As Larisa Zelkova of Russia’s Potanin Foundation outlined in her opening remarks, the Emerging Societies-Emerging Philanthropies International Forum, held in Peterhof, Russia, 1-2 July, was to focus on the possibility of creating a new international network for philanthropy practitioners from emerging market countries. The aim: to enable them to share good practices and common problems and to work out how to support the growth of philanthropy in their countries/regions. Around 60 people from 19 countries (14 of them emerging market countries) gathered to see what could be done. As explained by Filiz Bikmen in her recent article, this is part of the legacy of Olga Alexeeva, along with the Olga Alexeeva Memorial Prize, which was awarded for the first time in Peterhof.
The strongest message that came out of Peterhof was how much people found they had in common with each other. Many were surprised by this. ‘We have much more in common than I had expected …’ was a comment I heard repeatedly over the course of two days. ‘A most important result of this event was the realization by many of the participants that emerging countries have much more in common in issues related to philanthropy, CSR and impact investment than with more advanced countries like the United States,’ wrote Luis Gallo from Colombia in his blog post last week. ‘This is the most appropriate forum I’ve ever been in to discuss my work,’ said one participant from Brazil. ‘Even in progressive conferences in the US, Latin American philanthropy is not properly represented. There are no spaces for organizations working in challenging environments to share experiences.’ ‘At other international meetings we are part of interest groups, not mainstream,’ said another Brazilian participant. ‘Philanthropy has been dominated by the US, the UK and other countries where it has a long history.’ ‘Until now my main comparison point for what’s going on in China has been American conferences,’ said another.
In Luis’s view, the American experience with philanthropy and CSR will continue to be an important role model, but ‘it is time for emerging countries to work more closely together and exchange ideas and lessons learned.’
So what are all these things everyone claimed to have in common? The opening panel, which I moderated, had speakers from Russia (Larisa Zelkova), Colombia (Luis Gallo), India (Pushpa Aman Singh of GuideStar India) and China (Shenyu Belsky). During a rich discussion, with lots of participation from the audience, I put together a rough list of some barriers to developing philanthropy which people had mentioned:
- Government influence and suspicions of philanthropy.
- Lack of enabling legislation. There is over regulation, lack of regulation, lack of transparency, lack of tax benefits (in Brazil money put into an endowment is taxed).
- Lack of trust in NGOs, and the difficulty/cost of finding reliable partner NGOs.
- Lack of information sharing. In India companies will soon be obliged to donate 2 per cent of pre-tax profits to charitable causes but they have no awareness of what foundations are already doing.
- Restrictions on the receipt of foreign donations.
Other issues emerged over the course of the next two days.
- Lack of public awareness about philanthropy and its purpose. If the wealthy are to give, society must understand and value philanthropy. Awareness is part of the environment for philanthropy.
- The word philanthropy is a problem: it’s associated with rich individuals; it has connotations of reinforcing the status quo, keeping rich and poor where they’re meant to be. In Brazil it is associated with CSR. In a Vietnamese dictionary, philanthropy = altruism. In Tanzania there is no word for foundation or philanthropy. ‘If we want philanthropy to be a tool for change, we need to claim the word for ourselves,’ someone said – though others felt it was more important to show results than to refine definitions.
So what next? ‘I am very hopeful that we are witnessing the birth of a community of donor education practice,’ said Maria Chertok of CAF Russia. ‘It became evident that a network of philanthropy practitioners from emerging market countries could represent a significant contribution to advancing philanthropy and social investing in those countries,’ said Luis Gallo. Many others felt the same.
One obvious barrier is cost: people working in philanthropy in emerging market countries will find it much harder to pay the travel costs than their peers in richer countries. Next year’s WINGS Forum in Istanbul was mentioned as an event where some of the Peterhof participants will meet again and spaces can be made for them to continue the conversation. Then the hope is that another Emerging Philanthropies Forum will be organized in some other emerging country in the next couple of years.
Whatever happens next, it was clear how much people got out of the Peterhof conference. Asked in the closing session what they would do differently when they went home, the list was brought to an end as time ran out.
Caroline Hartnell is editor of Alliance magazine