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Steve Jobs and Occupy Wall Street: Two Ways to Disrupt Philanthropy

October 10, 2011

(Bradford K. Smith is the president of the Foundation Center. In his last post, he wrote about the poverty and the marketization of philanthropy.)

Occupy_wallst_large In the fifty-six impossibly creative years he spent on the planet, Steve Jobs did far more to disrupt philanthropy than any of us who write, think, live, and breathe it as a profession or avocation. By taking the hulking mainframe computers pioneered by the likes of IBM, Honeywell, and Control Data and putting them first on our desktops and then in our ears and in the palm of our hands, he connected us 24/7 to information and to each other. Perhaps because he never seemed that interested in philanthropy, we never fully grasped -- and may not still -- how profoundly he was changing our industry.

Far more radical than the sleek design and tactile interface of the company's inventions, however, was the profound way in which they democratized the control of and access to information. Philanthropy, a cumbersome latecomer field that is only beginning to operate in the digital world, cannot ignore what this means for social change and the way we do business. People, causes, organizations, governments, businesses, and everything in between are becoming networked in ways that bring into question our notions of "grantmaker," "grantee," "not-for-profit," and "for-profit." This kind of disruption, so competently explored by Lucy Bernholz, compels us to re-imagine, re-position, re-tool, and aspire to a future in which we can and must do far more to make the world a better place than we've done to date. Still, this is disruption philanthropy can live with: even as Jobs' innovations challenged us, many a foundation prospered by hitching their endowments to the upward spiral of Apple's geometrically expanding market cap.

Then there is Occupy Wall Street, a "leaderless resistance movement" that claims it is "the 99% that will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1%" and employs "the revolutionary Arab Spring tactic" to achieve its ends. When it comes to disruption, this is more like a fist to the solar plexus. No matter how you slice it, philanthropy is driven by asset-based wealth; indeed, large organized philanthropy of the foundation variety is fueled by the top 1 percent of the population that holds 23.5 percent of national income -- and whose "greed and corruption" the Occupy Wall Street movement is protesting. For foundations, Wall Street is not some distant exotic land, given that their investments are often entrusted to some of the biggest financial firms; nor is it unheard of for foundation presidents and executives from some of those firms to sit on each other's boards.

On the heels of a brutal recession caused, in large part, by an orgy of financial excess, it is dangerously easy to tar everyone in the top 1 percent with the same brush, even those who might have made their money the old-fashioned way and are giving something back through their philanthropy.

Occupy Wall Street has no Steve Jobs to personify it, yet the thousands who are swelling its ranks use his iPhones and iPads to document, communicate, organize, and network. A visionary business leader that saw a connected world beyond anything most of us could have imagined and a burgeoning social movement that refuses to accept the accumulation of vast wealth without the exercise of social responsibility: as philanthropy is disrupted, those of us who work in the field will have to adapt and change. And foundations will need to do a far better job of connecting themselves to the digital world, being transparent, and telling one big, overriding story: every day foundations strive to use the immense privilege and freedom of action that comes with wealth to fill the world with justice, beauty, and opportunity for all.

(Photo: Getty Images)

-- Brad Smith

Comments

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Having worked on Wall Street for nearly 16 years, I would be shocked if you could find a dozen Wall Streeters who truly believes they are called "to fill the world with justice, beauty, and opportunity for all." No, a Wall Streeter is there for himself and his clientele. This is not greed so much as it is common sense. It's the Wall Streeter's job to enrich his clients. And, his clients are obligated to reward him for services rendered. It's business - plain and simple.

Where we run into a problem is when Wall Street cheats. We have had a mortgaged-back securities crisis in the USA SIX times, according to Fox News. No one goes to jail for cheating and this last time many innocent Wall Streeters lost their job.

I am no fan of the Occupy Wall Street crowd. You simply cannot hold an entire industry captive and hope for a better day tomorrow because you added to the damage. The time has come for Wall Streeters to lift up and encourage Main Streeters. The real value in the marketplace today is not technology. It's not processing the crowd like accountants tackling a spreadsheet. It's realizing that ALL PEOPLE have VALUE and that we all have an obligation not to allow that value to be wasted.

Moreover, the problem in America right now is that special interest groups are trashing people. This MUST stop! For more insight into the solution, visit http://budurl.com/TheNeedsSheet.

@lamar

I'm genuinely curious to know how Occupy Wall Street is holding an entire industry captive - and also how you think it is adding to the damage.

I'm no expert in the dynamics of mortgaged-back securities and the like, and the people camping downtown don't seem to be either. But what is patently clear to us all is that OccupyWallStreet is currently the strongest voice among many in a broad-based call for the establishment of a more equitable, just and responsible distribution of wealth.

The Occupy Wall Street "crowd" - which now includes people who attended those hundreds of protests around the world this past weekend - would surely be in agreement with you, that the time has come for Wall Streeters to lift up and encourage Main Streeters. The fact that the Wall Streeters seem to have shown no inclination to do so in the wake of the economic crisis suggests that this cannot happen without the kind of intervention that Occupy Wall Street exemplifies.

Rather than doing damage, it seems to me that Occupy Wall Street is taking the lead in encouraging exactly what you are calling for to happen, at a time when no-one else had stepped up to the plate.


I'm no expert in the dynamics of mortgaged-back securities and the like, and the people camping downtown don't seem to be either. But what is patently clear to us all is that OccupyWallStreet is currently the strongest voice among many in a broad-based call for the establishment of a more equitable, just and responsible distribution of wealth

>>> Would the next Steve Jobs even bother if he knew he'd face a confiscatory redistribution of his earnings?

"confiscatory redistribution of his earnings" -- is not what OWS is after. I remember a guy in the 80's tell me that his compressed wages were all the fault of women coming into the workplace. Well, the men were not treating housewives properly or more would have stayed housewives. In the same way, employers are not treating employees with any loyalty like they used to. (FedEx is an exception). Bill Clinton even says the middle class has been beaten up for the past 30 years. Our wages have not grown. Those are the problems. How many vacation houses do the CEOs have to have, how many dinners at Texas de Brazil, while at the same time they lay off workers and make the ones that remain work more overtime for no more pay? Our society used to be better than that.

CatWoman said...
"confiscatory redistribution of his earnings" -- is not what OWS is after


"How many vacation houses do the CEOs have to have, how many dinners at Texas de Brazil, while at the same time they lay off workers and make the ones that remain work more overtime for no more pay?"


>>>> The logic behind these two statements does not square up though.

I completely agree with you "CatWoman". A New Revolution Earth Social Media Site has been built to help support the occupiers and to transition the protesting to an online format. The Occupy Movement is our chance to create equality and this time it doesn't have to be violence that creates change, we have the internet now :-). If we all get involved or at least participate we will grow and we really could make a difference.....http://www.rev-earth.org.

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