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The Problem-Solver

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Let’s start with a Thanksgiving joke.

Then I’ll tell you about the downside of philanthropy.

    Donald: Why did the turkey cross the road?

    Melania: I don’t know.

    Donald: It was Thanksgiving Day, and he wanted people to think he was a chicken!



Now for today’s Problem – the Downside of Philanthropy

Q. Thanksgiving is a time of compassion and generosity. How can there be anything wrong with giving to the needy?”

A. Most of us are intuitively drawn to the idea of giving of ourselves to serve others. Unfortunately many do not even know where to begin. We often assume that one must be rich, powerful, or have access to great influence to make a difference. Those who believe this are misguided and not only do the world a disservice but themselves as well. The truth is that though a nice charitable donation can certainly make a great difference that donation can do little if there aren’t individuals to put it into action.

 It all depends on the giver’s motivation and the end result of that giving. As they say “…many the road to hell, is paved with good intentions!’ Let’s talk about the “Downside to Philanthropy.” I’m not being a Scrooge here. I’m just telling you the truth, or at least the facts.


The noble trickster philosopher, stand-up comedian,  and poet, Lord Buckley is known to have said that if you live in the material world, the devil is your agent, and gets a 25% cut of everything.

This idea illustrates the problem with many types of philanthropy. In this case, the 25% arises from the fact that some forms of charity are designed to serve the giver more than the receiver and may maintain the cause of the receivers plight and at times makes it even worse. This issue has been explored extensively by Anand Giridharadas a former columnist for The New York Times. In his 2018, book Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World Giridharadas argues that members of the global elite, though sometimes engaged in philanthropy, use their wealth and influence to preserve systems that concentrate wealth at the top at the expense of societal progress. The Noble Prize Winning economist Joseph Stiglitz praised the book, writing about Giridharadas view of much philanthropy “… ultimately he (presents Giridharadas) a devastating portrait of a whole class, one easier to satirize than to reform.”  Giridharadas spent time with many tech entrepreneurs and affluent elites who claim they want to change the world. But in his book, Giridharadas writes that their market-based mantras only maintain inequalities.

One of the most articulate thinkers concerning the darker side of philanthropy is the writer Anand Giridharadas.  In 2018, Giridharadas published Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World in he which argues that members of the global elite, though sometimes engaged in philanthropy, use their wealth and influence to preserve systems that concentrate wealth at the top at the expense of societal progress. Writing for The New York Times, economist Joseph Stiglitz praised the book, writing that Giridharadas “writes on two levels — seemingly tactful and subtle — but ultimately he presents a devastating portrait of a whole class, one easier to satirize than to reform.”

“Rich people are playing a double game,” Giridharadas says in his book. “On one hand, there’s no question they’re giving away more money than has ever been given away in history. Every young elite graduate wants to change the world and seeks out employers and goes to Africa to volunteer. But I also argue that we have one of the more predatory elites in history, despite that philanthropy, despite that desire to change the world.”

Giridharadas spent time talking with affluent elites. He argues that tech innovators, Internet entrepreneurs, and even wealthy foundation directors tend to fight social problems in a way that doesn’t threaten the people at the top. Many a social activist will argue that all human activity is essentially political and unless you change a dysfunctional system from the top down, either through slow but well-planned evolution, or through an aggressive revolutionary process nothing really changes for without radical change, traditional philanthropy served as a band-aid in the short run but actually feeds and aggravates the very problems that that philanthropy is supposed to alleviate

So, when an Internet entrepreneur comes up with software used by Uber it seems that a great advance has come about for part-time drivers, except most of the profits go to the wealthy. A new app developer may help part-time workers avoid cash shortages but this may short-circuit a process that was already in place to help these same workers to fight for better pay. Anyone doing even basic research soon learns that foundations spend billions of dollars to help people in ways that really just mitigate an unfair economy; meanwhile, the wealthier get larger pieces of the pie and the disadvantaged get a smaller share of that same pie.



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Lewis Harrison is the director of the professional Coaching Training Program at the International Association of Healing Professionals


He is  founder of the RealUGuru Project Think Tank is a life coach, peak performance expert, writer, mentor, content-rich, motivational speaker, and an entrepreneur specializing in problem solving and strategizing  based on game thinking, applied game theory and Game Thinking.

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