Letter from the Director
Andrew Hahn, PhD '78
Professor and Director
The Sillerman Center for the Advancement of Philanthropy
Does Philanthropy Represent a New Colonialism?
If you are new to philanthropy - and I don’t mean just by dropping a few coins in a cup - then you'll find a New York Times opinion piece of special interest. I'm thinking about the op-ed recently penned by Peter Buffett, son of - that's right - Warren Buffett. Peter Buffett’s article was so provocative that the Chronicle of Philanthropy created a special section to print opposing views from the field. Numerous commentators have jumped in and are publishing a multitude of opinions focusing on one or another of Buffett’s points.
Shooting from the hip, Buffett #2 draws on his early experience in philanthropy – not to mention unlimited access to power centers – and puts out the radical idea that colonialism and grantmaking have much in common. Wow, he certainly isn’t mincing words. Of course it is not new to note that power imbalance, conflict and inequality can be exacerbated by foundations and donors with the best of intentions. Buffett reminds us of the arrogance of some funders and sadly the widespread ignorance among grantmakers about local conditions and cultural values. Buffett warns that with the rapid growth of the nonprofit sector, more attention must be focused on strategies that link philanthropy and nonprofits in healthy ways. The Sillerman Center also grapples with these issues through our work with students, foundation staff, and various philanthropy “infrastructure” groups.
An interesting point made by Buffett is that foundations often use as “cover” their work with intermediaries – nonprofit groups who do re-granting for the major funders. A case study underway at the Sillerman Center focuses on a DC group called Praxis. The study is mining lessons about re-granting, intermediary work and similar strategies, looking at both pros and cons.
I don’t know that this challenge rises to a new kind of colonialism but utilizing strategic grantmaking practices and balancing these with an appreciation for what community groups can and can’t do with limited resources is key. Buffett is essentially making the case for democratizing philanthropy. This is certainly an important part of the mission of the Sillerman Center. Our tactics range from providing students with internships, researching student attitude change from taking philanthropy courses, teaching Brandeis students how to be philanthropists in curriculum our Center developed, to our Huffington Post Blogs including a recent one about Giving Circles, to promoting philanthropy through our Generous U competition for college students to encourage student philanthropy.
Thanks for logging on and following our work. Some exciting new additions to the Sillerman Center include Margaret McKenna who will be a Visiting Professor of the Practice at the Center this academic year and Melissa Nemon, Senior Research Associate. McKenna has been the president of one of the largest corporate foundations in the USA, the Walmart Foundation, as well as the former president of Lesley University in Cambridge, MA. She will help us better understand corporate philanthropy and help set some new directions for the Center. We also welcome a new senior researcher, Melissa Nemon, PhD, to the regular staff of the Center to deepen the Center’s research portfolio, expanding our capability to develop knowledge to advance social justice philanthropy and she will also teach both the undergraduate and graduate philanthropy courses.
Andrew Hahn PhD '78
Professor and Director, The Sillerman Center