"Early on in our philanthropic journey, my wife and I became aware of something I started to call Philanthropic Colonialism... Between 2001 and 2011, the number of nonprofits increased 25 percent. Their growth rate now exceeds that of both the business and government sectors. It’s a massive business, with approximately $316 billion given away in 2012 in the United States alone and more than 9.4 million employed... As more lives and communities are destroyed by the system that creates vast amounts of wealth for the few, the more heroic it sounds to 'give back.' It’s what I would call 'conscience laundering' — feeling better about accumulating more than any one person could possibly need to live on by sprinkling a little around as an act of charity. But this just keeps the existing structure of inequality in place..." - Peter Buffet (Warren Buffet's son), Chairman NoVo Foundation
Peter Buffet in his scathing New York Times OpEd attack on the "charitable-industrial complex" leaves out the grassroot activism on this front that has been ongoing for years. Buffet in the OpEd though pleads guilty to being a naive foundation head and so his familiarity with the ongoing internal revolution within the nonprofit world is understandable, as he puts it, "I noticed that a donor had the urge to 'save the day' in some fashion. People (including me) who had very little knowledge of a particular place would think that they could solve a local problem. Whether it involved farming methods, education practices, job training or business development, over and over I would hear people discuss transplanting what worked in one setting directly into another with little regard for culture, geography or societal norms."
His comments echo almost verbatim the fiery rallying cry in the 2007 anthology The Revolution Will Not Be Funded: Beyond the Non-Profit Industrial Complex, edited by the INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence collective, "What has happened to the great civil rights and black power movements of the 1960s and 1970s? Where are the mass movements of today within this country? The short answer: They got funded. Social justice groups and organizations have become limited as they’ve been incorporated into the nonprofit model."
Forbes and Matthew Bishop the US Business Editor at The Economist were quick to jump to the defense of the so-called nonprofit industrial complex. Bishop writes in defense of investment managers, "Take Mr Buffett’s own father for example, one of those investment managers: what have any of his investments done to create the sort of problems philanthropists are trying to solve? (Okay – maybe his investing in CocaCola has contributed to the obesity epidemic.) Likewise, his partner in doing good, Bill Gates: it is hard to see how anything he has done, or indeed what any other philanthropist today has done, has contributed to, say, all those children dying from malaria that he is trying to save."
Are you serious Mr. Bishop? Bill Gates is at the center of a controversy where he is building a biotech lab in Nigeria while African nations are resisting the onslaught of biotech by turning instead to regionalized sustainable farming solutions. Coca-Cola is accused of using death squads to topple unions at their foreign bottling plants. SmartMeme was personally involved for years working on the communications campaign for groups fighting but one of Warren Buffet's 'bad investments' - Pacific Power the owner of the Klamath River Dams. Thanks to years of activism on the part of tribes, the fishing and tourism industries, and environmentalists (and even Peter Buffet's own advocacy) Warren Buffet divested. The Klamath River Dam removal will become the largest dam removal in US history.
Peter Buffet ends his rant in the OpEd with a plea, "It’s an old story; we really need a new one." So what is the solution? Where should he start?
The first place to begin would be to shift funding towards those groups that are working on a piece of that "new story" through systemic change of the "old story". Here are three suggestions, and we're sure other folks can think of many many more...
- Fund those few nonprofits that are actually working on fighting the "causes" of cancers, instead of dumping billions of charity onto those looking only for a "cure", at least balance it out. For example there is the Breast Cancer Fund and their Safe Cosmetics Campaign fighting to expose and remove toxic chemicals from everyday personal care products.
- Fund those few nonprofits that are actually working on real transportation solutions instead of those big city associations whose idea to solving transportation problems is the same way they solve a weight problem, by buying a bigger pant's size. For example there is the the Alliance for Biking & Walking which is a national network of grassroot transportation groups doing amazing work to transform communities by creating things like 'safe routes to schools' against incredible odds.
- Fund those few nonprofits and grassroot groups that are actually working on 'solving' the hunger crisis, and not via biotechnology (like Bill Gates) where the rich nations feed the poor, forever. For example there is the network of grassroot groups within the US Food Sovereignty Alliance working on solving the hunger crisis through regionalized sustainable farming solutions where "the world can feed everyone, instead of the few feeding the world."