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The New Noblesse Oblige

Philanthrocapitalism: How the Rich Can Save the World by Matthew Bishop & Michael Green

Philanthrocapitalism: How the Rich Can Save the World

Mattew Bishop & Michael Green

304 pages, Bloomsbury Press, 2008

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You might know Matthew Bishop, American business editor of The Economist, as the author of that magazine’s dazzling 2006 cover story, “Billanthropy”—an account of Bill Gates’s and Warren Buffett’s historic charitable initiatives.

Bishop now pairs with Michael Green, an expert on the relationship between government and the nongovernmental sector, to offer Philanthrocapitalism: How the Rich Can Save the World—an extraordinarily timely, comprehensive, and reader-friendly collection of information and insights about the state of philanthropy today.

Bishop and Green’s two years of intense research included interviews with today’s star players in philanthropy—and they lace the book with quotes from Bill Gates, Ted Turner, Bill Clinton, George Soros, Pierre Omidyar, Michael Bloomberg, Sir Richard Branson, David Rockefeller, and many others. One of my favorite quotes is by Soros: “I indulge in political philanthropy. I try to use my money to influence how governments spend money.” The authors also interviewed philanthropy practitioners distinguished not only by their wealth and position, but also by the roles they use to revolutionize the patterns in which philanthropic dollars are given, raised, and deployed so as to have the greatest impact.

These practitioners include Christopher Cooper-Hohn, founder of the London-based Children’s Investment Fund Management (TCI), who gives to his Children’s Investment Fund Foundation one-third of TCI’s annual management fee plus half of every percentage point of profit the fund earns each year (above a minimum return of 11 percent net of fees). The foundation focuses on African children in need. There is also the Rockefeller Foundation’s Judith Rodin, who strives to bring her 20th-century foundation into the 21st century, and Eli Broad, whose Broad Foundation is among the largest foundations focusing on efforts to improve urban public education.

There are venture capitalists turned venture philanthropists, such as Mario Morino, who have not only poured their own wealth into solving social problems in new ways but also recruited others to join them in ponying up millions to provide opportunities for young people in need; mainline investment bankers like Goldman Sachs’s Chuck Harris, who create pools of charitable dollars to provide growth capital for well-run nonprofits with potential to extend their reach; and even celebrities like Diddy, Bono, and Angelina Jolie, who not only offer their wealth and name to causes but also hit the trenches work directly with the beneficiaries of their efforts.

Bishop and Green touch on practically everything of consequence happening today in the world of philanthropy. The only notable things they missed were the ever-growing role of community foundations everywhere, and how the suddenly increasing number of non-perpetual foundations has stimulated the growth of venture philanthropy and high-engagement giving. Happily, they always make this dense information digestible, using straightforward and humorous prose, fresh insights, and balanced reporting. Examples of the latter: Although they clearly look favorably on “philanthrocapitalism”—which they define as applying the skills of moneymaking to the philanthropic enterprise—they note its cons, too. And they set the philanthropic record straight when it comes to Andrew Carnegie, who deserves credit for today’s social entrepreneurship, venture philanthropy, high-engagement grantmaking, and strategic philanthropy, all of which he practiced and preached 120 years ago.

The short of it is, I plan to make this book required reading for students in my 2009 spring term course on philanthropy, voluntarism, and nonprofit law and management at Duke University. No other book on charitable giving and the world’s rapidly evolving social sector comes close to its rich trove of insights and relevant data about the many new currents in the flow of donations from the wealthy to the world’s needy. The book will fascinate and inspire anyone who reads it.


Joel Fleishman is professor of law and public policy studies at Duke University. He is the author of The Foundation: A Great American Secret—How Private Money Is Changing the World, and he served as co-chair of Independent Sector’s Committee on the Self- Regulation of Nonprofit Organizations.

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COMMENTS

  • BY Marie Beichert

    ON July 23, 2009 05:32 PM

    Excellent review on an thought-provoking tome. With thirty years in the nonprofit sector, I’ve finally completely embraced this paradigm shift in metrics-based funding derived from a netroots generation. If your organization isn’t conducting cost-benefit analysis or capturing detailed data on your impact, shame on you. I do, however, question the lop-sided emphasis on global projects. Certainly seems to me the easy return on investment. Domestic issues are still here and we could use more definable progress like the results of Gates Foundation New York schools funding described in this book.

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