After a hiatus last week for a well-earned break, we’re back this week with a veritably bulging Easter basket of philanthropy and social investment treats.
1) At number one is the intriguing story that the founders of Alibaba, the gigantic online marketplace (basically the Chinese Amazon, for those who haven’t heard of it) have announced that they are both setting up charitable foundations funded by shares in the company prior to its proposed IPO in the US later this year. These foundations will immediately be among the largest in Asia. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the story is the statement by one of the founders, Jack Ma, that he intends to focus on environmental issues in China, motivated in part by personal experience of his family suffering health issues that he ascribes to air quality problems. Does this signal the rise of a new breed of socially-conscious chinese billionaires? Given the sums of money involved, the philanthropic potential is enormous.
2) At number two is this story with a happy ending, about a vitriolic attack on food banks by the Daily Mail (I refuse to link to it, so Google it yourselves) which prompted many who were angered by it to donate to the Trussell Trust, resulting in a huge rise in donations for their food banks programme. Food banks have been at the centre of quite a bit of controversy recently – another depressing story last week reported that government officials had dismissed the figures put out by the Trussell Trust showing a rise in the use of food banks as “marketing” and “publicity seeking”.
3) At three is an article from the Wall St Journal highlighting the growing trend of “spend-down” charitable foundations in the US – that is, foundations established by donors who aim to spend all of the assets during their lifetimes rather than trying to keep them as permanent endowments. Apparently nearly a quarter of all foundations in the US are now taking a spend-down approach, which marks a significant shift in the role that foundations can play in the landscape of non-profit funding.
4) At four this week is an article from Forbes, asking “Is Impact Investing Just Bad Economics?” This appeared to be aiming to troll the entire impact investing community, and largely succeeded, judging from the backlash on social media and in other publications. The article itself is a cartoonish version of scepticism about social investment, based on a pretty woeful lack of understanding of how it actually works. It is worth reading, as these things often are, just to enjoy the feeling of having your blood pressure rise and to have a fairly easy target to tear apart.
5) And finally… Not really an “and finally” story this week, but rather a proper article in the Atlantic about “Why making corporations socially responsible is so darn hard“. There are some interesting insights about why real good intentions on the parts of corporate leaders and others do not always translate into good actions on the ground.