Charly and Lisa Kleissner, founders of the K L Felicitas Foundation, receive this year’s Grand Prix for their global work in impact investing. Through their co-creation of impact networks designed to serve both social entrepreneurs and impact investors, combined with advocating through transparency their commitment to align 100 per cent of their assets with their values, the Kleissners have demonstrated that impact investing can be a replicable investment strategy for philanthropists around the world. The Grand Prix honours an individual or family for their overall philanthropic activity, recognizing the exemplary nature of their actions, their financial engagement, their impact and their long-term commitment.
Tomasz and Barbara Sadowski receive the Jury’s Special Prize for their social integration work and promotion of their social franchise model in Poland and abroad. The Barka Foundation for Mutual Help empowers and reintegrates socially marginalized groups through education, training, entrepreneurship and housing programmes. The Jury’s Special Prize recognizes a committed philanthropist who has initiated an original project and has been working on the ground to implement it.
The winners were chosen by an independent jury chaired by Suzanne Berger, Professor of Political Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston and including 2013 award winners Shiv Nadar, co-founder and president of HCL and founder of the Shiv Nadar Foundation in India, and Chuck Slaughter, founder of Living Goods.
‘Don’t just tell me what to do, come and help me do it!’ said an Indian government official to a researcher bearing results from studies into effective aid programmes. His response is salutary: there is much work now on increasing the use of evidence in public policy, so we need to understand what policymakers actually need and want, and what will help them be more evidence-driven. For foundations there is a clear message: it isn’t enough just to fund research. You have to make sure it reaches the relevant policymakers and in a form that is useful to them.
Over ten years, Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA) has run more than 350 studies in 51 countries to find what works in alleviating poverty. We have had some success in influencing policies of governments, NGOs, foundations and others. Here’s what we have found.
The basic lesson is that there is often a disconnect between the people who produce evidence and those who use it. Though they may share a goal, the evidence ‘producers’ (researchers and academics) often work on a different timescale and in different technical language from the ‘users’ (government officials and practitioners in NGOs, foundations, companies and elsewhere). Even within the same organization, they may not be used to dealing with each other.
Getting evidence into policy requires much more than producing evidence and publishing it. Rather, ‘diffusion [of ideas] is essentially a social process through which people talking to people spread an innovation’, said Everett Rogers, who studied the process (and who coined the term ‘early adopter’). This involves behavioural change, and we have found that it’s at least as difficult as the research itself. Hence IPA works with both producers and users of evidence, facilitating, translating and supporting.
We use a structure articulated by Professor Richard Thaler of the University of Chicago, who developed behavioural economics. He wrote in the New York Times (7 July 2012) of his visits to the UK Government’s Behavioural Insights Team, which he advises:
‘… I make the rounds of government. We usually meet with a minister and some senior staff. In these meetings, I have found myself proposing two guidelines so often that they have come to be team mantras: 1) You can’t make evidence-based policy decisions without evidence. 2) If you want to encourage some activity, make it easy.’
IPA follows those guidelines. In fact, the second starts before the first: we find it useful to engage policymakers and practitioners right at the start, making a three-stage process.
First, work out what questions policymakers want answered
We are keen to solve problems that somebody actually has, and which they have budget, energy and permission to solve. These may not be the questions that interest researchers or campaigners or the press, but they are the problems where evidence is likely to make a difference. This can be seen as market research, since policymakers are the customers for the evidence.
For example, IPA’s work in Ghana led to conversations with the government which showed that they were concerned about low educational attainment, and potentially interested in solutions from elsewhere that might work. We are sometimes a ‘match-maker’ between policymakers with questions and researchers interested in answering them. Key to building these relationships is having a permanent presence in-country (IPA has offices in 12 countries).
Founders of private foundations are often concerned that one day, the foundation they created will stray from its original philanthropic mission. To minimize this possibility, some individuals purposefully structure their private foundations to ensure that their core values are preserved. The term “donor intent” has become associated with instituting restrictions to discourage or actively prevent private foundations from straying too far from the founder’s original vision.
