Philanthrocapitalism: How Giving Can Save the World

July 29, 2010

I’ve been eager to read Philanthrocapitalism: How Giving Can Save the World by Matthew Bishop and Michael Green for some time now; the book has always intrigued me and of late it has been often cited as the antithesis of Michael Edwards’ recent book Small Change: Why Business Won’t Save the World (recently reviewed here).   In short, Philanthrocapitalism struck me as a very well written account of everything that is going on in the social sector, from the past four golden ages of philanthropy to the various contemporary attempts to solve social issues.  Bishop and Green endorse the social business concept, which is what draws the comparison with Michael Edwards’ book; however, I would argue that a book like Capitalism at the Crossroads by Stuart Hart is a better contrast (see review here).  Still, Philanthrocapitalism is perhaps the best account of the current philanthropy landscape.

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I’ve often lamented that despite my deep interest in the social sector, I’m continually learning about organizations, charities and businesses that have accomplished spectacular things without me even being aware.  I’ve also complained that I had yet to find a succinct description of all the major players in philanthropy and how they compared to each other.   Well, I’ve finally found a book that laid out all the facts for me and gave me insight into several foundations and charities.  Philanthrocapitalism opens with an account of past philanthropic movements, including the support of artists during the Renaissance and Victorian eras as well as the work of more recent philanthropists, Carnegie and Rockefeller.  Each ‘age’ of philanthropy coincided with a period of economic surplus for the world’s richest.  Despite the recent recession, the world’s richest are still extremely wealthy and it is up to them to drive modern philanthropy.  After profiling historical philanthropic activities, much of the book tracks those of the likes of Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, George Soros, Bono, Pierre Omidyar, Jeff Skoll, Oprah Winfrey, Eli Broad, Sergey Brin, Larry Page, Bill Clinton and many many more.  For anyone interested in a recent account of today’s leaders in philanthropy, this is the perfect book.

As always, I have a critique; I take issue with this book in that it stopped short of being an inspirational work that pushed readers to take action themselves.  While the book did point out ways readers could involve themselves in the movement, it was mostly a factual account of the unique and interesting ways wealthy people have attacked problems and the great need that still exists.  In other words, it read more like a history book than a call to arms.  Still, I think the book is a must read for anyone who works in the social sector and isn’t intimately knowledgeable of all the various foundations and charities that exist.

- Bryan

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