Tuesday, 6 May 2008

He's wearing clothes

A new and thought-provoking book on 'philanthrocapitalism' has been published by Michael Edwards (a grants officer at the Ford Foundation). It's well worth a read, especially since it's free to download.

His main argument is that business thinking can damage civil society. Since, in his view, capitalism is the cause of so much suffering in the world, it can only go so far towards creating a solution to the world's problems. As he sees it, technology and the market cannot change the political and social root causes of poverty and cannot provide deep 'structural change'.

But the evidence to date is that, in the vast majority of cases, it is civil society which has failed to bring about beneficial change. In international development particularly there are barely any examples of outside organisations instigating or promoting social movements which successfully improve the lives of those at the bottom of the pile.

In any case, rigorous evaluation can determine the extent of success or failure of particular projects, including those which seek to empower disadvantaged groups or support social change. Projects should be evaluated against one another without recourse to ideology.

In the final chapter, Edwards calls for greater accountability of donor organisations - a theme which we have returned to many times on this blog. He writes:
[We should] commission independent impact evaluations for any tax exempt activity above a certain size, and publish the results. Require all foundations and social enterprises above a certain size to compile a publicly available summary of all evaluations every five years, and to solicit feedback from grantees and beneficiaries, and independent experts in the field.
I agree that tax-exempt organisations making charitable donations should face legal requirements to at least publish a basic list of the projects they have supported (including the size of the donation), if not evaluations of those projects as well.

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