In a world in transition, where crises, disruptions, and uncertainties are occurring with increased intensity since the first half of the 20th century, we can see that philanthropists are seeking to act concretely on these issues. New ways of giving are emerging to create leverage and greater impact. These include collaboration, which allows philanthropists or entities that join forces and capital to support large-scale change and make a difference in a variety of areas.
Swiss Philanthropy Foundation is the largest umbrella foundation in Switzerland. We host 60 active philanthropic funds, whose great diversity allows us to observe daily what motivates donors and the different ways of giving. In recent years, we have identified growing collaborative initiatives in the philanthropic sector.
More and more foundations create collaborative funds to join forces and draw on their respective skills to support systemic change.
This is the case of Partners for a New Economy (P4NE). Created in 2015 on the initiative of MAVA, Oak, Marisla, and KR foundations, the fund’s goal is to sustainably transform our economy so that we can continue to live on a planet with limited resources. In particular, P4NE wants to nurture people and projects that expand frontiers and build momentum for emerging ideas that could enter the mainstream as well as connect people and movements in the new economy ecosystem to build power for transformative change. Laudes Foundation and Ford Foundation, followed by Omidyar Network have more recently joined this pioneering collaborative fund – further evidence of the relevance of its strategy. Collaboration is at the heart of P4NE’s approach and is the very spirit on which the partnership was founded. Each partner brings experience and knowledge to the table to develop the network of change agents in the new economy.
Besides environment and climate initiatives, we can also notice emerging initiatives focused on youth. The recent S²Cities fund (Safe and Sound Cities Programme) aims to improve the safety and well-being of young people in urban environments. Established in 2021, this initiative is funded by Fondation Botnar in Basel, led by Global Infrastructure Basel (GIB) Foundation, and hosted by Swiss Philanthropy Foundation. This initiative shows the collaboration between a funding foundation, a hosting foundation, and a project-leading foundation, which allows skills complementarity combined with the right focus on the content, strategic and operational aspects of the program. On the ground, the collaboration is illustrated by a network of implementing partners and is not only directed at supporting youth but will also increasingly involve young people in the definition of strategy. By making youth actors take part in the philanthropic project, it increases its relevance, chances of success, and sustainability.
Pooling funds within a third-party structure is a light and agile solution that provides an equal space of discussion to funders and allows each of them to focus on the strategy and impact of their grants while sharing costs and risks. It enables a leverage effect for systemic change, while pooling resources, risks, and costs, and also simplifies the relationship for the beneficiaries of the funds, as they no longer have to communicate with multiple entities.
Recently, pooled funds have also emerged and acted as an emergency response to the Covid-19 crisis. In 2020, the Covid-19 Rapid Response Fund, where 16 donors (philanthropists and foundations) joined forces besides Swiss Philanthropy Foundation, was able to provide short-term unrestricted grants to help 20 partner NGOs in 8 countries overcome the sudden difficulties and provide emergency help to their beneficiaries during a bridge-period of 6 months.
In conclusion, we believe that many success factors characterize successful collaborations. A study published in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, “How Philanthropic Collaborations Succeed, and Why They Fail”, studied 10 successful collaborations and 15 failed collaborations. We want to highlight a few of the success factors it describes and that we witnessed in our daily practice. Firstly, good communication and trust between the partners are crucial. Well-designed governance and strong leadership are necessary, with aligned goals and a flexible strategy. Mechanisms for learning, monitoring, and evaluations are advised, and above all, the human dimension is at the heart of any successful collaboration and shouldn’t be overlooked.
Sabrina Grassi is the Director General of Swiss Philanthropy Foundation.