Alliance event: 25 years in philanthropy

Elika Roohi

To celebrate the special milestone of 25 years and 100 issues of Alliance magazine being at the heart of global philanthropy, Alliance hosted an event at the Aga Khan Centre in London last week with a panel that sought to answer the question: what have we learned from 25 years in philanthropy? The event was sponsored by Western Union and Mr Badr Jafar.

Read our 100th issue

Hundreds of participants from around the world joined the live stream, along with attendees in London, to listen to Sufina Ahmad, Director of the John Ellerman Foundation; Danielle Walker Palmour, Director of the Friends Provident Foundation; Ingrid Srinath, Director of the Centre for Social Impact and Philanthropy, Ashoka University, joining remotely from India; and Maria Chertok, Director of Charities Aid Foundation, joining remotely from Russia, look through the lens of Alliance issues and discuss how philanthropy has evolved to meet immense challenges of our time, including climate change, wealth inequality, health crises, and social polarisation. The panel discussion was moderated by Alliance Executive Editor Charles Keidan.

The panel was followed by a workshop for attendees in London to design their own Alliance magazine issue, focusing on one of five themes: decolonising philanthropy, agenda for philanthropy reform, the politicisation of philanthropy, the modern grantmaker, and the Sustainable Development Goals.

Panel: What can the future of philanthropy learn from its past?

The panel discussion, which was inspired by Alliance’s 100th issue, looked at how philanthropy has changed over the last 25 years and what hopes there were for the next 25.

Attendees listen to a panel discussion on the past, present, and future of philanthropy at Alliance‘s anniversary event on 16 September.

Walker Palmour highlighted how – while the makeup of philanthropy has diversified since 1996 – trustee boards are 99 per cent white, two-thirds male, and over 75 per cent being recruited by word-of-mouth.

‘That needs to shift, that is not industry standard anywhere,’ Walker Palmour said.

Srinath, who joined Alliance from India, highlighted that diversity should be not just in who is making the funding decisions, but on where the funding goes.

‘I’ve often joked that education is to philanthropy in India what cricket is to sport, and fortunately, we’re now starting to see philanthropists move beyond tried and tested thematic focus areas,’ Srinath said.

Her statements offered some insight on findings from an Alliance reader survey, the results of which were published in the 100th issue, where readers indicated that they believed philanthropy would see the most growth in the Asia-Pacific region over the next 25 years. The same survey also revealed that readers believed community philanthropy had been one of the most promising developments over the last 25 years.

Chertok, joining the panel virtually from Russia, commented on this finding: Community philanthropy is something that really responds to the Russian problems. People can feel disenfranchised from making decisions about their own life when resources are scarce and very centralised,’ Chertok said. ‘Community philanthropy is a mechanism that allows people to actually decide about their life, their community, and the environment they want to live in. And it also allows collective action.’

Ahmad continued the conversation about different modes of philanthropy by commenting on models of giving.

‘I think there is absolutely a need for an ecosystem of different vehicles and models if these are the way in which more people can be encouraged into philanthropy – then that an absolute positive for us, especially given the issues that we’re facing.’

View a gallery of photos from the event.

The panel then turned its attention to exploring the impact of wealth inequality on the perception of philanthropy. A series of articles in the 100th issue looked at how the rise in the number of billionaires between 1996 and today has influenced the sector from both within and without.

‘We need to always be aware of pushing ourselves to do more,’ Ahmad said, highlighting the importance of having an outward-looking perspective, rather than ‘self-flagellating’ which ultimately keeps the focus inward.

I think young people – both young philanthropists as well as young people in philanthropy and just young citizens – are all claiming agency in a way that no previous generation has.’

Walker Palmour also highlighted the importance of philanthropy recognising that it is part of the systems of wealth: ‘If we see ourselves [that way], we can actually play a much more creative part in the process.’

That could look like philanthropy viewing its wealth wholistically – both the endowment assets that are invested in capital markets and the funds that get disbursed through grants because often grants are just a fraction of a foundation’s entire wealth, Walker Palmour said.

The themes of transparency, viewing wealth holistically, and remaining connected to the communities you work in were present throughout the entire panel discussion, which also covered payouts, climate change, and diversifying and broadening the field.

Illustration by Chris Shipton, Live Illustration.


Joanna Pienkowska, ACF, addresses the audience

Later in the discussion, the conversation expanded to include Joanna Pienkowska, Senior Policy and Engagement Officer at the Association of Charitable Foundations, who authored a piece in Alliance’s 100th issue on the youth perspective for the future of philanthropy. Pienkowska highlighted several issues for the sector to focus on – but most immediately climate.

‘The theme running through all the contributions in the magazine is urgent action on climate being needed,’ Pienkowska said. ‘There’s a contribution from Nii from Ghana where he says climate justice needs to be seen not as an environmental issue, but a social issue with a moral responsibility.’

To conclude the panel, Keidan invited each of the panellists to share a few thoughts on Pienkowska’s comments – including the importance of getting young people involved in decision making and governance.

We need to always be aware of pushing ourselves to do more

Left to right: Sufina Ahmad, Danielle Walker Palmour, and Charles Keidan

‘One of the more promising things we’re seeing in India is this influx of youth philanthropists from the tech sector,’ Srinath said, ‘and what they’re bringing is this disruption and also a degree of agnosticism about form. Their toolbox is more diverse.’

Finishing on a hopeful note, Srinath said: ‘I think young people – both young philanthropists as well as young people in philanthropy and just young citizens – are all claiming agency in a way that no previous generation has.’

Workshop: Create your own Alliance special feature

Workshop groups design their own Alliance issue

Following the panel, attendees at the event in London joined a workshop to create their own Alliance special feature – the 30-page, in-depth focus on a particular topic that characterises every Alliance issue. Guests split into five groups to form their own editorial team, tasked with identifying the key themes, important questions, and potential contributors on one of five different topics: decolonising philanthropy, the agenda for philanthropy reform, the politicisation of philanthropy, the modern grantmaker, and the Sustainable Development Goals.

Artist Chris Shipton captured some of the key ideas from each group.

Illustration by Chris Shipton, Live Illustration.


Coming together

The celebration of Alliance’s 25th anniversary was also special for being Alliance’s first in-person event since the pandemic began. Colleagues and friends who came together in London expressed their appreciation for the space being one of the first convened for the philanthropy sector in a year and a half.


Read a write-up from Jasmine Awad at I.G. Advisors about the event:

How do we speak about modern grant-making?

Mary-Lou Gourlay share reflections and highlights about the #AllianceAt25 event

25 moments over 25 years

Last week’s event was one of Alliance’s 25 moments to celebrate 25 years of being at the heart of global philanthropy. Over 2021, Alliance has hosted an event series exploring the future of philanthropy in different regions of the world; published special columns looking at important issues through the lens of how far we’ve come and just how far there is still to go; organised webinars exploring themes such as scale-up philanthropy, black women in philanthropy, and #ShiftThePower; and published a milestone 100-page 100th collector’s edition special issue.

There’s still more to come – make sure you don’t miss a minute of it, take advantage of a special anniversary offer this month, and subscribe.

Elika Roohi is Digital Editor at Alliance.

Comments (0)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Next Conference Report to read

Specialising in the wholly impossible: Black women leading in philanthropy

Annmarie McQueen