The Trouble With Philanthropy is That Money Can’t Buy Equality

Published on The Guardian
By Courtney Martin – Author and journalist

Some of the best work is done at the grassroots, yet the power dynamic of philanthropy means this expertise is often ignored.

I spent Saturday morning at the public library with my 2.5-year-old daughter. She sat in the centre of a multi-racial, multi-lingual group of toddlers, spread her arms out as wide as they would go, and screamed: “He turned into a beautiful butterfly!” at the end of the consummate classic, The Very Hungry Caterpillar. The parents and grandparents giggled at the collective exuberance of little ones. The kids’ insanely spongy brains soaked up the sea of words surrounding them.

This may sound like a mundane scene, but it’s a surprising triumph for philanthropic equity – one of the few that exists at a meaningful, functional scale in our increasingly unequal country. At a time when early childhood has exploded as a lucrative market opportunity, no money is exchanged at the nation’s public libraries.

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