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Small Change: Why Business Won't Save the World Paperback – January 11, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Michael Edwards is an independent writer and activist who is affiliated with the New York-based think-tank Demos, the Wagner School of Public Service at New York University, and the Brooks World Poverty Institute at Manchester University in the UK. From 1999 to 2008 he was Director of the Ford Foundation’s Governance and Civil Society Program, and previously worked for the World Bank, OxFam, and Save the Children.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 120 pages
  • Publisher: Berrett-Koehler Publishers (January 11, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1605093777
  • ISBN-13: 978-1605093772
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.4 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,252,320 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Michael Edwards is widely recognized as one of the world's leading authorities on civil society, philanthropy, and social change. For the past thirty years, he has worked to strengthen the contributions of ordinary citizens to their communities as a grant giver, writer, advocate, organizer, and activist across five continents, and has lived and worked in Zambia, Malawi, Colombia, India, the UK, and the United States. Michael graduated from Oxford University with a "congratulatory" first-class honors degree in geography, and was awarded a Ph.D. by the University of London for his work on housing the urban poor in Latin America. Dissatisfied with academic research, he entered the world of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in 1982 and spent the next fifteen years as a senior manager in international relief and development NGOs, including Oxfam GB, Save the Children UK, the Prasad Foundation, and Voluntary Service Overseas. During this time, Michael became known for his innovative thinking about NGOs and development, and in 1998 he was invited to join the World Bank in Washington, D.C., as a senior adviser on civil society, where he led a program to improve the agency's engagement with a wide range of nongovernmental groups. Two years later, he was appointed as director of the Ford Foundation's Governance and Civil Society Program in New York, overseeing grants totaling more than $900 million between 1999 and 2008, when he left to become a Distinguished Senior Fellow at Demos, a Network for Ideas and Action, in New York; a senior visiting scholar at New York University's Wagner School of Public Service; and a senior visiting fellow at the Brooks World Poverty Institute at Manchester University in the UK. Michael also cofounded the Seasons Fund for Social Transformation, which makes grants to voluntary organizations that combine their work for social justice with spiritual principles. Michael is the author of thirteen books and hundreds of articles and op-ed pieces, and his writings have changed the way we think about voluntary action and the transformation of society. He writes regularly for openDemocracy, the Financial Times, the Chronicle of Philanthropy, and many other newspapers and magazines, and is a featured speaker at literary festivals and other events around the world. He lives with his wife, Cora, a nonprofit-fund-raising consultant who also teaches at New York University, in Swan Lake, a small community in the foothills of the Catskill Mountains of New York, where they have painstakingly rebuilt and renovated one of the first houses built by settlers who arrived in the 1830s to establish a tanning industry in Sullivan County. You can visit Michael's Web site at

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Mal Warwick on February 15, 2010
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Small Change should be required reading for every foundation board member and program officer, every major donor -- in fact, philanthropists of any description. In this tiny volume, Michael Edwards lays bare the fatal flaws in the philanthropic world in America today and offers a prescription for healing the field that could play a major role in putting our country back on track to leading with its values.

Oddly enough, Edwards did not set out to write a critique of American philanthropy. The book is subtitled Why Business Won't Save the World, and the author's stated objective was to debate the dubious claims of the "philanthrocapitalism" espoused by The Economist's Michael Bishop and others, the "creative capitalism" offered by Bill Gates, the "fortune at the bottom of the pyramid" of C. K. Prahalad, "corporate social responsibility" of the window-dressing variety, and "social enterprise" in virtually all its guises. His goal, in short, was to reject the role of business, business thinking, and the market as solutions for the ills of the nonprofit sector.

Michael Edwards is brilliant, articulate, and extremely knowledgeable about philanthropy, civil society, and social change, all of which are major themes in this book. For nearly ten years, he directed the Ford Foundation's Governance and Civil Society Program, and he has spent a total of three decades in the nonprofit sector. On matters involving business he is less sure-footed. In the course of writing this book, he conducted extensive research on the role of business and business thinking in the not-for-profit world. That research shows clearly in Edwards' eloquent critique of philanthropy that either comes directly from corporate sources or is guided by the metrics-driven methodologies of the business world.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Dr. J on September 1, 2010
Format: Kindle Edition
Small Change is part reasoned analysis of the current state of global philanthropy and part smackdown, a decisive defeat of the philanthrocapitalist movement, the organized efforts of those who promote business solutions to social and moral problems. Although one must be impressed with the clarity and concision of his argument, Edwards is most impressive at lifting the curtain on the wizards of philanthrocapitalism and revealing them to be not wizards at all, and certainly not world saviors, but rather usurpers of territory (the nonprofit arena) that others have long cultivated.

Edwards is an adherent of the "social change from the bottom up" view of things. It is little wonder that he would object to the perception of billionaires as world saviors. But he goes beyond carping to offering a devastating critique of the position that business always knows best. The phrase "small change" is emblematic of this critique and expresses Edwards' position. In view of the massive challenges facing the world, and when considered in light of the long history of human betterment brought about by both governments and average citizens, Edwards maintains, the efforts of philanthrocapitalists are "small change," that is, "limited advances in society as it is."

Edwards employs another phrase throughout the book that also helps to understand his position. "The difference that makes the difference." This is not gobbledygook but rather the expression of a view that civil society and the market (what others have called gifts and commerce) operate according to different logics. The one operates on the basis of cooperation, sacrifice, and collective action; the other on competition, self-interest, and individualism.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Hazel Henderson on April 19, 2010
Format: Paperback
Michael Edwards gives us a much-needed reality check on the rhetoric, performance and potential of the efforts of many to reform markets and make them serve new social purposes.

While giving credit where it's due to all the well-motivated efforts of socially responsible investors, social venturers, philanthro-capitalists, social enterprises, Edwards points to all the often-downplayed tensions and contradictions in these now fashionable activities. He points to the problem of business people trying to reform citizens organizations and imposing business practices and metrics quite at odds with their social goals and performance.

As an early citizen organizer (of the environmental group Citizens for Clean Air in New York City in the 1960s), I personally experienced such misguided efforts by well-meaning management consultants and aspiring politicians and lawyers who all identified with our goals of cleaning up New York City's air. However, few of them understood the challenges of working with an all-volunteer organization - or our radical agenda of joining up with Ralph Nader in the Campaign to Make General Motors Responsible.

Similar conflicts described in Small Change show how little these social dynamics have changed. Edwards is rightly suspicious of the metrics borrowed from accountants to measure performance of civic groups working for social justice, empowering disadvantaged groups, let alone trying to change social structures that perpetuate poverty and social exclusion. For example, today's crisis-prone global financial casino generates poverty, inequality and is the flywheel of social and ecosystems destruction. Yet entrenched interests, lobbying and campaign funds still prevent the US Congress from reforms and will no doubt lead to the next crisis.
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