A friend of mine from college has always been committed to fighting international poverty. First she worked for some of the big aid organizations like Mercy Corps and CARE. Then she took a job with a more entrepreneurial, microfinance-related group. Lately she's very excited about the prospect of working for Obama's new state department.
My friend's vocational path is being mirrored worldwide. An incredible expansion of the nonprofit and NGO sector over the last 15 years has been driven by many converging factors--the sudden creation of new, vast wealth, technology which increases our awareness of the acute needs around the world, and a US political stance that favored private charity over government social programs.
In the post-crash world of 2009, at least two of those three factors will be changing--private fortunes are shrinking (though inequality may not be), and the American government is more or less back at the controls when it comes to social and economic programs.
Philanthrocapitalism is an excellent new book that tells the tale of the rise of so-called social entrepreneurs--the Bill Gates, Bill Clintons, Warren Buffetts, Bonos and Jeffrey Sachs of the world who brought innovation and even glamour to the fight against poverty. It has truly been a second Gilded Age, with its own Carnegies and Rockefellers, and the hope is that these new "Social Capitalists" can now bring some of their fresh thinking into the halls of government.