Thinking about the future in a room full of history


Lucy Bernholz

Lucy Bernholz

Lucy Bernholz

It’s not often I that I get to walk in Winston Churchill’s footsteps. But recently I had a chance to think about the future of philanthropy with three dozen philanthropists, advisers, scholars and others at the Ditchley Foundation. The foundation is housed a manor house in Oxfordshire where Churchill often stayed during World War II, on the premise that his own lodgings were likely bombing targets. I’m not sure if this concern is on the mind of the Ditchley lion but he is the first such guardian I’ve ever seen who seems to be scanning the skies.

In the midst of Downton Abbey madness it was extra fun to ‘walk the manor paths’. We did do some work – here are my reflections.

1. Fascinating discussion about the potential of philanthropy in 21st century to not be a mere byproduct of capitalism but be a positive force of influence on the shape of capitalism. Global income inequality may trigger major changes to capitalism, de-legitimization of philanthropy…

2. In a 21st-century global digital world we will see real philanthropy of ideas. Digital economy of ideas moves and acts very differently than ‘analogue economy’. This makes open access issues, public research and subsidized research issues very prominent. Europe, UK and USA (and elsewhere?) are writing laws about this now – philanthropy needs to be involved.

3. What information technology enables that philanthropy as we’ve known it definitely needs:

  • networks and syndicates
  • lower cost of capital
  • new sources of data, especially on long tail giving (these are often privately owned by cell carriers and transaction vendors – how do we deal with this?)
  • feedback direct from citizens – ways to connect donors directly to people in field without intermediating institutions; ways that do-ers also become donors, reshaping NGOs as we’ve known them
  • new forms of accountability and governance.

4. New policy domains – 20th-century philanthropy defined (in the US) by trust and tax law. In the 21st century will it be defined by (and can we shape it by):

  • intellectual property
  • telecommunications laws
  • data ownership
  • privacy policies
  • information access rules
  • securities and exchange
  • currency laws
  • corporation codes
  • multilaterals?

5. When we talk about technology and philanthropy in 2012 we still focus on internet technologies. I think the future is likely to be more shaped by nanotechnology, biotechnology, genomics (the philanthropy of the body – human tissue – is an interesting place to look for this future).

Lucy Bernholz is the author of the blog philanthropy2173, where this article first appeared.

Tagged in: Ditchley Foundation Global philanthropy Information technology Policy

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