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Book review – Philanthropy: From Aristotle To Zuckerberg

Book review – Philanthropy: From Aristotle To Zuckerberg

Philanthropy: From Aristotle To Zuckerberg (Bloomsbury Publishing) is a barnstorming romp through the origins of charity giving right through to a timely challenge of today’s philanthrocapitalists power in world development and civil society. In doing so, it is a helpful contribution to the ongoing debate about the common belief that all philanthropy is problematic.

Author and journalist, Paul Vallely (Pope Francis: Untying the Knots and co-writer of Bob Geldolf’s autobiography Is That It?) aims in his in-depth analysis to reunite the spiritual dimension of philanthropy together with modern philanthropy. This is where big businessmen, who have made huge fortunes in the high-tech world, are pursuing a kind of philanthropy which is top-down, fact-driven and very much to do with data and measurements. Ultimately, the author questions whether we have lost sight of the spiritual roots of true philanthropy in pursuit of big business efficiency that is secretly shaping our world.

The author’s true mission, as we journey with him, is to bring us full circle, drawing us back to philanthropy being a symbiotic relationship between the giver, the receiver and the society in which they both live.

Researched and written over six years, Paul Valley provides readers with a detailed and vivid travelogue through the ages of how philosophy, state, religion, institutions and the mega-rich have all shaped philanthropy. We come to understand how the heart of giving has been removed through the generations and replaced by the head, highlighting the general disconnect of today’s super philanthropists’ relationship with their beneficiaries. The author’s true mission, as we journey with him, is to bring us full circle, drawing us back to philanthropy being a symbiotic relationship between the giver, the receiver and the society in which they both live.

 

Paul Vallely's book Philanthropy: from Aristotle to Zuckerberg

 

Although we wander off down various side paths of interest during our chronologic journey, where readers will enjoy the references to Santa Claus and nursery rhymes, for example, Paul Vallely uses the past and present constantly to challenge our future. Does charity create dependency? Does benevolence deprive the poor of their autonomy and dignity? Is everything best left to the State? Do billionaire philanthropists present threats to democracy? Is there good and bad philanthropy – and who decides? What does any of this do to the soul?

This fact-filled philanthropic voyage of discovery helpfully has its own source notes website and chapter bookends of fascinating interviews with today’s philanthropists, theologians and leading thinkers who are interested or have a stake in civil society. These include Richard Branson, Eliza Manningham-Buller, David Sainsbury, Bob Geldolf, Naser Haghamen, Lenny Henry, Jonathan Sacks, Rowan Williams and Ngaire Woods amongst them.

 

“It is focused on people rather than product. It is process driven rather than results orientated. It comes from the heart as much as the head.”

 

As I delved into the book’s 750 plus pages, studying the triumphs and failures of our forebears, I was reminded how we in the charity sector stand on the shoulders of giants, providing us with insight, positive energy and hope that we can build back better. However, philanthropists need our help to cross the rubicon of successfully fusing together compassion with efficacy. This is explored in detail in the final three chapters as the author brings the reader up to date with today’s super philanthropists’ behaviour and a peek into the post-pandemic world of giving. Paul Vallely implores the big giving hitters to remember, “It [philanthropy] is focused on people rather than product. It is process driven rather than results orientated. It comes from the heart as much as the head.”

 

Paul Vallely's Philanthropy book - inside dusk jacket description

 

Philanthropy: from Aristotle to Zuckerberg is not just for “Fundraising Anoraks”

 

Philanthropy: from Aristotle to Zuckerberg is not just for “Fundraising Anoraks”, but for those with any stake in civil society, whether politician or activist, believer or atheist, anthropologist or futurologist, economists or philanthropists. In a never normal world, this book points to how philanthropy can rediscover its soul, reminding us that, “Philanthropy is far more than the impulse of one driven individual”.

 

Paul Pirie has held local, national and international leadership roles in the charity sector for over 25 years. His last role was heading up the fundraising and PR team at the Film & TV Charity. After a short career break, he is exploring new opportunities where he can bring his unique neurodiverse thinking skills and pragmatic charity leadership to provide insight and strategic solutions.

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