Invest in academia to strengthen philanthropy


Rose Longhurst


‘Without infrastructure, philanthropy can’t reach the level of sophistication necessary to solve social problems’, asserted Benjamin Bellegy of WINGS at the Alliance breakfast club around EFC AGA 2018. But what kind of infrastructure do we need? And what role does academia play?

Academia is a natural ally for philanthropy. Already the two are regular partners: many universities are supported by philanthropic donations, and philanthropic foundations use the research developed in academic institutions to inform their programming. Yet there is a need for more investment at the intersection of philanthropy and academia.

As someone whose studies are funded via philanthropy (through the Atlantic Fellows program), it seems apt that philanthropy is the area of focus for my research. Yet, as I’m exploring this area, I’m struck by how little literature currently exists, particularly in niche or emerging fields of philanthropic enquiry. Despite the growing influence of private actors in areas of common good, academic enquiry on philanthropy seems remarkably limited.

Funding more academic research is one way in which philanthropy can support academia to fulfil its potential as a vital part of philanthropic infrastructure. Following from the Alliance breakfast discussion, three recommendations:

1. Support a critical research agenda
Charles Keidan of Alliance noted that ‘Business schools tend to analyse the management of philanthropy, while Philosophy departments can offer theories of justice and philanthropy, and a more critical analysis of the sector’. Charles has developed arguments around why philanthropy merits more inter-disciplinary study. We can draw upon approaches as diverse as economics, political science and sociology to cultivate a multidisciplinary approach to advancing philanthropy.

2. Support young philanthropists
Filiz Bikmen of Esas Sosyal questioned whether the current philanthropic infrastructure is reaching young people. How can academia help young people learn about giving, and encourage them to do so? Often when young people consider philanthropy, they focus on individual giving and fundraising, and therefore resources exist to guide this. Yet support is lacking for to encourage young people to engage with philanthropic infrastructure such as grantmaking foundations. The Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University offers an example of what this may look like.

3. Support Fellowships
Academic fellowships offer an opportunity for people to deeply reflect on philanthropy, and to build a body of learning in this field. The Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society hosts two fellowship programs that contribute to knowledge about philanthropy globally. Philanthropy can fund fellowship programmes that support a diverse range of people to engage in philanthropy of all kinds. Linking to the previous points, these Fellowships could take a multidisciplinary approach and be used to support young people to engage in philanthropy.

Academia can play a vibrant role in creating a strong philanthropic infrastructure. Philanthropy should invest in academic learning as a key partner in developing, critiquing and resourcing the future of philanthropy.

Rose Longhurst is an Atlantic Fellow for Social and Economic Equity.

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