Zero-Problem Philanthropy 

Article by Christian Seelos: “…problem-solving approaches often overlook the dynamics of problem supply, the ongoing creation of problems. This is apparent in daily news reports, which indicate that our societies generate both new and old problems at a faster rate than we can ever hope to solve them. Even solutions that “work” can have negative side-effects that then generate new problems. Climate change as an undesirable side-effect of the fantastic innovation of using fossil fuels for energy is an example. The live-saving invention of antibiotics has created mutated bacteria that now resist treatments. Indebted households, violence against poor women, and alcoholism can be the side-effect of providing innovative microfinance solutions that are well intended. These side effects require additional solutions that are often urgent and costly, leading to a never-ending cycle of problems and solutions.

Unfortunately, our blind faith in solutions and the capabilities of new technologies can lead to a careless attitude towards creating problems. We tend to overlook the importance of problems as indicators of deeper issues, instead glorifying the innovators and their solutions. This mindset can be problematic, as it reduces our role as philanthropists to playing catch-up and fails to acknowledge the possibility of fundamental flaws in our approach.

Russell Ackoff, a pioneering systems thinker and organization scholar, famously described the dangers of thinking in terms of problem-solving because “we walk into the future facing the past—we move away from, rather than toward, something. This often results in unforeseen consequences that are more distasteful than the deficiencies removed.” Ackoff highlights our tendency to be reactive rather than proactive in addressing social problems. What would it take to shift from a reactive, past-oriented solution perspective to a proactive philanthropy oriented towards a healthy future that does not create so many problems?…(More)”.

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