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A 'Flip' Chat With...Matthew Bishop, 'Economist' Bureau Chief and 'Philanthrocapitalism' Author

August 26, 2010

I remember a time, not that long ago, when August meant lazy vacations by the shore, big fat beach reads, and a growing pile of unread New York Times in the corner of whatever cottage we happened to be renting. Because most New York-based reporters and editors were also on vacation, the odds of missing a big story were pretty slim -- and if you did, you knew you could catch up, along with everyone else, when you got back to the office at the end of the month.

Those days are long gone. In today's hyper-connected mediascape, the news never sleeps -- and neither does Matt Bishop. Earlier this week, I sat down with The Economist's New York bureau chief to chat about two of the biggest philanthropy-related stories of the month: the news that forty families and individuals had signed on to the Giving Pledge, a campaign launched earlier this summer by Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett to encourage the nation's billionaires to pledge at least half their fortunes to charity; and, more recently, the kerfuffle (Bishop's Steve Goldberg's word) over accusations of favoritism and conflicts of interest at the Social Innovation Fund (SIF), a private-public partnership administered by the Corporation for National and Community Service that last month announced grants totaling almost $50 million to eleven intermediary organizations, including New Profit, Inc., a Boston-based venture philanthropy fund with ties to SIF's current executive director.

(To learn more about SIF and the process it used to select its first chort of grantees, see this great roundup of articles/blog posts by Adin Miller.)

In part one of our chat, Bishop, who's probably best known to philanthropy practitioners as the author (with Michael Green) of Philanthrocapitalism: How the Rich Can Save the World, talks about the spirit behind the Giving Pledge campaign and offers some thoughts as to whether it will be judged a success:

(Total running time: 5 minutes, 50 seconds)

In part two, Bishop explains why SIF is important and what it should do differently to avoid similar controversies in the future:

(Total running time: 5 minutes, 42 seconds)

What do you think? Is the Giving Pledge a good idea? Will it encourage others -- the merely affluent as well as the super-rich -- to give more and be more intentional in their philanthropy? And what about the Social Innovation Fund? Is it an idea whose time has come? Does it have the potential to move the needle on deeply entrenched social problems? And how badly has it been hurt by the current transparency controversy?

Use the comments section to share your thoughts....

(If you're reading this in an e-mail, click here.)

-- Mitch Nauffts


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Posted by Bruce Trachtenberg  |   August 26, 2010 at 06:06 PM

Certainly no doubt the Giving Pledge has brought more attention to philanthropy. Long term, though, hopefully there's a lot of thought about how that money is used and some measures put in place to account for progress. Also, great to see how others are taking advantage of the pledge, as NY Community Trust has done through ads in the NY Times and Wall Street Journal: http://bit.ly/d4cGOG

Posted by Geri Stengel  |   August 27, 2010 at 11:34 AM

For anyone who is curious about the SIF kerfluffle (love the term), this 5-minute interview Matthew Bishop covers it all. He touched on the importance of the initiative and its challenges. I particularly appreciated Matthew's criticism of the poorly chosen name for the initiative. As an SIF reviewer, I struggled with the difference between the criteria laid down by SIF and my own desire to give transformational organizations a chance. But the evaluation criteria clearly leaned toward established, proven models.

I look forward to the day when the government backs innovation but that will only come when the public can accept the high failure rate that innovation -- in any field -- entails. For my take on the transparency controversy, go to http://www.ventureneer.com/vblog/power-social-media-social-innovation-fund-increases-its-transparency.

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