Tulane VISTA Blog

Fighting Poverty with Passion

The Neoliberal Third Sector


*an extension of thoughts on Philanthrocapitalism and an Affect Economy

“New Orleans has the highest number of nonprofits per capita!” the presenter exclaimed. “That means you have to work hard to stand out.”

When a presentation about organizational individualism I recently attended wrapped up with this statement, I was taken aback by the excitement and positivity in the presenter’s voice. In a more effective world, the conclusion might have read:

“New Orleans has the highest number of nonprofits per capita! That means we have to question why our government is failing to provide basic services so miserably that social enterprises and nonprofits must fill up the vacuum!”

But obviously that is not what ended up happening, and that is because the culture of activism endemic in New Orleans revolves around a tremendously disappointing phenomenon: sole proprietorship. And sole proprietorship stems from two other phenomena: the white savior complex and neoliberalism.

Here are some examples of the first arm. The Urban Institute’s 2012 report states that the “leaders of the nonprofit health and human services sector in the New Orleans metro area are largely non-Hispanic white,” at 62%, while the majority of paid staff is a racial/ethnic minority (56%). Furthermore, “nearly 70 percent of organizations surveyed reported the chair of their board was white, non-Hispanic.” And perhaps most significantly, the leadership of health and human services nonprofits in the metro area, including family services and youth/teen services, “do not reflect their constituencies.”

And the second arm. The Urban Institute also reported that nonprofits “in the metro area are most likely to work with other nonprofits” and “least likely to work with the federal government and hospitals.” And in fact, the inundation of nonprofits in the realm of empowerment politics decrease public confidence in the state. Martinez (2015) states that despite “the do-good image that made them an ideal alternative to the discredited welfare state, research on nonprofits in the context of neoliberal reforms has exposed the political ambiguity underlying their actual effects; some contribute to wellbeing and social change, while others further neoliberal forms of governance and power” (9). Moreover, Hasenfield and Garrow (2012) have stated that “the institutional, economic, and political environment of the nonprofit human-service sector is reshaped by a neoliberal ideology that celebrates market fundamentalism,” which “dampens the [state’s] motivation to challenge the state,” thereby greatly “curtail[ing] its historical mission to advocate and mobilize for social rights” (295).

I am consistently disappointed by the persistent lack of research and critical reflection that nonprofits in New Orleans seem to gloss over.

For more articulations:


One comment on “The Neoliberal Third Sector

  1. Tulane VISTA
    February 5, 2017

    Review the idea of “states rights” and the history of conflicts over Federalism. Read the book, “When Affirmative Action Was White” in order to fill in your contextual gaps. You have the critical mindset but not the historical scope to allow you to make more sense of what you observe. You’re doing great, working with what you do have.

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This entry was posted on February 3, 2017 by in VISTA Field Reports.


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