Objects or subjects?

David Bonbright

I was struck by the similar use of the term ‘beneficiary’ in the letters from Felicitas von Peter and Theresa Lloyd in your September 2008 issue. While promoting different arguments to improve philanthropy, both letters betray a mental model of the world in which funders and ‘beneficiaries’ – meaning grant recipients – do the thinking. In their mental model, those whose lives are ultimately meant to benefit from the actions of the thinkers are more objects than subjects.

I strongly doubt that anything of lasting value can come from this mindset. We need another mental model, I think, one that brings all actors in an ecosystem into generative roles at every stage of the process from planning through to public reporting. I do not think that there is anything simple or straightforward about working in this way. It’s desperately inconvenient in the same way that democracy is a messy business. But it seems to me that it is the most promising starting point for figuring out what philanthropists should do in order to promote some conception of ‘the good’.
David Bonbright
Chief Executive, Keystone

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