Does Diversity of Philanthropic Approaches Better Guard Democracy?

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October 19, 2011; Source: The Guardian | In a blog posted on the website of the British newspaper The Guardian, Michael Edwards writes that the “protean nature of philanthropy is one of its greatest assets.” He warns that though many may be seduced by the promise of less messy processes—swayed by the insistence that there is one best or most strategic approach—but he asserts that this would produce less robust results. He writes:

One often hears that the “new philanthropy” of dotcom billionaires like [Bill and Melinda] Gates is smarter and more strategic than traditional support for social change. Nothing could be further from the truth. There are no data, case studies, or moral arguments to prove that one is better than the other; they are just different, and equally valuable in their own ways. So the key task for policy makers is to encourage diversity in the funding community, and to resist the urge to make philanthropy just as technocratic as foreign aid from governments. Foundations do have power, and their influence is growing. But they also have an obligation to use it in ways that help others to choose the future that is best for them—even if this takes more time, differs from standard templates, and encounters detours along the way. Balancing the demands of democracy with the determination to address global problems in a focused and energetic manner is the key issue facing philanthropy in the century to come.

—Ruth McCambridge