Barbara Ibrahim is the founding director of the John D. Gerhart Center for Philanthropy and Civic Engagement at the American University in Cairo (AUC). Originally from the USA, Ibrahim has lived in Egypt for nearly 40 years and is married to renowned and formerly exiled civil society academic and activist Saad Ibrahim. A many-time Fellow and faculty member of Salzburg Global Seminar, she spoke to Salzburg Global Communications Intern Alex Jackson during the session Value(s) for Money: Philanthropy as a Catalyst for Social and Financial Change.
On your twitter biography, it says “Egypt is worth fighting for and I’m in it for the long haul.” Do you feel that international philanthropy has already started to forget about the tensions in Egypt because there are mounting problems in other areas?
I would have to say that that is true. First of all, I think the Arab Spring moment happened just as private philanthropy was coming out of the global recession. So there wasn’t as much of an expansive sense of resources as perhaps benefitted the Eastern European/Russian Federation transitions. There’s also a concern on the part of European and North American donors that the Muslim world and the Arab region are a little bit messy in terms of identity politics; there’s a clear strain of rejection or questioning of Western models. So for these reasons, I think there was initial interest, at small levels of funding, but as the Arab transformations have become more complex, have not been the bright shiny media images that they were perhaps in the first few months, very few donors from the international sphere have been able to stay the course.
Was the initial philanthropic reaction too slow? Was the backup not there to support transformation to start with?
I wouldn’t put it exactly that way. The uprisings of 2010 onwards, I wouldn’t call those the transformations. Those were the fall of an old broken corrupt system and they were very abrupt. If you think about the transitions in Poland or the Czech Republic, they took months and years. These happened in days. That is too rapid in some ways. It’s not enough time to build up coalitions in the space and the frame that has fallen. They happened in an environment in which there had been no space for opposition politics to evolve in a healthy way; there was a vacuum. And into that vacuum very quickly stepped the Islamists, who had a lot of grassroots organizing experience. They knew how to operate under the radar, they knew how to organize themselves. The armies too: in countries like Egypt, the armies stepped into what they thought might be an uncontrollable situation. They’re not comfortable with uncertainty or with democracy. They’re command-and-control institutions after all. And over time, discredited old regimes regrouped. So that crowded out the new ideas, the young voices and those aspirations that informed the Arab Spring.
In that sense, is there also an identity and cultural crisis that is driving movement in the region?
We certainly have a polarization of views towards the future right now. One of them is Islamist and I would not want to characterize that as one thing. It is an entire spectrum of ideas based around faith and politics. On the other side of this gap, we see more secular global democratic visions. They represent a minority still – they represent groups that do not have a great voice, like young people, like labor movements, like global interests in making markets more responsive to the poor. All those voices are still marginalized and so one of our roles I would argue as private philanthropy is to create a platform in which these two camps can come together. And not just dialogue, I think we have done enough of that, but roll up their sleeves and find a common project or shared goal, even if it just one of cleaning up neighborhoods, or solid waste management. Work together and try to build something together that will go some way to trying to rebuild these broken and fractured communities and societies.
Is there a disconnect between philanthropy and the government? We have heard in the session that there can be mistrust of money and where it’s come from?
Philanthropy is not one thing either just as political movements aren’t just one thing. You have local philanthropy which is very different from each of these emerging transitioning countries. If we take Egypt as an example we had an emerging private philanthropy sector, which included family foundations, public foundations. But the moment of uprising came as a shock to all of the systems of society. So for philanthropy, if you had got your permission to operate by being close to the Mubarak family or its cronies, you were under investigation. You had to take a lower profile. If you were a corporate foundation, you found your revenue stream cut by two thirds perhaps. So our sector wasn’t well enough established in its diversity to play the role of rapid response. There were great exceptions and we have tried to document those good practice examples but I would have to say that local philanthropy hasn’t yet risen to the opportunity. They are trying to fill that void but they don’t have that flexibility that I would argue that private philanthropy could and should have made.
What are the Gerhart Center’s plans for the immediate future?
My center sees itself as part of the support system for strengthening the culture of giving and the institutions that make that giving more strategic. So in that support role, we have been documenting how things have been changing in the Arab Spring, so that those emergent opportunities and the kind of citizen philanthropy that we have identified is out there for people to understand and to support. We have looked at how informal some of this philanthropy is and whether there are ways to assist groups who would like to have a more sustainable model for their community work. So we’re a catalyst, we’re a platform, we’re matchmakers. Our focus right now is on next generation philanthropy and civic engagement – so what can universities do to produce good citizens and social innovators as well as job seekers and applicants.
Why is it important to discuss issue surrounding philanthropy here in Salzburg?
Private philanthropy is unique in that it really has no constituents that it answers to except its own internal boards of trustees. There are few opportunities like this in a safe space to talk very frankly about our failures, talk about our shortcomings, talk about how blinkered our vision may have been either in our own country, or our own sector, or our own type of philanthropy. So I think these will be incredibly important for opening out the discussions for forcing us to engage with people that are very different in their views of things. Sometimes it is a bit explosive but it is always positive.
What are your key takeaways from this session?
What I will be taking back is a sense of a growing malaise or dissatisfaction in our sector with the lack of global vision and sustainable toolkits. We have to overcome what seems to be a kind of polarity that has been existing in the past between grant making and traditional ways of doing philanthropy and I think this meeting has gone a long way forward in saying the toolkit needs to be broader than that. I think Arab philanthropy is at a young enough point in its evolution that we can jump on the learning curve and thus we can speed up the process.
Alex Jackson, writer at Salzburg Global Seminar.
This is cross posted with permission from Salzburg Global Seminar.
Sitting here in Istanbul at WINGSForum 2014 (27-29 March), the buzz around the miracles data can perform has reached a fresh pitch. WINGS is the trades union for all of us who spend our waking moments working out how to support philanthropy, so perhaps it’s not surprising. But data, it seems, is everywhere, with sessions on Data, Accountability and Transparency and The Global Philanthropy Data Charter – Because Data is Worth It, as well as Mapping the Global Community Philanthropy Field.
