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Tagged ‘Non-profit Industrial Complex‘

FLASHBACK: How Nonprofit Careerism Derailed the “Revolution”

December 27, 2004

Greens and Greenbacks

by MICHAEL DONNELLY

My good friend Lisa Goldrosen is a veteran of many left causes. Lisa has spent her entire adult life working in various coop endeavors. She has a wonderful collection of buttons and posters from back when America rose from the slumber of the Eisenhower years. She has buttons from the early days of the clean-up of the Hudson River ­ Pete Seeger’s precursor to Greenpeace. More are from the early Civil Rights Movement. Others are from the anti-Vietnam War effort and the SDS era on campus. She has one anti-war poster that could be recycled as is and still be useful today.

Lisa has arranged them all in a wonderful historic collage. She regularly uses it to give history lessons to young radicals here in Oregon. Someone always asks, “Why didn’t I ever hear about this in school?”

Being a 60s activist myself, having grown up in Flint — steeped in the history of the Labor Movement, a Civil Rights activist at fourteen, a UAW member at eighteen and a draft resister/ Conscientious Objector/anti-war activist later — I always enjoy my discussions with Lisa.

Recently, she put my frustrations with the current state of activism in full perspective.

The Three-legged Stool of Counterrevolution

Lisa notes, “The Revolution was derailed by three things: the end of the draft; Roe v. Wade and the rise of the nonprofit sector. Once the children of privilege were no longer subject to any personal pain, it was over. It was a brilliant strategy by predatory capitalism.”

While I’m not sure if Revolution, or even Reform, was/is inevitable, I agree. Once the draft and the possibility that middle-to-upper class kids would be sent to fight Imperial Wars was over, it’s easy to see how the bottom fell out of the anti-war movement. Recent Imperial Wars, fought predominantly with “volunteers,” are just as heinous as Vietnam, but with few highly-educated, comfortable kids’ lives being on the line, we have yet to see anything approaching the across-the-board, massive opposition that Vietnam engendered. (Astonishingly, this very year during yet another ill-fated Imperial misadventure, we saw the “Peace” Movement line up vociferously behind a proudly-stated “I’ll hunt ‘em down and kill ‘em” warmonger for president!)

Same with Roe v Wade. A whole lot of steam went out of progressive social efforts once this same socioeconomic group could gain access to affordable, legal abortion. (It appears to be the sole bottom line litmus test still applied to the Democratic Party.) Remove the pain and the rulers gain.

It really did become — remove the personal pain from these me firsters and the hiccup of resistance vanishes. I already felt that way about these two issues. But, Lisa’s expansion of the concept to include the rise of the “Nonprofit Sector” put the final piece of the puzzle in place.

The Non-Profit Industrial Complex: Undermining Indigenous Liberation

Intercontinental Cry

By

Jun 19, 2012

The Corbett Report interviews Global Research associate Andrew Gavin Marshall about the history of foundation philanthropy established by the American robber barons — i.e. Ford, Vanderbilt, Carnegie, and Rockefeller — as engines of social engineering to create “consent to the hegemony of the ruling class.” As funders of think tanks and universities in order to create a managerial elite over the last century (through the design of social sciences for social control), the foundations, says Marshall, make the world safe for capitalism by channeling criticism away from fundamental change. In what he describes as recolonizing the world today through social genocide, Marshall notes that foundation funded NGOs function as capitalist missionaries, extending the imperial project worldwide, and thereby undermining Indigenous liberation.

 

 

[Jay Taber is an associate scholar of the Center for World Indigenous Studies, an author, a correspondent to Fourth World Eye, and a contributing editor of Fourth World Journal. Since 1994, he has served as the administrative director of Public Good Project.]

Pious Poseurs

Intercontinental Cry

By

Jun 24, 2012

When the Government of India wanted to promote a nuclear arms race with Pakistan, it literally resorted to using puppet shows in villages and towns across the countryside that employed traditional mythological figures in service to nuclear Armageddon. Instead of riding white steeds, the heroes mounted ICBMs.

The Indian government, of course, isn’t the only regime that uses mythology or puppets to manipulate public opinion in support of foreign aggression. While in the US those puppets have traditionally taken on the form of talking heads on corporate and public television, they are increasingly represented in the form of NGO PR puppets employed in the moral theatrics industry.

As the credibility of politicians and pundits plummets, it is these PR puppets that are increasingly responsible for bolstering public support for militarism in general and militarized humanitarian intervention in particular. For the generations that grew up on Sesame Street, it is an easy transition to taking their cues from the friendly faces of these Wall Street wankers cum pious poseurs.

