Gara LaMarche’s Speech at MIT’s Starr Forum – Reclaiming the Moral Life of Philanthropy

Resource type: Video

27 September  2010

Has philanthropy lost “moral clarity,” growing more concerned with the fix, the intervention, than about reasons for doing or caring about what is right?

In a speech given on 27 September 2010 at the Starr Forum at Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Center for International Studies, Gara LaMarche,  President and CEO of The Atlantic Philanthropies, discussed his concerns about a growing need for a stronger moral framework for philanthropy.

After many decades of labouring in large, private foundations, Mr. LaMarche has an intimate perspective on this drift in philanthropic mission and practice. He draws several telling examples from his own experience, and argues that foundations have become sidetracked by public opinion and establishing metrics for their performance. They retreat to safe positions, and “have eroded what moral authority they have” by protecting their own self-interest, especially around tax distinctions.

Mr. LaMarche says it is possible to strike a balance between the goals of effective philanthropy, and tackling social inequities and large, complex problems such as climate change. This means speaking out in the current “toxic political environment” with a coherent world view about “what is right,” while not getting lost in polling and problem-solving, which risks “losing what gains we’ve made because the story of which all those are a part has no moral.”

This video includes a 30 minute speech by Gara LaMarche and 50 minutes of Q & A with the audience on a range of topics including The Atlantic Philanthropies’ strategic approach and decision to spend down all of its assets and complete grantmaking by 2016; if there is a utilitarian basis for progressive morality; and how to balance between aspirational and achievable goals. 

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effective giving, Gara LaMarche