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Victoria Peter

The Death of Philanthropy ?
On Classical Development Aid, the Gift Economy and Social Entrepreneurship

Texte publié le 5 janvier 2015

Victoria Peter (*1992,Munich), holding a Bachelor in Social Systems from the Amsterdam University College, is currently active for the global social business movement MakeSense and the Food Surplus Entrepreneurs Network alongside working for the Corporate Strategy Department of the Deutsche Bahn in Berlin.
This article is a condensed version of her Bachelor Thesis – “The Death of Philanthropy ? An anti-utilitarian challenge to the neoliberal foundations of development aid” (Amsterdam University College, Amsterdam, 2014), which entails more in-depth analysis of Marcel Mauss’ gift economy, the emergence of Neoliberal values and its relationship to the aid industry.

The idea of development stands like a ruin in the intellectual landscape. Delusion and disappointment, failures and crimes have been the steady companions of development and they tell a common story : it did not work….It is time to dismantle this mental structure (Hopper, 2012, p.59)

As the aid industry stagnates, no existing theory provides a sufficient explanation for its challenges in creating a more equitable world. Despite new initiatives for global cooperation and partnership to fight poverty, aid is subject to ever louder criticism with respect to its moral and solidary position, and its inability to yield equality.

Seeking to find out why development aid has largely remained a zero sum game, political, economic and strategic interests have long been identified as major obstacles to progress. Despite strong arguments for political self-interest in the aid industry, Liberal Internationalists argue that the idea of development aid caters at least to some extent to moral sentiments and compassion towards the poor. Moreover, the horrors of the Second World War, climate change and rising inequality made the international community realize that a sustainable and just society can only be attained by means of cooperation with the poor (Pronk, 11/2013). Not at last, this solidary motivation stems from sharply expanding populations in Asia and Africa. Those regions will soon be the primary consumers and producers of resources. The bare existence of humanitarian and emergency aid – although considered here as separate from development aid - reflects the existence of such solidary motivations for helping the poor. Henceforth, although political and economic interests play a role in rising inequality, it does not explain why solidary motivations cannot compete. In essence, such debates demonstrate that there is still no convincing explanation for the failure of philanthropic efforts to end world poverty and inequality.

In an attempt to find an alternative explanation, let us diverge from mainstream analysis and unveil what foreign aid embodies from a sociological, philosophical and anthropological perspective : It is a practice of human interaction and exchange with a moral end that essentially links people across borders and cultures. Asserting that it is above all the human factor that determines a particular practice of interaction, it seems necessary to evaluate the foundations and underlying motivations of the aid industry. Instead of the prevalent focus on impact analysis and effectiveness (Stiglitz, 2001), I will propose here to trace the roots of the problem back to the basics, as “development has long been treated as primarily a financial and technical problem. The importance of values has generally been neglected [….]” (Ehrichs, 2000). Embarking on a journey through Marcel Mauss’ gift paradigm, where he established eternal principles of human interaction by studying tribal exchange systems, this article arrives at a thorough criticism of neoliberal values and philanthropy as the basis of the aid industry. It invites to consider a “new wave” in development practices as a potential alternative to classical aid : Social Entrepreneurship.

Neoliberalism – Paradox at the Core of the Aid Industry

Neoliberalism as the driving force of development policies and programs is much more than the basis of economic models – it is a value system. By means of extending to the peripheries of the economic market, it has come to determine the reasoning and action of our societies. The belief in the Rational Actor and the homo economicus, the predominantly utilitarian calculation of costs and benefits, and the claim to have found a set of universal human characteristics determine the way in which donors believe to be able to help the poor. The solidary motivations of one-way donations in most of the aid industry have thereby become its intrinsic flaw. As any human interaction is subject to implicit assumptions, values and paradigms, Marcel Mauss’ [1] gift paradigm helps to evaluate the underlying neoliberal values that seem to dominate both the theory and practice of development aid today.

