Defining ‘global philanthropy’


John Harvey

John Harvey

John Harvey

Within the English language, the phrase ‘global philanthropy’ has come into widespread use over the past decade – the phrase certainly peppers the ever-expanding literature produced by Alliance. In the US, where once philanthropic interests were concerned with ‘international issues’, many now claim ‘global issues’ as their bailiwick. Thus we have the Global Philanthropy Forum, the Global Philanthropists Circle and the Center for Global Philanthropy, among others. At the Council on Foundations, the unit that had been called ‘International Programs’ began calling itself ‘Global Philanthropy’ in 2009. And in 2010, the Council, the European Foundation Center and WINGS formally launched a collaboration called the Global Philanthropy Leadership Initiative.

Interestingly, an exploration of the materials of the soi-disant ‘global philanthropy’ organizations reveals that, more often than not, though employing the term ‘global philanthropy’, they seldom formally define it. Still, at least three potential definitions can be extrapolated from the literature this community has produced.

The first definition of ‘global philanthropy’ recognizes and affirms the fact that philanthropy is a rich and robust global practice. This definition is implied in Norine MacDonald QC and Luc Tayart de Borms’ Global Philanthropy, which surveys philanthropy as defined and practised around the globe. The Council’s 2005 paper Global Philanthropy, by Natalie Ambrose, provides one of the few thorough definitions of this kind of ‘global philanthropy’. She writes:

‘Philanthropy has been an aspect of human interaction and social practice through the ages. Although it has taken many different forms and purposes and has utilized varying means, a philanthropic intent has been integral, sustaining and beneficial to most religions, cultures and societies. Countries and cultures today still reflect this diversity of types and modes of philanthropy, of scope and funding purposes.

‘Global philanthropy includes a mix of civil society, community, religious, voluntary and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), distinguished by … their capacity to tap private initiative and contributions for public purpose. From cross-border giving to recipients and programs in other countries, to very specific geographic issue-related giving by individuals and locally based indigenous organization… ‘Organized’ foundations are just one means for this giving.’

Put simply, ‘global philanthropy’ as understood here might begin with John W Gardner’s classic definition of ‘philanthropy’ – ‘private initiatives for the public good’ – but take it one step further: ‘private initiatives for the public good as diversely practiced around the globe’. Such a definition incorporates both giving and doing and includes both the traditional and non-traditional, the formal and informal, the religious and the secular. It recognizes that, across the planet, diverse kinds of philanthropic practice emerge out of a particular set of factors: cultural, social, religious, economic, political, legal and more. All are valuable, and all are ‘philanthropy’.

Now, one could ask: isn’t this simply ‘philanthropy’? Why add ‘global’? In my view the word ‘global’ is needed in order to call attention to the international nature of philanthropy: it is not just an Anglo-American or Northern practice but a truly global one. Adding ‘global’ to ‘philanthropy’ as defined here is a helpful and necessary redundancy.

A second definition of ‘global philanthropy’, very common among US-based organizations, appears to define ‘global’ vis-à-vis one’s own country. According to these organizations, ‘global philanthropy’ refers to grants by a given country’s donors to causes outside that country. Such philanthropy is principally directed to domestically based organizations operating overseas or to non-governmental organizations based and working overseas. Some of the issues being addressed are certainly of global concern – HIV/AIDS or climate change, for example. However, under this definition the philanthropy is only considered ‘global’ when it is purposefully directed overseas.

It’s important to highlight that this definition of ‘global philanthropy’, as widespread as it has become in the US, doesn’t work for everyone. For some, a grant made from one country to another doesn’t fit the ‘global’ bill. It’s ‘international’ for sure, as it involves two or more countries, but it isn’t ‘global’, which implies multiple countries or the planet as a whole. So while the Global Philanthropy Forum, to name just one user of the term, can call itself ‘global’ because its participants collectively fund around the world, what its members are primarily engaged in is, for some, better described as ‘international philanthropy’.

A third meaning of ‘global philanthropy’ seems also to emerge in the literature, though of the three definitions proposed here, it is the most difficult to find. It is also the boldest. Here, ‘global philanthropy’ refers to private initiatives for the public good that address the most challenging issues of our time and that demand concerted action from a range of actors from around the world. This definition assumes that to address the most pressing issues that our planet and its people face, what is necessary is collaborative action between a range of philanthropic actors from around the world, working cooperatively at multiple levels: locally, nationally, trans-nationally, regionally and globally. Such philanthropic action also demands collaboration with other sectors, including governments and the corporate sector, in so-called public-private partnerships. Climate change is an obvious issue needing concerted global action, but there are many others: environmental degradation, HIV/AIDS and other global health concerns, food security, water security, global trade, population, peace, and more. In this space, philanthropy truly goes beyond being ‘international’ and becomes truly ‘global’.

