WELCOME TO THE OCTOBER 2022 NEWSLETTER!
Welcome to the second of our Why Philanthropy Matters monthly newsletters.
The last month has certainly been, as the ancient Chinese proverb would have it, “interesting times”. If you reading this in the UK then you’ve probably been as mesmerised/depressed by the ongoing political chaos as I have (as I write this intro, Prime Minister Liz Truss has just resigned after 44 days in charge and thus snatched the accolade of “shortest ever tenure as PM” from George Canning, who died of pneumonia not long after taking office). And if you are not in the UK, then you’re probably just enjoying how that feels right now, to be honest!
As a result of all the hoo-ha, you might have missed what’s going on the wider world of philanthropy and civil society so I’m here to share some of the most interesting philanthropy-relevant articles, reports, podcasts etc that I have come across in recent weeks. (Plus a few thoughts on why they are interesting…)
I’ve also included a few updates on what we’ve been doing at Why Philanthropy Matters and a couple of other random things you may have missed. So enjoy!
PHILANTHROPY IN THE NEWS
Mass giving: in decline, or just evolving?
There was a fascinating piece in Vox recently (“What happened to giving money to charity?”) looking at whether (as many have thought) there has been a long-term decline in mass giving in the US that has resulted in an ever-greater reliance on elite philanthropy. The article questions whether this is actually the case, or if in fact levels of generosity have remained steady but our methods of measuring them have just failed to keep pace with how giving is evolving? (For more on this question, you can also check out our Philanthropisms podcast interview with Lucy Bernholz, who is quoted heavily in the piece, or read our Why Philanthropy Matters article on the history of efforts to measure giving).
Is Effective Altruism naïve when it comes to politics?
The ongoing stream of article about Effective Altruism has yet to ease up. This month, there was a good piece in MIT Tech Review (“Inside effective altruism, where the far future counts a lot more than the present”) looking at Longtermism (quelle surprise) and casting a somewhat critical eye over EA’s relatively naïve efforts so far to move into the political sphere.
The Longtermism backlash (and the backlash to the backlash?)
The backlash to EA (and the backlash to the backlash) also continues apace. This month prominent EA critic Timnit Gebru launched a new website for Ineffective Altruism - which seems primarily like a rather elaborate bit of domain name-based trolling, but it will be interesting to see it becomes any sort of focal point for those critical of EA. She also drew the ire of many EA supporters (and, it has to be said, also plenty of people who are not affiliated with the EA movement) by continuing to accuse prominent Longtermism advocates (such as Will MacAskill and Nick Bostrom) of being “eugenicists”. (Historically speaking, there is definitely a link between efforts to rationalise philanthropy and eugenic thinking so this is not a claim without basis. However, my worry would be that in the febrile context of social media this is such an incendiary claim to throw around that if it isn’t firmly backed up, the net result will be to overshadow and invalidate more measured criticism of EA).
NB: for more thoughts on Longtermism, check out our latest Why Philanthropy Matters Book Club video on Will MacAskill’s What We Owe the Future:
Will Mackenzie Scott’s divorce have any effect on her giving?
It was announced this month that Mackenzie Scott is getting divorced from her husband Dan Jewett. I’m not much of a one for prurient gossip about people’s private lives, but given that Scott is one of the biggest and most influential philanthropists in the world right now (and she added Jewett as her co-signatory to the Giving Pledge when they got married) this seems justifiably philanthropy-relevant. One would assume, given that Scott was already a billionaire when they got married, that there is a pretty iron-clad prenup in place which will preclude Jewett from getting any significant share of her wealth – however, he was (apparently) an equal partner in decision making about philanthropy while they were married, so his departure from the scene may have some effect on Scott’s giving.
Asia: new global philanthropy power base?
Dolly Parton: philanthropy icon
County music legend Dolly Parton has also been in the news for her giving, after she was awarded the Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy. Parton has been a committed donor for decades, and her various activities around childhood literacy (most notably her book-gifting programme Imagination Library) have won plaudits around the world. And for more thoughts on what Parton’s giving can tell us about wider public perceptions of philanthropy, check out this article I wrote a few years back:
TikTok exploiting donations to refugees in Syria
The murky reality of Coinbase’s philanthropy ambitions?
