When asked to list humanity’s most pressing challenges in the 21st century, most people would mention issues like global warming, overpopulation, extreme poverty, and nuclear proliferation—social problems that dominate the front pages of newspapers around the globe. Very few people, however, would mention the erosion of civil society and its institutions as an urgent issue that needs our immediate attention.

Philanthropists, much like the general public, focus most of their attention and money...

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