Alliance digital event: Levelling the global playing field

Annmarie McQueen

Sociologists have theorised that the best time to understand something is when it’s disrupted. So, what can we learn about the relationships in global philanthropy, following the disruption that years of health, justice, and climate crises have caused?

In this digital event, we explored what we really mean when we say we want to redefine the roles of philanthropy in the Global North and South – and looked at the practical steps to do so.

Moderated by Alliance digital editor Elika Roohi, the event’s speakers were:

  • Riva Kantowitz: Founder of Radical Flexibility Fund (RFF), US
  • Maria Amalia Souza: Founder and Strategic Development Director, Casa Socio-Environmental Fund, Brazil
  • Atti Worku: co-CEO at the African Visionary Fund, Ethiopia
  • Anant Bhagwati: Partner at The Bridgespan Group, India

Here are some key takeaways from each panellist.

Riva Kantowitz

  • Radical flexibility fund is ‘on a mission to create more impactful, sustainable pathways for donors to invest in local development and social change initiatives.’
  • Their approach is summarized by 10 radical actions, based on three main pillars. These include testing more flexible, inclusive and sustainable funding tools to support NGOs beyond grants.
  • RFF’s work convening community-based organisations has shown they already utilize many of these approaches, and those in the global North ‘must do a better job at gathering these examples, and supporting and amplifying these different approaches.’
  • Innovative finance does not necessarily mean ‘more equitable, empowering or effective for local organisations.’ RFF focuses on how funding tools are used to ensure they aren’t just ‘replicating the same power structures of the current aid model.’
  • New tools must be used in service of communities’ own priorities, rather than ‘donor-imposed programming.’
  • When community ‘has the power to identify and fund their own goals, donors then become charged with enforcing the rules, standards and priorities of that community, rather than imposing their own standards, thereby shifting power and accountability to communities themselves.’

Maria Amalia Souza

  • Souza spoke about her time as an environmental activist, and how there is ‘no way you can protect a forest without involving and empowering…local communities and resourcing them.’
  • Souza is the founder of the Socio-environmental funds of the global south and spoke about their engagement with the philanthropic networks of the global North, and how there was a ‘huge gap that nobody could fill from the outside…that the only way to fill it was by being an insider, by belonging to the culture and community.’
  • How can we put resources in the hands of small communities spread all over the global South so that they can come up with solutions and execute them?
  • They see themselves as a ‘new partner of the global field,’ who would like to be understood by the ‘new methodologies that we developed to resource our peers and partners in our countries.’
  • ‘Because we are locals, we are the only ones who can stimulate local philanthropy.’
  • Casa helped create the Philanthropy Network for Social Justice in Brazil and stimulated the creation of 9 new funds in South America and Mozambique. They were also recipients of a grant from Mackenzie Scott.
  • ‘You cannot know what is needed from the outside… it’s about trust, everything we do is about trust and collaboration.’

Atti Worku

  • The African Visionary Fund’s mission is to ‘drive more funding to African visionaries and to accelerate their impact.’ They connect innovative African leaders with the resources they need to positively impact their communities.
  • Only 0.4 per cent of international humanitarian funding went to African NGOs in 2018, and locally-led organisations are not getting funded equitably.
  • They have a co-leadership model because they believe change ‘starts at the executive and board leadership level,’ and is not just about transforming leadership, but expanding leadership.
  • Their co-leadership model across continents is a ‘good example of how partnership and equitable decision making can create a funding model that shifts the power imbalance over time.’
  • There needs to be change in order to level the playing field in philanthropy, which includes thinking of ‘how we can create new systems of funding, and how can we create new ways of building that relationship between the funder and the organisations working on the ground.’

Anant Bhagwati

  • ‘It’s rare to find trust-based behaviours both internally and externally’ and it’s important to ‘acknowledge why the issue exists so we can solve it.’
  • It’s very easy to get ‘tokenistic about this topic’ that leads to talk but no action.
  • There is a ‘huge trust deficit’ between philanthropists and NGOs, and the Global North and Global South. Behaviours around ego, control and short-termism are counter-productive to impact and sustainability.
  • Step one is to acknowledge that there is a power imbalance and that it is counter-productive.
  • Because there is a trust deficit, there is a ‘need to see immediate results,’ which are only superficial. Solving the trust deficit would promote good behaviours.
  • Philanthropy must work very hard ‘to put trust at the centre, and make the case for trust.’

Our next Alliance event will take place at the AVPN event in Bali, on 23 June 2022. Sign up to our newsletter for an update when registration for the live stream opens.


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