You may notice that the special feature in this issue of Alliance is shorter than usual. Well, you may not notice – and you may wonder why I’m drawing your attention to a housekeeping issue like this. The reason is that we wanted it to be longer but simply couldn’t find the material to include.
Entitled ‘How far will they go?’ the special feature looks at how far foundations are willing to go to try to solve what they see as the most urgent problems facing the human race – whether it’s climate change or proliferation of nuclear arms or HIV/AIDS. Will they dig into corpus, increase their payout, decide to spend out, direct all their grantmaking to a single issue, take extraordinary measures that are outside the usual foundation repertoire?
And the short answer is no, mostly they won’t do any of these things. There are of course good reasons why foundations should not all abandon all their established programmes and grantees to address whatever looks like the newest challenge. On the other hand, it does seem surprising that so very few of them do – which is why several articles focus on the reasons why foundations don’t take on the biggest issues rather than examples of those that do! We did of course find a few exceptions, and they are featured in this issue of Alliance.
The latest global crisis is the financial crisis – in relation to which Uday Khemka gives an urgent warning that people should not be so distracted by it as to forget about climate change. ‘There will be a greater meltdown if we don’t do something about it,’ he says.
Alliance asked editorial board members how they feel philanthropy and civil society will be affected by the financial crisis. One valuable role that foundations could play is promoting thinking about alternative economic and social models for society. As Barry Knight puts it, philanthropy is the child of capitalism. ‘Put yourself in the place of the child whose father has just had a major heart attack and can no longer work,’ he suggests. ‘What is she to do? She urges him to change his ways: to cut out excesses of diet, to take gentle walks in the woods, to enjoy the beauty of the planet, and above all to find a new sense of meaning.’
The financial crisis can surely be seen as an opportunity to develop less wasteful and more sustainable lifestyles. The election of a black president in the world’s most powerful country reminds us that things can change, that we can do things differently – and better. What better role for foundations than fostering exploration of new directions?