Thursday, January 14, 2010


"Social transformation is not a job to be left to market forces or to the whims of billionaires."

Michael Edwards, Small Change

I'm barely into the first chapter and have already harvested a handful of pithy denunciations of philanthrocapitalism. I'm embarrassed to say that each verbal scud inspires a giggle.

Edwards is pissed off but wants to come off reasonable -- at Gates, the Clinton Global Initiative, social enterprise, business, etc. He talks in mighty-big terms -- about "social transformation"and alike that would probably be off-putting to the little community foundation investing in civil society efforts on the ground. I suspect they would feel hammered by big foundation talk about the battle for the soul of philanthropy.

"...[M]aybe community organizers should go work for Lehmann Brothers...Come to think of it, that's not such a bad idea: It might have saved us from the colossal mismanagement and risk-taking by banks and hedge funds..."

I guess Michael missed the ACORN saga, at least the mismanagement part.

As usual, provocative reading.


Michael Edwards said...

tks for the mention Bob, but the last sentence is unworthy of you, unless you believe a few individuals at the top of ACORN are representative of millions of commuity organizers and other activists around the world. Perhaps it's time to get the ACORN story into some perspective? You can start here:

Bob Giloth said...

Maybe so. I felt some regret as I wrote it. But it does seem to me that we collectively need to recognize that nonprofits of all sorts are not always great managers.

ACORN was certainly targeted -- and unfairly. Yet they also mismanaged. Suggesting that community organizers can better manage the financial services sector is a bit odd.

Michael Edwards said...

well I certainly recognize that! But the same can be said of business too, as we've seen to devastating effect over the last 12months. Both points demonstrate that "good management" is not a property of one sector of society but something that needs to be developed across all our institutions, drawing from all their different management traditions. And in that sense, yes, I do think business could learn a thing or two from community organizers - how to engender authentic participation, for example, and manage through less hierarchical structures. After all, ACORN was not targeted because of the stupid screw-ups of some of its leaders, it was targeted because it mobilizes large numbers of low-income people to take action in defence of their rights. And that's still very scary to many.

Bob Giloth said...

Good point. But some of the mismanagement started before the worst of the targeting -- afew years back. I do think business could learn from community organizers, although not how to manage. That said, I've found it ironic that the career paths of some organizers have led them into business and other powerful institutions -- to use their skills in not-always helpful ways for the communities they once served. I remember in the 1970s the debates about the "manipulative" elements of some forms of community organizing -- in which organizers engineered rather than facilitated focus and direction. Such skills, I suspect, have a market.

Michael Edwards said...