Future gazing & future shaping: Winners take all

In this early evening discussion at The Gathering, social investors explored the challenges raised by Winners Take All, Anand Giridharadas’s book on the wealthy elites and social change

Anand Giridharadas’s book Winners Take All has provoked significant debate and, in some cases, soul searching within the philanthropic and social change sectors. 

Giridharadas uses the term ‘Elite Charade’ to describe a range of activities led by rich, powerful people designed to tackle social problems in ways that – in the author’s view – avoid any challenge to their own wealth and power. 

The book challenges business leaders such as Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg for trying to make the world a better place through philanthropy while, as Giridharadas sees it, making the world worse through his core business activity: “Zuckerberg wants to cure diseases but his business is his plague.” 

Unsurprisingly, impact investors are among those singled out for criticism in the book and Alice Millest, of the European Venture Philanthropy Association (EVPA) and Arts Ventures, initiated a discussion on what messages it could have for the sector. 

The discussion looked at the topic from a range of angles, including the relationship between investment and power, and whether it is possible to have ‘clean’ sources of money. For some, persuading rich investors to put money in social investment was part of a longer process with one participant asking: “How do we start from something that’s possible today and nudge it to utopia?” 

There were differing views around whether or not it would be better for wealthy individuals to pay more tax rather than put money into social investment. And discussions also considered how social investment could be channeled to create “a better form of capitalism” that provided more equal outcomes to begin with – leading to a reduced need for taxation or philanthropy. It was thought this could include measuring the impact of mainstream businesses or creating a takeover fund to take private businesses in the social sector.  

While not explicitly stated, the underlying conclusion seemed to be that social investors shared many of Giridharadas’s concerns – but felt that, with a combination of pragmatism and a strong focus on social impact, it was possible to find ways to repurpose some wealth and power for social good.