Saturday, August 09, 2008

More debate on Just Another Emperor

Thanks to Michael Edwards, author of Just Another Emperor, for investing the time to comment on my last blog post. I'm excited about the chance to continue to make my case that Just Another Emperor utilizes spin techniques rather than balanced research in its quest to make the case for its policy recommendations. Michael's post provides ample opportunity to make my points more clearly.

For those tracking the progress of this debate, I would say that Michael and I have a similar view of the other's arguments: distorted, misrepresented and ignored seem to sum it up. In addition, we're in agreement that those interested in the issues being discussed would benefit from reading Michael's book and evaluating the strengths of our two arguments. I think we also agree that:
we should certainly increase funding for work that addresses the root causes of social injustice, strengthen foundation learning and accountability, give “beneficiaries” a greater stake in governance and strategy, and have more humility in the way we approach our work.

So far, so good. But, then we start to part ways.

1. Denying the existence or plausibility of easily discovered evidence.
Jim states that “the new elite philanthropists are more likely to give globally and to social sector causes and leaders drawn from disadvantaged communities”, an astonishing statement for which I can find no evidence at all. If you have some Jim, please post it on your blog so that we can all read and discuss it in a spirit of open and democratic debate.

Delighted to do so, Michael. Look at the spin technique being used here. It's not just that Michael Edwards disagrees with me, it's that he can find "no evidence at all." Be careful when someone throws around an absolute like this. Of course, in my critique, I was very specific about this issue, but Edwards doesn't respond to my specific points. It's easier for him to deny that this evidence exists. But, it's easy to find.

So, let's do the research. It's possible to glean from the three websites of the three top groups that identify social entrepreneurs, all three of which are mentioned in Edwards' book. Since Edwards has found "no evidence at all," one must assume that he hasn't done that research, which means that he hasn't looked at the grantee lists of these three groups. Of course, one of my critiques of Edwards' work is that he ignores evidence that doesn't agree with his arguments.

So, let's start with the granddaddy group, Ashoka, beloved of Google (quotes from Google on their web page), Skoll and so on. Where are the Ashoka fellows? Easy enough to use Ashoka’s handy-dandy search engine at
Africa: 236
Asia: 547
Europe: 190
Middle East & North Africa: 34
North America: 232
South America: 476
Global: 10
Even if we throw all of global into North America and Europe, and not worrying about the fact that the majority of North American Ashoka fellows are actually in Mexico(!), we get 432 for North American and Europe vs. 1293 for the rest of the world. So, I think my case that Ashoka Fellows are far more likely to be working on global issues (rather than American issues) and be people of color is better established than Edwards’ claim.

Let’s move on to Schwab and Skoll, the more elite social entrepreneur groups (elite, because a significant number of these folks were Ashoka Fellows five or more years ago). Schwab also has a nifty search engine for finding out where and what their Fellows do. I did split the Americas into U.S. and Canada and Latin America by inspection of country of the entrepreneur.
Africa: 13
Asia: 34
Europe: 29
Middle East: 5
United States & Canada: 24
Rest of the Americas: 33
Australia: 2
So, Europe, U.S., Canada and Australia represent 55 to 85 groups from the rest of the world. And, many of the groups from Europe, U.S. and Australia do most of their work in the rest of the world.

And, finally, Skoll. Skoll has the fewest social entrepreneurs, but Skoll is pretty generous with its award-winners. Oh, by the way, their support is multi-year and general unrestricted grants, just like Ashoka (these are key recommendations of Edwards’ book, with the implication that philanthrocapitalists don’t do this already). They don’t have a search engine, so I counted up the social entrepreneurs by where they are doing most of their work:
Africa: 6
Asia: 13
Europe: 0
Middle East: 1
United States & Canada: 7
Rest of the Americas: 7
Global: 16
So, in terms of areas of concentration, we have 7 in the U.S. and Canada vs. 43 in the rest of the world. Unlike Ashoka and Schwab, where the location of the work is highly correlated with the origins of the social entrepreneur, Skoll’s grantees are not majority led by people of color: I estimate more like 40%.