New white paper from Foundation Source explores the mechanisms for preserving donor intent as well as the trade-offs associated with limiting a foundation’s future focus and activities.
It also explains how excessive restrictions can backfire or play out in unintended ways. It argues, that the key challenge for founders is striking the right balance between too much and too little control.
Since the explosion of popular protest in Maidan Square, Ukraine has been riven by civil and political strife whose character and shape is often as difficult to discern as its eventual outcome. In this supercharged atmosphere of political protest and martial posturing, what have foundations been doing to help those caught up in events or struggling to reshape their country?
Perhaps the first thing to say is that the situation in Ukraine is an extraordinarily fluid one. Even while this article was being researched and written, things have changed: the country has a new government. While at state level some of the tension has gone out of the situation, fighting still continues in the east of the country between government forces and pro-Russian militias, with reports of people fleeing the rebel capital of Slavyansk amid a worsening humanitarian crisis. The UK’s Guardian newspaper reported on 12 June that most Slavyansk residents had been without water, electricity and gas for the past week. Even after the ousting of former president Yanukovych, the Maidan is still occupied and many of its occupants still find themselves at odds with the new political leaders.
Two foundations active in Ukraine at the onset of the crisis were ERSTE Foundation, based in Austria and working throughout Central and Eastern Europe, and the International Renaissance Foundation, based in Ukraine itself. Both have found themselves drawn into events to a greater or lesser degree.
Feet already on the ground: ERSTE Foundation
ERSTE Foundation has an education programme involving 12-17 year olds in four Ukrainian cities (the project is also running in 11 other countries in the region) and supports an arts project, the Visual Cultural Research Centre, in Kyiv, primarily intended as an exhibition space for artists. Its target group varies from project to project. As Robin Gosejohann, project manager Europe at ERSTE Foundation, explains, ‘we work with local partner organizations who are active or want to become active in civil society in their area/community.’
What has been ERSTE Foundation’s response to the crisis? Most of the countries in which they work have political issues. ‘We try to react to those,’ says Gosejohann, ‘not by reshaping, redrafting entire projects’ but instead by ‘building on the projects that already exist’. As an example, he says, the foundation ‘made money quickly available to allow for a meeting space in Kyiv. We reacted on the expressed needs of our project partners who changed an ongoing project [the exhibition space mentioned above].’ After the Maidan protests, it became more and more apparent that there were hardly any independent meeting spaces that community groups could use. The exhibition space will now be used for meetings.
ERSTE Foundation also remains alert to the needs of its Ukrainian project partners. ‘We have a higher degree of sensitivity when it comes to project applications from partners from a country that currently has more issues than others,’ says Gosejohann, so ‘specifically Ukraine right now’.
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The first year of the Weston Charity Awards, founded by the Garfield Weston Foundation and Pilotlight, focussed on the North East, where the foundation’s research by Cathy Pharoah found that government spending cuts have affected nearly two-thirds of charities (64%), while almost 60% of charities across the region have seen an increase in demand for their services.
Launching a new award is not always easy so let me take you back 5 months to when this all went public.
After much preparation, from guidance notes to application forms, timings and key information we opened for charity award applications in January 2014. The award would consist of £5,000 of unrestricted funding and a yearlong Pilotlight programme for each of the six winners, plus the opportunity for the overall regional winner to secure an additional £15,000. We were looking for charities working in three key areas identified by the Garfield Weston Foundation as Welfare, Youth and Community; the profile of charity applicants (size, etc) was determined by Pilotlight’s own criteria.
Although we were unsure of what the response of North East charities would be, in the event the number of applications, well in excess of 100, exceeded our expectations in a number of ways:
- The quality of the organisations and the work being done
- The breadth of scale of organisations
- The apparent buy-in to and desire for the support we were offering, capacity building as well as funding
So, now the really hard work began.
Over the course of the following months, the Pilotlight team reviewed the applications and visited all of the shortlisted charities across the North East, from the East End of Newcastle to a former mining village in County Durham to the quayside in Blyth. The Pilotlight team were thoroughly impressed with the calibre of applicants and their desire to utilise the skills of business leaders to increase their social impact and improve the lives of people living in the North East.
