On Doing Good Work

“…there is much more to doing good work than ‘making a difference.’ There is the principle of first do no harm. There is the idea that those who are being helped ought to be consulted over the matters that concern them.” — Teju Cole, author, photographer and art historian

Charles W. Thomas Jr., photographer

As a friend noted today, there’s a lot to unpack in Teju Cole’s article titled “The White Savior Industrial Complex” and featured in The Atlantic. That’s an understatement, particularly when you begin comparing and contrasting the layered stereotypes, indignities and pain characterizing both the Kony 2012 campaign and the Trayvon Martin shooting. Cole’s incisive commentary stirs questions about where we choose to see injustice and why, when and how we take action in struggles for justice.

What Cole observes about the bleaching of our civic discourse, how certain voices are pushed to the margins and others amplified and the perils of failing to “think constellationally” are at the core of my current interests in philanthropy. My struggle with such issues led me to pen Giving Back. The book brings to the forefront seldom-heard voices, with authenticity and respect, to reveal important perspectives at the nexus of justice, philanthropy and progress. Through Giving Back, I aspire to enliven and deepen public discourse on these matters. I believe that community-led strategies strengthened by philanthropy that is inclusive, responsive and respectful are central to “good work.”

— VF