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November 08, 2010


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Most foundation work never challenges the imperial mindset - the assumption of the positional superiority of western knowledge, of it's place in the center of all things, and it's compulsion to categorize and catalog, measure, define, dissect, examine and marginalize "others."


And its compulsion to create numbered lists.

Mandy V

This is totally spot on. Forwarding to all staff.


Solutions? Suggestions? or are we just complaining and being critical?


A fair question, Jason. The 25 theses are designed to spark discussion and debate, but I certainly have my own views about what some possible solutions might be, including those discussed here (re: theses 16, 20, and 21, for example); here, here, and here (re: thesis #13); here (re: thesis #17); and in an upcoming chapter in The Oxford Companion to Civil Society (re: thesis #12)--among many other posts and articles.

Some of the solutions seem pretty obvious to me. The solution to foundations being risk averse is to train nonprofit boards to demand failure of their CEOs. This was the solution suggested by Joel Orosz in his book. And I think there are ways for us to shift the culture of philanthropy so that this kind of thing happens more and more, don't you agree? That's what this and other blogs attempt to do.

As I look at the posts that I and others have written for this blog, I clearly see their shortcomings. What suggestions do you have for changing business as usual in philanthropy? What else might we try?


Albert, I thought your theses were great, and if you haven't seen my speech last fall at MIT on the moral life of philanthropy, I think it will resonate with you: http://www.atlanticphilanthropies.org/learning/speech-reclaiming-moral-life-philanthropy

Best, Gara

Pete Manzo


Fantastic, compellingly written and provocative as always.

#16, 17, 20 and 21 that you mention in your comment are my personal favorites, so to me they seem to be the central theses. #20 reminds me of Bishop Camara's great quote "When I feed the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist."

If the two kinds of power are organized money and organized people, then maybe the role for foundations is to be the organized money that is trying to produce organized people.

There are many good philanthropic leaders, like Gara who comments above, who are pulling in the same direction.

One possible addition to #9 about the negative aspects of foundation culture (and weird corollary to #6) is that some seem to be too process oriented, and I'm not sure where that comes from - maybe it comes from wanting to emulate the rigor of academia without the peer review and critique, or maybe an overdone concern with accountability. One promising note I heard yesterday from a foundation leader was that, inspired by some advice from Bill Somerville, he was hoping to radically cut down the number of steps and documentation involved in approving a grant.

Thanks again, Albert (and thanks also to Sean at Tactical Philanthropy for pointing us back to your post here).


Albert Ruesga

Gara: Thanks for reminding me of your talk at MIT. I had planned to blog it and will do so in the coming weeks. When I was a student at MIT I remember that Professor Chomsky was the only instructor who, in six years of post-secondary study, ever mentioned the social responsibility of the scientist, the engineer, the linguist. It was a jarring moment, one that opened my eyes to the subtle ways that institutions hide and sometimes erase their moral centers and origins.

Pete, thanks for your kind words. Re: thesis #6: I saw a glimmer of hope at the Council on Foundations conference in Denver this past May. At one session, a participant gave some apologetics for the use of violence by oppressed communities. A few in the room applauded her remarks; others--the majority, I would guess--were clearly made uncomfortable by them. Rather than let her comments stand in the spirit of consensus or bonhomie, another participant stood up and politely but roundly refuted the idea that violence helps social movements. It was for me a glimmer of the dynamic give and take that we so desperately need in our field. Perhaps it's the lingering effects of postmodernism that have convinced us that every statement can be true, or that all have equal value. More often than not, I think our reluctance to disagree has pushed us to wander in a desert of conceptual dunes indistinguishable from one another.

jee kim

Albert, great post, and all the comments that follow.

I'm working on some writing tying some of these threads together and how they reflect a broader trend and are mutually reinforcing (social entrepreneurship, impact investing, technocratic fetishism, microfinance, venture philanthropy - all the shiny new objects we know). look forward to kicking some of these ideas around with you.

Albert Ruesga

Thanks, Jee. Hope our paths cross soon.

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