So how did we decide on the winners?
The Awards Judging Panel, consisting of the Garfield Weston Board of Trustees, selected 6 charities on the basis that they demonstrated particular strengths in the following:
So, as we presented the winners with their awards and they look forward to meeting their Pilotlight business teams we are confident we have picked six charities that not only tackle a diverse range of social issues, such as the needs of local older people and those with disabilities living in the community, but ones that will really benefit from business mentoring to help develop their organisation.
As Emma Frew from winning charity, ShARP, says:“This award couldn’t have come at a better time for us. ShARP has achieved a lot in the last few years, but our plans for the future will be the biggest challenge yet. Not only in terms of growing ourselves, but in having the confidence to articulate to potential partners, funders and commissioners that we are a strong and focussed organisation.”
So what did we learn during the process of setting up this new award?
Find the right partner
More important than even getting the paperwork ready and out on time was the groundwork we had done in establishing that Pilotlight and the Garfield Weston Foundation were the ‘right’ partner for each other – in terms of aims, values, expected outcomes and hoped for impact. Having established our compatibility in terms of goals, we feel we have developed a powerful proposition as a result of our respective strengths.
Engage with local organisations early on
We realised that connecting with organisations in the North East like VONNE and Northern Rock were key to our success. We also dedicated time to communications and engaging with local media to get the news about the awards out to charities.
Finally, we will be reviewing how the awards go over the next year, and the application process to learn and see how we can improve for next time.
You can read about all the winners of the Weston Charity Awards here>
Gillian Murray, Chief Executive of Pilotlight
Philanthropists are not easy to study. There’s no official central database of who gives how much to what, and it’s tricky to tell if major donors who participate in research projects are typical or unusual in some way that might affect the results. But not all the problems in this field are due to the vagaries of respondent participation. Many studies – including some of my own – cloud the picture further by taking a ‘snapshot’ of philanthropy, asking individuals how much time or money they have given in a relatively brief recent period such as the preceding month or year. These studies produce useful data on macro trends but they unwittingly imply, for example, that Warren Buffet is not particularly generous apart from during the year 2006!
We need a new approach that understands the cumulative contribution made by donors and sheds light on how philanthropic behaviour begins, continues or ends.
The study I have just published with the charity Pilotlight, ‘Philanthropic Journeys: new insights into the triggers and barriers for long-term giving and volunteering’ is an initial attempt to understand people’s philanthropic journeys (comprised of their lifetime voluntary contribution of time, treasure and talent) rather than simply their most recent philanthropic acts. We wanted to explore how people got started and why they scaled up their volunteering and giving – or indeed how they started and then stopped.
We used an online survey and in-depth interviews to invite over 200 senior business people to reconstruct their philanthropic actions and attitudes before and after undertaking a structured, supported, time-limited volunteering placement organised and managed by Pilotlight. Our hypothesis was that the right early experience of engaging with a charity or social enterprise sets donors on the right path to a positive attitude to charitable activity and affects their future philanthropic behaviour.
We found that the right early experience does indeed reap great rewards and future benefits for the philanthropy sector. Where respondents had had a successful initial interaction with a charitable organisation, they were twice as likely to be planning to volunteer in the future, there was a 10% rise in their willingness to make significant (£1,000 or more) donations and there was a three-fold increase in their desire to serve as a trustee of a charity. Perhaps more significantly, the experience changed their perception of the professionalism and purpose of the non-profit sector. One interviewee, who had previously been a reactive, low-level giver and lacked confidence in the professionalism of charities, said:
“It’s given me a window on the charity sector which I would never have got before. I would have happily carried on giving my donations or whatever it is, sponsorships, and never really got more involved… What I’ve discovered is the passion and commitment of everybody in all of these charities I’ve worked with. It is incredible and a real lesson to me as a banker.”
