The HBG Book Club met for the first time yesterday to discuss our latest book, Winners Take All; the elite charade of changing the world by Anand Giridharadas. So far, it’s been a pretty wild ride, and we’re only up through chapter two.
In discussing how the ultra-high net worth individuals view the world and the ways they’ve decided to change it for the better (via philanthropy, their business, or social enterprises), Giridharadas says,
There are many ways to make sense of all this elite concern and predation.
One is that the elites are doing the best they can. The world is what it is; the system is what it is; the forces of the age are bigger than anyone can resist; the most fortunate are helping. This view may allow that this helpfulness is just a drop in the bucket, but it is something.
The slightly more critical view is that this elite-led change is well-meaning but inadequate. It treats symptoms, not root causes; it does not change the fundamentals of what ails us. According to this view, elites are shirking the duty of more meaningful reform.
But there is still another, darker way of judging what goes on when elites put themselves in the vanguard of social change: that it not only fails to make things better, but also serves to keep things as they are.”
The twenty of us that were gathered online yesterday spent most of our time discussing these three ways of viewing elite giving and relating them to major philanthropy (and philanthropists) we’ve been watching over the past decade or so.
We wondered and debated:
- Does how much things can change depend on the type of organization or cause that the philanthropist is involved with?
- Should we assess how elite philanthropists approach their attitude toward philanthropy differently by their generation?
- Does someone’s attitude toward their ability to solve problems through philanthropy depend on the recipient organization type? Are some charities/causes more able to offer truly-solvable problems?
- Is it possible that elite philanthropists don’t (want to?) avail themselves of enough context or expert advice to be truly world-changing?
- Is philanthropy simply a tax-reducing convenience for some?
- Is there purposeful coalition building that brings together philanthropic elites who want to solve a problem with partners in business, government, foundations, nonprofits and other social sectors who can collectively bring their expertise to bear on problems? (or would elites rather not convene such a messy group and just do it themselves, whether or not it works?)
- Does the old adage “To someone with only a hammer, every problem looks like a nail” hold true for philanthropists who only understand building companies or apps to solve a world-level problem?
I know that I’ve surely left out some of the points we discussed, but as you can see, Winners Take All has already sparked a lot of interesting and thought-provoking questions for us. If you’re reading along, I hope that you’ll share some of the ideas and points that have resonated with you, surprised you, or blown your mind as you’ve read Giridharadas’s book. Just click on Comments above, and let me know what you’re thinking!