The Giving Pledge of America’s Billionaires highlights a surprisingly underexamined phenomenon in the field of philanthropy, namely, the degree to which the practice of philanthropy is being displaced by philanthrocapitalism.
An increasing number of givers identify themselves not as philanthropists but rather as “philanthrocapitalists”, utilizing their resources to contend for various visions of the future, weighing potential investments in light of their possible social returns (the most lives saved for the least money is one of GiveWell’s benchmarks)–and envisioning “social capital markets” where, in the words of Peter Wilby, funders-as-philanthropists “select charities as they would select suppliers of goods and services to their companies”, seeking “efficiency, clearly defined targets, measurable outcomes, quick results”.
Says Oracle founder Larry Ellison, “The profit motive could be the best tool for solving the world’s problems.”
Concerned, however, that “the poor are written out of their own story, that business tycoons, accustomed to getting their own way, do things to the poor, rather than with them”, former World Bank advisor and author of Small Change: Why Business Won’t Change the World Michael Edwards asks, “Why should the rich and famous decide how schools are going to be reformed, or what drugs will be supplied at prices affordable to the poor, or which civil society groups get funded for their work?”
Notes Wilby, “The emphasis on ‘rates of return’ and ‘value for money’ may exclude people in great need who happen to be difficult to reach or, even if made fit and healthy, would be of marginal economic utility.”
As we’ll note in our next and final piece on the Giving Pledge, it’s precisely on the margins that God plies His own philanthropy.