A new movement is afoot that promises to save the world by making civil society model itself after private enterprise. Dubbed “philanthrocapitalism,” its supporters believe that business principles can and should be the primary drivers of social transformation. Philanthrocapitalism’s adherents mistakenly pass it off as the whole solution, downgrading the costs and trade-offs of extending business and market principles into social transformation. In reality, the hype surrounding philanthrocapitalism runs far ahead of its ability to deliver real results.
Business approaches, former Ford Foundation officer Michael Edward points out, are often at odds with those needed for fundamental social change, since they privilege competition over cooperation, individual effort over collective action, and short-term results over the necessarily patient, long-term support required for the messy and unpredictable process of fundamental social transformation. Moreover, the increasing concentration of wealth and power among philanthrocapitalists is unhealthy for democracy—the phenomenon is itself a symptom of a disordered and profoundly unequal world. Ultimately, Edwards argues that the use of business thinking can and does actually damage civil society. It’s time to differentiate the two and re-assert the independence of global citizen action.
About the Author:
Michael Edwards is an independent writer and activist who is affiliated with the New York-based think-tank Demos, the Wagner School of Public Service at New York University, and the Brooks World Poverty Institute at Manchester University in the UK. From 1999 to 2008 he was Director of the Ford Foundation’s Governance and Civil Society Program, and previously worked for the World Bank, OxFam, and Save the Children.