The Role and Limitations of Philanthropy

Published on 24 March 2023

As different approaches to philanthropy have surfaced and collided, an important debate
has emerged around their relative efficacy. Some commentators see diversity as a continued source of strength, positioning foundations to address the complexity, contingency and negotiated nature of wellbeing. Others see it as a source of waste and misplaced priorities when key barriers to wellbeing could be removed in ten or 20 years, if only sufficient will and resources could be mobilised. Too often, this debate is framed in a way that polarises the ‘old’ as ‘dated’ and the ‘new’ as necessarily ‘more effective’, leading to impassioned but fruitless attempts to prove that one is ‘better’ than the other outside of a particular set of goals, circumstances and evaluative criteria which are themselves contested.

In this paper I argue that this is a serious mistake which displaces attention away from strategies that remain vitally important for wellbeing, and which weakens the synergies that exist between grants and investments in philanthropy, political and economic risk-taking, and social change and social goods. Instead we should recognise that these are complementary avenues for deploying the unique advantages of foundations. The first priority for policy and practice is to prevent these displacement effects by legitimising a continued diversity of approach.

Cite this publication

Edwards, M (2011) 'The Role and Limitations of Philanthropy' The Bellagio Initiative, Brighton: IDS

Citation copied

Publication details

published by
Edwards, Michael


Related content