Sunday, May 31, 2009

The hidden costs of 'Consumption Philanthropy'



An amazing article from the Stanford Center for Social Innovation.  Small excerpt:


"I do my main charity work once a week—at the grocery store. Like some of you, this week I bought organic yogurt that not only is healthier for my family and the Earth, but also supports nonprofit environmental and educational organizations. I also picked up snack bars that promote peace (no kidding!) and salad dressing that funds various (unnamed) charities across the country. For all of this hard work, I rewarded myself with some Endangered Species Chocolate, which helps “support species, habitat, and humanity,” according to the company’s Web site. Delicious.


Consuming more will not solve today’s social and environmental problems. Indeed, consumption may very well create more of the kinds of problems that we had hoped philanthropy would fix. Relying on individual consumer choices, consumption philanthropy is unsuited to the scale or complexity of the problems it seeks to fix. Couched in market transactions, it neither acknowledges the voice of the transactions’ beneficiaries nor gives philanthropists the satisfaction of mindful virtuous action. And caught in the mechanisms of the market, it obscures the fact that the market caused many of the problems that philanthropy seeks to redress."


To some extent, this is why I love the idea of going to Central Park and handing out cookies / lemonade.  The point is not to actually give people anything material, but to enhance the feeling of connection and build a space in which to cultivate mindful selfless action.  We are all just random people, yet we are all clearly not.

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