Since the inception of the Canadian Philanthropy Partnership Research Network in 2014, PhiLab researchers have explored a myriad of topics and questions around the Canadian philanthropic sector. Naturally, most of this research—whether theoretical or empirical, exploratory or case-based, nation-wide or community-specific—has been situated firmly within the legal and symbolic boundaries of the Canadian nation-state. The fact that a Canadian Philanthropy Partnership Research Network prioritizes engaging with phenomena within the Canadian context should come as no surprise. As Anheier and Leat (2006) note, the form philanthropy takes is a product of the context within which it is embedded. In other words, Canadian grantmaking philanthropy is shaped by its political and institutional context (e.g., regulatory environment and relation to the state); its socio-material context (e.g., the particular issues and inequalities it addresses and reinforces); and its cultural context (e.g., national histories, discourses, and cultures around giving).
And yet, our world is a global one, defined by the cross-planetary flow of capital, people, media, and ideas (Appadurai, 2015). As a result, the social, economic, and ecological challenges we face are fundamentally global in nature, even if the most glaring injustices are spatially segregated. Similarly, philanthropic action and organizing impacts, and is impacted by, these transnational forces and “flows”.
Over the past year, for example, Canadian philanthropy has mobilized in response to the war in the Ukraine. Major philanthropic foundations moved large amounts of money to humanitarian organizations, while individuals provided small monetary donations, as well as essential goods, and volunteered their time to help with the ensuing refugee crisis. And when the Australian Wildfires raged in 2020, the Canadian philanthropic sector sprung to action through both large-scale donations, as well as through the organization of ad-hoc community groups that knit pouches and blankets for wildlife whose habitats had been lost to the fires.
Beyond these examples of emergency aid, however, philanthropy has played a decades-long role as a major funder for international development, while private philanthropic foundations (in particular, American foundations) have served as key actors within a range of development initiatives (Moran & Stone, 2016). The Rockefeller Foundation, for example, was instrumental in the establishment of the World Health Organization (Youde, 2013) and, alongside the Ford Foundation, was heavily involved in the ‘Green Revolution’ in the 1960s and 70s that increased agricultural production in the Global South through the transfer of new technologies (Herdt, 2012). More recently, mega-foundations like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have driven the adoption of new mechanisms for aid delivery and product development in global health and development (McGoey, 2015).
This entanglement of philanthropy and international development has not gone unnoticed by critical scholars who have argued that Western foundation philanthropy seeks to set international development agendas, influence global policy and public opinion, and legitimize the political-economic systems and structures that have allowed them to amass so much wealth alongside extreme global poverty (e.g., Kapoor, 2012; Kumar & Brooks, 2021; Morvaridi, 2012). For these authors, a major impact of philanthropic giving is the production and reproduction of Western hegemony in the Global South.
Nevertheless, our analysis of the extra-national dimensions of Western philanthropy—and Canadian philanthropy, specifically—should not be limited to a select few mega foundations with the power and wealth to remake the world in their interests.
In recent years, for example, we have seen growing academic interest in the phenomenon of “diaspora philanthropy” wherein diasporic communities facilitate the flow of philanthropic resources back to their countries of origin (e.g., Babis, Zychlinski, and Kagan, 2021; Low, 2017). Diasporic philanthropy is global in several ways. It involves the global flow of resources (i.e., donations). It is driven by the global flow of people (i.e., migration). And it is embedded within global relations of power (i.e., the social, economic, political, and environmental forces that displace or incentivize migration).
Researchers have also begun investigating how, and if, diasporic communities engage in culturally unique forms of philanthropic organizing (e.g., Mehta, 2016; Ramachandran, 2016; Smith et al., 2021), that draw on specific traditions, practices, and norms developed in their country of origin. In this way, diasporic philanthropy may also “be global” in the sense that it reflects the global flow of culture and tradition.
There are many more examples of the fundamentally global nature of philanthropy, ranging from contentious micro-level practices like voluntourism (e.g., McGloin & Georgeou, 2016) to the macro-level global supply chains that generate philanthropic sector assets (e.g., Saifer, 2021). So, in addition to focusing on the work that Canadian foundations do around the globe, this global-local lens—and the contributions in this Special Edition—raises additional questions: How are philanthropic communities in Canada shaped by our interconnected world? On the contrary, what can we learn about Canadian philanthropy by exploring philanthropic practices across the globe? And finally, what might a global-local lens teach us about social, economic, and environmental problems we address through our work as researchers and practitioners in the philanthropic sector?
This article is part of the November 2022 special edition. You can find more here
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Appadurai, A. (2015). □ Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Cultural Economy. In Colonial discourse and post-colonial theory (pp. 324-339). Routledge.Moran & Stone, 2016
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