Avoiding the ‘philanthropy bubble’: forming partnerships for impact and sustainability


Fiona Murphy


One of this year’s keynote speakers at the closing plenary (Friday 22 May) of the 26th European Foundation Centre (EFC) annual conference in Milan, Camilla Toulmin, director of the International Institute for Environment and Development, called for the philanthropy sector to ‘get the right mix of public and private action’.

‘Philanthropy plays a hugely important role in shining a light, busting myths and amplifying voices,’ she said, but she highlighted the importance of recognizing governments’ responsibility for sustaining societies’ ‘long view’.

The importance of partnerships was a significant and repeated theme heard throughout sessions and discussions at this year’s AGA.
‘Philanthropy and Government: Natural Allies?’ explored a core component of the Atlantic Philanthropy’s strategy in co-investing with government in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland to influence national policy as well as their work in partnership funding to advance public sector reform. The session looked at philanthropy’s role as a change agent while recognizing that ‘Government resources are key to the sustainability of many initiatives’.

During the session ‘Engaging with corporations: what’s our business case?’ the private sector’s emerging interest and involvement in philanthropy was explored. Angelika Arutyunova of the Association for Women’s Rights in Development emphasized the importance of an integrated approach across sectors, and, critically, finding a common language that enables the identification of shared goals and effective partnership.

Heather Grady and Melissa Berman of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors hosted a session on the ‘Theory of the Foundation’ looking at the development of a coherent framework that would ‘enable leaders to better build their organization, engage with other sectors, and align internal resources for deeper impact’.

Grantmaking has become more complex, which Vinit Rishi from the Oak Foundation believes reflects the desire of foundations to have more impact. The increasing move towards venture philanthropy and social impact models means foundations must take on partnership roles instead of that of a traditional grantmaker.

In addition, foundations, informed by beneficiaries, are being asked to do a lot more work but they are ill equipped to do it alone. Indeed, it would be inappropriate, as no one foundation has the resources to match the growing ambitions of the philanthropic community to tackle the world’s biggest problems. In order to avoid a ‘philanthropy bubble’, where foundations are at risk of unsustainable interventions, partnerships – including government, corporates, NGOs and other foundations – are critical.

Fiona Murphy, Communications Manager, Genio.

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