20 May 2013

A Social Justice Lens to Philanthropy

Why all NPOs should use it

When nonprofit organizations engage in philanthropy they usually receive positive responses from society. The philanthropic activities of these organizations are said to contribute to the social good and benefit the communities they intend to support. However, recent studies have shown that the current top-down approach to strategic philanthropy limits its overall effectiveness, leading to a widening disparity between the amount of money invested in communities and what is actually being accomplished. That is to say, NPOs that simply donate money are actually very disconnected from the communities they intend to support. In addition, their solutions are often short-term focused and could be a lot more effective. What these NPOs need to realize is that their approach falls short in a crucial field, namely that of social justice. They need to apply what has been referred to as a ‘social justice lens’.

Often NPOs have good intentions, but their linear, top-down approaches have often proven ineffective. Instead NPOs should follow a bottom-up approach by placing the needs of the communities as their starting point and design their projects based on these needs. This also relates to the notion of human-centered design on which I have made a previous blog post. Looking at the needs of communities this way is through the above mentioned social justice lens. Social justice implies that NPOs aim to generate radical changes in the existing power structures between donors and communities. The communities should not only be given (financial) support, but mainly the means they need to break free from the traditional relationship with their NPOs. That is to say, in the future they will not need the support of NPOs anymore, because social justice philanthropy has made them independent from NPO support. This focus on social justice will generate better structural long-term solutions for communities and ensures that the money that is donated to the projects is more effectively allocated to the intended purposes. It is thus essential that the technocratic view of social change be replaced by social justice philanthropy.

i-kifu recognizes the significance of a social justice lens in terms of NPOs trying to support communities. Therefore, i-kifu tries to select NPOs that use a bottom-up social justice approach to their projects. That is to say, they are screened by i-kifu if their activities effectively contribute to the long-term social good, and the NPOs are also obliged to post monthly activities reports for their donors. Structural changes are ultimately what communities are helped by the most, as this actually helps them to become self-supporting in the future.  


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