Can Philanthropy Spark Social Change?
This morning Do Something posted the following on Twitter:
It is such a great question – one that my staff challenges me with each day. Who leads? Who should lead? Who is most effective at leading social change?
I thought about this last week as I sat in a room of 750 do-gooders celebrating philanthropy. After a long evening of disappointing (national) election results, I was eager for inspiration and chocolate cake. The AFP’s annual Philanthropy Day celebration recognizes individuals and businesses who use their hard earned treasures to give back to help people in need and address complex social problems. I sat in wrong spot missing out on the cake but there was no shortage of generosity and smarts in the room. From a young cancer survivor who turned her illness into action and an inspiring truck stop owner working to stop human trafficking, to leaders in the fight to end homeless – these are our neighbors doing extraordinary things. I beamed with pride and shed some tears for our community - full of innovation, plush with volunteers and donors, and surrounded by voters willing to tax themselves to improve access to transit and pre-school.
Flash forward to this weekend. I sat in a Queen Anne Coffee Shop and watched a middle aged man pick and eat food from a dumpster. I listened as a woman talked about being frightened by a homeless man who walked in attempting to get warm (seriously). And I read the comments of the Seattle Times piece on expanding encampments for people experiencing homelessness. NEVER READ THE DAMN COMMENTS! Despite all the smart people, the generosity, and the collective assets, we live in a community that struggles (morally and practically) to tackle the very basics of putting food on the table and a roof over head.
How do we change that? We know that charity alone will not solve hunger, homelessness, or poverty. Strong and well funded public policies that support jobs, housing, healthcare, and safety-net resources are needed. But how do we get there?
Do we need a more robust organized movement?
Will an organic movement succeed?
Does either have sufficient tools and resources?
Or, do we need both. Should philanthropy do more to spark social change by investing in advocacy and influence? Can we harness our collective resources and assets in new ways – engaging more people and ultimately be more effective? This series in the Stanford Social Innovation Review on the Value of Intentional Influence is giving me much to think about. Would love to hear your thoughts.