Note: I made some additions to my post to give further context for why my imagination decided to wander into the realm of possible realities.
The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that despite the positive press coverage the Buffets-Gates Giving Pledge has received here in the United States, it has been widely criticized in Europe.
Take this quote from Guardian columnist Peter Wilby:
“If the rich really wish to create a better world, they can sign another pledge: to pay their taxes on time and in full; to stop lobbying against taxation and regulation; to avoid creating monopolies; to give their employees better wages, pensions, job protection and working conditions; to make goods and use production methods that don’t kill or maim or damage the environment or make people ill.”
German shipping magnate and multimillionaire Peter Krämer offers some more pointed criticisms:
“The rich make a choice: Would I rather donate or pay taxes? The donors are taking the place of the state. That’s unacceptable.”
But I wonder.
Say we lived in a world like that. The world Krämer alludes to where the donors are NOT “taking the place of the state.” Would there be anything we’d be missing out on? Anything that exists because of foundation support, anything that would not have come into existence if it had to rely on government support only?
I’ll be honest, imagining a hypothetical reality and then trying to figure out what might be missing isn’t science. It’s conjecture. True. But interesting (to me at least) to consider nonetheless.
A Lesson From Back To the Future
So say we went back in time to the stop foundations from coming into being, stopping the field of Philanthropy as we know it. How would that change our present?
Remember that scene in Back to the Future when Marty McFly realizes he’s prevented his parents from meeting and falling in love? His siblings begin to disappear from the photograph he’s carrying, disappear from existence. So what do you think might disappear if foundations hadn’t been around?
Would the government have funded health research and clinics for politically divisive heath issues such as AIDS research and Planned Parenthood? And what about research for illnesses that only affect small percentages of our population? Would they have received any funding or support?
Would Sesame Street or Reading Rainbow have existed in this different reality? Would the government have hired “Joan Ganz Cooney to study how the media could be used to help young children, especially those from low-income families, learn and prepare for school?”
And what about the Environment and Green movement?
What about civil right movements and the end of apartheid? What would they have looked like without philanthropic support?
Acknowledging the Need for Partnership
Back to reality now. The country we live in does have foundations and the work of funders has been a rich part of our society’s history and innovation. We can’t undo our past, we must learn from it and move forward.
Perhaps that’s where the Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation comes in. Some would say that the creation of this office is the government’s acknowledgment that partnering with Philanthropy is in the best interest of all of us. After all, there are some things foundations can do that government cannot, e.g. experiment and take risks, respond nimbly and with less red tape.
I’m reminded of a quote by Beth Kanter and Allison Fine that I mentioned here on this blog a while back:
“complex social problems, and all social problems are complex by definition, outpace the capacity of any individual or single organization to solve them.”
No “one” entity can do it alone, can solve all our societal ills. It’s going to take all of us.
All of us.
Read the full Wall Street Journal article “Europeans Attack Buffett-Gates Pledge as Undemocratic” online.