Edwards criticizes the philanthrocapitalists for their support of social entrepreneurs. Yet, the three leading social entrepreneur organizations support groups that are clearly dominated by groups that work outside the rich countries of North America and Europe, and are majority-led by social entrepreneurs drawn from the communities they serve.

“[A]n astonishing statement for which I can find no evidence at all.” Fascinating. Took me less than an hour to find a pile of evidence, using groups and philanthrocapitalists cited in Edwards’ book. Perhaps my suggestion that this is less of the comprehensive, authoritative analysis than represented is not as outlandish and improbable as suggested by the author.

2. The Ad Hominem Abusive attack, redux.
Ad hominem attacks on one's opponent are a tried-and-true strategy for people who have a case that is weak. (From the online version of the American Heritage Dictionary).
One of the spin techniques I cite Edwards as using is the ad hominem attack. I list five different attacks made on the personal character of philanthropists, including that they are tax evaders. So, it should come as no surprise that instead of countering my substantive points, Edwards goes on a personal attack. Apparently, my case is made in ways that “no right-thinking person would support.” So, I have to be either insane or immoral to disagree with Mr. Edwards. I’m unimpressed with the rigor of this argument.

3. I didn’t say that (did I)?
In my pamphlet I recommend that we should not attempt to legislate for reforms in philanthropy
Quoting from Just Another Emperor:
Pass legislation to protect the public interest in schemes for “embedded giving” (in which a proportion of the price of goods and services is donated to social causes), the use of charitable trusts, and other forms of business involvement in philanthropy.

No foundation or social enterprise should receive tax exemption unless its board is fully representative of the communities it claims to serve.
Commission independent impact evaluations for any tax exempt activity above a certain size, and publish the results. Require all foundations and social enterprises above a certain size to compile a publicly available summary of all evaluations every five years, and to solicit feedback from grantees and beneficiaries, and independent experts in the field.

Sorry if I mistook the call for passing legislation as an attempt to legislate reform. To be strictly accurate, Edwards starts his policy recommendations with a call for voluntary compliance but then started mixing in these calls for legislation, requirements (voluntary requirements?) and regulatory change. Once you start fixing the excesses of those philanthrocapitalists, it’s easy to get carried away!

To conclude, there is a real need to debate the future of philanthropy. However, it’s too important to base those discussions on weak arguments and the use of spin techniques such as ad hominem attacks. Let's stick to evidence-based discussions.

1 comment:

Michael Edwards said...

Thanks Jim, since everything I say is dismissed as “spin” this will be my last post on your blog. I asked you for evidence that “the new elite philanthropists are more likely to give globally and to social sector causes and leaders drawn from disadvantaged communities.” In response you have produced figures for the geographical location of “social entrepreneurs” supported by three organizations - Ashoka, Schwab and Skoll - many of whom do great work, I agree. But the statement you make isn’t about these three organizations, it’s a general claim, and to substantiate it, you would need to collect comprehensive information on the giving patterns of the two groups, and then present it for scrutiny on your blog. I look forward to reading it.

On “ad hominem attacks”, it’s important to clarify that my pamphlet does not call anyone a “tax evader.” It says that an important component of corporate social responsibility is to pay your taxes, and that “corporate tax evasion (which costs developing countries $385 billion a year) is an Achilles heel of the philanthrocapitalist claim to pursue the public good,” raising the prospect that what is given with one hand may be taken away with the other. I think that’s a fair, general point to raise.

And on voluntary improvements in philanthropy as opposed to legislation, my recommendations rely strongly on the former. The only cases where legislation is mentioned are those where it has already been proposed by others, as in the case of embedded giving (where Congress may act based on some particularly egregious examples where very little money reaches the intended beneficiaries), Board diversity (the subject of a major recent debate in California), and the requirement that “all foundations and social enterprises above a certain size should compile a publicly available summary of all evaluations every five years, and solicit feedback from grantees and beneficiaries, and independent experts in the field,” as part of the accountability that goes with preferential tax treatment. It would be interesting to know why you think these are bad ideas.