Philanthropic Innovation

Alex Steffen of World Changing wrote a post a few weeks ago called The Future of Philanthropy: Innovation, Networks, Thought Leaders and the Fringe:

Good philanthropy, it seems to me, funds innovation that would otherwise never emerge, and supports action where none would otherwise be taken.

Not all good works require philanthropic support. Some are the proper role of governments. Some can be provided through businesses, or social-benefit organizations run like businesses. Some can be produced through commons-based peer production. The majority require no organization or planning at all: they are simply the things good people do for other people in the course of daily life — watching their kids, sharing food with them, listening to them when they are in distress, sharing an idea or a story with them. The vast majority of the work that keeps our societies together is not underwritten by philanthropists.

That said, there are certain key tasks which are extremely unlikely to turn a profit (so business won’t support them), not amenable to peer-production, beyond the capacity of average people to do casually in daily life and are too risky or controversial for governments to effectively support. What’s more, we know that as our need for innovation and innovation diffusion increases, these tasks grow more crucial. Indeed, much of the thinking, creativity and communication most needed to solve big planetary problems can only be funded through philanthropic effort, for it requires a combination of public-mindedness, vision and risk-taking found only in the work of great philanthropists (of whatever means).

Alex’s lengthy post discusses how to encourage innovation.

  • Hunting the Fringes
  • Feeding the Network
  • Acknowledging The Elephant of Age
  • Investing in Worldchanging People
  • Finding Our Allies

He ends with this:

Ironically, one of the biggest complaints I’ve heard from the people I’ve been talking with about this stuff over the past year or so is that they don’t have anywhere to go to talk about this stuff.

I encourage you to read the post and the extended comments that follow.