By Asha Curran, CEO of Giving Tuesday
This interview with Asha Curran, CEO of Giving Tuesday, explores the rapid growth of this global movement that reaches over 60 countries fostering a more just and generous world. As we are approaching the next edition on December 3, 2019, Asha Curran shares her thoughts on the impact of technology and the power of a more democratic philanthropy.
WINGS: What does new power mean to philanthropy? How can this approach help reinvent foundations’ work?
Asha Curran: In every aspect of our lives, we can see the rising power of the collective voice of regular people—people who, on their own, may lack traditional forms of influence or capital, but when they come together increase their influence significantly, sometimes dramatically. It is the age of grassroots participation. People are making their voices heard. In the world of philanthropy, we can see a rising tension and chafing at the same old models and tendencies: a focus on high net worth giving, on powerful people and institutions making the decisions that everyone else has to live with, and on a bifurcation between those who have and those who need. We’re seeing a growing recognition that 1) the solutions and the wisdom are often at the community level and 2) that when those communities form networks, movements are born. We’re seeing a recognition (and this is a core guiding principle of Giving Tuesday) that everyone has the capacity to give, that everyone’s giving matters, that everyone has agency over what happens in their lives and communities, and again, that when many people come together at the grassroots level to express generosity they can create real change (and systemic change).
In terms of the work of foundations, my hope is that there will also be much more resource put toward systems change efforts, particularly distributed global networks that are connected and all driving toward the same mission. I think it would be an interesting experiment for a foundation to cease granting to any one NGO, say for a year, and fund only systems change efforts or movements. We need movements—big, ambitious moon shots to ensure that we live in a world not only where NGOs have enough money to feed hungry people, but where it is intolerable that anyone goes hungry in the first place. Movements inspire big change, at scale, often rapidly. And yes, they can be messy and they can be risky and they can be hard to measure; their power and potential is still undeniable. I’d like to see foundations get more comfortable with that.
W: Giving Tuesday is now a major global phenomenon. Tell us about that journey and what is coming next.
AC: GivingTuesday is now a formal, locally led movement in 60 countries, with informal activity in almost every country and territory on earth. Those country leaders, and many more community-level leaders (small towns, big cities, or communities united around particular causes) form an interconnected peer-learning ecosystem in which ideas, best practices, and mutual support are shared daily, all year round. These leaders each then interpret the movement in the unique and appropriate ways for their own regions, but all are unified in driving together toward a common mission: a more just and generous world.
We see new innovations springing up constantly from the GivingTuesday community, and not just from NGOs. Two new initiatives this year, for example: GivingTuesdayMilitary, an effort to inspire a million acts of non-monetary kindness and generosity on GivingTuesday; and GivingTuesdayKids, an effort to inspire a million acts of child-led giving on GivingTuesday. Neither of these were created by us: they were created by ordinary citizens who share our mission and are catalyzing their own social networks and networks of networks to spread their ideas globally.
At GivingTuesday, our dream of a more generous world is far more expansive than just increased fundraising. With all of these country and community leaders, millions of civil society organizations, and countless givers of all kinds, we are creating a shared space where we can see the radical implications of a more generous world.
W: What did you learn about the Cultures of Giving—challenges and similarities—as you were expanding Giving Tuesday in different regions?
AC: The various manifestations of generosity in different countries is fascinating and very beautiful, from “Susu” in Liberia (a frequent rotational saving and shared giving activities among small groups of friends, family, or community members, especially women) to Nollaig na mBan or “Women’s Christmas” in Ireland (a post-Christmas day in which men in the house take over and to the cleaning, cooking, childcare, and women get together to spend time with each other, in the home or in the pub, in recognition of all the work they do looking after everyone) to “Red Envelope” in Singapore (where everyone, of every age, engages in kneeling and sharing of “good luck and health” greetings with their elders). The list goes on and on, with strong themes of solidarity, ritual, and commitment to community.
Generosity is present everywhere in different ways. Leaders in different countries or communities use GivingTuesday to bolster the ways in which generosity is already strong, or strengthen areas of weakness, or both. One thing we’re seeing that I love is a breaking down of the barriers between “those who have” and “those who need.” The philosophy instead is that everyone has something to give, and everyone needs something. Generosity is an expression not of condescension but of solidarity. Philanthropy, after all, means “love of humanity,” and it is within the ability of every human regardless of means to embody that concept. It’s a perversion to interpret it as “gifts of millions of dollars.”
W: Is technology just a new tool or is it going to change the way institutions and people are giving?
AC: It already is. People are giving online, to NGOs as well as to their fellow citizens. People spread their passions about causes and issues through their online networks. The social sector has a lot of catching up to do when it comes to the adoption of digital tools and to the potential of the use of data and specifically, the collaborative use of data. That needs to be part of the shift from scarcity to abundance mindset that the sector needs to make overall. We should not be competitors. The pool of generosity is infinite, not finite. We will engage far more people in the things we care about with our arms linked.
In terms of movement building, technology is a tool, but it’s a powerful one. Social movements have existed for a very long time, of course, but the potential for rapid spread and adoption of causes, ideas, and actions has never existed in the way it does now. It’s not about the technology; it’s about the intention we bring to it. Are we using technology to spread memes (or snark, or hatred?), or just to reflect back our own political and social beliefs? Or are we using it to create communities and networks of trust and transparency? The latter is where the potential for change lies.
CEO of Giving Tuesday
GivingTuesday started as a day for anyone, anywhere to give, and it’s grown into the biggest giving movement in the world. Read more on their website: https://www.givingtuesday.org/