Another described a shift from self-confessed ‘totally random giving’ to establishing an inter-generational fund. Looking back at the stalled start to his giving career he noted, “it’s actually quite difficult to give your money and get involved with charities wisely. Once I’d started working with Pilotlight I added up what I gave in a year and it was really quite a significant sum of money, so I’ve become a lot more strategic about my giving. For the first time I worked out a giving plan – over the next 5 years this covers how much I want to give, the people I want to give it to, and at the end of it my goal is to have a fund that will then be invested and generate income that hopefully my children will get involved with and carry on.”
Studying this donor at any particular moment in time would have missed the bigger picture of the journey he was on and – crucially – the intervention that helped him move from being a reactive and episodic giver to a fund holder with a plan. Philanthropic activity is clearly too complex to be encapsulated in any particular moment in time. The life-course approach can take account of how philanthropy develops as a result of interactions within families, schools, workplaces and friendship groups and as a result of absorbing cultural norms, observing influential role models and receiving signals from government, employers and peers.
If we wish to design policies and practices that enable everyone to reach the furthest destination of their philanthropic journey then we need to better understand these philanthropic attitudes and behaviours, and why it flourishes or founders over an individual’s lifetime.
Dr Beth Breeze, Centre for Philanthropy, University of Kent
The UBS Optimus Foundation and the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF) are launching the first development impact bond in education. The aim is to improve the quality of girls’ education and attract new investment to this area.
Development impact bonds aim to provide new sources of financing to achieve improved social outcomes in developing country contexts. Investors provide external financing and receive a return only if pre-agreed outcomes are achieved. Funds to remunerate investors would usually come from a donor or government agency. Financial returns to investors are intended to be commensurate with the level of success. An independent evaluator verifies results to determine success and repayment.
‘This is a world first for international education,’ says Michael Anderson, CEO of CIFF. ‘Development impact bonds will focus governments and the aid industry on costing and paying for results … We want to test this model, and we want to show the world it can work.’
Capital made available up front by the UBS Optimus Foundation will go to Educate Girls, an NGO operating in government run schools in Rajasthan in India to enrol and retain girls, as well as to improve learning outcomes for all children. In India, 3.7 million girls are out of school. In Rajasthan, 40 per cent of girls drop out before reaching fifth grade and for those that remain learning quality is low. CIFF will pay for social outcomes achieved by the programme.
With the advent of its new network-based strategy, the Council on Foundations has done a significant amount of reorganizing. Part of that reorganization included the downsizing of its global programme staff and the disbanding of the CoF global philanthropy committee in mid-2013.
CoF’s goal in introducing the network-based strategy was to be less ‘transactional’, less of a ‘vending machine’ for specific members needing specific services and more of a catalyst for the building of broad networks both within and beyond philanthropy. CoF introduced ‘network managers’, essentially regionally based positions throughout the United States, and ‘network developers’, based in CoF’s Washington DC headquarters, who work on topical issues rather than within geographic areas. In other words, CoF has adopted the sort of geographic-plus-thematic matrix structure that has been common in multilaterals and international NGOs for years.
In the global arena, the thematic ‘network developer’ role may well make sense, covering topics such as health and education and environment. However, the regional ‘network manager’ role does not easily map onto the whole globe with anything like the high-touch relationship building that the US-based managers will be aiming at.
CoF staff, with the help of many of the former members of the global committee, have been working on developing a new global strategy that matches the overall CoF networking emphasis, but is also well designed for the global development ecosystem. This strategy should be shared with larger groups of CoF members and stakeholders over the coming months.
Challenges for the new strategy
The new strategy is likely to face a couple of significant challenges. The first is staffing. One network developer will have a hard time keeping on top of the headlines of the post-2015 global development goals, let alone the strengths and gaps of individual foundations and the specific coalitions that could be built. It seems likely, therefore, that the global committee will be reconstituted in some form, which would be in keeping with the idea of working through networks. In a real sense, the global committee is CoF’s ‘inner network’, with each of its members in turn connected to several or many other networks.
