Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Charity That Changes Society

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Charity That Changes Society

Article excerpt

Charity clearly comes naturally to Americans, who generously gave away $175 billion last year.

But does charity work?

For all the good it does, the answer is that traditional philanthropy, unfortunately, reinforces what is instead of working toward what could be.

Of that $175 billion in American philanthropy last year, only 13 percent of it went directly to public benefit and human-services programs. And only 2 to 4 percent of money given away went to support social-change efforts.

The lion's share went to churches, the arts, elite private colleges and universities, and hospitals.

And even when money was given to support services, such as soup kitchens and homeless shelters, the root causes remained unchanged.

Too often, charity goes to the immediate relief of symptoms of social and economic problems. This is why charitable efforts often fail to achieve lasting solutions. And even if all charitable giving doubled, it still wouldn't meet the immediate demand for basic needs such as food, clothing, and shelter in the US.

We are all distressed to see people homeless in the streets. Our impulse may be to thrust a dollar bill into the hand of a homeless person, or after we get home, to send a check to a local shelter.

But there is a growing movement of people who believe that while charity may be a good thing, change is better. They ask: Why are people homeless?

These people give to organizations working to create affordable housing, or to groups organizing for a living wage so people can afford the housing that is available.

They give money to promote social change.

But what exactly is social change?

In numerous ways, we have all benefited from social change.

Did you have an enjoyable weekend? Thank the labor movement, the folks who brought us the eight-hour day and the weekend.

Have you voted recently? Thank the women's suffrage and African- American civil rights movements for opening up our democracy to all citizens.

Happy that your salad is free of DDT? Thank the United Farm Workers, whose union contract specified DDT's original ban.

Not only have we benefited in these direct ways, but social change movements have shifted the public discourse and public awareness of many critical concerns. For example:

Twenty years ago, most domestic violence was hidden away and treated as a private concern. Today it is a recognized crime. While women are still battered, the need for battered women's shelters and services is now a given.

Twenty years ago Love Canal and hazardous waste, Three Mile Island and nuclear power became household words. By the end of the 1980s hazardous-waste policy was moving away from the traditional format of pollution control to pollution prevention.

Today, consumers ask GAP and Starbucks for explanations of how they treat the workers who make their jeans and harvest the coffee beans, signifying a profound shift in Americans' understanding of global human rights. …

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