Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Philanthropy and development back on the agenda

Philanthropy as a global issue won’t go away – and it is getting more interesting.  Last month delegates at the Global Partnership for Effective Development’s high level meeting in Mexico attended a special event on philanthropy. They discussed how better to connect foundations with southern governments.

However, the issues surrounding philanthropy and development need to be set in a wider context.  The global expansion of the middle class, and the development of emerging countries is a clear focus of attention as demonstrated by Future World Giving, a welcome initiative from the Charities Aid Foundation. OECD voters are likely to become increasingly resistant to aid to middle income countries with their space programmes and their growing economies. In spite of the prevalence of chronic poverty and growing inequalities in these same regions, both official development assistance and private philanthropic giving from the North is likely to increasingly focus on the low income countries. All this makes the future of philanthropy and development a more important area of study than ever.
Three years ago IDS, The Resource Alliance and the Rockefeller Foundation embarked upon an ambitious project on: “The Future of Philanthropy and International Development in the Pursuit of Human Wellbeing.” It remains one of the biggest global consultations and studies on philanthropy and development to have ever taken place. Through global dialogue meetings, specially commissioned papers and a high-level two-week summit, the Bellagio Initiative heard from a diverse group including policymakers, academics, opinion leaders, social entrepreneurs, activists, indigenous peoples and donors from over 30 countries.
The Initiative’s final report published in 2012 recommended that more inclusivity, connectedness and greater levels of transparency and accountability were needed from philanthropic organisations and development agencies if trust is to be rebuilt with communities. Failure to do so, it argued, will make it impossible to promote human wellbeing and tackle development challenges worldwide.

Every one of the Bellagio Initiative outputs including the consultation documents and the final report are available on the IDS OpenDocs website.
Bellagio Initiative website screenshot

The report also urged a reorientation of development policy to addressing threats to human wellbeing and changing the measurements of development to make them more accurate in assessing wellbeing. It also recommended that philanthropic and development organisations must accept the profoundly political nature of the development process and get involved in this aspect of current development debates. This will require listening to marginal people, utilising new resources, and rediscovering philanthropy’s advocacy role.
Jay Naidoo, South African trade unionist, government minister and activist delivered one of the most memorable quotes of the Bellagio Summit: “If we don’t understand politics as the central challenge and obstacle to delivering human wellbeing then we’re missing the plot. That is the big issue that confronts us.”

The methodology which was chosen for the Bellagio Initiative was ambitious, perhaps too ambitious and it brought together a dizzyingly broad range of participants. The different “thought worlds” of business and foundations, activists and development academics made for an uneasy mix and problems in “translation” between the approaches and priorities of the participants. Despite the challenges it produced some amazing resources that should be compulsory reading, not just for those interested in the role of philanthropy in development cooperation, but for everyone focused on the broader global development challenges of a post-2015 world.
Bellagio Initiative outputs on IDS OpenDocs

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