From both/and to either/or

Timothy Ogden

Too often ‘debates’ in the philanthropic sector either involve participants talking past each other or safe concurrence that both sides are right. ‘Both/and’ is all well and good but funders and implementers will be operating in an era of severely constrained resources for the foreseeable future. And that will mean an increasing number of ‘either/or’ choices.

As we move from an era of abundance to one of scarcity, we thought it useful to inaugurate a series of ‘either/or’ debates on some of the most difficult issues facing philanthropic decisionmakers over the next decade. While there is no shortage of topics that would benefit from open and honest discussion of pros and cons and varying perspectives, we feel that the five general topics (education, environment, health, public policy on philanthropy, and evaluation) presented here are of broad interest to both funders and NGOs around the world.

In each of these areas we’ve narrowed in on one of the more pressing either/or choices that will confront philanthropic leaders over the next decade. No funder or NGO can do everything that needs doing. While you need not believe that those on the other side of these debates are wrong per se, you will need to line up on one side or the other of questions like these: to address global warming should you fund advocacy or ‘direct action’? With education systems in crisis, is it more important to ensure basic education is available to all or is access to quality secondary and tertiary education key to systemic change?

Of course, the perspectives presented here by philanthropic leaders from around the world are not the final word nor are they intended to be. The point of highlighting these questions is to encourage more debate and discussion that acknowledges the hard choices in front of us all. We have made a start by inviting a group of younger philanthropic leaders from different regions to comment on the debates. Their comments are included alongside the articles.

If you have a perspective on any of these issues – or on another issue that requires such hard choices – we’d love to hear from you. We will continue to publish insightful comments on these questions both in the print edition and on the Alliance website. The only requirement is that you take a stand: what choice will you make?

So read on, consider the arguments, and let us and others know where you stand. Here’s to a vibrant and respectful debate that helps make some of the hard choices ahead of us easier to come to grips with.

Guest editor for the Alliance special feature ‘Which way now?’
Tim Ogden is co-founder and editor-in-chief of Philanthropy Action, a journal for donors: Email

Alliance would like to thank the following for their comments on the articles in the special feature:

Jeanne Elone Programme Associate, TrustAfrica
Charles Keidan Director, Pears Foundation, UK
Dr Bernhard Lorentz President, Foundation Mercator, Germany
Rana Sadik Palestinian social activist and Management Committee member, Welfare Association, Switzerland/Palestine

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