Debates are raging about the standing of philanthropy in democratic societies. Today’s critics point to the ways in which philanthropy enables wealthy individuals and families to exercise (and enjoy) public influence off the back of economic success – essentially ‘winners take all’, not just once but twice over to paraphrase the title of Anand Giridharadas’ recent book. In this issue, we talk to another trenchant critic of philanthropy, Stanford scholar Rob Reich. All too frequently, according to Reich, ‘the decisions that philanthropists make tend to undermine democracy’. In our interview to discuss his new book (also reviewed in this issue) he makes bold proposals to ‘domesticate’ philanthropy and bring it into line with democratic ideals.
Yet, fears that philanthropy is an exercise in plutocracy seem at odds with the laudable efforts of some foundations, also documented in this issue, to open up space for civil society and stop crackdowns on rights and freedoms by certain regimes around the world who should know better. Defenders of our sector worry that charging philanthropy with elitism will simply empower these regimes to go further and limit our ability to respond. The stakes are clearly high and this new scrutiny of philanthropy points to its growing importance and relevance.
Bigger and bolder efforts to effect ‘change at scale’ and ‘systems change’, the topic of this issue’s special feature, could in theory re-enforce these concerns.
If so, our coverage of this topic may come as a surprise. Superbly guest edited by Julian Corner of the Lankelly Chase Foundation, the discussion of systems change on these pages takes a more self-critical turn with a focus on changing one’s own behaviour, scaling ‘deeply’ and being intimately attuned to communities. I hope you enjoy an in-depth discussion of systems change fit for these sceptical times.
Finally, Alliance would like to thank the Jacobs Foundation for making this issue free to read online, everywhere, and to Fondation de France which has sponsored our article on the state of French philanthropy to mark its 50th anniversary.
But whatever faults or virtues you see in these pages are ours alone and we invite you to share your feedback. Thank you for reading and enjoy the new issue.