Further thoughts on the Bellagio Summit


Barry Smith


Barry Smith

The first module of the Bellagio Summit on ‘The Future of Philanthropy and Development in the Pursuit of Well-Being’ concluded on Friday 11 November . Convened by the Resource Alliance in partnership with the Institute of Development Studies and the Rockefeller Foundation, the Bellagio Initiative brings together over a hundred leaders from the world of philanthropy and development (and related fields) in four successive modules. The first three-day session, with about 40 participants, was focused on ‘trends and opportunities in development and philanthropy in the 21st century’.

On Day 1, two plenary panel discussions (setting the scene for the discussion) were followed by smaller group work mapping obstacles to, and drivers of, ‘well-being’, as well as key players and institutional relationships in ‘the philanthropy and development eco-system’. Day 2 was spent in small groups reviewing innovations to promote a ‘well-being’ approach and what needs to change in the system to make development and philanthropy more effective. On Day 3, participants tried to bring together key lessons, insights and possible actions and partnerships to advance a ‘well-being’ agenda.

On the last day, I was in a group discussing ‘people, power and politics’, which emerged from the shared sense among a number of summit participants that action is needed across the fields of development and philanthropy to move from what Jay Naidoo on Day 1 called a ‘supply-driven’ model to a ‘demand-driven’ or citizen-centred practice. By ‘politics’ the group did not mean narrow partisan politics or competition among party elites for place in government. It intended rather to conjure up the larger ‘small-P’ politics of the public good, the realm of active citizenship and our visions of a just society. As James Mwangi of Dalberg said in the course of the Bellagio dialogue, dominant political and economic institutions are currently focused intensely on the problem of fiscal deficits and  not enough on the ‘social justice deficits’ that have been highlighted by the ‘99 per centers’ of the Occupy Wall Street protests.

Key themes for action that came out of the group were:

  • Strengthen people’s institutions, movements and assets (including growing community philanthropy).
  • Encourage significant new investments to advance social inclusion, including women’s empowerment and youth development.
  • Bring social justice, dignity, rights and public policy change back to the centre of our work – and of our notions of ‘well-being’.
  • Support social accountability mechanisms and ‘inclusive governance’ initiatives (such as budget monitoring, open and transparent government, the right to information, etc).
  • Strengthen research and knowledge on the big picture changes emerging from the current crisis – to move philanthropy and development institutions beyond their silos and into a more dynamic, informed dialogue.
  • Scale up support to social activism, including new centres of energy for change emerging across traditional class boundaries – including among the disenchanted middle classes.
  • Improve philanthropic governance to become more open, transparent, accountable, globally representative, and inclusive of ‘citizens’ voice’.
  • Follow up on the Bellagio Summit with a wider and more public dialogue on ‘people, power and politics’ in philanthropy and development – possibly including a dialogue series in partnership with a major global media house (along the lines of the BBC’s ‘Doha Debates’ in partnership with the Qatar Foundation).
  • Consider creating a specific task force on ‘people, power and politics’ – strengthening a more demand-driven, citizen-centred practice for philanthropy and development.

These recommended areas for action are very broad brush, but were informed by some more detailed examples cited in the report-back. The Bellagio Initiative itself is challenged by the difficulty of generalizing about such wide fields as philanthropy and development, and such slippery concepts as ‘well-being’. As the Bellagio process goes forward, there will need to be some drilling down into the specific variations, roles and possibilities of the very diverse actors in philanthropy and development. I hope that the next sessions of the process will engage with the ideas generated by the ‘people, power and politics’ group and put more flesh on the bones of suggested action areas.

Whatever else results from the process, it will be a positive result if the Bellagio Initiative casts a spotlight on the social justice deficits that threaten to sink us all every bit as much as any financial crisis. In recent years, for both philanthropy and development, ‘people, power and politics’ have too often been words that dare not speak their names. It’s time to get real – and it’s time for development and philanthropy to really walk all the talk about dignity, citizenship and accountability.

Barry Smith is an independent consultant for development and philanthropy, based in South Africa.

Tagged in: Bellagio Initiative Development Occupy Wall Street Social justice Well-being

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