption at taxpayers’ expense

Florencia Roitstein