This discussion, which took place on 15 and 16 October in the Netherlands, was supported by the Rockefeller Foundation as a continuation of its Bellagio Initiative to look at ‘the future role of philanthropy and development in the pursuit of human wellbeing’. This titanic task was made more concrete by the Resource Alliance organizing it immediately prior to its own huge annual international conference for fundraisers. So the strategic came with a healthy dose of the practical and tactical.
On the one hand, thought needs to be given to global governance and what needs to happen after the conclusion of these Millennium Development Goals in 2015. On the other, fundraisers, for instance, want to find new markets of middle-class philanthropy in middle-income countries, and in general to keep their shows on the road.
The Baring Foundation runs a relatively small programme of £1 million per year in a joint programme with the John Ellerman Foundation to build the capacity of civil society in Africa to respond to long-term forced displacement. So it felt a privilege to be part of a small seminar with some deeply experienced colleagues.
A high point for me came early on with presentations by Akwasi Aidoo of TrustAfrica, a grantmaker based in Senegal, and Lisa Jordan of the Bernard van Leer Foundation in the Netherlands, which specializes in early childhood development. Aidoo challenged us by saying that philanthropy is failing in Africa and that we need to ‘help those we love to escape from us’ and not remain dependent. Jordan said that modern philanthropy seems to be organizing around two poles: the Californian model of Gates and Skoll using business methods and looking for vertical solutions to technical problems and the Soros model that focuses on governance, democracy and rights. Both have their place but the latter seems to be becoming less fashionable. Even so she welcomed the fact that, with the rise of impact investing and venture philanthropists, the ‘toolbox of philanthropy’ has doubled in size in the last decade.
Another expression of this polarity was a debate over the role of business and the market and that of generosity and altruism. For one participant, the promised land was Singapore – where ‘nothing is free’. Others felt that increasing emphasis on market solutions is neglecting the centrality of the democratic state and of civil society. This would produce unregulated markets and not benefit poor people. Being Generous, the title of a book by the speaker Professor Ted Malloch, remains a defining attribute of what it is to be human.
To me a synthesis of these approaches came towards the end of the conference with a tour de force presentation by Sibogile Mkhabela of the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund. She had been a social worker and involved in the Soweto Uprising. I could see why Nelson Mandela wanted her to run his fund! Mandela began the fund using a third of his presidential salary and was persuasive in getting corporates to join. The fund has an intense focus on the rights of children. Mkhabela gave a moving account of the fund’s work while displaying a steely determination that all legitimate tools would be used for the benefit of children – if that means driving hard bargains with banks regarding the cachet of the fund’s brand, then no one will show more gritty business sense.
So full-spectrum philanthropy already has a superb example in Africa.
David Cutler is director of the Baring Foundation