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Just Another Emperor? The Myths and Realities of Philanthrocapitalism Perfect Paperback – April 5, 2008

5.0 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"In this important and insightful book, Michael Edwards lays bare the mythologies surrounding philanthropy and shows it to be exactly what it is--an essential part of our capitalist system, with all the flaws and foibles found elsewhere--good at what it does best but bad at what it's sometimes expected to do. Anyone who wants the truth of philanthropy in America should read this book." --Robert B. Reich, Professor of Public Policy, University of California at Berkeley

About the Author

Michael Edwards is a widely respected author of books and articles on civil society, including Civil Society and Future Positive: International Cooperation in the 21st Century, which was nominated for the Chadwick Alger Prize for best book on international affairs. Dr. Edwards is currently the director of the Governance and Civil Society Program at the Ford Foundation, though he has written "Just Another Emperor?" in his personal capacity. From 1998-1999, he was the Senior Civil Society Specialist at the World Bank. Prior to that, he spent fifteen years as a manager in international relief and development NGO's, including Oxfam-UK and Save the Children-UK.

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Product Details

  • Perfect Paperback: 106 pages
  • Publisher: Demos: A Network for Ideas & Action; 1st edition (April 5, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0981615112
  • ISBN-13: 978-0981615110
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.3 x 0.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,290,828 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Perfect Paperback
The increasingly popular brand of philanthrocapitalism promulgated by everyone from Microsoft founder Bill Gates and ex-U.S. President Bill Clinton to the rock star Bono "is the product of a particular era of industrial change that has brought about temporary monopolies in the systems required to operate the knowledge economy, often controlled by individuals who are able to accumulate spectacular amounts of wealth. That same era has produced great inequalities and social dislocations, and past experience suggests that such wealth will be politically unsustainable unless much of it is given away, just as in earlier decades when Ford, Rockefeller and Carnegie found themselves in much the same situation," writes Michael Edwards, in this long overdue, provocative manifesto. He makes an incredibly intelligent and compelling case for the urgent need to engage across the global philanthropic community in a dialogue "less dominated by hype, more critical and...open to evidence and dissenting voices," learning and systemic change. "Civil society works best when its ecosystems are healthy and diverse, yet we know from the limited amount of research available that these ecosystems have been eroded over the last 50 years. Diversity is declining as norms of good practice converge around a certain vision of professionalism; distance is increasing between intermediary advocacy groups and NGOs, and the constituencies on whose behalf they are supposed to work; older associations that used to bring citizens together across the lines of class, geography and (less so) race are disappearing, and groups built around single issues or identities are growing..." In the process of offering a well researched situation analysis, Edwards also provides a detailed road map and agenda. "...What we...Read more ›
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This is a short, yet powerful, read in which author Michael Edwards presents some compelling challenges to the current trend known by names such as "social entrepreneurship," "venture philanthropy," "social enterprise" and even "corporate social responsibility." (I'm especially skeptical of this last term, as it seems an oxymoron to me.) Edwards calls all of these arrangements "philanthro-capitalism," by which he hopes to convey the hybrid nature of organizations and projects that purport to invest philanthropic dollars to provide social goods by generating profit.

While it's true that international aid and the organizations that control it (the World Bank, the IMF) have not been wildly successful, it seems to me a big jump to claim that wide-scale development can be accomplished by setting the world's poor up in business. Edwards makes the case for stepping back a bit and fully analyzing the impacts, especially the long-term ones, that philanthrocapitalism is having, and is likely to have, on the way we understand and manage economic and social policy. His caution makes good sense.

That's not to say that for-profit social ventures haven't been a positive force. Some certainly have, particularly those that are created by offering micro-credit to individuals and communities through institutions such as the Grameen Bank and more recently Kiva. But Edwards' encouragement to look deeply at these hybrids before fully embracing them as the best approach is welcome, and should give pause to those making broad claims for capitalism as a solver of a very complex set of problems.
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For practionares of social justice work, it can feel as if we are trapped within the paradox of the relationship between philanthropy/foundation-funding and the non-profit world of NGO work. Edwards does a fantastic job of breaking the reality down into tangible segments, highlighting the inherent consequences of such a relationship as well as suggesting viable alternatives going forward. A short and easy to read yet powerful book.
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