On “diversity”: the perils of monoculture

The second of my two questions is, “what would it mean to democratize philanthropy?” One of the topics this allows me to touch on is what’s usually labeled diversity. A few thoughts to start sketching out a path to explore on here:

Monocultures in agriculture and (?) epidemiology are bad: you want a diversity of plant species so if you have a blight in one of your crops, not everything is wiped out; and you want to be exposed to different kinds of germs so you build up a broad base of immunity and are less likely to be felled by the newest strain of cold or flu.

Monoculture of perspective or experience is similarly perilous. Groupthink, prejudice, tokenism, discrimination: all these can result in an ecosystem-of-people (whether an organization or a nation) where only one type of perspective or experience is present or validated.

Crop rotation and exposure to different kinds of germs are strategies for avoiding monocultures. Maybe there’s something to be learned from these practices in promoting diversity in institutional contexts, like philanthropy. Term limits on foundation boards and/or program officers may help ensure rotation of perspectives in the bodies that govern the organization and interact most directly with constituents. And substitute “memes” for “germs” in the first sentence in this paragraph, and the idea would be to provide regular, low-dose exposures to all different kinds of perspectives and experiences to inoculate the organization against the peril of falling for the newest fad (a constant danger in philanthropy).

But what might “perspective” and “experience” mean in this context? Are we talking about diversity of background? Identity? To be continued….

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One Response to “On “diversity”: the perils of monoculture”

  1. The Blog Briefly Known as "Democratizing Philanthropy?" » Blog Archive » On “diversity”: the perils of monoculture (part 2) Says:

    […] wrote previously about the perils of monoculture in agriculture and institutions: it’s dangerous to have only […]

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