According to Marcel Mauss, a relationship cannot persist in a moral and solidary manner if not kept alive by a continuous display of generosity. This display is motivated by the mutual trust in the universal principle of reciprocity in human interaction. Without this mutual trust, societies would cease to exist and economic transactions would totally replace social ties. Just like any interaction in society, aid can be seen as a form of gift. By neglecting reciprocity and the total implications of any ‘gift’ circulating in society, the neoliberal man has based foreign aid on an unequal relationship from the start by offering ‘free gifts’. Consequently, donations yield symbolic domination over the recipient because the latter is inhibited from displaying his ability to give. This yields the recipient’s disbelief in the capacity to succeed, innovate or change ; as much as an elemental feeling of inferiority and distance towards donors. Furthermore, through the focus on input-output analysis and economic efficiency, neoliberal policies have detrimental secondary effects – other than economic ones, that are not accounted for. Such are the disbelief in the capacity to succeed, innovate or change ; as much as an immanent feeling of inferiority and distance towards donors. Because donors establish relationships based on a perception of morality that creates inequality from the start, these symbolic implications directly relate to the commonly known negative effects of the aid industry. The neoliberal value system underlying the aid industry inspired such misconceptions of morality in human exchange. The foundational neoliberal values of Utilitarian calculations of costs and benefits and the need to quantify and materialize exchange are the driving forces yielding these misconceptions. So, by making a moral claim to selflessly help the poor, we seem to be neither moral, nor do we seem to help the poor. One wonders therefore, whether political scientist are right after all in reducing the aid industry to a sole desire to maintain power relations. If so, this article would make a case for the natural superiority of the political and the economic over the social in determining human motivation. As Marcel Mauss asserts, however, the prime motivation for human exchange is the establishment of relationships. Furthermore, the thought of development aid was in its origin one of solidarity. The source of the ‘moral dilemma’ of the aid industry must therefore lie within the concept used for these very solidary motivations : Philanthropy.

A universal Norm of Morality ?

Philanthropy is defined as “the desire to promote the welfare of others, expressed especially by the generous donation of money to good causes” (Oxford University Press, 2014). Essentially, it is motivated by a feeling that one should give away some of his happiness, wealth or possession, because others are worse off. This assertion implies a feeling of compassion for the other. Following the anti-utilitarian reasoning of Mauss, purely compassionate and “others-interested practices like ‘free’ gifts are not beneficial to recipients. This contradicts theories that compassion is the basis of a truly just world community (Nussbaum, 2003). Even today, political and legal thought asserts that the human capacity for “sympathetic imagination” is the only way for morality in society (Nussbaum, 2003).

Nonetheless, there are many, who seem to agree with the anti-utilitarian line of reasoning. Martha Nussbaum and Friedrich Nietzsche both critically assessed compassion and its role in human interaction. Although they have a different approach, they come to very similar conclusions about the inherent ambivalence of compassion as a universal regulator of moral action, which in turn will tie in with the Maussian perception of human interaction.

Martha Nussbaum, by means of the example of the collective feelings of compassion evicted by the attacks of nine-eleven, presents a critical perspective on this human sentiment. Naturally, nine-eleven evoke compassion for victims amongst Americans. Although she believes compassion to play an essential role in shaping civic imagination, she asserts that at times, compassion can be “narrow and self-serving” (Nussbaum, 2003, p.11). With respect to nine-eleven, she holds that it has created a sense of “us versus them” in relation to increased distrust towards Arabs or Muslims, even in America. On the other hand, Americans felt compassion for people that were indirectly related to the threat of terrorism, such as Afghan women under the rule of the Taliban (Nussbaum, 2013). This is why critics have held compassion as a “slippery and uneven motive” to be unfit to serve as a stable moral principle for society (Nussbaum, 2003, p11).

