One of the reasons the field of philanthropy tends to avoid disagreement and debate is that it seems uncouth to criticize someone who is taking a voluntary action in an attempt to help the greater good. But I’ve always felt that debate is one of the most critical elements needed to forge a high impact social sector and avoid the mushy middle ground of good intentions that don’t actually make a difference.
Recently, watching a sitcom of all things, I heard a character utter a line that perfectly captures my view of the role of debate and disagreement in philanthropy.
"Those who do not agree with us are not the enemy, they are the goal."
Philanthropy is all about creating change in the world. If we think about those with whom we disagree as our “goal” instead of our “enemy”, then philanthropic debate becomes a mechanism for inducing change in the world, not something to be avoided.
The emergence of robust, online philanthropic discussions has been an important platform for stirring debate. This process of idea generation, remixing, refining and development may be leading to philanthropy’s own period of rapid innovation. But in order to get there, we need more people to engage in these debates.
If you believe in a future of high impact philanthropy then you need to embrace and encourage debate in our field while always remembering that those who do not agree with you are not the enemy, they are the goal.