I have just moderated a break-out session on collaboration which looked at The Bridge Project which is tagging NGOs to come up with a universal system to categorize civil society organizations, and the Advancing Human Rights – Knowledge Tools project, which has so far logged around 65,000 human rights grants globally in a private database that is open to funders to enable them to find partners and to scope the field more effectively.
We all know that data is changing our lives and that we are only at the beginning of the revolution this will bring. Sometimes I feel like a country peasant of the early 19th century watching a steam engine thunder up my rural valley, aware that this will bring change, but not quite sure how.
There is no doubt about data trailing good in its wake in so many ways, from delivering effective healthcare cheaply to developing new ways to deliver education, to bring self-support and business opportunities to excluded and marginalized communities, and more grandly to solve some very complex problems.
But there is a worrying doubt at the back of my mind on this: data is not a universal benefit, it’s a tool that can be used for good or for evil. Philanthropy likes to think it uses it for good, but what happens when the data gets into other hands, what then? Will the Russian government use it to track every grant made to any civil society organization in the country, so that no one can operate without state sanction? Might others follow this so that we end up with a world of GONGOs (Government owned non-governmental organization) such as China has seen, in effect an ersatz, licensed civil society only? Could the US government use data to show how much money has been given by its citizens to a certain state or city, or to a certain cause, like cancer research, and reduce its own contribution accordingly? Will Uganda use it to track down every LGBT activist in the country and lock them up or worse? Will Saudi Arabia use it to see who is meeting whom in which house and track them?
This isn’t happening yet, we seem to have a bit of breathing space, as Barbara Ibrahim said – when the Egyptian police came for the usual suspects recently they took the paper maps off the wall and attempted to use them as evidence against them. But unless we are aware of the potential for evil, I fear we won’t build in the kind of protections that might limit the damage or protect the data sources, who in our world are real people, living real lives in difficult conditions. It’s not really an adequate answer to say, well the data will get out anyway, if that really is the case then all of us need to be less naive about the data we hand over and the way in which it is used. This is not an argument against transparency, or against data, but it is an argument that will be used to argue against both unless it is addressed by the data holders and collectors.
I’m not tech savvy enough to know if there are ways to tackle this, protocols to cover this, or ways of copyrighting data so that it can only be shared so far, or blocked. But I know that if we don’t take this seriously and look at it openly and honestly, the first data disaster will lead to a loss of trust in the system as a whole and the potential benefits will disappear, leaving a number of extremely expensive bills, in both lives and money.
Jo Andrews, director of Ariadne.
In São Paulo, Brazil, from 19 to 21 March, the Group of Institutes, Foundations and Enterprises (GIFE) held its 8th Congress, one of the most important events for the third sector in Brazil. The Congress has taken place every two years since 2000 and this year had over 850 influential participants. The programme aimed to cover four complementary and related axes: scale, innovation, networks and impact.
In the opening session, GIFE’s CEO Andre Degenszajn reaffirmed the transformative role of private social investment (PSI) and GIFE’s responsibility for disseminating knowledge for its associates and for society, and for advocating for a better regulatory environment – one important aspect that GIFE has not focused on in the last years. Non-profit regulation in Brazil has not seen significant improvements since 1999. And the Brazilian current economic and political context poses to PSI the challenge to reformulate its current strategies to further integrate with civil society and contribute to improve public policies to get really strategic and promote development.
Half of the programme required a paid registration and half was freely open to the public. In the registration-required programme, besides the opening and closing plenary, there were five or six concurrent sessions for participants to choose from. Very hard to make choices with interesting topics such as impact investing, scaling up, PSI and public policies, corporate social responsibility, sustainable cities and mobilization, among others. In the free programme there were seven concurrent sessions, even harder to choose.
In the opening plenary, the keynote speaker Lucy Bernholz from Stanford University reinforced the relevance of digital data for philanthropy and the social economy. Brazilian speakers in this session talked of the importance but timidity of PSI in funding an independent civil society, the disruptive potential of PSI but the need to further develop agility to cope with the fast pace of changes. One aspect that drew my attention was how the claim that PSI should take more risks and embrace innovation was mentioned in more than one session. It made me wonder whether Brazilian PSI is really ready to move forward and do that fully!
Paula Jansco Fabiani, is executive director of IDIS (Institute for the Development of Social Investment) in Brazil.
Last week’s panel discussion at the Alliance Breakfast initially positioned ‘strategic philanthropy’ as something different to ‘humble grantmaking’. I suppose the various prefixes like traditional, conventional, reactive, responsive … grantmaking etc didn’t help. But I have to argue that I don’t see strategic philanthropy as an opposing force to grantmaking. I see it as grantmaking PLUS.
The organization I work with, Dasra, champions the grant. So much so that we have moved ever so slightly away from our previous position of dividing our time nearly equally between organizations taking investment capital and organizations taking grants. We are now largely back to our ‘old’ grantmaking. But there is nothing humble about it – we are most certainly what Martin Brookes described as ‘ambitious’ grantmakers.
Not only do I want to champion the grant, but I want to champion the intermediary – the eco-system builder, the organization, like Dasra, that acts as a bridge between grantmaker and grant receiver. Where there are issues of power, I like to see the intermediary, in this case Dasra, playing a critical role in helping to balance the power. He with the money does not necessarily hold the majority share of power. Dasra hand-holds the donor, in our case generally a consortium of 10 donors, and persuades them to give a recipient organization unrestricted funding, a cumulative grant of just under £0.5 million. Given the funding is unrestricted, the trust is placed in the CEO of the recipient organization to operationalize the grant. Where Dasra plays a role is in supporting the organization with management assistance, aligned to the allocation of that funding against an ambitious growth plan. We work closely with the donor to help him or her understand the challenges and to comprehend the impact assessment and ongoing presentation of results; and we unlock the donors’ social and intellectual capital to play a role, where appropriate, in the grantee’s work.
