Grantmakers without Borders Conference

Peter Laugharn

Grantmakers without Borders (Gw/oB) held its tenth annual meeting from 7 to 9 June in San Francisco. The conference demonstrated the fascinating variety of the philanthropic scene on the US west coast.

Northern Californian philanthropy is often associated with Silicon Valley: ambitious about doing good, venture-oriented, focused on product development. Gw/oB, on the other hand, would seem to have its roots in Berkeley and the values of the 1960s: free speech, activist protest, values-based philanthropy striving for justice. The two are of course not mutually exclusive, but they lead to different sorts of gatherings.

In the area of US-based international grantmaking, for example, Gw/oB is the only group that has robustly taken on the limitations imposed on philanthropy by the Patriot Act following the 9/11 attacks. At the conference, Gw/oB executive director John Harvey called for persistence and engagement on the issue, telling participants: ‘You guys are not a source of funding for terrorism – you’re just not.’

Gw/oB is also bucking the trend towards the funding of microfinance. This year, the group issued a guide to microfinance expressing concerns that these programmes can present unreasonable risk to low-income borrowers, that they are assessed using efficiency measures that have little to do with whether borrowers’ lives are improved, and that it would be useful to introduce an external rating process for microfinance institutions.

Gw/oB also provides a forum for an ongoing debate between the ‘social entrepreneurship’ worldview – focused on the leadership of an individual changemaker – and the idea of ‘community-driven development’. More than one session at the conference explored the two views, stressing the necessary interplay between individual leadership and strong groups.

Over the past decade, Gw/oB has grown into a strong voice for international social justice philanthropy. Much of the credit for this goes to John Harvey, who is stepping down this year after leading the group since its inception. So the search is now on for the leader of Gw/oB’s second decade.

Event 10th Annual Conference
Date 7-9 June 2010
Location San Francisco, US
Organizer Grantmakers without Borders

For more information

Peter Laugharn is Executive Director of the Firelight Foundation and Chair of CCABA. Email


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