Social Justice Philanthropy: An Initial Framework for Positioning This Work

Albert Ruesga and Deborah Pultenney



Considers social justice philanthropy as constituting a family of approaches. In describing what they do and why they do it, social justice grantmakers tend to appeal to one or more of these approaches or ‘traditions’ and the authors go on to list eight of them. They warn that theory and practice has found weaknesses in all of them and stresses that how a funder thinks about social justice will affect the strategies and tactics it adopts. 

The essay is divided into three parts: 

  • a brief summary of the eight traditions
  • a discussion of the difficulties of this taxonomy
  • a matrix in which these traditions are set out with the corresponding characteristics and attitudes of SJP (guiding principles, social justice goal, assumptions and funders’ approach) that accompany them.

Each of the traditions is illustrated by examples.

Structural injustice

The view that inequality or injustice is either created or perpetuated by the structure of the chief institutions of a society.

Universal human rights

The view that social justice can be realised by acknowledging and respecting the rights common to all individuals.

Fairness/Equal distribution of resources

The view that justice is to do with equality of resources (rather than equality of opportunity).

Legalism/Rule of Law

Social justice consists of upholding and applying the law even-handedly for all sections of the community.


The view that social justice is achieved by increasing the social, economic and political strength of individuals and groups who suffer discrimination or disadvantage.

Shared values

Social justice can be promoted by appealing to a set of values that are perceived to be universal.

Cultural relativism

The view that social justice involves holding the value of other cultures and worldviews as equivalent to one’s own.

Triple Bottom Line

The – relatively new – idea that a profit economy can be used to create a more just distribution of goods.

(English, Spanish and Portuguese versions attached.)