As compassion is an emotion directed at someone else’s suffering, there are three aspects involved, namely “a judgment of seriousness” (how bad is it really), “the judgment of nondesert” (does this person deserve to suffer ?), and “the eudemonistic judgment” (assessing the impact on one’s own goals and projects when feeling compassionate). Especially considering the last component, Nussbaum argues that compassion starts where men stand (Nussbaum, 2003), and hence argues in lines with the neoliberal assertion that man thinks of himself first, and that compassion rarely extends to the unknown, as Adam Smith believed. He claimed that “the farther away from another person, the more difficult it is to share feelings” (Paganelli, 2010). Moreover, they agree that compassion as an emotion can err, meaning that the seriousness or desert of suffering can likely be misinterpreted. In light of this, Martha Nussbaum thinks critically of compassion’s role as a moral regulator of society. This is to be seen from examples such as the American reaction to the Rwandan genocide, or the lack of compassion for innocent civilians dying in Iraq (Nussbaum, 2003). Only when concerned personally or nationally, like Americans were on nine-eleven, man at once shows full-hearted compassion. This raises doubts as to whether compassion is really the pure and moral emotion that modern society holds it to be.

Amongst the opponents of compassion was also Friedrich Nietzsche. Refuting his master Schopenhauer’s moral system of altruism, he was not only highly critical of the Christian promoted concept of compassion, but asked the essential question as to what extent compassion is life-prolonging, life- promoting or even species-cultivating (Frazer, 2006). By posing these questions, he wanted to find out whether compassion as a sentiment of human sympathy and good cannot equally be regarded as a human weakness that causes even more suffering. Just like Nussbaum, he opposes its glorification as a universal moral principle that entails only sympathetic feelings. Just like love has no ultimate moral definition or value attached to it, and can yield negative just as much as positive impact, “goodness” should cease to be defined by specific norms and acts in society. Nietzsche is convinced that man never acts out of a single motive. Rather, there is always a multitude of self-interested and ‘others-interested’ motivations. In fact, honor, self-defense or fear may well be what drives men to help others (Ansell-Pearson, 2011).

Nietzsche demonstrates the intrinsic power relations in the emotion of compassion, which link closely to Mauss’ theory on gift exchange. He asserts that the compassionate deprives the weak of his ability to grow stronger from his suffering. At the same time, compassion reflects elemental power relations by demonstrating to the compassionate that he is the superior. This might be a vitalizing force and thus subconscious motivation for compassion in the first place. Henceforth, he is highly critical of compassion as a ‘moral’ action. In ‘Thus spoke Zarathustra, Nietzsche’s protagonist states “Oh, where in the world has greater folly occurred than among the pitying ? And what in the world causes more suffering than the folly of the pitying ?” (Nietzsche, 1883, p.69). However, Nietzsche does not conclude that compassion is in itself detrimental. Rather he believes that it is what man has come to make of it, which carries its immanent detrimental force. He argues that men have to accept the fact that they will always be self-interested in some way, and are inherently morally ambivalent (van Meijl, 2000). Instead of considering this assertion as an inherently negative view on human nature, Nietzsche proposes that people merely have to find means to deal with this fact in a moral and self-loving manner.

As Neoliberalism has defined men as foremost egoistic, the neoliberal man has come to firmly believe in compassion as a predicament of his moral action. As it excludes this intrinsic egoistic nature from the practice of compassion, society has come to impose an impossible demand on its shoulders by having to adhere to this so called morality (Ansell-Pearson, 2011).

Whereas compassion should be the knowledge of another’s suffering – and thus empathy – today it has been stripped of anything concerning the personal feelings of the weak, as it has become a standardized moral principle. Nietzsche asserts that it has come to be replaced by gift giving, which is a mere exercise of power. Just like Mauss, Nietzsche agrees that ‘free gifts’ are a contradiction per se, as they deprive the recipient of his ability to portray his strength through generosity. Society is in danger of promoting the image of a single morality – the one of sympathy and anti-egoism – which Nietzsche describes as idolatry, causing a psychological malaise (Ansell-Pearson, 2011).

There is thus a clear link between Nussbaum, Nietzsche and Marcel Mauss. The latter would argue that morality and compassion can only come naturally if manifested in the practice of reciprocal gift exchange. He would agree with Nietzsche that sympathetic or compassionate feelings are just as much part of human interaction, as is antagonism and rivalry. Henceforth, it is the lack of reciprocal exchange in development aid, or synonymously the absence of a social, moral tie between donors and recipients that render the feelings of compassion and ‘others-interest” at once short-lived and not essentially moral.

