Is philanthropy’s role ‘to be of use’ or not?


Chet Tchozewski

Chet Tchozewski

Chet Tchozewski

At the Money and Intuition gathering last weekend in New York organized by RSF Social Finance I was reminded that money, as a store of value, is merely a social construct – a narrative story that we all mutually agree to believe.   For the last half century or so, the story has been that the US dollar is the dominant global currency.  More recently the euro began to reshape the dominant story and now the beliefs about both currencies are shifting again in light of new perceptions about the reality of the global economy.

The role of accumulated wealth and philanthropy within the global economy has only just begun to develop a common narrative.  At the closing of the Money and Intuition meeting, I read the following Marge Piercy poem – To Be of Use:

The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half submerged balls.

I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.

I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who stand in the line and haul in their places,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.

The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.

At the European Foundation Centre annual general meeting this week in Belfast we shall see if philanthropy too calls out for ‘work that is real’.

Chet Tzchozewski is the founder and a board member of Global Greengrants Fund.

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