Moving forward community philanthropy


Andrés Thompson


On reflection, having attended the Global Summit on Community Philanthropy a couple of weeks ago, I have no doubt that it was a great, creative and productive summit. However, there are some issues that I would like to explore a little further, which called my attention. Focusing on a few of them:

A field or an industry?
Before the beginning of the summit I met an old South African colleague at the Turbine Hall that I haven’t seen for several years. After an emotive hug he said to me that he was glad to see me still active in global philanthropy.

Finally, ‘this is your industry’, he said. I have frequently questioned the idea of philanthropy being an industry and am aware that it is not just a question of language or linguistics.

Industry is often used (in the United States) as a formal means of classifying occupations and employment. While “industry” and “sector” are often used in discussing economics, “field” is a broader term  not necessarily related to any sort of enterprise and refers to a particular branch of study or sphere of activity or interest.

These tensions arouse silently in many discussions about the present and future of community philanthropy and the “shift the power” driving concept of the conference. To make the field of community philanthropy grow and have some influence in shifting the power to people led development we need more than an industry; we need a movement!

Is there a generational transition?
Although I have no data it seemed to me that the participants of the conference were all above the 40s. Youth presence was scarce. An alarm. Why? Because it is not just a question of the future leadership of the field but also about a new way of thinking in relation to institutions, to giving, to making a difference in the world.

For instance, while in the Anglo-Saxon world for many people philanthropy is a synonym of foundations (this was quite clear during the conference), the new generations in many parts of the world considers foundations as part of the “old” system and are innovating philanthropy through the use of new technologies.

Are we only talking to each other?
It was great to meet old colleagues from various parts of the world and get to know new ones. The field was very well represented. But I had the feeling that we continue to talk to each other only, using our common jargon and language. Just a few people from “outside” were present at the Summit to challenge our ideas: business, public sector and media were the most relevant absences.

To make the field grow, improving the way we work in communities (the eight pillars) is as much as important as the way we relate to other groups and sectors that hold power in society.

Three points to conclude:
1) We, the actors of community philanthropy, need a more holistic approach in order to identify the leverages that can help us move the balance and shift the power to communities;
2) We need to involve more youth in protagonist roles in the field and in creating a movement;
3) Let’s get out of our ‘ghettos’, break the isolation, and mess ourselves with the rest of the world.

The Summit made a great job in putting these issues on the table.

Andrés Thompson is executive coordinator, Social Justice Philanthropy Network, Brazil.

Tagged in: Global Summit on Community Philanthropy

Comments (1)

Maureen Macleod

Very much agree with you comments about we 'the sector' or whatever we choose to call ourselves continuing to talk to each other, we invite people to events to celebrate our work but the people that turn up are the ones we always talk to and are already supporters. We need to reach out and get other people excited about philanthropy. Interesting article.

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