The second challenge is that there are probably three distinct ‘bands of engagement’ of foundations regarding global philanthropy. The ‘high band of engagement’ comprises foundations set up to work internationally. They are structured and staffed for global grantmaking, and are likely to be sophisticated and well connected with other development actors. The ‘medium band of engagement’ is concerned about global philanthropy, but secondarily to domestic programmes. Its boards, executives and staffs are less experienced and may need initial or refresher trainings about how to grant globally. Their global rolodexes are smaller, and they may be more focused on individual projects than on trying to make a structural dent in a particular global issue. The ‘low band of engagement’ is frankly not interested in global grantmaking – until the day after a tsunami in South East Asia or an earthquake in Haiti, when they want to be able to make a rapid, impactful, duly-diligent international grant to a reputable organization on the ground.
These three bands have very different needs, and ask different things of a philanthropic platform like the Council. The high band would like to see the Council serve as a platform for deal-making with other actors like multilaterals, bilaterals and national governments – indeed this is in line with the heart of the Council’s new networking strategy. The global committee membership tended to be drawn from this band.
The medium band is often looking more for the ‘transactional services’ that the Council is trying to move beyond. What are the mechanics of international grantmaking? What are the tax rules? How does due diligence differ when it is nine time zones away rather than in the same county? Much of CoF’s earlier international grantmaking initiatives focused on this band.
The low band requires nothing at all from the Council global programme most of the time, but does require rapid ‘morning-after’ assistance in the wake of disasters. In some ways this is the easiest group to service, if there has been thoughtful advance planning for disaster response beforehand.
If that were not complex enough, there is also the question of what other development actors want from foundations, and what they look to the Council to do.
The ways that foundations and multilaterals look at one another are succinctly outlined in a November 2012 publication produced by the Council, the European Foundation Centre and the Worldwide Initiative for Grantmaker Support (WINGS) entitled Building On Strengths. Most frequently, multilaterals and bilaterals will be looking for ‘high band’ foundation partners with long-term commitment to specific development areas and the ability to fund nimbly and creatively.
Where does CoF’s comparative advantage lie?
Finally, there is the question of comparative advantage. As the Council realizes in its new strategy, it is not the sole philanthropic actor in most fields. In the global arena, there are other philanthropic platforms, such as the Global Philanthropy Forum and EDGE Funders, which are much more focused on global issues than the Council. The Council’s comparative advantage lies in the breadth and diversity of its membership and its wide geographic coverage of all parts of the US. This breadth and diversity reside mostly in the medium and lower bands of engagement, which include many more foundations than does the high band.
It is not simple to devise a strategy that optimizes all these aspects. The Council has adopted a networking strategy that will be beyond its means and scope if pursued on a global scale, so it needs to depend more on networks without network managers. The Council also needs to be attentive to at least three distinct groups of member foundations (and probably several others). Finally, they need to realize that while the high band foundations attract the interest of multilateral and bilateral partners, they may not actually be the most distinctive comparative advantage of the Council in the global arena.
It will be fascinating to see the Council’s global strategy tackle these elements over the coming months. Stay tuned!
Peter Laugharn is executive director of the Firelight Foundation.
If you work for a foundation rather than an association of foundations, you are, not surprisingly, in the minority at WINGS’ four-yearly forum. But you will have come to the best event in the world to assess the scope and character of organized philanthropy internationally.
The thing that struck me the most at WINGSForum 2014 (titled ‘The Power of Networks: Building Connected Global Philanthropy’ and held in Istanbul, 27-29 March) was that this was a genuinely global affair. WINGS has come a long way from its roots in a meeting in Mexico in 1998 with 25 countries represented, almost entirely from Europe and North America.
The plenary presentations, for example, were truly from around the world and offered numerous opportunities to compare and contrast. I was especially absorbed by the description by Andre Degenszajn of the corporate character of most foundations in Brazil, which are by and large choosing to be operational, rather than grantmaking, foundations – very different from in the UK. Will this pattern emerge in other countries and with what consequences? Workshops ranged far and wide from philanthropy in Africa to the Middle East and South East Asia. The Olga Alexeeva Memorial Prize honours people promoting philanthropy in emerging societies and attracted a varied and impressive shortlist, with He Daofeng of the China Foundation for Poverty Alleviation winning the prize.
