The Future of Philanthropy part three: a growing philanthropic oligarchy


James Alexander


In terms of creating more philanthropic impact, two cross-cutting ideas surfaced repeatedly in the Future of Philanthropy report – digital technology and long term collaborations.

The first was viewed as the critical underpinning that will provide more effective mechanisms to give, deliver more impact and do this in a way that enables deeper learning, engagement and transparency.

The latter idea signaled a shift from short-term approaches towards increased support for longer-term, collaborative solutions that seek to address the root causes of a social or environmental challenge in a holistic way. For many this reflects a general shift in attitude as the millennial generation gains influence.

Notably both ideas are equally applicable to philanthropy at all scales, from community based social entrepreneurs to global collaborations and surfaced when discussing three drivers of change that will shape philanthropy over the next decade, and the rise in south-south and faith-based giving. In the final part of my blog series they surface again when looking at the emergence of a philanthropic oligarchy.

In part, this is the un-intended consequence of earlier approaches where generally, the well-intentioned developed initiatives without having much constructive dialogue with the recipients of their benevolence. It is also a public reaction to the fact that a small group of people, who have made more money than they need, seem to have decided to invest substantially in issues that affect us all without our consent. With names like Soros, Gates, Bloomberg, Mercer, Koch and Zuckerberg, this team of mega-donors has driving ambition to get things done and their desire for results is upending philanthropic norms.

Some find this particularly concerning from a democratic perspective. They believe we are now looking at a future when the holders of private wealth are able to re-shape society according to their own philosophy with little or no accountability and we are witnessing the emergence of a philanthropic oligarchy, where rich individuals, who do not need to answer to shareholders or the democratic process, can quite literally re-shape the world.

To conclude – and taking a step back from the detail of specific insights – Schumpeter’s waves of creative destruction, powered by the digital technologies that define our era, are expected to ensure that over the next decade changes will accelerate. As societal attitudes, behaviours and commercial common sense adjust to a connected and data driven digital world, so too will philanthropy.

James Alexander is Director at Future Agenda.

Tagged in: Next Philanthropy

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