10 November 2020

In this episode we talk to Paul Vallely, author of Philanthropy: From Aristotle to Zuckerberg about his new book and what we can learn from history that can help inform our understanding of modern philanthropy and our thinking about where it should go in the future. Including:

  • What value does a historical perspective bring?
  • Would people working in philanthropy/civil society would benefit from more historical perspective?
  • What is the fundamental distinction between the Greco-Roman tradition of philanthropy and that which emerged from the Abrahamic religions, and why it is still important in understanding philanthropy today?
  • What does history tell us about the relationship between charity and justice: i.e. do they exist in opposition, or is charity a means of delivering justice? How is this debate is reflected in the history of philanthropy, and why does it remain relevant today?
  • How have views on the nature of poverty shaped philanthropy? I.e. Is poverty seen as a moral failing on the part of the individual, or a structural flaw in society? Are poverty & inequality “problems to be solved” or merely part of the natural order that accords some wealth and some poverty- and what does this mean for the role of charity? As we see controversy once again about “Victorian attitudes” towards the “deserving and undeserving poor”, are these issues that we need to grapple with in thinking about philanthropy?
  • What can we learn from history about the question of “tainted donations”, and the extent to which the way in which wealth has been created determines the legitimacy of trying to do good through giving it away?
  • What is the distinction the book draws between “strategic” & “reciprocal” philanthropy?
  • It is clearly almost impossible to understand the history of philanthropy without understanding some theology, as religion and charity were inextricably entwined for a long time. But what role does religion play in driving and shaping modern philanthropy?
  • The freedom that philanthropy and civil society have to run counter to the status quo or the policies and public opinion of a particular time has been a key part of driving historic social change. How do we preserve this freedom, whilst also answering concerns that unchecked philanthropic power could end up being anti-democratic?
  • What is the core role of philanthropy within society which differentiates it from either state or market provision?
  • The book speaks approvingly of celebrity activists (making the point that they are in some ways following the template set by the original “philanthropist” John Howard). What role can this kind of philanthropy play? Why is it often viewed somewhat cynically?

About the Giving Thought podcast

The Giving Thought podcast is an exploration of trends in global philanthropy and civil society. Launched in 2017 it is recognised as an insightful and influential source of philanthropic debate.  Rhodri Davies director of our Giving Thought Think Tank hosts the podcast, discussing contemporary issues and interviewing sector experts. Episodes are also available free on iTunes and Libsyn.

Visit the Giving Thought podcast library