It was the first time that I attended a WINGS Forum and, I must recognize, my expectations were moderate. Big conferences organized by “industry” organizations, such as the ones serving philanthropy, are usually self centered and very poor in terms of questioning their own practices and even less their own existence. To a large extent, this is precisely my perception of what happened during the WINGSForum 2017.
Organizations serving philanthropy do not play their role in a vacuum
Before and after the exposition by Kumi Naidoo – the exception- there was practically no mention to the changing international context; neither the name of Donald Trump was spelled out. It is not enough to name the various examples of limitations to the space of civil society in various countries to understand how the power dynamics are changing the planet nor the reasons and directions of such transformations.
Without such a contextualization, philanthropy is more a matter of goodwill than part of the social and political environment as it applies to different societies. The fabric of philanthropy is extremely dependent from and influential of the global context. A Forum like WINGS cannot let escape the opportunity to help us all capture better the climate of global society. Let us not forget that the meeting took place in Mexico, a country which is at the center stage of conflicts with the U.S.!
Women’s funds – their networks, their approaches and their ways to achieve collective impact- are perhaps one of the most advanced movements in global philanthropy. They are at the frontline in fighting gender violence, supporting human rights defenders and shaping the public agenda. Their model of supporting global philanthropy, however, was absent, or at least at the far margins, at the WINGSForum.
The closing scene at the Forum, with the WINGS and CEMEFI‘s presidents thanking just the male expositors surrounded by all the women and girls that actually made the event happen, was perhaps another pathetic symbol of the gender imbalance.
Where are the cross-sector conversations?
Philanthropy interacts permanently with the private and public sectors. These two relevant actors, however, were absent at the Forum. How can we explore new ways of influencing public policies if there is a total absence of governmental representatives with whom we can talk, learn, agree or disagree?
How can we improve our strategies to work, collaborate and support our work with the business sector if they are practically not present at the conference? Is it enough to talk among ourselves without engaging in new dialogues and collaborations with other social and political actors?
The WINGS Forum
WINGS’ core mission is ‘to strengthen, promote and provide leadership on the development of philanthropy and social investment’ and the call of the conference ‘Critical philanthropy: addressing complexity, challenging ourselves’. To what extent these two objectives were achieved throughout the conference is quite dubious from my perspective. As said above, our self-criticism as organizations serving philanthropy was very light.
Not surprising if one looks at the WINGS report presented at the conference: ‘the first priority of philanthropy infrastructure organizations is to expand their reach, followed by increasing the number of members/clients (?) and developing technological capacity’. In other words, let’s continue looking at our own bellies and not to the complex changes in the outside world.
Some figures and comments of the report are also surprising:
- ‘The overall medium budget of infrastructure organizations has not grown much since the WINGS 2014 infrastructure report. It is now $800,000 compared to $600,000 in 2014’.
My question: not grown much for whom? A difference of $200,000 is quite big for me. Our budget at the Social Justice Philanthropy Network in Brazil is less than $10,000 dollars, and more or less the same at Fondo Región Colonia (Uruguay) and ELLAS (Argentina).
- ‘Eighty per cent of spending on philanthropy infrastructure is in North America’.
My question: Is this shifting the power? Aren’t we reproducing the same inequalities as in the global economy? Is this acceptable?
- ‘The history of the field’, summarized in one page, is offensive to say the least. The story began in the UK and then followed by the US. The rest of the world was discovered in the 1980s ‘with the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the ending of apartheid in South Africa’.
Comment: Efforts and institutions aimed at coordinating social welfare and beneficent institutions were created in the early 19th century in Latin America along with the processes of independence from the Spanish and Portuguese empires.
The mapping of academic/education institutions
This WINGS report was also presented at the Forum. From 60 institutions mapped, just over 30 per cent responded (19). From the 19 that responded, only one was from Latin America and two from Sub-Saharan Africa. Evidently, the results presented do not represent at all the reality of knowledge generation and teaching on philanthropy around the world.
In a way, the findings also raise questions for those regions that didn’t responded to the survey. So, if the results are not representative, why publish them instead of recognizing that the attempt was not successful and therefore open an honest conversation on how to improve the research in order to really capture relevant data?
The positive side of the examples I mentioned is that the Forum helped me understand in three days what otherwise would have taken me much more time. WINGS need to rethink its role, address power imbalances, and look at the world from a broader perspective in order to identify both the internal and external challenges for the growth of philanthropy.
Andrés Thompson is executive coordinator, Social Justice Philanthropy Network, Brazil.