Sunday, July 28, 2013

Worthy Reading from Warren Buffet's Son

And you'd think he would know as he explains in this op-ed.  He doesn't just take on philanthropic giving and investing - he takes on capitalism.  (Bold mine)

Early on in our philanthropic journey, my wife and I became aware of something I started to call Philanthropic Colonialism. 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. 

Inside any important philanthropy meeting, you witness heads of state meeting with investment managers and corporate leaders. All are searching for answers with their right hand to problems that others in the room have created with their left. There are plenty of statistics that tell us that inequality is continually rising. At the same time, according to the Urban Institute, the nonprofit sector has been steadily growing. 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.  

What we have is a crisis of imagination. Albert Einstein said that you cannot solve a problem with the same mind-set that created it. Foundation dollars should be the best “risk capital” out there. 

Is progress really Wi-Fi on every street corner? No. It’s when no 13-year-old girl on the planet gets sold for sex. But as long as most folks are patting themselves on the back for charitable acts, we’ve got a perpetual poverty machine. 

It’s an old story; we really need a new one. 

Bill, are you listening or are you still stuck in the echo chamber you helped create?

(Thanks to GB for noting this for us.)


Unknown said...

This is an absolutely astonishing read. I am surprised there are not more comments.

If all of us moaning about the battle with the ed reformers would get our ducks lined up in a row, we would invite him out here to speak and perhaps arrange a coffee klatch with the members of social venture partners and other billionaire do-gooders.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Mary, I think you could do that. I could not simply because they wouldn't come. I'm an untouchable (or rather, an unacknowledgable) so they would not respond.

You should try, though.

Unknown said...

Well, I'll work on that but I'll not guarantee any results. It's worth on a try.

Unknown said...

The best line is the one from Einstein about not being able to solve a problem with the mindset that created it. It describes the inability to get much traction with any kind of significant change down at JSCEE. It can't change for the better until someone changes the mindset. The dysfunction is not just some minor bug that can be fixed with a few tweaks. It's endemic to the system; dysfunction is its core product. Even the best intentioned people cannot solve the problems so long as they inhabit the mindset that creates them.

Similarly, the Philanthropic or Social Entrepreneurship model that Buffet buffets here is, as he points out, more a symptom of the problem than any means for its solution. TFA is a good example of an organization produced out of that mindset, And to anyone infected by that mindset, which is everyone who feels comfortable in the market-centered ethos of the last thirty years, it seems like such a great idea. Who could be against it? It's so, it's so . . . you know, zeitgeisty! So idealistic!

Well, no it isn't. It takes the idealism of kids who often don't know any better and channels it for purposes that have little to do with their ideals. Their idealism is being exploited for ignoble purposes because the purpose of those who run these organizations is to do well behind a facade of doing good. That makes such organizations more a part of the problem than of the solution. But that's something you can see only if you stand outside the mindset.

Social Entrepreneurism and its cousin Philanthropic Colonialism are just putting a smiley face on a system that must necessarily produce greater levels structural inequity. It's refreshing that a guy like Buffet sees past the facade and understands that.