 

 

[Jay Taber is an associate scholar of the Center for World Indigenous Studies, an author, a correspondent to Fourth World Eye, and a contributing editor of Fourth World Journal. Since 1994, he has served as the administrative director of Public Good Project.]

Template for Survival

Editorial

Intercontinental Cry

By

Jul 5, 2012

If you look around at the many human rights organizations, most were formed to intervene in urgent crises or to prevent pending tragedies. While stopping atrocities and saving humanity is a noble and necessary undertaking, though, ad hoc responses to media-selected celebrity causes  is not necessarily the most effective use of humanitarian resources. Given the failure of states and international institutions in this task, one has to ask if there isn’t a better way.

While mobilizing remedial resources for displaced persons and refugees through institutions like the Red Cross and Red Crescent ameliorates suffering, prevention of atrocities remains an illusive humanitarian endeavor. With the militarization of humanitarian projects that has corrupted some big international NGOs of late, institutionalizing humanitarian efforts for the future requires that we rethink how we respond and reflect on how we might reform our humanitarian organizing.

With networks emerging as the new form of organization to address issues neglected by states and markets, we might want to consider how they can be institutionalized in order to provide continuity to efforts. Archiving collective memory and structuring learning and mentoring are key to that, but without the resources of states and markets, we will need to localize and link what we do and how we communicate in order to be effective. Like the failure of the giant, hegemonic model in government and industry, the failure of big international NGOs signals the time for a new organizing strategy. With the reemergence of Indigenous nations acting local and thinking global, perhaps civil society worldwide already has a template for survival.

 

 

[Jay Taber is an associate scholar of the Center for World Indigenous Studies, an author, a correspondent to Fourth World Eye, and a contributing editor of Fourth World Journal. Since 1994, he has served as the administrative director of Public Good Project.]

 

WATCH: Human Resources | Social Engineering in the 20th Century

Source: Metanoia Films

 “Brilliant…Riveting…The amount of material the filmmaker covers and unifies is astounding…Human Resources diagnoses the 20th century.” – Stephen Soldz, Professor, Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis; President, Psychologists for Social Responsibility

Human Resources: Social Engineering in the 20th Century explores the rise of mechanistic philosophy and the exploitation of human beings under modern hierarchical systems. Topics covered include behaviorism, scientific management, work-place democracy, schooling, frustration-aggression hypothesis and human experimentation.

Scott Noble, the filmmaker behind the extraordinary and informative documentary “Psywar” has made another revelatory and important documentary, available free to the public, called “Human Resources: Social Engineering in the 20th Century”.

“Essentially”, says Scott, “this film is about the rise of mechanistic philosophy and the exploitation of human beings under modern hierarchical systems.” The film includes original interviews with: Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Rebecca Lemov (World as Laboratory), Christopher Simpson (The Science of Coercion), George Ritzer (The McDonaldization of Society), Morris Berman (The Reenchantment of the World), John Taylor Gatto (Dumbing us Down), Alfie Kohn (What does it mean to be well educated?) and others.

Read David Ker Thomson’s review of the film. He writes: It answers the significant events of the last century the way a glass answers the implicit questions of a man who peers into its reflective surface, point for point. It corresponds, in short, to reality.

FLASKBACK | 1997 | Imperialism and NGOs in Latin America

“NGOs emphasize projects, not movements; they “mobilize” people to produce at the margins but not to struggle to control the basic means of production and wealth; they focus on technical financial assistance of projects, not on structural conditions that shape the everyday lives of people. The NGOs co-opt the language of the left: “popular power,” “empowerment,” “gender equality,” “sustainable development,” “bottom-up leadership.” The problem is that this language is linked to a framework of collaboration with donors and government agencies that subordinate practical activity to non-confrontational politics.”

by James Petra

Monthly Review

1997, Volume 49, Issue 07 (December)

By the early 1980s the more perceptive sectors of the neoliberal ruling classes realized that their policies were polarizing the society and provoking large-scale social discontent. Neoliberal politicians began to finance and promote a parallel strategy “from below,” the promotion of “grassroots” organization with an “anti-statist” ideology to intervene among potentially conflictory classes, to create a “social cushion.” These organizations were financially dependent on neoliberal sources and were directly involved in competing with socio-political movements for the allegiance of local leaders and activist communities. By the 1990s these organizations, described as “nongovernmental,” numbered in the thousands and were receiving close to four billion dollars world-wide.

