Data and insight-driven global philanthropy has never been more important


Ted Hart


As we approach the end of 2021 and the two-year anniversary of the first Covid-19 lockdowns, it’s difficult not to recognize the dramatic changes the philanthropy community has undergone. In a short period, we have seen charities around the world meet the moment with determination and resilience. As a leader of an international philanthropic organization, one of the most optimistic changes I have personally witnessed is the increased collaboration and mobilization among what were once more siloed charitable operations. Philanthropy has always been guided by the diversity of local and community needs, but the last two years have proven the endeavour can also be guided by a global perspective.

One of the most critical aspects of effective charitable giving, in any time, is the ability to look back and understand the moment from a host of perspectives. In an effort to honour and implement those principles, the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) and CAF International hosted its first-ever Worldwide Symposium on Philanthropy last month. The 19-hour agenda began in Sydney, Australia with our global partner Good2Give, where experts explored the impact of international generosity following the Bushfires crisis. The program then travelled to our other partners around the world, concluding with CAF America experts sharing their knowledge on cross-border giving and enabling the environment for today’s philanthropy.

While each partner in Australia, India, South Africa, Russia, Turkey, Bulgaria, the United Kingdom, Brazil, Canada and the United States spoke to their own experience, three key themes emerged from the Symposium.

  • By enabling cross border giving, each organization was responsible for bringing expertise and incredible added value to local philanthropy.
  • The impact of Covid-19 on each region is a shared challenge and a key issue across all of our work.
  • All giving becomes local and focusing on community resilience is essential.

Cross-border giving

Good2Give speaker and philanthropist Audette Exel kicked off the Symposium with a discussion on the importance of international giving. At one point during the Symposium panel’s Q&A section, one participant asked ‘Shouldn’t giving begin at home?’ Exel responded in a way that succinctly describes the global-community relationship in charitable giving, saying ‘Of course it should — my home is the world.’

In the following sessions, our global partners underscored this idea with their own experiences and perspectives:

  • Across the world in Bulgaria, CAF partner BCause discussed with a panel of experts the benefits of Transnational Giving Europe (TGE), particularly for the Bulgarian diaspora in Germany. 
  • CAF Southern Africa explored in its panel the impact of international and local philanthropy during the pandemic and supporting the Africa Center for Disease Control.
  • In the Transforming Territories IDIS session, the IDIS moderator concluded by asking the panellists why international donors should support small, local organizations in Brazil. The panellists agreed that it was because although such organizations are small and local, they have a valuable impact, and this impact is actually felt on a large scale – e.g. when you help favelas, you are helping the whole city.
  • CAF India experts noted that following the government’s recent restrictive foreign grant legislation, the wide-ranging negative implications included the country’s philanthropy sector losing ‘a massive 40 per cent of funding.’
  • CAF UK speaker Lauren Lannarone from Playtech discussed how corporate relationships with NGOs are changing and corporate social responsibility is ‘no longer a nice to do but a must-do’. CAF America and Lilly School of Philanthropy speakers described the challenges that civil society faces in their work, underlining the importance of understanding foreign funding regulations when giving across borders and providing highlights on some of the most challenging regulations around the world.

Covid-19’s impact

Another important discussion topic was the subject of what worked, what did not work and what changed during the Covid-19 pandemic. At the Symposium, CAF America launched its latest report, ‘Covid-19: Lessons in Disaster Philanthropy – The Voice of Charities Facing Covid-19,’ the 8th volume of CAF’s Covid-19 report. The report covered the survey responses of 436 charities in five countries and highlighted the need for more support toward the resilience of charities to ensure the continuity of their important work during future crises. Experts on the BCause panel illustrated how philanthropy before the pandemic was based on the culture of helping the community in a broader way and funding charities that focus on those geographic regions. But as the crisis unfolded, BCause fielded a wave of direct requests for support. For instance, teachers began reaching out requesting computers for students now isolated at home without technology to attend their online classes. The organization was able to adapt its type of support and provide those immediate needs directly.

