What is the role of philanthropy in politics?
This question was at the heart of the discussion that marked the opening session of the Philanthropic Foundations Canadasymposium held in Toronto October 27th and 28th, 2015.
How do we think about the political role of institutional philanthropy, that is to say, the place and the fuction of grantmaking foundations in society? By grantmaking foundations, we mean private and community organizations that invest funds, available through private endowments, in projects which are carried out primarily by charitable organizations in civil society.
To be clear, the political role of philanthropy demands that a strong consensus is developed around its identity and place in society. In order to arrive at a social consensus around philanthropy, and more particularly on grantmaking foundations, it is necessary to debate this issue. The Philanthropic Foundations Canada Symposium, the Institut Mallet’s 2015 Summit, and the2014 Summit for the Community Knowledge Exchange represent important moments in the construction towards this consensus. Moreover, it is important that grantmaking foundations clarify their belonging in civil society and at least agree on the values, principles, obligations, interests and responsibilities that guide their actions.
From this perspective, beyond the conversations among representatives of both the public and private grantmaking foundation sector, it is important to mobilise other actors, such as academics and representatives of charitable grantee organisations, in order to collectively reflect on the fundamentals of their philanthropic work. This is a particularly essential reflection in the wake of recent arrival of the Liberal majoritarian government under Justin Trudeau.
For foundations and stakeholders in philanthropy, it is vital that the legitimacy of the work carried out by the organizations of civil society active in the field of benevolence or charity be recognized. Without this recognition of the merits of philanthropic action, the mediation work done by grantmaking foundations is greatly limited. It is thus important that representatives of philanthropy and of grantmaking foundations unite with other representatives of civil society and social movements to formulate and submit a plea to the state. A plea that calls for the need to recognize the importance and legitimacy of civil society in the overall regulation of society. A plea which emphasizes the importance of mobilizing all the resources of our society to acquire the tools and means, be them social, economic and/or political to address major issues, to deal with such large issues as social inequalities, environmental protection, protection, strengthening of democratic processes, and respect for cultural differences.