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   Small Change
Reviewed by Sudhirendar Sharma
23 Jul 2010

Charity begins at home

At about the time when Indian government had shut door on some of the leading development donor agencies, philanthrocapitalists of all hues had mushroomed to fill the gap. Driven by corporate profits, such foundations promise to save the world by bringing the magic of the market to philanthropy. That business-is-best philosophy has been seductively presented to remove the messiness of social change. And no one seems to be complaining.

But Michael Edwards considers it an attractive proposition that is also a dangerous mirage. After all, if business wants to save the world, there are plenty of opportunities to do so at the heart of their operations: pay taxes; pay decent wages; don't produce goods that kill; and follow government regulations. Ironically, businesses evade $385 billion a year of corporate tax in developing countries, far more than what flows as foreign aid.

Small Change is a tiny volume filled with incredible insights on philanthropy, civil society and social change. A must read for all those engaged in the business of social change, the book argues that solutions to complex social and political problems have to be fought for and negotiated - not produced, packaged and sold. Unless a social space free of external influences is preserved, people cannot hold government and business accountable for their action.

The non-profit sector may be getting larger, but it is becoming weaker due to increasing corporatization of non-profit groups. By reducing non-profits to the role of service providers, businesses have not only avoided areas that are essentially unprofitable for them but have also distanced the non-profits from their prime role of addressing inequality and individual alienation, which has essentially been the creation of capitalism.

Having spent three decades in the nonprofit sector, Edward backs up his argument with some clear logic that holds one's attention with a lot of interesting stories. The metrics-driven methodologies of the business world have failed more than once. For instance, the Gates Foundation has admitted that its $258 million investment in AIDS control in India has achieved none of its goals and is too expensive to be handed over to the government.

However, the story doesn't end here. A World Health Organization official had complained in 2008 that it was no longer possible to find independent reviewers for research proposals because they were all on the payroll of the Gates Foundation. It is no accident but part of a deeper conspiracy. By violating regulations and evading taxes the capitalists amass wealth, a portion of which is directed for social causes that in turn helps appropriate policies. A win-win scenario!

Digging deeper into the world of corporate philanthropy, Edwards contests the dubious claims of the 'philanthrocapitalism' espoused by Michael Bishop, the so-called 'creative capitalism' offered by Bill Gates, the 'fortune at the bottom of the pyramid' of C K Prahalad as guises to legitimise window dressing by corporate social responsibility and social entrepreneurship that address symptoms rather than root causes.

If you wish to get insights on how businesses are corrupting governments and the civil society, Small Change could make a thoughtful beginning.

Small Change: Why Business Won't Save the World
by Michael Edwards, Tata McGraw Hill Edition, New Delhi, 125 pages, Rs 299.

 Other books reviewed by Dr Sudhirendar Sharma
Features > Book Shelf
Spoiling Tibet
Posting Date: 28 Feb 2014

A Journey in the Future of Water
Posting Date: 28 Feb 2014

Yamuna Manifesto
Posting Date: 28 Feb 2014

Corruption Watch

The bad news is that corruption has not only sustained but has grown in size and stature in the country. With scams being a regular feature, seventy per cent respondents in a survey have rightfully opined that corruption has continued to increase in India. One in every two interviewed admit having paid a bribe for availing public services during last one year. Transparency International's latest survey reveals that the political parties top the chart for the most corrupt public institutions, followed by police force and legislatures. No wonder, India continues to make new records on the global corruption arena!

The shocking revelation is that the health and education sectors haven't remained untouched by this phenomenon. With 5th and 6th positions respectively for these sectors on the public perception chart on corruption, corruption has crept insidiously into these sectors of hope for the masses. With bureaucracy being fourth in the list of corrupt institutions in the country, corruption seems to have been non-formally institutionalized with little hope if public services would ever be effective in the country. With economic growth having literally institutionalized corruption, are we now expecting corrupt to be socially responsible - a different CSR.

Poor. Who?

Not giving 'aid' to India is one thing but calling it 'rich' is quite another. If one in three of the world's malnourished children live in India, what does average daily income of $3 indicate? It perhaps means that there is a relative decline in poverty - people are 'less poor' than what they used to be in the past. But having crossed the World Bank arbitrary threshold of $2 a day does not absolve the 'developed' countries of their obligation to part with 0.7 per cent of their Gross National Income in development aid. Should this three-decade old figure not be revised?  

An interesting debate in UK's House of Commons delved on future of development assistance by the British Government. While prioritizing limited resources has been a concern, there has been no denying the fact that development aid must be guided towards tangible gains over a short period of time to start with. There are difficult choices for elected governments to make - should they invest in long-term primary education or in short-term university scholarships? Which of these will bring gains and trigger long-term transformation in the society. As politicians continue to be divided on the matter, poverty persists!!   

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Book Shelf

Yamuna Manifesto

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