PHILANTHROPY AS SOLIDARITY
PAPER IN RESPONSE TO JOHN R. HEALY
PRESENTED AT CENTRE FOR NONPROFIT MANAGEMENT’S 4th ANNUAL SUMMER SCHOOL
‘RESOURCING AND ENABLING IRISH CIVIL SOCIETY – CONSIDERING THE ROLE OF PHILANTHROPY’
16th JUNE 2009
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My starting point in responding to John R Healy’s paper is to agree with two of his concluding points.
We need to expand philanthropic giving and we need to ensure that philanthropic giving is a force for
progressive social change.
Ireland has a low level of philanthropic giving for such a wealthy country. There is also the unfortunate
reality that the major sources of philanthropic giving have set a time limit to their existence and work.
The limited extent of philanthropic giving is however not the only reason why we need to expand it.
The scale and diversity of need in a society beset by significant and persistent inequalities is the key
reason we need to expand philanthropic giving. There are also the needs of a civil society subject to the
limitations resultant from a dependence on statutory funding. Statutory funding is inadequate in scale
and increasingly limited to service provision. Advocacy is increasingly stifled by the requirements of
statutory funders. Philanthropic funding is valuable in reducing the dependence of community and
voluntary sector organizations on this statutory funding.
We need philanthropic funding to be a force for progressive social change in a context where our society
is characterized by these significant and persistent inequalities. John R Healy usefully suggests that
philanthropy should be focused on our greatest problems. Inequality is one of our greatest problems.
Equality should be a particular focus for philanthropy because:-
• Inequality is bad for people. Human worth is diminished by disadvantage. Human dignity is set
at nought by discrimination.
• Inequality is bad for society. Greater inequality means lower life expectancy, lower levels of
educational attainment, lower social mobility and higher levels of mental health problems. A
more equal society is better for most people.
• We live in a very unequal society. In 2008 some 28% of all income earned was earned by just
over six per cent of the population. Five per cent of the population currently holds 40% of the
wealth in Ireland. In 2005 a special CSO survey found that 12.5% of the population aged 18
years and over said they had experienced discrimination in the preceding two years.
• The Irish state holds a low level of ambition in relation to equality. The dominant approach to
equality emphasizes equality of opportunity and seeks to ensure that all have access to some
minimum entitlement and that the competition for advantage is regulated by fairness. This
approach can and does co-exist with significant and persistent inequality and can even serve to
justify this unacceptable situation.
We need philanthropic resources dedicated to solving this problem. As such we need to expand a
particular type of philanthropic giving.
We do need to acknowledge that we are having these discussions at a moment of economic recession
John R Healy’s paper sets out that in this context philanthropy should prioritise sustainability of those
currently being funded and the continuity of services for those who depend on these organizations. He
states that philanthropy is not good as an emergency funder. I agree with this position yet find that it
does not go far enough in responding to the changed circumstances we find ourselves in.
A time of recession is a time when old certainties crumble, when old behaviours become unacceptable.
A time of recession is a time when new opportunities for progressive social change emerge, when a new
model of social and economic development with a capacity to create a more equal Ireland becomes
possible. As such it is a time when we need philanthropy to stand with and support those seeking to
identify and seize such opportunities and to imagine and promote such a new model of development.
ORIGINS AND CHALLENGES
Andrew Carnegie and John D Rockefeller are identified by John R Healy as being at the origins of modern
philanthropy. They provide examples that hold but fail to resolve some of the challenges facing the
The first challenge lies in the fact that their wealth and business success was achieved at much cost of
suffering and distress for many people.
There is a troubling incoherence where the philanthropist is for equality in philanthropic giving but is
creating inequality in business practice. This incoherence calls into question the value base of this
philanthropic giving and its potential to make any real contribution to solving the problem of inequality.
This incoherence needs to be addressed, where it exists, if philanthropy is to be a force for progressive
social change. Society needs an equality based business practice just as much as it needs philanthropic
resources to promote equality.
The second challenge lies in that Carnegie and Rockefeller sought to use their money to search for
underlying causes to poverty in society but limited their giving to helping poor people help themselves
and failed to call into question the social, political and economic systems that generated this poverty in
the first place.
John R Healy usefully distinguishes philanthropy from charity for the commitment in philanthropy to
addressing root causes. However this capacity to address root causes depends on the capacity of the
philanthropist or philanthropic organization to adequately analyse the problem being addressed.
Helping poor people to help themselves or supporting civil society service provision to meet the most
pressing needs does not address root causes. If philanthropy is to address the root causes of inequality
and poverty in society it would need to challenge and change the systems, structures and institutions in
our society that end up concentrating wealth in the hands of a small minority, reserving status and
standing for a small number of groups in society and confining influence to the few.
Legitimacy for philanthropy emerges as a concern in John R Healy’s paper. This legitimacy will come
from coherence and quality of analysis.
