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Helena Monteiro explains WINGS' role in philanthropy

Posted By WINGS, Tuesday, January 10, 2012
Updated: Thursday, August 27, 2015

The following was originally published on the Mott Foundation website on 10 January 2012. The original article can be found here.

The Worldwide Initiative for Grantmaker Support (WINGS) was formally established in 2000, the same year the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation made its first grant to the organization. To date, Mott has provided seven grants, totaling $2.2 million, for WINGS’ support. During a recent visit to Mott’s home office in Flint, Michigan, Helena Monteiro — who became WINGS’ executive director in January 2011 — sat down with Communications Officer Maggie Jaruzel Potter for a brief chat. What follows is an edited version of that interview.

Would you share a bit of your personal background?

Helena Monteiro (HM): I’m Brazilian-Canadian. I lived in Brazil until I was 24 and then moved to Canada. I’m an educator by training and did my graduate studies in social work. I’ve worked locally, nationally and internationally, but more on the grantee side of international development. I worked for nonprofits in Canada for 16 years and with the United Nations in Washington, D.C. for two years. I moved back to Brazil in 2005 and, since then, have been working in philanthropy — family, corporate and individual philanthropy.

What is WINGS’ role in the field of philanthropy?

HM: WINGS is a network of networks in philanthropy. Our mandate is global. We are the only truly worldwide network representing and serving the broad community of grant makers, foundations and philanthropy-support organizations. With members and affiliates in every region of the world, WINGS convenes a diverse community of leaders with a wide range of grounded knowledge and experience in the field of global philanthropy.

The mission of WINGS is to strengthen philanthropy and a culture of giving through mutual learning and support, knowledge sharing and professional development among its participants. In so doing, WINGS gives voice and visibility to philanthropy at a global level. The vision of WINGS is to grow a strong, global philanthropic community that works to build more equitable and just societies around the world.

Why did WINGS’ leadership decide it was time for the organization to have a permanent home?

HM: WINGS was only incorporated in 2010. Before that, WINGS did not invest in a highly formalized institutional structure, but rather worked with and through its members, serviced by a small network secretariat that was hosted, in turns, by member organizations in North America, Europe and Asia. With the growth of WINGS and its program, the decision was taken in 2010 to incorporate WINGS as a fully fledged, nonprofit membership association with offices in Sao Paulo, Brazil. In 2011-2012, WINGS is bolstering its own sustainability through the introduction of membership fees. Currently, we have 147 network participants in 54 countries on every continent except Antarctica.

What has been the reaction to WINGS’ move to Brazil as its permanent home country?

HM: It may be the first time this nation is hosting an international organization that is not actually working in Brazil, but is working globally. The Brazil philanthropic community is thrilled about having WINGS based in their country because there is a lot of philanthropy development in Brazil now. For WINGS, it was very important that it be based in the Global South because there are already enough support organizations in the Global North. With its roots in the Global South now, it will surely be representing philanthropy groups there and developing contacts in Latin America, Asia and Africa.

What are the emerging regions or countries in the field of philanthropy?

HM: China is certainly a new frontier in philanthropy. It is growing fast with more than 2,000 foundations so far, but it’s too early to tell how it will take form and shape; same for the other BRICS countries [Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa]. WINGS will be working with the China Foundation Center in Beijing, which was greatly inspired by the Foundation Center in the States. They are doing amazing work there. We are also seeing a lot of development in Africa. As for the Arab region, there are a lot of changes happening that are in the news lately. Actually, there’s been quite a lot of movement in the field of philanthropy around the world in the past year.

Briefly discuss WINGS’ connection with the Foundation Center.

HM: Philanthropy is growing and gaining visibility around the world. There are new actors and new approaches to giving. The rapidly changing situation of global philanthropy makes the task of developing a simple and effective global-data platform for philanthropy an urgent one.

Recognizing this need for improved data on philanthropy worldwide, WINGS and the Foundation Center are working together to build a global-data platform and to promote common global-data standards for philanthropy. We will collect data on philanthropy in various regions of the world and make it available to the public and build a culture of data management, while promoting data standards by WINGS’ members.

Why is information sharing so highly regarded by WINGS’ members?

HM: In an era in which philanthropy is increasingly recognized as a powerful means to build more sustainable communities, WINGS facilitates dialogue within the global-philanthropy community to strengthen capacity and partnerships for social development. To extend and enrich the global conversation, it builds the capacity of its members to facilitate dialogue in their own countries and regions. In addition, members learn from their peers around the globe; instead of relying only on technical experts, WINGS mobilizes the philanthropy professionals in its network to share their real-life experiences and best practices with each other, bringing the collective wisdom of the networks together to find innovative solutions.

Would you give examples of the peer-learning topics WINGS members are discussing?

HM: The content of the WINGS’ peer-learning agenda is as diverse as its membership, ranging from governance to association and network building, good grantmaking practice, accountability, innovations in measurement of impact and results, investment and fundraising strategies, partnership building, strengthening community philanthropy, advocacy and policy influence, and much more. This is valuable for WINGS’ members, especially because in many countries [philanthropy network] leaders are the only ones in their field, so there are no others to share concerns with or to share ideas and experiences.

What big issues will be facing philanthropy in the next decade and beyond?

HM: When we look at the big issues — hunger, environment, migrations, sustainable development, food security, peace and security, health and education, and democracy building — we see that these issues are growing in the level of concern expressed by NGOs [non-governmental organizations]. These had been seen as regional concerns, but now are seen as interconnected. We’re seeing an advanced understanding of social welfare and well-being.

What do you see for the field of philanthropy when you look to the future?

HM: For WINGS, in particular, we will be seeing new demands from our members. We also will be looking at resources in broader terms, such as in-kind, pro bono, networking, etc. For the field overall, an issue that’s raising concern for our members is the sustainability of support organizations serving philanthropy. At the same time, we’re seeing new forms of philanthropy and new players. These are exciting times for WINGS and for philanthropy overall.

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