Posted by: Nathaniel | June 23, 2008

A triumph of language?

Just coming back from a planning meeting for the annual Chicago Global Donors Network conference (CGDN). CGDN is a regional philanthropy association that’s designed to connect both global donors in the Chicago and midwestern regional area.

Each year, the annual conference solicits proposals from around the country for panel sessions and roundtable discussions. The discussion and panels are intended to address major trends and issues in global philanthropy and international development more broadly.

In reviewing more than 20 of these proposals today, it was really notable that the language of development and philanthropy has moved almost entirely to focus on words like “sustainable,” “empowerment,” and “local ownership.” Indeed, its become so clear that “sustainable local empowerment” is the “right” way to approach international development and philanthropy that there’s an emergent vacuousness that sometimes emerges.

What does it mean to move from “emergency relief” to “sustainable development.” and even more, should the same institution providing tents, blankets, and medicine in the wake of natural and man-made disasters be tasked with economic development? Is it really “local empowerment,” if an international funding group makes decisions about priorities, programs, and assessment?

What’s clear is that the language of empowerment and local ownership have filtered into the philanthropic mainstream. I do worry that sometimes its more about saying the right things to get support than about real change. What do you think?



  1. I absolutely agree with you
    It is the language and the jargon that has overtaken the spirit of philanthropy in particular and development in general..

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