Two books explore both sides of the philanthropy debate

Reviewed by Ingrid Srinath, founder and director of the Centre for Social Impact and Philanthropy at Ashoka University, India

‘Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I’ll meet you there,’ Rumi, the 13th century Sufi mystic, is often quoted as saying. When it comes to debates about philanthropy, those spaces have been hard to find lately. In these times of unfettered inequality and rampant polarisation, it is hardly surprising that the more polemical narrative that seeks to paint philanthropy, especially from the very wealthy, as self-serving, anti-democratic reputation-laundering has garnered most attention.

The critique isn’t new, as Beth Breeze points out in her recent book, In Defence of Philanthropy, which offers a detailed rebuttal of the dominant strands of criticism – academic, populist and insider.

Acknowledging the scope that exists for ‘structural and individual improvement in the design, implementation and outcomes of philanthropic action’, she offers what has been lacking in much of the discourse thus far – a balance between ‘repetitive carping and mindless cheerleading’.

Next Book review to read

How We Give Now: A philanthropic guide for the rest of us

Robin Heller