Neoliberalism and the NGOs

The confusion concerning the political character of the nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) stems from their earlier history in the 1970s during the days of the dictatorships. In this period they were active in providing humanitarian support to the victims of the military dictatorship and denouncing human rights violations. The NGOs supported “soup kitchens” which allowed victimized families to survive the first wave of shock treatments administered by the neoliberal dictatorships. This period created a favorable image of NGOs even among the left. They were considered part of the “progressive camp.”

Even then, however, the limits of the NGOs were evident. While they attacked the human rights violations of local dictatorships, they rarely denounced the U.S. and European patrons who financed and advised them. Nor was there a serious effort to link the neoliberal economic policies and human rights violations to the new turn in the imperialist system. Obviously the external sources of funding limited the sphere of criticism and human rights action.

As opposition to neoliberalism grew in the early 1980s, the U.S. and European governments and the World Bank increased their funding of NGOs. There is a direct relation between the growth of social movements challenging the neoliberal model and the effort to subvert them by creating alternative forms of social action through the NGOs. The basic point of convergence between the NGOs and the World Bank was their common opposition to “statism.” On the surface the NGOs criticized the state from a “left” perspective defending civil society, while the right did so in the name of the market. In reality, however, the World Bank, the neoliberal regimes, and western foundations co-opted and encouraged the NGOs to undermine the national welfare state by providing social services to compensate the victims of the multinational corporations (MNCs). In other words, as the neoliberal regimes at the top devastated communities by inundating the country with cheap imports, extracting external debt payment, abolishing labor legislation, and creating a growing mass of low-paid and unemployed workers, the NGOs were funded to provide “self-help” projects, “popular education,” and job training, to temporarily absorb small groups of poor, to co-opt local leaders, and to undermine anti-system struggles.

Rejecting Rio+20 & Other Cocktail Parties

Published on March 28, 2012

Republished June 28, 2012

by Gregory Vickrey

During the COP17 spectacle (17th Conference of Parties, the UN summit on Climate Change) in Durban, South Africa, in December 2011, La Via Campesina, the International Peasants Movement, issued a statement declaring certain actions be taken and conditions be met in order to prevent, forestall, or otherwise derail climate catastrophe. Because several of the actions do not appear to be copacetic with scientific reality, we endeavored to contact the organization, and sent the following email on December 7:

Dear Boa Monjane:

 

I write to you today with grave concerns about your recently publicized statement at COP17, and hope this will bring a fruitful dialogue.

 

Your statement exclaims a set of solutions seeking to limit “further” temperature rise to 1 degree. Given that the planet is currently up .8 by all relevant calculations, your statement leads a reader to believe you are seeking a ceiling at 1.8. If so, this is an incredibly dangerous number to stand behind, given the mathematical reality that we are, at a minimum, locked into 1.8 due to inertia, hydrates, and other feedback mechanisms. If not, and your statement purports an argument that we can and should stay below 1.0 total, it is an unachievable dream and must be clarified as such.

 

Returning to 1.8 and the best case reality of that number, it is only achievable with immediate and irreversible 100% reductions, yet your statement calls for a minimum of 50% to achieve your solution set. I believe it is irresponsible to promote 50% as a solution to climate crisis when anything less than 100% locks us into the scientific reality of inertia and systems betrayal through feedback mechanisms. It also comes nowhere close to making 1.8 – where we are already committed assuming 100% emissions reduction today – achievable, even with an unlikely assumption that methane hydrates are completely negated by nature.

 

I would very much like to understand why you claim 50% is part of the solution.

 

Another point of contention is your stated reliance on capitalism in the developed world for various funding mechanisms. It should be well understood that reliance upon any functional component of industrial capitalism for mitigation, adaptation, and reparation for any length of time lends credence to the mechanism, perpetuates it, and demands the growth of it, ironically, as the world condition grows more dire. Making statements where the world utilizes the very economic machinery responsible for the planet being on the brink of collapse in order to prevent the collapse is more than troubling. It is criminal.

 

Do you really believe the patriarchal industrial north has the means, the motive, and the benefit of planetary reality to stem the tide through finance? Many of us in developed countries know what it means to call for, and succeed in getting, 100% reductions. It means the end of nearly all we know, save maybe the planet. Those of us who understand the demands of Mother Earth in that context also recognize more people must rise up and fight for 100% all over the globe. Will La Via Campesina do so?

I very much look forward to your responses and the ensuing dialogue. I have cced my dear colleague and friend based in Canada, Cory Morningstar.

