Published in NPQ

By Bess Rothenberg

Can philanthropy, an institution rooted in the accumulation of wealth, be an effective agent to meaningfully reduce inequality? For decades, while some in philanthropy have supported efforts to change policies and practices to improve people’s lives, philanthropic money has too often reinforced existing power structures, perpetuating inequality in the process.

The numbers illustrate the problem: philanthropy has grown to roughly $1.5 trillion in assets today, up from $330 billion at the turn of the millennium. According to a 1999 Harvard Business Review article, that level represented a 1,100 percent increase over the assets held by foundations only 20 years earlier. Yet during the same period that philanthropy enjoyed extraordinary growth, economic inequality climbed rapidly, negatively impacting the wellbeing of millions. Even in areas where there have been gains toward equality, such as LGBTQ+ rights, progress has been mixed at best.

What is going wrong?

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The Ford Foundation

The Ford Foundation is an independent organization working to address inequality and build a future grounded in justice. For more than 85 years, it has supported visionaries on the frontlines of social change worldwide, guided by its mission to strengthen democratic values, reduce poverty and injustice, promote international cooperation, and advance human achievement. Today, with an endowment of $16 billion, the foundation has headquarters in New York and 10 regional offices across Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East.

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