The Real Work of Change
AEGIS’s Pursuit of Authentic Altruism in a Complex World
AEGIS’s Pursuit of Authentic Altruism in a Complex World
In the intricate landscape of modern philanthropy, the allure of buzzing causes often overshadows the vital, structural changes needed for lasting transformation. These distractions can misguide the collective will of society, directing efforts towards temporary fixes rather than addressing the root issues. At AEGIS, we have made it our mission to center concerns to the underlying systems that demand real reform, all the while designing systems of support that can help us seal the gaps between the visibility inequalities of causes. This article offers an insight into our philosophy, approach, and the thought-provoking challenges we’ve identified in the conventional paradigms of the philanthropic field.
The Attractiveness Illusion
The world was stunned when, within days of the tragic fire that engulfed Notre Dame, nearly a billion dollars was raised for its restoration. The swift response might have been awe-inspiring but a dramatic testament to the nature of human generosity and our perception of value. It exposed a disconcerting superficiality that often drives charitable giving. Why did this one architectural marvel attract such a colossal amount of money in a heartbeat, while equally significant yet colossally more impactful global issues like environmental action, poverty, education, or healthcare languish, struggling for funds?
At AEGIS, we try to remember that the appeal of highly visible, emotionally resonant causes (or causes that champion non-controversial demographics that can easily become activist poster children) often diverts attention and resources from more mundane but equally if not more critical societal needs. The truth is that the biggest issues causing our world’s inequalities and cycles of suffering are rooted in systemic and structural issues. Addressing these issues means redesigning our societies: social and environmental strategies, technological access and distribution, aid to the formation of educationally driven, creative and supportive communities… These are the less buzz-capable but most relevant causes if we are talking about true long term philanthropic outcomes for our world. Because as inspiring as the restoration of Notre Dame is, the incident highlights our cultural inaptitude to value the ecosystem needed for our own survival as a species and the lives of our people, in favor of the symbols of what we perceive as the human race’s historic markings of “grandeur”. This reality is pretty Game of Thrones: as top of the food-chain humans, we might as well watch this world burn if we can remain kings of the ashes.
It is horrifying testament. And one which we must learn to overcome.
This is a reminder through which we encourage you to see beyond the immediate emotional appeal of a cause, emphasizing long-term, foundational changes that have the power to create a lasting impact, helping us bring back a sense of logic between human power and the reality of the planet we inhabit.
The Eternal Chase for Funding
The nonprofit world often feels like an endless startup chase, with organizations perpetually on the run, always in search of the next grant or donation. This relentless pursuit of survival often means that immediate needs overshadow innovation, and creativity becomes constrained. In most countries, due to a history of corruption and profiteering, nonprofits need to abide to laws that forbid them from becoming self-sustaining by monetized activities independent from their mission such as consulting services, merch and goods sales or event tickets. Very often, organizations, by law, need to depend on donations and grants (a fact that most people do not know about). Bound by these legal restrictions that hinder nonprofits from fully sustaining themselves through commercial means, the sector’s potential is often stifled.
Because we understand the traps of this system and have witnessed the ways it hampers growth and systemic thinking, we encourage nonprofits to shift towards hybrid models. First of all, by thinking how they can unite a non profit and a for profit activity under one same strategy, so that we can stop pretending that in the long-term, nonprofit alone is a model that works. It doesn’t. Separating from the start what will remain selflessly altruistic and what will be money-driven is an important reality check. The cause’s core mission should never become money driven, which it does, as soon as fundraising becomes the central activity that defines an initially altruistic endeavor.
Secondly, we encourage people to understand the value of normalizing and scaling fiscal sponsorships. Fiscal sponsorships is what we call one organization offering to take a grassroots initiative under their wing from an administrative perspective, so that there is no need for the sponsored initiative to run their own NGO in order to carry out their activities legally or in order to apply for grants and receive donations. We as an example do this (through AEGIS Alliance), in a way that lends to initiatives all the legal advantages of being a nonprofit organization without imposing any other attachment in terms of brand and representation. The initiatives that we support can remain and grow their own brands, standing in the public eye as completely independent. In fact most of the initiatives that we sponsor appear to the world as their own organizations, which they are, in all aspects other than their legal status and their accounting. By scaling independent fiscal sponsorships, many causes can unite under one legal alliance, so that bureaucratic costs become almost completely eradicated and take a backseat that can only benefit a group’s focus towards their mission and cause. And if we are talking about volunteer-run activist groups, this eliminates completely a cause’s reliance on donations and grant-chasing. Additionally to this, if we also shift our non-profit endeavors’ focus away from simple fundraising and instead towards the direct acquisitions of the tools and services needed to grow (through in-kind donations, CSR programs, pro-bono work, open-sourced scaled and remote volunteering opportunities etc), all of a sudden, we have a system that works as it was initially intended to, fuelled by pure mutual aid and cooperative altruism.
By encouraging organizations to escape the constant cycle of fundraising, we hope to enable a future where nonprofits are empowered to invest in long-term solutions and missions that align with the real human needs that exist beyond the constraints of bureaucracy and corporate branding.