 

We received no response. On January 5, Cory Morningstar again sought feedback from the Via Campesina representative. No response. And now we are at the eve of Rio+20, where most of the same players will convene and further deteriorate any reasonable chance we have, as civil society, to stem the tide of climate change. As expected, the usual troop of NGOs will attend, claiming to speak for all of us while clamoring for cozy seats and sharp cocktails amongst the global elite. La Via Campesina will be there, too.

Jorge Capelán, Lizzie Phelan and Toni Solo Discuss USAID and Western NGOs in Latin America

 tortilla con sal blog

26/06/2012

Jorge Capelán, Lizzie Phelan and toni solo discuss the recent announcement by President Daniel Ortega on the future of USAID development cooperation in Nicaragua and the US government’s politically motivated denial of the “transparency” waiver..

Click link below to listen to podcast (English):

http://tortillaconsal.com/tortilla/es/node/11418

 

Haïti: Les ONG sont-elles un outil de domination néocoloniale? | Un État faible face à une invasion d’ONG

Colloque international sur le rôle des ONG en Haïti

par Julie Lévesque

Mondialisation.ca, Le 17 juin 2012

Ceci est la première partie d’une série sur le colloque du 15 juin qui s’est tenu à Montréal, Les ONG en Haïti: entre le bien et le mal.

Paternalisme, néocolonialisme, outil de domination de l’ordre mondial, voilà seulement quelques-uns des attributs et concepts accolés aux organisations non gouvernementales (ONG) lors du colloque sur le rôle controversé des ONG en Haïti, lequel a soulevé des passions le 15 juin à Montréal. L’organisatrice Nancy Roc d’Incas Productions, a admis que ce colloque intitulé « Les ONG en Haïti : entre le bien et le mal », est « un colloque qui dérange ». Elle a salué la présence de plusieurs ministres haïtiens : « Ce sont eux qu’on accuse mais ils sont là aujourd’hui, ils nous prennent au sérieux », dit-elle avant de déplorer l’absence d’un grand nombre d’ONG québécoises.


Nancy Roc au colloque « Les ONG en Haïti : entre le bien et le mal » 15 juin 2012.

« Les Québécois ont été les plus généreux donateurs et ils sont en droit de se demander où sont les fonds. J’ai contacté toutes les ONG, l’Association québécoise des organismes de coopération internationale (AQOCI), et la plupart n’ont même pas pris la peine de me répondre. J’ai appris la semaine dernière que l’AQOCI tenait son assemblée générale aujourd’hui même. J’étais prête à payer pour que le programme du colloque soit affiché sur le site de l’AQOCI. On m’a répondu que ce n’était pas possible pour le technicien web…

 « Lorsqu’une étude a été menée auprès des ONG par le Disaster Accountability Project (États-Unis), 80% des ONG ont refusé de rendre des comptes. On accuse souvent le gouvernement haïtien mais seulement 1% de l’aide s’est rendue au gouvernement. Pour chaque dollar canadien donné à Haïti, 6 sous seulement sont allés aux Haïtiens. Voici la vérité qu’on ne vous dit pas.

 « La plupart des rôles de l’État ont été refilés aux ONG, les fonds sont dirigés vers d’autres gouvernements, vers des compagnies privées étrangères. Comment s’étonner que l’on qualifie Haïti de Far West des ONG! Il s’est développé en Haïti une forme de colonialisme humanitaire. Depuis 1986, Haïti est le pays qui a reçu le plus d’aide mais s’est appauvri. Et on accuse les victimes! Par ailleurs, les ONG haïtiennes ne reçoivent pas d’aide et pourtant ce sont elles qui connaissent le pays et les besoins de la situation. »

Mme Roc se défend de vouloir faire le procès des ONG. Le but de ce colloque est de « chercher des solutions et mettre en œuvre une coordination entre les acteurs, d’amorcer un dialogue, un nouveau virage ».

La faiblesse de l’État haïtien et la propagande voulant qu’il soit trop corrompu pour se voir allouer des fonds profite grandement aux ONG étrangères qui récoltent l’aide financière qui autrement irait à l’État. Ce dernier est davantage affaibli par cette pratique et les intervenants ont dans une grande majorité mis l’accent sur la nécessité du renforcement de l’État. S’il faut avoir les moyens de ses ambitions, le renforcement de l’État haïtien passe d’abord et avant tout par les moyens financiers.

« Est-ce la faiblesse de l’État qui a causé cette invasion d’ONG dans les compétences gouvernementales ou l’invasion d’ONG qui a contribué à affaiblir l’État? » Sans amener de réponse à la question que plusieurs se posent, le directeur exécutif de l’Observatoire canadien sur les crises et l’aide humanitaire, François Audet, conclut qu’il « faut revoir les paradigmes de l’intervention en Haïti ».

