Reducing continent-ravaging plagues to expensive but manageable issues may be the most dramatic demonstration of the new philanthropy's best potential.
GENEVA: The end of an empire
At the opposite extreme from the mud shacks, tent cities and crowded hospitals where aid is typically received is the calm, silent expanse of low, glass-walled buildings along the shore of Lake Geneva, the bureaucratic capital of the postwar philanthropic archipelago. Here are the well-paid elite of the Red Cross, many UN agencies and a number of the largest charities.
One of those glass buildings is home to CARE International, the quintessential 2.0 organization: Founded to deliver American food packages to the refugee camps that covered postwar Europe, it expanded and internationalized to become one of the world's largest charities, with 12,000 employees across virtually every global trouble spot, backed by fundraising in a dozen countries, including Canada.
Robert Glasser, the seasoned field worker who is the chief of CARE's worldwide operation in Geneva, remains one of the sector's outspoken optimists, but he can't help seeing the crises both within charity and outside it: “There are huge changes happening in philanthropy, and the scale of the problems is actually growing, and that is a real challenge to groups like ours.”
Donations to CARE from Canada, Britain and France actually have increased during the crisis. Yet in the U.S., which supplies 60 per cent of CARE's donor base, donations are sharply down. Mr. Glasser is also beginning to see steep cuts in grants from deficit-stricken governments – the source of more than half of CARE's funds, as is typical of the larger charities.
For the big institutions, the thousands of new organizations of Philanthropy 3.0. bring chaotic scenes of competition and crossed agendas, and not just in disaster zones such as post-tsunami Indonesia or Haiti. It's also a problem in the capitals of a great many sub-Saharan African countries and in unstable countries such as Pakistan and Somalia, where the parade of pop stars, evangelists, single-issue obsessives, Chinese-government agents and U.S. billionaires can create unhelpful distractions.
“There's good and bad with the crowded field,” Mr. Glasser says, diplomatically. “The good is that there's new energy, innovation, new approaches, great ideas … The problem with that has been in situations like Indonesia and Haiti, where you have hundreds of NGOs descending and trying to be helpful … some of them are just chasing the money. The problem is it really clogs up the system, and actually decreases the efficiency of the response.”
He is one of many charity heads who would like to see a global registration system for philanthropy, to prevent incompetent, flaky or ultra-religious organizations from poisoning the well.
The way donations are going, the opposite is more likely to occur. A generation ago, charitable giving was almost entirely middle-aged, middle-class and Western (in fact, mostly American – of the $52-billion donated worldwide each year, all but $15-billion comes from the States).
But today, the old practice of tithing part of your paycheque or pension to charity, or getting a letter and writing a cheque, has not been passed down from the older generation.
A recent study found that Canadians born before 1945 give an average of $833 a year, and three-quarters of them donate regularly; among those born from 1965 to 1980, annual donations drop to $549 and only 60 per cent give. Among those born after 1981, only 55 per cent do, and the average falls to $325.
Clearly, the decline in giving is not merely an effect of the Great Recession. But the crisis does put charity in a new light: A system meant to alleviate the bumps and pitfalls of the global market economy is bound to seem less relevant and effective when that whole economy has become a charity case.
The effort to find solutions may have become more complex and sophisticated – but the problems have never been larger.
With a report from Timothy Schwartz in Port-au-Prince. Doug Saunders is a member of The Globe and Mail's European bureau.