We’ve built an entire industry around giving and called it the philanthropic sector — and by this I’m referring to the institutional foundations like Ford, Carnegie, and Gates that represent the largess made possible by corporate profits, and then the nonprofit organizations that receive those funds and who work to mitigate the ill effects of poverty. Structured into the philanthropic sector is the inequitable distribution of wealth and power to create the necessary supply of capital (excess money available to make donations) and the demand for it (social problems created by that inequality). In other words, economic inequity and injustice are built into philanthropy itself. For the institution of philanthropy to survive, economic inequality must exist. Think about it: if we didn’t have an economic underclass in one corner and extreme wealth in the other, would we even need philanthropy?
Many philanthropists and those in the sector care deeply about finding solutions to poverty and other inequities. I’m not really criticizing people — I’m looking at the systems in which people find themselves and creates a kind of architecture through which much of their impact is constrained. If we were interested in building an economy grounded in sufficiency rather than maintaining an economy that creates scarcity to keep itself going, philanthropy would need to be different. Can we create a system that truly harnesses our inherent generosity without needing to create poverty and scarcity as a motivation? What would need to be different about the philanthropic sector?
What does philanthropy look like in a world where everybody already has enough?