Monday, July 6, 2009

Challenges with Philanthrocapitalism - Selecting the Bright, Shiny Coin

Philanthrocapitalism, a relatively recent book by Matthew Bishop and Michael Green. Philanthrocapitalists are described as the new generation of billionaires who are reshaping the way they give - it's like business. Largely trained in the corporate world, these "social investors" are using big-business-style strategies and expecting results and accountability to match. This book and another in critique by fellow Wagner-ite, Michael Edwards, who states that there is a rising social and political influence of business and wealthy individuals, an encroachment of the market into every aspect of our lives and the potential erosion of older traditions of collective action, democratic accountability, solidarity and service.

I thought of these two books as I witnessed the event at the White House last week on the creation of the Social Innovation work. I am pleased that this effort is taking place, my fear is that this office will come victim to what always happens, long-serving organizations left out in the cold to those that are relatively new. Those listed in the room were New Profit Inc, Ashoka, Echoing Green, the Skoll Foundation, Harlem Children’s Zone, Robin Hood Foundation, KIPP Schools, Bridgespan Group, City Year, Salesforce Foundation, Sea Change Capital Partners,, Nurse Family Partnership, Atlantic Philanthropies, Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, WalMart, the Gap, the Ford Foundation and the Gates Foundation. Yes, I know that this list is selective and there were a few old-timers in the room, but the above list is what was advertised. No Red Cross. No Catholic Charities. No Lions Clubs? Yes, Lions Clubs, who give out more free glasses to the rural poor than any other organization in the United States. I guess they were not innovative enough. Look at a Lions Club 990 and you willl see an organization that uses little but gives a lot.

As you may have guessed, I have a problem with the way social innovation is being targeted. I am worried that social innovation means that you must be branded as new, rather than looking at models that have been around and are working but may are closer to a used sweater than an evening gown. In addition, it appears that all is needed to be socially innovative is to have some wealth behind you but not much else. Many of these models, while touting "business principles" have no more data to show effectiveness than many of our long-timers. In this Baby Boom era, we should pay attention to their creations, they have gotten us this far.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I agree completely. I am beginning to despise "social innovation." As if nonprofits - underfunded, understaffed, and overwhelmed - haven't been innovative as they achieved victory after victory. Sheesh!

Further, these SI programs often reward very young, highly (Western) educated people . And, at least where I live, overwhelmingly white "entrepreneurs." Glad to see a critique here.