Bottom up vs Top down: an age old question


John Hecklinger


There’s been an interesting central ideological tension today between bottom up and top down – a classic debate but being framed in interesting new ways here at the 2019 Global Philanthropy Forum. 

On the one hand there’s recognition of ‘new power’ paradigms and hyper local solutions making things happen from the bottom up with no traditional organizing power behind them. On the other hand, there’s recognition that mega problems like climate change can’t be solved simply at the local level and require top down direction and action at the policy and market incentive levels.

Take the boomerang effect we’ve experienced in the area of digital technology – with the promise of radically democratizing information and power, it has ‘boomeranged’ to become a vector for authoritarian propaganda and represents a troubling consolidation of power among a few platforms.

To address this particular challenge perhaps needs both bottom up and top down approaches – better regulation of platforms would certainly help, but it’s also up to people, using these platforms in clever ways, to mobilize for transparency, truth, and safety.

John Hecklinger is president and CEO of Global Fund for Children

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