Books of the Year

If you need proof that philanthrocapitalism matters more than ever, look no further than the large number of books touching on effective giving and social change that have been published this year. Excluding our own contribution, The Road From Ruin (published in paperback this year in both Britain and America), here in no particular order is our Top Ten:

1. Giving 2.0 by Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen. “A philanthropist is anyone who gives anything – time, money, experience, skills and networks – in any amount to create a better world.” Thus begins a book that is at once inspirational, full of great examples, and full of practical advice for philanthropists great and small. The author, Laura Arrillaga-Andreesson, is the daughter of philanthropists (her father is one of the biggest donors to Stanford University), married to one of the new generation of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs who are turning to giving (Marc Andreessen, who started Netscape), and an innovative philanthrocapitalist in her own right, as the founder of SV2, a sort of venture philanthropy training organisation that we write about in Philanthrocapitalism. She has used her insights from the front line to write a compelling book.

2. Impact Investing, by Anthony Bugg-Levine and Jed Emerson. One of the hottest trends in philanthrocapitalism is to invest money in a way that consciously aims simultaneously to improve society and generate a financial return. Two authors who have pioneered this so-called “impact investment” have written a terrific book that serves both as a highly readable introduction to the field and an agenda-setting guide to how it should develop if it is to fulfill its considerable potential.

3. Three Cups of Deceit, by John Krakauer. A remarkable expose of the incompetence and deceptions of Greg Mortenson, a social entrepreneur and best-selling author of ‘Three Cups of Tea’, a book that inspired many to support Mortenson’s work to build schools in Pakistan. Anyone involved in funding, overseeing or running a non-profit (or, indeed, any mission-driven organisation) should read this book, and learn how good intentions and good anecdotes are not enough to ensure good results, without good management and good governance.

4. Give Smart, by Joel Fleishman and Tom Tierney. Two of America’s leading thinkers about effective philanthropy, and advisors to philanthropists, share their wisdom. As Matthew noted in a review in The Economist, the authors rightly argue that biggest problem for philanthropists may be that “they are essentially accountable to no one but themselves.” To avoid being tempted into a self-deluded belief in their own success, philanthropists should create systems that force them to hear what may at times be unpleasant truths about the ineffectiveness of their work, and to be constantly challenged to improve. Wise advice, as is much else in this book.

5. KaBOOM! by Darell Hammond. Social entrepreneurs who have both a vision and an understanding of how to execute it on a large scale are at the heart of philanthrocapitalism. Hammond, who fights for the right for children to play and to have playgrounds to play in, is one of the best, including through his innovative partnerships with organisations such as Home Depot and the Omidyar Network. He tells his story well.

6. Leap of Reason, by Mario Morino. Any list of effective venture philanthropists should include Mario Morino, the entrepreneurial force and conscience behind Venture Philanthropy Partners. This short book struck a chord because it wrestles honestly with the need that any responsible giver faces to measure impact and the difficulty of doing that right. As Matthew put it in a review in The Economist, Morino feels no need to “wrap his iron fist in a velvet glove” and tells it straight: his book includes a stark warning that government spending cuts are about to cause a crisis in the social sector that “will have an impact on almost every non-profit [organisation] in America, whether or not it receives government funds.”

7. Adapt, by Tim Harford. Not primarily about philanthropy, but about innovation and the necessary role that failure plays in it – yet including several great historical examples from philanthropy. One of our favourites tells of how a philanthropist bailed out the project to build the Spitfire fighter, later so important in winning the Battle of Britain in World War Two, when government funding dried up.

8. Screw Business As Usual, by Richard Branson and Jean Olewang. Actually a good read, with lots of good stories (not all of them about the bearded wonder himself), from one of the philanthrocapitalists we write about in our book. As Matthew noted in a review in The Economist, “the subplot of the book is about the growing influence in tackling the world’s problems of a small group of wealthy philanthropists and business leaders, and how Sir Richard has become a catalyst among them.” The book is a rallying cry for businesses to see the opportunity to ‘do well by doing good’ (although we doubt whether publicly-owned companies have the freedom to use shareholders’ money to take on the diverse range of causes that Sir Richard can as the owner of the Virgin Group of companies). An important and provocative read for business leaders nonetheless.

9. Do More Than Give, by Leslie Crutchfield, John Kania and Mark Kramer. “Catalytic philanthropy” is what these authors call philanthrocapitalism, and they provide some useful case studies of best practice. As Matthew put it in Stanford Social Innovation Review, despite a few quibbles, “this is an inspiring book, full of nuggets of wisdom and compelling stories of success, that should be read by every philanthropist who is serious about trying to change the world.”

10. Poor Economics, by Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo. Quite simply the best book written on the practicalities of helping people in the developing world, and a powerful expose of the dangers of simplistic thinking. As we have noted before on this blog, “it is a fascinating, at times depressing, but ultimately thoroughly inspiring read.” If you haven’t read it, do so soon. If you have read it, read it again in 2012!