The World We Want: New Dimensions in Philanthropy and Social Change

It's easy for those who want to make the world a better place to become mired in cynicism or overwhelmed by the depth and scope of the world's problems. Thankfully, there are the ever-optimistic Peter Karoffs of the world to inspire us get up off our sofas and take action. Karoff, who spent twenty-five years in the for-profit world, is now a self-proclaimed "salesman of philanthropy"; he has served on the boards of more than thirty nonprofits and is the founder and chairman of The Philanthropic Initiative (TPI), which designs and implements social-issue programs. These experiences have given Karoff a unique perspective on private and corporate philanthropy and how both can be harnessed to create a better world.

The title of his new book may suggest that Karoff is an idealist, but he actually takes pains to distinguish reality from idealism. Karoff is committed to a "doable utopia" and, despite some grappling, seems to believe in the Rousseauian notion that, ultimately, people are good. As he sees it, we have a long way to go toward an ideal society — but we can get there if we buckle down and try. And he reminds us that we must work within the world we have to achieve the world we want.

Karoff paints a picture of an interconnected philanthropic landscape in which all parts of the whole must work together to accomplish large-scale change. He then examines various fundraising alternatives, including government funding (advantage: heightened public awareness of your cause) and "for-profit philanthropies" (advantage: the ability to generate more money for your cause or issue than through traditional fundraising alone). By utilizing many different types of philanthropy, Karoff believes we can achieve a more giving-oriented society.

In each chapter, he compiles anecdotes and mini-case studies from his myriad friends and colleagues in the philanthropic sector, and intersperses them with ideas — and poems — of his own. Included are a conversation on paradigms for change with America Online's Steve Case, eBay's Pierre Omidyar, and Ashoka's Bill Drayton; a call for radical approaches to global concerns like poverty, following models by Peggy Dulany, founder of the Synergos Institute, and Alan Broadbent, founder of the Maytree Foundation; and an analysis of community consciousness with Emmett Carson, leader of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation.

The overall effect is a sort of "Chicken Soup for the Philanthropic Soul." While some may find Karoff's feel-good prose inspiring, others could argue that the book is not sufficiently data-driven. Charts and graphs and business plans are not what The World We Wantis about, however. As the study questions at the end of each chapter suggest, the book is intended to inspire dialogues that eventually lead to new ideas about social change.

Or, as Karoff says, "It is the awakening of the citizen within that will ultimately determine the world we see, shape, create, protect." One can only hope that his book will inspire others to create the better world we all want.

Lauren Kelley
Production Associate, PND
Foundation Center
New York, New York