The fact that the Forum was held in Istanbul was a powerful reminder that foundations are part of civil society rather than standing aloof from it. The notorious decision of the Turkish president to ban tweeting made tweeters of the most Luddite of us, to make clear that we don’t like being banned even from those freedoms that ordinarily we don’t value very much, such as speaking truth to power in 140 characters or fewer.
This theme was powerfully addressed by Danny Sriskandarajah, secretary general of CIVICUS, in a keynote speech at the beginning of the conference. He noted that civil space has been in some way restricted in many countries of the world in recent years. Dramatic changes in international development finance herald the end of the era of official aid. While restrictive forms of impact measurement are anathema to creative philanthropy (‘the log-frame has killed the radical idea’), the revolution in data technology properly deployed will empower and engage citizens. His final challenge was the most pertinent to the conference: that philanthropy will need to raise its game in terms of coordination if it is to challenge the networks of power.
Any account of the Forum would be incomplete without mention of the Barry Gaberman Lecture (as he said, ‘it is great to have a lecture named after you – especially if it is before you are dead’). Avila Kilmurray (pictured) of the Community Foundation for Northern Ireland gave a tour de force performance analysing the role of philanthropy ‘in difficult times’ which also served as an exciting calling card for her new role at the Global Fund for Community Foundations.
Finally, as a balding man I am always grateful for any opportunity to wear a wig and WINGS kindly provided me with one by staging a mock trial of associations of foundations on the final day, with me as their unlikely defence attorney (I think it was because I said yes). Their acquittal was much more to do with the quality of the event and its organization by the superbly professional WINGS staff than the ability of their counsel. (Pictured: A bewigged David Cutler.)
David Cutler is director of the Baring Foundation. Email firstname.lastname@example.org
In several diverse settings at the Council on Foundations meeting this week, participants and panellists expressed concerns about potential gaps or oversights in fields where foundations work. During the panel on philanthropy in education the conversation focused for a time on the need to think of students as complete human beings, with social, economic, health and personal needs that must be fulfilled in order for them to be able to engage in and benefit from educational endeavours. Audience members at the panel on the role of philanthropy in the post-2015 global development agenda, being led by the United Nations, expressed concerns on two fronts: (1) that each of the goals under consideration would emerge as a siloed area of activity, possibly connecting philanthropy and development agencies within that field, but missing the interconnected nature of the myriad challenges encompassed in the expansive post-2015 sustainable development goals; (2) that a global agenda might be disconnected from local challenges, capacities, potential and realities.
I’m convinced that these existing and potential gaps in planning, communication and execution are the reasons that philanthropy must remain engaged in critical challenges facing the public. The social, cultural and environmental challenges facing communities and the globe in the 21st century are all interlinked. Interlinked across challenges such as the environment, livelihoods, health and security. Interlinked across regions and national borders. Interlinked from villages up to global systems.
At its best, philanthropy can be the broker that brings disconnected parties and disparate entities together to create new bonds. Without the pressure of elections or markets, and by drawing on the insights and capacities of community foundations and global foundations, philanthropy has the potential to break down silos and connect local insights to global resources. Despite the well-justified concerns that individual students and small localities are overlooked by grand education or development schemes, I left the Council on Foundations meeting optimistic about our capacity to make connections that create change in the world.
Rob Garris is managing director, Bellagio Programs, at the Rockefeller Foundation.
The June Breakfast Club will be held on Wednesday the 2nd of July 2014 hosted by the Shell Foundation in London. Reception starts at 8:15am followed by the discussion at 9:00am.
Why are so few market-based solutions to poverty getting to scale? What can be done so that they can deliver meaningful benefits to the poor? These are the questions raised by the recently released Monitor Inclusive Markets report Beyond the Pioneer. Its findings are in turn examined by the June 2014 Alliance special feature.
Hosted by the Shell Foundation, the June 2014 Alliance Breakfast Club will discuss these and other issues arising from the June 2014 special feature of Alliance magazine.