These definitions of ‘global philanthropy’ complement one another. Caveats to the ‘international’ vs. ‘global’ question aside, all are necessary and valuable to our sector. Those who are working to promote philanthropy within their own country or region (such as CEMEFI, GIFE, Asia Pacific Philanthropy Consortium and many others) or around the world (such as WINGS) might resonate best with the first definition. Those who are working to promote greater international engagement on the part of their philanthropic sector (such as CoF, EFC, the UK’s Institute for Philanthropy and many others) might find use in both the second definition. Those that are working to promote global philanthropic coordination (such as GPLI) might most closely align with the third definition.

Tagged in: Global philanthropy Sector definition

Comments (6)

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Pastor Nwugo Joel Nduoma

I have just read a brief history of Global Philanthropy and I so much appreciate Global Philanthropy initiatives and activities to improve human lots. I want to join Global Philanthropy. What are the crateria for qualification.

Barry Smith

Apologies for being a late contributor to your useful posting, John, but better late than never. As a WINGS (Worldwide Initiatives for Grantmaker Support) Board member, based in Africa, I welcome any reflection on what we might mean by 'global philanthropy.' Like Alliance, WINGS tends to use this phrase in an inclusive, extensive way. But like all shorthand, the terminology begs more clarity of definition, and John has helpfully challenged us to think about what we actually mean. From a WINGS perspective, I would have to say that we want to nurture all three variants of 'global philanthropy' that John identifies: roughly summed up as ‘philanthropy as it is diversely practiced around the world;’ ‘cross-border or international philanthropy;’ and ‘strategic philanthropy with a global, collaborative perspective.’ As regards the diverse global phenomenon of giving and mutual help, not enough is known, documented and understood about the wider world of philanthropy - including all of the many manifestations of 'private initiatives for the public good.' As John notes, for too long philanthropy has been seen as model to be exported from richer countries to the developing world. At the same time, in the context of growing inequality, the global philanthropy and development establishments have been shaped by assumptions that progress relies mainly on transfers of assistance from wealthier societies to those less advantaged. I believe that WINGS challenges these paradigms by bringing the diverse world traditions of giving and philanthropy into a dynamic learning conversation with each other. The recent WINGS/TPI Global Institutional Philanthropy Report and successive editions of the WINGS Community Foundation Global Status Report go some way to shedding more light on the way the philanthropic impulse presents itself around the world. But more applied research is needed to document philanthropy worldwide, and WINGS is working to build a global system for data collection from WINGS members – drawing on their own real-life vantage point – as well as other key players in philanthropy. We must recognize that inequalities are as great within countries as between them, and that there are untapped resources and wealth in all societies. The challenge is to unlock sustainable resources for development locally and globally. That certainly requires us to strengthen civil society in diverse places, to engage with people of wealth in emerging and developing economies, and to grow a varied set of philanthropic institutions, practices and cultures of giving that are adapted to the unique circumstances of different societies. But we should always be conscious that no-one contributes as much to the well-being of poor or marginalized communities around the world as the poor and marginalized themselves. By increasingly connecting to traditional and indigenous ‘philanthropy of community’ around the world (and fostering a diverse community foundations movement worldwide), WINGS and others are bringing the importance of place, diversity and local genius to the centre of our thinking about a sustainable culture of giving. As one of the few international philanthropy organizations headquartered in the global South, WINGS is committed to providing safe space to bring peer philanthropy practitioners around the world together, on an equal footing, for reciprocal learning and common purpose. When it comes to cross-border or international philanthropy, there are still many legislative and regulatory obstacles to international giving - including the complex web of counter-terrorism and security laws that have emerged in our post 9/11 era. By partnering with EFC and CoF in the Global Philanthropy Leadership Initiative (GPLI), WINGS is working not only to promote international philanthropy but also to nurture an enabling environment that will ease the cross-border flow of philanthropic resources. In Africa, where I work, organizations like the Southern Africa Trust and TrustAfrica are blazing the trail for cross-border grantmaking. But there remain in Africa, as in other regions of the world, too many hurdles and disincentives for cross-border giving and collaboration. Whatever the direction, North-South, South-South, or between countries in the same region, philanthropic collaboration and resource transfers across borders should be encouraged, not hampered, by governments. International philanthropy should also engage with current debates among development organizations about aid effectiveness and accountability. Here WINGS plays a useful role by convening dialogue (through the global WINGSForum and dialogue spaces) around international giving and by strengthening grantmaker governance, self-regulation, codes of conduct, transparency and public accountability. John’s final definition of ‘global philanthropy’ suggests a bold, systemic approach that sees issues through a global lens and tackles them through collaborative action that engages a range of players, including governments and business. There is no doubt that solutions to complex global challenges require greater multi-stakeholder dialogue and collaboration across traditional boundaries. Acting on this imperative, WINGS has a vital bridging and convening role among its members, across national boundaries, and between philanthropy and other sectors. Through its partnership in GPLI, WINGS is working to strengthen global philanthropic leadership, to encourage innovative multi-stakeholder partnerships, and to foster more effective engagement with policy makers and international organizations. But in order to build the kind of collaboration demanded by global challenges, we need to build a wider, more inclusive movement for philanthropy that connects traditional foundations with community foundations, development grantmakers, volunteer organizations, business and corporate social investors, venture philanthropists, philanthropy advisors and professionals, and private philanthropists. A particular divide that needs to be bridged is the perceived ‘philanthropy’ versus ‘development’ divide. On the one hand, too many self-styled philanthropy organizations see themselves as entirely distinct and different from development NGOs – such as the Oxfam family, Save the Children, and many others. And yet many of these global development NGOs are also grantmakers who mobilize substantial philanthropic resources from the public and other private sources. At the same time, the private ‘development’ organizations sometimes view ‘philanthropy’ players as somehow more charitable than developmental – or they see organized philanthropy and foundations mainly as sources of cash, but not as colleagues or allies. In the end most development NGOS, North and South, are in some real sense ‘private initiatives for the public good.’ So if we want to advance our third, more ambitious notion of ‘global philanthropy,’ we need to start embracing diversity and finding common ground across the perceived philanthropy/development divide. Time is too short and our challenges are too big to waste time on the worn-out stereotypes of the past. If we are going to have impact on the big picture globally – seriously engaging with policy, governments, business and official development agencies – then we better marshal all of the forces we can. In my view, the diverse global forms of ‘private initiatives for the public good’ should be seen as potential players in a larger enterprise to build community, across borders and difference – and to create the lived reality of ‘global citizenship’ required to make the better world we want. Are we up for it?

