A report from the WINGSForum 2010: do we need a broader concept of ‘together’?


Caroline Hartnell


Caroline Hartnell

Caroline Hartnell

‘A platform of platforms, a network of networks, an association of associations’ is how WINGS chair Fernando Rossetti described WINGS in the opening plenary of the 2010 WingsForum, held 18-20 November in Como, Italy. Entitled ‘Innovation and impact: the role of grantmaker associations in changing society’, the Forum brought together almost 170 participants from 39 countries, mostly from grantmakers’ associations and support organizations. The role of grantmaking associations was a central topic of discussion throughout. What role can they play? And what is the role of WINGS itself – an organization that is about to relocate to a permanent home in São Paulo in Brazil and in search of a new business model?

A key to WINGS’ future sustainability may lie in the Global Philanthropy Leadership Initiative (GPLI). A joint initiative of the Council on Foundations (CoF), European Foundation Centre (EFC) and WINGS, the GPLI came into a tentative existence at the EFC annual conference in Rome in June 2009 but only in this November has it taken on a more concrete form, following a meeting in Brussels on 8-10 November.

Focusing on how to remove the barriers to global grantmaking, GPLI will work on three areas: the enabling environment, improving and increasing collaboration, and engaging with policymakers. These were also the focus of three out of the four ‘tracks’ at the WINGSForum, the fourth being innovations and capacity building. CoF president Steve Gunderson, speaking at the opening plenary, expressed a commitment to building WINGS so that it can in future be the forum in which such discussions can take place – surely an apt role for WINGS.

In the meantime, the US-based Foundation Center, aspiring to become more global but recognizing that it cannot collate data about grantmakers on a global scale, is funding a staff person within WINGS to collect data from WINGS members, who as grantmakers’ associations spread throughout the world are ideally placed to do so. This builds on the experience of the Global Philanthropy Report, launched in Como, written by Paula Johnson and bringing together data on institutional philanthropy in 23 countries plus the Arab region.

‘There are no experts on global philanthropy,’ said Brad Smith of the Foundation Center. We need to rely on the wisdom of crowds, and in this case the crowd consists of WINGS members. ‘The people in this room represent the collective knowledge on global philanthropy.’

WINGS’ next phase

One plenary focused on WINGS itself, past and future. Two important decisions have been made to strengthen the organization, to incorporate and to stop the four-yearly rotation. After much consultation and legal advice, São Paulo, Brazil was chosen for its permanent home, while WINGS was incorporated in the US – marking the end of the ‘organization lite’ phase in WINGS’ existence.

With the number of foundations supporting global philanthropy infrastructure ever fewer – the Mott Foundation now stands valiantly alone – the last four years have seen serious reflections on the long-term sustainability of WINGS. The previous model was to rely on a handful of big grants, but this is no longer an option.

WINGS is now starting to explore the possibility of membership dues – until now there have been no members, just ‘network participants’. ‘Members’ were open to the idea, both as a sign of commitment and for the sake of sustainability, and coordinating committee members have agreed to be the first to pay dues. The partnership with the Foundation Center, a partnership with AVINA and GIFE to build a global hub office in São Paolo, and a possible future as an organization to implement global philanthropy initiatives like the GPLI are all part of a possible sustainable future.

A succession of challenges

A succession of plenary speakers challenged Forum participants. Adam Smith of the Foundation for Young Australians posed the question: ‘what have you done so far to engage young people in philanthropy?’ Both the average age of participants at most philanthropy gatherings and Smith’s inspiring tales of what young people can do underlined the relevance of his question.

Later Astrid Bonfield of the Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Fund described their successful campaign to ban clusterbombs. How can associations persuade members of the value of going into coalitions if they want to achieve change, asked Robyn Scott of Philanthropy New Zealand. Bonfield was unequivocal in her response. ‘Networks can get too focused on providing services to members rather than showing leadership,’ she said. ‘The EFC is taking a leadership role on the European Foundation Statute, engaging with the European Commission. Associations should be leaders in the field, not just deliverers of service.’

Finally, Peggy Dulany, founder and chair of the Synergos Institute, delivering the second Barry Gaberman Lecture, blamed unfortunate trends in the world – including increasingly frequent climate events, increasing inequity, population growth and pressure on land and resources – on an imbalance in humanity’s effect on the world caused by a move from a yin-yang balance to a yang (masculine) dominated world. We need more of the conciliation, collaboration, sharing and cooperation that characterized aboriginal societies, she said, and challenged associations to build the capacity of bridging leaders and organizations, provide space for reflection, promote collaboration and partnerships, and build trust.

There is an African proverb: to go quickly, go alone. To go far, go together. This seems like a good motto for WINGS. But one might want to encourage a wider conception of ‘together’. I came to WINGSForum from the European Venture Philanthropy Association (EVPA) conference in Luxembourg. From Luxembourg to Como is an hour’s flight, but there was almost no overlap between the two events in terms of people attending or topics discussed. Impact investing, the expression on the lips of all at the EVPA conference, was probably not mentioned at WINGSForum except  by me, commenting on the divide between the two worlds. Yet philanthropy is not such a big world; surely something is lost by operating in such closed silos. I’m not convinced that more yin is going to be the answer, but bridging divides seems like a good idea. Another role for WINGS?

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