Daniel Supplice, ministre des Haïtiens vivant à l’étranger accuse plutôt l’instabilité politique d’être responsable de la faiblesse de l’État. Il n’a toutefois pas mentionné le rôle prépondérant des pays donateurs dans l’instabilité politique haïtienne.

Ce rôle antidémocratique des grandes puissances est également passé sous silence dans les grands médias qui n’osent même pas parler du coup d’État concocté par le Canada, les États-Unis et la France contre Jean-Bertrand Aristide en 2004 et préfèrent le qualifier de « départ » du président. Ce dernier, élu démocratiquement avec un pourcentage des suffrages à faire rougir n’importe quel dirigeant des pays qui l’ont chassé du pouvoir, faisait face à une insurrection armée et financée entre autres par le CIA. Quant à l’opposition politique, le gouvernement canadien a largement contribué à son financement :

Le gouvernement canadien a été fortement impliqué sur tous les plans dans le coup d’État. Le Canada, l’Union européenne et les États-Unis avaient supprimé toute aide au gouvernement Fanmi Lavalas tout en finançant ses opposants. Pire, le Canada a participé à la planification et à l’exécution du renversement du gouvernement et au kidnapping d’Aristide. La nuit du coup, 125 troupes canadiennes étaient sur le terrain à Port-au-Prince, assurant la sécurité de l’aéroport à partir duquel les soldats étasuniens forceraient Aristide à prendre un avion pour l’exil. Le Canada a aidé à installer le nouveau régime non élu et lui a fourni des millions de dollars d’aide. L’aspect probablement le plus honteux est que les troupes canadiennes et les policiers envoyés en Haïti ont activement appuyé la répression. (Nikolas Barry-Shaw, Dru Oja Jay, Paved with Good Intentions, 2012, p. xi. Traduction libre.)

The Philanthropic Complex

In the aftermath of the British Petroleum disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, no one understands the importance of environmentalism better than the stockholders of BP.  They will be very happy for environmental groups to put pressure on the oil industry to provide more safety for deep sea drilling.  But they are most unlikely to welcome the end of deep sea drilling itself, and putting an end to the reign of corporations is utterly beyond the pale.

In the fall of 2009 I was approached by Hal Clifford, executive editor of Orion Magazine, and asked to write an essay about American philanthropy, especially in relation to environmentalism. From the first I was dubious about the assignment. I said, “Not-for-profit organizations like you cannot afford to attack philanthropy because if you attack one foundation you may as well attack them all. You’ll be cutting your own throat.”

Hal assured me that while all this might be true someone had to take up the issue, and Orion was willing to do so. And I was the right person to write the essay precisely because I was not an insider but simply an honest intelligence. So, with many misgivings I said I’d try.

I interviewed about a dozen people on both sides of the field, both givers and getters, and some in the middle. The people I spoke to were eager to articulate their grievances even if they were just as eager to be anonymous. I also should acknowledge that the development of these grievances was no doubt colored by my own experiences as a board member and president of the board of two not-for-profit organizations in the arts.

After working for several months writing and revising the essay, Hal Clifford announced that he would be leaving Orion. My first thought was “uh-oh.” The editor-in-chief, Chip Blake, took over my essay and at that point things got dicey. Ultimately he explained that he hadn’t been fully aware of my assignment, that he hadn’t known the essay would be an attack on “the oligarchy,” that it didn’t seem to be fully a part of the magazine’s usual interests, and that–fatally–from the magazine’s point of view publishing the essay would be an exercise in “self-mutilation.”

Which was exactly what I said at the beginning! They had come to their senses even if it had taken a long time and cost me a lot of work to get there.

But, secretly, I was pleased. This editorial catastrophe was the best possible confirmation of everything I argue in the essay.

Part One:

What Organizations Experience

In the United States, everyone may enjoy freedom of speech so long as it doesn’t matter.  For those who would like what they say to matter, freedom of speech is very expensive. It is for this reason that organizations with a strong sense of public mission but not much money are dependent on the “blonde child of capitalism,” private philanthropy. This dependence is true for both conservative and progressive causes, but there is an important difference in the philanthropic cultures that they appeal to.

The conservative foundations happily fund “big picture” work.  They are eager to be the means for disseminating free market, anti-government ideology. Hence the steady growth and influence of conservative think-tanks like the Heritage Foundation, Accuracy in Media, the American Majority Institute, the Cato Institute, the Brookings Institute, the Manhattan Institute, the Hoover Institute, and on (and frighteningly) on.

