Saturday, 17 March 2018

What is the Nordic Perspective to Philanthropy and Collective Impact? Some critical reflections to collective impact in the USA

As much as the Nordic countries have a long tradition of quite successfully carrying out policies in governing their social-democratic welfare states, over the past decade, economic growth has led to an increase in accumulation of private wealth while the Nordic welfare model has kept under scrutiny. This pressure is translating into an ever-greater need for philanthropy that has gained a position as a strong societal force in change making. The Nordic countries actually have a long tradition of philanthropy, although the Nordic countries are known for their government-led and tax-supported health care and education. Many philanthropists in the region are the lead innovators to combat some of the acutest social challenges, in which a holistic and impact-driven approach can be identified and in which new innovative forms of giving such as venture philanthropy, social impact investing and social impact bonds play a significant role.

The increasing Nordic philanthropic interest and social impact investing are generally driven by strong role models and personal connections to the issues, but “the ideas of the social and the collective” are so deeply rooted in the Nordic culture along with “the like-minded philosophies of equal opportunity” that all actors across sectors in a society share the responsibility for societal development. In other words, the society as a whole believes in a shared responsibility in change making, but more precisely:
-       family ties and engagement remain important despite the culture of collective or individualism
-       areas of scientific research and the care of children and youth are most prioritized.
-       and for the majority, philanthropy is primarily a domestic affair rather than international.

Overall, Nordic philanthropy can be seen as an engine for development, an alternative or a support to the welfare state affairs that is not separate from the public funding and institutions, but rather compliments it in providing public goods and has the potential to create innovative solutions to address current challenges.

To answer the question “What is the Nordic Perspective to Philanthropy and Collective Impact,” it is simply a commitment to increase impact and enable large-scale change, to encourage and ensure cross-sector collaboration, which is a transforming societal force, but also a love affair between the trusted social-democratic welfare state and institutions and innovative, individualistic philanthropists.  The Nordic philanthropy and collective impact in change making seek for the same goals and conditions as any other collective impact engine or entity: there must be a need, will or urgency for change and the right financial resources, as well as both the individual and collective advocates.

It seems that in the USA, the collective impact has taken more a business-inspired approach to solving social problems. Why? Probably because there is a lack of government control or trust in the system for providing equity or stability in health care or education. Or is it because there is not a long tradition of well-functioning welfare programs. As much as the American nonprofits, foundations and private donators are dynamite for innovating care services, masters in scientific research and bulldozers in enforcing social change, they are more likely to function alone, as independent, client-oriented, profit-making businesses. These so-called “social enterprises” are slowly emerging and replacing the social services which the government or the states are no longer attractively able to provide to their citizens. The social entrepreneurship is promoting “ less government”, replacing democratic accountability with market disciplinary and undermining the critical role of an organized citizenry and political action in achieving social change. Thus, it’s looking like the individual philanthropists and entrepreneurs are the leading forces in collective impact transforming the idea of  “the social and the collective” more and more towards egocentric and privatized. This kind of individualistic, market-based, business-as-usual type of approach to collective impact is definitely taking away from the existing institutions and social programs and working against the very idea of collective impact rather than working (collaboratively) for the sake of the common good.

The Americans are known to be creative innovators and ambitious reformers, but somewhat old-fashioned in a way that they seem to be pushing their free-market philosophies in every area of life, even when it comes to the concept, implementation and assessment of collective impact. This is resulting the government to step aside and diminishing the presence of the public resources and also forcing the citizens to become less organized or engaged in demanding public solutions to public problems. But in reality, there truly are no private heroes, solutions or approaches to social problems that are implicit public.

Sources: Stanford Social Innovation Review: “Social Enterprise Is Not Social Change”
            News Cision: “Creating Impact Through Philanthropy- A Nordic Perspective.”