Ten-year funder collaborative reviewed

Balancing the bold vision of the foundation presidents who initiated it with the day-to-day challenges faced by the programme officers who had to put that vision into practice was an ongoing challenge for the ten-year funder collaborative known as the Partnership for Higher Education in Africa, according to a new case study.

Launched in 2000 and recently concluded, the Partnership was the initiative of the presidents of four US foundations: the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Ford Foundation and the John D and Catherine T MacArthur Foundation. Three of the four had headed universities in the past, a fact that many participants said was crucial in the presidents’ initial and ongoing interest in the programme. The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Andrew W Mellon Foundation and the Kresge Foundation joined the Partnership later.

The founding presidents saw the Partnership as an opportunity to make a difference in higher education in Africa beyond what their own individual foundations could achieve. They sought to build from their existing commitments to encourage systemic and sustainable change.

The very strong presidential involvement had both advantages and disadvantages. While it ensured that programme officers had support at their foundations to implement the work of the collaborative, it also meant, at least in some foundations, that programme staff had limited freedom to make decisions without consulting their presidents.

The breadth and logistical complexity of the initiative also posed problems. Programme officers were at times unsure how to carry out the broad Partnership goals identified by the presidents. Staff had to work together across very different institutional cultures and foundation strategies to develop and implement shared priorities within the broad mandate to ‘strengthen higher education in Africa’.

In 2010, the Partnership secretariat closed. Its successes over the decade of its operation included a collective investment of nearly half a billion dollars in higher education in Africa, making it among the largest funder collaboratives ever established. Achieving such a scale of funding and period of working together is highly unusual, particularly given the complex logistics of working across nine countries, seven foundations and five time zones.

For more information
To read Lessons from a Ten-Year Funder Collaborative, go to

To read Accomplishments of the Partnership of Higher Education in Africa 2000-2010 go to http://www.foundation-partnership.org/pubs/pdf/accomplishments.pdf  

Susan Parker is the owner at Clear Thinking Communications. Email susan@clearthinkingcommunications.com

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