ISTR 9th International Conference

Paula Johnson

The International Society for Third-Sector Research (ISTR) 9th international conference in Istanbul in July was a rich experience for those of us who aspire to understand and strengthen philanthropy’s potential to advance equitable economic growth and social justice. It showcased some of the world’s most accomplished and thoughtful researchers and scholars in civil society and philanthropy.

At sessions throughout the conference, colleagues presented new research and new thinking on philanthropy. Prominent themes included:

A widespread belief that philanthropy has an increasingly important role to play around the globe. Papers from Africa, the Arab region, Asia and Europe demonstrated the rapidly expanding interest in and practice of philanthropy. Persistent poverty, chronic underdevelopment, and economic and social inequities compel more and more individuals to take private action. Happily, such action is facilitated by widespread political reform, increasingly favourable policy environments, and the growing diversity of philanthropic giving models and strategies.

A recognition of the formidable challenges faced by philanthropy and civil society. Despite the optimism, longstanding obstacles founded in political constraints, societal expectations and cultural norms are combining with new challenges posed by the global economic and financial crisis and concerns regarding global security and terrorist activities. In many countries, legal and political controls continue to limit philanthropy and civil society largely to charitable work and service delivery.

A philanthropic approach characterized by innovation and diversity. As philanthropy emerges and evolves around the world, there is a tendency to explore new and creative approaches best suited to local needs, societal norms and policy environments. Inspiration can come from longstanding indigenous giving customs as well as international ‘best practices’. For example, the widespread model of independent grantmaking foundations – common in the US and some other parts of the world – is far less prevalent elsewhere, where operating foundations, hybrid models, community giving and collaborative giving efforts are more dominant.

Innovative thinking and empirical knowledge is a powerful combination in any field. Regrettably and perhaps surprisingly, it is a combination that is too often absent from discussions of global philanthropy. ISTR should be applauded for its role in bringing both knowledge and creativity to the table.

Event 9th International Conference
Date 7-10 July 2010
Location Istanbul, Turkey
Organizer International Society for Third-Sector Research

For more information

Paula Johnson is vice president and Director of Global Philanthropy at TPI. Email 

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