First, I have to acknowledge the effort that went into planning and executing the Symposium. The talented people at the New England International Donors (NEID) and The Philanthropy Initiative (TPI) were incredibly thoughtful and intentional in putting together topics and speakers on the most important issues facing international philanthropy.
This brings me to the question for this post: what are the most important takeaways from the Symposium? For me, the Symposium offered three lessons: confirmation of my long held belief about the globalisation of philanthropy, reassurance that donors are acting with greater humility, and hope for fundamental change in the orientation of foundation practice moving forward.
Globalisation of philanthropy
The presentations and discussions in which I participated confirmed the most important lesson I have learned about international philanthropy during my 20 years in the field: international philanthropy no longer entails the United States exporting its philanthropic capital, practices, and concepts to the rest of the world, as if there were no extant infrastructure, traditions, and practices outside of its borders. Rather, we in the US are engaged in a global exchange of resources – financial, conceptual, and institutional – and an important dialogue about how those resources can best advance human flourishing in an inclusive and equitable manner around the world. This rich dialogue was epitomised during the Symposium by the selection of proximate leaders as keynote speakers and moderators.
More humble, more effective
In the closing session, Karen Keating Ansara articulated the moral conundrum of international philanthropy: ‘How do we balance our capacity to change other people’s lives overseas? What is our role in intervening in another country’s culture? Is it our place as philanthropists to do that?’ The solution to that conundrum was offered in Malala’s example, trusting in local leadership to advance a universal value of gender equity within a local context where aspects of the culture and religious practice stand in the way. That self-questioning, born of humility, has been a hallmark of recent debates and a welcome and accelerating evolution in foundation and donor practices.
In a blog written in anticipation of the Symposium, Maggi Alexander of TPI and Ina Breuer of NEID explained the event’s relevance, ‘International donors are increasingly learning that the best way to leverage their role most effectively is by listening to leaders on the ground, mitigating power dynamics, and cultivating authentic relationships to become trusted partners to local communities and nonprofits.’ This spirit of partnership was exemplified and amplified throughout the event.
Change that generates hope
Two of the panels offered particularly striking examples of the ways in which US foundation practice is changing, informed by self-critical reflection and a recognition of the importance of local leadership and sensitivity to local context. Raising her sights well beyond the current emphasis diversity, equity, and inclusion in the US, Dana Francois from Kellogg Foundation offered an analysis of the global legacy of colonialism, slavery, and race, and its systemmic impact upon communities, looking back centuries and across continents.
In the cluster for South America, Magdalena Aninat, of the Center for Philanthropy and Social Investment (CEFIS) in Chile, shared the urgent need for ‘continually making the case for the value of philanthropy and the value of civil society’ in a regional context where that value is called into question. She and Nick Deychakiwsky of the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation shared their work to promote the community foundation model in Chile and Latin America. Cultivating community philanthropy offers a path not only towards ‘shifting the power’ in international development, as eloquently promoted by the Global Fund for Community Foundations, but also towards greater legitimacy and accountability locally. The latter has become urgently important as political leaders increasingly attack and seek to limit both local civil society and international philanthropy.
For the opportunity to learn from a wide and diverse range of thoughtful, committed, and generous leaders, I am deeply grateful to NEID and TPI.
Dr. Michael D. Layton is the W.K. Kellogg Community Philanthropy Chair for Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy, Grand Valley State University