By Pat Danahey Janin
I am passionate about the intersection of philanthropy and oceans. When it comes to the ocean environment, philanthropic responses outside of spectacular activism (Sea Shepherd, Greenpeace) are virtually unknown.
Ocean research, deep sea mapping, citizen involvement in science, ocean clean-ups, and ocean literacy education are just some of the many activities that benefit from philanthropic support.
I’ve been researching this topic for the past four years and now I get to teach about it, too. I live in Paris, France and teach a course entitled Philanthropy and the Oceans (the course is based on a syllabus for a 200-level course entitled “Green” Philanthropy that I had developed as the final project in Dr. Rich Steinberg’s PHST 664 course at the Lilly School of Philanthropy back in Spring 2015) to an international student body at the French Political Science School (SciencesPo Paris).
It is exciting and provides a wide diversity of experiences because my students come from all over the world. This past semester, I had over 20 different nationalities in the classroom with different understandings of what philanthropy is about. I wanted to share some of the key learning points from this experience and how I navigated teaching to such a diverse student body to make philanthropic responses to ocean issues real and relevant.
Defining philanthropy requires acknowledging different models and practices
I’m no longer in the U.S. with the American model of philanthropy. My students come from countries like Indonesia, Venezuela, South Africa, Australia, and France with different government–business–civil society relations. Consequently, many students are skeptical about the concept and practice of philanthropy.
Students easily cite examples of corruption and question the efficiency and transparency of the nonprofit sector. They understand that philanthropy is mainly about money and lots of it. They have little understanding of how volunteering, community association, and institutionalized philanthropy (i.e. foundations) contribute to addressing societal problems, especially in autocratic or semi-autocratic countries.
I approached the definition of philanthropy by recognizing the different forms and practices of philanthropy around the world and the importance of the common attributes of these approaches. Students shared their lived experiences with social enterprises, charity work, and humanitarian and grass-roots organizations, enriching the discussion. We then moved on to look at government–business–civil society relations. The following resources address these different understandings and practices:
- The recent Global Landscape of Philanthropy report from the WINGS group at the European Foundation Center addresses the issue of different understandings and practices.
- Phillips and Jung’s definition “Philanthropy is the use of private resources—treasure, time and talent—for public purposes” complements Payton and Moody’s definition (voluntary action for the public good) to include the wide variety of new tools and practices.
- The GONGOs (government organized nongovernmental organizations) entry by L.S. Cumming in the International Encyclopedia of Civil Society provides the history and varying sub-categories of the label NGO (non-governmental organization) illustrating that an NGO may only have nominal independence from government control.
- The 2011 UN State of the World’s Volunteerism Report clearly lays out elements of volunteering and common misconceptions around the world.
A live, in-class case study can contextualize philanthropy
My goal was to demonstrate concretely the many factors at play that contribute to philanthropic responses. Last year, we worked through a live case study of mass fish deaths in Vietnamese coastal waters due to industrial pollution coming from a Taiwanese steel factory.
The case was taken from a series of newspaper articles describing different facets of the event and the public reaction, including government and NGO responses. We looked at philanthropic responses to the issue by assessing the civil society context, the Vietnamese notions and habits of giving, the challenges to NGOs in Vietnam and the international constraints for economic development and environmental protection.
Students consulted The Lilly Family School of Philanthropy’s Global Philanthropy Index for Vietnam (previously the Philanthropic Freedom Index) and the Charitable Aids Foundation information on taxation regimes to assess the situation. This exercise helped students apply their theoretical knowledge and understand the possible scope of philanthropic responses in that particular case.
Ethical frameworks need to be real to be understood
The ocean is a venue for some important ethical questions we are facing around the world today. For example, how does one value marine life such as coral reefs and whales? This course is taught in the undergraduate international relations and humanities track, which includes ethics.
The students needed frameworks to understand the hierarchy of values involved in each philanthropic response. My solution was to work through a basic discussion of personal ethics, then look at philanthropic ethics and finally outline environmental ethics by examining contemporary situations.
We examined that first example of how to value marine life. Is marine life valued by what it brings to man such as food (instrumental value)? Or, is it valued by its mere existence: the diversity of life (intrinsic value)? Or, is it valued by the beauty of nature? Does it give us pleasure like the image here of a coral reef (esthetic value)?
This helps us to understand the controversial issue of biodiversity and the arguments for and against the extent to which man should protect marine life.
This led us to also look at how one can determine when one ethical framework is pitted against another in decision making. For example, the seafaring ethic of always attempting to save those at risk (duty) vs. migration and refugee policies based on capability and a country’s responsibility to its own citizens (utilitarian).
A clear example is the situation of NGOs with rescue ships such as Doctors without Borders (the Aquarius) and Proactiva Open Arms. These humanitarian NGOs’ sole purpose is to save migrants from drowning in the Mediterranean Sea. However, they have been denied entering territorial waters in Malta, are being stopped for “technical” infractions in Italy and refused to dock in Spanish harbors. Why? Because the political question of which European countries take care of the migrants has not been clearly answered.
We explored which ethical frameworks are affecting decisions simultaneously and are also revealed by philanthropic humanitarian actions.
Volunteering while learning about philanthropy anchors understanding
I did not include volunteering for an organization working for the ocean as part of the course in my first year of teaching and the students were so disappointed (I mean really disappointed). This year, I integrated it as an extra credit option. Nearly 60 percent of the class participated.
Volunteering with a local organization for the “Paris equivalent” of a beach clean-up gave the students a hands-on experience. We picked up trash along the Seine River for the Surfrider Foundation.
How many cigarette butts do you think one can pick up in 30 minutes? Our group of 30 volunteers (including a few families) collected 10,000 cigarette butts. That’s what makes up the surf lines on the ground in the photo. We also picked up plastic bottles, metal scraps, and clothing.
Surfrider organizers measured and recorded the data, which will be put in a database to inform European legislators of the necessity to curb cigarette waste from going into waterways. We became very aware of discarded cigarettes and how long it takes them to degrade in the sea (12 years).
Student reflections revealed their understanding of how they had become advocates themselves by participating and sharing on social media. They walked away with a French volunteer experience, and a better understanding of advocacy efforts to change legislation. We all got to know each other a little better as well!
My objective is to help students acquire the tools to understand philanthropy in their own contexts and the challenges of addressing environmental issues. Making concepts and theories concrete in a short time is never easy in the classroom. The diverse experiences of my students made this both more difficult and more satisfying.
I must say, my training and teaching at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy are precious resources that enable me to creatively approach a VERY complex issue. My research on different forms of philanthropy working on ocean issues has uncovered a rich international landscape of individuals, associations, networks, businesses, and foundations responding for the public good.
If you are interested in talking more about philanthropic responses to ocean issues, contact me at email@example.com.
Pat Danahey Janin is a Ph.D. candidate at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.