Book Review: A polemic that does not live up to its title

Charity Sucks by Iqbal Wahhab presents part of the picture as if it were the whole story, argues Stephen Cook

The notion that a more ethical form of capitalism can solve poverty, unemployment and social problems all over the world has been gaining ground in recent years, giving rise to catchphrases such as "profit with purpose".

The restaurateur Iqbal Wahhab, founder of Roast and The Cinnamon Club, pushes that notion hard in this short, polemical book, citing his own experience and the success of initiatives such as the Grameen Bank, B Corp and the community transport social enterprise HCT. "Entrepreneurship brings empowerment," he declares. "Donations bring dependency."

Wahhab's own experience has included recruiting ex-offenders to work in his restaurants, encouraging traumatised former soldiers to get jobs and aiding schemes to divert the entrepreneurial skills of gang leaders into more socially acceptable business.

But in talking up what he calls "helping to improve communities by lining your pockets", he adopts an almost contemptuous view of charities and refers to "the sanctimony of charity and its persistent failure to do good with our money".

There are also references to the failures of Kids Company and Beatbullying, criticism of the proliferation of charities and a sideswipe at founder's syndrome. One charity that does get his approval is Afrikids, mainly because it is succeeding in putting itself out of business.

But Wahhab is, at bottom, using the polemicist's classic ploy of presenting part of the picture as if it were the whole story. At one point he implicitly acknowledges this by saying "there are inevitably going to be some charities that will be required by us all for the foreseeable future".

So these 100 provocative and occasionally irritating pages would be an entertaining way of passing a spare afternoon, but they don't really prove the thesis contained in the title.

Charity Sucks, by Iqbal Wahhab, published by Biteback Publishing, £10 hardback

Book Review

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