Thanks to Nora Murad for raising important issues in her blog responding to PSJP’s report on Philanthropy in the Arab Region. Local discourses are something I work hard to highlight, including asset-based (vs needs-based) development and horizontal philanthropy that tends to ‘shift the power’.
What is needed is to encourage people out there who are engaged in such approaches to write about what they do. Identifying such people and encouraging them to share their experiences so that their work becomes better known would indeed be doing the field a favour.
I too wish that all philanthropic money went to dealing with root causes. Alas, this was always difficult to achieve, and it’s more difficult now. My experience of trying to find funds from within the Arab region for the Arab Human Rights Fund attests to such difficulties.
Having said this, one cannot dismiss the good work done by traditional philanthropy in our region nor the blurring boundaries between for-profit and not-for-profit activities out there that aim for social good. They all tend to deal with social issues, in many cases aiming for incremental changes rather than revolutionary ones.
No one benefits from the claim that one approach is more useful than the other. It creates unnecessary fragmentation in an already fragmented sector. PSJP’s report did justice to the sector in covering a wide range of approaches. I would rather see the various approaches in the tool box for solving societal ills.
To date all approaches in that wide spectrum fail to measure the impact of their work on society. Rather than claiming that one approach is better than others, it would be more useful to focus on the ability to measure impact to verify the suitability of approaches to problems being tackled.
I prefer to maintain a tolerance of various approaches while keeping the dialogue going about the importance of tackling the root causes of our social problems if we are to make sustainable gains so that our sector stays relevant. As Nora mentions, the report is a working document and it is our burden to encourage the documentation of the various experiences out there to enrich the current discussion.
Atallah Kuttab is founder of SAANED for Philanthropy Advisory in the Arab Region.