The Philanthropist Going Upriver in Search of Ivory and Results
Why Business Won't Save the World

Strategic philanthropy is the new colonialism

Into the conference room stride 18 hedge fund managers, ages 23-28. In the next 19 minutes they will collectively give away 45 million dollars - effectively, efficiently, on time, on task and on point. How is this possible? Each has sitting before him or her a one page summary of 47 charities, and a cover sheet where each charity is given a score of 1-10. The task of the brain trust in the room is to decide which of the 47 numbers is largest. How is this possible? In the background floor upon floor of low paid hacks arranged in cubicles, stacked one upon another in a hierarchy has done the research, built the spreadsheets, and processed the data. This is philanthropy getting results, not with heart or ethics or some airy fairy theory of justice but with cold hard logic. These men and women rule us for good reason. Given any two numbers they can assess the magnitude and make an informed decision.

Yes, my version is satirical, but the reality is not much different, as depicted by Bridgespan in a paper about Best Practices of Strategic Grantmaking.

In a 48th floor conference room on Park Avenue, an elite cadre of investors gathers. They greet each other, swap a few stories about recent deals, and take their seats around a large marble table. It is 5:30pm, and the location is the headquarters of Tiger Management. But the investors are not here to talk about an upcoming takeover; tonight’s agenda is about helping to break the cycle of poverty in New York City. These investors are trustees of Tiger Foundation.....

Is that not embarassing, even to read it, much less write or swallow? The Case Study (Tiger Foundation: Profile in Engaged Philanthropy)  is written by for and about those who rule us, and with wisdom, taste, and self knowledge held in abeyance. Through such high level rooms walks the clerk delivering papers. That would be me. In an earlier era I would have been the porter driving Young Master to the train, where he will depart for Africa, bringing civilization to the savages, dressing for dinner, and bringing results - ivory, profit, and trophies (heads of tigers, lions, elephants) home to the Manor. Strategic philanthropy is the new colonialism. That it is often revolting - why don't we say so? I guess Arundhati Roy did. I don't because these funders are my Ideal Clients and I want some of their money. After the epic scene above, I in that same conference room convened a class on The Heart of Darkness. No one showed except the janitor and he was just there to empty the trash and turn out the lights.