Data Science · Prospect Research · I · Small/Medium · Large ·
The Role of Philanthropy in Cultural Exploration and Web3: Q&A With Dr. Angela Becerra Vidergar
As prospect development professionals work to stay ahead of the curve with emerging technologies and cultural developments, the role of philanthropy in these spaces isn’t always clear. Stanford University’s Dr. Angela Becerra Vidergar offers insight into how cultural exploration and the development of Web3 can lead to unexpected results, as well as advice for where to get started with these topics.
Can you tell us about your background and experience in your current field?
For the past 20+ years, I’ve been working in higher education as a university writing and literature instructor. I integrate my previous experiences as a TV news producer and feature writer, as well as my interests in culture, science and technology, to engage students and tutor clients in many different forms of writing in a variety of disciplines.
How have your experiences at Stanford University or other places of work influenced your thinking about novel infrastructures for cultural exploration?
All of these experiences have, in their own way, driven my passion for helping people tell their best stories, whether it’s an academic paper, podcast, video game or brand messaging for their business. I love making connections between concepts and media that are hidden or unexpected, especially because those links so often illuminate the potential for human connection — the basis of all our social interactions.
At Stanford in particular, I’ve met people at all stages of the career pipeline at the top of practically every discipline of thought. It’s an infinitely exciting place to see the interactions between people and concepts and how they are changed by colliding with each other, sometimes turning into brand-new unexpected products or concepts. Those collisions and generative interactions are at the heart of understanding cultural exchange and innovation.
Can you explain the role of philanthropy in supporting cultural exploration and innovation, and how it differs from other forms of investment?
While we can certainly look around and see a world driven by countless commercial interests and interactions, it’s important to keep in mind that some of the best cultural discoveries have been uncovered or pursued outside of the interests of direct profit. As we see today in a variety of contexts, most funding around the arts and other cultural activities tend to come from patrons of the arts — philanthropists.
The major players in philanthropy are those with the most capital to contribute, but we can see of these same trends at the micro-level, such as with crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter, Indiegogo and the aptly-named Patreon, where artists and creators engage directly with individual patrons through social media interaction and exclusive products or events.
Continuing with that analogy on the micro level, this doesn’t negate the commercial significance of new discoveries and cultural products. These creators still, for example, use platforms such as Etsy or website-based e-commerce to sell their products. But there is an equally important drive today, as with many other eras in human innovation, to facilitate an exploratory process that’s not driven — and therefore constrained — by commercial interests. In short, philanthropic investment is driven by different motivations that can potentially lead to more unexpected results.
As a cultural scholar, can you share your perspective on the development of Web3, and how it applies to philanthropy?
Web3 is a concept still actively being developed, so it’s hard to fully define at the moment. It’s a chance to help shape the next iteration of the web, which in its current centralized form has been referred to as Web2 or Web 2.0. The Harvard Business Review points out that “network effects and economies of scale have led to clear winners” that provide services appearing to be free but actually hinge on producing “mind-boggling wealth for themselves and their shareholders by scraping users’ data and selling targeted ads against it.” It may appear free, but we are actually selling control of our data to companies like Google and Meta.
For a long time, advocates of a new system have been working to come up with an alternative model, which we are referring to as Web3. This system aims to give users the power to own and sell their own data, rather than giving ownership over to big companies. It involves different methods of encryption for privacy issues, decentralized methods of storing data and new ways to exchange funds — even new forms of currency. Web3 is often linked more prominently, and controversially, to Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies.
Some concepts from the Web3 revolution, such as accountability and decentralization, transfer easily and naturally to the philanthropic space, which has the opportunity to become more personalized and transparent in that new vision of the internet. It’s also becoming clear that nonprofits will have an opportunity to better showcase the impact of their initiatives within the community, providing motivation for givers, who increasingly want to see direct results of their contributions as both a building of trust and a source of satisfaction and motivation. For example, projects like rewilder create a decentralized environment where donors can see the actual impact of their gift in real time, while also facilitating more meaningful engagement through the creation of digital artifacts (NFTs) to memorialize their contribution.
What advice would you give to philanthropists who are interested in supporting cultural exploration and innovation, but may not have experience in the space?
One of the great boons of the evolving Web3 ecosystem for philanthropy is the ideological underpinnings of its creators, which resonate strongly with the ideals of charitable giving. Those ideas include things like transparency and freedom to innovate.
Philanthropists whose own ideals resonate with those concepts can find ways to give that are more closely tied to their own passions and ethical systems. One of the tricky things to balance will be the combination of hands-on and hands-off approaches, in which a philanthropist can more directly see the concrete results of their contributions. At the same time, however, they can give more agency and creative freedom to experts in those fields to make decisions about the implementation of those funds.
Another beauty of Web3 is the ease with which those building it collaborate as a community. I’ve recently been learning about groups like Protocol Labs that are looking at new ways to satisfy the growing need for philanthropists to measure the return on their philanthropic investments. They have established what could be considered a philanthropic bond (or hypercert) to do just that. The tools being built right now would benefit from donor feedback, so they can become solutions both in the Web3 space and within traditional fundraising.