Where I totally agreed with Barry Knight was in his articulation of the error in the champion of catalytic philanthropy, Mark Kramer’s, call to foundations to ‘tear up their grant application forms’. I relate my concern over this comment to the situation in India. In a country like India that is currently building a philanthropy ecosystem, we have seen first hand the need to champion the grant. And there is no more important time than now. The Indian government announced last autumn a new bill that mandates that companies over a certain size must allocate 2% of their profit to CSR. This could apply to c 16,000 companies and unlock $2.9 billion in funding. If we listen to the narrative that grants are no good, what will happen to this funding? Already many donors in India have an innate mistrust of NGOs. A large and well-established foundation in India came to us the other day and said, ‘we need to learn how to make grants to NGOs.’ In their history to date they had only operated their own programmes; they had never given a grant.
The overwhelming trend in India is for philanthropists and companies to set up their own operational foundations, as they tend not to trust anyone else to spend their money. This leads to duplication, fragmentation and a chronic lack of local philanthropic funding for NGOs the length and breath of the county – and those NGOs are often undertaking the most innovative poverty reduction work. If grants continue to get a bad name, this could lead to those billions of dollars being donated into new operational foundations, lacking in experience, with the potential of accountability being lost, while established, high-potential NGOs miss out on this swathe of funding.
The funding unlocked by the new bill has to benefit the NGO sector. Despite my evangelical support for venture philanthropy and strategic philanthropy and my admiration for the successes of a lot of catalytic philanthropy, the people who know best in India are generally those closest to the problems and their organizations are being starved of funding exactly because of a lack of grantmaking. There are some wonderful companies across India who have the potential to create enormous social change. We need to present to them a vibrant, high-impact non-profit sector and the power of the grant!
Whether it be humble or, like ours, grants that seek to help organizations scale their work 30 to 50 times, let’s not pitch grantmaking against strategic philanthropy. Let’s champion the middle ground, impact-focused grants with an ambition to make a real, measurable difference to those that matter.
For further information and debate on India’s new CSR bill see Dasra’s conference videos online Dasra Philanthropy Week Day One.
Alison Bukhari, director of Business Development and Partnerships at Dasra.
On 25 March Opportunity International in partnership with the MasterCard Foundation announced a $22.7 million project to promote access to loans, savings programmes and other critical financial products and services to help more than 7 million people in five African countries work their way out of poverty through 2018. The funds will be used to launch the Opportunity International Africa Growth and Innovations Initiative through its financial institutions in Ghana, Uganda, Rwanda, Malawi and Tanzania.
‘The Africa Growth and Innovations Initiative will expand our unique delivery channels, with a focus on low cost branches and mobile banking, to drive increased savings outreach and expand financial services for smallholder farmers to increase crop yields, productivity, income and food security,’ said Vicki Escarra, CEO of Opportunity International.
The initiative builds on the successful partnership between the Foundation and Opportunity International’s US and Canadian offices over the last four years in the same five countries. The partnership focused on extending a full range of financial services to rural areas in Africa, including crop-specific agricultural loans to smallholder farmers, savings programs and alternative delivery channels such as mobile banking.
To read the full press release, click here>
Last week saw the launch of a new EVPA report Social Impact Strategies for Banks: Venture Philanthropy and Social Investment by Dr Leonora Buckland supported by London Business School. This is the first report on how European banks are currently active in venture philanthropy, social investment and impact investment.
Why was I there?
I would like to say I attended this launch event with an open mind, but if I’m honest I’ve always been a bit sceptical of big banks and some of the ethically questionable practice taking place (to put it mildly).
However, I’m also sure the situation isn’t clear cut. What if I told you large investments from banks are being directed to essential lifesaving social and environmental projects? Would that make you think twice about the role banks play? Certainly I was intrigued by the title of the report, particularly given my work at the Social Impact Analysts Association (SIAA).
What are banks doing?
The total investment in social enterprise/social business by the mainstream banks surveyed in this report was €261 million (excluding microfinance funds). These banks range from retail banks such as BBVA in Spain to investment banks such as JP Morgan and private banks such as UBS.
The banks in the report have made some significant steps towards integrating a social dimension within their core business model and not just their corporate social responsibility (CSR) programmes. For example JP Morgan and the Gates Foundation launched the Global Health Investment Fund of $100 million in 2013 and BBVA’s Momentum social investment project has been investing €2.5 million in Spanish social enterprises since 2011.
The report outlined how the model of banking (retail, private or investment) can influence the type of involvement that banks can have in social impact investment as leaders/field builders, investors or intermediaries. The investor activity includes both internal venturing and external investing through direct or indirect funds and deals.
Why are banks involved?
Representatives from JP Morgan and Deutsche Bank on the panel identified with the variety of drivers for involvement in this field. These drivers include client demand, competitor advantage, personal belief, bank ethic and CSR interest.
For me this point was very interesting. I perceive a real fear in the social sector that a private investor’s financial mission will continue to trump the social mission of the investment. If we want to create significant positive social impact for the most at need in our society I think this should continue to be a worry.
From both the event and the report it appears that one of the significant barriers to this re-prioritization of social and financial mission is organizational culture. The report points out that banks have much to contribute in the way of human, financial and social capital. However, it hints that organizational culture must change for this work to be successful and I think it will change only by attracting more workers with social sector experience into the banking sector. This must happen alongside collaborations between banks and social sector organizations such as foundations.
Creating social impact
Another important point flagged up was that social impact investment is only one way banks can create social impact. Bank involvement in grantmaking and other forms of philanthropy is still hugely important and should remain so for interventions where social investment is not appropriate.
Furthermore, panellists mentioned that if banks are serious about social impact they need to start forecasting for, measuring and analysing social impact as an integrated part of the investment process, something with which I wholeheartedly agree. International network organizations such as SIAA, The SROI Network, Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN) and EVPA should also continue to ing and ing the impact measurement and analysis cause. Understanding impact and targeting investments to social causes is supposed to be at the heart of what social impact investment is about.