• Judith Pollock, Deputy Director UK, Shell Foundation
• Audrey Selian, founder and director of Artha Platform and guest editor for the June 2014 issue of Alliance
• Suzanne Biegel, Catalyst at Large, and senior adviser, ClearlySo
• Caroline Mason, Chief Executive, Esmee Fairbairn Foundation
Questions to be addressed
• How do the opportunities for intervention look to foundations and impact investors?
• Is it good that investors compete to invest in the enterprises that will be most competitive?
• Are there areas where market-based solutions won’t or shouldn’t work?
If you would like to attend this event or for more information please contact us at email@example.com. Reserve your place by 25 June to attend. The Alliance Breakfast Club is free to attend. However due to the popularity of these events we operate a one delegate per organisation policy.
Earlier this month I was in Brazil, a country preparing itself to host the biggest sporting event on the planet, the World Cup. The sport is what we call soccer, but the rest of the world knows it as football and nobody plays it better than Brazil. The U.S. made it through the grueling two-year process to qualify, but no one expects the team to get very far in the competition. When you see how obsessed Brazilians are with football, you can understand why they’re so good at it. One small indicator: my sister-in-law bought very stylish Brazilian football outfits so her six-month-old twin granddaughters will be ready for June 12 when Brazil opens the tournament against Croatia. If Brazil wins its sixth World Cup, the celebration will be on a scale that’s unimaginable for most of us — it will make the Super Bowl look like a Sunday school retreat.
If you’ve been following World Cup news, you are undoubtedly aware that Brazil’s plan to showcase to the world its culture, growing economic power, and social progress has not exactly gone as planned. Demonstrations, some of them violent, protesting the expenditure of billions of dollars for luxurious new stadiums and the accompanying forced removal of slum dwellers have filled the streets. Meanwhile, the country continues to be plagued by poor health care, inadequate infrastructure, and urban violence. The phenomenon of its football-obsessed citizenry protesting Brazil’s hosting of the World Cup took the government by surprise and has caused a political crisis: there is growing criticism of endemic corruption, and the country’s president, once a shoe-in for reelection, now faces a tough race. The crisis goes even deeper, however, as growing dissatisfaction with politicians and government institutions morphs into a kind of repudiation of politics and business as usual.
As painful as this is for Brazil and Brazilians, it shows how far democracy in the country has come. In 1970, Brazil’s then-military government cynically promoted the Brazilian football team’s march to its third World Cup championship (Mexico was the host country) to distract attention from a wave of internal repression. Years later, as the dictatorship was losing its grip on power, the tactic was exposed in a banned Brazilian film (though no one dared criticize the dictatorship at the time). Today, as a democratic Brazil prepares to host the Cup for a second time (the first was in 1950), people are protesting in the streets, the media is filled with exposés, political parties are battling it out in the media and Congress, and a young Brazilian has made a YouTube video entitled “No, I’m not Going to the World Cup” that has been downloaded more than 4.2 million times.
While countless Brazilians struggled to move their nation away from dictatorship and toward democracy, philanthropy played a role as well. American and European foundations supported dozens of Brazilian nonprofits advocating for human rights and the rule of law, while think tanks critiqued the government’s economic policies. As the dictatorship began to weaken, foundations backed university research and conferences dedicated to the return of democracy. That funding evolved into support for citizen participation in and public debate of constitutional and political reforms.
For decades now, American foundations have supported pro-democracy groups in countries around the world. It should come as no surprise, then, that foundations are providing the same kind of support here in the U.S. After all, Brazil isn’t the only country whose citizens have grown frustrated with politics as usual! Last week, Foundation Center released Foundation Funding for U.S. Democracy, a new data-driven Web platform. Supported by eight leading foundations, this marks the first time that this important focus area of philanthropy has been clearly defined, delineated, and made fully transparent.
Football (soccer), democratic values, and philanthropy are integral parts of the globalizing world in which we live. If the 2014 World Cup teaches us anything, it is that they are connected in more ways than we can imagine.
Brad Smith is president of Foundation Center.