Creative (and open?) philanthropy

January 14, 2008 § Leave a comment

Over the holidays, Tonya, the boys and I felt a huge debt of gratitude to Helen Carmichael and John Dash who let us use their house while they rode the rails in Wales. This gratitude was in part for the warm and beautiful nest from which we could explore Hackney (loved it soooo much) and enjoy a London Christmas (truly as romantic as it sounds). But we also felt grateful for the ideas and inspiration that inspiration that Helen and John shared through their wonderful collection of books.


Especially notable was Creative Philanthropy (PDF summary) by Helmut Anheier and Diana Leat, which Helen had very kindly left on the bedside table (on purpose, I’m guessing). Released in 2006, this book hit directly on many of the things I’ve been scratching at as I talk about open philanthropy:

  • Most foundations (and even government grant making programs) are stuck in limiting, old fashioned ideas about charity and engineering solutions to social problems.
  • Foundations should be focused more on big picture social change, using their independence to take risks, try new things and shift thinking.
  • Big picture social change requires a focus on innovation, a commitment the spreading good ideas widely and a comfort with complexity.

At some level, much of this is obvious. Yet, there are very few foundations that focus on the kinds of innovation needed for big picture social change … and waaaaaaaay fewer who have transformed their day to day business practices to focus on openness and creativity (or whatever other words you want to use). It’s this focus on this transformation of practice that makes Creative Philanthropy so valuable, and that is at the core of the work I’m doing at the Shuttleworth Foundation.

It’s is always a great gift to find kindred spirits. I feel like I’ve stumbled across a number with Helen, John and the authors of this book. I will definitely look them up when I am through London next. Hopefully, there is a vibrant conversation about creative philanthropy going on that I have yet to discover. My intuition says there is.

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