The Richard Minim Institute for Literature and Giving
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What Foments Social Change, short of Direct Action by the Multitudes?

On philanthropy and social change, a conversation hosted by Parag Gupta at Social Edge. After surveying the ego driven and the results driven interventions by all and sundry schools of philanthropy, including that of Omidyar and Gates, Gupta add this,

Looking at it from a lens from the field – what seems to be creating the most change right now is not a carefully business-planned social enterprise but rather spontaneous popular uprisings demanding democratic freedom sweeping through the Middle East. From what I can tell, philanthropy had little to do with this – understandably as authoritarian regimes have shuttered the civil society groups that foundations would fund.
 
Perhaps though, the change in the Middle East is indicative of a new trend towards the individual, rather than an organization, as the unit of change. In those places void of civil society but in need of social intervention – traditional grants can be replaced by affordable technology, social networking, and individual giving. Giving that can be more nimble, focused, and, in greater in sum.

A topic for another day: Can well considered philanthropy prevent redemptive social change and save capitalism of the increasingly virulent sort of cut throat ("We are broke") capitalism that catalytic or strategic or Machiavelllian philanthropy (c.f., David Koch) has created? Will it take a revolution in the US, as in the Middle East to get our rights back? To upend our two-party plutocracy, where we vote for hope and get change for the worse, and vote for change and get false hope? Or, our states and Federal government being financially and morally bankrupt, must we, the former middle class, learn to accept our increasing immiseration? Can philanthropy at least provide us with Prozac? Even my recent lobotomy has not cured my rage.

Yes, we send Marines to bring democracy to Afghanistan and Iraq. And Walker threatens to call out the National Guard to suppress it in Wisconsin. Freedom turned out to be the Chicago School of cutthroat capitalism. It meant Pinochet in Chile, and it meant the Oligarchs in Russia. What will it take to have a little democracy and economic justice here in America again, with a voice of the people heard over that of monied interests to whom even our Supreme Court bows? Only the Super-Rich we are told, by no less a populist than Ralph Nader, can save us. (I had thought it was Jesus. Now I know better and will pray to Pierre Omidyar, if not for salvation then at least for a market interest loan, with my rags as collateral. That way my suffering could be monetized as his "program related investment," or his scalable social venture - there being so many poor broke bastards whose misery he could securitize productively for the good of all.)

When they come looking for me, the minions and myrmidons of the super rich, please tell them that I already got myself saved, and that I lit out with Huck for the country. Parts unknown, no forwarding address. When they ask for the payment on that microloan against my rags, tell them, I am broke, just like Wisconsin. I wanted to pay but I can't. A contract is a contract, but with the social contract in tatters, my welshing on a double bottom line payday loan seems pretty minor to me. So, Omidyar is out the interest on $50. I left my rags, his collateral, in the dumpster on the corner of Wealth and Bondage. Let his wife, Pam, fish them out, and wear them all she wants.

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