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Philanthropy in Modern Western Society

Dr. Stefan Toepler of George Mason University (U.S.) is a recognized expert in research on the non-profit sector and the author of more than 70 publications in international journals. He will present a paper at the upcoming seminar of  HSE’s Centre for Studies of Civil Society and the Nonprofit Sector (CSCSNS), which will take place on June 26 and focus on the topic, ‘New Forms of Public-Private Partnership in the Field of Philanthropy in the U.S.’. Dr. Toepler gave a special interview to the HSE news service.

— What role does philanthropy play in modern Western society?

– Philanthropy plays a very important role in Western society, though it is not always well recognized.  Philanthropy can complement the government by supporting causes and issues that are outside the state's usual obligations. Philanthropy can also provide crucial funding to help stimulate social innovation and to improve the services available to the public, or to draw attention to issues that may benefit society in the future.  Philanthropy, in a way, serves as venture capital, not for business, but for society at large.

— How would you evaluate Russian society in terms of charity work and philanthropy?

— As the important work of my colleagues here at HSE’s Centre for Studies of Civil Society and Nonprofit Sector (CSCSNS) has shown, charity work and philanthropy are still developing in Russia, but a lot of progress has been made in recent years. So while there is still room to grow, I am very optimistic about future prospects. 

— We see that more and more young people are interested in volunteer work here in Russia. What is the driving force behind that? How would you suggest involving more people, particularly young people, in social activities?

— I believe that volunteering is something that speaks easily to young people in particular, as it touches on their idealism and willingness to help improve society.  It also instills a sense of social purpose and connectedness. The important thing is to find a way to attract their attention at first, amid all the distractions of modern society.

— What is the role of business in philanthropy and its development? Could you please name world champions in this process? How could researchers contribute to the development of philanthropic ideas?

— Business also plays a very useful role in the development of philanthropy.  In the West, it is by now expected for at least large corporations to show good corporate citizenship and to have some philanthropic program.  In recent years, the trend has leaned towards cause-related marketing, which links the promotion of a corporation's product with the promotion of social causes. It was pioneered by American Express many years ago and benefits both business and NGOs at the same time.  In many of cases, the exposure that NGOs receive is more important than financial support.  Overall, there is a lot of innovation taking place in philanthropy and social investment around the world, which really provides broad opportunities for researchers to explore and experiment.

Anna Chernyakhovskaya, specially for the HSE news service 

See also:

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