A Toxic Reality: Competition Instead of Cooperation
Competition, a driving force in the corporate world, has insidiously found its way into the nonprofit sector. And while this may work out well to drive innovation for commercialized products and services, it is a disaster for the only field we have to attempt to scale human kindness. Organizations find themselves locked in rivalries, fighting for a slice of the funding pie, instead of collaborating to amplify their collective impact. The result is a dilution of efforts and a weakening of the sector’s collective strength. Not to mention the mistrust that it generates, both from people who work in nonprofit fields, as much as for the public that witnesses the lack of cooperative goodwill.
An illustrative example can be found in the global efforts to combat plastic pollution. Numerous NGOs have emerged, each with their strategies and initiatives to reduce single-use plastics and clean our oceans. While their ultimate goal aligns, the battle for attention, funding, and recognition has led to fragmented efforts and a lack of collaboration. Instead of forming alliances to pool resources and knowledge, organizations often find themselves in rivalries, mirroring each other’s campaigns and competing for the same grants and public support. The result is a dilution of impact and a weakening of the sector’s collective strength, leading to slower progress in addressing an urgent global crisis. This competitive behavior undermines the very essence of altruism and reflects a deep-seated flaw in the way nonprofits currently operate. The lack of cooperative goodwill does a disservice to the cause and those it aims to benefit, highlighting the need for a profound shift in the way we approach collective action.
At AEGIS, we strive to bridge these gaps, working to build trust and encourage collaboration among diverse organizations. Our approach recognizes the unique value in each organization’s contributions, connecting like-minded groups and emphasizing shared goals and visions.
Human Suffering and Misunderstood Activism
Victims of societal and natural crises, as well as the activists that attempt to uplift their sources of suffering, are often marginalized and misunderstood. They are judged by superficial standards rather than the substance and validity of their cause. This unfortunately ties back to the fact that we perceive the nonprofit field as matters tied to the business world and its norms. We expect of people to be able to mask their distress, burnout or outrage in order to be perceived as worthy of support. We ask of nonprofit initiatives to compete for funding as if these competitions were anything other than arbitrary ways of acknowledging who’s suffering is worth more, and as if the people who determine who gets a grant had the professional qualifications to perceive the value of strategies, communities or tools that they have never encountered before. We know many of those people, we have counted them among our friends and colleagues, and let us tell you: they are amazing people, but mostly they do not possess the diverse range of knowledge and skills necessary to recognize buzz from substance when it comes to social and environmental design. And they do not realize that their jobs stand as stepping stones between us and the future.
We have become accustomed to ask of those who suffer, and of those who help others selflessly, to jump through endless hoops, to become exactly who we need them to be in order to fit into our corporate boxes. And god forbid someone presents as emotionally charged or frustrated with the hoops.
This societal industrialized dismissal overlooks the real human lives at stake. It reflects a profound lack of understanding, empathy and an inability to see beyond external appearances. Most crucially, it shows that the field of nonprofit operations is filled with unqualified corporate workers who have never truly spent time with a diverse set of causes, nor have they tried to voluntarily solve societal sources of pain and trauma. In the medical field, this would equal with medical staff who have never been trained in medical institutions or tended to patients. In engineering, this would equal with engineers with no degrees or knowledge of physics and mathematics. It is simply ridiculous.
It’s time for all those who work with nonprofit actions but have never actually carried out altruistic volunteering projects in the field to get some real life experience. Because being unqualified does not turn out well anywhere and it is never justifiable. Ever.
At AEGIS, we challenge these faulty norms and biases. We see activism as genuine change-making, as real life world-building. Philanthropy as a profound, multifaceted desire to make the world better for the sake of our people and our planet. We understand that the road to change often involves confronting uncomfortable truths and accepting that real human struggle may be messy and difficult to witness. We strive to create spaces where these authentic voices can be understood, and beyond mere understanding, where the design of new norms reflect these lived realities and expectations.
We challenge the nonprofit world to redesign its norms around the needs of the sufferers, the activists, the philanthropists and their causes, not around the corporate norms or the institutions and companies that project PR goals and deliver sporadic grants.
In a world tantalized by the surface allure of attractive causes and superficial judgments, AEGIS seeks to guide the collective conscience towards the fundamental roots of societal challenges. Our vision is a transformative approach that prioritizes first principles thinking, biomimicry rooted in humankind’s nature, thoughtful, long-term strategies utilizing the latest and most useful powerful technological solutions, genuine collaboration, and a focus on human needs over fleeting trends or image concerns. By redefining philanthropy not as monetary giving but as true world design, we invite everyone to join us in a meaningful, shared journey towards a more compassionate and just world. Together, we can transcend traditional boundaries, foster innovation, and make a lasting, positive impact on the lives of those who need it most. Our mission is not about funding organizations. It is about re-imagining the very fabric of how we help, support, and uplift one another, and how we evolve in symbiosis with our home planet, as a united species in an interconnected world.