Corporate Philanthropy at the Crossroads is an excellent book of course, but left me a little disappointed. Those who depend on a living doing research on the US non-profit sector have to produce volumes which to a greater or lesser extent report worthy, well-worn themes. In this case they do it with wit and grace more often than not. Eight academics, one student, two volunteers and two retired business people summarize conference discussions of the past decade without breaking much new ground. This makes the title of the book somewhat misleading because the authors go neither to the right or to the left, nor disappointingly get as far as the crossroad. And their kind of wit can be seen from the title of the last chapter which is called ‘Paradigm Lost’.
In my view a book does need to be written about Corporate Philanthropy at the Crossroads. It would say the lights are green, go ahead into a big and exciting country. In that country companies will become the facilitators for their clients and consumers as well as their staff to enable them to combine to make a difference to society.
This therefore is more of a text book than one breaking new ground. As such it is good, but it needs a new title!
My second book is altogether different. It’s like 15 rounds with Mike Tyson. It’s about the failures of the World Bank. The Bank is used to criticism. Masters of Illusion insistently lists the Bank’s failures to the point when the reader cries out:
CLOSE THE BANK. COUNT THE COST. SETTLE NOW! More personally it says to Jim Wolfensohn that he has never run anything as big as this huge bureaucracy and asks can he learn now? It infers that his heart-on-the-sleeve approach saying sorry isn’t the answer. The Bank needs to make reparations for the colossal harm it has done to so many countries and so many millions of the poor. Like religion the Bank is good in concept, but it has been plain wrong in practice decade after decade.
It suggests an over-cosy relationship between the Bank and major private banks: that the proud boast of ‘there has never been a default’ equates to ‘if you can’t pay we will roll the loan over at a higher rate with a substantial fee’ – in fact manna for all except the poorer countries.
So we have US academics in their towers feeding on the corporate body of philanthropy and we have the World Bank’s idealism doing harm on a colossal scale.
The common denominator is the need for new approaches based on the longer term which are both more ambitious in size and more involving of people. Individuals – be they clients of big corporates or recipients on the ground of development aid – need to be more involved. The quick multi-million fix does little good and most often harm. But I guess Mr Wolfensohn knows all this!
Michael Brophy is Chief Executive of Charities Aid Foundation.
Corporate Philanthropy at the Crossroads
Edited by Dwight F Burlingame and Dennis R Young
Indiana University Press
Masters of Illusion: The World Bank and the poverty of nations
by Catherine Caufield
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