In light of the common errors made when being compassionate, Nussbaum suggest a profound education about human weakness. At the heart of this lies the conviction that the fact that man is never totally disinterested and altruistic in his actions is a fruitful, rather than a bad thing. He needs to come to terms with the fact that it is only through the delicate balance of self-interest and ‘others-interest’ that any interaction can become truly lasting and moral. Instead, people are constantly dissatisfied with their failure to adhere to the high moral predicaments of compassion. Morality does not have to be a burden, but can emerge naturally out of man’s love for himself and his acceptance of potential self-motivated drives, as well as his trust into the other’s capacity to give. If it was not for a certain self-interest in gift exchange or in being compassionate, there was no such solidary action at all, because people would lack the motivation to make a first step of an exchange, or to return an initial gift, gesture or good – because they would not be aware that what is given will certainly return once more (Nietzsche, 1883).

Decrypting the Pandora’s Box

Reflecting upon both, Nietzsche’s and Nussbaum’s view on compassion, we can see its difficult stand as a moral regulator. Building a whole system of development aid, which is rooted in neoliberal values of a self-interested man, onto an assumption of over-manly faculties of altruism seems illogical. Non-reciprocated gifts in development aid that are based on feelings of compassion are locking recipients in a position of inferiority. Moreover, as compassion can err and varies according to proximity of the recipient of compassionate acts, it seems to be particularly unsuitable for development aid, where most practices are from a distance.

A more consistent norm for morality would be the trust in universal rules of human interaction. In light of these natural principles that make up human networks, men should base their moral claims on the action itself. Human interaction itself can only be solidary, if embedded in a moral code for the interaction itself, rather than codes and assumptions for the initial motivation (philanthropy) or the final outcome (aid efficiency). After all, as demonstrated in Marcel Mauss’ Essai sur le don, the power of the thing exchanged is oftentimes multiple (‘Total Social Fact’) and unpredictable. This power can only be used constructively, if contained by the codes and norms inherent in the gift paradigm.

Essentially, it thus seems as though compassion and philanthropy are just as much unpredictable as any other human interaction. The weak compliance statistics to ODA contributions might be an example of this ambivalent nature of compassion. At once committed, all its members have failed to meet the prescribed percentage of donations to the Development Assistance Committee. Accordingly, Nussbaum believes that although dramatic stories can evoke compassion, this is unlikely to last over the long-term (Nussbaum, 2003), unless – as Mauss would assert - there is some form of transcendental principle leading to the establishment of solidary relationships or interactions.

It appears from this analysis that development aid as a practice itself is built upon a number of values that inhibit it from yielding equality. In quest for a universal norm of morality, society trusted in its compassionate sentiments towards the poor. However, compassion and thus philanthropy by itself is not strong enough to morally oblige people towards each other, once embedded in a paradigm where people believe to be naturally self-interested. Compassion and neoliberal values are therefore mutually enforcing each-other. At once, compassion is inspired by the desire to create a norm that is contrary to the egoistic nature of humankind, as defined by the neoliberal paradigm. At the same time, such compassionate feelings themselves are enhancing the symbolic domination of ‘free’ gifts as the prevalent form of neoliberal development aid.

Notably, humanitarian, or emergency aid demonstrates that human solidarity does exist and can in fact be a moral norm. However, this is only possible because the urgency of most situations requires immediate actions that are therefore detached from the reasoning of the neoliberal system. Moreover, as humanitarian interventions are often short-term interventions, they are not challenged by the fact that compassion is inherently short-lived, as Nussbaum asserts.

It appears therefore that after all, the moral dilemma of the aid industry does not necessarily mean the ‘death of philanthropy’. Yet, it incites a re-thinking of what philanthropy does - both in general and in the presented context. Clearly, the moral value of philanthropy is in itself a complex matter. In its current constellation and framework of neoliberal development aid, however, its debatable effects are ever more apparent.