What does success look like?
At the event I heard mixed messages about what success looks like for social impact strategies in banks. For some, establishing a fund and convincing enough colleagues that it is worthwhile is success. For others, success is something that may happen beyond our lifetimes when banks truly take social and environmental impact into account during their work as well as financial returns. This second view of what success looks like sits well with me, however radical some people may feel it is.
I think it is still an open question as to whether European banks are truly moving towards considering social and environmental impact in their core business. I really hope they are.
Ruth Whateley is manager of the Social Impact Analysts Association.
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This article is cross posted from the Foundation Center’s GrantCraft blog. GrantCraft:
It’s nearly two years since the inception of Edge Fund. From the beginning, we had aims to be democratic, accessible, and accountable to the groups and communities our decisions affect whilst also providing much needed funding to grassroots efforts. Transparency has been an important part of what we do and has led to an approach that involves the communities and groups we aim to help as decision-makers, and brings them together to support and learn from each other.
As a group of people concerned about social justice, it was not sufficient only to focus on inequality of wealth, but also to overcome issues of power. Therefore, the process of setting up our fund was a collective process involving around fifty people from different communities and groups across the UK. We wanted to get funding to groups that other funders considered to be too radical, and to groups led by and for communities facing injustice and discrimination who often face many barriers to funding.
One of our biggest challenges is gaining the trust of communities who have long been excluded and minoritised by the mainstream. Isis Amlak, of grantee group One Voice Community Collective and a member of Edge Fund, explained the situation with one community: ”Historically when ‘Black’ (in a political sense, to include all communities facing discrimination based on their race) groups have taken funding, they have found themselves compromised and, restricted, and far too many became reliant to the detriment of creativity, self-reliance, and self-sustainability. When the funding stopped, they stopped. There is also a great deal of suspicion, rightly so, about sources of funding; who are the benefactors/philanthropists behind the scenes? What is the real agenda?” The same issues apply to many other communities, such as low income communities and disabled people, who often find that both funders and charities impose their own solutions on to them with little consultation let alone actually involving them in the decision-making process.
At the beginning, the vast majority of those involved with Edge Fund were from privileged backgrounds; mostly white middle class people. This had to change. In order for people from less privileged backgrounds to trust us and get involved, we would need to be completely open and transparent. The best way to promote this level of transparency is to actually involve the groups and communities we want to support in determining our collective values, how we operate and what we fund. This led to us incorporating as a form of co-operative. A co-operative is run by the people who benefit from its services, known as their members, who each have an equal say. A handful of our members have contributed sums of at least £5,000, but have no more say than those who have not contributed at all. Our form of co-operative benefits both our members and the wider community. With just one part-time member of staff, we rely on our 125 members to be actively involved.
After every round of funding, we invite people from the groups we’ve funded to join us as members, which has helped the organisation to grow and become more diverse. We also receive membership applications from people outside the application process and have made public call outs for people from communities facing discrimination and injustice to join us. Anyone who came to our initial meetings would not recognise us now, the make-up of the membership has changed so much, but we are still a work in progress and hope to keep improving. Decisions about our values and how we operate were initially made at our early meetings and are reviewed after every funding rounds. All members are invited to take part in reviews, and we do our best to make the process accessible by covering travel costs where needed and allowing members to contribute over email, online surveys, or side meetings. Minutes and notes are shared publicly on our website.
Getting funding to those who need it most
Alongside the issues of trust and transparency is that of accessibility. Common barriers to funding include being outside the usual networks or practical issues relating to language, literacy, and access to computers and internet. Most of the groups we fund are informally structured (i.e. not registered or constituted in some cases) and don’t have any paid staff (certainly not paid fundraisers), which represent more barriers to receiving other funding.
To make our funding accessible, we’ve tried to pay careful attention to the language we use and our methods of communication (e.g. not being reliant on email), although we have a lot more work to do to get that right. We have a two-step application process; in the initial stage there are five questions, including who runs the group (particularly in relation to who they aim to help) and how much money they raise every year, which can be answered over the phone with one of our members. In the second stage, we have members on hand to help applicants submit further information, either in written, audio, or video formats. Here we ask for details such as who makes decisions and how and which others groups they work with.
Another important part of being transparent is providing meaningful feedback to applicants to explain our decisions, especially when an application is turned down. Feedback is based on the comments provided during our members’ evaluation of applications (see below). Whilst it can take months to get feedback to each of our applicants, it seems it is genuinely appreciated. Sometimes it highlights areas where we can be clearer about our aims or where we could offer more support, particularly to applicants who are more likely to face barriers.
The many are smarter than the few
Funding decisions are made collectively by members and based loosely on the ‘wisdom of crowds’ theory. Members receive a minimum of ten applications to individually score and give feedback on. Their scores are collated and averaged out to draw up a short-list. In our last round over 60 members took part in the individual scoring and the final meeting, where the final decisions are made, was attended by 68 people from our membership and shortlisted applicants who all took part as equals. During the funding meeting the final applicants set up stalls, giving members and other applicants the opportunity to find out more about their work, before voting for them at the end. After our first round we decided to include an extra stage in the process to improve our accountability; this involves members scoring applications affecting their own community first and giving guidance to the rest of the members. This helped to resolve issues where members were making judgements about communities or issues they did not have sufficient understanding of.
Whilst this may seem like a time-consuming task, the benefits far outweigh the negatives. Aside from the obvious democratic nature of the process, we are also drawing on the knowledge and networks of a large number of people. Often members know the groups that have applied and can provide detailed information about the group. It’s also an educational and reassuring process for members, who get to read about a variety of issues affecting a range of communities and what work is being done to tackle them.
