Everyone seems to be talking about risk: this is the focus of the June issue of Alliance, which has just been published. It was also a major theme emerging from the Bellagio Summit on the Future of Philanthropy and Development in November 2011. Two surveys of foundations’ attitudes to risk have just been carried out, one by the European Foundation Centre (EFC) and one by the Rockefeller Foundation as part of the Bellagio follow-up. Two sessions at next week’s EFC conference will focus on risk.
So what is it all about? The basic point is that foundations mostly see themselves as risk takers – and others see them that way too – but in practice tend to be risk-averse. This state of affairs is referred to as ‘cognitive dissonance’ by Selim Iltus and Barry Knight in their article in the June issue of Alliance. Understanding, and moving beyond, cognitive dissonance is also the focus of an EFC session entitled Risky Business on 6 June.
In the June Alliance special feature, entitled ‘High risk/high gain? Opportunity, risk and global development’, we move the focus from risk to opportunity. We take risks not for their own sake but in order to take advantage of opportunities – as so vividly illustrated by the cover picture of Christopher Columbus’s ship on a perilous voyage of discovery; it is opportunity that drives risk.
What are the real risks in philanthropy? For the Rockefeller Foundation’s Zia Khan, the real risk is not realizing the potential of your grant dollars. For Johannes Meier of the European Climate Foundation, the biggest risk is that foundations become irrelevant because they don’t tackle the big issues. ‘Foundations should push themselves to identify the most promising opportunities and take risks to attain them,’ concludes guest editor Peter Laugharn.
Subscribers can read the whole special feature on the Alliance website, including the views of a wide range of other development actors on what they want from foundations. Those who do not yet subscribe can discover more about the different options available.
Issues arising from the June special feature will be the focus of a pre-conference session at the EFC conference in Belfast on 5 June, also entitled ‘High risk/high gain? Opportunity, risk and global development’. If you are in Belfast next week, do join us for this session. It should be a great discussion – and part of a much wider one that is just beginning to take off.