I have a complicated relationship with philanthropy. I went to film school in Cape Town courtesy of the Mandela Rhodes Scholarship. The truth is if I hadn’t gotten the scholarship I would not have to gone film school and my life would be nowhere near the almost amazing place it is right now. Getting that scholarship transformed my life yet here I am about to bitch about philanthropy as a whole. Buckle up.
Giving to the ‘wrong’ people
My biggest issue with philanthropy and people/corporations who engage in it is they’re giving to the wrong people. I can explain. My hard and fast rule when it comes to corporations and organizations giving is: do not donate anything to people outside your organization if there’s anyone within your organization who needs it. Of what value is it for a bank to run a university scholarship fund for external students when their tea girl cannot afford to pay the same fees for her child? The tea girl, the guard, the cashier all contribute to the bank’s earnings, so if anyone should be first in line to benefit it should be them. There is no justification for a company running a medical charity when people who work for it and contribute to the actual generation of the billions in revenue are unable to cover their own medical fees. Every employer, every company should compensate their employees well enough that they need no external help from anyone at all before they start introducing other beneficiaries.
It’s simple for me if those who work for you and generate the actual profits you enjoy don’t have what you’re considering offering as CSR, STOP. Start in Jerusalem before going to the rest of the world. That’s Bible. Red words too.
Messed up reasons for giving
Related to the above reason, the truth is corporations don’t give out of the goodness of their hearts, they do it as a public relations activity. People are more conscious now about the excesses and the cost of capitalism on people and the environment which compels companies to differentiate themselves to appear less predatory. When Nike put Colin Kaepernick on their ad, their stock value went up by $6 billion dollars. People want companies to take a moral stand on social issues so that they can feel better about their consumption habits and companies do not hesitate to play to that desire. With Nike, it was later revealed that they heavily support the Republican party and have deals with the NFL companies that actually took Kaepernick out of the game for taking a stand (kneel 🙂 against police brutality. It was just a PR move for them and one that actually paid off. And we didn’t even bring up slave-like sweatshops in third world countries.
Of what value is it for a petroleum company to give millions of dollars to a university as they recklessly deplete environmental resources and support the murder of environmental activists? All people hear about is they gave to support university students and somehow that sanitizes or buries everything else they’ve done. Philanthropy ends up serving as a cover-up for the despicable acts undertaken by companies in their pursuit of maximum profit and that’s a problem.
Also, can we talk about governments in some countries giving corporations tax breaks for their giving? It’s not really giving out of the goodness of your heart if you’re only doing it so that you can save some money is it?
Making us beholden to the wealthy
This one covers both corporations and individuals. All this philanthropy from big-name individuals and corporations makes ‘ordinary’ people beholden to the wealthy. We are essentially at the mercy of the rich and the goodness of their hearts. Good schools, proper healthcare and whether or not you have anything to eat tonight should not be dependent on the spirit touching someone’s heart. A system that is so structured is beyond fractured and in need of a quick overhaul.
Obscures the true problem
In closing, all this philanthropy just serves to hide what the real problem is. If someone goes to work and they’re not careless with their money yet they can’t pay secondary school fees and are unable to afford medical care when they fall ill, yet the company they work for registers millions and billions in profit, what we need to do is consider that maybe the problem is the system.
So yes, my life has been transformed because of the scholarship and I’ll be eternally grateful to all who made it possible. However, that doesn’t negate the fact that philanthropy props up this exploitative capitalist system. Whether or not I get to go to school should not be dependent on my ability to convince some bigwigs to ‘invest’ in me. This is not a cease and desist to all philanthropic outfits out there, it’s a call for an interrogation of the motives underlying the efforts as well as the consequences of said activities.
I’m currently desperately looking for a scholarship for my Masters so if you hear anything, holla at your girl.