Connecting people, communities and movements
We are repeatedly told that actually it’s not our funding that is the most important aspect of our work; it’s the bringing together of people from different groups and backgrounds. Applicants seldom know who the other applicants are, but in our process, they get to meet some of them in person, hear about their work, and then vote for each other. As mentioned above, the final stage of the funding process involves both members and applicants working together as equals to decide the final allocation of grants. Many representatives of groups we fund then join us as members. Connections are made at our meetings that seldom happen elsewhere. Most importantly, through meeting others outside our usual networks, the inter-related nature of all the issues we’re working on can become clearer which can help build solidarity between movements and increase understanding of their root causes. In our last meeting, Michael Daduc, of grantee group Europe Roma Network and an Edge member, met with the Chagos Refugees Support Group. He said, “I could see how they feel. They have been evicted from their home and have to live somewhere else. They don’t have their own country anymore, just like my community, the Roma people. They should be able to go home”.
We believe it is essential that funders involve the communities they aim to support in their decision-making. We are just learning ourselves how to do this and would love to learn from others too. Some approaches could involve including people from communities you aim to help on your board, or perhaps even ear-marking a pot of money for a particular community and letting them determine its use for their own benefit. Ultimately, those who feel it know it – it’s time to let people determine their own futures.
Sophie Pritchard, is the co-ordinator and co-founder of Edge Fund.
This post first appeared on the Foundation Center’s GrantCraft blog. GrantCraft, a service of the Foundation Center, taps the practical wisdom of funders to develop free resources for the philanthropy sector.
In a world eagerly adopting venture philanthropy, strategic philanthropy and more recently catalytic philanthropy, is there still room for the ‘humble’ grant and if so what role can it play? This was the question before the Alliance Breakfast Club, held in London on 19 March and co-hosted with the Paul Hamlyn Foundation.
For Barry Knight, secretary of CENTRIS and guest editor for the March 2014 issue of Alliance, the dominance of these new, largely donor-led approaches has made many people dismissive of grantmaking. ‘Throw away your grant proposals,’ Mark Kramer of FSG advised delegates at last year’s EFC conference.
The choice of language to some extent frames the debate, said Knight. No one is going to say they don’t want impact or they don’t want to be strategic, he argued, but contrasting these approaches with grantmaking seems to imply that the latter is not concerned with impact and is not strategic. Far from it, he said. Of course grantmaking is concerned with impact. The difference is that it places the emphasis on the grantee-led approach to delivering success.
Grants allow for a bottom-up approach, putting ownership over social change in the hands of civil society organizations capable of defining and measuring impact on their own terms. The new approaches are much more top-down, he said, largely driven by external business practices and consultants, with foundations specifying measures of success that don’t necessarily tally with the aims and experiences of organizations and individuals on the ground.
This is not to suggest that grantmaking should be the only model. ‘There should be no “ism” that rules the world,’ Knight insisted. The different approaches are all needed, complementing each other like the different instruments of a jazz ensemble.
Agreeing that grants are an important tool in supporting civil society, Judith McNeill, grants director at Comic Relief, identified several key uses for grants. They can support new talent and potential. In these cases you often don’t know what the impact will be. She gave an example of supporting a small Ugandan organization offering savings and loans. They quickly discovered that when women had more money, gender-based violence became more prevalent. The organization therefore decided to tackle this issue, with considerable success, at local, district and regional levels. How effective grants can be in kickstarting small, local organizations is shown by the number of organizations she notices investing in projects that were themselves originally Comic Relief grant recipients. Grants can also serve to help build new fields of activity. She talked of how Comic Relief has sometimes noticed a new issue emerging and has supported a range of organizations to begin to develop new approaches.
Michael Green, executive director of the Social Progress Imperative and co-author of Philanthrocapitalism, dwelt unexpectedly on the value of grantmaking. He highlighted the danger of being led by strategy, remembering how the Department for International Development (DFID) made grants in Kenya to a new initiative called M-Pesa, the hugely successful mobile-phone based money transfer and microfinance service, and later considered cutting all support because it didn’t fit with DFID’s ‘strategic approach’. The great thing about grants, he said, is that they can empower organizations or individuals that would be seen as too risky to invest in.
Nonetheless, he argued, we need to focus on optimization of scarce resources. We need to have tough conversations about impact, about grants that haven’t worked. If we fail to measure impact we are simply not doing a good enough job. Philanthropy needs more robust numbers: although data is not everything, it is still important.
Martin Brookes, director of the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, agreed on the need for measurement, arguing that a ‘relentless search for impact’ is forcing foundations to ask difficult questions, to think about what they want to achieve and to be more effective in doing so. Grants are a tool but the tool is incidental and shouldn’t become the focus. ‘Do you care about the impact or do you simply rejoice in the process of grantmaking?’ he asked.
In response Knight pointed out that there are many ways of measuring change. He declared himself to be ‘passionate about impact’ but insisted that the focus on how you measure success is a red herring. Peace building, for example, cannot easily be measured. Civil society itself should be able to judge what success looks like rather than adopting a system of measurement devised by the foundation. Several audience members asked what we might be missing if we focus solely on grants with provable impact.
Brookes questioned this. The difficulties of trying to measure success are not a reason not to try, he said. You may not do it perfectly, but understanding that you are on a journey towards a goal is more important than the mechanism you use to get there, grants or otherwise.
Lloyds Bank Foundation’s Paul Streets questioned philanthropy’s obsession with scaling up successful projects and the equation of scale and impact. ‘Small can be beautiful,’ he said. It may depend on what sort of impact you are looking for. Phrases such as social change and impact lack meaning, said Balihar Sanghera from the University of Kent. What sort of social change? It is hard to achieve change in an area such as social mobility, but that doesn’t mean the funding is not justified. An over-emphasis on a measurable impact may push funders to cherry-pick specific, easily attainable aims to the detriment of less achievable but more important structural changes.
