Alliance event: Decolonising philanthropy

Amy McGoldrick

Over the past few years, the term decolonising philanthropy has come to prominence.

But what does it mean? Is it only applicable to those places where there is a legacy of European settlement imposed on a non-European population or should it be understood more widely as dismantling the assumptions that underlie the relationships between a dominant social group and the rest of society?

How should philanthropy be ‘decolonised’? Should it be making reparations? If so, to whom? Should it be altering its own practices? If so, how? Which organisations and philanthropists are at the forefront of these developments? What needs to happen to make decolonised philanthropy a reality?

Alongside Alliance’s September 2022 issue on the same subject, we convened an expert panel sponsored by Mercer, to have a global conversation. Moderated by Features Editor Andrew Milner, the event included:

  • Dr Shonali Banerjee, Senior Research Associate at the Centre for Strategic Philanthropy at the Judge Business School at the University of Cambridge
  • Yvonne Moore, Chief Executive and Founder of Moore Philanthropy
  • Urvi Shriram, Lead, Centre of Philanthropy for Social Justice at the Indian School of Development Management
  • Dr Jessica Sklair, Lecturer in the School of Business and Management and Fellow of the Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences at Queen Mary University London

A few highlights from the event:

  • Dr Shonali Banerjee

    ‘Decolonisation of philanthropy and power manifests itself even with Global South contexts, it’s not just a North-South debate,’ says Shonali. ‘There’s an idea that former colonisers hold all the power. In a lot of ways, they absolutely do.. but something that is of great interest to us… is how donor organisations, philanthropists themselves, large CSR funds or family office funds based in these emerging markets are practicing philanthropy. In a lot of cases, they’re bringing Indigenous, traditional values to the way that they practice philanthropy, however in a lot of cases what we see is that they are, at times, trying to emulate what they see as Western best practice.’

  • Yvonne Moore

    Yvonne spoke: ‘There’s so much opportunity in philanthropy, particularly in America, but I remain frustrated and concerned because of the issue of power over [others]. Even over the last 2.5 years, there have been statements and manifestos; I’ve had so many conversations where people have asked me to speak with their family office but one of the things I continue to find is that people want to talk and they want to read, and they want to listen, they want to write, but they don’t want to change their behaviour. That’s one of the key pieces about decolonising – to undo.’

  • Urvi Shriram

    ‘Independent India just turned 75 this month… there’s a lot of introspection invoking several mixed emotions. Development over the decades has ensured food, water, clothes, electricity, et cetera. But there’s also at the same time as to whether… India should create its own social, economic and political institutions which ensure justice, opportunity and equality for every person, to truly create a progressive nation,’ said Urvi.

  • Dr Jessica Sklair

    Jessica: ‘We need to understand that the colonial legacies we see in philanthropy take lots of different shapes and forms. That’s connected to the fact that the real legacies of colonialism are found in these really deep-rooted forms of inequality that are at the basis as seen throughout our whole current global capitalist system. These are deeply racialised, class-based, economic and gendered, which are all really connected and go hand in hand with each other.’

You can watch the full recording of the event here:

Our next Alliance event is on philanthropic leadership, which will take place in October. Make sure you are on our mailing list to receive an invite!

Amy McGoldrick is the Marketing, Advertising, and Events Manager at Alliance.

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