Reanimating Philanthropy in the neoliberal Age

Although it is not solely the logic of the neoliberal value system that has influenced aid to such an extent, its promotion as a social and political, instead of a merely economic theory caused enormous impact. Its mechanic approach to exchange and interaction resulted in the loss of the ‘human factor’ in the aid industry. The donor’s utilitarian reasoning shaped a system of aid, where financial input is believed to directly lead to poverty alleviation. Just like a majority of economic models, this downplays the complexity and perhaps even the irrationality of the human being as a social animal. At the same time, this ‘lost’ human factor in development aid is rooted in questionable concepts of morality. The multiple effects of compassion and philanthropy have become blurred by using them as universal norm of goodness.

As a result, it is a difficult task to reanimate the human, philanthropic motivations to the benefit of the aid industry, whilst the framework at once misinterprets and counteracts it. This raises the question as to what realistic prospect there is for development aid in a society that still widely believes in the neoliberal success story.

Clearly, the only prospect is to challenge this belief. “Neo-liberalism is not the natural human condition, it is not supernatural it can be challenged … because its own failures will require this.” (George 1999). Notably, we have seen that philanthropy is essentially based on good intentions and feelings of compassion. Rather than abolishing such ideals (of which there are not many left in the aid industry), it is a matter of re-conceptualizing its role and the actions motivated by it in light of its multi-facetted nature. Re-evaluating the role of compassion and ‘free’ gifts in development aid could be a first step in the right direction. Notwithstanding, without re-thinking the origins of these practices, progress would be limited. This is why a reflection on neoliberal values is not only the big task for future decision makers and aid workers, but of civil society actors. The latter could be a channel that drives a bottom-up change in times when leaders are still reluctant.

La Revue de MAUSS affirms that “the homo economicus is not behind us, it lies before us” (Caillé, 2003), because the neoliberal paradigm gradually constructs him. Capitalists and neoliberals are wrong in claiming with absolute certainty that self-interested market exchange is the natural form of human interaction and that the market is the most important component of societal life (Dzimira, Carvalho, 2008). If this was the case, there would not only cease to be solidarity in society, but there would be no relationship outside the market place. [2] In contrast, as man is not merely a profit-seeking and calculative animal, he should not always have to embed his exchanges in formal systems of contracts, as there exists a natural, transcending principle that morally binds men together. The economic models that are regarded the golden standard in business-, policy- and banking practices are true, but their assumptions about human behavior are at least questionable. The solidary economy is primarily anti-utilitarian because it rejects these assumptions and proposes the intrinsic morality derived from subordinating the market to the logic of the gift (Dzimira, Carvalho, 2008).

If this kind of economy was put into practice, philanthropy could be re-animated as a natural motivation, but not a prerequisite of development aid. Instead of being morally obliged to be altruistic, donors would be aware of the impossibility of absolutely selfless acts and realize the negative impact of non-reciprocal exchange. Subsequently, they would base their feelings of sympathy for the other on their innate self-interest in reciprocity and the establishment of a social tie, as well as their capacity to freely give.

Social Entrepreneurship - a World of ‘Change Makers’

The recent developments in the field of social enterprising are promising the change in conscience that La Revue de M.A.U.S.S envisions. Its proponents stand for the return of the human aspect into the merely calculative and profit oriented business landscape. In the quest to reform the current market economy, they want to create a world of ‘changemakers’. Social Enterprises intend to fight global inequality resulting from the increasing focus on profit-maximization in the capitalist system by changing this focus to maximizing social alongside financial value. By finding innovative, marked-based solutions, it aims to drive social and economic change. As a tool for development aid, it proposes business models that can be at once, profitable, sustainable and socially valuable. Such initiatives focus for example on providing employment to the poor by setting up sustainable businesses.