Both McNeill and Brookes saw grants as at one end of a spectrum based on the knowledge that a foundation has on a given issue. In areas where little knowledge exists, McNeill said, you have to back a cause based on a hunch, an intuitive feeling that it is a good thing and in the direction you want to go. Brookes acknowledged that grantmaking is partly about humility, admitting that you do not know that much about an issue and so offering more control to the grantee. As you gain in knowledge, you can move along the spectrum and begin to understand the impact you want to achieve and how it can be measured, then you can introduce different approaches. ‘We can only exercise power when we know what we are talking about.’
Green noted that if you take risks with grants it becomes more incumbent to talk about failure. Brookes then revealed his plans for Paul Hamlyn Foundation to publish a report detailing their failures, stressing the need to be ‘brutally transparent’.
For McNeill failure was not the main concern; the far greater risk is ‘chronic mediocrity’, she said. As a funder that raises its money annually from the public, Comic Relief is in the public eye and cannot afford to stagnate. Other panellists agreed about the dangers of mediocrity. Knight commented that foundations that exist in perpetuity can end up ‘going to sleep’. Green felt that foundations should be put under heavy public scrutiny so as to force them to raise their game. He suggested that the Treasury might do well to publish how much each foundation receives in tax subsidies so that the public can decide if their work is worth the loss of tax income.
Are grants a bottom-up approach compared to so-called impact-driven approaches that put too much power in the hands of the funder? Is it a contradiction in philanthropy that it wants both to take risks and to be more effective in achieving and measuring its goals? Or are these false dichotomies? These questions proved too big to answer in just one sitting of the Alliance Breakfast Club, though all panellists seemed to end up agreeing that impact is crucial and grantmaking is one valuable tool among many.
What are your thoughts on the discussion? Do you agree with the panel? Let us know what you think in the comments section below…
Caroline Hartnell, editor and Tom Rennell, marketing officer at Alliance magazine.
• According to an article published on 23 March by the Chronicle of Philanthropy, the board of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the US’s fourth-wealthiest grantmaker, last week voted to phase out an eight-year, $20-million effort to finance work by Charity Navigator, GiveWell, GuideStar and other groups that provide in-depth information about non-profits’ performance. The reason is that it wasn’t doing enough to persuade donors to give solely because a group is worthy and not for emotional reasons. Instead, Hewlett will try to improve philanthropy by ‘shifting to a strategy to foster openness and transparency and collaboration’ among foundations and non-profits, said Larry Kramer, Hewlett’s president.
• He says the foundation is also supporting work designed to break the political system get over the gridlock that has stymied policymaking and to find new ways to deal with cybersecurity threats.
To find out more about the Hewlett Foundation’s current philanthropy programme, click here>
Transparency has recently been in the spotlight in the UK too, where an initiative to promote transparency in the UK philanthropy sector has just been launched. See Fran Perrin’s article, ‘Foundation transparency: why it matters’, in the March issue of Alliance for more about the thinking behind Three Sixty Degree Giving.
The Dasra Philanthropy Week, now in its fifth year, is the largest strategic philanthropy conference in India. The conference has expanded over its five years; this year, it ran for three days, 5 to 7 March, with content for different audiences on each day. The audience has increased threefold, from about 200 attendees last year to 600 attendees this year.
The first day targeted corporate social responsibility teams to provide content relevant to the passing of the Companies Act 2013, which mandates large companies in India to dedicate 2% of profits for corporate social responsibility activities. Sessions on this day dealt with demystifying the new Act, sharing lessons learned, the need for impact assessment in all funding, facilitating employee engagement and choosing the right organizations to fund.
The second day targeted foundations, multilateral agencies and impact investors, focusing on topics such as measuring impact, viewing the sector through a gender lens and harnessing India’s demographic dividend.
The final and most highly anticipated day targeted individual investors such as high net worth individuals concerned about utilizing their philanthropic money in the most scalable and impactful manner. The day began with the launch of the annual Dasra/Bain report on the Indian philanthropy sector, followed by panels on building a philanthropic ecosystem and on domestic violence, highlighting Dasra’s newest report on the topic, No Private Matter: Confronting domestic violence in India. The day ended with talks by three well-known philanthropists, Harsh Mariwala, Roshni Nadar Malhotra and Peter and Jennifer Buffett (by video link) on their giving strategies.
Two highly appreciated additions to the conference this year were short 15-minute sessions termed Dasra Changemakers and Dasra Heroes. Dasra Changemakers highlighted individuals in various fields who had the courage to fight their circumstances and change their lives. Nadia Zouaoui spoke about her documentary describing her forced marriage at the age of 19 and her journey to freedom and empowerment. Bani Kohli, a 16-year-old girl from New Delhi, founded Jai Jan, a Delhi-based non-profit that helps feed the underprivileged by collecting and distributing unused food from local restaurants. Selvi spoke about her journey from defying patriarchal traditions and an abusive child marriage to become Karnataka’s first female taxi driver, empowering both herself and her community in the process.
Dasra Heroes brought to the forefront stories of people who have worked with or been influenced by the efforts of Dasra’s more than 20 portfolio organizations. Meena Bhati, a communications officer for Educate Girls, spoke about her hunger for education from a young age; with her husband’s support she fought her family to go back to school after marriage. Mohammad Arif spoke about Sarathi’s work with adolescent girls. Reena Hogani and Pramila Peter, both child malnutrition workers from SNEHA, and Chhaya Jadhav, a teacher from Muktangan, spoke about their experiences. All these heroes spoke in their local language and their passion and dedication to their cause brought tremendous hope and inspiration to the participants.
The Dasra Girls Alliance was created in 2013 as a $14 million partnership with USAID and the Kiawah Trust for building the ecosystem for empowering India’s 113 million adolescent girls. This year, at Dasra Philanthropy Week, a new partner was announced: the Piramal Foundation joined the alliance with a contribution of $3 million.
This was also the inaugural year of the Dasra Girl Power Awards. 196 organizations were screened under the three categories of health, education and life skills. The 17 finalists were supported through a Dasra-led executive education workshop and invited to the awards ceremony. Three winners, one from each category, walked away with an award of $16,000 as well as further Dasra capacity-building support. The three winning organizations, CULP (education), Ashish Gram Rachna Trust (health) and Vacha (life skills) spoke about their journey so far and their future goals.
