As part of its transition from traditional philanthropy to higherimpact venture philanthropy and to benefit from the idea of sharing ideas and best practice, Emirates Foundation recently became a member of the European Venture Philanthropy Association (EVPA) –the first, and to date the only, member from the Middle East.
This was my first EVPA conference and I must say that even days after the event, I still felt the buzz of engagement, the value of the networking discussions enthused with high and positive energy levels and numerous opportunities for collaboration. After spending three days at the conference – one of which was focused on an impact measurement workshop – my overriding takeaway was that venture philanthropy (VP), while relatively nascent in our region, is actually quite a new concept even in Europe.
Many participants at the event seemed to be already implementing catalytic, long-term strategic philanthropy and yet not all were readily applying the term venture philanthropy to it. Others were still not fully versed with the business case for venture philanthropy and challenged why grantmaking wasn’t equally relevant. The case for either was still very much in question and under debate.
However, what came across with clarity and consensus from most of the discussions I took part in was that social investment creates sustainable social value that is measureable. And ‘measurability’ is a key value for VP. Indeed, ‘measurability’ is a critical element as one of the sessions revealed particularly well. There are, for example, many social enterprises established in the US – about 30-50,000 per year. But many fail to grow to their full potential and have inadequate evidence of their impact and how they make a difference. As a result, it’s often difficult to reach scale and indeed to secure future financial support.
Measuring is thus critical, but is not without a cost. The overall outcome from the workshop in my opinion is that measuring impact can be sometimes expensive but for foundations it’s a step well worth investing in, allowing you to track what you’ve achieved and how you’ve made a difference with investors’ money, and also create a value proposition to attract future investors.
By taking a long-term perspective to solving social issues, VP allows foundations to deliver more long term measurable sustainable social growth at scale. It simply means foundations need to operate more like businesses utilizing their resources more efficiently and monitor their impact so they can report on the social returns of investment. Another important message delivered from the two days in Dublin was that the VP model is mainly about being focused. Focused on a sector, a specific region or a specific objective, and having a focused team – only then can you be clear on ‘what success looks like’. And last but not least, there was a clear agreement between delegates about how VP allows for capacity building internally and externally when working with partners by having teams working systematically and consistently on building solutions to social challenges that work and can be duplicated.
The diversity of models discussed at the conference was very apparent. Many EVPA members are still undertaking grantmaking while others are creating their own programs and investing in social enterprise start-ups. Towards the end of the conference I felt that we had built a consensus around the idea that more philanthropic investment is very much needed in order to experiment with new ideas and create scale of impact.
For Emirates Foundation I have witnessed our own journey moving from a traditional grantmaking model to a VP model whereby we incubate our initial ideas and then build our own in-house programs to achieve greater long-term sustainable impact. Only with time will we be able to prove whether we’ll be able to turn them into successful social enterprises that can generate a return on social investment.
The conference has strengthened my personal idea that VP allows for social innovation, and that greater impact reinforces capacity building and develops new models that can be replicable and scalable to increase social benefit. It also allows us engage our external stakeholder much more efficiently and contribute to the perception of an accountable and efficient third sector that is delivering social value and most importantly, measureable impact.
Khuloud Al Nuwais is Chief Sustainability Officer at the Emirates Foundation