On the other hand, progressive foundations may understand that the organizations they fund have visions, but it’s not the vision that they will give money to. In fact, foundations are so reluctant to fund “public advocacy” of progressive ideas that it is almost as if they were afraid to do so. If there is need for a vision the foundation itself will provide it. Unfortunately, according to one source, the foundation’s vision too often amounts to this: “If we had enough money, and access to enough markets, and enough technological expertise, we could solve all the problems.” The source concludes that such a vision “doesn’t address sociological and spiritual problems.”

Indeed.

The truth is that organizations whose missions foreground the “sociological and spiritual” go mostly without funding. Take for instance the sad tale of the Center for the New American Dream (NAD), created in 1997 by Betsy Taylor (herself a funder with the Merck Family Fund).  NAD’s original mission statement gave a priority to “quality of life” issues.

We envision a society that values more of what matters—not just more…a new emphasis on non-material values like financial security, fairness, community, health, time, nature, and fun.

This is exactly the sort of “big picture” that philanthropy has been mostly unwilling to fund because, it argues, it is so difficult to provide “accountability” data for issues like “work and time” and “fun” (!).  (To which one might reasonably reply, “Why do you fund only those things that are driven by data?”)

In any event, in 2007 NAD ran an enormous deficit, $500,000 in a budget of less than $2,000,000.  In 2008, however, NAD staged a remarkable recovery.  Suddenly, its restricted grants grew from $234,000 in 2007 to $647,000 in 2008.  The cavalry, apparently, had arrived.  NAD’s savior was the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Foundation which had given a restricted grant of $350,000 for 2008.

Good news except that the money did not fund NAD’s vision; it was restricted to a narrow project.  NAD was now in the bottled water business, as in “don’t buy bottled water.”  NAD’s 2008 Take Action! section in its newsletters was devoted to the Goldman Gospel: get local athletic teams off bottled beverages, etc.  In short, a visionary organization had become a money chaser.

One source summarized the general situation in this way, “Progressive funders say all things are connected, but act as if all things are disconnected.  Conservative funders never argue that all things are connected, but then they act—and spend money—as if they were.”

§

 One of the most maddening experiences for those who seek the support of private philanthropy is the lack of transparency, that is, the difficulty of knowing why the foundation makes the decisions it makes. In fact, most foundations treat this “lack” as a kind of privilege: our reasons are our own.  One of the devices employed by philanthropy for maintaining this privilege is what I call the mystique of the foundation’s Secret Wisdom.

So you want to ask, “What do you know that I don’t know?  What do you know that makes your decisions wise?”  The closest thing to an answer you’re likely to hear is something like this: “The staff met with some Board members last night to discuss your proposal, and we’re very interested in it.  But we don’t think that you have the capacity [a useful bit of jargon that means essentially that the organization should give up on what it thought it was going to do] to achieve these goals.  So what we’d suggest is that you define a smaller project that will allow you to test your abilities [read: allow you to do something that you have little interest in but that will suck up valuable staff time like a Hoover].  Meanwhile, we’d like to meet with your Board in six months and see where you are.”

And on you go one year at a time. But cheer up, you’ve made your budget for the year!

The uncertainty and opacity of this reality leave organizations frustrated and bewildered. No matter how many meetings are held, no matter how carefully the questions are posed, the fundamentals remain maddeningly elusive. It is as if grant seekers were Kafka’s K in The Trial searching absurdly for someone to tell him exactly what crime he has committed.

The foundation has money but it has no organic idea (no idea that is native to its being) what to do with it.  Perhaps the foundation really would like to help someone somewhere, but it can’t quite bring itself simply to trust the organizations it funds and set them free to do their work, in part because it fears that once freed this intelligence and competence might produce results not in keeping with the interests of the foundation.

Not wanting to acknowledge that brutal fact, all that the foundation is left with is the chilling satisfaction of its own undiminished and unaccountable authority. None of this, of course, can be said, least of all by the organizations that are still hoping for support.

Like the system of patronage that served the arts and charity from the Renaissance through the 18th century, private foundations have the rarest privilege of all: they do not have to explain themselves. They do not have to justify the origins of their wealth, or how they use that wealth, or what the real benefit of their largesse is.

 §

In the end, what the foundation can be trusted to understand is not forest health, or climate change, or the imperatives of recycling; what it can be trusted to understand is the thing that gives it its privileges: its endowment.  Unfortunately, managing how the endowment is invested often leads to conflicts with the stated social purpose of the foundation.

