Module 2 of the Bellagio Initiative, ‘The Future of Philanthropy and Development in the Pursuit of Human Wellbeing’ concluded on a somewhat high note and a sense of some practicality for the future. The event is still unfolding according to the plan, and there are two important phases to work through.
The process is organized in shifts: some participants left after Module 1, some continued from Module 1 to Module 2 and were joined by newcomers. In numbers, Module 2 consisted more of people from philanthropic institutions rather than from the development side, along with a few investors in innovative philanthropic models and think-tanks.
Let me assume for a second that the added philanthropic ‘body’ to the summit explains why there was more cheer and laughter throughout, both in the plenary and in the break-out groups (not that I want to make us look lightweight compared to the development sector) and why the plenary presentations (from Barbara Ibrahim, founding director of the John D Gerhart Center for Philanthropy and Civic Engagement at the American University in Cairo; Sally Osberg, president of the Skoll Foundation; and Chinese entrepreneur and philanthropist James Chen) were actually uplifting: ‘hey, this is what we do and what we achieve while the complexity of the world builds up around us’ (as opposed to ‘the paradigm needs to change but the reality is complex and the decisions to be made will be tough’).
The word ‘passion’ was pronounced much more often than during Module 1 (it is a useful exercise to gather at the end of each module a pool of the most frequent words used by participants). For without passion there is no philanthropy, is there? Foundations and philanthropists are passionate (and ambitious) about their work, their ideals, and their vision of a future changed for the better. And today, like never before, foundations and philanthropists are caught up in conversations about the starting point being careful needs assessment followed by strategic planning for action and a tangible impact. We recognize the importance of good governance that ensures that we are still true to our missions at the end of the road. And evaluating what we achieve is a challenge still.
Some of these points very much echo with what Caroline Anstey, a managing director at the World Bank, identified as lessons learned, so here is surely one among many crossing points between the two sectors. Yet we in the philanthropic sector are not used to talking in terms of ‘wellbeing’, while social justice and social change are familiar yet fairly big objectives. More than that, we are usually not in a comfortable position to talk about these issues to private donors.
But we are trying to find synergies between the two sectors. Module 2 was about how to mobilize resources for promoting wellbeing. Let’s agree just now that this means how more philanthropic funds can be utilized more effectively. This is exactly what the philanthropic world is struggling with today. A recent lesson learned in our sector is that one solution is to educate donors. Is this conversation taking us anywhere without the participation of private donors if we want to mobilize their funds for development?
To me, the strongest comment contextualizing the possible role of philanthropy in today’s world was made by Roberto Bissio from Social Watch. His view on global flows of money casts a sobering light on the complexity of current financial and economic relations between states and creates a sense of urgency for joint efforts – and not just of the two sectors. Again, is this conversation taking us very far without the participation of governments and policymakers? How will other stakeholders partake in building a path for wellbeing? How will they recognize the ownership of this process?
I hope the next two modules of the initiative will provide some insights into these important questions.
Inga Pagava is a senior consultant at Charities Aid Foundation Russia.