Backing Those Who Target Roots of Global Woes
Amanda Paulson writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor
With a falling economy and lengthening lines at food pantries, traditional relief charities such as soup kitchens and shelters will be highly visible this holiday season.
But the most effective use of a donated dollar, suggest some philanthropy experts, may be by organizations whose effects are more difficult to measure in the short term. Often called social-change or social-justice philanthropy, such giving is directed at organizations that address the root causes of a problem.
"We understand, in times of crisis, the need for services and ways to help people take care of their lives," says Ellen Gurzinsky, director of the Funding Exchange, a network of community funds that focus on what it calls "change, not charity." "But if we keep doing that and don't get to the root causes, then we'll keep having the same problems."
Take the battered-women movement. There's a need for shelters in the short term, she says, but the Funding Exchange would more likely support groups that organize for changes in the law or work for women's economic justice, recognizing that with economic freedom, women have more options to take care of themselves.
Like Ms. Gurzinsky, most advocates of social-change philanthropy don't suggest it's the only way to give - simply that it's too often overlooked and, in the long run, may be more effective.
Currently, less than 4 percent of philanthropy goes to "community improvement," says Rick Cohen, president of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy. Only 1.4 percent goes to civil rights and social change.
For the Global Fund for Women, which focuses on issues such as poverty, discrimination, and lack of education for women around the world, addressing root causes means funding a variety of small grass- roots organizations run by women.
Its grants support night classes for domestic workers in Mali, peace-building coalitions between a Palestinian and an Israeli women's center, and a group called the Afghan Institute of Learning, which developed clandestine schools for girls who lived under Taliban rule.
"We understand that women on the ground know best how to solve their own problems," says Leanne Grossman, a spokeswoman for the fund.
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