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What is philanthropy & why should you care?

Welcome to episode 1 of Philanthropisms! This is the podcast where we put philanthropy in context. Through conversations with expert guests and deep dives into topics, host Rhodri Davies explores giving throughout history, the key trends shaping generosity around the world today and what the future might hold for philanthropy. 

In this episode we’re going right back to first principles to ask the question “what is philanthropy and why should you care?” To answer that we will take a whistle-stop tour through more than 2,000 years of history, explore the ways in which philanthropy has been defined by comparison to other concepts, and find out about some of the key debates shaping philanthropy today.


  • What does “philanthropisms” mean?
  • Is philanthropy an inherently vague term (or a “floating signifier”)? Does this stop us using it in practice?
  • The roots of philanthropy in the ancient world
  • The development of Judeo-Christian notions of charity
  • The impact of secular humanism, the Reformation, the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution on philanthropy
  • The Victorian “golden age” of UK giving and the rise of “scientific philanthropy”
  • How the early C20th US Gilded Age established the paradigm for modern philanthropy (for better or worse)
  • Defining philanthropy by what it isn’t- “Philanthropy vs…”:
    • Charity
    • Altruism
    • Mutual Aid
    • Private giving
    • Commercial activity
    • State provision
    • Taxation
    • Politics
    • Justice
  • Why should you care about philanthropy (and therefore listen to this podcast…)?

Related Links

Learn from our past to better understand our future.

Philanthropy has a long and varied history. We’ve created bite-size chapters that you can jump in and out of to better understand philanthropy.