A space for inspiration, not just innovation


Nick Deychakiwsky


Inspiration. That’s the ‘I’ word that jumps into my mind immediately even though it was not in the title of the Innovations in International Philanthropy Symposium, which took place in Cambridge, Massachusetts on September 7-8, 2023. The even was ably organised by the Network of Engaged International Donors and The Philanthropic Initiative. Certainly, there was plenty of innovation discussed, but as for me – I was inspired from the get-go on Thursday afternoon.

The opening keynote featured Aurora Prize winners Jamila Afghani, who continues to champion women’s and girls’ rights in Afghanistan under incredibly difficult circumstances, and Ilwad Elman, a champion of peace-building currently working under great risk in war-torn Somalia. Having to choose breakout sessions (wish I could have attended them all!), I attended one on engaging in societies in prolonged crisis. Here I was again inspired by the experience and wisdom of Search for Common Ground’s Shamil Idriss, who shared lessons from decades of working in societies undergoing and recovering from violent conflict, and Kellogg Foundation’s Alix Cantave, a native of Haiti who is moving mountains (and money!) to help his homeland break out of a cycle of social crisis. Amidst the wonderful speakers on the topic of localization, DASRA’s Deval Sanghavi stood out for me by illustrating how DASRA is really shifting power through participatory grantmaking practices for their Rebuild India Fund.

In a keynote session, Africa No Filter’s Moky Makura wowed me with the ways her organization is shifting the narrative regarding Africa, building a positive image of the continent. Speakers at session on ensuring a future of democracy and civil society through supporting Ukraine, including the International Renaissance Foundation’s Inna Pidluska who joined in virtually from Kyiv, compellingly told how Ukrainian civil society, despite exhaustion from 600 days of war, are holding the country’s social fabric together despite Russia’s genocidal aggression. And finally, at the closing plenary, GirlsCARE co-founder Jhannel Tomlinson brilliantly made the case for how climate change can be addressed in Jamaica through empowering youth and advancing gender equality.

Over my decades-long career in philanthropy I’ve attended dozens of conferences. Usually they would impart knowledge, build skills, introduce tools, share best practices, inform about innovations, describe paths to impact… all that is very good and necessary, and that certainly happened at the Innovations in International Philanthropy Symposium. But this event, in particular, also inspired – which is a less tangible outcome but extremely valuable nevertheless. As donors or other stakeholders in philanthropy, our actions are often guided by the head, backed up by what we feel in our hearts, but we really do need inspiration to learn, analyse, build relationships, advocate, collaborate, inform, and of course, fund. Hearing the stories of incredible courage, creativity, resilience, perseverance, and dedication, often at great personal risk, certainly helped keep me motivated to continue to try and be of maximum service to those who are in need of love and support. Kudos to NEID and TPI for offering the space for inspiration, not just innovation.

Nick Deychakiwsky is Senior Program Officer, Charles Stewart Mott Foundation

Tagged in: #InnovatePhilanthropy2023

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