Thursday, 11 August 2011

Philanthropy offers new opportunities for development

By Noshua Watson

I am extremely excited that I’m working on a new project that we just launched this week: The Bellagio Initiative on the future of philanthropy and development.

The Bellagio Initiative is a series of global consultations that aims to explore trends and opportunities in philanthropy and development. It’s led by IDS, the Resource Alliance and the Rockefeller Foundation – you can find out more on the website.

The Initiative is interdisciplinary from both academic and practitioner perspectives. We are bringing together international development practitioners, opinion leaders, social entrepreneurs, donors and philanthropists to consider climate change, urbanisation, freedom and rights, and other issues that we believe are threats to human wellbeing and also opportunities for philanthropic problem solving. Our intention is to start an inclusive, global process of in-depth understanding, evidence-based learning and strategic giving that will continue after our final Initiative event.

The international development aid landscape, both public and private, is evolving as the global economy changes. The increasing multi-polarity in global governance institutions is reflected in the multiplicity of development players. The BRICS countries have established official aid agencies and large Middle Eastern philanthropic foundations have emerged. Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) from southern countries are establishing international offices and expanding their operations. Yet, official multilateral and bilateral aid agencies and large European and North American NGOs continue to dominate development aid, and the largest US foundations, including Rockefeller, Gates, Hewlett and  Ford, give the lion’s share of grants internationally.

We think that philanthropy offers new opportunities for development, even though official development assistance from the OECD is more than five times greater than private aid (US$120bn versus US$22bn in 2009). Philanthropic organisations can apply new technological and business practices to aid, just as the growth of venture capital, entrepreneurial start-up and social networking companies has led to venture philanthropy, social entrepreneurship and crowd-sourcing models of development action.

Philanthropic foundations are using innovative tools such as social impact bonds, guarantee programmes, and carbon markets (see the Rockefeller Foundation’s own Program Related Investments for examples). Private funding structures help engage the public, encourage systemic change over temporary Band-aids and prioritise sustained financial flows over project funding.  Most importantly, we think that philanthropic organisations can help coordinate aid activities, design new aid mechanisms and create goal alignment and collaboration among other development actors.

If you’d like to find out more, you can sign up for email updates on the Bellagio Initiative website. I hope that you will be able to participate, share your knowledge, give us feedback and find out about new practices.