In lines with the argument proposed in this article, and the propositions made by La Revue de M.A.U.S.S., social entrepreneurship and the current trend towards participatory development [3] seem to be alternatives to classical development programs. Employment means a relationship based on mutual responsibilities and service and return service as Georg Simmel called it, instead of relying on one-sided donations and responsibilities. Moreover, despite being motivated by philanthropic sentiments, social enterprises leave room for the self-interest of the entrepreneur, the initiator and employees to yield financial value. Thus, man can follow their natural inclination to secure their own well-being, whilst social value creation amongst the subjects remains equally important. The philanthropic motivations are thereby rendered realistic, as they counteract implicit power relations so often found in classical donor-recipient relations and leave room for natural self-interest. Last but not least, mutual responsibilities, as well as the focus on grassroots development is tailored to specific circumstances of local markets and populations and thereby rejects the ‘one size fits all’ approach of many aid programs. This takes into account the multiple factors involved in human exchange practices and development. per se

In essence, these kinds of initiatives try to change the underlying ideological climate of development aid. Hence, only if such grassroots projects are truly respecting the moral rules of human interaction and make them their guiding principles, philanthropy could eventually take up the noble role in development aid it has set out to take.


The key problem of development aid today is not a lack of funding and money, but its failure to use its potential in creating a more equal world. Economists and political theorists have failed to provide a pragmatic explanation for this phenomenon. An anthropological and sociological analysis of development aid as a practice of human exchange opens a Pandora’s Box of multiple destructive human factors inherent in the practice per se.

Marcel Mauss’ ‘Essai sur le don’ establishes the mutual trust in reciprocity and the power of gift-exchange in regulating social ties as universal principles of human exchange systems. As we have seen, the neoliberal foundations of development aid conflict with these anti-utilitarian principles and Neoliberal conceptions of solidarity pose an obstacle to the goal of ending global inequality. An anti-utilitarian approach to development aid unveils that the neoliberal paradigm and its depiction of men as purely rational homo economicus inspires a misinterpretation of ‘giving’ and solidarity in human interaction. Because of the predominantly utilitarian input-output analysis and a focus on quantification in most of the aid industry, people see donations and hence ‘free gifts’ as moral, and thus ultimately beneficial. According to the logic of the gift paradigm, however, non-reciprocal gifts are a tool for symbolic domination, because they allow only one party to display their ability to give. This manifests itself in multiple symbolic effects on the recipients of development aid, such as disbelief in the capacity to succeed, innovate or change ; as much as an immanent feeling of inferiority and distance towards donors. Because donors establish relationships based on a perception of morality that creates inequality from the start, these symbolic implications directly relate to the commonly known negative effects of the aid industry.

This article questioned philanthropy as the source of morality of the aid industry : Integrating Mauss’ theory with writings by Nietzsche and Nussbaum showed that modern definitions of altruism and compassion are unfit as a universal norm of goodness, as they disable the recipient from independently overcoming his struggle. Essentially this suggests that (contrary to popular opinion) philanthropy defined as ‘selflessness’ should cease to be the moral basis of the aid industry, because neither pure altruism nor pure self-interest is moral or immoral per se. Rather, the trust into the natural power of the gift is a sufficient source of normativity. Through the focus on pragmatic outcomes and effectiveness, instead of the impact and value of human action itself, the neoliberal foundations of development aid are an obstacle to it being a naturally solidary practice yielding equality and empowerment.

Taking up the forgotten principles of gift exchange could thus not only render development aid the moral and solidary practice it set out to be, but supposedly yield the so desired effects in development. Social Entrepreneurship is a potential pioneering example of alternative aid practices that comply with the natural principles of gift exchange. Quintessentially, this essay demonstrates that there is no need to overhaul development aid completely, but a need to re-write its neoliberal story.

So, in posing the question as to what could alter the direction of today’s civilization, the solution is a change of spirit and conscience (Havel, 1998). After all, what has become apparent in the aid industry is rooted in the general system of the capitalist system itself. There is no need to radically abolish capitalism or the free market per se, but a need to re-define the neoliberal values that have extended from the economic to the social sphere. This is much less of an idealistic or utopian idea than calling for the fall of the system. Contemporary debates too often leap into conspiracy theories and exaggerated pessimism, referring to a “monster of capitalism” as a self-destructive system that leaves the individual with no chance of resistance. I believe that this is the fundamental error in the problem-solving process. It is not only capitalism or neoliberalism as a presumed living entity that is detrimental. The only detrimental thing it has done is to make people forget that behind all the systems, organizations and economic activities in society, there are still humans. Humans that are capable of morality and solidarity towards others.

