WINGS: A critical catalyst to progress


Peter Brach


This article discusses a recent interview by Andrew Milner from Alliance Magazine with Benjamin Bellegy, the Executive Director of WINGS. Top of mind was mention of the #PhilanthropyForClimate movement, which received 634 pledges from foundations to take urgent action on this extremely dangerous condition. According to a project staff member, these commitments often came from foundations not previously focused on addressing global warming – a definite plus when evaluating outcomes. Pledgers receive support and follow-ups, although the extent is not known. Some believe the pledge requirements are not sufficiently stringent. The question for further review is whether being more stringent would result in increasing or lessening global warming.

WINGS establishes relationships with government bodies. Considering that governments provide the bulk of development funding, building relationships with them is perhaps the most critical catalyst for hastening social progress. Mr. Bellegy wrote, ‘We’re in discussions with USAID, the European Union, the French Development Agency, and other major development players who are very interested in the idea to invest in a strong local infrastructure that can harness local giving and philanthropy for bottom-up development.’ He later wrote, ‘We believe, on the positive side, there is an untapped potential for collaboration between philanthropy and government which would have an incredible impact if we were able to influence policy to a greater degree, because that’s where the levers for social change at scale are.’ DAFNE and WINGS served on a committee recommending security measures for less stringent cross-border giving requirements.

Building a cohesive, highly organized social sector is key to accelerating progress. Like large successful businesses, we need a fully functioning ‘operational department’ to achieve the next level of social impact. Most fields and sectors have associations to represent them. With a reach extending to over 100,000 foundations and philanthropic organizations worldwide, as mentioned in the interview, WINGS is uniquely positioned to play our sector’s operations and representative role.

Mr. Bellegy mentioned the convening of many different philanthropies from different places around the world. Together they developed a diverse, well-represented task force to create the Philanthropy Transformation Initiative, consisting of ten principles. These include obvious suspects: Acting with transparency and accountability, taking risks, and building infrastructure plus ecosystems. While these are well-known principles, getting funders to adopt them takes time, guidance, and committed relationship building. Establishing and implementing these principles could provide a needed structure for stakeholders when considering funding practices. However, we can’t expect philanthropy to walk in lockstep. These principles will likely receive the broadest support base if presented as important guidelines to consider without requiring funders to adopt all of them.

I advocate for supporting promising social impact infrastructure organizations (SIIOs) – those supporting the philanthropy, nonprofit, or civil society sectors. WINGS is an example of a SIIO with significant growth potential. However, I believe that WINGS, other SIIOs, and I as an advocate, could do a better job of telling our stories. There is a natural tendency to assume others start with a similar level of understanding that we have. It took a considerable amount of time and attentive analysis to see the tremendous latent potential that needs to be unlocked. Providing more relatable stories and moving from the abstract to the concrete can help WINGS and others make a more compelling case for support.

WINGS stands out as a trusted, knowledgeable, and influential organization that can be a catalyst for the next 635 foundations to take urgent action on climate change. As the world’s largest network of networks, WINGS has a reach extending to over 100,000 individuals. It is these conditions that enable it to serve as the operational department and designated representative for many of us in the global social sector.

WINGS provides crucial support to organizations that work with governments, increase global giving, drive social investments, and implement interventions related to climate change. Additionally, it supports advocacy, improving civil society organizations, strengthening community foundations, conducting research, improving relevant media platforms, and creating enabling environments. Through its vast body of writing, it seeks to inspire new ways of thinking. Mr. Bellegy shared something during the interview that was particularly insightful and worthy of further reflection:

‘One of the key messages of the Philanthropy Transformation Initiative is that the whole sector needs a mindset shift from seeing us as ‘achievers’, to seeing us as ‘enablers.’ We still have the mindset that we are organisation X and we’re going to deliver Y. As an enabler, you aren’t attributing change to yourself alone, you understand that you’re contributing to a much broader change and that you’re not going to have full control over it. But the counterpart is that you will have a much greater impact because there will be a multiplier effect.’

This piece is part of Propel Philanthropy’s Collaborative Media Campaign. You can learn more about this campaign here. 

Tagged in: Propel Philanthropy

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