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The matter of international development cooperation

Posted By WINGS, Friday, July 4, 2014
Updated: Thursday, August 27, 2015

The following was originally published on the Global Fund for Community Foundations website on 4 July 2014. The original article can be found here

Jenny Hodgson
Executive Director, GFCF

Over the course of the last year or so, there have been a series of conversations led by various philanthropic networks (including WINGS, the European Foundation Centre and netFWD), foundations (including the Ford Foundation, Conrad N. Hilton Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation) and the United Nations (UNDP) about the role of philanthropy in global development after 2015, which marks the deadline for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). I must confess that, although I had read reports of some of the meetings that have been held to advance this agenda and had also completed surveys on the subject as requested, I had not followed the process very closely. Neither the MDGs nor the “post-2015 agenda” feature very prominently in my everyday work with community foundations and community philanthropy organizations around the world.

So it was with some interest that I travelled to Istanbul a couple of weeks’ ago to participate in a conference, “International Development Cooperation: Trends and Emerging Opportunities – Perspectives of the New Actors”, organized by Tika, the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency, and UNDP. Although, the “new actors” in question were generally those countries that had recently transitioned from being beneficiaries to donors (such as China, Mexico, Russia etc.), there were also two sessions that looked specifically at the role of philanthropy and of the private sector. 

Our session, on “Global, regional and local philanthropy as an emerging contributor to development cooperation”, was moderated by Ed Cain from the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, which has been actively engaged in encouraging greater collaboration between foundations and the UN. Heather Grady (ex-Rockefeller Foundation, who is currently working as a consultant on the Hilton / UN process), presented highlights of her thought-provoking, extremely thorough and very concise paper, “Philanthropy as an Emerging Contributor to Development Cooperation”, which argues that philanthropy should not be seen as a “gap-filler” for Official Development Assistance but rather that:

  • It brings a complementary and beneficial set of new actors, approaches, and types of funding;
  • The value of a philanthropic portfolio is that it enable sone institution, even with modest resources, to simultaneously, and over time, test and support disparate organizations and interventions. This is an essential contribution to the immense undertaking of development; and, finally,
  • Given the growing importance and enthusiasm around South-South cooperation and linkages, the burgeoning philanthropy originating in the Global South, which has not been well-documented, is particularly important to explore and analyze.

Five of us – all of whom, in different ways, represented emerging philanthropic sectors in the Global South – were invited to comment on Heather’s paper, as well to reflect upon:

  • The extent to which we, in our work, routinely took into account international goal-setting and multilateral development frameworks and processes (such as the MDGs);
  • What our experiences had been of efforts to build bridges across sectors (a need identified in the background paper); and,
  • What concrete steps could be taken by governments and UN agencies to deepen meaningful engagement with the philanthropy sector.

In discussing these questions, there was general agreement that there was little reference to the MDGs etc. in panellists’ everyday work. Gayatri Divecha, from DASRA, which works with Indian philanthropists and social entrepreneurs, and Naila Farouky (Arab Foundations Forum) agreed that, although their partners and constituents may indeed be working on issues of gender equality, universal primary education etc. (MDGs 2 & 3), the language and framing was very different in that it was much more rooted in the local context than in universal frameworks.

As for efforts to build bridges across sectors, Rana Kotan, noted that the Sabanci Foundation, had partnered with the UNDP on particular programmes and Helena Monteiro of WINGS talked about the Global Philanthropy Data Charter as a concrete example of philanthropy seeking to be more open and proactive in both capturing data and sharing it in ways that might foster great collaboration and co-learning.

For the GFCF, which itself was the product of a partnership between private philanthropy and the World Bank, the Global Alliance for Community Philanthropy (GACP) is itself a recent and important example of “bridge-building” across different parts of the philanthropic and development sectors. The GACP brings together a cross-section of different kinds of institutional donors (which currently include the Aga Khan Foundation U.S., the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, C.S. Mott Foundation and USAID), each of which has an interest in how fostering community philanthropy as a specific development strategy can enhance development processes and outcomes. Each partner is investing both resources and staff time towards the pursuit of a joint learning and development agenda over five years, which will be facilitated by the GFCF. If we talk about building bridges between philanthropy and development it is this kind of intentional investment over time that is required, rather than the occasional one-off event where foundation or UN representatives (for examples) cross over into each other’s “foreign turf” to speak at a conference or seminar.

Three final thoughts on the conference:

The matter of language: I am a native English speaker and have been working in philanthropy and development for 20 years and yet, at times, it was a challenge to keep up with all the acronyms and terms bandied about. I felt as though I needed a timeline and / or “cheat-sheet” that captured the basics of different UN agreements summarised into city names – “Paris”, “Busan”… plus all the conferences in between (“before Istanbul”, “since Mexico”). The experience really served to remind me of how easy it is for all of us – despite our best intentions – to fall into the trap of using language, not to build bridges and engage others, but rather to exclude them, leave them out.

The matter of gender: Speaking of leaving people out, the conference was notable for the astonishing lack of women in plenary sessions. Fortunately, the head of UNDP, Helen Clark, is a woman (so she at least moderated the opening plenary), but it was a little dispiriting to see plenary after plenary made up of almost all men. (Interestingly and perhaps rather surprisingly, it was the side session on development and philanthropy that reversed this trend, with no fewer than six women!)

The matter of philanthropy: Finally, I was interested to be reminded of how other parts of the development sector have some degree of latent distrust of philanthropy, both as non-transparent and non-accountable, but also as a symptom of the failure of government wealth distribution mechanisms and of growing income inequalities all over the world, which have created a new class of ultra-rich. Although I would argue strongly that community philanthropy offers a unique platform for modelling good governance and accountability and of acting as a “democratizing force” for philanthropy in general, it was good to be reminded that, again, words – unless they are carefully used and meant – can create barriers and elicit suspicion.

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