For example, one of the emerging controversies in the world of private philanthropy is the 95-5 question.  Foundations are required to give away just 5% of their endowment each year.  The other 95% is invested.  But invested where?  Environmentalists are particularly sensitive to this question because if the money is invested in companies that continue to pollute, you have a very disturbing reality.  5% does (theoretical) good while 95% does demonstrable bad: chasing profits in the same old dirty and irresponsible way.

This issue came to a head when the Los Angeles Times concluded a long investigation into the investment practices of foundations by revealing that the Gates Foundation funded a polio vaccination clinic in Ebocha, Nigeria, in the shadow of a giant petroleum processing plant in which the Gates Foundation was invested.

The Los Angeles Times report states:

But polio is not the only threat Justice [a Nigerian child] faces. Almost since birth, he has had respiratory trouble. His neighbors call it “the cough.” People blame fumes and soot spewing from flames that tower 300 feet into the air over a nearby oil plant. It is owned by the Italian petroleum giant Eni, whose investors include the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Say what you like about the need to invest wisely for the future of the foundation, but this is prima facie evidence of a deep moral conflict not just at Gates but in all of private philanthropy.  The simple fact is that most boards actually don’t know if their investments and their missions align.  When pushed on the matter, most foundations respond as Gates did:  investments are the foundation’s private concern and no business of ours.

But the problem remains, when organizations receive funding, what confidence do they have that this happy money is not itself the expression of a distant destruction?  (Perhaps your funder owns stock in British Petroleum.  Of course, for the people of Louisiana, that’s anything but distant.)  When philanthropy proceeds without acknowledging this reality, it proceeds without conscience.  It proceeds pathologically.  It destroys the thing it claims to love.  And it makes the organizations it funds complicit.

§

 Because this culture of unaccountable authority is rarely challenged, especially by the organizations that receive funding, the foundations become little more than, as one source put it, dramas of “self-aggrandizement.”—the lavish year-end celebrations in which many indulge being a particularly noxious demonstration. They like to be thanked for their generosity, and they like the warm feeling of virtue that washes over them when they receive their thanks.

It is as if they could not tell which was the more worthy: the organization for its work or the foundation itself for its generosity.  You can sense this tension in the films that the big  foundations underwrite for PBS.  “Support is provided by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation,” emblazed on the screen with heraldic force, as if it had been struck with a single blow into brass.

Without an understanding of this psychology, it’s difficult to explain the most perplexing question asked of private philanthropy: why do most foundations give away only 5% of their endowment each year, the legal minimum?

Let’s say the funding is going to address the problem of global warming.  If that problem must be successfully addressed within the next two decades, if it’s really the critical moral issue of our time, or any time, why spend only 5%?  For a simple reason: spending 5% annually will allow the foundation to do its work into eternity. Sadly, a world without a livable climate is easier for the philanthropist to imagine than a world without the dear old family foundation.

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Most of the sources that I contacted for this essay requested anonymity.  The reasons for this may be obvious and hardly worth mentioning except that what’s hardly worth mentioning is a powerful emotion: fear.  Fear of losing a grant or a job, fear of harming a client, or fear of becoming persona non grata in the field. Everyone has skin in the game, so “discretion is the better part of valor,” as Falstaff put it. One source spoke of being threatened with blackballing by one wealthy donor.  His error? He’d supported Ralph Nader rather than Barack Obama.

Mark Dowie reports in his book Losing Ground that in the early 1990s the Pew Charitable Trust entered the fray over public land forestry.  Josh Reichert, Pew’s environmental program officer, created a foundation coalition, the National Environmental Trust, to address forestry among other issues.  Once the money was held out, large organizations like the Sierra Club fell in line, talked the talk, and took the money.

The downside was that this program was not allowed to consider a “zero cut” position.  The organization would be about moderating policy on behalf of corporate interests.  Smaller, more principled organizations like the Native Forest Council were “left out in the cold.”  But Reichert was unapologetic.  According to Dowie, “Reichert stipulated that no one advocating zero cut, criticizing corporations by name, or producing ads that did so would be eligible for membership in the forest coalition—or for funding.”

All of this leads to the reasonable assumption that to criticize is to invite punishment.  All that’s left is a lot of smiling and bad faith.

Part Two:

Why Organizations Experience What They Experience

In the end, philanthropy wants the wrong thing.  It may think that it ought to want what the lovers-of-nature want, but its actions reveal that, come what may, it loves other things first: the maintenance of its privileges, the survival of its self-identity, and the stability of the social and economic systems that made it possible in the first place.