Other examples of how our global partners adapted to the pandemic include:

  • CAF Southern Africa panel member Bhekinkosi Moyo from the Centre for Africa Philanthropy, outlined the importance of local community philanthropy responding quickly to the impact of Covid, from individuals to local companies and ahead of international support.
  • Liana Varon from the Support Foundation for Civil Society speaking on TUSEV’s panel noted ‘the pandemic showed us it was important to channel our funds to civil society in a way that they will best benefit.’ Varon explained the importance of understanding what was happening ‘on the ground and in the field’ to ensure effective giving.
  • The IDIS panel discussed how the pandemic revealed and amplified existing inequalities in Brazil. Daniela Grelin of the Avon Institute in Brazil commented that to ensure the success of projects and wellbeing of individuals during the pandemic it has been important to focus on short-term needs: e.g. shelter (in the context of escaping domestic violence), food, work opportunities for individuals, and teams to help domestic violence victims over the long term.
  • CAF India panel member Sohini Bhattacharya, CEO of Breakthrough India, noted the new restrictive legislation on foreign grants through intermediaries impacted NGOs’ ability to help communities during the pandemic and highlighted intermediaries’ ability to find and know the smaller local NGOs.
  • CAF Russia panel member Oksana Oracheva, General Director of the Vladimir Potanin Foundation, discussed how the pandemic required flexible grant programs. Oracheva said that during the pandemic ‘the not-for-profits have a lot of work to do’ and the organization aimed support directly at ‘the ones who were helping.’ During the pandemic, the Foundation has been working with both the not-for-profits and recipients.
  • CAF UK speaker Lauren Lannarone from global company Playtech noted that during the pandemic Playtech CSR looked at what they should do to support charity resilience. As well as funding, they reviewed their existing technology and skills and re-purposed them to solve pandemic issues. For example they provided valuable technical support to the development of e-learning courses for students now restricted to home learning.

Community resilience

The second BCause session, ‘Increasing corporate philanthropy footprint together with employees,’ saw panellists discuss how leaders in corporate giving fostered a culture that emphasized the importance of supporting diverse communities across Australia through corporate philanthropy. The power of corporate giving can make significant strides, but it’s critical these efforts have direct impacts on the local level.

In the following panels, our global partners revealed their strategies for ensuring community resilience:

  • CAF Southern Africa CEO Gill Bates discussed the power of Ubuntu, which translates to ‘I am because you are.’ This is a South African tradition of supporting the wider family and neighbours, savings associations and directly supporting the local community.
  • The TUSEV, Turkey panel discussed impactful philanthropic approaches with examples including reaching out to networks of rural teachers to support them within the community. 
  • Experts at IDIS mentioned that during the pandemic, Mosaic invested in getting food to small remote communities. In order to do this, they had to use local networks. Consequently, creating and/or strengthening local networks is vital work even before crises, because it enables frameworks to be in place when a crisis hits
  • The CAF India discussion on non-profit collaboration included comments from Cisco’s Ajay Gopal, who argued that the workforce of the future wants to work for companies that care. He noted that increasingly companies are looking to bring together their business services with CSR investment to create more value in the community.
  • CAF Russia‘s panel on data and impact measurement included Olga Mironova, CSR function at the United Metallurgical Company who noted the importance of understanding ‘what is going on with the people we help.’ She iterated how data can help understand how programs benefit the development of the community. 
  • CAF UK‘s discussion on charity resilience noted the importance of resilience funding, away from direct delivery funding, that allows charities to step back from their day to day work and reassess how they are supporting their cause and the community.
  • CAF America’s session launching their latest ‘Lessons in Disaster Philanthropy’ report described how smaller charities have been more likely to struggle during the Covid-19 pandemic. These organizations need more support for their operational costs and ‘rainy day funds’ to ensure their strength, resilience, and survival.

The 19-hour international event had an abundance of takeaways and insights that underscore the importance of collaboration and insights-driven philanthropy to affect meaningful change.

Ted Hart is the President & CEO, CAF America (Charities Aid Foundation America).

Comments (1)

ASCAJU, Unidad de

Excelente informe, gran labor por parte de Caf America, que ha permitido a nuestra organización mejorar la calidad de vida de un importante número de personas que requieren atención y control del dolor crónico y atención en cuidados paliativos. Nuestra organización agradece desde la provincia de Cartago, en Costa Rica, donde se genera un gran impacto en una población con alta vulnerabilidad y que requiere atención inmediata. Ante la emergencia sanitaria ocasionada por el Covid-19, nuestra Unidad de Cuidados Paliativos se ha convertido en un aliado importante para fortalecer y apalancar los servicios de salud que ofrece el Estado costarricense.

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