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A woman in Mozambique uses an ethanol cookstove supplied by the Novozymes corporation to replace harmful, charcoal-based indoor stoves – and, not coincidentally, to expand its future markets for the ethanol it produces. (Jeffrey Barbee/Jeffrey Barbee)
A woman in Mozambique uses an ethanol cookstove supplied by the Novozymes corporation to replace harmful, charcoal-based indoor stoves – and, not coincidentally, to expand its future markets for the ethanol it produces. (Jeffrey Barbee/Jeffrey Barbee)

Welcome to the next generation of philanthropy Add to ...

This is part of The Globe and Mail's in-depth look at the evolution of philanthropy.

First there was the largesse of the industrial barons, then the big international agencies of the postwar years. Now comes Philanthropy 3.0: On one side are the billions wielded by ‘1 percenters' like Bill Gates and power brokers like Bill Clinton. On the other are countless social enterprises, micro-charities and campaigns via social media. Traditional charities are squeezed in the middle. It's a dramatic change, but can it really improve humanity's dismal record in making the world any less desperate, diseased, dangerous and unfair?

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PORT-AU-PRINCE: Redrawing the map

If you had visited the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince a few years ago, you would have found the mountainside suburbs to its west, where the grand old homes are located, scattered with a few handsome compounds housing the great institutions that had dominated philanthropy since shortly after the Second World War.

At the hilltop was the enclosure of CARE International, down the street from the three houses occupied by Médecins sans frontières (Doctors Without Borders) and a few blocks from the whitewashed buildings of Oxfam. Down the hill were various branches of the Red Cross, and at the foot were Plan, World Hope, Save the Children and the sprawling blocks of United Nations agencies. These fortresses of altruism, humming with air-conditioned SUVs, were more permanent, changeless and bureaucratic than any branch of the impoverished nation's government. And not just in Haiti. Around the world, these were the power centres of giving and helping.

In Port-au-Prince today, you can watch the map of charity being remade. Amid the twisted wreckage of the 2010 earthquake and the tent cities that still fill every available space, the old charity village has turned into something of a metropolis. Those well-heeled old institutions have been joined by at least 2,000 new ones, some even larger and many much smaller, filling tracts of new prefab buildings and providing one of the island's few sources of steady employment.

Hundreds of micro-charities have collected tens of millions through text messages, online donations and Twitter and Facebook campaigns, their offices jammed with new Apple computers, engaging in running behind-the-scenes battles and mutual jealousy with the old agencies.

Many are built on celebrity: Singer Wyclef Jean, who was raising a million dollars a day in mobile-phone donations after the quake, is no longer seen much at his charity's lavish hilltop estate, ever since it was accused of squandering vast sums on video production, personal expenses and a $250,000 carnival float.

Actor Sean Penn's operation, by the refugee camp that was once a golf course, is more securely in place, deploying squadrons of digging machines, though he rubs some of the charity elite the wrong way, as do the smaller charities of Patricia Arquette and Ben Stiller.

Officials from agencies such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the Red Cross have complained the celebrity charities duplicate their work without the standards – for example, giving donated food to refugee camps, a practice established charities stopped years ago because it cuts into local farmers' profits.

Many more of the new philanthropic powers in Haiti, and around the world, are not charities at all in the old sense, but corporations that mix profit-seeking with benevolent missions. Such “social enterprises” produce results that can be exceptionally efficient – and sometimes awkwardly self-interested.

Digicel, for example, is an Irish-owned company that dominates Haiti's cellphone service. Its chief executive, Denis O'Brien, has spent hundreds of millions rebuilding large parts of downtown Port-au-Prince, providing shelters, sanitation and aid. It's an act of generosity that also raises Digicel's brand identity, making it a beloved household name among Haitians, which can only be good for its market share.

Mr. O'Brien plays another important role: He is a key figure in the huge network of corporations, governments and agencies organized by former U.S. president Bill Clinton, who has channelled hundreds of millions onto the island, persuading billionaires to give large amounts.

And that is the other factor looming over Haiti – the vast resources of the world's wealthiest 1 per cent. With hundreds of their agents trooping around the traffic-clotted streets here, the vast funds of Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, George Soros and others are often among the most influential forces on the island.

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Follow on Twitter: @dougsaunders

 

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