This is not an inhuman feeling.  As Nietzsche put it, it is “all-too-human.”  The people who live within the culture of wealth can’t do the things that grassroots environmentalists want them to do without feeling that they are dying.  They can’t fund the creation of ideas that are hostile to their very existence; they can’t abandon control over the projects they do fund because they fear freedom in others; and they can’t give away all of their wealth (“spending out”) without feeling like they’ve become the Wicked Witch of the West (“I’m melting!”). Instead, philanthropy clings to the assumption of its virtues. Its very being, it tells itself, is the doing of good. It cannot respond to criticism because to do so might lead it to self-doubt, might lead it to honesty.  And that would be fatal.

The great paradox of environmental philanthropy is this: How do institutions founded on property, wealth, and privilege (in short, plutocrats) seek to address the root source of environmental destruction if that source is essentially the unbridled use of property, wealth, and privilege?   And yet when we ask that foundations abandon their privileges and simply provide funding so that we activists can do our work without hindrance, what the foundation hears is a request that they will their own destruction.  Not unreasonably, they are bewildered by the suggestion and unwilling to do so.

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There’s an old saying on the Left that goes something like this: Capitalism accepts the idea that it will have enemies, but if it must have enemies it will create them itself and in its own image.  In fact, it needs them in the same way that it needs the federal government: as a limit on its own natural destructiveness.

The periodic Wall Street meltdown aside, the most dramatic problem facing capitalism for the last thirty years has been its tendency to destroy the very world in which it acts: the environmental crisis in all its manifestations.  The response to this crisis has been the growth of the mainstream environmental movement, especially the Environmental Protection Agency and what we call Big Green (the Sierra Club, et. al.).  But, it should go without saying, Big Green was not the pure consequence of an up-swelling of popular passion; it was also the creation of philanthropic, federal, and corporate “gift giving”.

For instance, the Natural Resources Defense Council was created by the Ford Foundation, just as Pew created the National Environmental Fund.  (Pew itself was first endowed with money from the Sun Oil Company.  At its inception, Pew’s political views were deeply conservative.  It advocated free markets and small government, and funded the John Birch Society.)  These large environmental organizations are more dependent on federal and foundation support, and accordingly tend to take a “soft” line on economic and industrial reform.  As Mark Dowie reports, “They are safe havens for foundation philanthropy, for their directors are sensitive to the economic orthodoxies that lead to the formation of foundations and careful not to do anything that might diminish the benefactor’s endowment.”

As with the Environmental Protection Agency, Big Green is not so much an enemy as a self-regulator within the capitalist state itself.   The Sierra Club is not run by visionary rebels, it is upper management.  It really does have effects that are beneficial to the environment (many!), but in no way are those benefits part of an emerging new world that is hostile to the industries that are the most immediate origin of environmental destruction.

Consequently, a given industry may attack environmentalism when it interferes with its business, but the plutocracy as such is dependent on Big Green and will regularly replenish its coffers so that it may stay in existence, never mind the occasional annoyance for an oil company that wants to spread its rigs and pipelines across delicate tundra.

Capitalism has taught environmentalism how to protect it from itself.  Federal and philanthropic funding allows Big Green to play a forceful national role, but it also provides the means for managing and limiting the ambitions of environmentalism: no fundamental change. Sadly left out of negotiations between government, industry and environmental NGOs are the communities of people who must live with whatever decision is reached. As Paula Swearengin of Beckley, West Virginia, commented after House Republicans stripped the EPA of its authority to refuse a permit for yet another project for mountain top coal mining, “The people of Appalachia are treated like we’re just disposable casualties of the coal industry. We live in the land of the lost, because nobody wants to hear us.”

Will environmental philanthropy ever convince the federal government to limit the ability of the coal industry to destroy mountaintops in West Virginia?  Maybe. But will they seek to curb that industry’s constitutional freedom to deploy capital in their ruinous “pursuit of happiness”?  No.  Absolutely not.  In the aftermath of the British Petroleum disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, no one understands the importance of environmentalism better than the stockholders of BP.  They will be very happy for environmental groups to put pressure on the oil industry to provide more safety for deep sea drilling.  But they are most unlikely to welcome the end of deep sea drilling itself, and putting an end to the reign of corporations is utterly beyond the pale.

Philanthropy and the organizations it funds are what they are.  They are not in the revolution business.  They are in risk management.

G

Curtis White is a novelist and social critic. His recent work includes The Barbaric Heart: Money, Faith, and the Crisis of Nature and Requiem, a novel.