Walking past a beggar can be a deeply uncomfortable experience. Clocking the beggar from afar, most of us immediately start to play arguments in our minds: to give or not to give?

As we reach the beggar, we steel ourselves for the ask – ‘spare any change guv?’ – and we are forced to confront our mixed feelings. Whatever we decide, rarely are we sure that we made the right decision.

Contrast this experience with that of coming across a top notch street artist – a juggler, a violinist on a unicycle, someone chalking a Van Gogh painting. Instantly our curiosity is aroused. If the artist already has a crowd we simply have to know what all the fuss is about so our pace slows, we dawdle and are drawn toward the event.

The best street entertainers have their own stories and patter that they weave through their acts. They are interesting characters with nuance and depth, by turns comic and serious. We listen and watch.

The event becomes communal as the artists find a volunteer and involve the crowd. We experience it together. As the act ends a hat is passed and some of the crowd drift away sheepishly, but for many the decision of whether to give is an easy one. The street artist deserves his reward.

These uncomfortable feelings of guilt and conflict are evoked not only by the pleas of a lone street beggar but also by charities on a much larger scale. They have become central to the widely adopted philanthropic model that, evidence suggests, is beginning to wear thin.

In this blog, Steven Dodds and Clare Jones discuss the new philanthropy: from dependent to enabling.


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