Congratulations to Wikipedia. The free online encylopedia has just exceeded the $6m target it set for its recent fundraising effort. A thank you letter from its inspirational founder, Jimmy Wales, noted that “This campaign has proven that Wikipedia matters to its users, and that our users strongly support our mission: to bring free knowledge to the planet, free of charge and free of advertising. We deeply appreciate the generosity of our supporters.”
Wikipedia is the leading example of what has been called “open source philanthropy” – a form of philanthrocapitalism that is booming thanks to “wikinomics“: potentially huge benefits from connecting and collaborating via the internet at a very low cost. Indeed, the entire open source movement is inherently philanthropic, as it creates a huge benefit to society by waiving or holding in common the intellectual property rights that might otherwise have been captured for primarily private gain. There is also a growing number of web-based philanthropic organisations, including two we write about in the book, kiva.org, a microfinance site, and globalgiving.com, a giving marketplace. We predict that this will be an area of spectacular philanthrocapitalistic growth in the next few years.
We can only bellow two cheers for Wikipedia, however. Although it is generally a wonderful example of philanthrocapitalism, and deserves to be generously supported, both financially and through the time and expertise of those who collectively write its definitions, Wikipedia is wrong when it describes philanthrocapitalism. According to its definition, philanthrocapitalism is merely another word for “venture philanthropy”. As readers of our book – and, for that matter, critiques such as that of Michael Edwards – will know, philanthrocapitalism is far broader and more significant than that. For instance, the Gates Foundation is in many ways the poster child for philanthrocapitalism, yet nobody (including Wikipedia) would describe the bulk of its activities as venture philanthropy, a phrase generally used to refer to the early stage development of philanthropic organisations.
As authors of the term philanthrocapitalism, the organisation’s etiquette means that we are not supposed to correct Wikipedia’s definition. But we hope that someone who can will restore Wikepedia’s reputation for accuracy, and allow us to give it a third cheer.