The key pillars responsible for upholding any civil society—government, private enterprise, public education, media, and religion—are only as strong as the public’s ability to place their complete trust in each of those pillars. Anything that might undermine the public trust in these core societal institutions effectively undermines society at large, resulting in bitter polarization between groups of people who would otherwise be united by the shared interests that ultimately benefit the whole of society.
Polarization already evident throughout our society, and public trust in critical societal institutions only continuing to erode, it is only natural to wonder if there is a role for philanthropy to play in solving a crisis of this magnitude. That is, of course, if a solution is even possible with so little trust in the institutions necessary for supporting a civil society.
Although there are substantial challenges that must be overcome to address the current issues plaguing society, the continued efforts of philanthropists and philanthropic organizations can make a significant difference going forward. Obviously, the core focus of these future efforts must revolve around restoring the public’s trust in the institutions that do so much to support our society.
Through the restoration of public trust in core societal institutions, the level of polarization currently undermining those key institutions will naturally abate over time. The most pertinent question facing philanthropists, therefore, becomes how it might be possible to go about restoring faith in the institutions currently viewed with such widespread cynicism and utter disdain.
Encouraging a greater level of transparency in these institutions represents an ideal starting point for philanthropists and philanthropic organizations. With greater transparency, sowing doubt in the motives of any one of the key societal institutions becomes that much more difficult, particularly since public doubt is often due, at least in part, to the intentional efforts to mislead. This is carried out by the few who stand to benefit from reduced public trust in core institutions.
Philanthropists might also take note of the fact that working to increase transparency in these crucial societal institutions will likely lead to a more meaningful level of public discourse as well. If, for example, there is complete transparency in the development and implementation of new educational programs, or in the rationale behind funding a significant government expenditure, the public discourse will be more likely to feature an analysis of the merits of such efforts. Alternatively, they would engage in pointless arguments over which side is either willfully ignorant or woefully uninformed.
Of course, there is a great deal more that philanthropists can do to restore faith in public institutions and society at large, but utilizing philanthropy to encourage further transparency is certainly a solid starting position. There will need to be a significant investment of time and energy into such a broad effort, but philanthropists and philanthropic organizations have demonstrated time and again that they are more than capable of rising to the occasion.