Karishma Shanghvi volunteered at Dasra as a Fellow conducting research on the social sector. She has a strong interest in private and public healthcare management, having prior experience working at her family’s business Sun Pharma.
In an article for The Nation remembering his friend Tony Benn, who he describes as ‘a proud radical, an anti-colonialist, a socialist without apology and the inspiration for generations of activists, organizers, parliamentarians, presidents and prime ministers around the world’, John Nichols recalled Benn’s five questions, which he believed should always be asked of those with economic, social and political power:
• What power have you got?
• Where did you get it from?
• In whose interests do you use it?
• To whom are you accountable?
• How do we get rid of you?
Benn asked these questions everywhere he went, Nichols remembers. ‘I saw him write them on the chalkboards of classrooms and lecture halls. I heard him repeat them at rallies, protests and marches. I think his favorite of the questions … was: “How do we get rid of you?”
‘“Anyone who cannot answer the last of those questions does not live in a democratic system,” Benn explained.’
We must hope that the holders of wealth in our society, including foundations and individual philanthropists, have good answers to question three since they can have none for question five.
Toni Pearce, president of the UK’s National Union of Students, described Tony Benn as ‘a thorn in the side of the establishment, a fierce critic of unaccountable elites, and a true champion of the powerless, the poor, and the dispossessed’. He will be much missed; in the UK politics will be much the poorer without him. In his memory, we can keep asking his questions.
Caroline Hartnell, is editor of Alliance magazine.
A group of grantmakers in the arena of social change and human rights got together last week in Barcelona to share best practices (and failures) around funding. As part of this conversation, we held a session on impact investing, zooming in on the question of ‘could you align investments with grantmaking in an area as specific as community security and justice?’ And could we use that as a proxy to talk about aligning grantmaking and investment for any theme?
These were the challenges we set for ourselves:
• Can we find investable opportunities directly connected to our themes? If not, how far out do we need to go?
• Can we get to scale? Are there enough opportunities? And can we do this efficiently/get start-up costs repaid?
• What are the potential reputational risks, especially related to conflict/political sensitivity?
And here are a few insights we would like to share:
• If we are co-investing with others, for example in an area such as ‘security and justice’, we must clarify our definitions and objectives for the different actors. Definitions may vary significantly.
• Investing in security and justice is challenging and far from obvious: we might have indirect impact coming mostly as the result of a different area of work (stimulating entrepreneurship, empowering women, etc) but it may be hard to get right to the core for some of our issues. For example, can investing in sanitation in a slum (like Sanergy or Loowatt) address issues of personal security for women? Can investing in a women-only taxi company carrying women (like Viira Cabs in Mumbai) address security both for the worker and for the customer? Can something like CommonPlace, a community-based data-gathering tool based in London for developers and local authorities, be used for physical community security solutions input? There are no impact funds focused on human rights or security and justice that we could identify. We did talk about a conversation hosted by Impact for Breakfast in London, about two years ago, on whether one could do a social impact bond in a human rights context, and whether we could imagine one now.
• Sharing not only mistakes made (and lessons learned) but also ideas and projects could be beneficial to our group of organizations. We developed some examples of projects during prep for the session which are community-based organizations now but could spawn businesses that are investable and completely aligned.
• Donor motivations vary: some spoke about the value of moving communities from dependence on grantmakers to becoming partially or wholly independent; some spoke about using investments to further their mission with new capital and new strategies; some felt this new wave of investment is coming anyway and we have an opportunity to inform it with our unique expertise and perspective. There is a need for collaborative action with new actors from the impact investing space – otherwise new investors will come up with their own definitions of social change and human rights and run the risk not only of failure but also of adverse effects on the very problems they want to solve.
• Alignment of donors takes time: the example of some foundations investing ‘traditionally’ and using the profits to make an impact is well known. We’re looking for a whole different trajectory: ideally we would like our foundations to align investments with grantmaking to make maximum impact, and be mindful of where we invest the bulk of our capital.
• The transition from grants-only to combining grants with investments is a process: we need to find adequate staff, skills and advice. Some on the investment or grantmaking team may adapt and learn; sometimes it will be right to bring in new faces.
• The investment industry is being progressively pulled towards impact investing (both with stricter rules/regulations and requests for accountability and as a new market). The role of grantmaking foundations as an interface between traditional investing and transitional impact (‘next step’ of grant funding) is hugely important if we are to achieve the impact and outcomes that we are all aiming for.
So how do we go from here?
We agreed that bringing the unique knowledge of this community to impact investing is a real opportunity. Echoing a theme from a later session, we should be thinking about how to be at the table whether we are initiating impact investments or not, to represent the frame of social change and human rights in the strategy of new investors.
This community needs space and time to learn, and needs to take some risks. Given the objectives and the likely costs, the creation of thematic funder collaboratives could be of real value – to mitigate risk, to capture best thinking, to share the costs of R&D and start-up, and to put more capital to work than any individual funder might be ready for at the start. It would be helpful to do workshops where we engage in thought exercises around new products or investment opportunities, in safe places and in a safe environment. Grantmakers may at times be the most knowledgeable about potential impacts – unintended negative impacts as well as intended positive impacts – and could therefore play a valuable role for other impact investors.
There are many places for us to play roles as grantmakers to help grow the capacity and the ecosystem to move this forward, whether or not we are ready to invest.
Stay tuned, and let us know if you are a grantmaker who would like to collaborate with us.
With grantmaking increasingly dismissed as a serious strategy for achieving social change in favour of more fashionable approaches such as venture philanthropy, strategic philanthropy and most recently catalytic philanthropy, it’s time to bring grantmaking in from the cold, argue guest editors Barry Knight and Jenny Hodgson.
