Friday, 2 December 2011

Can philanthropies lead us to an economics of wellbeing?

By Noshua Watson

A team from IDS recently led the Bellagio Summit in Italy, as part of the Bellagio Initiative on the Future of Philanthropy and Development in the Pursuit of Human Wellbeing, funded by the Rockefeller Foundation. Philanthropies have big names, but relatively small pockets. Aid flows, let alone foreign direct investment flows and remittances, are far greater than philanthropic funding for international development. So what could philanthropies possibly do to ease, fix or change the effects of globalisation on development?

From the Bellagio Initiative and Summit, there seem to be three ways philanthropic foundations can influence globalisation:
  1. Engaging with the processes of globalisation
  2. Tackling the inequities of globalisation head on
  3. Focusing both more AND less on outcomes.
Philanthropies need to be more politically engaged by supporting organisations that take direct action and also take advantage of their independence by taking more risks and experimenting more.  Of course, philanthropies do try to address inequities and meet communities’ needs, but they also need to explore how they are part of a system that generates those very inequities through lack of accountability, how they manage and spend their funds or how they incorporate feedback and learning.  Philanthropies are also in a situation where they are trying to better measure and manage their resources, but not focus on outcomes so much that they don’t experiment or lose sight of the long-run benefits. There is much to be learned from the reports on the series of Global Dialogue meetings, commissioned research and the Bellagio Summit.

If we are really honest, what would it mean for globalisation if, like the Bellagio Initiative, we frame development in terms of wellbeing? Wellbeing is a broader conception of development than economic growth. We currently describe globalisation largely in terms of economic institutions, flows, patterns and outcomes. But what if we looked at what globalisation means for wellbeing, we would certainly advocate different policies. Given that the OECD and national governments are beginning to adopt the concept, maybe economists should add this to our bag of tricks.