John Harvey

Dear Mari, Thanks for your comment. In an earlier version of this piece I included another definition that I believe gets at what you are saying. I wrote: "[Another] definition of “global philanthropy” situates local philanthropy in a global context: “think globally, act locally,” as the cliché goes. This definition is implied in publications like the Foundation Center’s “Local Mission—Global Vision: Community Foundations in the 21st Century”, and it also makes its way into EFC’s “Long-term Roles for European Foundations in Addressing Global Issues.” This kind of philanthropy tracks closely with the increasing recognition that we live in a globalized world—a phenomenon that has brought about unprecedented interconnectedness as well as a deeper sense of shared responsibility. Such philanthropy might focus on local issues and local solutions, but it is globally minded in an intentional and strategic way." Ultimately I took this definition out. For me, this domain of social good is better termed "globally minded" than "global". Whatever we call it, it certainly is an essential part of our field's work. John Harvey

Mari Kuraishi

Apologies: Hit the post comment button before I managed to insert the hyperlink. Sentence above should read: So your examples of “environmental degradation, HIV/AIDS and other global health concerns, food security, water security, global trade, population, peace” definitely fit the bill as defined by Wolfgang Reinicke and Michael Armacost in 1998.

Mari Kuraishi

John, Thanks for taking on a topic that most people pass over, but I think is critical to establishing the value of global philanthropy. Fundamentally I agree with you that global philanthropy is about global public goods--something that most people gloss over because the traditional definition of a public good usually stops at a national boundary (given the assumption that government, usually national, exists to deliver public goods). So your examples of "environmental degradation, HIV/AIDS and other global health concerns, food security, water security, global trade, population, peace" definitely fit the bill as in 1998. But I'd argue that what you call international philanthropy can sometimes get in the back door, because I would argue that the ultimate global public good is addressing global poverty and reducing global economic disparity. In that context, even an isolated attempt to support growth and address poverty beyond the country you happen to live in can be a contribution to the global public good. [Full disclosure: Wolfgang Reinicke was a colleague of mine at the World Bank.]

Caroline Hartnell

Thank you, John, for taking on the daunting task of defining ‘global philanthropy’ and for coming up with such a comprehensive and nuanced trio of definitions. As John rightly comments, ‘the phrase certainly peppers the ever-expanding literature produced by Alliance’. If we use the phrase so often – and I plead guilty here – shouldn’t we be more aware of how we define it? Alliance has always taken a deliberately inclusive approach to vocabulary, so allowing the terms civil society organization, non-profit, NGO and citizen organization all to appear in our pages according to the writer’s preference. I have been taken to task for this by Bill Drayton, who argued that if we took a more consistent approach, say adopting the term citizen organization as opposed to NGO or non-profit, both of which define an organization by what it is not, we could help achieve a change in perceptions. So what should we think about John’s three definitions of global philanthropy? If we were in campaigning/prescriptive mode, which would we adopt? Let’s start by dismissing the second definition, where ‘global philanthropy’ is used to mean supporting causes outside one’s own country. The terms ‘international’ or ‘cross-border’ seem better suited here. As for the other two, it seems to me they both have a valuable campaigning role – the first to emphasize, what surely needs constantly emphasizing, that philanthropy happens everywhere. It is not just a northern import, still less an Anglo-Saxon one. And we can all learn from what others are doing – one of Alliance’s main tenets. The second to remind us of the global nature of so many of the issues we face and the need to coordinate our efforts if we are to tackle them. Alliance will continue in inclusive mode as regards vocabulary – as a ‘global’ platform, it’s not our role to prescribe – but greater awareness of the implications of the terms we use must help us all.

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