2016 Global Philanthropy Forum’s opening plenary


Alecia Foster


Whether in search of economic opportunity, safety or meaning, people are on the move as never before and as a result, an estimated 60 million people world-wide are now considered refugees or internally displaced persons.

‘This is not going to go away overnight,’ said Chris Stone, President of the Open Society Foundations. ‘They’re going to grow in numbers and they’re going to accelerate.’

While the Syrian refugee crisis is the most recent and high profile example of people on the move, others around the world have been forced to flee persecution, natural disasters or conflict.

And philanthropy does not have the financial resources to solve these issues either, Stone said Monday morning during the 2016 Global Philanthropy Forum‘s opening plenary. But it can join governments and civil society organizations to tackle the problem, as well as take risks and act where others are unable to act, he said.

More than 300 attendees from 23 countries have come together this week in Redwood City, California, to discuss exactly that – what is being done and what can be done to address the growing problem.  The need to build stronger relationships with NGOs on the ground, as well as the need to bridge the gap between humanitarian aid and development, emerged as some of the key themes popping up in the conference’s first day discussions.

Hadeel Ibrahim, Executive Director of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, said the need to reach the people on the ground was of critical importance. Currently, the world spends $25 billion in assistance to125 million people around the world. Of that, only two per cent goes to NGO’s. ‘We need to be much more courageous to say, we’re going to reach the first responders,’ she said.

Guy Cave, Managing Director at Geneva Global, agreed. ‘They’re the ones who know the situation on the ground,’ he said. ‘And they’re the ones who will be dealing with the situation after outside responders have left.’

Cave’s point underlines the growing criticism of humanitarian aid and the need to see disasters and other crisis situations as development issues, rather than single incidents in time.

The humanitarian sector may be closer to doing so as it’s currently undergoing a period of self-reflection and will host the first ever World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul, Turkey, in May. While there is hope that more widespread change is on the horizon, the time for philanthropy to start taking action is now.

Ibrahim suggested moving out of the day-to-day funding mentality into a development mentality and using the Sustainable Development Goals as a guide. Philanthropy has the benefit of taking risks that publicly funded organizations can’t. ‘At the end of the day we only have to answer to ourselves,’ she said.

Alecia Foster is grants programs manager at the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation.

Tagged in: 2016 GPF Conference

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