Consilience in Philanthropy

I wrote a post for On Philanthropy that appears today. You can read the story here.

Have you ever heard someone say, “We need to get out of our silos and work together”? The silo effect is one of those over used metaphors of the business world, but the issue it raises is real. In short, silo thinking refers to a situation (common in most organizations) where people do not communicate across departments.

In large private foundations, there has long been a silo effect across program and investment staff. But recently, some foundations are trying to overcome this barrier and encourage the two departments to work together.

I believe the key to unlocking the potential of philanthropy is to break out of our silos and embrace consilience. Consilience means “unity of knowledge” (or more literally the “jumping together” of knowledge). The phrase was popularized by famed biologist Edward O. Wilson in his aptly named book Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge. What consilience recognizes is that every field of study captures only a snapshot of reality. While economists might believe that economics is the study of the production, distribution and consumption of goods and services, the fact is economic theory does not actually describe reality until you begin to take into account the biological, psychological, and sociological behaviors of humans. Even then, a broader systems approach is needed to understand how the market affects the environment and human culture, as well as the moral implications of market outcomes.

Today, philanthropy is faced with the coming together of traditional models of giving with market based social good production. While this systems based approach to philanthropy is promising, too often it seems that…

You can read the full article and leave comments at On Philanthropy by clicking here.