The Contradiction at the Heart of Philanthropy

The development Set
As part of the Development Set series on Medium, Leah Hunt-Hendrix, New Economies Initiative and Jee Kim,  Ford Foundation have opened a debate that looks into a key problem in contemporary philanthropy; the wealth that funds efforts to find solutions to the world’s problems is created and sustained by inequality. Income inequality is regularly identified as one of the biggest global problems and high levels of inequality correlates with low levels of happiness (although the equal distribution of economic growth might be more significant). Does this mean that organisations, such as the Gates Foundation, are funded by inequality? How should we respond to this problem?

“one can and should be wary of the role of rule by plutocracy, even when it seems benevolent. But putting aside the blunt critiques, we are interested in the proactive question: How does philanthropy understand the economic system that is its maker?”

To some extent, the generosity of the very wealthy, people like Bill and Melinda Gates, Elton  John and JK Rowling, are the exception rather than the rule. The poorest Americans donate a higher proportion of their income than the very richest.  Further, even middle income families are less likely to be philanthropic. Data from the UK shows that it is generally the poorest areas that donate the most (as a proportion of the population that donates to charity) and that as household disposable income has increased, giving has decreased.

Leah Hunt-Hendrix and Jee Kim have asked the question “Should philanthropy address the inequality of which it is a symptom? And if so, how?” to leaders in philanthropy. You can read their responses here.  

Read the original article, as part of the Development Set (funded by the Gates Foundation) here.  

How should philanthropists, foundations and funders respond to inequality? Do rich philanthropists need to do more to empower those they help?

Read Anna Feuchtwang on how to empower those you seek to help

Read John Hawthorne on some of the reasons that stop the rich from giving more of their wealth away.

Send us your response to these questions: write us a blog and we’ll put in on the site, comment below and tweet at @Lhunthendrix@FordFoundation and #FutureGood


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