Focusing in on one session from this year’s WINGSForum in Mexico, the session on ‘Building philanthropy infrastructure: experiences from Africa, Arab countries and the Caribbean’ covered experiences in building networks from three regions: Africa, Arab countries and the Caribbean. The infrastructure of philanthropy includes three elements of support services: networks and associations, research centers, and philanthropy advisory.
However, the session focused only the element of networks and association for best use of time. In this respect, the session touched on successful experiences and challenges, similarities and differences and presenting experiences with various stages of development. The session covered ways of how learning can be facilitated within a network and across networks or associations.
The key elements of success in building a network of association, as a result of the discussions, were:
- The importance of local context and response to needs of members of the network – the driving force of donor interest should be last on the priority list
- The importance of being considerate of members needs including frequent review of that to meet the expectations from a network like capacity building, cross learning, etc
- The importance of giving due focus on the process to ensure ownership and draw the right balance between results and process
- The importance of learning from similar experiences from the region and/or from other regions around the world
The session discussed as well role of WINGS summarized as follows:
- Ensure cross-learning and documentation of experiences
- To help members that have formed newly to more established ones to ensure cross learning
- Share best structures for associations and networks
However, the session highlighted several points of tension that need consideration to avoid pitfalls and possible failures:
- Is a network the only solution for connecting organizations? Instead of a network, there could be convening on specific issues for specific period.
- Can virtual meetings replace physical meetings to reduce cost of meetings?
- How interests of various members can be navigated?
- For cost recovery would networks put emphasis on paid membership with large members and diverse interests versus lower membership members sometimes with no fees and reliance on outside donors? If so, what is the balance?
- Should benefit to members be tied to membership fees? Or, alternatively, networks should be supported by its members regardless whether or not there are immediate benefits?
- How can networks attract the various forms of philanthropy especially the new forms that have formed in the last few years that can take the form of business in some cases rather than the traditional form of endowments and programs – whether direct implementation or through grants?
It was concluded that it will be beneficial for WINGS to arrange for dialogue on the above tension points.
Atallah Kuttab is founder and CEO of SAANED for Philanthropy Advisory in the Arab Region.
You can find more coverage from the WINGSForum 2017 here.