In what ways can history help us improve philanthropy?

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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It is often said that those who do not know their history are doomed to repeat it.  This means that we are supposed to learn from what happened in the past.  We are supposed to look at the past, see what things worked and what things failed, and adjust our actions accordingly.  This concept is usually applied to issues of war and peace or other equally momentous issues, but it can be applied to philanthropy as well.

If we are going to improve our efforts at philanthropy, we need to look at history and see what various types of philanthropy were able to achieve.  For example, we might look at the ways in which people like Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller engaged in philanthropy.  We can try to determine whether their actions helped the people that they were meant to help.  We can also try to think about whether other types of philanthropy would have been more beneficial for the nation as a whole.  Similarly, we can look at the philanthropy that we engage in as a nation.  Our country typically gives out large amounts of aid to foreign countries.  Much of this aid is meant to alleviate humanitarian problems and/or to spur economic development.  If we look at our historical aid efforts, we can evaluate them to see if they helped their recipients in any tangible ways.

We cannot know for sure how our efforts at philanthropy will affect their targets.  However, we can use history as a guide that can give us suggestions about what kinds of philanthropic efforts do and do not work.

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