Of course, the rigid resistance to reform the neoliberal value system is based on past experience. Neoliberalism and capitalism have brought the West much wealth over the past decades (and it is certainly true that it is built on well thought-through and even long-term considerations). Consequently, people, for a long time, ceased to critically reflect on its effects and re-evaluate its stance in a constantly evolving world. However, in a society that glorifies progress and innovation, it is shocking to see that neoliberal economics – despite having caused so much damage over the past ten years- is still taught at all Ivy League Universities (The four Horsemen, 2013) as THE one economic theory. Ashoka’s Founder Bill Drayton points out that “all throughout history, and up until very recently, the game was efficiency and repetition.” (10/2013). Based on the capitalist ethos, Western societies constantly improved this skill and accumulated enormous wealth from it. Compliance to the rules of the few was crucial to maintain order in the system. However, as the rate of change and innovation in society increases exponentially throughout history, being open to changing the rules has become ever more important. The current system opposes this openness to change (Drayton, 2013). Consequently, in order to build a world of ‘change makers’ as Bill Drayton calls it, Neoliberalism has to retreat. Ashoka is the largest network of social entrepreneurs worldwide, with nearly 3,000 Ashoka Fellows in 70 countries. Founded by Bill Drayton in 1980, Ashoka’s mission is to provide start-ups with seed-capital, support the best social entrepreneurs to accelerate their impact, and to create a global web of people wanting to make a change across business and social sectors. Like this, they do not only want to fight rising inequality and poverty, but they want to propose a more effective means for creating change in society. Ashoka believes that anyone can learn and apply the critical skills of empathy, team work, leadership and ‘change making’ to be successful in the modern world.” (Ashoka, 2014). Essentially, this will bring about a new system, where financial value is hierarchically inferior to social value.

Clearly, a culture cannot be changed overnight. The values enshrined in the memories of millions of intellectuals, leaders and entrepreneurs reflect a long learning process. Moreover, Neoliberalism as an economic and possibly even political theory has many positive values, which renders the task of altering it very challenging. Nevertheless, although culture, theories and beliefs do evolve over time, they must now also be enhanced by social movements and activist fore-runners, as overwhelming evidence on climate change and overpopulation do not leave much time to wait. Social Entrepreneurship, like the work of Ashoka, is tackling precisely this process of re-defining values and principles of economic and social activity. Thus, although there is a lot of ‘unlearning’ to do before the solidary economy proposed by La Revue de M.A.U.S.S. is possible, seemingly, there are promising developments underway.

After all, Neoliberalism and Capitalism have been created by humans – they can now be changed by humans.

From one end of human evolution to the other, there are not two – but there is only one single wisdom. We shall thus adopt as a principle of our life what has always been a principle and will always remain one : Coming out of one-self, giving freely and obliged ; one does not risk to be mistaken (Mauss, 1924). [4]

Works cited and consulted


[1If unfamiliar with the work of Marcel Mauss, I recommend to read a summary of his theory in order to fully grasp the following analysis.

[2This paragraph is based on previous work : Allain Caillé : Anti-Utilitarianism, economics and the gift paradigm (09/2013. Article Review. Legal and Social Philosophy. Amsterdam University College. Amsterdam), see also bibliography

[3Participatory development is at the heart of contemporary debates about development. Its aim is to ensure that development is not merely seen as an economic project, but that political, psychological and social factors are taken into consideration (Hopper, 2013).

[4« Ainsi, d’un bout à l’autre de l’évolution humaine, il n’y a pas deux sagesses. Qu’on adopte donc comme principe de notre vie ce qui a toujours été un principe et le sera toujours : sortir de soi, donner, librement et obligatoirement ; on ne risque pas de se tromper. »