More interesting critical reporting about cryptophilanthropy this month too, with this in-depth Fortune article on “How Coinbase’s $1 billion crypto philanthropy ambitions left a trail of disappointment and workers in the lurch”. The piece details how the much-hyped plans of one of the world’s biggest cryptocurrency platforms, Coinbase, to use cryptophilanthropy as a means of helping some of the world’s poorest people (whilst also, conveniently, increasing crypto usage and thus increasing their potential client base…) quickly fell apart, and how many “ambassadors” in developing countries who worked on the project for free were left entirely in the lurch. Makes for pretty grim reading. For more on the current state of cryptophilanthropy, check out this episode of the Philanthropisms podcast:
Soup to conquer: Just Stop Oil and the radicalism vs incrementalism debate
Finally, I’m sure no-one can have missed the story about climate protestors from the group Just Stop Oil throwing a can of soup over Van Gogh’s (safely Perspex-clad) ‘Sunflowers’ as a protest. In the immediate aftermath many were quick to denounce the action: critics decried it as an unacceptable attack on a priceless work of art, whilst even many sympathetic to Just Stop Oil’s aims questioned whether the tactic was well thought-through. This debate has carried on in subsequent weeks (Axios had a useful short piece pulling together some of the differing views of climate activists, while Vox had a good piece taking a balanced look at the strengths and weaknesses of the protest). However, as the immediate shock of the action subsides, it certainly seems like more people are willing to look favourably on this kind of radical protest in light of the urgency of climate issues. For philanthropy, which often tries to work incrementally and go with the grain of existing systems, this presents a real challenge: should donors and funders who care about climate issues be willing to get on board with this kind of radicalism? And if they do not, do they risk becoming part of the problem rather than part of the solution?
As an intriguing endnote to this story, it turns out that a significant portion of the funding for Just Stop Oil has come from a philanthropist whose inherited wealth is founded on oil, Aileen Getty, and she has already reaffirmed her support for Just Stop Oil’s actions.
WHAT WE HAVE BEEN DOING
You may have noticed that I already cheekily snuck in mention of a few of my own and podcasts, but I thought I would also give you a quick heads-up about other things we have been working on recently.
Charities and politics. The strong response from a coalition of conservation charities to the UK government’s plans to rip through vital environmental protections in pursuit of economic growth has drawn criticism from politicians, and once again brought the thorny issue of whether charities can (and indeed, should) get involved in politics into the spotlight. In this long read we explore the issues and the historical context behind this long-running debate.
Cost of living crisis On a recent episode of the Philanthropisms podcast, Rhod was joined by Angela Kail, Director of Consulting at New Philanthropy Capital (NPC) to explore how the cost of living crisis is affecting charities, philanthropy and civil society and what we might be able to do in response.
Technology, International Development & Cross-Border Philanthropy: On another episode of the podcast Rhod spoke to Martha Lackritz-Peltier, General Counsel of TechSoup, about how technology might be able to make cross-border giving easier and why that could be a key part of efforts to localize international aid and development.
Philanthropy Book club: We have started to build up our library of video book reviews. First up this month were Maribel Morey’s White Philanthropy and Will MacAskill’s What We Owe the Future.
Elon Musk and Twitter: OK, it’s not new content, but since Elon Musk’s controversial Takeover of Twitter appears to be back on the cards, why not check out this piece Rhod did for Alliance magazine earlier this year about what it might mean for philanthropy, or this longer article about how Musk’s edgelord persona might affect future discourse about philanthropy.
A few things that aren’t articles or things I’ve been working on, but are still worth checking out!
Pears Foundation event on kindness: this month, in my role as Philanthropy-Expert-in-Residence at Pears Foundation, I attended a really interesting event on kindness, at which Professor Robin Banerjee and Dr Gillian Sandstrom from the Sussex University Centre for Research on Kindness talked about some of their research. We only scratched the surface of this fascinating topic during the event, so it is definitely one that I want to come back to!
AI and Ubuntu: It’s not new (though it’s new to me), but I came across an absolutely fascinating paper this month from Harvard’s Carr Center for Human Rights Policy which looks at whether the African philosophy of ubuntu could help to shape principles for the governance of Artificial Intelligence. I’m interested in AI anyway, but even if you aren’t there is plenty of wider philanthropy relevance as ubuntu’s traditions of mutuality and horizontal giving are often cited as a contrast to many of our traditional Western models. The paper does a great job of digging into the philosophical underpinnings of ubuntu, and thus provides plenty of food for thought.
Very late breaking philanthropy fake news: In the course of chasing down references for my forthcoming book I went down something of a rabbit hole this month, trying to find a reference for the famous Andrew Carnegie quote that “it is far harder to give money away intelligently than it is to make it in the first place”. After a lot of trawling, I concluded that the actual quote may well be apocryphal, but managed to find a close enough equivalent buried in a letter in the presidential papers of Theodore Roosevelt (as you do). If you at all are interested, you can find out a bit more in this short Twitter thread.
Well, that’s all for this time. If you think you know other people who might enjoy this newsletter, please do spread the word!