Introduction to the Special feature

Charles Keidan

How assertive should private philanthropy be, or be allowed to be, in its efforts to influence public life? Philanthropy’s relative freedom gives it a unique vantage point to address social issues. At a time when states struggle to meet the welfare needs of citizens, many see philanthropy making a highly desirable and growing contribution to society’s development, which should surely be encouraged.

But should the weakening of states’ abilities to meet the needs of citizens give us pause for thought? Is there a risk that philanthropy – especially the kind of philanthropy that is the product of the accumulation of vast concentrations of privately accrued wealth – could become too influential? Philanthropic foundations and donor-advised funds – some with billions in assets, millions in annual spending and hundreds of staff – influence governments locally, nationally and internationally, often with ambitions to effect large-scale, structural and systemic change. Should we be enthusiastic about these ambitions or cautious?

In this special feature experts offer their reactions to a series of vignettes illustrating the range of ways that philanthropy exerts influence. We then look in more detail at the growth of philanthropy in India and Africa. Is the rise of philanthropic power and influence relevant there? Or is it just a first world problem? Alliance guest editor Ingrid Srinath takes us to India for a view from some of India’s most promising and dynamic philanthropies. Fellow guest editor Bhekinkosi Moyo surveys the scene of African philanthropy.

Finally, as the philanthropic sector is increasingly forced to defend its own independence and privileges (and in some cases tax exemptions), we examine the case for and against philanthropic freedom. We look at the extent to which philanthropic freedom is critical to a vibrant and functioning civil society.

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