Coherence involves a commitment to equality being manifest in the philanthropic giving, the operations
of the philanthropic organization, and the business practice of the philanthropist. Quality of analysis is
manifest in a commitment to addressing the root causes of inequality, a commitment that is evident in:-
• An ambition for equality that goes beyond issues of opportunity and fairness to focus on
outcomes and real change for groups experiencing inequality.
• A concern for equality in terms of economic redistribution, institutional recognition of diversity
and access to influence.
• Support to an effective challenge to the economic, political, social and cultural structures,
systems and institutions that generate inequality in our society.
Philanthropy is and will continue to be a diverse field. However if there is to be legitimacy and a focus
on root causes of inequality in our society we need a particular strand of philanthropy within this diverse
field – a strand of philanthropy that is a form of solidarity with those experiencing inequality,
discrimination, poverty and disadvantage.
SOLIDARITY AND ACCOUNTABILITY
Philanthropy as solidarity needs the input of those experiencing inequality and poverty. The knowledge,
perspectives and understanding held by those experiencing inequality and poverty are important to the
quality of analysis of the philanthropic organization. Philanthropy as solidarity needs to be accountable
to those who experience inequality and poverty and to allow influence to them and to the organizations
that represent their interests.
It is not enough, as John R Healy suggests, for the philanthropist to exercise power with humility and
restraint and to respect the independence of grantees. The philanthropist is involved in a power
relationship and is challenged to share power with organizations representing the interests of those
experiencing inequality and poverty. Some of these organizations will be grantees. However it is
possible to structure this accountability in a manner that avoids conflicts of interest.
SOLIDARITY AND EFFECTIVENESS
Philanthropy as solidarity needs a clear statement of values. This statement of values will have a
particular focus on equality and on solidarity. It will serve as a standard against which effectiveness can
be measured and monitored. It will also communicate the commitment of the philanthropist to
equality. This public commitment will have the added value of assisting to embed equality as a core
societal value, the standard against which we agree to assess social progress as a society.
The pursuit of effectiveness needs to go beyond learning from doing and peer review which are put
forward by John R Healy. It needs to involve an assessment of work done against agreed standards and
indicators of effectiveness. The statement of values should enable the development of these indicators.
These indicators should enable us to assess two key questions. Is the mission of the philanthropic
organization sufficiently focused on the systemic, structural and organizational change required for a
more equal society? Are the programmes of the philanthropic organization focused on and supportive
off achieving a new redistribution of resources, a new recognition of diversity and a wider exercise of
SOLIDARITY AND GRANTEES
Philanthropy as solidarity will be selective in its engagement with the not-for-profit sector. To reflect its
commitment to addressing root causes of inequality it will prioritise particular organizations –
• Empower groups that are experiencing inequality and assist them to organize and secure
• Identify and articulate the shared interests of groups experiencing inequality and enable
negotiation and agitation in support of these shared interests.
• Imagine and invent new ways of organizing society so that there is greater equality for all.
This prioritization will be at the expenses of groups involved in service provision to people experiencing
inequality and poverty.
SOLIDARITY AND REDISTRIBUTION
Philanthropy as solidarity does not seek justification in that public sector service provision is flawed or,
as John R Healy suggests, in that public sector service provision fails society on a regular basis. This
philanthropy is not needed to enable the not-for-profit sector to fill the gaps left by poor public sector
service provision – a justification that would appear to carry the flawed assumption that not-for-profit
provision would be to a higher standard and quality.
Philanthropy as solidarity seeks justification in that redistribution in our society is flawed. Redistribution
as currently organized allows huge concentration of wealth, prevents the contribution of public sector
service provision to effective redistribution by limiting the resources available to it and underpins
significant and persistent inequalities in our society. It is necessary in such a context for philanthropy to
support organizations to challenge our approaches to redistribution and to seek a public sector that is
more effective at achieving equality.
This suggests a new type of time limit that philanthropy could set itself. Philanthropy could work to a
time limit where it phases itself out as redistribution becomes more effective, as concentration of
wealth decreases and as the public sector becomes a more effective tool for redistribution and makes its
full contribution to a more equal society.
This is a big ask – to expand philanthropic giving, to secure the role of philanthropy as a force for
progressive social change, to enhance the focus of philanthropy on challenging the root causes of
inequality and to further develop that strand of philanthropy that could be deemed solidarity. However
it is also an urgent ask given the context of recession and significant and persistent inequalities in our
society. We need, in this context, a philanthropy that:-
• Seeks equality of outcome for groups experiencing inequality.
• Affirms equality as a core societal value.
• Achieves an accountability to those who experience inequality.
• Is assessed for the quality of the analysis of inequality that informs its mission and for the ability
of its programmes to support resource redistribution, recognition of diversity and the sharing of
power and influence.
• Is engaged with those organisations that empower, and that articulate the interests of, groups
• Seeks justification on the basis of the flaws in our current approaches to redistribution.