Bellagio offers fresh thinking on collaboration and effectiveness


John Harvey

John Harvey

John Harvey

The Bellagio Summit continued its third module on 18 and 19 November, this time under the title of ‘Future frameworks for development and philanthropic collaboration’. Speakers in the opening plenary offered a range of views on this theme, with Michael Green, co-author of Philanthrocapitalism, arguing that the consensus around aid and development is broken − Humpty Dumpty post-fall − with the MDGs having been quickly unraveled by the global economic crisis and the limitations of the MDG framework to describe what the real challenges are. Sheela Patel of the Society for the Promotion of Area Resource Center spoke on India, arguing that philanthropy there had little to offer, given its charity model and the unwillingness of Indian donors to take risks. Akwasi Aidoo of TrustAfrica ended the panel’s remarks on a more positive note, describing the remarkable growth of institutionalized philanthropy across Africa and the increasingly strategic deployment of diasporic giving.

Breakout sessions during the remainder of the module allowed participants to dig deep into key themes. Philanthropy’s strengths and weaknesses were analyzed. Working in philanthropy’s favour is its ability to convene and connect, to pilot and catalyse, to be nimble and flexible, and to disrupt status quo systems of thinking − all these assets are more aspirational than real for most foundations, but nonetheless offer great promise. Among philanthropy’s weaknesses: a tendency to focus on symptoms rather than causes, poor engagement of affected communities, ‘project-itis’ − funding discrete activities versus institutions, programs or system change − and a lack of accountability. Participants were optimistic that these challenges could be addressed in a number of ways. All that is currently lacking is the will to act. Day two engaged participants in an exploration of collaboration to address several challenges that had resonated on day one, including the wide gap between listening to grantees and acting on what you hear, and identifying and enabling complementarities in collaboration.

Easily the greatest strength of the module was the participants, a diverse collection of committed and very smart individuals from the philanthropic and development sectors. As often is the case at these gatherings, one learns as much − if not more − in the in-between times, when the conversations are one-on-one and frank. A missing element of this particular module was the presence of representatives from the major donor agencies and the corporate sector, a rather big gap given the topic of future frameworks for development and philanthropic collaboration. Nonetheless, the module was a valuable experience, well structured and well facilitated, offering some fresh thinking on philanthropic effectiveness and collaboration.

John Harvey is managing director for global philanthropy at the Council on Foundations

Tagged in: Bellagio Initiative Collaboration Millennium Development Goals

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