Philanthropy in Development: Undermining Democracy?

The word philanthropy dates back to the Greek word φιλανθρωπία, which means the love of humanity. Today the OECD defines private philanthropy as non-official development assistance (ODA) to developing countries. Such assistance can be through large philanthropic foundations such as the Rockefeller or Clinton Foundation, or through ‘direct giving’ platforms such as Global Giving or Kiva. But does what we call philanthropy today deserve its name? Rather than focusing on the actions of specific philanthropic organizations, this piece will assess the impact the rise of philanthropy has on global governance and democracy.

Figure 1: Grants by private agencies and NGOs

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Source: OECD data

As Figure 1 illustrates, there has been a drastic increase in private funding for development over the past four decades, with the growth really picking up in the 2000s. However, these numbers from the OECD are incomplete in many ways, as much philanthropic funding is not reported as such. The Center for Global Prosperity has done more in-depth data collection on philanthropic funding for global development projects, and found that while OECD estimated private grants to be at $31.5 billion in 2011, CGP estimates the amount to be $58.9 billion. In the same year, OECD ODA was approximately $134 billion. Thus, according to the CGP estimates, philanthropy is now equivalent to 44% of ODA.

What is the effect of this rise? While some see philanthrocapitalism as a way for the rich to save the world, others criticize it for being a way for corporations and rich individuals to divert attention from the unequal outcomes that the current global economic system generates. Before assessing the effects of philanthropy on global democracy and development discourse, let me briefly touch on some of the main issues philanthropic foundations deal with in practice.

Read more at Developing Economics.

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