The special feature includes articles from Africa, Brazil and Turkey showing how vital grantmaking is where philanthropy and civil society are emerging, and a piece from Helena Monteiro on why grantmaking matters to WINGS. A series of short articles showcases successful grants from countries as diverse as the USA, Ireland, Sri Lanka and Namibia.
The special feature also includes Andrew Kingman considering ‘catalytic philanthropy’ in action in Mozambique and a write-up of an Alliance webinar in which participants discussed the role of grantmaking and other approaches in achieving social change. Context is everything, concludes Phil Buchanan, reflecting on the various contributions.
Also in the March issue of Alliance: Gerry Salole and Bradford Smith look back at three years of working together on the GrantCraft partnership, now ending; opinion pieces on foundation transparency and accountability; articles on the growth of collective philanthropy in Asia and the reasons for low levels of giving in Latin America; and letters in response to December’s special feature on next gen philanthropy.
Read guest editors, Barry Knight and Jenny Hodgson article, ‘Bringing grantmaking in from the cold,’ for free here>
You can buy this issue for as little as £15, here>
Or subscribe to Alliance magazine for just £35, here>
Venture Philanthropy in Development (90 pages, PDF), a new report from the OECD’s NetFWD, charts the directions that many foundations and individual philanthropists are taking to tackle today’s social, environmental, and economic challenges. While the term venture philanthropy has been around for almost half a century (credited in the report to John D. Rockefeller III, who said it was “the imaginative pursuit of less conventional charitable purposes”), it is seen as an emergent field, and there is little enough agreement on the term itself that the originators of the report gave scant attention to precisely defining it.
At a panel I moderated on the occasion of the report’s launch, common dimensions of venture philanthropy were easily identified: high engagement with the grantees supported within any particular portfolio; provision of non-financial as well as financial support with a targeted group of grantees (e.g., convenings); an entrepreneurial start-up approach; a blending or even blurring of the lines between grant contributions and investments for financial return; working at a systems level to influence a combination of practice, policy, markets and even public opinion; and focusing on a positive enabling environment to achieve success.
The report is based on research from which the authors conclude that those sharing in depth their venture philanthropy experiences (the Rockefeller, Lundin, Shell, and Emirates foundations) were on a transformational journey, one that was not a “from-to” path but a much more inclusive and – as I read it – meandering one. As an integrative approach, it provides new opportunities for foundations to work with their grantees differently, and also for coalitions of foundations, civil society organizations, governments, and businesses to enter differently into shared ventures, not unlike the collective impact approach.
I learned a new term when one of the main researchers, Alexandra Stubbings, told us that the approach may force foundations to do a “drain-up” review. While that sounds fairly unpleasant, philanthropic institutions do need a good shaking out now and again.
Our discussion didn’t gloss over the doubts and risks. First and foremost is the inevitable question of whether all this is simply old wine in a new bottle. Paula Johnson of Harvard’s Hauser Center reminded us that venture philanthropy has been around for a couple of decades, and what is particularly interesting now is the nexus of venture philanthropy and development. She also noted that we need to look at how grantees feel about this and be honest that part of the appeal is the interest of many (often newer) funders to roll up their sleeves.
David Crook of the STARS Foundation, which didn’t participate in the study but is an important member of NetFWD, sees the litmus test of venture philanthropy as whether it can address the most fundamental problem facing most NGOs today – a dearth of stable, unrestricted funding, which prevents them from being independent and resilient and requires them to constantly chase funds. He also wondered whether it will address, or exacerbate, the power imbalance between donors and grantees. I wondered if there wasn’t a conflating of venture philanthropy’s measurement emphasis with what is, quite simply, a broader embracing of monitoring and evaluation methods among an increasing number of foundations. Meanwhile, probably the biggest potential confusion is that venture philanthropy will be conflated with support for market-based approaches.
One finding of the study was that the agendas of foundations, official donor agencies, and governments can be starkly different, even when aims are shared. Ultimately a measure of the worth of venture philanthropy will be whether it stimulates and enhances collaboration and reduces fragmentation of effort – no small task in an environment bursting with new and often unpredictable sources of wealth and giving. Will it enable smaller foundations and NGOs to punch above their weight and bring fresh thinking and ingenuity to the table? The answers to these questions are crucial to solving many of society’s most intractable problems.
Given its nature, venture philanthropy can be likened more to taking an exciting journey than following a playbook. And, as with all emergent trends, thoughtful and engaged leadership with “ears to the ground” will determine whether it is a passing fad or an increasingly important direction for philanthropic institutions.
This post first appeared on Philanthropy News Digest’s PhilanTopic blog. Philanthropy News Digest (PND) and PhilanTopic are services of the Foundation Center.
On 5 March IFC, a member of the World Bank Group, and Goldman Sachs’ 10,000 Women programme launched the Women Entrepreneurs Opportunity Facility. The aim is to raise $600 million, which will increase access to finance to as many as 100,000 women entrepreneurs in emerging markets. This is the first fund of this kind to be dedicated exclusively to financing women-owned small and medium businesses in developing countries. IFC will invest an initial $100 million and the Goldman Sachs Foundation will provide $32 million. IFC will manage the facility, which is expected to mobilize up to an additional $468 million from public and private investors.
An estimated $300 billion credit gap exists for women-owned enterprises, according to IFC research. A new report by Goldman Sachs, Giving Credit Where It Is Due, demonstrates the impact increasing female access to capital can have on per capita income, particularly in developing and emerging markets.
To read the full press releases, click here>
New Oxfam fund for women
Also announced on 8 March, Oxfam has launched a new fund to promote women’s rights in the Arab Spring countries. The Innovation Fund offers small grants to emerging and new women’s organizations in Tunisia, Yemen, Palestine and Morocco. Grantees will be able to access awards of and in-kind support of up to $35,000. The fund is part of the AMAL (‘Hope’ in Arabic) programme.
Applications for the Oxfam Amal Innovation Fund will be open until 15 April. Apply using the form below, forms should be returned to Amal@oxfam.org.uk
To read more about this new fund, click here>