This weekend, Huffington Post contributor Julia Moulden put up a post with quite the provocative title: “Charity Is Dead.” It seems to me that what Moulden’s really saying is that charity is evolving (or rather, it must evolve, in order to survive):
What if, I wondered, non-profits weren’t charities at all – what if they didn’t have to depend on catching our eye in order to continue their work? What if the world’s poor didn’t have to wonder if those of us fortunate enough to have been born into a place of privilege on this shared planet would ever turn our hearts and minds in their direction? What if the act of giving didn’t have to please us first? Or what if we didn’t think of it as “giving” in the first place? Might “sharing” be a better word?
Important steps in this direction are being taken, of course. Social entrepreneurs are a prime example. They’ve discovered that it’s better to use what they know to help the world’s poor start businesses than it is to give them hand-outs.
Charity isn’t really dead, of course, but I think it’s on its last legs. And I’m looking for a path that will lead us out of our cramped habit of self preoccupation and into a greater world of fellowship with all human beings. One that embeds helping others into all of our institutions and our daily lives. And I know that I’m not alone.
Several years ago, rogue environmentalists Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus wrote an incendiary essay titled “The Death of Environmentalism,” decreeing that environmentalism as we know it had to be reborn in order to be truly effective. Shellenberger and Nordhaus were initially excoriated — but sure enough, in the past few years, their idea that a new paradigm must be created to effect real environmental change has been absorbed into the mainstream.
I think Moulden’s idea has already been absorbed into the mainstream — the era of band-aid solutions to the world’s problems is drawing to a close, and sustainability is as much a buzzword when it comes to philanthropy as it is to the environment. (Here at ASF, for example, a key criteria for a Fellow’s service project is that it must establish a framework that will continue to strengthen/serve the community once the Fellow’s initial service year has drawn to a close.)
And I can’t help but think that the “new” approach to charity that Moulden calls for is actually a very old one, rooted in Schweitzer’s philosophy of “reverence for life.” After all, if we regard every life as equally important and worthwhile and deserving, then giving to others isn’t some auxilary afterthought of an activity — it’s the vital, driving force that animates our every action.