Unleashing the Power of Philanthropy

Khondoker Haider
Khondoker Haider

Khondoker has five years of experience in international development in diverse roles - interpreter, researcher, operations officer, and evaluator - with field experience in more than fifteen countries. He has worked with a number of international financial institutions and research organizations, and has implemented and evaluated infrastructure and social projects across Central Asia, Middle East, and Sub-Saharan Africa. He is currently an MS in Finance candidate at the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School. Previously, he completed his Bachelor’s degree in Economics from Wabash College and Master’s degree in Development Economics from Oxford University.

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Philanthropy is an ancient practice deeply rooted in our basic instinct to help each other. This voluntary act is inherent in all societies and has been one of our society’s most powerful mechanisms to address acute and chronic social issues throughout history. Over the years, rapid wealth-creation, uneven distribution of wealth, and increased sense of social awareness have boosted the philanthropic sector, which has not only increased in size but has also evolved significantly. It now includes a broad spectrum of philanthropic organizations that vary in terms of their funding sources, focus areas, and approaches.

Philanthropic organizations possess transformative power to bring about large-scale change through their micro-level interventions, and achievements of foundations such as the Rockefeller Foundation, Clinton Foundation, Open Society Foundation, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation bear testimony to the success of philanthropic endeavors.

The total financial contribution of philanthropic organizations in the development arena still represents only a small fraction, but their core strengths lie in their ability to leverage funding and create collaboration among complementary sets of development partners. In addition, their support for under-funded sectors, such as social inclusion, human rights, and gender equality, has managed to highlight diverse issues in different parts of the world. Moreover, through their support to grantees and partners at the nexus of different disciplines and approaches, new fields, such as community-based natural resource management, land rights for the poor, and urban climate change resilience, have been further promoted.

Today, philanthropy has evolved into a highly professionalized field in which efforts are continuously being made to bring about a productivity revolution in the development industry by integrating exclusive management elements from both public and private sector, and also by attracting talents from a wide range of industries. It is expected that in today’s ever changing development landscape, philanthropic organizations will start playing a more instrumental role and unleash their full potential.

More and more people are gearing towards a career in philanthropic organizations. However, before one ventures out to seek such opportunities, it is important to be aware of some pros and cons.


  • Opportunity to work with motivated people: Philanthropic organizations are buzzing with an eclectic group of people. They bring together investment bankers, researchers, academics, public servants, and development practitioners to find solutions to different development challenges. Moreover, the majority of people who work in philanthropy are there because they feel the need to contribute for the betterment of our society. If someone chooses to work in philanthropic organizations, s/he is more likely to be surrounded by specialists with a heightened level of altruism and social awareness.
  • Access to a greater network: The bulk of philanthropic organizations’ work focuses on leveraging funding and collaborating with other players in the development industry. As a result, employees often get the opportunity to work and interact with people from different public and private institutions. This sort of exposure not only gives a holistic view of the development industry but also allows employees to build a strong network within the industry.
  • Recognition of efforts: Significant resources are diverted to assess impact of interventions and then results are disseminated via different platforms to foster learning and accountability. This sort of result measurement and reporting allows employees to know their contribution and often acts as a source of encouragement and motivation.
  • Opportunity to explore: Like any other job in the development industry, jobs at a philanthropic organization may require a significant amount of domestic and/or international traveling. The work trips can give employees a chance to explore different corners of the world and meet people from different cultures. The journey itself may allow people to discover their true self.

However, in order to enjoy these perks, one must bear some of the challenges that exist in philanthropic organizations:

  • Modest compensation: It is hard to generalize compensation and benefits across different philanthropic organizations, but it is safe to say that in general, compensation in the development industry is mediocre compared to the one in the corporate world. Nevertheless, it is hard to put a value on the satisfaction one gets by doing good for others and the experiences one can have throughout the process.
  • Chance of “burn out:” Due to the limited size of workforce and the nature of the work, employees are expected to work hard and make personal sacrifices. Long hours at work and constant traveling on missions may require employees to give up personal time. Moreover, the possibility of being relocated for work can disrupt personal life. Nevertheless, organizations do make efforts in improving work environment and also employees are expected to take personal responsibility for maintaining their work-life balance.

It is important to recognize that philanthropic organizations vary greatly and it is hard to generalize regarding the work experience. The views expressed in this article are based on personal experience and through interactions with professionals from various philanthropic organizations. If you feel that this is a career path that would interest you, I recommend that you first explore different philanthropic organizations and try to find the one that is the best fit for you so that you can contribute to unleashing the power of philanthropy.

References and Additional Reading

[1] Full List of the 500 Richest People in the World 2015

[2] Global Wealth Report 2014

[3] The Truth about Extreme Global Inequality

[4] Wealth: Having It All and Wanting More

[5] Foundations as Development Partners

[6] Philanthrocapitalism, Past and Present

[7] 100 Years: The Rockefeller Foundation

[8] Bill Gates Seeks $1.5 Billion More to Eradicate Polio by 2018

[9] Who is Afraid of Philantrocapitalism?

[10] 10 Innovations in Global Philanthropy

[11] Understanding Private Donors in International Development

[12] What’s Next for Philanthropy

[13] Philanthropy as an Emerging Contributor to Development Cooperation

[14] The Business of Giving

[15] The Birth of Philanthrocapitalism

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