Plurality, purpose and partnership

Andrew Barnett

The September special feature focusing on power was a pertinent contribution to the debate as to how we can maximize the beneficial impact of philanthropic interventions (and minimize any harm).

There will be a variety of responses to the question as to how the power held by trusts and foundations can be exercised responsibly – from organizations with differing purposes and ways of working, small and large – and that is a welcome reflection of the healthy plurality of the sector of which we are part. The funds of even the largest foundations are negligible compared with those of unelected corporates or civil servants.

From our perspective, as a small organization operating in the UK but part of one of the larger European foundations, we have attributes that enable us to help advance the particular causes that concern us at any given time and to act in a way that others have called ‘catalytic’. I have no angst about deploying these attributes – the power to influence rather than to direct or dominate – and in doing so to help bring about the beneficial changes in which we believe.

But ends and means cannot be divorced and we feel it is important to act transparently and consultatively in a way that helps build consensus about the solutions to the problems on which we work in order that others can act. We cannot work alone and do not seek to do so. Rather, we work in a spirit of partnership with the organizations we support, to which they bring a depth of expertise and we bring our breadth and ability to connect across boundaries.

My response to the issue of philanthropic power rests on three pillars: plurality, purpose and partnership – values by which I am content for our work to be judged.

Andrew Barnett
Director, UK Branch, Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation


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