Global Philanthropy Forum 2014 (1): Philanthropy, global goals and delivery science


Peter Laugharn

Peter Laugharn

Peter Laugharn

The annual Global Philanthropy Forum (GPF) was held in Redwood City, California, 23-25 April 2014. The GPF brings together several hundred philanthropists, foundation staff and experts with a focus on global development and poverty alleviation. As in previous years, the GPF had a marked ‘Silicon Valley’ feel, with an emphasis on innovation and a strong sense of agency, that philanthropy can help grapple with the world’s most intractable problems.

The conference theme this year was ‘Global goals, citizen solutions’. In today’s blog, I will focus on the global goals side, and in tomorrow’s, on the citizen solutions.

An emphasis on global goals is particularly appropriate this year. 2015 is the watershed year where the global development community will transition from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs, 2000-15) to a set of evolving ‘Sustainable Development Goals’ (SDGs) which will cover the period 2015-30. The consensus forged around the MDGs over the last 15 years has been remarkable, creating a fairly unified global development agenda which is recognizable within UN debates, at a national policy level, and at the grassroots. The SDGs have the potential to carry this coherence forward. At the GPF, the Conrad N Hilton Foundation was a strong promoter of foundation involvement in the forging of the SDGs.

Over the past two years, it has often seemed that the SDG process has been dominated by intense activity and laborious process around the initial choice and articulation of the goals, with relatively little thought given to how they will be implemented. World Bank president Jim Yong Kim, speaking to the GPF over a video link, brought this point home, saying that new technologies and strategies miss the point if they cannot be delivered to those who need them most. Dr Kim made a strong push for ‘a science of delivery’ within global development, an attention to the structured and scaled implementation of what is already known to work. He called delivery the ‘real rocket scienceof global development work’. Foundations, he noted, can have an important role in this search for practical solutions.

I think that Dr Kim’s emphasis is apt. In the area of education, for example, the global community has been pursuing essentially the same ‘education for all’ goal since 1990. While important strides have been made since then – the vast majority of the world’s children now attend primary school – we still don’t have a roadmap for financing and delivering quality secondary education to all, linked to livelihoods, by 2030 or any later date.

There was an excellent example at the GPF of foundations rising to the generative role that Dr Kim sees for them. On the topic of secondary education, a group of foundations have come together to try to strengthen the global community’s grasp on what works in delivering quality secondary education. Called PSIPSE (‘Partnership to Strengthen Education and Practice in Secondary Education’), this group includes the MacArthur Foundation, the MasterCard Foundation, the Human Dignity Foundation, Dubai Cares, and Comic Relief. They have already funded US$15.8 million in projects, and have just put out an RFP with US$13 million in new funding for pilot projects, work needing proof of concept, and scale up. MacArthur President Robert Gallucci and MasterCard President Reeta Roy described the collaboration in a featured evening interview at the GPF.

One evident challenge for the periodic and lumbering setting of global goals is the breathtaking pace of demographic, economic and technological change in the world today. This was brought home in the several of the panels at the GPF, and the pace of change makes it difficult to do 15-year planning with any exactitude. It’s a safe bet that technological change in particular may lower the costs of delivering on some of the SDGs, and that there will need to be several revisions of any initial plan to get to the goals.

It would be a very useful role for the philanthropic community to help focus resources and thinking not only on the initial goals but also on a continual process of iteration, refinement and rethinking in order to actually deliver on them.

Peter Laugharn, is executive director of the Firelight Foundation.

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