The EDGE Funders Alliance Just Giving conference asked the questions: what is to be done and how do we do it? Current trends in philanthropy that encourage more focus on investing philanthropic resources to maximize the social impact might be one answer to the ‘what is to be done’ question. And scaling up effective solutions might be an answer to the ‘how do we do it’ question. But I worry a little. Sometimes when it appears that progress is being made in one area, important things are being lost in another area. If I don’t keep an eye on the big picture, I might miss what is going on.
I was reminded of this during the EDGE Funders conference. For example, during the Africa Working Group session the group reflected on the changing landscapes in Africa and in philanthropy. While economic growth is growing a middle class in Africa and the number of African billionaires on the Forbes list has increased, the gap between the rich and poor is widening. According to the World Bank, while economic growth has tripled since 2000 in Africa and the population has grown to 1 billion people, over half of them have to survive on less that $1.25 each day. Economic justice looms as an ever-more-important issue but funding for social justice and advocacy is facing stiff competition to be attractive in the era of impact investing. Public/private partnerships are encouraged to meet the demands for energy, water, sanitation and food for Africa’s growing population. But increasingly local communities find themselves caught in ‘resource grabbing’ fights. And while there is recognition that social movements are still alive and well (despite their fading coverage in the media), those involved in community organizing and advocacy work comment that unless they can demonstrate innovation, philanthropic support is getting harder to find.
But I worry that in the quest for scaling solutions to the ‘wicked problems’, the areas where philanthropy has made such great impact – such as civil rights, gender equity, worker protection and rule of law – are slipping into the shadows. I worry that the encroachment of business terms and approaches to philanthropy will overshadow the areas where philanthropy is needed the most, and that our focus on the ‘return on investment’ overlooks how good intentions can inadvertently put the very communities philanthropy is trying to help in peril.
But maybe I worry too much – what do you think?
Niamani Mutima is executive director of the Africa Grantmakers’ Affinity Group