Roosevelt Institute Fellow Georgia Levenson Keohane recently went on NPR to talk about modern-day philanthropy in a discussion that ranged from its history to how modern philanthropists prioritize initiatives. But right now she notes that “in a time of austerity we need to do better with what we have, and we need to understand what works.” Philanthropy can be a part of that. (Click the link for audio.)
There is, she argues, now a relationship between philanthropists and the government where “philanthropy can take important risks and really experiment either with political risks or financial risks, which the private sector or the public sector won’t take… If they work right, we can scale them, and that is where government comes in.” Yet there are also problems with this approach: the private sector addresses issues differently than social workers and public officials, and dealing with the times when economic logic clashes with social logic remains a consistent issue.
She outlined two terms that help us navigate the debate, however: outputs and outcomes. As she puts it, “If you are looking at people off the streets who are homeless, you can check off a box for success if you have them all in shelters [outputs], but that doesn’t get to the larger question of if you are solving homelessness [outcomes].” She argues that businesses tend to focus on outputs, rather than keeping in mind the outcome. These are complex questions with no simple answer.
For more on how modern-day philanthropic efforts can dovetail with progressive goals, check out our series “Fighting Poverty in an Age of Austerity.”